Bringing Computing to the Masses

Over the last several years, there has existed a movement to bring cheap computers into all the dark corners of the world. With cheap Internet access on cheap machines, information can be disseminated by sources outside the official channels. We may be able to get the latest headlines of struggles for freedom in Iraq, atrocities in the Balkans, or the other side of stories that the party line doesn’t or won’t carry directly from those involved. We could find out what the average Iraqi thinks of the war from Iraqis in occupied villages and from Marines occupying that same village. The world is getting smaller, but the Internet is a resource that has yet to achieve it’s greatest potential–making the planet a community, and that’s only going to happen when Net access is ubiquitous and free for people who cannot afford more than their next meal. This is a significant segment of the human population on this planet, marginalized and forgotten in the fervor of oil struggles, political machinations and headlines about whatever will sell papers. The cover of Newsweek this week is a story speculating on the future of the new Catholic Pope, rather than focusing on what the Pope supposedly stands for–a figurehead of an institution devoted to ministering the needy, the sick, the poor of the world. With worldwide Internet access, those people will have a voice and will be able to speak out, shortening the links between those in need and those who can help.

AMD is at the forefront with their Personal Internet Communicator, a stripped-down, Windows-based, rugged small form-factor machine, built around the Geode processor, a low-power chip running at 366 MHz and a 3.5″ HDD. There are already hackers trying to get it to run Damn Small Linux. The BIOS is designed to be only changed through the phone/network provider, making it nearly impervious to viruses and hacking, but makes it difficult to run other OS’s. The whole thing is barely bigger than the hard drive itself and retails for under $200. With a bulk buy through a government or education grant, every village and town in the world could have one for less than the budget most governments spend on a Mars Lander. Finding Life on other planets would be a great thing, but there is life here on Earth that needs to be taken care of first. [Britt Godwin]