Tag Archives: ICT4D

Nicholas Negroponte in Udine and we will switch the light off

One Laptop Per Child imageNicholas Negroponte will be in Udine, Italy on February 16, 2007, next next Friday, during InnovactionFair. See the complete program. He will speak from 18.30 to 19.30 (and we will switch the light off … see below).
Yes yes that Nicholas Negroponte! The founder and Chairman Emeritus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab. Nicholas is also the creator of the One Laptop Per Child non-profit organization, whose goal is “to provide children around the world with new opportunities to explore, experiment and express themselves”.
I’m fascinated by the challenges he and his group and everyone contributing is taking into making the One Laptop Per Child vision a reality. The hardware, software, interface and design (yes, they chose GNU/Linux) is a challenge in itself but what is much much more interesting are the social issues that will emerge when this physical item will make into the hand of a lot of children around the world. Issues like “will it be stolen and end on ebay?”, “is this a top-down approach, imposing to every children in the world the same mental metaphors and processes? what about cultural differences?”, “how teachers are integrated into this mass deployment and how each one of them in every different school of the world will react?”, “wouldn’t poor countries spend better their money providing basic facilities to people such as water than shiny laptops to children?” and much more. Ethan as usual is the best one in describing what we are really speaking about.
Why will we switch the light off while Nicholas is speaking? Nicholas will speak from 17.30 to 18.30 but, what a coincidence!, that day February 16, 2007 in Italy is the “M’illumino di meno Energy saving day” and the collective visible act, besides the awareness spreading, is to switch off all the non really really necessary lights and electric tools at 18.00. I sent an email to Caterpillar, the “M’illumino di meno” campaign organizer, which have a daily radio program on our public radio, but I got no reply so far. My proposal was to switch off all the lights but the microphone of Negroponte for at least few minutes at 18.00 and to broadcast what he says during that period on the radio as well. I think it would be a great message.
Let me also note that there is an ActionCamp that will develop bottom-up during the Innovaction Fair. This is just one of the many BarCamps that are blooming in Italy in the past year.
Since I had some problems to re-find the complete program, I copied and pasted here below so that I will found it more easily next time.

I’m still not 100% sure I’ll make it but almost. What about you? Are you coming?

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repressing the “Expression under Repression” workshop at WSIS

I read from Ethan Zuckermann who is currently in Tunis for the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) some shocking news.
I’m here to help run a workshop titled “Expression Under Repression”, hosted by Hivos and organzied by the Global Voices team. When we arrived at the exhibition hall this morning, we were warned that our workshop could be cancelled. (…) Specifically, it was suggested by Tunisian authorities that “expression under repression has nothing to do with ICT for development.
Yesterday, we were warned that our session could be cancelled by the Tunisian authorities. We also discovered that the session wasn’t listed in the official program guide. Today, we came to the room where the session was to be held and there was a sign on the door stating that the workshop was cancelled. Friends who passed by the UNDP booth on the WSIS floor earlier today heard gossip that the security forces would appear at our session and anyone who attended would be arrested. And I got a few SMSs from people who’d asked about our session at the information booths and had been told there was no information on our session.
It is incredibly stupid for Tunisia to just show its repressive and censorship face when all the world is looking in their direction for the WSIS. And we all should really think about it more often, many countries control Internet and negate freedom of expression to their citizens.
Something you can do (but only a tiny contribution of what we should do) is to join the Electronic Frontier Foundation which, among millions of other worthy campaigns, published How to Blog Safely (see also GlobalVoices technical extension and the Handbook for bloggers and cyber-dissidents published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
Just one more shocking news, RSF head Robert Menard was not allowed by Tunisian security officials to leave the plane after his arrival from Paris in Tunis.
Too often, leaving in a country where Internet is not (too much) filtered and there is (enough) freedom of expression I forgot about these important matters. If you care about these matters, do join EFF and follow Ethan’s blog.

Apple offers for free MacOSX for $100 laptops, MIT says “No, thanks”

You probably have heard of the MIT initiative One Laptop Per Child, a plan to develop a $100 laptop computer for distribution to millions of schoolchildren in developing countries.
Today I read from WallStreetJournal:
Steve Jobs, Apple Computer Inc.’s chief executive, offered to provide free copies of the company’s operating system, OS X, for the machine, according to Seymour Papert, a professor emeritus at MIT who is one of the initiative’s founders. “We declined because it’s not open source,” says Dr. Papert, noting the designers want an operating system that can be tinkered with.
Wow! Apple offers for free its fabolous operating system and the MIT has the strenght to refuse such an offer. Just think if this would have happened 5 years ago. MIT would probably have been so happy and thanking. But now GNU/Linux on the desktop is almost as usable as other operating systems, and it will be better in few years.
Of course MIT’s refusal makes a lot, a lot of sense and I totally support their decision, even if they should speak fo Free Software and not Open Source. Anyway, embracing a proprietary operating system would not give to schoolchildren in developing countries the freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0), the freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). [Access to the source code is a precondition for this.], the freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2), the freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). [Access to the source code is a precondition for this]. These are the freedom that Free Software gives you.
The $100 laptop is just a mean for achieving a goal, that is reducing poverty (that can be defined as inability to improve your current conditions). In this sense, only the ability to “play with” and study how your tool works, the ability to be an active player in the game and not just a passive swallower of information can produce empowerment. So being able to play with the tool (i.e. access to its source code) is mandatory. And the before mentioned freedoms as well.

A rural computer for free, Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid and WSIS

From rediff:
In an effort to spread information technology literacy and make the Internet more accessible to the masses, Hong Kong based Asiatotal.net has launched iT, a stripped-down version of a personal computer which will be distributed free of cost to lower income individuals and small businesses. iT is a compact, portable desk top computer equipped with Windows CE (operating system for hand-held devices) complete with everything necessary to connect to the Internet, and has home entertainment devices, a printer, a USB card reader for reading memory cards of digital cameras and many other USB peripherals.
It seems there is a new attention on how to squeeze business opportunities out of the poor, since they are so many. In fact how will this firm (the one giving away computers for free) make money? This device has a conventional keyboard with 14 additional keys, 10 of which will be sponsored by firms that want to tap rural markets, like a firm selling seeds or crop insurance. By pressing the relevant “hot key”, farmers can directly access firms’ websites where product information will guide them to making the right purchase.
I’m a bit skeptical about this approach (especially about the choice of Windows CE that means no real endogenous development can spark) but I don’t have too much experience about the topic, even if these days I’m reading a lot about ICT4D, Information and Communication Technologies for Development (more about this later).
Related to the “economic opportunities at the Bottom of the Pyramid”, I would also like to share that a new economical thinking seems on the rise patronized mainly by C.K. Prahalad. I keep finding his ideas, in particular the ideas presented in his book “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits“.
This is a purely capitalistic approach to reach one of the millenium goals: halving extreme poverty by 2015. I can see why International Economic Agencies (WTO, World Bank, …) and the rich countries who govern them like this approach: the new mantra might sound something like “no more need to donate percentages of the GDP to poor countries, just let keep our corporations trying to maximize their profits and everything will settle down by magic”.
I have no idea if C.K. Prahalad’s approach can really work, surely it is very realistic and not abstact, it argues about a possible way to eradicate poverty. It is not serious to criticize without proposing an alternative and I don’t really have experience on macroeconomics. I’m more for approaches like global redistributions of richness but at the present moment they are politically totally unviable and unproposable.
Going back to the rural computer for free, I would like to underline that from 16 to 18 November 2005 there will be in Tunis the World Summit on Information Society. Surely one of the topic will be if and how ICTs will help in reaching the millenium goals and reduce global poverty. I’ll try to keep an eye on it.


One of my interest is “How can information technology improve lives in the developing world?” (sentence from this post). If you are interested in this topic, you will enjoy Ethan Zuckerman’s ramblings on Africa, technology and media and particularly the post titled Mike Best with evidence that ICT4D works….
[I don’t like the term “developing world. In Italian I tend to use “paesi del Sud del Mondo”, that it is not 100% satisfactory as well since you could argue that Sud (south) can be intended as less valuable than North but I don’t agree: on many topics, the word South can carry more positive values than the word North]