Nicholas Negroponte’s Biggest Career Challenge

Question: Which of the projects in your career has been the most difficult?

Nicholas Negroponte: It's hard to compare them. One Laptop per Child had the most difficulty and frustration in the sense that it included aspects that I was no good at doing that had to be done. But more important than that, it included things that I didn't anticipate, like the commercial interests fighting against us. I entered the project thinking we had this Mother Theresa shield around us because we're a humanitarian project, we're a non-profit, I don't draw a salary. I mean, I thought that that would isolate us from the normal battlefield of the commercial world and we found that that wasn't the case. I mean, people might wear gloves in public, but they certainly took them off in private and did things behind our backs that were quite frustrating, and I found that difficult.

Media Lab was different. The Media Lab was really amplifying the work of other people. And my job was to make it possible for them to do their research. It was not a management issue, I wasn't running their research, I wasn't even trying to determine it. What I was doing was trying to enable it and that could be making the environment, whether it was physical environment, economical environment, or social environment for those things to happen. So, there were very different challenges and very different periods in one's life.

In the case of the laptop, I had come to a stage in life where I didn't need to earn an income, I didn't need to earn a reputation, I didn't need fame, I didn't need any of the things you might want in your early career. And I knew a lot of people and had certain credibility because of MIT and the Media Lab, so it seemed like we were the right people to do something like the "One Laptop per Child," and sort of break the spell that had been created by companies adding more hardware features that then had more software, that then had more hardware, that then had more software, and the thing sort of gets to this obese state where, I'm going to use laptops in this case, were all like SUV's, they required more fuel to move the vehicle than the passenger. And how could you break that spell? How could you make something child-centric?

Well, one of the ways you could do that is if you had nothing to lose. If you had no other interests and that was our case. And it allowed us to do what then led to the so-called Netbook, and Netbooks today represent 30% of the work market of laptops. And that's a rather interesting change because it's as if I had come to you five years ago and said, "I think we should build an electric car," and I built an electric car and then today, one-third of all cars are electric, I'd feel pretty good about that. They don't happen to be my electric cars in those cases, but they are still, nonetheless electric in that example. And the same thing has happened with One Laptop per Child, that it gave birth to something that then had these other effects that now people can enjoy pretty good computing power, smaller machines, lighter machines, very inexpensive machines. And some of those will migrate to kids in Africa, and it's not just ours.

Recorded on December 4, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen

The chairman of One Laptop per Child has also founded MIT’s Media Lab, invested in Web startups, and written a column for Wired. Which undertaking was the hardest?

Is it ethical to pay people to get vaccinated?

It could lead to a massive uptake in those previously hesitant.

Ian Forsyth/Getty Images
Coronavirus

A financial shot in the arm could be just what is needed for Americans unsure about vaccination.

Keep reading Show less

Every 27.5 million years, the Earth’s heart beats catastrophically

Geologists discover a rhythm to major geologic events.

Credit: desertsolitaire/Adobe Stock
Surprising Science
  • It appears that Earth has a geologic "pulse," with clusters of major events occurring every 27.5 million years.
  • Working with the most accurate dating methods available, the authors of the study constructed a new history of the last 260 million years.
  • Exactly why these cycles occur remains unknown, but there are some interesting theories.
Keep reading Show less

Massive 'Darth Vader' isopod found lurking in the Indian Ocean

The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.

SJADE 2018
Surprising Science
  • A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
  • It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
  • The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
Keep reading Show less

Galactic wind from early universe detected

Researchers discovered a galactic wind from a supermassive black hole that sheds light on the evolution of galaxies.

Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)
Surprising Science
  • A new study finds the oldest galactic wind yet detected, from 13.1 billion years ago.
  • The research confirms the theory that black holes and galaxies evolve together.
  • The galactic wind was spotted using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array in Chile.
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast