Interesting article about the epic failure of the OLPC project. If you don’t know, “One Laptop Per Child” was an effort from the head of the MIT Media Lab to provide cheap, durable laptops as educational tools to third world students. In the process, they threw out everything about conventional computing and created an intriguing mashup of poorly-implemented good ideas. The whole thing just smacks of the sort of ivory tower thinking that is endemic in higher education.

(My personal favorite was their refusal to sell them inside of the US. Because, clearly, inner-city school districts in Baltimore or Memphis are much better than ones in Sao Paolo or Lagos.)

8 Responses to “OLPC RIP”

  1. Pitt says:

    The reason this failed is all those kids just went to http://www.givememyfreelaptopbecauseimalazygulliblemotherfucker.com

    Beware of those in ivory towers- they throw elephant tusks.

  2. BrianN says:

    Part of their project was to create a $100 laptop. That was funny because you can buy an Acer laptop from Amazon.com for $330, which isn’t that much more. You could probably collect a bunch of several year old, but still quite viable laptops for $50 each.

  3. matt says:


    They did come up with some remarkable new technology. The display, for example, has two modes: one for traditional laptop use and one monochrome, high contract mode for book reading. The dustproof, waterproof, shockproof hardware is excellent.

    But the project was infested with what technology people call NIH Syndrome — Not Invented Here. A lot of stuff, especially the original software builds, was different from anything else on the market just for the sake of being different. Now they’re just loading them with Windows XP. That should be interesting.


    Speaking of web scams, does anyone know what’s up with all of these IQ Test Google ads I’m seeing all over the place? You know, “Typical Pittsburgh Resident IQ = 100, Are You Smarter? Take The Test!” I imagine there’s got to be a scam there, since there’s so many of them all over the place, but I haven’t looked into what it could be.

  4. BrianN says:


    Well, that’s why it’s so funny. MIT is there to come up with some new technology, and it’s as much about training people as it is the actual developments. It’s just that sometimes they make it a bigger problem than it actually is. I’ve had similar conversations with people who complain that very little money is being put into drugs against malaria, and how this is a demonstration of the inequities of the world healthcare system. But if you are really interested in preventing malaria, distributing a $5 mosquito net can be done now, and it probably more cost effective than developing new drugs.

    But it sounds so un-sexy.

  5. Adam says:

    The scam is that our former pres couldn’t even score a 100 on the test.
    The true test is watching “are you smarter than a fifth grader” and not punching the tv.

  6. Pitt says:

    You guys are comedy gold.

    $230 is quite a big difference when you’re talking hundreds and hundreds, maybe thousands of laptops. But you’re remark about the used market is dead-on. Its not sexy to talk about donating used laptops to third-world countries, though, and it makes the rest of the world seem like the New Jersey to our New York. Still, it would be better than tossing them all into landfills and calling it a day.

  7. matt says:


    Are you seriously suggesting that schoolchildren in Peru should just be drop shipped a pile of half-broken Thinkpads? I mean, sure, it would be funny watching them club guinea pigs for dinner, but I don’t think that a bunch of disparate hardware is really the way to go.

    Again, the XO laptop (the official product of the OLPC consortium) did have some interesting technology. We’ve got one here on campus — some department or another had some extra money at the end of last year and ordered one — and it’s pretty neat. The problem was that the software and the organization itself were just so raw.

  8. BrianN says:


    Hey, I’m using a half-broken 7 year old thinkpad.

    It’s still better than Vista.

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