African Kids hack their OLPC-Machines

Nicholas Negropontes One Laptop per Child-Projekt läuft jetzt seit 5 oder 6 Jahren und experimentiert seit neuestem mit dem „Format“: Die haben Kisten mit Tablets in äthiopische Dörfer gestellt, ohne Anleitung, nur ‘ne Kiste voller Hardware. Fünf Monate später haben die Kids die Maschinen gehackt und in einem Jahr programmieren sie einen Kick Ass Egoshooter. Faith in Humanity: Restored. Grandiose Story wie aus einem techno-utopistischen SciFi-Roman, nur in Real Life mit einem phänomenalen Ergebnis. Bravo!

OLPC is trying to figure out a way to teach kids to learn, which is what this experiment is all about. Rather than give out laptops (they’re actually Motorola Zoom tablets plus solar chargers running custom software) to kids in schools with teachers, the OLPC Project decided to try something completely different: it delivered some boxes of tablets to two villages in Ethiopia, taped shut, with no instructions whatsoever. Just like, “hey kids, here’s this box, you can open it if you want, see ya!”

Just to give you a sense of what these villages in Ethiopia are like, the kids (and most of the adults) there have never seen a word. No books, no newspapers, no street signs, no labels on packaged foods or goods. Nothing. And these villages aren’t unique in that respect; there are many of them in Africa where the literacy rate is close to zero. So you might think that if you’re going to give out fancy tablet computers, it would be helpful to have someone along to show these people how to use them, right?

But that’s not what OLPC did. They just left the boxes there, sealed up, containing one tablet for every kid in each of the villages (nearly a thousand tablets in total), pre-loaded with a custom English-language operating system and SD cards with tracking software on them to record how the tablets were used. Here’s how it went down, as related by OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte at MIT Technology Review’s EmTech conference last week:

“We left the boxes in the village. Closed. Taped shut. No instruction, no human being. I thought, the kids will play with the boxes! Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, but found the on/off switch. He’d never seen an on/off switch. He powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs [in English] in the village. And within five months, they had hacked Android. Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera! And they figured out it had a camera, and they hacked Android.”

Ethiopian kids hack OLPCs in 5 months with zero instruction (via Killscreen)

[update] Dan Klorix hat auf Facebook ein PDF mit Specs der gehackten Tablets gepostet.