OLPC project faces cutbacks
MIT visionary and first investor in Wired magazine, Nicolas Negroponte has announced that the altruistic One Laptop Per Child project, which aims to make very low cost laptops available to children in third-world countries, is having to scale back its operations. According to the announcement, staff and contractors will be cut by 50 per cent and the remaining 32 people face salary reductions.
Attempting to put a positive spin on the situation, Negroponte said that the restructuring is also the result of an exciting new direction for OLPC; new technology initiatives are to focus on the development of Generation 2.0 of the OLPC, a no-cost connectivity program, production of a million digital books and on passing on the development of the Sugar Operating System to the community.
He also said that OLPC project will be dedicated to bringing the cost of the laptop down to zero for the Least Developed Countries – the $0 Laptop. This isolated statement, included in the cut-back announcement, seems extraordinary, since the main stumbling block for the OLPC project has been its failure to meet it's target $100 price point, due to the projects extreme sensitivity to economies of scale. In an 2007 interview on Americas Charlie Rose show Negroponte said that the current price was around $187. He pointed out that the low price target had initially caused resistance within the laptop industry because it threatened to de-stabilised the existing laptop market. However the OLPC has actually spawned the whole netbook phenomena and now laptop makers have integrated this class of machine into their product ranges.
The inability to live up to the price promise has meant that many governments have withdrawn their initial support for the project and in turn this has affected the economies of scale. Negroponte's techno-utopian ideas have been criticised for just this fault, of not fully considering the commercial, political, cultural and historical contexts in which new technologies must develop.