TR: So from your perspective, this could still be a success even if you stopped manufacturing laptops and the technology found its way into a dozen different laptops …
WB: Yep. But I think it’s premature to do that. And the reason is quite simple: unless we keep the pressure on, the prices are going to go up, the efficiencies are going to go down, and we’re going to be right back to the same “bigger, faster” model. We’ve got to keep the pressure on and keep the industry honest until we’ve really proven that this other way is viable. Because otherwise, next year’s Intel machine will be more expensive and more power hungry, and that’s not going to serve the needs of these kids.
TR: Okay, I have to say, I’ve played with the laptop, and it seems slow.
WB: Well, it’s certainly slow compared to the laptop you carry around. But the metric you have to measure things by is not Grand Theft Auto III. The metric you want to measure things by is learning. The word processor keeps up with my typing. The video camera works just fine. The music programs work just fine. It’s a perfectly adequate platform for kids for learning. Every decision we make is, How does this enhance the learning? And the bottom line is, if you can’t turn it on since you can’t power it, a fast processor doesn’t do you very much good.
TR: There’s also the question of whether laptops are really what governments should be sinking resources into.
WB: The way Nicholas [Negroponte] likes to put it is, substitute the word “education” for “laptop.” And then ask, “Should we be giving these kids education?” “Nah, they don’t need education! Education is a luxury. Why should we give them education?” What we’re advocating is that the laptop is the most efficient way we know of of giving them an opportunity for real learning. It’s not that we’re interested in laptops; we’re interested in learning. And it turns out that almost 50 years of research by people like [computer scientist and educational theorist] Seymour Papert has demonstrated that computation is a wonderful thing to think with. It’s powerful stuff. And it’s going to change these kids’ lives dramatically for the better.