New Space and Tech

Hacking is an Innate Human Trait

By Keith Cowing
April 8, 2013
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Given Tablets but No Teachers, Ethiopian Children Teach Themselves, MIT

“With 100 million first-grade-aged children worldwide having no access to schooling, the One Laptop Per Child organization is trying something new in two remote Ethiopian villages–simply dropping off tablet computers with preloaded programs and seeing what happens. … Earlier this year, OLPC workers dropped off closed boxes containing the tablets, taped shut, with no instruction. “I thought the kids would play with the boxes. Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, found the on-off switch … powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child, per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs in the village, and within five months, they had hacked Android,” Negroponte said. “Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera, and they figured out the camera, and had hacked Android.”

Ethiopian kids hack OLPCs in 5 months with zero instruction, Dvice

“What happens if you give a thousand Motorola Zoom tablet PCs to Ethiopian kids who have never even seen a printed word? Within five months, they’ll start teaching themselves English while circumventing the security on your OS to customize settings and activate disabled hardware. Whoa.”

Keith’s note: If you read NASA Watch often enough you know I tend to focus a lot on the education and public outreach that NASA does, crowd sourcing, open source computing, etc. When I came across this story my jaw dropped. I had seen hints of this when I was in Nepal and visited the Khumjung school and when I saw Sherpa children playing with laptops in remote villages where small scale hydro systems provided only rudimentary power. I have an OLPC XO laptop so I have an idea what they have to work with. But this story from Ethiopia just stunned me. The take home lesson? Perhaps education and public outreach as practiced by NASA and other agencies and organizations needs to just drop the trendy gimmicks and focus in on the most basic enablers of learning. Imagine the cadre of coders and spacecraft designers NASA could cause to arise form all sectors of the economy and regions of the America …

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.