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Computing for Everyone

04/12/2011 1:30 PM Kresge
Nicholas Negroponte, BAR '66, MAR '66, Chairman and Co"Founder, MIT Media Laboratory Wiesner Professor of Media Technology; Chairman, One Laptop Per Child (OLPC); Tim Berners"Lee, 3Com Founders Professor of Engineering, MIT, Professor, Electronics and Computer Science, University of Southampton, UK, Director, World Wide Web Consortium; ; Suzanne Berger, Raphael Dorman and Helen Starbuck Professor of Political Science, MIT

Description: In three presentations that look back to digital"age milestones, and glimpse ahead to what may come next, speakers share some previously undisclosed stories, great enthusiasms, and a few concerns.

Nicholas Negroponte tells a few "dirty secrets" about the start of the MIT Media Lab, including the fact that Negroponte and co"founder Jerome Wiesner wanted to admit people "who wouldn't normally apply to MIT, let alone get in," and that the lab was viewed by top administrators as a "salon de refuses:" a refuge for brilliant researchers such as Seymour Papert, "who were not welcome" elsewhere.

After heading up the lab for 25 years, Negroponte wanted to end his peripatetic, fund"raising duties and start a project of his own. Having witnessed on a small scale the transformative power of computer technology in developing countries, Negroponte started One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), a program that has now placed approximately three million laptop computers in the hands of children in 40 countries. Some nations have implemented the program more successfully than others, he admits: Libya's Qaddafi just toyed with adopting OLPC, but the president of Uruguay "decided it would be his legacy." Negroponte shows photos of children from different countries taking advantage of their laptops, including one teaching grandparents how to read and write, and another walking home with the computer balanced on her head.

Back in 1969, Tim Berners"Lee was unaware of the first message traveling along ARPANET, but 20 years later at CERN, his passion for the internet ignited, leading to the development of HTML, URLs, and the World Wide Web. Berners"Lee describes how Michael Dertouzos recruited him to MIT's Lab for Computer Science, and then took Berners"Lee "under his wing" to launch the international consortium behind the web. Today Berners"Lee says this "linked data cloud" sees a doubling of content every 10 months, and that information systems must be built to cope with the nearly "ridiculous" numbers of devices that tap into the Web. "Some people would like it on their watch, others want it built into their glasses," he says.

Berners"Lee asks for involvement from technology literate citizens in addressing issues of access equity (only 25% of the world is connected to the web). He views this as a matter of "human rights," given the way the web is integrated into government, business and culture. The web now has 10 to the 11th power pages, about the same number as neurons in the brain, and Berners"Lee would like to formalize a "science to study this thing, to understand how information propagates across it," he says. "Humanity is connected by technology," and "we have a duty to think about the protocols that affect it."

Even her good friend and computing guru Michael Dertouzos did not foresee the degree to which "digitization and IT would radically change the big players in the world," says Suzanne Berger. At the end of the 1980s, huge, vertically integrated companies operating in mass markets began losing their dominance, says Berger, as the digital revolution allowed firms to distribute activities previously undertaken in a single location to the four corners of the globe. Corporations now create products as if they are constructing LEGOs, she believes. IT has enabled modularity, where manufacturing and services "don't matter, and are simply cheap commodities that can take place anywhere."

This is no longer a healthy state of affairs, believes Berger, because innovation in so many areas of the economy (biotechnology, for instance) increasingly requires a close link to production. While the U.S. is still strong in R&D, it must also "master production in new technologies" or it will not be able to maximize the value of innovation to society. Dertouzos understood this well, she says: "We can't just ship production out and hope to remain a society that lives well."

About the Speaker(s): A 1976 graduate of Oxford University, Tim Berners"Lee invented the World Wide Web, an internet"based hypermedia initiative for global information sharing. Today he leads the World Wide Web Consortium, an open forum of companies and organizations with the mission to lead the Web to its full potential. Berners"Lee wrote the first web client (browser"editor) and server in 1990 while working at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory in Geneva, Before coming to CERN, Tim worked with Image Computer Systems, of Ferndown, Dorset, England and before that as a principal engineer with Plessey Telecommunications, in Poole, England. Tim Berners"Lee has received numerous honors, including a MacArthur Fellowship, the Charles Babbage award, the Electronic Freedom Foundation's pioneer award and the Japan Prize from the Science and Technology Foundation of Japan. In 2004 Tim was listed in the New Year's honors list for a knighthood (KBE) for services to the global development of the Internet and was awarded the first Millennium Technology Prize. He was knighted by H.M. the Queen on 16th July, 2004. Nicholas P. Negroponte has been on the MIT faculty since 1966. He was the founder of the Architecture Machines Group. In 1995, he published the bestseller Being Digital, which was translated into more than 40 languages.

Negroponte was a founder of Wired Magazine, and serves on the board of directors for Motorola, Inc. He has been an 'angel investor' in more than 40 start"ups.

Host(s): Office of the President, MIT150 Inventional Wisdom

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