About an hour into an event organized by OLPC at the Dirksen Senate Office Building this past Wednesday in Washington, D.C., Senator John McCain arrived to endorse the use of XO laptops for fighting insurgencies in wartorn countries. OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte and the ambassadors to the U.S. of Afghanistan and Pakistan were present as McCain said opening the flow of information and knowledge into these countries through the deployment of XO laptops would be a positive step towards stabilization. He acknowledged knowing that OLPC has had problems, but said that "this little device" is already making a big difference.
Matt Keller, Director for Europe, Middle East and Africa for OLPC, asked McCain to take some questions from reporters from the Associated Press, Reuters, Bloomberg and others. Given the coverage that day of the resource frustrations of the Obama administration's chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, the journalists jumped right into questioning on McCain's take on the Pentagon's plan for increased troop levels. A couple OLPC-related questions were squeezed in before McCain had to leave. McCain said that he still shows off his XO when people visit his home and recently touted it in Yemen.
For the first hour of the event, Negroponte presented his standard pitch on the OLPC mission with a status report on deployments. He claimed 1,000,000 laptops in the hands of kids, 350,000 in route and 500,000 back ordered. This to 31 countries in 19 languages. Turning to the idea of fighting insurgencies with laptops, Negroponte said he had just finished a napkin sketch calculation of what it would take to fully deploy XOs and connectivity to the children of Afghanistan. Whereas the combined Iraq and Afghanistan wars costs over $2bn per week, Negroponte estimated that $1bn over a year would be need to saturate the country. He said this is a simple economic choice between guns and laptops. OLPC aims to wage a "soft war" against violence and extremism in Afghanistan and the tribal areas of western Pakistan by giving children access to real education and the world's knowledge.
The ambassadors were, of course, very supportive of OLPC's proposed involvement saying that proper education and health care would lead to prosperity. The Pakistani ambassador's remarks were especially forceful, and are covered by the [Pakistani] International News.
OLPC has been piloting the "fighting insurgency" approach with Maureen Orth, special correspondent to Vanity Fair and wife of the late Tim Russert, on the ground in Columbia. Here's an MSNBC video:
OLPC's Capital Hill event followed Tuesday's seminar at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) on the effectiveness of computer use in the classroom. Negroponte and Walter Bender attended.