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More on "Freedom To Tinker, Freedom to Learn"

negroponteslaptop.jpgIn “Freedom To Tinker, Freedom to Learn,” I made some assumptions about the user interface for the $100 laptop. In “Alan Kay at WSIS,” Ethan Zukerman explains that Alan Kay will be doing much of the user interface design work:

Kay began by explaining that most people aren’t using computers to do the most important things they’re able to do, by which I think he means that we’re not using computers to explore, experiment and discover. Mentioning that he, Nicholas and others working on the hundred-dollar laptop were getting older, he suggested that he was getting sick of computer “vendors who don’t realize there are children in the world.

Kay puts forth the interesting proposition that “our brains aren’t designed for thinking – they’re designed for survival” – for making quick decisions, which aren’t neccesarily the correct decisions. He sees this as a major barrier to doing science – it’s taken until fairly late in human history that we’re willing to challenge our own perceptions, and “received wisdom” and carry out our own experiments. He offers a critique of Wikipedia as a teaching tool – the article on gravity doesn’t teach you about gravity – it’s a set of assertions organized in a story, not designed to help you learn about gravity. (It seemed like an odd swipe to take at Wikipedia, given that Jimmy’s never billed it as a teaching tool, and given the extent to which Negroponte has indicated that Wikipedia will likely be core to what’s distributed with the machine.

If I were a dictator, there’s no way I’d allow a machine designed by Alan Kay to teach into the hands of thousands of schoolchildren. I’d declare it to be either a tool of the devil, of Western cultural imperialism, or blasphemous. Maybe even all three. There’s few things scarier to than a generation of children who have learned to observe and analyze.

(Photo from Mobile Africa.)