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The Laptop Crusade

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OLPC

Within the next 12 months, as many as 10 million laptop computers will be distributed to children in Argentina, Brazil, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Rwanda, and Uruguay. Countless youngsters who live in remote villages, perhaps without electricity, who may not have access to clean water or health care, will suddenly have computing power pretty close to that of businesspeople and college students.

It's one of the biggest nonprofit technology-based projects in a decade, and yet it's only the first phase of a program that seeks to put a staggering 100 million laptops into the hands of developing-world schoolchildren in the next couple of years, at a cost of at least US $10 billion. By any standard, the numbers are enormous: 100 million laptops is double the number produced annually throughout the world today. Simply meeting that target would almost surely cause global shortages of liquid-crystal displays and other key components.

The initiative, known as the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, is the brainchild of Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of MIT's Media Lab, who announced the project at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in 2005. Hardly anyone questions the worthiness of the project's goals, but just about everything else about it has been fair game.

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