U.N. summit focuses on spreading technology

A U.N. technology summit, attended by 16,000 people from 176 countries, was focused these past three days on bringing more communications, including Internet access, to developing countries where the cost has been too high and the technology too low-tech.

At the same time, several companies and organizations were unveiling their plans to bring the world closer and, in a sense, narrow the digital divide, by providing laptops that cost just US$100 (euro85) to portable, satellite-based radios that can pull in international programming from just about anywhere.

Delegates also said bridging the digital divide was more than just creating better access, lower prices and improved bandwidth.

Pakistan's Mahmood Kahn said increasing access to communications can help improve relations between regions and religions. "Information is not just an economic tool," Kahn told delegates in the main hall. "We need its infinite power to combat the rising tide of prejudice and hatred ... We will use the Internet and other media to heal wounds, to remove misperceptions, to promote dialogue, to foster trust between diverse communities and to reverse the onslaught of extremism and terrorism."

A text-book sized laptop boasting wireless network access and a hand-crank to provide electricity was unveiled by Nicholas Negroponte, Chairman of MIT Media Lab. The machines will sell for $100, making them accessible to millions of school-aged children worldwide, he said.

"These robust, versatile machines will enable children to become more active in their own learning," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters after the machine was unveiled.

Negroponte said the aim is to have governments or donors pick up the cost of the machines with the children who receive them having full ownership. The first shipments are due in February or March and will go to Brazil, Thailand, Egypt and Nigeria.

[Associated Press]

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