Mary Lou Jepsen was recently named one of the hundred most influential people in the world by Time Magazine in May 2008 for her work in creating Pixel Qi, and her previous work in creating One Laptop per Child where she was the founding chief technology officer and its first employee. Notably Mary Lou invented the laptop's sunlight-readable display technology and co-invented its ultra-low-power management system. Critically, she architected the XO laptop and transformed it into mass production. Mary Lou's earlier contributions have had world-wide adoptioin in successful HDTV, projector and head-mounted display products. In 1995 she co-founded the Microdisplay Corporation and served as its chief technology officer through 2003. Until the end of 2004, she was a group executive and the chief technology officer of the display division at Intel Corporation. Mary Lou holds a Ph.D. in Optical Sciences, a B.S. in Electrical Engineering (with honors) and a B.A. (req.) in Studio Art all from Brown University as well as a Master of Science in Holography from the MIT Media Lab.
Question: Do you get frustrated with American entertainment culture?
Jepsen: That’s funny. I was keynoting a conference next to where the American Idol finals were two weeks ago in L.A. and none of us at the conference knew why all these people were lined up but we found out later they were __________. Apparently they’re good singers. I guess sort of two things. I don’t really live in America. I’ve been going around the world every three weeks for the past three years and I spend most of my time in Taiwan or Shanghai so that’s different still. And I guess the one question I’m really tired of hearing in the U.S. is why don’t you do something about getting the laptops to kids in the U.S. and sure we could get laptops to the kids in the U.S. but we decided to work on a bigger problem. We’re throwing away half the children in the world right now and, yes, a portion of them are in the U.S., but the U.S. has a different problem. These children are really hungry. They want to learn. They want to go to school. They want all this stuff. And so why not take our skills and apply it to this problem because it actually is somewhat solvable? But as far as culture I recently got a TV. I don’t actually have a TV. I’ve got a projector that I designed and it’s on a wall because it comes with internet so I’m just trying to sort of see some of what’s on. I don’t know. I think that it is moving. People are moving to participate in the culture more through their laptops and desktops than through TV. I mean TV is great I guess but it’s interesting. I’m participating in something called the World Science Festival here in New York and I was listening to a little NPR piece on it yesterday, sort of practicing and they were talking about how in some cities in Europe they have science night at bars where professors at the local university go down to the bars, drink, and talk about science. I think, wow, that could be pretty cool if we could do that but we can’t do that because we’ve got such an ingrained TV culture rather than getting people out, going down to the pub and talking about cosmology or something which would be so much more interesting. And I wonder how we move. I mean I think the people that create the content in TV would love that and how do you create that in this mass distributed medium because most people by far, I mean the average number of hours a TV set is on in the U.S. is, I used to make TVs I know, is nine hours. It went up a half an hour after 9/11. Everybody wants better content. It’s just how do we do it? How do we make cosmology discussions engaging for people? I think it’s a collective problem.