Friday, April 2, 2010

Cloud Computing, the Tablet, and the Developing World

I love Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child organization. As the name states, their mission is:

"To create educational opportunities for the world's poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning."

One big challenge he is running into is the cost and he sees the tablet as the way to get to his goal of a $100 "laptop". He thinks all of the necessary functionality can fit into the tablet and that it is the ideal platform because it has "no moving parts, not even a hinge." It's perfect.

Except that today's tablet is finitely usable. Like any self-contained computing platform, it is only as good as the technology that is in it and its useful life is limited. What needs to happen is to purpose-build a tablet to tap into the cloud. Think how this could impact, not only Negroponte's children, but numerous others, especially women, in developing nations.

One of the things that I find fascinating (mainly due to my self-absorbed Western perspective) is the rise of the microfinance industry. Here we have people that are starting businesses on as little as $100-200! Compare that to the latest VC-financed enterprise here in the States. Now don’t get me wrong; relative to their annual incomes, that can be a steep price, but entrepreneurs exist everywhere, and few have ever had access to capital to launch. But the microfinance industry (made up of secular and faith-based participants) has opened up tremendous possibilities in those areas where it has been able to gain traction.

When we start to couple cloud-enabled tablets with microfinance opportunities and expand both we give those folks access to information and the means to begin to move out of the abject poverty in which so many of them live. Will we ever totally eradicate poverty? Not in this world. There are too many other factors at work. And neither the cloud or the tablet or even the applications are where they need to be yet. But they will be. And as information becomes more ubiquitous and people have access to means that allow them to act on it, other freedoms and opportunities can follow.

Sure, it's an idealistic view of things, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't give it a try someday.