Do you remember the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) educational initiative for countries without public school systems? OLPC got tired of trying to teach children things, and decided to help them help themselves. OLPC left a box in a remote village with enough solar-powered tablets for each child. OLPC founder Nichola Negroponte describes the experiment:
We left the boxes in the village. Closed. Taped shut. No instruction, no human being. I thought, the kids will play with the boxes! Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, but found the on/off switch. He’d never seen an on/off switch. He powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs [in English] in the village. And within five months, they had hacked Android. Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera! And they figured out it had a camera, and they hacked Android.
If this sounds a lot like Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, you’re right on the money. The educational software in the novel was a direct inspiration for much of the OLPC software. Some fiction is just awesome enough to make into reality.
Also, can you imagine the games they’ll be making in a few months?