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Ethiopian kids hack OLPCs in 5 months with zero instruction

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#1 MightyJordan


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Posted 01 November 2012 - 11:24

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.

The One Laptop Per Child project started as a way of delivering technology and resources to schools in countries with little or no education infrastructure, using inexpensive computers to improve traditional curricula. What the OLPC Project has realized over the last five or six years, though, is that teaching kids stuff is really not that valuable. Yes, knowing all your state capitols how to spell "neighborhood" properly and whatnot isn't a bad thing, but memorizing facts and procedures isn't going to inspire kids to go out and learn by teaching themselves, which is the key to a good education. Instead, 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."

Read the full article here.

#2 Nick H.

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Posted 01 November 2012 - 11:28

That's...incredible. Maybe we should remove all IT Helpdesk positions, forcing the end user to figure it out for themselves like these kids did. I have users that can't figure out a basic task, and these kids have completely put them to shame.

#3 Lamp0


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Posted 01 November 2012 - 11:47

This seems some what odd. I didn't think interactive design was this good...

I mean, if they had never even seen a book, then how did they know the tablet had a camera so they could "hack" Andriod and enable it?

Someone must have been showing them how to use it.

#4 Southern Patriot

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Posted 01 November 2012 - 11:57

I agree. This sounds really suspicious. There has to be more to this story than we are getting from the article.

#5 spacer


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Posted 01 November 2012 - 12:04

That is very impressive. But I'm left wondering why there was any disabled hardware on the tablets to begin with.

#6 Yusuf M.

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Posted 01 November 2012 - 12:26

It's quite an impressive feat. I wonder how they did it. Was it pure chance? Was it a matter of putting a lot of effort into learning something (coupled with an intense desire to learn)? I guess it could be a mix of both. Regardless, I'm glad it improved their literacy.

#7 Grayski



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Posted 01 November 2012 - 12:40

Is it me, or do you think there are more pressing matters that need to be addressed here rather than just dumping a load of IT equipment in these villages.

#8 Elliot B.

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Posted 01 November 2012 - 12:45

This sounds extremely fishy. I'm calling bs.

#9 Max Norris

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Posted 01 November 2012 - 12:48

Is it me, or do you think there are more pressing matters that need to be addressed here rather than just dumping a load of IT equipment in these villages.

Indeed, nothing takes your mind off of the little things like poverty and all that like a game of Angry Birds.

#10 vetneufuse


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Posted 01 November 2012 - 12:51

I'm sorry, but this sounds more like a publicity stunt to get more money for the project... do we have an concrete proof this happened?

#11 pes2013



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Posted 01 November 2012 - 12:51

This is complete BS. I dont believe it at all.

#12 HawkMan


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Posted 01 November 2012 - 13:04

1: I think there's a highly liberal use of the word "hacking here"
2: They where tracking what kids where doing on these tablets... seems fishy and somewhat illegal, especially without consent. and if the consent was in english on first startup. I think it's rather invalid.
3: if they where tracking them there must have been some sort of internet on them, heck they're pretty useless without internet. so how do they know they didn't get any help ?

There's a lot missing from this story and a lot that seems fishy.

#13 Emil Valsson

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Posted 01 November 2012 - 13:11

Does the battery last that long? :D

#14 ILikeTobacco


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Posted 01 November 2012 - 13:19

Does the battery last that long? :D

"they're actually Motorola Zoom tablets plus solar chargers running custom software"

#15 vetneufuse


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Posted 01 November 2012 - 13:30

I just find it extreamly hard to believe that they somehow "hacked" a tablet that had disabled hardware that easily with virtually no education at all or even able to read... heck some trained computer programmers still would have issues figuring it out quickly if it truely involved hacking the device