John Negroponte: A Behind-the-Scenes OLPC Operative

   
   
   
   
   

In reading Ellen Wallace's coverage of the International Club of Geneva, where she excitedly reports that Nicholas Negroponte yet again hinted at a commercial release of the OLPC XO, this time in September 2007 in a "buy three get one" scheme, I was struck by a more important nugget of One Laptop Per Child news.


John brings ♥ to Intel + OLPC XO

Ms. Wallace reports that Negroponte revealed that John Negroponte, Nick's brother, was the architect of the Intel + OLPC agreement:

The OLPC and Intel relationship could, until last week, have been best described as combative, a point Negroponte underlined. He credits his older brother John, a diplomat who is currently US deputy secretary of state, with pointing out that it makes more sense to work together.

John negotiated an agreement but as for what it means, Nicholas Negroponte would only say, "We have the marriage certificate but we're like a couple that hasn't learned to live together yet."

Hmm, now that is the second time the big brother has helped out Nicholas Negroponte in times of need. As we learned in April, John helped Nick learn about USA state governors:
"The first time it happened to me, I got email that said, "I'd like to buy a OLPC for my state, signed Jeb. I said, "This can't be real!" At the time, John, my older brother, was Director of National Intelligence. I said, "Is this real?" It was real. So I apologized to to Jeb; I said, "I apologize to the governor; I thought maybe this was spam."
And like when we learned about the OLPC Peru mystery wrapped in an enigma, John Negroponte's association with One Laptop Per Child will only spark more OLPC + CIA conspiracy theories even if John now works for the US State Department.

Hmm.. now a One Laptop Per Warfighter idea doesn't seem so far-fetched. But this time, with big brother at the State Department, we could start seeing calls for "OLPD" - One Laptop Per Diplomat.

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24 Comments

Let's take your last sentence one step further: since little people using these computers are supposed to be great communicators, maybe we can get them to train the diplomats, who will pick up more than just computer lessons in the process, with luck.

In Ellen Wallace' article Negroponte is quoted as saying: Everything is "designed to be repaired and maintained by kids - 95% of all failures are repairable by kids 12 years and up."

I don't buy that. Even with Quanta's extreme hard-core torture tests of the X0-1s there will be hardware-failures which aren't easily fixable. Especially since everything is so tightly integrated. You're really telling me that 95% of all failures are going be loose screws, because what else could these "spare parts" be that are said to be included with each laptop? Maybe a small IC or a spare CPU that children will be able to solder onto the PCB in case it breaks?

Interestingly the OLPC Wiki's list of replaceable components (http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Support) only lists these items: Directional Pad, Display, Keyboard, Antenna Ears. Are they going to be reponsible for 95% of the failures?

Another (unofficial) entry (http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Ask_OLPC_a_Question_about_Product_Life-cycle) says "The expectation is that each school will have a person who is capable of swapping out bad parts..."

Last piece of information about the whole topic can be found here: http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Laptop_Service_Programme_Ideas

Ha! I think before they have any more communication equipment, we need to get better bullshit detectors fitted first.

Hey Ellen, do you remember that I was sitting at your table at the Paquis Fondue the last night of the Lift07 conference. I think among other things we might have talked about the OLPC then.

Congratulations on the commercial OLPC scoop. I wonder though if Quanta and CMI have yet managed to design a more adult oriented version running more commercially suitable versions of Linux eigther Pepper OS or a Windows based Fedora. Also it would need to be in a larger form factor, needs less to be durable thus put the electronics under the adult-sized keyboard.

Also it's very interesting to wonder how Intel executives are going to support or counter the OLPC philosophy. With all this profit Intel makes, does it want to support a worldwide project that provides no short term profit other than immediate good PR, and which in principle can change the roadmap and disrupt the whole established way of the doing business in the computing industry?

What if, to be cheaper, more reliable, use lower power and to behave more as a consumer electronics device, the XO-2 would port all the Linux applications over to an ARM and DSP hardware design?

I really don't see what the Negroponte brothers' scheme has to with educating poor children. It looks more like a new form of neo-colonialism. Now there will be an arrested development of hi-tech the same way the old colonial empires retarded other nations's industrial development.

From an Software Engineering standpoint Sugar and Bitfrost are neither well done nor well planned. Certainly not CMMI nor ISO 9000 ready. From an Education standpoint; the Constructivist lesson plans are barely more than a mission statement. When compared to real Student-Centered lesson plans; paltry just begins to describe it.

Robert Lane,

"Now there will be an arrested development of hi-tech the same way the old colonial empires retarded other nations's industrial development. "

So you're saying that all these countries that were charging ahead in high-tech, like Nigeria or Brazil (which actually is) are going to be halted dead in their tracks if the elementary school students start using oplc laptops and learn to program in Python.

But of course that must be true. It is a proven fact that everything that comes out of the US is entirely evil, and indeed is the sole cause of all that is bad in the world.

So oplc is going to go ahead with the commercial release. That is good news for reaching the 5,000,000 or whatever the number is needed to launch the product. I would think there would be millions of people in the U.S. and other developing countries who would love to buy one.

Eduardo,

Just so you know, the 1st world countries developed because of protectionist laws and incubator companies protection. It was called Merchantilism. The United States had a protectionist economy until the late 1970's.

On the other, many 3rd world colonies were prevented from progress due their imperial master's insistance on focusing on raw materials.

"But of course that must be true. It is a proven fact that everything that comes out of the US is entirely evil, and indeed is the sole cause of all that is bad in the world."

There are good things about America, but there is also history of the genicidal killing of 100 million people, the enslavement of 40 million people, and 200 years of racial aparthied. The USA also bombed Vietnam with 10 million gallons of chemical weapons. Americans aspire to be better, but there is a lot of baggage.

For those that don't know this is how the 1st and 2nd world's developed. It had nothing to do with education.
Source:wikipedia
Mercantilism is an economic theory that holds that the prosperity of a nation depends upon its supply of capital, and that the global volume of trade is "unchangeable". Economic assets, or capital, are represented by bullion (gold, silver, and trade value) held by the state, which is best increased through a positive balance of trade with other nations (exports minus imports). Mercantilism suggests that the ruling government should advance these goals by playing a protectionist role in the economy, by encouraging exports and discouraging imports, especially through the use of tariffs. The economic policy based upon these ideas is often called the mercantile system.
Among the former British colonies, the United States of America chose not to adhere to classical economics, preferring a form of neo-mercantilism embodied by the "American School". Classical economics (not used until recently) is widely regarded as the first modern school of economic thought. Its major developers include Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Thomas Malthus and John Stuart Mill. Sometimes the definition of classical economics is expanded to include William Petty, Johann Heinrich von Thünen, and Karl Marx.

"There are good things about America, but there is also history of the genicidal killing of 100 million people, the enslavement of 40 million people, and 200 years of racial aparthied."

Possibly more than 100 million, but they were not murdered. They died from infectuous diseases (Jarred Diamond's book "Guns, germs, and steel" is a good primer). The European colonizers themselves were completely unaware about what caused the diseases. Only in the 19 and 20 centries did new Americans conciously exterminate what was left of the native population. The enslavement was the direct result of this mass death. There was a lot of land, but nobody to work on it. The Russians used slaves (labour camps) to colonize Siberia for the same reason at least till the end of the 20th century. Half the African slaves went to the Americas, the other half to the Arab and Trukish world. Slavery was quite common in human history.

"Mercantilism is an economic theory that holds that the prosperity of a nation depends upon its supply of capital, and that the global volume of trade is "unchangeable"."

Which, of course was completely wrong. This only worked if one country did it and could force others to be subjected to it. An enforced capital surplus is a way to let others work for you. Your surplus in capital has to be created by others. Say, by force in a colony.

Normally, a trade surplus will increase your exchange rate which will level the difference. So a mercantilist country needs a way to force other countries to keep the exchange rate fixed.

This could be done by forcing everybody to use gold. Hence the reference of a gold standard for trade. The USA had to leave the gold standard in the 1970 due to over-spending on wars. Instead, they managed to get everybody to pay oil with dollars. They also switched to a system where they imported capital combined with a trade deficit, using the dollar glut from the oil imports. This system is breaking down now as the US is losing ways to sell anything.

In the end, mercantilism is a method to let others work for you without having to pay them.

Protectionism seems to be good if you can use it selectively to grow an efficient industry. Like Korea did. Compare it to a greenhouse, where you grow up plants until they are strong enough to make it outside. The downside is that you can end up with a lot of plants that will never survive outside.

Winter

Winter,

"In the end, mercantilism is a method to let others work for you without having to pay them."

I didn't say it was a good system. I said that 1st world nations did many bad things to get rich, but now they are saying it was because they were educated. Education is more of a by-product of wealth, rather than the cause.

"(Jarred Diamond's book "Guns, germs, and steel" is a good primer). The European colonizers themselves were completely unaware about what caused the diseases."

I don't need to read a book, because we have Native Americans right here in the community. The Native Americans say that the diseases were spread by trading goods that were purposely infected; like a type of biological warfare.

"Slavery was quite common in human history."

Yes but Roman and Ottoman type slavery was not mixed with racial supremacy as in America. It was more of an economic status. Several Roman Freedmen went on to become prominent citizens.

Robert Lane,


"Mercantilism is an economic theory that holds that the prosperity of a nation depends upon its supply of capital, and that the global volume of trade is "unchangeable".

Correct.

"Just so you know, the 1st world countries developed because of protectionist laws and incubator companies protection. It was called Merchantilism."

Wrong. The British Empire practiced Mercantilism with respect to its colonies, preventing them from developing manufacturing, and taking their raw materials and selling them manufactured goods at huge profits. But the 1st world countries industrialized in the main, first because they developed highly effecient agriculture that produced an internal surplus of labor, and then through a continual process of technological innovation aided by the economic system, capitalism, that best facilitates invention.

In addition, in a highly anti-mercantilist manner, the British empire developed a world-wide system of trade that, contrary to mercantilism greatly increased total trade and total wealth.

The British world trade system collapsed after WWI, and was later reestablished after WWII by the United States. The European empires collapsed in the next few decades because, as a result of technological advance, slave labor to produce raw materials was no longer profitable.

And yes, the US continues to practice a good deal of protectionism with regard to raw materials (and you are right that is contrary to classical economics), but that is the opposite of colonial theft of raw materials.

Developing world countries that are poor today are empoverished because they tend to practice leftist or kleptocratic economics. The proof is the Asian countries, especially China, which have grown into industrial powers, and done so with the encouragement of the United States and other capitalist.

I am guessing you can't see this because you are a leftist and believe that socialism is the path. But then how do you explain China, which did poorly under socialism and since then has prospered under the free market?

Oh, and I notice you dropped the point that started this all out, namely the high tech development of developing nations. Would you be so kind as to admit you were wrong about that?

Eduardo,

I certainly not a leftist. I have a university degree in Corporate Finance and have held the professional rank of Senior Financial Analyst.

I disagree with your assessment of the British Empire; both America and later India rebelled against England due to the latter's prohibition of progress in those places. America established the Monroe doctrine, that prevented Colonial powers from interfering with America.

In America we seperate Democracies into Hamiltonian and Jeffersonian; named after a debate between two of the founders. The United States was founded as a Hamiltonian Democracy. The Latin American nations were actually founded as Jeffersonian Democracies. Bolivar was avid reader of Thomas Jefferson. Unfortunately, a Hamiltonian Democracy is by definition larger than a Jeffersonian one. It has to do with the design of the State. Historically, America has used the size differential to bully the Jeffersonian type democracies founded by Bolivar. It is unfortunate that Latin American nations had problems that caused these young republics to collapse, and both external and internal causes are to blame.

Anyway; the Colonial Empires did retard the progress of other cultures. I did not believe in "Civilizing Savages", as do many post colonial people. I think that those cultures would have developed industrialization in their own time, and in their own way. Similiarly, the developing world should be free to develop their own form of hi-tech.If people really want help 3rd world countries they should give them science and engineering fundamentals, instead of force feeding them western technology. America had Henry Ford, and he developed his company witout fear of Karl Benz. Germany had the first jets, but Boeing was free to develop in the USA. If companies fail later on, due to world markets, at least they had a chance to compete.

Robert & Eduardo,

Thank you for the lessons on Mercantilism, Colonialism, and even Hamiltonian Democracy, but might I ask that you two come back to topic - John Negroponte's influence on One Laptop Per Child?

Thanks.

Wayan,

This all got started when I stated that OLPC has yet to prove that it is not just another form of "White Man's burden" or "Civilizing Savages".

Wayan,
"John Negroponte's influence on One Laptop Per Child?"

We must civilize those barbaric savages...
We must do something before those savages sacrifice a virgin to a volcano...
We destroy their culture and their world in order to SAVE them...

John Negroponte has this type of attitude and manner; including Intel just makes OLPC look even more "Grand Imperial". The only "Trojan Horse" that I have seen is one for westernization. What lesson has been taught to children other than Western cultures have superior technology.

Wayan,

ok. I guess I will just have to leave it to everyone else to decide on their own whether or not Robert is correct when he says that oplc is an American imperialist plot to halt high-tech progress in developing countries.

Like my statement about Native American genocide...I am getting it from the source;this is how the people themselves feel and think...Even MIT people see this problem.

"Many cultures see the Internet as an arm of Western imperialism and as a bastion of pornography and consumerism,"
- Michael Best, a computer scientist by training with graduate degrees from the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, now a professor at Georgia Tech in Atlanta

John Negroponte also has a very bad reputation:
"Negroponte served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2001 to 2004. But it is his time as ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985 that earned him a reputation for supporting widespread human rights abuses and campaigns of terror. He played a key role in coordinating US covert aid to the Contras who targeted civilians in Nicaragua and shoring up a CIA-backed death squad in Honduras. During Negroponte’s tenure, US military aid to Honduras skyrocketed from 3.9 million dollars to over 77 million. Much of this went to ensure the Honduran army’s loyalty in the battle against popular movements throughout Central America." -Democracy Now

Robert Lane,

"Many cultures see the Internet as an arm of Western imperialism and as a bastion of pornography and consumerism,"

Yes, that is why it is so unpopular all over the world. It's why cybercafes in the Middle East, Africa or Latin America have never gotten off the ground. It is why China doesn't need to filter the internet because no one in the country has the least interest in it.

"John Negroponte also has a very bad reputation"

I happen to agree with you on this. He is pretty much persona non grata in Latin America, and not very popular elsewhere. That is why I doubt that he has played much of a role in helping his brother sell oplc.

Speaking as a younger brother I can say that much of the effect of the relationship probably results in the younger brother's drive to overshadow the older brother.

While it is quite possible that John may occasionally provide a word of advice to Nick, it is much less likely that Nick would let John get in the lead of anything Nick was doing.

Any time I speak about Nick I refuse to let the topic of his brother enter the discussion. I don't see why it should enter these discussions, either.

"Yes, that is why it is so unpopular all over the world."

I detect some sarcasm. Local Cybercafes and culture specific web companies like Sina.com allow people to have web tech on their own terms. Using things like Micro-financing and government sponsored incubator programs for firms are a good way get nations into the digital world, instead of them being just passive consumers. People forget that the Internet was a combination of many public and private efforts. American web tech also required incubators. Developing nations using e-commerce to reach international customers is also a good idea. It is already happening with clothes and coffee. The point is to create markets for THEIR products.

I know that this discussion's last entry was four months ago, but I just wanted to mention that it's interesting how long it took for the comments to get back to the point of the post--that John is a Dark Lord of the Sith and the OLPC founder's Big Brother.

If anything, Nick seems to be doing the OLPC project to do the opposite of what his brother has done with the world. OLCP is a non-profit, his G1G1 program forces the rich (us in the 1st world) to help the poor if we want one of these cool gizmos (the XO) and all of it has the potential to help millions of people learn what they want to learn--not what the Western World shoves down their throats (as we have done to 3rd Worlders in years past). The OS has been designed to function quite differently from what we're used to, which suggests another way OLPC is trying to avoid shoving "Western Ways" down their throats.

So, in general, I feel like Nick is pushing forward the anti-Western capitalist agenda. He wants kids to grow up working together. When's the last time the US Government encouraged something like that?

From a purely personal standpoint, it's also funny to me how labels like "leftist" get used in these arguments. As though someone who has a degree in corporate finance can't be a lefty and that leftists MUST be socialists. Too bad that these labels are only accurate for people who want to play along and force themselves into the definitions of these terms. In the end, no system is "right" or "wrong," they're just different--better in some ways, worse in others. The world is a giant gray area and can't be so easily codified. Once we realize that different systems work for different people/culturea/nations/regions we might be able to gain some lasting peace in this world.

And I recommend Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States" for anyone who wants to learn about the flipside to mainstream, conservative history.

Of course, by recommending a book by Zinn, I'm a commie now. ^_^ Truth be told, I'm a Moderist (?!?) who believes bits of several economic, political and cultural systems working together is the best way to go. Just my 2 yen, of course. Thanks for an intriguing read!

"The apple doesn't fall far from the tree"

If Nick is related to "Death Squad John" it worries me.

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