While I don’t think Albert Einstein was the first to say it, he may have said it most precisely: “our technology has exceeded our humanity.” And certainly his words reflected a paranoia of the time and through present day, a veritable fear of technology removed from any notion of ethics or morality.
A brave experiment by an aptly-named organization One Laptop Per Child may be well on the way to disproving Einstein’s skepticism around science.
The experiment is certainly groundbreaking. And it deals with the fact of some 100 million first-grade-aged children around the world who have zero access to education. The test? One Laptop Per Child is focusing on 2 remote villages in Ethiopia—and giving them tablet computers, preloaded with alphabet games, e-books, cartoon, and other programs.
The tablets involved—Motorola Xooms—are used with solar energy charging, which Ethiopian technicians have parents to use. The same technicians schedule weekly visits to take out memory cards so the OLPC can review how the machines were actually used.
And the end goal? Determining whether or not illiterate children are capable of learning how to read all by themselves, solely through use of the tablets.
According to MIT Technology Review, the first results are outstanding. “Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, found the on-off switch. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child, per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs in the village, and within five months, they had hacked Android,” said OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte. “Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera, and they figured out the camera, and had hacked Android.”
In addition, children in the village had completely customized their personal desktops.
Groups like OLPC would have made Einstein rethink his aforementioned statement. They seem to have found a way to keep technology and humanity on the same page for the time being. It’s not often that boxes of expensive tablets are handed out, and even less often for a humanitarian cause. At this rate, OLPC may be unknowingly training two villages worth of first grade web designers and developers.