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The Victrola and the Microchip

As a rule, TED sponsors don’t appear on the mainstage. But Héctor Ruíz, CEO of AMD, has been dedicated a huge wealth of corporate resources to bridging the international digital divide, so he’s on stage to begin discussions on connecting Africa with the rest of the world.

Ruíz begins his talk by telling us that it’s an accident that he’s where he is in his life. Technology, he believes, can make those good accidents more common. As a child growing up in a small village in Mexico, his father found and fixed up an old Victrola. Ruíz spent much of his childhood listening to classical music with his father, and getting lessons on politics and history in the process. (The 1812 overture was a good way to talk about Russia and the US.) A victrola may not seem high-tech, but it seemed so to him in the 1940s, and it helped him make his way to college, along with his four sisters.

AMD is focused on putting transformative technology in children’s hands through a program called 50×15, which has the goal of bringing connectivity to half of the world by 2015. The plan is not to do it alone, but to partner with government, industry, educators and NGOs. By taking on very difficult challenges, the hope is to “force the company to do things differently.”

Using Hans Rosling’s Gapminder, he shows us the progress of nations towards the goal of 50% connectivity. The Western world, especially the US and Western Europe, has made the most progress and is approaching 100% connectivity. There’s good progress in India and China, but much less progress in Latin America and Africa. He mentions the huge cost of broadband in South Africa – $100 per month – and points out that no one would come online in the US at those prices. AMD hopes to find ways to bring these prices down.

50×15, Ruíz reminds us, is not a charity, but an attempt to find a new market. The goal is to design PCs that are highly usable and “human centric”, to have a ecologically sensitive approach, and to build local, integrated end-to-end technological ecosystems. Using this approach, they’ve deployed at least 30 different technologies in 18 countries. He references One Laptop Per Child, which uses an AMD processor and has now achieved 15 hour battery life (in its lowest power mode.) He also references AMD’s work with Architecture for Humanity to build community bandwidth centers.

Ruíz closes with a moving story about how his father challenged him to be a better student, a better husband and a better parent than he’d been towards the goal of making the world a better place. If AMD is able to have a big influence on achieving 50% connectivity in 8 years, he really will have helped make the world a better place.