Jonathan Zittrain on Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop per Child Project

Professor of Law and Computer Science

Jonathan Zittrain is a Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, Professor of Computer Science at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Vice Dean for Library and Information Resources for the Harvard Law School Library, and Co-Founder of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Previously, he was the Chair in Internet Governance and Regulation at Oxford University and a principal of the Oxford Internet Institute.  He was also a visiting professor at the New York University School of Law and Stanford Law School.

Zittrain’s research interests include battles for control of digital property and content, cryptography, electronic privacy, the roles of intermediaries within Internet architecture, and the useful and unobtrusive deployment of technology in education.

He is also the author of The Future of the Internet and How to Stop Itas well as co-editor of the books, Access Denied (MIT Press, 2008), Access Controlled (MIT Press, 2010), and Access Contested (MIT Press, 2011).

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Topic: Jonathan Zittrain on Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop per Child Project

Jonathan Zittrain: I closed the book with the XO, otherwise known as the one laptop per child project, because I feel in some ways that in the developed world, we've had our romp, through generative technologies, at a time when we had the innocence of not realizing just how important they'd become. We could do stuff unselfconsciously, code those flying toasters, because it was all fun. It wasn't some huge dot com play worth billions of dollars. At the time, we were messing around. It's harder to keep that sense of unselfconsciousness going, now that we know what the stakes are, and how vitally important the technologies have become. I think the developing world, there's less, at the moment, invested in it. As the next 1 to 2 billion people get online, what technologies will they be given? Will it be in a consumerist model? Here's a new mobile phone, and you can use this mobile phone to check the weather and see crop reports and stuff like that. Very useful, but sterile. Or will it be a technology that lets people in those communities, the one nerd out of 2,000 that might be hanging around, learns to affect the way the phone works, will they have a chance to have a vote and to hack around and to have fun? I'm hoping the answer is yes, on the faith that when they do, it'll be put generally to interesting and good uses, rather than to bad ones. There are people I quote in that chapter, Gene Spafford, at Purdue, who says, "I can't believe this one laptop per child program, that's putting more or less generative laptops in the hands of kids." It's like, my god, we have the plague going on right now. What we need is to give rats to people, because he's figuring, there's already enough spam and trouble. Why would you give people the tools to make more? I guess I disagree with that, but that's a risk. It's a spin of the wheel, to see how it will be used. It's also interesting to see the ways in which the one laptop per child is a combination of sterile and generative. In order not to have kids have them stolen from them, soon after they receive them, they actually have a phone home feature. If the laptop doesn't check in at the designated school every so often, it dies, and that makes it less worthy of stealing, just like a car with a low jack that disables the car. That requires some element of control form the center.

 

Recorded on: 3/8/08


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