WCIT The unusual struggle to provide adequate, cheap PCs to the world's poor has gone awry before it really even began in earnest. A group of technology leaders today chastised the likes of AMD, Intel and MIT for failing to cooperate around their efforts to create low-cost computers. Compounding the tension, the leaders added that they'd prefer to see the likes of Nokia and Motorola dumping cell phones on their nations before the PC crowd arrives.
All week delegates here at the World Congress on Information Technology (WCIT) have been wooed by AMD, Intel and MIT. Each organization made a pitch about why its low-cost computer could get the job done better than a rival's similar product.
AMD gave every WCIT attendee one of its PIC (personal internet communicator) products. About the size of a brick, this computer runs on a low-end AMD chip, has a no frills version of Windows and ships with a thick, plastic casing for protection. AMD's CEO Hector Ruiz talked up the device during a keynote at the conference.
Intel too made a showing with CEO Paul Otellini unveiling the Eduwise laptop. Intel believes that the cheap computers should have full operating systems and most of the cutting-edge technology found on more expensive computers. The tiny Eduwise might cost more than AMD's PIC, but it's faster and ships with bright colors meant to attract youngsters.
Meanwhile, MIT's Nicholas Negroponte blessed the WCIT crowd with an appearance at an evening event to make his pitch for the hand-cranked $100 laptop.
The cheap kit consumed much of the conference's attention, which isn't surprising given that attendees are tasked with debating lofty concerns such as ending the digital divide and the like.
Three competing laptop programs is about two too many, according to some of the WCIT delegates who caught all of the pitches.
"When I listen to the multiple presentations here, (I wonder) . . . are they talking to each other in terms of how they can collaborate," said Theogene Rudasingwa, a technology expert from Rwanda. "It occurred to me that probably they are not.
"We need to do a little more in seeing how we can collaborate . . . How can we put all these things together into some kind of sustainable effort that begins to have an impact on people in the developing world."
Such cooperation, however, proves unlikely given the competitive nature of AMD and Intel, in particular. The companies don't see their low-cost PC efforts as long-term charity projects but rather as seeding potential growth markets with their brands. Both companies plan to profit handsomely one day by helping the poor now.
"We are also worried whether AMD, Intel and the MIT professor are talking to each other," said Ibrahim Kaliisa, special advisor on technology to the president of Uganda. "It can be about moral obligation here, but it also must make business sense for these companies. Maybe, that is why they are not talking to each other."