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I have recently read an article that claims that children that never seen a book and didn't know how to speak English learned how to use an Android phone and hacked it.

Is this true? The article simply states that they have enabled the camera on the tablet which was previously disabled. Would what the children did really be considered hacking?

The article also states that they began learning English. If someone could verify what is meant by that it would be great.

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It seems to me that you've simply not read the article properly. You can also look up the definition of hack in a dictionary. While the article doesn't state exactly what kind of "hack" it was, it could also be a hard-hack (or a hardware hack). Negroponte might have also used the term relatively loosely. IOW, there really is nothing here to be sceptical about ... –  coleopterist Nov 14 '12 at 7:44

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up vote 15 down vote accepted

The source MIT Technology Review article seems to answer your questions

Earlier this year, OLPC workers dropped off closed boxes containing the tablets, taped shut, with no instruction. “I thought the kids would play with the boxes. Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, found the on-off switch … powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child, per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs in the village, and within five months, they had hacked Android,” Negroponte said. “Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera, and they figured out the camera, and had hacked Android.”

Elaborating later on Negroponte’s hacking comment, Ed McNierney, OLPC’s chief technology officer, said that the kids had gotten around OLPC’s effort to freeze desktop settings. “The kids had completely customized the desktop—so every kids’ tablet looked different. We had installed software to prevent them from doing that,” McNierney said. “And the fact they worked around it was clearly the kind of creativity, the kind of inquiry, the kind of discovery that we think is essential to learning.”

So, learning English consisted, at least, of learning to sing the Alphabet song.

The hacking consisted of working around an OEM attempt to limit the settings. Whether you consider discovering and using a bug to unlock existing functionality to be "hacking" depends entirely on your definition of "hacking". It is quite different from, say, developing a technique to "jail-break" an iPhone or rebuilding a kernel.

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They made it do something that it was intended not to be able to do that is a hack. –  Chad Nov 14 '12 at 14:52
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well, from above it seems more like they "hacked" lame OLPC's customization, rather than operating system itself. –  vartec Nov 14 '12 at 16:29

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