Sramana Mitra: The domain that I feel very bullish about is healthcare. There are vast swaths of the world that have no access to good healthcare. I think AI can turn that around.
John Roese: Absolutely. In the mid 2000’s, I was the CTO of a company called Nortel in Canada. I was on the Board of Directors of an initiative called One Laptop Per Child. The vision was not about building a cheap computer. The vision was, if we can get, at least, computer access to the developing world, we can bring the transformation.
We drove down the cost of computers. We completely created environments where we could start to think about having computers there. This is almost an equally important next step in that journey which has the ability to take a child in a developing market who isn’t even literate, and using computer technology and through iconography, teach them to read or, at least, give them a portal to the digital world.
Bringing expertise to them is where we went off the rails because we don’t have enough of that expertise. We don’t have enough doctors to do video conferences to everybody. Machine intelligence suddenly changes that. What if you don’t need a one-for-one relationship between an expert and a consumer?
While I think we’re digitizing much of the developing world because we’re driving the cost of technology and connectivity down, we haven’t driven the cost of expertise down which is the other half of the experience. This might get us there.
Sramana Mitra: I spoke with Nicholas 10 years ago. What happened to One Laptop Per Child?
John Roese: It actually still exists. Early on, the mission was to democratize computing. Back in 2005, the cost of a laptop was $3,000. We made this bold statement that we think we can build a laptop for $100. We got it at $160. It changed the trajectory of the industry. That’s why tablets exist.
We really did see a positive impact on getting democratization of computing out to the world. Once that happened, it pivoted to realizing that it was a software and experience problem. One of the goals of an XO laptop was to be able to hand it to a child who was illiterate and teach them to read or write.
If you ever used one of them, what you saw was you didn’t login in a conventional way. You didn’t have to learn how to read or write. You saw pictures. Once you saw the icon, now you can access audio and video. You could use those tools to help people start to learn a language and potentially learn how to code. That was the second mission.
The third mission was going upstream and getting into content and changing the trajectory on education. I don’t want to say they’re done, because it still exists. They’re still over at Cambridge. The first and most important thing was the democratization of computing. The second was the changing of the user experience to make it easier to people who weren’t digital natives or digital experienced to become digital natives. Interestingly enough, I’d say we accomplished that.
Sramana Mitra: I think smartphone accomplished that.
John Roese: All these things do not require a Ph.D. to use anymore. A lot of that was driven by those types of initiatives. Those first two rounds were the ones that really bent the curve on the technology industry that got us to where we’re at. I was very proud to be a part of that program.
I thought we accomplished some great things with much adversity. That first dimension of AI was belittled a little bit, because it’s not as exciting for entrepreneurs. It’s incredibly exciting in terms of bringing the ability for mere mortals to interact with systems that might have expertise. All three of them matter. They’re all different and they’re all part of the AI journey that we’re on.
Sramana Mitra: It was a pleasure to speak with you. Thank you for your time.