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.
Jepsen: Well there’s two things that the XO laptop that we created at One Laptop Per Child do. One is the extreme low power means that you don’t need much of a power infrastructure. A little is good but the laptops a solar panel can power them or a small hand crank and so forth. The other thing is network is wireless. The laptops themselves are access points. They route the internet. It’s called a mesh network and so if a kid lives sort of ten kilometers from the school where the access point is, his or her Google search can hop through the other kids’ laptops that live closer to the school up to the access point in the school up to the internet, get the information, and hop, hop, hop, hop back. So that extends the reach of the internet. A group of villages can share one access point. It’s a trickle. It’s not a phiO speed or something but it’s much better than nothing. And even in early deployment in Peru the actual internet access is USB thumb drive where once a day or once a week the teacher takes the internet requests, goes to the internet café, gets the answers and brings them back to school, I mean because they haven’t sort of -- in Peru because I’ve been there I know a lot about it. The Peruvian Andes it’s pretty hard to string the cables up and down and so this seems like a good, immediate solution and might be the reality for some time in places. We’re working in Africa, Southeast Asia, and might be the reality depending upon the geography. In Mongolia, certainly, it’s one of the most sparsely populated places on earth. We’re looking at schemes like that.
Question: What role should the U.S. government play in regards to OLPC?
Jepsen: The U.S. government, all of the governments, I mean it’s been interesting. I think nearly every head of state on earth has contacted One Laptop Per Child about getting the laptops en masse into their countries, exceptions, notable exceptions North Korea and Myanmar but that’s unfortunately to be expected. But almost everyone else has expressed pretty strong interest in doing something about their education program in their country and if you look at textbook expenditures the average textbook expenditure in the developing world average, many are below average, but average is $20 per child per year. And so if the laptop lasts five years, ours does, that actually pays for itself. You can give the child a laptop instead of textbooks and you don’t have to-- it’s a one-time distribution cost. You can update the textbooks electronically so it’s very attractive in the developing world. In the developed world, I mean Massachusetts, the state that I live in, has an annual textbook expenditure per child of $630, $600 and something dollars just to be accurate where there money isn’t the problem. We have different problems in the U.S. But the mayor of Birmingham, Alabama came to OLPC, very charismatic guy, and he just decided every kid in Birmingham, Alabama was going to get a laptop. He came into the offices and he raised his hands up and he said, “Do what you have to. Arrest me. I’m leaving here with two laptops.” I really came out of their offices and said, “Who is this guy?” We gave him the two laptops and he could leave with them and he got it through whatever he had to get it through in his process administration and it looks like Birmingham, Alabama will do the XO laptops first. There are others. The New York City public school system certainly has expressed some strong interest as have many others. This is all several months out. I left OLPC in January so this is just what I remember and I’m sure these conversations have evolved and changed and so forth.