Emerging Technologies Conference 2005
By John Latta, WAVE
Boston , MA
September 28 – 29, 2005
The event is done in conjunction with the Technology Review
magazine on the MIT campus. It is focused on major issues in technology
with particular emphasis on innovators, young and old. Topics are broad
and include social computing, bio-nano frontiers, and nuclear power.
Our attention will be on those that relate to computing. The badge scan
indicated individuals from around the world. This is neither an academic
conference nor a traditional trade show. It is one of the few we have
attended which examines technology “from every angle” as
the tag line indicates.
Is the Low Cost Notebook Real?
Nicholas Negroponte, Chairman, MIT Media Lab, presented
details on the $100 lap top. The implications are deeper than just the
Mr. Negroponte is passionate about the education laptop.
Here is a summary of what he said during his keynote.
This is the most important thing I have worked on in
It is about education not a laptop.
In emerging nations, the issue is not about connectivity.
There are many ways to solve this problem. Many people are working
on this. It is happening.
For education it is the laptop itself that will change
education and I have learned this in the projects we have done at the
MIT Media Lab.
We have seen the power of bringing technology to education.
The first was Costa Rica where now 50% of the exports are IC related
and I believe this is related to our efforts to improve education.
But this did not scale to adjacent countries. Another country we worked
with on using computers in education was Senegal.
The idea for this project began in 1999, when my wife
and I set up schools in two Cambodian villages – one so remote
there are no roads to the village. The children were given laptops.
When they first took the laptops home, the parents would not let them
use them being afraid they would break. This was changed and we found
that the parents loved it because the laptop screen was the brightest
light in the house. In these villages they have only one room homes.
Of the 50 laptops only one failed. All 50 of the AC adapters failed.
There was great pride in the laptops and the children were very careful
Maine has passed legislation which mandates OLPC (one
laptop per child).
Last week, as part of an education reform plan, Massachusetts
governor Romney proposed to spend $54 million to buy these laptops
for every student. The first three grades would get computers during
fiscal year 2007, while students in the other three grades would get
them the following year. The computers would be gifts, so that students
could keep them after graduating. I was with the Governor when this
announcement was made.
The non-profit project is called One Laptop Per Child
(OLPC). It has significant implications on the ability to accomplish
our ends. For example, 50% of the cost of a laptop has embedded in
it the costs of sales and marketing – we have none. We can work
with governments in emerging countries in ways that for-profit companies
Initial countries participating in the program are:
We expect to ship 5 – 15m units to these countries.
To participate in this program, a county must purchase
a minimum number of 1m units up front.
We are working with all the agencies of the UN which
would have an interest in such a laptop but nothing is ready to be
These machines have the following characteristics:
Dual mode 7.5” display which is projected to
cost $35. One is a transflective color display and the other
is a Bi-stable e-ink display so that it operates as a very low power
Our efforts on a 2nd Generation display based on e-ink
technology which I have been showing to countries would cost 10¢ per
sq. in. The target is $12 for a 12” color display with near
Zero power consumption.
There are 4 USB ports which support transfer to and
from the unit.
The CPU is 500MHz and runs from FLASH (1GB) and DRAM.
There is no hard drive.
The power source can be any one of a battery power
module, hand crank or AC. The carrying strap is also the AC power
cord. When the transflective display is operating there is a 10:1
crank ratio – the use is 10X the crank time. When in e-book
mode it is 100:1.
There are many modes which the notebook can be used:
Theater – to watch like a television
The design is very rugged. For example, the carrying
handle is the power source.
Each laptop is a node on a mesh network which allows
networking to be implemented in a village. All children are connected.
We have found at 2MB will 1000 students very well.
The operating system is a light weight version of Linux.
We feel that 75% of the of the overhead of a notebook is consumed
by the “weight” of the OS.
I believe that the power of Wikipedia can help support
the educational material needed for this effort. This another example
of how open source will help this effort.
The corporate sponsors are:
A prototype will be shown at the World Summit on the
Information Society (WSIS) on Nov. 17. The WSIS is due to be held in
Tunis, Tunisia, from Nov. 16 to Nov. 18.
There was considerable discussion on the grey market
for these machines. That is, will they be stolen or become a part of
the corruption in many countries. It is hoped that the distinctive
design and use will frustrate this but the issue will it only be determined
in each country.
We expect to have:
2 Prototypes – Q1 2006
5 – 15 m units – Q4 2006
Year 2 – 100 – 150m
Given that there are 50m laptops sold today our volume
will be 2X to 3X what is currently being sold
There may be a commercial unit sold in a parallel channel
but it would likely cost $200.
Individuals involved in this project include:
Joe Jacobson (co-founder and director of E Ink)
Seymour Papert (one of the world's leading theorists on child learning),
Mary Lou Jepsen,
Mitchel Resnick, and
Although the price is targeted at $100, it is expected
that the price will float with time because of the non-profit structure.
It is hoped, with the low cost 2nd generation display, for example,
that the price will continue to decline. Even at $100, the price is
Much has been made of the $100 price point, and that misses
the point. It really important is what this laptop will be able to do.
In order to be successful, assuming that the price point is met and high
volume manufacturing is accomplished, these factors need to fall in place:
The countries buying these laptops support them in the
There will actually be a connectivity infrastructure;
There is content to support the educational objectives;
Bureaucracies and corruption does not disable the program.
This is a tall order and has little to do with the actual
Accomplishing production of >100m units in 24 months
is a large expectation. In spite of being a non-profit, a commercial
entity or many of them, must take on the responsibility for production
and distribution. The team that Negroponte has described does not have
this experience. That is, there might be an ecosystem around laptops
but no ecosystem around low cost laptops for these struggling markets.
In spite of the fact that the project is non-profit, someone, and likely
many, will have to make profits in the ecosystem to accomplish the scale.
All of this aside, the gains from the end result can be
huge. It will take passion to carry this project. Few can match Negroponte
in passion. Certainly the team he has assembled has their hearts in making
technology further education.
Cisco Plans Massive Improvements for Teleconferencing
Charles Giancarlo, Senior Vice-President and Chief Development
Officer, Cisco, stated he shows up 20 minutes late for any meeting with
video conferencing. He figures by that time it is either working or turned
off. One of the problems is that the quality is so low and there is no
visual connection between the individuals. Cisco is planning on a conferencing
product which raises this bar significantly. Using HD and large screen
displays, they want the meeting to be like being there. Rather than call
it video conferencing, it will likely be called Telepresence. The product
is expected in 2006.
Charles Giancarlo is also President of Linksys/Cisco. He
expects that the video technology will also transition to the home. One
of the major activities will also be the extension of VoIP technology
into the home.
Due to the high performance of networks, we are at the
threshold of virtualization of the computer. This includes not
only the disintermediation of the memory and disk drives but even to
the OS. That is, the operating system will be made up of open independent
parts in much the same way that the computer components are.
One of the most important developments of the evolution
of computing is the move of computers that are horizontal to vertical – from
computer rooms with computers in big boxes to blades. This process
The New Intel – a Solutions Company
Justin Rattner, Intel Senior Fellow, and Director of Intel’s
Corporate Technology Group described the emergence of Intel 3.0. The
first was a DRAM company, the second was microprocessors and the third
a solution company. The turning point was Centrino technology. Justin’s
The market value of going beyond just one component,
the microprocessor, was a call to action in the company. This has given
rise to many efforts including Intel’s ethnography and people
and places activities. There is a huge worldwide opportunity for computing
technology. When one considers that PC penetration in the US is approaching
78.5% and the rest of the world is only 4.4%, there is much to do to
open new markets.
Our work in China has shown that there are specific
needs unique to Chinese market and the role that parents play in a
child’s education. As a result of our research, including observing
in homes, we have released the China Learning PC called SuitMe.
The situation in India is quite different. There are
700m individuals in 600,000 villages. Here the kiosk model is prevalent.
A PC is made available to a whole village by a operator who runs a
kiosk. This individual is literate and can operate the computer for
others. As a result Intel has created the Rurally-Hardened Platform – Community
Motorola Concept: Seamless Mobility
Edward J. Zander, Chairman and CEO, Motorola showed a collection
of new phones. At the same time he promoted the concept of Seamless Mobility.
In his mind this is as significant at the minicomputers and Internet
in their own times. This concept is founded on:
Movement to digital
The result of this is:
Always on and
He was particularly strong on the Network Agnostic requirement.
For example, there are many who feel 3G is better than WiMAX or 802.20
but this misses the point. Seamless Mobility should operate independent
of the network:
Motorola has made a major commitment to WiMAX. We now
have 400 engineers working on this technology.
The rate that the cell phone industry is expanding is
amazing. Some statistics cited were:
There will be 800m cell phones sold in 2005, this is
6 to 7X the number of notebooks;
There are 320m wireless users in China alone.
Ring Tones represent 10% of all the music industry
It is estimated that by 2012 there will be 17b network
to network devices connected.
A number of innovative phones were shown. But with the
usual, sad commentary, that phone network innovation is not in the US
but Europe and Asia.
Kurzweil’s World is Becoming Flat
Ray Kurzweil, Chairman and CEO, Kurzweil Technologies,
Inc. gave a shotgun 30 minute presentation on Innovation Everywhere—How
the Acceleration of “GNR” (genetics, nanotechnology, robotics)
Will Create a Flat and Equitable World. If this can be captured in one
sound bite it is that all technology is plotted on a log log graph.
It is Ray’s view that it is impossible to accurately
gauge technology as it happens but only over time. His analysis led to
some striking predictions as humans on biologic scale integrate with
By 2010 Computers will Disappear
Images will be written directly on our retinas
Ubiquitous high bandwidth connection to the internet
at all times
Electronics so tiny it’s embedded in our environment,
our clothing and our eyeglasses
By 2029 there will be an intimate merger
$1,000 of computation – 1,000X the human brain
Reverse engineering of the human brain is completed
Computers pass the Turing test
Nonbiological intelligence will continue to grow exponentially
whereas biological intelligence is fixed.
Constant Theme – Decline of the US in Engineering
If there was one message which was pandemic in virtually
all the sessions is the decline in US engineering and science education.
With only 60,000 graduates in the US a year and 260,000+ in China alone,
the situation was seen as declining. Funding for engineering has remained
flat for more than 20 years.
One of the concerns is that engineering is no longer exciting.
There is noting like Sputnik to fuel the competitive spirit.
When asked why are other countries ahead of the US most
felt this issue was not innovation in process. In the 80’s and
90’s individuals from China and other countries toured many companies
here in Silicon Valley and Boston, for example. They took notes and now
the results of their carefully study are bearing fruit. It was cited
that many countries have cabinet level posts in technology and the US
does not. There are national goals in technology and there are none in
One of the reasons for concern is that there is a close
tie between GDP growth and technology innovation which is related to
an educated workforce.
The alarm bells have been rung but it is unclear if the
US has the leadership and will to regain its leadership position.
In looking at the big picture, Ray Kurzweil constructed
a compelling picture of the evolution of technology and how progress
is unrelenting. But, there is an even more important observation to draw – relentless
change makes technologies and organizations which are dependent on them
obsolete at the same pace. The Internet bubble of 2000 – 2002 is
the digital Mesozoic Era which killed the dinosaurs of a pre-historic
digital time. History has shown that evolution periodically cleanses
the environment of species and obsolete life forms (e.g. technologies
If there was a constant over the two days of the Emerging
Technologies Conference it was instability. The water of innovation sought
its own level in disruption. Ultimately disruption impacts companies.
Edward J. Zander, Chairman and CEO, Motorola stated: The time to make
radical business changes is when the business is at its peak not when
it is under assault.
One of the saddest parts directly relates to the US. Our
leadership in technology is being disrupted. The WAVE sees this on a
continuous basis in wireless. The Klaxons went off at the Emerging Technologies
Conference in education – the life blood of sustaining innovation.
Overcoming these issues takes leadership and there no signs of this emerging
Technology progress, in isolation, was less important than
creating paradigm shifts. It was interesting that Intel and Nicholas
Negroponte agreed on the importance of bringing computing to emerging
countries but the solution was radically different. Intel was about fine
tuning its normal ways of doing business. The MIT Media Lab was about
going into the business of making laptops at very low prices. Another
very different example was that Motorola was not concerned about which
3G technology wins but how it can be network agnostic to implement seamless
One tidbit, which could ultimately be the largest force
for effectiveness in emerging countries, was the presence of Google on
the MIT team. It may ultimately be that the use of open source on the
OLPC (one laptop per child) is much less important than the rethinking
of how educational material can be delivered – this is what Google
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