Barrett says time is right to close digital divide

Craig Barrett has turned his attention to a new challenge -- spreading computers and education throughout the developing world.

IDGNS: How will an MID improve the life of a poor farmer or fisherman?

Barrett: It depends how they use it. If you travel to central China today or even parts of India and see farmers with PCs — these are standard desktops or laptops — they're using them to get information about weather and fertilizer and how to be more productive growing their crops, and how to bypass the middleman and sell their crops at the best possible price. They're using them to increase their standard of living by being more productive. The key thing is that it's all local content produced in the local language.

If you drop existing technology into a lot of places in the world today you can create phenomenal results. We've done a couple of examples of this in the Amazon and Brazil, and remote Chinese and Lebanese villages. If you train some teachers and put a broadband connection and some computers in, you can change kids' lives overnight, it's dramatic.

IDGNS: But how do you scale that to reach a significant portion of the developing world?

Barrett: Our role is not to be the volume implementer, it's to say here's what you can do, now you local governments and local people need to take this and run with it. When we went to Parantins in the Amazon, we dropped in a satellite link, put up a WiMax tower and connected some community centers and schools. Then we went to the president of Brazil and his ministers and said, "Look, it's none of our business but we showed you what can happen. It's now up to you."

IDGNS: Some governments can be willfully uncooperative. Have you had any successes in Iran or Pakistan?

Barrett: There's a little bit starting to go into Pakistan. I think there are more governments than not that are excited about this. No matter where you go in the world and talk to government leaders, whether it's a resource-poor country or an oil-rich country, they tell you the same thing — ultimately, my economy is dependent on my people.

IDGNS: Where are you off to next?

Barrett: My next trip is a fun one, to New Zealand to go helicopter fly-fishing. I'm combining that with the Milford trek in the South Island, where they have these fiords and tropical rain forest. Then it's back to Europe and the Middle East for some work there.

IDGNS: Since you handed the CEO job to Paul Otellini, do you miss having a more hands-on role running Intel?

Barrett: You go through stages. I had nearly 35 years of worrying about the day-to-day problems associated with manufacturing lines and customers. Do I miss that after 30 years? (laughs.) Sometimes you can move to a different place and look at things. So I tell Paul Otellini, "You can worry about the problems and I'll travel for you."

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