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What's New at the Media Lab? (MIT Communications Forum)

03/01/2007 5:00 PM 3"270
Henry Jenkins, Provost's Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California; ; Frank Moss, Director, MIT Media Lab; Professor of the Practice of Media Arts and Sciences
; Jerome B. Wiesner Professorship of Media Technology; Adam Boulanger, SM '06; Ryan Chin MA, '00, SM '04, Doctoral Student, Smart Cities Project; Hartmut Geyer

Description: Under new leadership, MIT's Media Lab has shifted gears significantly. This forum gives viewers a sense of the Lab's current priorities, via an overview by the director and three student presentations. Frank Moss initially laughed at the headhunter aiming to recruit him to the Media Lab, but reconsidered after reflecting on his kids' pointed comments: "You've sold software to fat, white guys in IT departments all your life. When are you going to give something back to society?" In conversation with Henry Jenkins, Moss describes his vision of "inventing a better future, in which technology can impact people at a deeper level, beginning with people who are disabled, disadvantaged, or disenfranchised." Targeting these groups will lead to inventions that impact society as a whole, believes Moss. Moss hopes Lab researchers will develop designs that enable more intimate interactions between humans and technology; that open up new ways for creativity and learning to change our lives; and that allow for a rethinking and simplification of "common elements in our environment." He introduces three young exemplars of the Media Lab's new focus. Adam Boulanger uses "facilitative technologies to break the mold," by handing music composition software to severely disabled patients in a Tewksbury, Massachusetts hospital. Hyperscore, says Boulanger, has enabled "new modes of interaction, new social interactions and empowerment" among patients with psychiatric disorders, spina bifida, and Alzheimer's disease. He's working on broadening this software to provide useful interventions in autism, and to detect cognitive decline. Ryan Chin's research focuses on ways to complement the increasing density of the world's cities with appropriate car design. City Car is a two"passenger electric vehicle that folds up (to four feet) so it can be conveniently stacked in small spaces in city centers and neighborhoods, and at commuter stations. Think shopping cart, says Chin. The concept challenges fundamental ideas of car ownership and function, since it's "more a computer on wheels," says Chin and is intended for shared, community use. But 504 of these vehicles fit on a city block that normally can accommodate only 82 parked cars, and when stationary, these cars can return some of their energy back to the grid. Biomechanical devices represent perhaps the ultimate in human"machine interaction. Hartmut Geyer works on ankle and knee prostheses, applying an understanding of the human gait -- the nerve signals and muscle actions required to move in different ways -- to create more responsive devices for amputees. Signals from the residual limb of the amputee tell the prosthesis how to respond during a particular activity like walking upstairs. Eventually, says Geyer, electrodes may be implanted into nerve fibers so that the brain can directly control the prosthesis, or the prosthesis can send signals to sensory fibers "so maybe the amputee wearing it can feel what he's stepping on-maybe sand, maybe concrete."

About the Speaker(s): Henry Jenkins' forthcoming books include Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide and Fans, Bloggers and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture. His previous books include "What Made Pistachio Nuts": Early Sound Comedy and the Vaudeville Aesthetic; Classical Hollywood Comedy; and Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. Jenkins has published articles on a diverse range of topics relating to film, television and popular culture. His most recent essays include work on Star Trek, WWF Wrestling, Nintendo Games, and Dr. Seuss.

Jenkins has a Ph.D. in Communication Arts from the University of Wisconsin"Madison and an M.A. in Communication Studies from the University of Iowa. Frank Moss has spent his career bringing innovative business technologies to market. Most recently, he co"founded and is on the board of Infinity Pharmaceuticals, Inc., an early"stage cancer"drug discovery company. In addition, he chaired the advisory council for the creation of the Systems Biology Department at Harvard Medical School, where he remains an advisor.

During his career in the computer and software industries, Moss served as CEO and chairman of Tivoli Systems Inc., which he took public in 1995 and subsequently merged with IBM in 1996. He co"founded several other companies, including Stellar Computer, Inc., a developer of graphic supercomputers; and Bowstreet, Inc., a pioneer in the emerging field of Web services.

He began his career at IBM's scientific center in Haifa, Israel, where he also taught at the Technion, Israel's Institute of Technology. He later held various research and management positions at IBM's Yorktown Heights (NY) Research Center, working on advanced development projects in the areas of networking and distributed computing; and executive management positions at Apollo Computer, Inc., and Lotus Development Corporation.

Host(s): School of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences, Communications Forum

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