“Is this a required lecture for a class?” Asked the person seating next to me in a packed auditorium. Seeing Nicholas Negroponte’s talk was definitely an event not to be missed. Founder of MIT’s Media Lab, and the One Laptop per Child Association, Negroponte’s visionary thinking is inspirational and encouraging, and also shows us the importance of timing, collaborative works and, mainly, to think one step ahead, “visiting the future”, as he says.
“I’ll be a little personal”, Negroponte shared a bit of his personal path, explaining how he started at MIT as an architecture student, and by being surrounded with computers he realized his interests in understanding and producing those tools. Years later he would start the Media Lab together with former MIT President Jerome Wiesner. Negroponte reflected that the Lab came from the idea that he did not only want to make tools, but to actually create an environment and space where other people could learn and build their own machines and experiments. Wiesner was an important figure, as Negroponte jokingly explains “The key of success is to get the president to be your partner”. Wiesner’s position and mentorship was extremely supportive and protective, and that is crucial in a creative and experimental field.
Negroponte’s advice encourages people to think outside of the box, for example, “trying to make something different from what the market forces are doing”, and to envision possibilities for the future. The latter, as he explains, can be quite challenging and under-recognized at its time. He recalled a time in the 1970s when his team published research suggesting that people would eventually interact with machines by touching them, and the different prototypes on this hypothesis. “I got so many bad peer reviews on it”, he recalls the comments saying things such “the hand will block your vision” to “it will make the screen dirty”. There are also projects and computer programs that Negroponte worked on that he recognized were early for their time, and needed other constituent parts to be developed in order for their idea to be launched. One of these, created in 1965, was a program for on-demand rides that would map departures and destinations.
After years engaged in different projects, Negroponte started to see competition as a huge problem, as it does not advocate for the greater public good. An example of that is the privatization of telecommunications in different countries. Although many times offering a better service for their users, those companies can also be expansive and exclusionary for their clients. In light of that, Negroponte decided to dedicate his work towards collaborations and inclusion. That was the moment when the non-for-profit One Laptop per Child Association was born, bringing low-cost computers to areas where there was little or no access to this technology. Beyond any national borders or economic impediments, this project tries to embrace those in need. Negroponte ended the lecture talking about his ideas of a Global Public Sector, where inclusion could finally and truly be perceived.
Laura Belik (PhD Student, Architecture) reviewed the February 5, 2018 talk, Connectivity as Human Right with Nicholas Negroponte as part of the Spring 2018 Arts + Design Mondays @ BAMPFA series. To learn more about the series, see below:
What is the role of public assembly in our current moment? And to what degree are new models necessary to respond artistically and technologically to our political climate? After a highly successful launch of Arts + Design Mondays @ BAMPFA in Spring 2017, Berkeley Arts + Design is pleased to present a new suite of exciting lectures that explore the theme of “public (re) assembly” from a variety of perspectives. The word assembly carries a range of associations. It challenges us to think about the democratic right to assemble; it recalls the artistic history of assemblage. It provokes us to imagine new systems of arrangement that respond to a digital age. It asks to consider how UC Berkeley might re-imagine the “school assembly” as a site of social transformation. Learn more here.