MIT Media Lab
Field of research
|Technology, multimedia, sciences, art, design|
|Location||Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States|
The MIT Media Lab is a research laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, growing out of MIT's Architecture Machine Group in the School of Architecture. Its research does not restrict to fixed academic disciplines, but draws from technology, media, science, art, and design. As of 2014[update], Media Lab's research groups include neurobiology, biologically inspired fabrication, socially engaging robots, emotive computing, bionics, and hyperinstruments.
The Media Lab was founded in 1985 by Nicholas Negroponte and former MIT President Jerome Wiesner, and is housed in the Wiesner Building (designed by I. M. Pei), also known as Building E15. The Lab has been written about in the popular press since 1988, when Stewart Brand published The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at M.I.T., and its work was a regular feature of technology journals in the 1990s. In 2009, it expanded into a second building.
The Media Lab came under scrutiny in 2019 due to its acceptance of donations from convicted child sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. This led to the resignation of its director, Joi Ito, and the launch an "immediate, thorough and independent" investigation into the "extremely serious" and "deeply disturbing allegations about the engagement between individuals at the Media Lab and Jeffrey Epstein" by President of MIT.
The founding director of the lab was Nicholas Negroponte, who directed it until 2000. Later directors were Walter Bender (2000–2006), Frank Moss (2006–2011), and Joi Ito (2011-2019) who resigned in connection with the Jeffrey Epstein scandal. Dava Newman took the position in July, 2021, the first woman to do so.
As of 2014[update], the Media Lab had roughly 70 administrative and support staff members. Associate Directors of the Lab were Hiroshi Ishii and Andrew Lippman. Pattie Maes and Mitchel Resnick were co-heads of the Program in Media Arts and Sciences, and the Lab's Chief Knowledge Officer was Henry Holtzman.
The Lab's primary funding comes from corporate sponsorship. Rather than accepting funding on a per-project or per-group basis, the Lab asks sponsors to fund general themes; sponsors can then connect with Media Lab research. Specific projects and researchers are also funded more traditionally through government institutions including the NIH, NSF, and DARPA. Also, consortia with other schools or other departments at MIT are often able to have money that does not enter into the common pool.
MIT Media Lab has an approximately $75 million annual operating budget.
Companies sponsoring the Lab can share in the Lab's intellectual property without paying license fees or royalties. Non-sponsors cannot make use of Media Lab developments for two years after technical disclosure is made to MIT and Media Lab sponsors. The Media Lab generates approximately 20 new patents every year.
Research at the Lab
Some recurring themes of work at the Media Lab include human adaptability, human computer interaction, education and communication, artistic creation and visualization, and designing technology for the developing world. Other research focus includes machines with common sense, sociable robots, prosthetics, sensor networks, musical devices, city design, and public health. Research programs all include iterative development of prototypes which are tested and displayed for visitors.
Each of these areas of research may incorporate others. Interaction design research includes designing intelligent objects and environments. Educational research has also included integrating more computation into learning activities - including software for learning, programmable toys, and artistic or musical instruments. Examples include Lego Mindstorms, the PicoCricket, and One Laptop per Child.
- Affective Computing: "advancing wellbeing by using new ways to communicate, understand, and respond to emotion"
- Biomechatronics: "enhancing human physical capability."
- Camera Culture: "making the invisible visible – inside our bodies, around us, and beyond – for health, work, and connection"
- City Science: "looking beyond smart cities"
- Conformable Decoders: "converting the patterns of nature and the human body into beneficial signals and energy"
- Fluid Interfaces: "designing wearable systems for cognitive enhancement"
- Future Sketches: "exploring the essence of code as a creative medium"
- Human Dynamics: "exploring how social networks can influence our lives in business, health, governance, and technology adoption and diffusions"
- Lifelong Kindergarten: "engaging people in creative learning experiences"
- Mediated Matter: "designing for, with, and by nature"
- Molecular Machines: "engineering at the limits of complexity with molecular-scale parts"
- Nano-Cybernetic Biotrek: "inventing disruptive technologies for nanoelectronic computation and creating new paradigms for life-machine symbiosis"
- Opera of the Future: "extending expression, learning, and health through innovations in musical composition, performance, and participation"
- Personal Robots: "building socially engaging robots and interactive technologies to help people live healthier lives, connect with others, and learn better"
- Poetic Justice: "exploring new forms of social justice through art"
- Responsive Environments: "augmenting and mediating human experience, interaction, and perception with sensor networks"
- Sculpting Evolution: "exploring evolutionary and ecological engineering"
- Signal Kinetics: "extending human and computer abilities in sensing, communication, and actuation through signals and networks"
- Social Machines: "promoting deeper learning and understanding in human networks"
- Space Enabled: "advancing justice in Earth's complex systems using designs enabled by space"
- Tangible Media: "seamlessly coupling the worlds of bits and atoms by giving dynamic physical form to digital information and computation"
- Viral Communications: "creating scalable technologies that evolve with user inventiveness"
The Media Arts and Sciences program is a part of MIT's School of Architecture and Planning, and includes three levels of study: a doctoral program, a master's of science program, and a program that offers an alternative to the standard MIT freshman year as well as a set of undergraduate subjects that may form the basis for a future joint major. All graduate students are fully supported (tuition plus a stipend) from the outset, normally by appointments as research assistants at the Media Laboratory, where they work on research programs and faculty projects, including assisting with courses. These research activities typically take up about half of a student's time in the degree program.
The Media Arts and Sciences academic program have a close relationship with the Media Lab. Most Media Lab faculty are professors of Media Arts and Sciences. Students who earn a degree in Media Arts and Sciences have been predominantly in residence at the Media Lab, taking classes and doing research. Some students from other programs at MIT, such as Mechanical Engineering, or Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, do their research at the Media Lab, working with a Media Lab/Media Arts and Sciences faculty advisor, but earn their degrees (such as MEng or an MS in EECS) from other departments. There are over 1000 students apply to the MAS program and the admission is less than 5% per year.
In addition to the Media Lab, the combined original Wiesner building (E15) and new (E14) buildings also host the List Visual Arts Center, the School of Architecture and Planning's Program in Art, Culture and Technology (ACT), and MIT's Program in Comparative Media Studies.
In 2009, the Media Lab expanded into a new building designed by Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki. The local architect of record was Leers Weinzapfel Associates, of Boston. The Maki building has predominantly glass walls, with long lines of sight through the building, making ongoing research visible and encouraging connections and collaboration.
Faculty and academic research staff
Media Arts and Sciences faculty and academic research staff are principal investigators/heads of the Media Lab's various research groups. They also advise Media Arts and Sciences graduate students and mentor MIT undergraduates. "Most departments accept grad students based on their prospects for academic success; the Media Lab attempts to select ones that will best be able to help with some of the ongoing projects."
As of 2014[update], there are more than 25 faculty and academic research staff members, including a dozen named professorships. A full list of Media Lab faculty and academic research staff, with bios and other information, is available via the Media Lab Website.
Connections to Jeffrey Epstein
In August 2019, director Joi Ito said that the organization had received funding from multimillionaire convicted child sex offender Jeffrey Epstein through foundations Epstein controlled; that Ito had visited several of Epstein's residences; and that Epstein had invested "in several of my funds which invest in tech startup companies outside of MIT". Ito later admitted to taking $525,000 in funding from Epstein for the Lab. In 2019, Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte expressed support for Ito's decision to accept the funding from Epstein. Also in 2019, a federal court deposition was unsealed in which Virginia Giuffre stated that Epstein's associate directed her to have sex with former Media Lab professor Marvin Minsky.
In September 2019, it was revealed by emails leaked to Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker that Ito and Peter Cohen, the M.I.T. Media Lab’s Director of Development and Strategy at the time, have worked for years to solicit anonymous donations from Epstein despite Epstein being marked as Disqualified by the university as a donor. Ito has referred to Epstein as "fascinating".
Ito resigned due to the scandal shortly after the New Yorker article and the President of M.I.T. announced an "immediate, thorough and independent" investigation to be led by an outside law firm into the "extremely serious" allegations.
On January 10, 2020, the Executive Committee of the MIT Corporation, the Institute’s governing board, released the results of Goodwin Procter’s fact-finding regarding interactions between Jeffrey Epstein and the Institute. The report revealed that Epstein made 10 donations through various entities to MIT totaling $850,000, including nine donations, totaling $750,000, made after his 2008 conviction. In 2002, four years before Epstein’s first arrest for a sex offense, Epstein made a $100,000 donation to MIT through a charitable foundation to support the research of Professor Marvin Minsky (former Toshiba Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, Media Lab). Epstein’s $100,000 donation in May 2013 was intended to be used at Joi Ito’s discretion. His donations in November 2013 and in July and September 2014, totaling $300,000, were made to support research by Joscha Bach, a Media Lab research fellow from Germany whom Epstein introduced to Ito in 2013. Bach declined to be interviewed for Goodwin Procter’s fact-finding. Epstein’s other donations to the Media Lab between 2015 and 2017, totaling $350,000, were made to support Professor Seth Lloyd (Professor of Mechanical Engineering, $225,000), and Professor Neri Oxman (Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, $125,000).
Shortly after signing a petition in support of Ito, attorney and political activist Lawrence Lessig argued that the undesirable nature of donations to academic institutions from criminals like Epstein, whose fortune does not derive from their crimes, is partially mitigated if the donations are anonymous. "Everyone seems to treat it as if the anonymity and secrecy around Epstein’s gift are a measure of some kind of moral failing," Lessig wrote. "I see it as exactly the opposite."
Other funding controversies
On March 24, 2018, Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited MIT and prompted protests. Salman's non-profit foundation MiSK was a member company of the Lab until 2018. According to The New York Times, a sizable part of the annual budget of the Lab comes from corporate patrons, who pay at least $250,000 each year. Prince Mohammed’s personal foundation was among the roughly 90 members at their time of membership.
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Outputs and spin-offs
Some Media Lab-developed technologies made it into products or public software packages, such as the citation needed], the Benton hologram used in most credit cards, the Fisher-Price's Symphony Painter, the Nortel Wireless Mesh Network, the NTT Comware Sensetable, the Taito's Karaoke-on-Demand Machine. A 1994 device called the Sensor Chair used to control a musical orchestra was adapted by several car manufacturers into capacitive sensors to prevent dangerous airbag deployments.[
In 2001, two research centers were spun off: Media Lab Asia and Media Lab Europe. Media Lab Asia, based in India, was a result of cooperation with the Government of India but eventually broke off in 2003 after a disagreement. Media Lab Europe, based in Dublin, Ireland, was founded with a similar concept in association with Irish universities and government, and closed in January 2005.
Created collaboratively by the Computer Museum and the Media Lab, the Computer Clubhouse, a worldwide network of after-school learning centers, focuses on youth from underserved communities who would not otherwise have access to technological tools and activities.
Launched in 2003, Scratch is a block-based programming language and community developed for children 8-16, and used by people of all ages to learn programming. Millions of people have created Scratch projects in a wide variety of settings, including homes, schools, museums, libraries, and community centers.
In January 2005, the Lab's chairman emeritus Nicholas Negroponte announced at the World Economic Forum a new research initiative to develop a $100 laptop computer. A non-profit organization, One Laptop per Child, was created to oversee the actual deployment, MIT did not manufacture or distribute the device.
The Synthetic Neurobiology group created reagents and devices for the analysis of brain circuits are in use by hundreds of biology labs around the world.
In 2013, the Media Lab launched E14 Fund as a program to support and invest in MIT Media Lab startups. In 2017, E14 Fund launched its first seed stage venture fund to invest in the MIT Media Lab startup community. It invested in companies like Formlabs, Affectiva, Tulip, Wise Systems, Figur8 and more.
Media Lab industry spin-offs include:
- Affectiva, commercializing software that detects emotions in pictures of faces
- Ambient Devices, which produces glanceable information displays
- Dimagi, a company that develops software for healthcare in the developing world.
- E Ink, which makes electronic paper displays that power the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook.
- EyeNetra, which makes eye tests as $2 clip-ons for mobile phones, including potential use to correct vision for virtual reality displays.
- Formlabs makes high-resolution, desktop 3D printers (spin out from Center for Bits and Atoms)
- Groundhog Technologies, global leader in mobility intelligence and its applications on geo-analytics, geo-marketing, and network optimization.
- Harmonix, game company creator of Rock Band and Guitar Hero.
- Holosonics selling "audio spotlight" speakers using sound from ultrasound technology
- Oblong Industries, creators of the digital screen used by Tom Cruise in Minority Report
- One Laptop per Child's XO laptop
- Potion Design, an interactive design firm
- RadioSherpa, an online guide for HD Radio stations. acquired by Tune-in.
- reQall, a memory aid company.
- Salient Stills, a video resolution enhancement and video forensics company founded in 1996, acquired by DAC in 2013. The combined entity has been rebranded Salient Sciences.
- Sifteo, a company that has developed a tabletop gaming platform that grew out of Siftables.
- Squid Labs, engineering consulting company
- The Echo Nest, a music intelligence platform
- Zebra Imaging, a digital holographic display company
- First Mile Solutions, bringing communications infrastructure to rural communities
- Nanda, a company that markets the Clocky alarm clock
- Physiio International, merged with Empatica; manufacturer of wearable medical sensors
- Supermechanical, manufacturer of Twine, a wifi interface for various environmental sensors; and Range, a smartphone-connected thermometer
- Wireless 5th Dimensional Networking, Inc. (acquired in 2006), which developed the first hybrid search engine
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