Interviewed by John Papageorge
There may be no one more qualified to forecast the future of the Internet, and personal computing in general, than Nicholas Negroponte.
Founder and director of MIT's cutting-edge media laboratory -- as well as a professor, lecturer, author, and pioneer of the Internet -- Negroponte sees no end to the Web's popularity.
He was there at the birth of the Internet in the 1960s and the inception of multimedia in the 1970s. He holds two professional architecture degrees and he founded MIT's Architecture Machine Group in 1968. And his think tank and lab paved the way for modern, user-friendly computer formats.
Negroponte has settled into a reflective phase in his career. He talks of forgiving arrogance and "silliness" when he sees it, and of his newfound respect for Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who he says seems to be maturing in his job.
One won't find Negroponte poring over the books of other on-line experts for inspiration. He finds inviting intellectual stimulation from people who "you've never heard of who just have neat little ideas."
The name Negroponte is used by techophiles in much the same way as philosophy students bandy about "Socrates" and "Plato." But while he's a linchpin of the industry, he isn't all business. He spends a lot of time away from the office, sharing quiet time with his wife and indulging his hobbies: cooking and wine collecting.
Despite Negroponte's ascension to guru status, his very educated and literate parents were initially baffled by his work. "It was just gobbledygook as far as they were concerned."
Then, one day Negroponte found a message in his private electronic mailbox from a woman with an America Online address. His fear: someone had found his private address. But it was a note from his mom. "My son had taught my mother to use it, and now I get a message a day."
Negroponte says his experience mirrors a societal trend. Older people around the country are logging on to keep up with their children and grandchildren.
On the horizon, Negroponte sees potential for new, low-cost terminals people can use simply to get online -- though he warns developers against creating low-quality closed-system terminals, noting that they must be expandable. In the international arena, he says, the cost of these machines must drop from the forecast $500 to $300 if developing countries are to be considered a viable market.
Negroponte sees the next billion users of the Net coming from "the developing world." He's committed to that vision. "Putting computers in schools worldwide is my new preoccupation," he says.
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