30 years ago I was introduced to computers and computer programming thanks to a research pilot that the MIT Media Lab was running at my elementary school in Costa Rica. My class was one of 3 classes selected at my school (which in turn was one of 3 schools selected in the country).
A team of researches lead by Seymour Papert and Mitchel Resnick had the view that if kids were introduced to computer programming at an early age, with an approach of creating creative learning experiences, they would go on constantly inventing new possibilities for themselves and their communities as they grew old.
Thanks to this successful collaboration between the MIT, the Omar Dengo Foundation and the Ministry of Education, this pilot went on to become the National Program of Educational Informatics; bringing free computing education to all public schools in Costa Rica. My future and the future of Costa Rica changed that summer.
At age 7 I felt in love with computers, Logo Writer and Manuelita, as we foundly named the little turtle robot in the screen. For the next 4 years I sneaked out of class to the lab whenever I could and found behind that monocromatic screen the power to paint, to solve geometric problems and to just geek around and bring to life the power of thought. I can say that this early experiences with computers molded my brain to solve problems and find in those white electronic boxes a super power that would allow me materialize thoughts and solutions to my and other people’s problems.
I am sure I am not alone in this feeling. Like me, many more kids, teens and adults around the world have found in computers a gateway to a brand new world, full of posibilites and wonders. But back then you needed money, computers where not cheap and internet was just an experiment in a lab somewhere in Europe. Visionary governments invested money in giving their future citizens access to something that was yet not tangible but had all the potential to change lives, economies and culture.
At home, my father exchanged accounting services for spare parts of old computers, so we could add a little bit more ram, upgrade the processor or bring home our first color display!
Fast forward to today and the cost of access to computers is almost free.
In a little bit more than a decade we went from the dream of $100 laptops for all, to very capable computers costing you as little as $30, you can hook it up to a cheap monitor or tv and access the internet through many of the open wifi hotspots around most cities. For less than $200 you have access to a laptop or a tablet. Access to internet is yet to become a human right, but while that day comes, access to the internet is almost pervasive in today’s society and many more governments and big tech continue to invest in bringing online those that are yet to connect.
Today, with a simple access to a browser, you can easily multiply the development computing power of most devices, for free, with services like Codesandbox, Replit and GitHub Actions. For as little as $5 a month you can spin off a production grade server instance on services like DigitalOcean and Netlify, and if you have a node app or static website you can release it to the world for free using a service like Zeit. Free is available on most enterprise cloud providers like AWS, Azure and Google Cloud; what’s more, access to computing power is so cheap, that while already accesible, AWS is Amazon’s biggest source of revenue, which means that even at very competitive prices, Amazon can turn all this computing power into a profit.
If you marry this freely available computing power with freely available learning resources and the inquisitive brain power of growing up kids, we can asure ourselves that the pace at which things will evolve and innovation flow will only continue to accelerate.
We live in a society that expects instant gratification, nothing is more instant that seeing bits executed and come alive in realtime in front of you; to seeing people from around the world access and use what you create without having to have an engineering diploma; to build, train and test artificial intelligence without having to have a PhD degree.
We are living in the age of Free Computing Power.
I am hopeful and excited to think of the future to come where all this free, powerful, available computing power finds in children, teens and adults the curiosity and opportunity to make true their dreams, hopes and aspirations.
From no-code solutions, to the most advance machine learning models, CAD solutions and more. Computing has become pervasive and accesible to everything we do, most of it available today for free.
One line of code at a time. One bit at a time. One dream at a time.
Free is here. Now. Go and make something amazing with it!