Monday, December 03, 2007

Great Moments in Western Information Technology

The 1 drachma wax tablet (325 BC): As Alexander the Great spoke to General Ptolemy, "If we could get ten thousand of these into the hands of Persian schoolchildren, we could rule an empire stretching from Greece to India." The sceptical response: "The sun gets awfully hot in Persia. Are you sure these things aren't going to melt?".

The 1 denarius vellum sheet (AD 200): The sales pitch to Caesar was simply "If we could get one hundred thousand of these into the hands of barbarian children on our northeastern border, we might be able to keep the Empire from collapsing someday." Reason for failure: unscrupulous merchants flooded the market with cheap papyrus imported from Egypt.

The 100 monk monastery (AD 800): Wise King Charlemagne was the first leader to realize that one hundred monks, all working and living together as one, could recopy the entire contents of a library in forty or fifty years. Drawback to plan: nobody else knew how to read.

The 1 franc per year university student (AD 1050): One of the panels of the Bayeaux Tapestry states that "if we can get young men to work fourteen-hour days of mind-bending intellectual labor in exchange for just enough food, water, clothing, and shelter to keep themselves alive, we might be able to revive learning in Normandy and finally conquer England." Drawback to the plan: there were no drawbacks! Medieval kings, Renaissance princes, enlightened eighteenth-century despots, and today's billionaire software gurus have all realized the benefits of exploiting geek labor for profit.

The 100 florins per week savant (AD 1400): "If we could send these men to teach a couple of hundred schoolchildren of Europe each, we'll have muscle-powered flying machines by AD 1500!" Drawback to plan: charlatans.

The $100 dollar laptop (AD 2005): From the Wall Street Journal (via MSM Money):
In 2005, Nicholas Negroponte unveiled an idea for bridging the technology divide between rich nations and the developing world. It was captivating in its utter simplicity: Design a $100 laptop and, within four years, get it into the hands of up to 150 million of the world's poorest schoolchildren.
Drawback to plan: computer hackers discover how to run "Tetris" on the $100 laptop.

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