Collaborative Discovery

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The OLPC XO is designed around collaboration and discovery, because this is how the world of grownups works, or at any rate is supposed to work. Lone genius, like Einstein's and Picasso's, is still important in science and art, it is true, and there are many sole proprietorships in the world of small business. However, almost all research, business, politics, and so on is done in teams trying to work out new and by some standard better information or ways to do things, or in manufacturing teams organized according to the principle of division of labor, whether within a single company or distributed over vast supply chains. Collaboration is basic to human activity, from families to nations, and sometimes all of humanity.


Several of the activities on the XO are collaborative, and it is hoped that many more will become collaborative. Users can play music together, take measurements together, write documents together, browse the Web together, and so on. The Sugar user interface emphasizes opportunities for collaboration everywhere. Within activities, users can invite others to join in, sending offers to individuals or to anybody on the local system. The wireless environment display shows active sharing and collaboration by grouping user icons around activity icons.


The newborn child is built for the task of discovering the world. Discovering Mommy; discovering its navel, its toes, and such; discovering crawling, walking, running, jumping, skipping, and so on; discovering language, including singing; discovering foods; discovering plants, animals, and inanimate objects; discovering other people; discovering, in short, everything that comes in range of any of the senses, and then discovering ideas that don't exist in the sensory world.

None of this is formal education.

It is desirable to encourage discovery of reading, writing, math, programming, scientific measurement and analysis, and much more. Alan Kay has written about children discovering concepts of calculus and other supposedly advanced ideas. Seymour Papert asked what would happen if we could make it as easy to learn mathematics as language, in the same kind of informal collaboration.

Further Reading

  • Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas", by Seymour Papert
  • "The Heart of the Matter", by Carole Bass, on Cardiologist Harlan Krumholz. Yale Alumni Magazine, Vol. 74, No. 6, July/August 2011, pp. 32–37.

"His patient: the American health care system"

"Collaborating with a broad network of colleagues, mentors, and students is part of his strategy for building 'a national movement for outcomes research'."

"…hospital culture—including teamwork, or the absence thereof—is one key factor."

"Success in the future is going to be about systems and teams."