Uh oh, Nicholas Negroponte (of MIT's Media Lab, whose audacious plan to use Indian Government funds to run its own version in India was scuttled by Arun Shourie about 12 - 24 months ago) is deeply into development through ICT, again! The Hindu had this AP report about his efforts to get low-priced laptops into the hands of children in the developing countries. Apparently, Dr. Negroponte has made a pitch for this plan in January at the World Economic Forum, and has a few corporate backers: Advanced Micro Devices, Google and News Corp.
Now, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with such pious initiatives. The only problem is from a simple fact: what the children in developing countries really need is proper education -- good public (or inexpensive private) schools, teachers, blackboard, and .... hold your nose ... toilets! I certainly wouldn't like our governments to get into such fancy projects because of all the good media they get, and divert scarce resources to them instead of things that would make a real difference -- like schools.
Read the report anyway, and there is some interesting information regarding technology bottlenecks (mostly in the form of display monitor) that need to be tackled in creating a 100 Dollar laptop. There is also a reference to the Simputer, "a $220 hand-held device developed by Indian scientists in 2001 that only last year became available and is not selling well". Four of our colleagues from the Institute were involved in developing the simputer, and their version is being marketed in India under the brand Amida Simputer. While it has some really cool features, I guess in this age of 4000 rupee mobile phones, it would really be difficult to sell a 11000 rupee hand-held device.