| A Practical Plan: The Little
Intelligent Communities Project
If we can enhance the meaning of democracy to include
"Information Technology" in the developing world, by dramatically
increasing people's access to it, we can narrow the gap
between those that are lagging behind and those at the forefront
of personal opportunities and development.
Searching for ways to implement this concept, the Costa
Rican Foundation for Sustainable Development has been working
on several initiatives. One of these programs is LINCOS
(Little Intelligent Communities). LINCOS calls for the deployment
of a "Community Center for the 21st Century" in any small
village or town, giving those that live there immediate
access to a wide array of information technologies.
The Costa Rica Foundation for Sustainable Development
invited the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology (MIT), the Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica
(ITCR), the Center for Future Health at the University of
Rochester, and others, to collaborate on the implementation
of this initiative.
The Foundation for Sustainable Development is lead by
José María Figueres Olsen, former president of Costa Rica
and head of the Foundation. The Media Laboratory effort
is lead by Alex (Sandy) Pentland, Academic Head of the Laboratory.
The result is a plan to unwire dozens of underdeveloped
villages in Central America beginning this year.
This project is an initiative for people in developing
countries, particularly those of Latin America, to empower
themselves with the use of information technology. It is
implemented through the deployment of "digital town centers''
in remote villages. The physical design of these centers
is an elegant tension structure surrounding a modified ISO
shipping container. The container has a digital satellite
link and integrated local wireless telephone connection,
analytical laboratories, telemedicine services, a computer
lab, electronic commerce and banking services, and a multi-purpose
Designed to be built inexpensively in the developing countries
themselves, it provides sophisticated local digital communications,
and supports a wide range of applications in education,
health, agriculture, and entertainment. It stimulates community
grass root activity around its services, and hopes to become
a true "community center". Deployment should be possible
in the worst possible conditions of underdevelopment.
There are three immediate objectives for this project:
- Test and evaluate the project's feasibility in the field.
- If feasible, enroll partner organizations in a collaborative
agreement to further develop, design, build, and deploy
- And finally, provide an opportunity for experts in developed
and developing nations to work together, thus building
The first concrete goal of this project is to design and
construct two prototype "digital town centers" in Costa
Rica. At our March 30 inaugural event one center will be
exhibited in Costa Rica, and the other one at the M.I.T.
Media Laboratory, teleconferenced together using their satellite