Person of the Week: Nicholas Negroponte

ByABC News
November 18, 2005, 4:31 PM

Nov. 18, 2005 — -- Computer-obsessed Nicholas Negroponte is the chairman and founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, a cutting-edge computer research facility like none other on the planet.

This week, Negroponte was in Tunisia, where he unveiled his latest creation at a United Nations summit on technology.

"I go nowhere without a computer," he said. "In fact, I actually travel with two computers at one time. Two laptops. I am absolutely always connected."

Negroponte created a $100 laptop, the cheapest in the world. Within a year, tens of millions of them will be given free of charge to children in developing countries throughout the world, giving them access to the Internet.

"We see education as key to any world problem, from peace to poverty to hunger to the environment," Negroponte said. "Primary education is the most important thing to us because if you mess up primary education, you really then spend a lot of time trying to undo the mess afterwards."

The laptops will be financed through private donors and local governments. More than 130 countries want them.

"It's absolutely critical the kids own their own laptops, that it's given to them by the state and they own it," said Negroponte. "The reason it's important is the same reason that you have never washed a rented car because it doesn't belong to you. If it's your own car, you take more care."

Negroponte has done other, smaller laptop projects before, and he has witnessed the utter fascination for a child.

"In Cambodia, when the kids brought the laptop home, the parents loved it because it was the brightest light source in the house," he said. "The first English word of every child in that project was 'Google.'"

The computers are wireless and run with very little power. In areas where there is no power source, it can be cranked up.

How did Negroponte and his team get it down to just $100? There's no fancy software, no marketing or promotion to pay for, and most of all -- there's no profit.

"Each version of our laptop will be simpler and less expensive and we have promised governments that our price will float down," he said.

Negroponte, whose brother, John, is the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, was originally educated as an architect at MIT. It was only during graduate school that he fell in love with computers. Besides running the $35 million research facility at MIT's media lab, he also helped create Wired magazine.

Negroponte loves his job -- he works 18 hours a day, seven days a week. There is no boundary between his work and his life.

"It's what I call the omelet theory of life," he said. "Some people live a fried egg theory where there's a white and a yolk -- where the yolk is work and the white is life -- and it's a crisp boundary. Well, my life is an omelet."

His seemingly limitless passion has yielded some pretty amazing results.

"This is unquestionably for me my most important project -- and it's the one I'll do for the rest of my life," he said.

ABC News' Bob Woodruff filed this report for "World News Tonight."