Organick Lecture – University of Utah – Alan Kay (Part II)

After a great dinner at a local Greek restaurant, we returned to the
University of Utah to listen to the second presentation by Alan Kay – Learners, Powerful Ideas, and the $100 Laptop

As I have been following the progress of the $100 Laptop project, I
have a lot of my own ideas of where this device might succeed, and what
it might become. I’m looking forward to what Alan has to say
about this space.

Is a “$100 Laptop” Possible?
Alans slide showed a portable DVD player that has a 7″ TFT LCD
screen. The price on this product is $122.99 on-line.
Obviously, this proves out the fact that the raw hardware of a $100
Laptop is quite possible. Swap the DVD drive for a keyboard, and
add some flash memory and you have a decent computer. With the
addition of a real manufacturer – Quanta – everything has started to
fall into place.

Alan brought up an interesting point where these devices could create a
huge grey-market, where the laptops might not actually make it to
children. Instead, they might be grabbed up and used by others
… sold for various profits. They are intending to add features
to the products so that they are customized to the child so that it
will not work for anybody but that child.

The laptop is going to have mesh networking as a core feature, and they
are exploring various power options. The hand-crank is the most
well known, but they are also working on a tredle(?) design for foot
powering the device.

The “layers” of this device are:

  • The $100 hardware – the foundation for everything
  • Free Software – the operating system from RedHat and Squeak?
  • Authoring & User Interface – the first level of interaction with children
  • Content & Pedagogy – interaction to educate
  • Mentoring – a large list of things we don’t know how to make happen!

His comment refering to this list of layers – The Music Isn’t In The Piano!

Future of Printing?
Alan again went through his progression of the history of
printing. Where a new medium appears, and initially is used to
mimic the older mediums. It was 100 years after the creation of
the printing press that this new medium was exploited to massively
alter global society. It finally provided for the presentation
and distribution of radical new ideas.

How the Mind Works
Neuro-ethology is a newer study of the brain and behavior. He
talked about research being done with babies, and at 8 weeks some of
the things that they are capable of doing. One of these was that
a baby that young was able to use an artificial nipple, with some
electronics attached, to control the focus of a slide projector showing
a picture of their mother. Amazing …

He also talked about other pattern recognition tests done, and the
ability of babies to show interest in various patterns … and the
increase in interest in more complex patterns as the baby develops.

This led to a discussion of Human Universals vs. non-Universals.
Those things found in almost every culture around the world … vs.
those things that are not. Examples of the Universals:
Social, Communications, Language, Culture, Fantasies, Stories, Loud
Noises & Snakes – he had a longer list but these were very common and present in over 300 cultures studied.

Thge non-Universals are things that modern education are all about:
Democracy, advanced mathematics, equal rights, etc. – these are the
things that are only gained through deep thinking and teaching.
This appears to be much of what Alan believes can be brought to more
cultures in the world using the $100 Laptop!

He went on to do demonstrations of using Squeak, and talking about some
of the amazing educational advances that have been taking place.
All of which will only be available to more and more people on earth.

Overall, it was a great presentation and shows the commitment that Alan
has to making a difference in the world with his talents and
abilities. And the $100 Laptop will become a reality … and is
only going to spur more developments in this space.

Some of my final thoughts linked to his comments about security of the
devices, etc. I start to wonder what is going to occur as
unscrupulous people choose to take advantage of the children who are
given these machines. I also start to wonder how these children
in developing countries might end up being “remotely exploited” over
the Internet by these same types of people …

In either case, it is going to open whole new channels of
communications, and create a very different networked world … with
whole new sets of eyeballs, and new participants in
globalization. The next 10 years are going to be amazing to live

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