About Technology

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by: Gerry Morgan

In 2007 , 4 out of 5 human beings have yet to touch their first computer.

Networked computers provide a conduit to information, the ‘food’ of the 21 st century. A future without access to knowledge is indeed bleak. Access to information is one of the pre-requisites to sustained economic growth. This is true for families and it is true for nations.

Access to technology is an essential component of positive change. The computer has revolutionized communication, access to information and has made it possible for every person who has access to have an equal opportunity to have their voice heard. Much has been said about technology, but it is only significant to those who have it. It only serves those who have access.

Computing based technologies have come a long way from the days of a young genius in a garage with a big idea. While computers and the software they run have come a long way, there remain many barriers.

These barriers include:

# access to computers/the cost of computers

# access to networks/servers/internet

# access to technology without language barriers

The real cost of computing for the average person is divided almost equally into thirds:

1/3 = the cost of the hardware

1/3 = the cost of the software

1/3 = the cost of specialists to maintain computers.

The PC as we have come to know it means ‘Personal Computer’. It is configured and built for one, not many. The PC was popularized by International Business Machines (IBM) as a solution to office processes. The machine was adapted for personal, home use.

The legacy of the PC functionally means that it must operate from secure power sources, have a powerful processor which requires a fan to cool it. Also needed is a hard drive, lots of RAM, an extensible operating system, video card, audio card, and lots of programs to run in order to make it useful. Today’s machine must also have a screen, keyboard and mouse.

As computers have become more common, the price has dropped and computers have become easier to use and more powerful. There still remain some significant barriers preventing the adoption of computers on a wider scale.

The easiest one to think about is price. Following the model of thirds, if the computer costs $500, Then the real cost of ownership is $1500.00. There are many other problems associated with even low cost computing.

These problems are all too familiar to computer users. They include viruses, trojans, worms, adware and spyware that damage computer usability, fragmentation of hard drives, running out of memory errors, registry problems and incompatibility of all sorts. That fast machine that you thought you bought over time seems more like a tortoise than a hare. All of these, as annoying as they are have a fix…for a price.

The model that we accepted ensures that we are constantly putting money into our computers. This model, for very clear reasons, has not been acceptable to most of the world.

What would Computer Technology look like if we re-invented it today?

The most important part is that the TCO (total cost of ownership) would have to be equal to the cost of a mid-range cell phone. The computer would have to work in any of the major languages of the world. It would have to be tough and capable of working in environments where the power is a bit dodgy. It would have to have a full compliment of software that could access Internet services, operate most multimedia and create files for self expression. In other terms it would have to do everything that 95% of computer users do.

ROM Based Computing

A ROM based computer has no hard drive. The operating system and all the programs are based in ROM (read only memory). The computer can only read from ROM, since it cannot write to ROM infections become virtually impossible. The files that a user makes or the temporary files that the machine makes, may be stored on a personal USB hard drive, which the user can take out of the machine and carry with them. The users personal information is not stored anywhere on the machine. It is the equivalent of the relationship between a text book and a notebook. The notebook (the USB stick) is yours to write what ever you want, the text book is not for writing in. You take the note book home.

ROM based computing provides perfect consistency across machines. This is important in a laboratory. It does not store settings in the machine, so therefore even clever students cannot alter the programs or settings.

ROM based computing is also very easy to upgrade. It involves the replacement of the ROM card or the re-flashing of the ROM card… a fast and efficient method of refurbishing software.

It has been our work for the last 4 years to design and build a ROM based computer. We have accomplished the task and now we are in the delivery stage.

As ROM based computers come off the manufacturing line, we have opportunities to put in new software to customize the software for whatever region and requirement is necessary. The computer can therefore be used for education, business, healthcare information and monitoring and communicating geriatric needs. With the addition of hardware, the computer can fulfill entertainment and an array of other needs.

In our view, a web accessible computer is essential for all up-to-date information. Access to up-to-date information provides the user with the ability to make decisions based on knowledge leading to action. An illustration of this principle can be found in a rug maker in northern India. Previously, she would make rugs and periodically a buyer would come by offering her a few rupees for her work. Since there was no choice, she sold to him. He would turn around and fly the carpets to America where the artistry of the work fetched thousands of dollars. With the right access, she can now show her work and sell her carpets directly to customer bringing in comparatively large sums of money into her community.

Access to information needs to be a basic right of all people. It is the surest way out of economic slavery. Access to information must come with a willingness to be resourceful. There is not enough raw materials in the world for all books to be made of paper. The cost of an electronic book is almost nothing. The information in the book is the source of power and change, not the physical book. The power is in INK to connect people to the great library that is the internet. Someday soon connectivity will our birth right. This project is one step in that dream.


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