JP: How can you reasonably believe that these very valuable devices – worth more two working people’s annual salaries in poor nations – will not be stolen and resold?
NN: Having them stolen may become our distribution model, for all I know! Seriously. Usually people steal because there is a secondary market. There is not much of a secondary market for post-office trucks, so not too many are stolen. Also, imagine a UN blue rubber laptop, with the crest in it. How many of those will be stolen? I know, some will be, and people may even try to take them to a body shop to be transformed. If the market is supplied with near-$100 laptops, that helps a great deal.
JP: You’ve named the entity in charge of the HDL project the “One Laptop Per Child” (OLPC) organization. If you succeed, OLPC will become the largest personal computer enterprise in the world. But who is in charge of OLPC? The Media Lab at MIT?
NN: OLPC is totally separate from MIT. It is an 501(c)6 with its own board, executives, location, and staff. It has outsourced R&D to MIT. Right now, that is a total $4 million agreement between now and December 31, 2006. OLPC itself will be small, just 20-30 people, outsourcing supply, and working with a constellation of different organizations like the UN for demand.
JP: Will governments in the poor world really be happy about the free flow of information into their countries? Won’t they have political objections? What about cultural objections? To pornography, say? Or to anti-Islamic language?
NN: Some will, some won’t. We remain pretty agnostic on these issues.
JP: Explain why it’s a good idea to eliminate the profit motive from the HDL. Many free-marketeers would argue that the absence of market forces is exactly what’s wrong with public education in both the rich and poor worlds.
NN: If the goal is to bring this to the largest number of children at the lowest possible cost, as a human right, as basic as education itself, you cannot have aligned goals. Our vendors and suppliers all make a profit, including AMD, Red Hat, and others. But the board of OLPC has to have one and only one goal in mind, and that is to bring as many kids as possible on-line with laptops, worldwide, not just in region A or B, country C or D.