the green laptop, ploughs & drugs

by Hugh

By designing for the poorest people in the world, the One Laptop Per Child has developed a green machine with no peers. Radically lower power consumption, much less toxic crap. Here’s Mary-Lou Jepsen talking about it:

I had a conversation last night with my neighbour, who tells me that 80% of food production in the world is still done by bio power: horses, oxen, humans etc. But that there has been no innovation in tools for this kind of farming (ploughs, harrows etc) in about 100 years. Why? At least in part, because big agribiz companies want to control agriculture from seed to sale, and want as few farmers making decisions as possible. So: make farming expensive (machinery), and design farming technology (patented seeds, expensive fertilizers & pesticides) that help big companies control agriculture; not so that farming is better for farmers or people.

In a conversation two nights ago with some other friends, we were talking about the inherent conflict in the pharma business: between: the fiduciary responsibility to increase profits every year; and the public good. These are not mutually exclusive; but neither are the aligned, and making money trumps public good, by definition, in publicly traded companies. That’s how they work – to run them otherwise is actually illegal. So we were just postulating: what if a new kind of pharma “company” came along, with public good as its mandate, rather than profit?

How are all these things related? OLPC is a non-profit project that may have developed the most revolutionary advance in the technology of personal computing we’ve seen in years, and it did so in a non-profit model, by developing for the poorest.

The poorest people in the world use farm technologies no one is spending much time developing improvements to; agriculture R&D goes to: biotech, pesticides, herbicides, and probably a little bit to machinery. What happens if a non-profit effort develops around making ancient farming tools and techniques more efficient?

And for pharma, same question: why can’t we think of organizing our drug system in a way that prioritizes health, rather than profit? What would it look like? What would the results be?

Am I a crazy communist? Well, these guys are pretty good at making encyclopedia, and if you want to buy a tent, I’d send you, without a second’s hesitation, to these guys.