GEOG 479
Cyber-Geography in Geospatial Intelligence

The Power of Information Access


As we now understand in today's world, information is power. A majority of the people in developing societies have significant barriers in gaining access to information that we take for granted. This is especially true for children in the developing world. The nonprofit, One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), formed at MIT in 2005 by Nicholas Negroponte, conceived of a low-cost laptop that would remove the barriers that impede access to education and information for the world's most needy children. He conceived of the idea of a $100 laptop freely distributed to children in third world countries. The OLPC is a unique low cost and high design product with particular attention to user needs and a challenging use environment. The computer is designed to be drop proof, splash proof, and kid friendly.

In October 2007, Uruguay placed an order for 100,000 laptops, making Uruguay the first country to purchase a full order of laptops for every child in its borders. The first real, non-pilot deployment of the OLPC technology happened in Uruguay in December 2007 (Krstić, 2007). Since then, 200,000 more laptops have been ordered to cover all public school children between 6 and 12 years old. Uruguay reported in the press that they had become the first nation in the world where every primary school child received a free laptop (Jarvis 2009) as part of the Plan Ceibal (Education Connect). Since then, over 2.5 million laptops have been distributed around the world in dozens of countries – with mixed results. Since connectivity for children was the primary goal, the program has met with mixed reviews. Some of these include no technical support, ease-of-use, security, content-filtering, and privacy issues. Government officials in some countries have criticized the project for its appropriateness in terms of price, cultural emphasis, and priority as compared to other basic needs of people in their countries. Other complaints include little teacher training and a cost that is roughly double the original design.

I will leave it to the reader to judge whether the effort has been worth the cost to date. This will be a subject for discussion later in the forum. Please do a little research on your own to assist in voicing your opinion in the forum later. What should be obvious after the next section, though, is the potential that could be unleashed with both universal connectivity to information and universal access to content. Other ideas adjunct to this are the rapid expansions of Massive Online Open Classes (MOOCs) as typified by efforts in Coursera. Scientific American recently detailed the issues and potentials of adding universal university level content to the oncoming connectivity.

So, in a little more than 30 years, the Web has expanded from a nascent technology to a tool that transforms how people, businesses, and governments communicate and engage, the Arab Spring being one example as well as the protests for democracy in Hong Kong. The Web's economic impact has been expansive, making significant contributions to many national gross domestic product (GDP) and has fueled new, innovative industries. It has generated societal change by connecting individuals and communities (or allowing them to connect), provides access to information and education, and promotes greater transparency. However, not all countries have harnessed the Internet’s benefits to the same degree. If we examine of the evolution of Internet penetration globally, we can observe some factors that enable development of a vibrant Internet ecosystem, and the barriers that are impeding more than 60 percent of the global population from getting online.

A September 2014 report by the McKinsey Group detailed some of these factors. The Executive Summary is uploaded in the Professional Online Library.

Several key findings emerged:

  1. Over the last decade, the global online population grew to just over 2.7 billion people, driven by five trends. The worldwide Internet user population was around 3.5 billion people in 2016, with 1.8 billion joining the ranks since 2004. This growth has been fueled by five trends: the expansion of mobile network coverage and increasing mobile Internet adoption, urbanization, shrinking device and data plan prices, a growing middle class, and the increasing utility of the Internet.
  2. At the current trajectory, an additional 500 million to 900 million people are forecast to join the online population by 2017. However, these gains will still leave up to 4.2 billion people offline. The rate of growth of worldwide Internet users slowed from a three-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.1 percent in 2005–2008 to 10.4 percent in 2009–2013.2 Without a significant change in technology, in income growth or in the economics of access, or policies to spur Internet adoption, the rate of growth will continue to slow.
  3. About 75 percent of the offline population is concentrated in 20 countries and is disproportionately rural, low income, elderly, illiterate, and female. We estimate that approximately 64 percent of these offline individuals live in rural areas, whereas 24 percent of today’s Internet users are considered rural. As much as 50 percent of offline individuals have an income below the average of their respective country’s poverty line and median income.
  4. The offline population faces barriers to Internet adoption spanning four categories: incentives, low incomes and affordability, user capability, and infrastructure. Despite the increasing utility of the Internet in providing access to information, opportunities, and resources to improve quality of life, there remain large segments of the offline population that lack a compelling reason to go online. Barriers in this category include a lack of awareness of the Internet or use cases that create value for the offline user, a lack of relevant (that is, local or localized) content and services, and a lack of cultural or social acceptance.
  5. The issues cannot be considered in isolation (or can they?) — McKinsey found a systematic positive large correlation between barrier categories and with Internet penetration rates. They measured the performance of 25 countries against a basket of metrics relating to each category of barriers to develop the Internet Barriers Index and found that all factors correlate strongly and separately with Internet penetration, and all regressions indicate an elastic effect on Internet penetration — that is, improvements on each individual pillar of the Internet Barriers Index will have a disproportionately positive impact on Internet penetration. One of these factors was infrastructure which implies that improving the infrastructure might have secondary and tertiary effects on other aspects.\
  6. Approximately 2 billion people, or nearly half the offline population, reside in ten countries that face significant challenges across all four barrier categories. An additional 1.1 billion people live in countries in which a single barrier category dominates. 
  7. Some nations around the world have recognized the transformational impact of bringing more of their population online and are moving aggressively on several fronts to do just that. Governments are setting ambitious goals for mobile Internet coverage and investing to extend fixed-broadband infrastructure and increase public Wi-Fi access. At the same time, network operators and device manufacturers are exploring ways to further reduce the cost of access and provide service to underserved populations. In addition, content and service providers are innovating on services that could improve the economic prospects and quality of life of Internet users.

Projects like One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) and The Other 3 Billion (O3B) are expanding access and attempting to drive connectivity costs down. The long term impacts of such infrastructure expansion are being met with mixed results. The future is open for debate as transaction costs continue to decrease.

Listen to the Experts (Optional Talk)

An optional video talk by Mr. Negroponte on the OLPC program can be viewed below. In it, he talks about how One Laptop Per Child is doing, two years in. He was speaking at a conference while the first XO laptops were rolling off the production line and recaps the controversies and recommits to the goals of this far-reaching project (16:33).

Nicholas Negroponte: One Laptop per Child, two years on
Click here for transcript of the one laptop per child video.

NICHOLAS NEGROPONTE: Most people don't know that when I went to high school in this country, I applied for university at a time when I was convinced I was going to be an artist and be a sculptor. And I came from a very privileged background. I was very lucky. My family was wealthy. 

And my father believed in one thing. And that was to give us all as much education as we wanted. And I announced I wanted to be a sculptor in Paris. And he was a clever man. He said, well, that's OK. But you've done very well in your math SATs. In fact, I'd gotten an 800. And he thought I did very well-- and I did too-- in the arts. That was my passion. 

And he said, if you go to MIT-- to which I had been given early admissions-- I will pay for every year you're at MIT in graduate or undergraduate, as much as you want, I will pay for an equal number of years for you to live in Paris. And I thought that was the best deal in town, so I accepted it immediately. 

And I decided that if I was good in art and I was good in mathematics, I'd study architecture, which was the blending of the two. I went and told my headmaster that at prep school. And I said to him what I was doing, that I was going to go study architecture, because it was art and mathematics put together. 

He said to me something that just went completely over my head. He said, I like gray suits, and I like pinstriped suits. But I don't like gray pinstriped suits. And I thought, what a turkey this guy is. 

And I went off to MIT. I studied architecture then did in a second degree in architecture and then actually quickly realized that it wasn't architecture, that really the mixing of art and science was computers and that that really was the place to bring both and enjoyed a career doing that. And probably if I were to fill out Jim Citrin's scale, I'd put 100% on the side of the equation where you spend time making it possible for others to be creative. 

And after doing this for a long time and the Media Lab passing the baton on, I thought, well, maybe it's time for me to do a project, something that would be important, but also something that would take advantage of all of these privileges that one had, and in the case of the Media Lab, knowing a lot of people, knowing people who were either executives or wealthy and also not having, in my own case, a career to worry about anymore. 

My career-- I mean, I'd done my career. Didn't have to worry about earning money. Didn't have to worry about what people thought about me. And I said, boy, let's really do something that takes advantage of all these features, and thought that if we could address education by leveraging the children and bringing to the world the access to the computers, that that was really the thing we should do. 

Never shown this picture before. I'm probably going to be sued for it. It was taken at 3 o'clock in the morning without the permission of the company. It's about two weeks old. There they are, folks. If you look at the picture, you'll see they're stacked up on it. Those are conveyor belts that go around. This is one of the conveyor belts with the thing going by. But then you'll see the ones up above. What happens is, they burn into flash memory the software, then test them for a few hours. 

But you've got to have the thing moving on the assembly line, because it's constant. So they go around in this loop, which is why you see them up there. So this was great for us, because it was a real turning point. But it goes back. This picture was taken in 1982 just before the IBM PC was even announced. 

Seymour Papert and I were bringing computers to schools and developing nations at a time when it was way ahead of itself. But one thing we learned was is that these kids can absolutely jump into it just the same way as our kids do here. And when people tell me, who's going to teach the teachers to teach the kids, I say to myself, what planet do you come from? It's not a person in this room-- I don't care how techie you are. There's not a person in this room that doesn't give their laptop or cell phone to a kid to help them debug it. OK, we all, all need help, even those of us who are very seasoned. 

This picture's Seymour 25 years ago. Seymour made a very simple observation in 1968 and then basically presented in 1970-- April 11, to be precise-- called teaching children thinking. What he observed was that kids who write computer programs understand things differently. And when they debug the programs, they come the closest to learning about learning. That was very important. 

And in some sense, we've lost that. Kids don't program enough. And boy, if there's anything I hope this brings back, it's programming to kids. It's really important. Using applications is OK. But programming is absolutely fundamental. This is being launched with three languages. And it's Squeak, Logo, and a third whose I'd never even seen before. The point being, is it's going to be very, very intensive on the programming side. 

This photograph is very important, because it's much later. This is in the early 2000s. My son Dimitri who's here-- many of you know Dimitri-- went to Cambodia, set up this school that we had built just as a school, connected it to the internet. And these kids had their laptops. 

But it was really what spirited this plus the influence of Joe and others. We started One Laptop Per Child. These are the same village in Cambodia just a couple of months ago. These kids are real pros there. But there were just 7,000 machines out there being tested by kids. 

Being a nonprofit is absolutely fundamental. Everybody advised me not to be a nonprofit, but they were all wrong. And the reason being a nonprofit is important is actually twofold. There are many reasons, but the two that merit the little bit of time is one, the clarity of purpose is there. The moral purpose is clear. I can see any head of state, any executive I want at any time, because I'm not selling laptops. OK, I have no shareholders. Whether we sell it doesn't make any difference whatsoever. The clarity of purpose is absolutely critical. 

And the second is very counterintuitive. You can get the best people in the world. If you look at our professional services, including search firms, including communications, including legal services, including banking, they're all pro bono. And it's not to save money. We've got money in the bank. It's because you get the best people. You get the people who are doing it because they believe in the mission, and they're the best people. OK, we couldn't afford to hire a CFO. We put out a job description for a CFO at zero salary. And we had a queue of people. 

It allows you to team up with people. The UN's not going to be our partner for profit making. So announcing this with Kofi Annan was very important. And the UN allowed us to basically reach all the countries. And this was the machine we were showing before I met Yves Behar. And while this machine in some sense is silly, in retrospect, it actually served a very important purpose. 

That pencil yellow crank was remembered by everybody. Everybody remembered the pencil yellow crank. It's different. It was getting its power in a different way. It's kind of childlike. And even though this wasn't the direction we went, because the crank-- it really is stupid to have it on board, by the way-- in spite of what some people in the press don't get it, didn't understand, we didn't take it off because we didn't want to do a very-- having it on the laptop itself is really not what you want. You want a separate thing like the AC adapter. I didn't bring one with me. But they really work much better off board. 

And then I could tell you lots about the laptop, but I decided just four things. Just keep in mind, because there are other people, including Bill Gates who said, gee, you got a real computer. That computer is unlike anything you've had and does things-- there are four of them-- that you don't come close to. And it's very important to be low power. And I hope that's picked up more by the industry, that the reason you want to be below two watts is that's roughly what you can generate with your upper body. 

Dual-mode display-- that sunlight display is fantastic. We were using it at lunch today in the sunlight. And the more sunlight, the better. And that was really critical. The mesh network, it'll become commonplace, and of course, rugged goes without saying. 

And the reason I think design matters isn't because I wanted to go to art school. And by the way, when I graduated from MIT, I thought the worst and silliest thing to do would be to go to Paris for six years. But so I didn't do that. 

But design matters for a number of reasons, the most important being that it is the best way to make an inexpensive product. Most people make inexpensive products by taking cheap design, cheap labor, cheap components, and making a cheap laptop. And in English, the word "cheap" has a double meaning, which is really appropriate, because it's cheap in the pejorative sense as well as inexpensive. 

But if you take a different approach and you think of very large-scale integration, very advanced materials, very advanced manufacturing-- so you're pouring chemicals in one end, iPods are spewing out the other-- and really cool design, that's what we wanted to do. And I can race through these and save a lot of time, because Yves and I obviously didn't compare notes. These are his slides. And so I don't have to talk about them. 

But it was really to us very important as a strategy. OK, it wasn't just to make it cute, because somebody that-- and good design's very important. Yves showed one of the power-generating devices. The mesh network, the reason I-- and I won't go into it in great detail. But when we deliver laptops to kids in the remotest and poorest parts of the world, they're connected. It's not just laptops. 

And so we have to drop in satellite dishes. We have to put in generators. It's a lot of stuff that goes behind these. These can talk to each other. If you're in a desert, they can talk to each other about two kilometers apart. If you're in the jungle, it's about 500 meters. 

So if a kid bicycles home or walks a few miles, they're going to be off the grid, so to speak. They're not going to be near another laptop. So you have to nail these on to a tree and get it. You don't call Verizon or Sprint. You build your own network. And that's very important-- the user interface. 

We're launching with 18 keyboards. English is by far the minority. Latin is relatively rare too. You can just look at some of the languages. And I'm willing to suspect some of you hadn't even heard of them before. Is there anybody in the room, one person, unless you work with OLPC-- is there anybody in the room that can tell me what language the keyboard is that's on the screen? 

There's only one hand, so you get it. 

AUDIENCE: It should be Amharic 

NICHOLAS NEGROPONTE: Yes, you're right. He's right. It's Amharic. It's Ethiopian. In Ethiopia, there's never been a keyboard. There is no keyboard standard because there's no market. And this is the big difference. Again, when you're the nonprofit, you look at children as a mission, not as a market. So we went to Ethiopia. And we helped them make a keyboard. And this will become the standard Ethiopian keyboard. 

So what I want to end with is what we're doing to roll it out. And we changed strategy completely. I decided that the beginning-- was a pretty good thing to decide in the beginning but it's not what we're doing now-- is to go to six countries, big countries. One of them is not so big, but it's rich. 

Here's the six. We went to these six. And in each case, the head of state said he would do it. He'd do a million-- in the case of Gaddafi, he'd do 1.2 million-- and that they would launch it. We thought this is exactly the right strategy. Get it out, and then the little countries could piggy back on these big countries. 

And so I went to each of those countries at least six times, met with the head of state probably two or three times, in each case, got the ministers, went through a lot of this stuff. This was a period in my life where I was traveling 330 days per year, not something you envy or want to do. In the case of Libya, it was a lot of fun, meeting Gaddafi in his tent. The camel smells were unbelievable. And it was 45 degrees centigrade. I mean, this was not what you'd call a cool experience. 

And former countries-- I say former, because none of them really came through the summer. There's a big difference between getting a head of state to have a photo opportunity and make a press release. So we went to smaller ones. Uruguay, bless their hearts-- small country, not so rich. President said he'd do it. And guess what? He did do it. 

Tender had nothing in it that related to us, no nothing specific about sunlight readable mesh network low power, but just a vanilla laptop proposal. And guess what? We won it hands down. When it was announced that they're going to do every child in Uruguay, the first 100,000, boom, went to OLPC. 

The next day-- the next day, not even 24 hours passed-- in Peru, the president of Peru said, we'll do 250. And boom, a little domino effect. The president of Rwanda stepped in and said he would do it. The president of Ethiopia said he would do it. And boom, boom, boom-- the president Mongolia. 

And so what happens is these things start to happen with these countries. Still not enough. Add up all those countries. It didn't quite get things. So we said, let's start a program in the United States. So end of August, early September, we decide to do this. We announced it near the middle, end of-- just when the Clinton initiative was taking place. We thought that was a good time to announce it. Launched it on the 12th of November. We said it would be just for a short period until the 26th. We've extended it until the 31st. 

And the Give One Get One program is really important, because it got a lot of people absolutely interested. The first day, I mean, it was just wild. Then we said, well, let's get people to give many-- not just one and get one, but maybe give 100, give 1,000. And that's where you come in. And that's where I think it's very important. 

I don't want you all to go out and buy $400 worth of laptops. I mean, do it. But that's not going to help. OK, if everybody in this room goes out tonight and orders one of these things for $400, whatever it is, 300 people in the room doing it, yeah, great. I want you to do something else. And it's not to go out and buy 100 or 1,000, though. I invite you to do that, and $10,000 would be even better. 

Tell people about it. It's gotta become viral. Use your mailing lists. People in this room have extraordinary mailing lists. Get your friends to give one get one. And if each one of you sends it to 300 or 400 people, that would be fantastic. 

I won't dwell on the pricing at all, just to say that when you do the Give One Get One, a lot of press is a bit about, they didn't make it. It's $188. It's not $100. It will be $100 in two years. It'll go below $100. We've pledged not to add features to bring that price down. But it was the countries that wanted it to go up. And we'd let them push it up for all sorts of reasons. 

So what you can do-- I've just said it-- don't just Give One Get One. I just want to end with one last one. This one is not even 24 hours old. Or maybe it's 24 hours. The first kids got their laptops. They got them by ship. And I'm talking now about 7,000, 8,000 at a time went out this week. They went to Uruguay, Peru, Mexico. And it's been slow coming. And we're only making about 5,000 a week. 

And we hope, we hope, sometime in next year, maybe by the middle of the year, to hit a million a month. Now, put that number in-- because a million isn't so much. It's not a big number. We're selling a billion cell phones worldwide this year. But a million a month in laptop land is a big number. And the world production today, everybody combined making laptops, is 5 million a month. 

So I'm standing here telling you that sometime next year, we're going to make 20% of the world production. And if we do that, there are going to be a lot of lucky kids out there. And we hope if you have EG two years from now or whenever you have it again, I won't have bad breath, and I will be invited back. And we'll have hopefully by then maybe 100 million out there to children. Thank you. 

Credit: TED

Eric Schmidt, a 57-year-old software engineer from Google, has stated that technology has the potential to be a “great leveler” which would empower the poor like never before. In contrast, dictatorial regimes are increasingly looking to control who has access to the web by filtering information content. Schmidtk who stepped down as Google’s CEO in 2011 after more than a decade, has called on the international community to “fight for the future of the web” and has stated that at least 40 governments are now known to engage in online censorship compared to only a few just 10 years ago. In May 2012, he stated, “Last year we saw in Egypt what happened when a government tried to turn the Internet off," referencing the moment when the then embattled regime of Hosni Mubarak tried to block the web in the face of mass street protests. “Now many governments are attempting to build their own walled Internet, a Balkanized web in which you and I do not see the same information and no one knows what has been censored.” He added: “States will struggle to sell propaganda to the public as citizens get constant access to mobile phone and social networks. In times of war and suffering it will be harder to ignore the voices that cry out for help”. Google's own struggles with the Chinese government are now part of ICT history and are well documented. Google initially went into China agreeing to self-censor search results - in contrast to its corporate philosophy for openness.

Who owns knowledge?

Google has changed the way knowledge is accessed. Most of us have been impacted by the free flow of information made available since Google was incorporated in the 1990s. While no business is completely transparent in its corporate goals, Google offers a degree of transparency to information to individuals around the world. It has stated from its founding that it wanted to organize all the world’s information. The result has often been a conflict with not only governments such as China, but also other US companies such as Amazon, Comcast, eBay, Apple, and Microsoft.

As far back as 2007, according to Pandia, Google was estimated to run between 1-3 million servers in data centers around the world, and in 2012 processed over 1.2 trillion searches. Google annually reports this on its “Zeitgeist” site. While this seems like high number, if you consider that only about 1/3 of the planet’s population has access to the Web (let alone a Web without censorship controls), it shows how many questions can get asked on this website.

One of Google’s latest innovations centers around the goal to return identical results to a user’s query from anywhere on the planet, so that a guarantee of identical search results can be experienced regardless of their geographic location. Think about this for a moment - exactly identical search results regardless of geographic location! This is a game changer and can only be perceived as a threat to repressive governments wanting to control the "message."

Google rendition of Spanner OV-1 showing the database in the Western hemisphere.
Figure 48. Google rendition of Spanner OV-1 showing the database in the Western hemisphere.
Credit: From Wired Magazine, 26Nov2012.

Google has developed a globe spanning database, “Spanner,” that stretches around the planet and behaves like it is all in one place simultaneously (another death of distance?). It was unveiled in the fall of 2012 and is the first worldwide database that “spans” seamlessly across hundreds of data centers' caches of information. Time synchronization is the key to the success of the global architecture of Spanner. Historically, attempts at database synchronization rely on the Network Time Protocol (NTP) which provides an online connection of machines to atomic clocks and is used by organizations all over the world. The only flaw in this architecture lies in the delta of time that it takes to transmit information over the globe. The accuracy has never reached 100% and is not robust enough to accomplish 100%. Google developed their own original alternative called the TrueTime API. Google mounts its “Spanner” data centers with their own atomic clocks and GPS receivers connected directly to the machines themselves. This approach provides not only a location to the database but also the time as well. Actually, there is a redundancy built in since one aspect of GPS also is time based on atomic clocks on board the GPS constellation. Perhaps the duality of the time pieces has to do with the possible relativistic effects of bodies in orbit?

The synchronization process used by Spanner involves connecting the server atomic clocks together with the GPS receivers, which provides a level of accuracy achieved based on a consensus of the clocks with each other as well as GPS satellites in orbit. The result becomes a common clock “spanning” all servers regardless of their geographic location. This provides the capability for global database synchronization and replication combined with a degree of robustness, redundancy, and accuracy never possible previously. It’s both global spanning, consistent, and also more resistant to network delays, data-center outages, and other software and hardware issues typical to IT architecture. It’s used by Google to replicate its data across numerous data centers and information between replicas as necessary. If one replica is unavailable for some reason, Spanner shifts to another, but can also do so to improve overall performance. The implementation hasn’t yet been completed, but may become the basis for a ubiquitous uniform information retrieval service worldwide. This will not resolve the connectivity issues for underserved regions or regions (China for instance) where the content is censored, but it is a beginning of a uniform global architecture. Uniform delivery of search results runs into all the issues of censorship we have discussed in prior weeks. The full research paper can be downloaded. The goal of Article 19 of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that people shall have the right to access information "through any media and regardless of frontiers,” seems potentially to be fulfilled in this approach to access and content, and this is the threat as perceived by many non-progressive nations.

Imagine being able to have the same search results delivered to your desktop regardless of your location - San Francisco, Rio, or even Beijing. If access and content cannot be controlled, governments lose power. Information typically censored in some nations is censored no longer. This is a game changer for some countries - China being among them. Another game changer will be when everyone has ubiquitous access to the same knowledge from anywhere.

TEDxSanMigueldeAllende - Aleph Molinari - Bridging the Digital Divide
Click here for transcript of the Bridging the Digital Divide video.

ALEPH MOLINARI: The digital divide is a mother that's 45 years old and can't get a job because she doesn't know how to use a computer. It is an immigrant that doesn't know that he can call his family for free. It is a child that can't resolve his homework because he doesn't have access to information. Digital divide is a new illiteracy. 

Digital divide is also defined as the gap between individuals and communities that have access to information technologies and those that don't. Why does this happen? It happens because of three things. The first is that people can't get access to these technologies because they can't afford them. The second is because they don't know how to use them. And the third is because they don't know the benefits derived from technology. 

So let's consider some very basic statistics. The population of the world is nearly seven billion people. Out of these, approximately two billion are digitally included. This is approximately 30% of the entire world population, which means that the remaining 70% of the world, close to five billion people, do not have access to a computer or the internet. 

Let's think about that number for a second. Five billion people, that's four times the population of India that have never touched a computer or have never accessed internet. So this is a digital abyss that we're talking about. This is not a digital divide. 

Here, we can see a map by Chris Harrison that shows the internet connections around the world. What we can see is that most of the internet connections are centered on North America and Europe, while the rest of the world is engulfed in the dark shadow of digital divide. Next, we can see connections city to city around the world. And we see that most of the information generated is being generated between North America and Europe, while the rest of the world is not broadcasting their ideas or information. 

And so what does this mean? We are living in a world that seems to be having a digital revolution, a revolution that everyone here thinks that we're part of, but the 70% of the world that is digitally excluded is not part of this. What does this mean? Well, the people that will be digitally excluded won't be able to compete in the labor markets of the future. They won't be connected. They'll be less informed. 

They'll be less inspired. And they'll be less responsible. Internet should not be a luxury. It should be a right because it is a basic social necessity of the 21st century. We can't operate without it. 


Thank you. It allows us to connect to the world. It empowers us. It gives us social participation. It is a tool for change. 

And so how are we going to bridge this digital divide? Well, there are many models that try and bridge the digital divide that try and include the population at large. But the question is, are they really working? 

I'm sure everybody here knows One Laptop per Child, where one computer is given to one child. The problem with this is, do we really want children to take computers to their homes, homes that have adverse conditions? And we must also understand that by giving a child the computer, we're also transferring costs, very high costs, such as internet connection, electricity, maintenance, software updates. So we must create different models, models that help the families rather than add a burden on them. 

Also, let's not forget about the carbon footprint. Imagine five billion laptops. What would the world look like that? Imagine the hazardous residue that would be generated from that. Imagine the trash. 

So if we give one computer to one person and we multiply that times five billion, even if that laptop is $100, then we would have $483 trillion. Now let's consider we're only counting in the youth ages 10 through 24. That's approximately 30% of the digitally excluded population. Then that would be $145 trillion. What nation has this amount of money? This is not a sustainable model. 

So with this in mind, we create a different model. We created the RIA in Spanish, or in English Learning and Innovation Network, which is a network of community centers that bring education through the use of technology. We wanted to increase the number of users per computer in such a way that we could dilute the cost of infrastructure, the cost per user, and then we could bring education and technology to everybody within these communities. 

So let's look at a basic comparison. The RIA has 1,650 computers. If we had used the One Laptop per Child model of a one-to-one ratio, then we would have benefited 1,650 users. And what we did instead is we set up centers that have longer hours of operation than schools that also include all of the population. Our youngest user has three years old. The oldest has 86. 

And with this, in less than two years we were able to reach 140,000 users. 


Thank you. Out of which 34,000 have already graduated from our courses. Another thing of One Laptop per Child is that it doesn't guarantee the educational use of a computer. So technology is nothing without that content. We need to use it as a means, not as an end. 

So how do we accomplish such a high impact? Well, you can't just go in into a community and pretend to change it. You need to look at a lot of factors. So what we do is we do a thing that we call urban acupuncture. 

We first start by looking at the basic geography of a site. So take, for example, Ecatepec. This is one of the most densely populated municipalities in Mexico. It has a very low income level. 

And so we look at the basic geography. We look at roads, streets, the flux of pedestrians and vehicles. Then we look at income. We look at education. 

And then we set up a center there in the place that's going to heal the body, a little needle to change the city body. And there we go. And so there are four basic elements that we need to consider when we're using education through technology. The first one is that we need to create spaces. We need to create a space that is welcoming to the community, a space that is according to the needs of the children, and of the elders, and of every possible person that lives within that community. 

So we create these spaces that are all made with recycled materials. We use modular architecture to lower the impact, the ecological impact. And well, the second, connection. By connection, I mean not only a connection to the internet. That's too easy. We need to create a connection that's an interconnection of humans. 

The internet is a very complex organism that is fueled of the ideas, the thoughts, and the emotions of human beings. We need to create networks that aid in exchanging information. Third, content-- education is nothing without content. And you can't pretend to have a relationship of only a computer with a child. So we create a route, a very basic learning route, where we teach people how to use a computer, how to use the internet, how to use office software. And in 72 hours, we create digital citizens. 

You can't pretend that people are just going to touch a computer and become digitally included. You need to have a process. And after this, then they can take on a longer educational route. And then fourth, training-- we need to train not only the users, but we need to train the people that will facilitate learning for these people. 

When you're talking about the digital divide, people have stigmas. People have fears. People don't understand how that can complement their lives. So what we do is we train facilitators so that they can help in breaking that digital barrier. 

And then so we have four elements. We have a space that's created. We have a connection. We have content. And we have training. So we have created a digital learning community. 

There is one more element, which is the benefits that technology can create, because it is not printed, static content. It is dynamic. It is modifiable. 

So what we do is we provide content, then we do training, and then we analyze the user patterns so that we can improve content. So it creates a virtuous circle. It allows us to deliver education according to different types of intelligence and according to different user needs. So with this in mind, we have to think that technology is something that we can modify according to human processes. 

I want to share a story. In 2006, I went to live here. This is one of the poorest communities in all of Mexico. I went to film a documentary on the people that live off trash, entirely of trash. Their houses are built with trash. They eat trash. They dress in trash. 

And after two months of living with them, of seeing the children and the way they work, I understood that the only thing that can change and that can break the poverty cycle is education. And we can use technology to bring education to these communities. Here is another shot. And the main message is that technology is not going to save the world. We are. And we can use technology to help us. 

I'm sure everybody here has experienced it. What moves technology is human energy. So let's use this energy to make the world a better place. Thank you. 


Credit: TEDx

Listen to the Experts. Five billion people can’t use the Internet. Economist Aleph Molinari is working to close the digital divide and empower people by providing access to technology education. Aleph Molinari empowers the digitally excluded by giving them access to computers and the know-how to use them. In 2008, he founded Fundación Proacceso, and in 2009 launched the Learning and Innovation network, which uses community centers to educate under-served communities about different technologies and tools. To date, the network has graduated 28,000 users through 42 educational centers throughout Mexico.

Finally, there is another aspect to information access - control, whether automatically or via governance. We've talked in the course about the differences in access due to either availability of technology infrastructure, differences in governance, etc., and all these are the results of human activity. One aspect we haven't talked about is the use of algorithms to push us only information that we might like. The foremost example of this type of technology is apparent in when you shop on Amazon. "People who bought X (some product) also looked at or bought W, Y and Z (other products of a similar type)."

This is going on with Google and others as well. The information being sent to us as search results is often being filtered due to our captured and recorded expectations.  While the Google technology "Spanner" is designed to give you the same search results regardless of geographic location, it is not designed to give everyone the same results in any one location. Google (as well as others) is pushing you search results based on data they have collected on you that determines what their algorithms determine to send you based on what they expect you to see!

As I was learning to use the Internet in the early years, it felt like something very different to me than it is today. It was a connection to the world. It was something that would connect us all together globally. 5% of the planet was connected in 2000. 40% is connected as of this writing in August 2014. Anyway, in those early years, I was certain that it was going to be great for society, democracy, and the globe in general. In the current day, there has been a shift in how information flows online based on these filtering algorithms, and how they work is transparent to the user for the most part. It could become a real problem.  I've always gone out of my way to meet and discuss issues with persons of all political leanings. I enjoy the dialogue and enjoy hearing what other people are thinking about and why they make decisions like they do. What's happening in mediums like Google, Amazon, and Facebook is that my information appetite is being filled more and more based on my past searches and preferences. This is potentially a huge problem in the future when it might contribute to the ultimate example of "group think".

Try an experiment - ask 3 or 4 friends to do a Google on a topic like "Morocco" or "Israel" about the same time of day and then send you a screen capture of the search results. You will be amazed at the differences in returned results. As observed by Eli Pariser, the former Executive Director of, "different people get different things. Huffington Post, the Washington Post, the New York Times --all flirting with personalization in various ways. And this moves us very quickly toward a world in which the Internet is showing us what it thinks we want to see,but not necessarily what we need to see."  Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google has stated, "In the future, it will be very hard for people to watch or consume information that has not in some sense been tailored for them."

We've been here before as a culture. Early in the 20th century, newspapers weren't concerned much bout the civic responsibilities of the reporting. Then it became noticed that the printed news was important and we now realize that you can't have a functioning democracy if citizens don't get a good flow of information. 100 years ago, the newspapers were critical because they were acting as a filter and, as a result, a form of journalistic ethics evolved. It was not perfect by any means, but we learned to depend on it for the next 100 years or so.

We are back in the same situation today on the Internet except that there seem to be few ethics in place at this time when it comes to the filtering. Just at a time when we need to engage with people who think differently - maybe radically so, the Internet is putting in place this automated filtering that is lumping us together with people of like mind - "communities of interest" so to speak - that we do not either intentionally or knowingly choose. We need to better understand what the filters are doing and how we can overcome them if we choose, or they threaten to become a medium that may create a more fractionalized and myopic society, even more partisan than it is today.