When you see a hobo starving in the street, there are two things you can do. One is to ask the hobo what he would like to eat. The second is to hold a Big Mac over his head and say "Dance for your food, bum!". The second method is a win-win: the hobo eats, you get entertainment, and all it costs is the bum's dignity.
This is the philosophy behind the OLPC, the "One Laptop Per Child" project. It's a morally corrupt organization that believes in providing technology to the third-world in exchange for their dignity. It was created by a bunch of PhDs for their own amusement. It was not built by asking the poor what they want.
It's not really a laptop that the rest of the world would recognize. The PhDs decided that the way everyone else uses computers is wrong, so they designed an entirely new user interface. They also decided that the way the rest of the world teaches their children is wrong, and come up with an entirely new education system.
I'm watching a video from their website talking about the "mesh" networking feature of the laptop. One of their PhDs says: "We don't want them just using the computer so they can just use the technology; we want them to use this computer so they can become social with each other and collaborate with each other". The PhDs spend a lot of time talking about what they themselves want, but not a lot of time talking about what the children want. In the end, what the PhDs really want is to rob the children of their dignity.
It's not just their collectivist education philosophy, everything about the organization is rabidly communist. I'm watching a BBC documentary about the project where they describe it as a hope for a 'great leap forward'. Apparently, the BBC means this seriously without irony. The "Great Leap Forward" was name given by Chairman Moa for industrializing China in the 1950s. Quoting Wikipedia: "The Great Leap Forward is now widely seen - both within China and outside - as a major economic and humanitarian disaster, with estimates of the number of people killed by famine during this period ranging from 14 to 43 million".
Their dispute with Intel is particularly illuminating. Like any communist organization, the OLPC suppresses dissent. When OLPC announced their project, Intel announced their competing "Classmate PC" program. The basic philosophy of communism is that there is only one "best solution" for everyone, whereas capitalism believes in different solutions suited to different needs. Thus, OLPC is upset with competition, believing that everyone should work collectively on the best solution, rather than working competitively on different solutions for different markets.
At the heart of the Intel vs. OLPC squabble is the fact that Intel "disparaged" the OLPC. Well, that's what competition means: pointing out your advantages while describing the disadvantages of competing solutions. Nobody is above criticism, no matter how high-minded and moral their goals are.
As a result of their suppression of criticism, the OLPC has a lot of chronic problems that it's unwilling to fix. It's not just whether their Great Leap Forward is a good idea. It's the more basic problems with the computer. For example, it's extremely buggy. I was unable to do anything useful with it for any length of time without having to reboot it. It's painfully slow. The processor is more than fast enough to run software written in capitalistic programming languages like C++, but the majority of the user interface is written in slow left-wing languages like Python. The OLPC has a link to Gmail on its screen, but the system becomes slower and slower and eventually stops working if you attempt to use Gmail. I got a unit to fuzz test the WiFi stack, but the stack crashes often by itself even without me fuzzing it.
The PhDs claim its "easy to use", but this is the same hubris that all programmers have (all programmers claim their software is easy, no matter how difficult the users think it is). Most people can't even figure out how to open the box. I like to hand people the unit and say "it's so easy even children from the third world can figure it out"; it's funny watching them struggle for 10 minutes before I show them how it works.
In contrast, Intel's Classmate PC runs the same Windows or Linux desktops that everyone else in the world uses. Intel's computer has no enforced educational agenda. It doesn't have communist software on it, yet the children collaborate with each other anyway without software forcing them to.
The real danger with the OLPC is that it's like sending guns to terrorists to attack us with. The OLPC teaches the world the ideals of university PhDs. It teaches children that capitalism and democracy is evil and the cause of their problems, rather than the solution. Yet, at its core, it's still a computer than people can use to hack the United States. It is a weapon that can attack our nation's infrastructure much more effectively than a gun would. Here is a picture of us installing Metasploit on it:
EDIT: A lot of people think this last paragraph is a bit of a stretch. I thought it was obvious. A certain percentage of any population of computer users will use their computers for evil rather than good. If you flood the third-world with computers, a certain percentage of them will also use the computer for malicious purposes. As soon as Nigerians got hold of computers in the late 1990s, the rest of the world started receiving e-mail from the grieving widow of Sese-Seko needing help transferring her fortune out of the country.
In places like Russia, there are more skilled computer nerds than there are employment opportunities for those skills, so programmers turn to cybercrime. In other places, such as India, where computers skills gets a well-paying job, cybercrime is less prominent. The recent DDoS attack against Estonia is a good example of the result.
When your choices are $10 a month herding goats or $100 a day herding bots, it's hard not to choose the later. While computers are mostly benign, they also have the potential to be weapons. Dumping weapons on third world countries has rarely turned out well.
We can address these risks. We can find ways to provide further education and employment, to give the best and brightest other opportunities than cybercrime. However, we cannot do so in the current climate of the OLPC that suppresses all criticism and dissent.
EDIT: Look at the comments to this post and how they assume I'm against helping poor nations get access to technology. I'm not. I love free-market solutions (like Intel's) that people freely criticize. While OLPC gets all the press, a lot of companies are designing or shipping low-cost PCs for poor nations; those are the ones we should support. While some computers are purchased by rich nations and sent to the poor ones, the majority are purchased by the poor nations themselves. Instead of textbooks. Because everyone says says how wonderful the OLPC is, nobody criticizes it, so if their education ministers think something is wrong, it's because "they just don't get it".
EDIT: Some people seem surprised at my communist conspiracy theories. I don't think there is a conspiracy, of course, or even that it's very communist. However, if you ever used the OLPC, you'd understand better what I'm talking about.