MIT News http://news.mit.edu/mitnews-rss.xml MIT News is dedicated to communicating to the media and the public the news and achievements of the students, faculty, staff and the greater MIT community. en Tue, 10 Mar 2020 00:00:00 -0400 Why do banking crises occur? http://news.mit.edu/2020/banks-on-brink-singer-book-0310 In a new book, political scientist David Singer finds two key factors connected to financial-sector collapses around the globe. Tue, 10 Mar 2020 00:00:00 -0400 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2020/banks-on-brink-singer-book-0310 <p>Why did the U.S. banking crisis of 2007-2008 occur? Many accounts have chronicled the bad decisions and poor risk management at places like Lehmann Brothers, the now-vanished investment bank. Still, plenty of banks have vanished, and many countries have had their own banking crises in recent decades. So, to pose the question more generally, why do modern banking crises occur?</p> <p>David Singer believes he knows. An MIT professor and head of the Institute’s Department of Political Science, Singer has spent years examining global data on the subject with his colleague Mark Copelovitch, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.</p> <p>Together, Singer and Copelovitch have identified two things, in tandem, that generate banking crises: One, a large amount of foreign investment surges into a country, and two, that country’s economy has a well-developed market in securities — especially stocks.</p> <p>“Empirically, we find that systemic bank failures are more likely when substantial foreign capital inflows meet a financial system with well-developed stock markets,” says Singer. “Banks take on more risk in these environments, which makes them more prone to collapse.”</p> <p>Singer and Copelovitch detail their findings in a new book, “Banks on the Brink: Global Capital, Securities Markets, and the Political Roots of Financial Crises,” published by Cambridge University Press. In it, they emphasize that the historical development of markets creates conditions ripe for crisis — it is not just a matter of a few rogue bankers engaging in excessive profit-hunting.</p> <p>“There wasn’t much scholarship that explored the phenomenon from both a political and an economic perspective,” Singer adds. “We sought to go up to 30,000 feet and see what the patterns were, to explain why some banking systems were more resilient than others.”</p> <p><strong>Where the risk goes: Banks or stocks?</strong></p> <p>Through history, lending institutions have often been prone to instability. But Singer and Copelovitch examined what makes banks vulnerable under contemporary conditions. They looked at economic and banking-sector data from 1976-2011, for the 32 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).</p> <p>That time period begins soon after the Bretton Woods system of international monetary-policy cooperation vanished, which led to a significant increase in foreign capital movement. From 1990 to 2005 alone, international capital flow increased from $1 trillion to $12 trillion annually. (It has since slid back to $5 trillion, after the Great Recession.)</p> <p>Even so, a flood of capital entering a country is not enough, by itself, to send a banking sector under water, Singer says: “Why is it that some capital inflows can be accommodated and channeled productively throughout an economy, but other times they seem to lead a banking system to go awry?”</p> <p>The answer, Singer and Copelovitch contend, is that a highly active stock market is a form of competition for the banking sector, to which banks respond by taking greater risks.&nbsp;</p> <p>To see why, imagine a promising business needs capital. It could borrow funds from a bank. Or it could issue a stock offering, and raise the money from investors, as riskier firms generally do. If a lot of foreign investment enters a country, backing firms that issue stock offerings, bankers will want a piece of the action.</p> <p>“Banks and stock markets are competing for the business of firms that need to raise money,” Singer says. “When stock markets are small and unsophisticated, there’s not much competition. Firms go to their banks.” However, he adds, “A bank doesn’t want to lose a good chunk of its customer base to the stock markets. … And if that happens, banks start to do business with slightly riskier firms.”</p> <p><strong>Rethinking Canadian bank stability</strong></p> <p>Exploring this point in depth, the book develops contrasting case studies of Canada and Germany. Canada is one of the few countries to remain blissfully free of banking crises — something commentators usually ascribe to sensible regulation.</p> <p>However, Singer and Copelovitch observe, Canada has always had small, regional stock markets, and is the only OECD country without a national stock-market regulator.</p> <p>“There’s a sense that Canada has stable banks just because they’re well-regulated,” Singer says. “That’s the conventional wisdom we’re trying to poke holes in. And I think it’s not well-understood that Canada’s stock markets are as underdeveloped as they are.”</p> <p>He adds: “That’s one of the key considerations, when we analyze why Canada’s banks are so stable. They don’t face a competitive threat from stock markets the way banks in the United States do. They can be conservative and be competitive and still be profitable.”</p> <p>By contrast, German banks have been involved in many banking blowups in the last two decades. At one time, that would not have been the case. But Germany’s national-scale banks, feeling pressure from a thriving set of regional banks, tried to bolster profits through securities investment, leading to some notable problems.</p> <p>“Germany started off the period we study looking like a very bank-centric economy,” Singer says. “And that’s what Germany is often known for, close connections between banks and industry.” However, he notes, “The national banks started to feel a competitive threat and looked to stock markets to bolster their competitive advantage. … German banks used to be so stable and so long-term focused, and they’re now finding short-term trouble.”</p> <p>“Banks on the Brink” has drawn praise from other scholars in the field. Jeffry Frieden, a professor of government at Harvard University, says the book’s “careful logic, statistical analyses, and detailed case studies make compelling reading for anyone interested in the economics and politics of finance.”</p> <p>For their part, Singer and Copelovitch say they hope to generate more discussion about both the recent history of banking crises, and how to avoid them in the future.</p> <p>Perhaps surprisingly, Singer believes that separating commerical and investment banks from each other — which the Glass-Steagall Act used to do in the U.S. — would not prevent crises. Any bank, not just investment banks, can flounder if profit-hunting in risky territory.</p> <p>Instead, Singer says, “We think macroprudential regulations for banks are the way to go. That’s just about capital regulations, making sure banks are holding enough capital to absorb any losses they might incur. That seems to be the best approach to maintaining a stable banking system, especially in the face of large capital flows.”</p> David Singer, an MIT professor and head of the Department of Political Science, is the co-author of a new book, “Banks on the Brink: Global Capital, Securities Markets, and the Political Roots of Financial Crises,” published by Cambridge University Press.Photo: M. Scott BrauerPolitical science, Banking, Finance, Books and authors, Faculty, Research, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences How the brain encodes landmarks that help us navigate http://news.mit.edu/2020/brain-encodes-landmarks-navigate-0310 Neuroscientists discover how a key brain region combines visual and spatial information to help us find our way. Tue, 10 Mar 2020 00:00:00 -0400 Anne Trafton | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2020/brain-encodes-landmarks-navigate-0310 <p>When we move through the streets of our neighborhood, we often use familiar landmarks to help us navigate. And as we think to ourselves, “OK, now make a left at the coffee shop,” a part of the brain called the retrosplenial cortex (RSC) lights up.</p> <p>While many studies have linked this brain region with landmark-based navigation, exactly how it helps us find our way is not well-understood. A new study from MIT neuroscientists now reveals how neurons in the RSC use both visual and spatial information to encode specific landmarks.</p> <p>“There’s a synthesis of some of these signals — visual inputs and body motion — to represent concepts like landmarks,” says Mark Harnett, an assistant professor of brain and cognitive sciences and a member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research. “What we went after in this study is the neuron-level and population-level representation of these different aspects of spatial navigation.”</p> <p>In a study of mice, the researchers found that this brain region creates a “landmark code” by combining visual information about the surrounding environment with spatial feedback of the mice’s own position along a track. Integrating these two sources of information allowed the mice to learn where to find a reward, based on landmarks that they saw.</p> <p>“We believe that this code that we found, which is really locked to the landmarks, and also gives the animals a way to discriminate between landmarks, contributes to the animals’ ability to use those landmarks to find rewards,” says Lukas Fischer, an MIT postdoc and the lead author of the study.</p> <p>Harnett is the senior author of the study, which appears today in the journal <em>eLife</em>. Other authors are graduate student Raul Mojica Soto-Albors and recent MIT graduate Friederike Buck.</p> <p><strong>Encoding landmarks</strong></p> <p>Previous studies have found that people with damage to the RSC have trouble finding their way from one place to another, even though they can still recognize their surroundings. The RSC is also one of the first areas affected in Alzheimer’s patients, who often have trouble navigating.</p> <p>The RSC is wedged between the primary visual cortex and the motor cortex, and it receives input from both of those areas. It also appears to be involved in combining two types of representations of space — allocentric, meaning the relationship of objects to each other, and egocentric, meaning the relationship of objects to the viewer.</p> <p>“The evidence suggests that RSC is really a place where you have a fusion of these different frames of reference,” Harnett says. “Things look different when I move around in the room, but that’s because my vantage point has changed. They’re not changing with respect to one another.”</p> <p>In this study, the MIT team set out to analyze the behavior of individual RSC neurons in mice, including how they integrate multiple inputs that help with navigation. To do that, they created a virtual reality environment for the mice by allowing them to run on a treadmill while they watch a video screen that makes it appear they are running along a track. The speed of the video is determined by how fast the mice run.</p> <p>At specific points along the track, landmarks appear, signaling that there’s a reward available a certain distance beyond the landmark. The mice had to learn to distinguish between two different landmarks, and to learn how far beyond each one they had to run to get the reward.</p> <p>Once the mice learned the task, the researchers recorded neural activity in the RSC as the animals ran along the virtual track. They were able to record from a few hundred neurons at a time, and found that most of them anchored their activity to a specific aspect of the task.</p> <p>There were three primary anchoring points: the beginning of the trial, the landmark, and the reward point. The majority of the neurons were anchored to the landmarks, meaning that their activity would consistently peak at a specific point relative to the landmark, say 50 centimeters before it or 20 centimeters after it.</p> <p>Most of those neurons responded to both of the landmarks, but a small subset responded to only one or the other. The researchers hypothesize that those strongly selective neurons help the mice to distinguish between the landmarks and run the correct distance to get the reward.</p> <p>When the researchers used optogenetics (a tool that can turn off neuron activity) to block activity in the RSC, the mice’s performance on the task became much worse.</p> <p><strong>Combining inputs</strong></p> <p>The researchers also did an experiment in which the mice could choose to run or not while the video played at a constant speed, unrelated to the mice’s movement. The mice could still see the landmarks, but the location of the landmarks was no longer linked to a reward or to the animals’ own behavior. In that situation, RSC neurons did respond to the landmarks, but not as strongly as they did when the mice were using them for navigation.</p> <p>Further experiments allowed the researchers to tease out just how much neuron activation is produced by visual input (seeing the landmarks) and by feedback on the mouse’s own movement. However, simply adding those two numbers yielded totals much lower than the neuron activity seen when the mice were actively navigating the track.</p> <p>“We believe that is evidence for a mechanism of nonlinear integration of these inputs, where they get combined in a way that creates a larger response than what you would get if you just added up those two inputs in a linear fashion,” Fischer says.</p> <p>The researchers now plan to analyze data that they have already collected on how neuron activity evolves over time as the mice learn the task. They also hope to perform further experiments in which they could try to separately measure visual and spatial inputs into different locations within RSC neurons.</p> <p>The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the McGovern Institute, the NEC Corporation Fund for Research in Computers and Communications at MIT, and the Klingenstein-Simons Fellowship in Neuroscience.</p> MIT neuroscientists have identified a “landmark code” that helps the brain navigate our surroundings.Image: Christine Daniloff, MITResearch, Brain and cognitive sciences, McGovern Institute, School of Science, Neuroscience, National Institutes of Health (NIH) Events postponed or canceled as MIT responds to COVID-19 http://news.mit.edu/2020/events-postponed-canceled-covid-19-0309 Changes follow new Institute policies on travel, events, and visitors; some large classes to move online. Mon, 09 Mar 2020 14:48:39 -0400 MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2020/events-postponed-canceled-covid-19-0309 <p>MIT schools, departments, labs, centers, and offices have acted swiftly to postpone or cancel large events through May 15 in the wake of the Institute’s <a href="https://news.mit.edu/2020/letter-regarding-coronavirus-disease-0305">announcement last week</a> of new policies&nbsp;regarding gatherings likely to attract 150 or more people.</p> <p>To safeguard against COVID-19, and the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus, many other MIT events have been modified both on campus and elsewhere, with increased opportunities offered for livestreaming.</p> <p>The guidelines put forth last week have also now been expanded to include some large classes: The Institute will move classes with more than 150 students online, starting this week.</p> <p><strong>Impacts on classes and student travel</strong></p> <p>Following consultation with senior academic leadership and experts within MIT Medical, the Institute has suspended in-person meetings of classes with more than 150 students, effective tomorrow, Tuesday, March 10. The approximately 20 classes impacted by the decision will continue to be offered in virtual form.</p> <p>“We are being guided by our medical professionals who are in close contact with state and national public health officials,” Ian Waitz, vice chancellor for undergraduate and graduate education, wrote today in a letter to deans and department heads. “They have advised us that while the risk to the community is low and there are no cases on campus as of now, we need to move quickly to help prevent the potential transmission of the disease and to be ready if and when it impacts our campus.”</p> <p>“Our approach is to be aggressive, but to move forward in stages,” Waitz added, “while keeping in mind that some individual faculty and departments may be moving faster than others, that the level of comfort with remote teaching varies, and that some classes may translate better than others to alternative formats.”</p> <p>As of now, midterm examinations will proceed as scheduled, but the plan for large courses is to run midterms in several rooms simultaneously so the number of students in each room remains well below 150. The Registrar’s Office is working on room scheduling strategies to best accommodate that approach.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Institute has also decided that all MIT-sponsored student domestic travel of more than 100 miles will have to go through the Institute’s high-risk travel waiver process.</p> <p><strong>Impacts on undergraduate and graduate admissions</strong></p> <p>As shared in President L. Rafael Reif’s <a href="https://news.mit.edu/2020/letter-regarding-coronavirus-disease-0305">letter of last Thursday</a>, MIT’s new policy on events will apply to <a href="https://admitted.mit.edu/experience">Campus Preview Weekend</a>, ordinarily an on-campus gathering for students admitted to the incoming first-year undergraduate class. In the coming weeks, the Admissions Office will be connecting with admitted students, current students, and campus partners to discuss what to do instead of a conventional CPW. For more information, please see:&nbsp;<a href="https://mitadmissions.org/blogs/entry/mits-covid-19-precautions-and-its-impact-on-admissions/" title="https://mitadmissions.org/blogs/entry/mits-covid-19-precautions-and-its-impact-on-admissions/">https://mitadmissions.org/blogs/entry/mits-covid-19-precautions-and-its-impact-on-admissions/</a></p> <p>The Admissions Office will not host any programming for K-12 students, including admitted students and their families, between now and May 15, regardless of the size of the event.&nbsp;All scheduled admissions sessions and tours have been canceled between now and May 15, and MIT Admissions is canceling all scheduled admissions officer travel to domestic and international events in that time window.&nbsp;</p> <p>Additionally, all graduate admissions visit days have been canceled, effective immediately.&nbsp;“Based upon reducing risk, we ask all departments to cancel all remaining graduate open houses and visit days, and to move to virtual formats,” Waitz says. “Many departments have already done this.”</p> <p>Despite the cancellation of these formal events, the MIT campus currently remains open for visits by prospective students. However, in keeping with suggested best practices for public health, visitors from countries that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds&nbsp;<a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html">have “widespread sustained (ongoing) transmission” of COVID-19</a> cannot visit campus until they have successfully completed 14 days of self-quarantine.</p> <p><strong>Impacts on major campus events</strong></p> <p>The <strong>MIT Excellence Awards and Collier Medal</strong> celebration, scheduled for this Thursday, March 12, has been postponed; a rescheduled date will be announced as soon as it is confirmed. The Excellence Awards and Collier Medal recognize&nbsp;the work of service, support, administrative, and sponsored research staff. The Excellence Awards acknowledge the extraordinary efforts made by members of the MIT community toward fulfilling the goals, values, and mission of the Institute. The Collier Medal is awarded to an individual or group exhibiting qualities such as a commitment to community service, kindness, selflessness, and generosity; it honors the memory of MIT Police Officer Sean Collier,&nbsp;who lost his life&nbsp;while protecting the MIT campus.&nbsp;<a href="https://hr.mit.edu/recognition/excellence/recipients/2020" title="https://hr.mit.edu/recognition/excellence/recipients/2020">A full list of this year’s honorees is available</a>.</p> <p>Career Advising and Professional Development is working on plans to change the format of the <strong>Spring Career Fair</strong>, previously scheduled for April 2, to a virtual career fair for a date to be announced in April. All other large-scale employer engagement events — such as career fairs, mixers, symposiums, and networking events — will also be canceled; adopt a virtual model; be postponed beyond May 15; or adopt other models that meet the new policies involving large events.&nbsp;</p> <p>MIT is postponing the remaining two <strong>Climate Action Symposia</strong>, “<a href="https://climate.mit.edu/posts/mit-climate-initiatives-and-role-research-universities-april-2-2020">MIT Climate Initiatives and the Role of Research Universities</a>” and “<a href="https://climate.mit.edu/posts/summing-why-world-waiting-april-22-2020" title="https://climate.mit.edu/posts/summing-why-world-waiting-april-22-2020">Summing Up: Why Is the World Waiting?</a>” — previously scheduled for April 2 and April 22, respectively. These symposia will be rescheduled; new dates will be announced on <a href="applewebdata://7840DF2E-F494-42B9-B4DA-510B4A5DE3D9/climatesymposia.mit.edu" title="climatesymposia.mit.edu">climatesymposia.mit.edu</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Solve at MIT</strong> on May 12-14 will be virtual. In addition to a livestream on <a href="https://solve.mit.edu/events/solve-at-mit-2020">this page</a>, Solve will continue to bring together its cross-sector community via interactive online workshops and more. Participants can also contribute&nbsp;<a href="https://solve.mit.edu/challenges/global-health-security">a solution</a>&nbsp;or&nbsp;<a href="http://solve.mit.edu/donate">a donation</a>&nbsp;to the&nbsp;<a href="https://solve.mit.edu/challenges/global-health-security">Health Security and Pandemics Challenge</a>.</p> <p><strong>Impacts on athletics and intercollegiate athletics events</strong></p> <p>The Department of Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation (DAPER) is taking steps to safeguard student-athletes, staff, and community members who utilize DAPER facilities for club sports, intramurals, and recreation. Unless otherwise announced, MIT’s intercollegiate athletics events will continue as scheduled. However, visiting teams are asked to bring only student-athletes and essential team personnel to events at MIT. </p> <p>Additionally, DAPER has requested that only MIT students, faculty, and staff members attend upcoming home athletic events through May 15. All other spectators, including parents, are asked to watch events using&nbsp;<a href="https://team1sports.com/mitathletics/" target="_blank">DAPER’s video streaming service</a>.</p> <p><strong>Other impacted events and activities</strong></p> <p>Discussions are ongoing about many additional events scheduled between now and May 15. The list below will be updated as more information becomes available. Among the affected events and activities announced so far:</p> <ul> <li>Use of the pillars in Lobby 7 for community discussion is suspended for the rest of the spring semester, to minimize close contact and sharing of writing implements.</li> <li><strong>SpaceTech 2020,</strong>&nbsp;scheduled for Wednesday, March 11, has been postponed until a later date. The all-day event, part of MIT Space Week, will highlight the future of space exploration by featuring lightning talks from current students; talks and panels from alumni; and an interactive guided tour along the Space Trail to visit Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AeroAstro) labs and ongoing research projects. Visit <a href="http://spacetech.mit.edu/">spacetech.mit.edu</a> for the latest information.</li> <li><strong>MIT Getfit has</strong> canceled both of its midpoint events originally scheduled for Wednesday, March 11. Organizers are working to contact participants with more information.</li> <li>The March 13 lecture titled<strong> “Fateful Triangle: How China Shaped US-India Relations During the Cold War,” </strong>by Tanvi Madan of the Brookings Institution, has been postponed. More information is available at <a href="http://southasianpolitics.net/" target="_blank" title="http://southasianpolitics.net/">http://southasianpolitics.net/</a>.</li> <li><strong>To the Moon to Stay Hackathon</strong>, scheduled for Saturday, March 14, has been postponed until a later date. MIT AeroAstro and the MIT Media Lab’s Space Exploration Initiative are partnering to design and build an experiment to go to the moon on board Blue Origin’s inaugural lunar mission. The goal of the hackathon is to bring the MIT community together to think about lunar missions and habitation through a variety of challenges. To receive updates,&nbsp;<a href="https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSc1wh71er_fzUM4W_Ir51Ryv8rgE4aR1kZ7nR4mOh2oVs718A/viewform?usp=sf_link">join their email list</a>&nbsp;or visit <a href="http://tothemoon.mit.edu/">tothemoon.mit.edu</a>.</li> <li>The Koch Institute is limiting attendance at the&nbsp;<a href="https://ki.mit.edu/news/events/withinsight">SCIENCE with/in/sight: 2020 Visions</a>&nbsp;event on March 17. This event is now for invited guests only.</li> <li>All <a href="https://commforum.mit.edu/">MIT Communications Forum</a> events have been postponed until the fall. This includes <a href="https://commforum.mit.edu/will-mit-lose-our-immigrant-scientists-6be036d28332">Science Under Attack</a>, originally scheduled for March 19, and <a href="https://commforum.mit.edu/david-thorburn-the-william-corbett-poetry-series-69728efe3b8a">David Thorburn’s presentation</a> as part of the William Corbett Poetry Series, originally scheduled for April 8.</li> <li>The <strong>MIT de Florez Award Competition</strong>,&nbsp;scheduled for April 15, will be conducted virtually. Additional information will be sent to the Mechanical Engineering community via email.&nbsp;</li> <li><strong>The Mechanical Engineering Graduate Student Gala</strong>,&nbsp;scheduled for April 19, has been canceled and will be rescheduled for the fall.</li> <li>The <strong>Mechanical Engineering Student Awards Banquet</strong>,&nbsp;scheduled for May 15, has been canceled. Awards will be announced virtually.</li> <li>The&nbsp;<a href="http://oeop.mit.edu/" title="http://oeop.mit.edu/">Office of Engineering Outreach Programs</a>&nbsp;(OEOP) has canceled its&nbsp;<a href="http://oeop.mit.edu/programs/seed">SEED Academy program</a>&nbsp;through May 15. This includes the SEED Academy Spring Final Symposium on May 9. OEOP will continue to communicate with SEED Academy students and parents via email and through The Sprout newsletter to offer information on course, project, and engagement options.</li> <li><strong>The 2020 Brazil Conference at MIT and Harvard</strong>&nbsp;has been canceled. More information can&nbsp;be found at&nbsp;<a href="http://www.brazilconference.org/">brazilconference.org</a>.</li> <li>The March 12 Starr Forum, titled <strong>“Russia’s Putin: From Silent Coup to Legal Dictatorship,”</strong> has been changed to a <a href="http://web.mit.edu/webcast/starr-forum/s20/1/">live webcast</a>.</li> <li>The March 13 Myron Weiner Seminar on International Migration, titled <strong>“Future Aspirations Among Refugee Youth in Turkey Between Integration &amp; Mobility,”</strong> has been canceled.</li> <li>The MIT Sloan&nbsp;School of Management is&nbsp;canceling all international study tours and treks. Student conferences are either being cancelled or modified: The March 7 <strong><a href="https://robo-ai.org/">Robo-AI Exchange Conference</a></strong>, the March 13 <strong><a href="http://newspaceage.org/">New Space Age</a> Conference</strong>, and the April 2 <strong><a href="https://gcfp.mit.edu/">Golub Center for Finance and Policy</a> discussion</strong> on equity market structure with the SEC are canceled. The March 13<strong> <a href="https://www.mitsearchfunds.com/eta-summit">ETA Summit</a></strong> and the April 17 <strong><a href="https://sloangroups.mit.edu/operationsmanagement/rsvp_boot?id=366554">Ops Sim Competition</a> </strong>are proceeding, with virtualization. The March 16 <strong><a href="https://mitsloan.mit.edu/events/2020-03-16-canceled-entrepreneurship-innovation-perspectives-mit-sloan-alumni">Entrepreneurship and Innovation Alumni gathering</a></strong> in San Franciso is also canceled.</li> <li>The 2020 MIT Scholarship and UROP Brunch that was scheduled for April 4 has been canceled.</li> <li>The MIT Campaign for a Better World event in Toronto, originally set for April 29, will be postponed.</li> <li>The Program in Science, Technology, and Society’s <strong>Morison Lecture and Prize in Science, Technology, and Society,</strong> originally scheduled for April 14, 2020, 4 p.m.; E51-Wong Auditorium,&nbsp;has been rescheduled for Oct. 1, 2020.</li> <li>The Women's and Gender Studies Program's <a href="http://wgs.mit.edu/women-take-the-reel">Women Take the Reel Series</a> film event,"<strong>Warrior Women</strong>,” scheduled for March 12 at 6:30 p.m., has been postponed until fall 2020.</li> <li>The <strong>MIT Graduate Alumni Gathering</strong>, scheduled for March 20–21 in Cambridge, has been postponed, with plans for rescheduling to a later date in 2021.</li> <li>The <strong>MIT Student Alumni Association’s Dinner</strong> with 12 Strangers event series, set to be held in Cambridge and Boston, has been cancelled for the spring semester.</li> </ul> <p><em>This article will be updated as more information on impacted events becomes available.</em></p> Community, Faculty, Staff, Students, Administration, MIT Medical, Health, Chancellor, School of Engineering, School of Science, Sloan School of Management, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, School of Architecture and Planning, Program in STS, Campaign for a Better World, Alumnai/ae Creating Peru’s next generation of data scientists http://news.mit.edu/2020/creating-next-generation-data-scientists-peru-0309 IDSS and social impact group Aporta share a vision to educate and empower. Mon, 09 Mar 2020 13:35:01 -0400 Scott Murray | Institute for Data, Systems, and Society http://news.mit.edu/2020/creating-next-generation-data-scientists-peru-0309 <p>“Participating in the MIT MicroMasters in Statistics and Data Science, I have discovered new concepts and skills that will allow me to become a data scientist,” says Karen Velasquez. “I am excited to apply what I have learned to challenges that will help NGOs in Peru.”</p> <p>When Velasquez graduated with a bachelor’s degree in statistical engineering from the Universidad Nacional de Ingeniería in Lima, Peru, she was among the top 10 percent of students in her class. Now, while working for a marketing and intelligence company in Peru, she’s expanding her education as one of the first 25 participants in the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.aporta.org.pe/">Aporta</a>’s Advanced Program in Data Science and Global Skills, which supports a cohort of Peruvians through the MIT&nbsp;<a href="https://micromasters.mit.edu/ds/?utm_medium=website&amp;utm_source=idss&amp;utm_content=news">MicroMasters Program in Statistics and Data Science</a>.</p> <p><strong>Training future data scientists</strong></p> <p>Both Aporta and the MIT Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS) recognize the urgent need to solve global challenges through rigorous and systemic analysis of large and complex datasets, using tools from statistics and computing. These approaches and techniques can bring new insights to societal challenges by detecting fake news, designing real-time demand response for the power grid, or maximizing the efficacy of vaccine intervention to prevent the spread of disease.</p> <p>This critical need led Aporta and IDSS to join forces to advance education in powerful data science methods and tools to train the next generation of data scientists in Peru. Aporta is leveraging the IDSS MicroMasters for a program of their own: the Advanced Program in Data Science and Global Skills. In partnership with IDSS faculty and staff, Aporta — a subsidiary of Peruvian conglomerate Breca Group — is offering the IDSS MicroMasters Program in Statistics and Data Science to a carefully vetted group of learners, along with additional content to develop skills in cross-cultural communication, teamwork, and leadership.</p> <p>The IDSS MicroMasters Program offers a rigorous MIT education, available from anywhere in the world. Through four online courses, learners in the MicroMasters program gain in-demand skills in data analysis and machine learning, plus get hands-on experience in applying these skills in challenges centered in economics and development.</p> <p>To support the Aporta cohort’s progress through the challenging courses of the MicroMasters program, IDSS recruits teaching assistants (TAs) with areas of expertise specific to each course. Learners interact with each other in physical space while receiving live instruction and feedback from TAs through online office hours. TAs use these sessions to identify challenge areas and develop individualized course materials. This personalized and interactive method creates a vibrant classroom experience for the learners, similar to being in a residential program on MIT’s campus.</p> <p>Custom TA-led sessions have “been beyond helpful to complement the online material,” said David Ascencios, a learner who is already working as a data scientist in Peru.</p> <p>The cohort has cleared the halfway mark of their journey through the program, and already the impact is significant. “I am very grateful to Aporta and to MIT,” says Johan Veramendi, a systems engineering graduate working in finance. “The program is an excellent opportunity to advance and guide my career into the world of data science.”</p> <p><strong>Giving back</strong></p> <p>Aporta’s educational outreach program began with a gift from Ana Maria Brescia Cafferata, the daughter of Grupo Breca’s late founder. It is a philanthropic endeavor with the goal of empowering Peruvian professionals with learning opportunities to enhance their careers, while providing much-needed talent across different industries and government. Data science is a young and growing field in South America, with untapped potential, an expanding job market, and increasing opportunity for both the private and public sectors.</p> <p>“This unique program has the vision to make Peru a hub in Latin America for analytics and artificial intelligence,” says Luis Herrera, who is balancing the program with his job as a software engineer and his role as a new father. “I share this vision and I think they are doing a great job. The MIT courses are very challenging and rewarding at the same time.”</p> <p>The pilot class of 25 learners represent a variety of socio-economic backgrounds. Most have college degrees. Thanks to Brescia Cafferata’s philanthropy, Aporta made a commitment to support all of them with scholarships throughout the program. Going forward, the initiative intends to become self-sustainable, granting as many scholarships as possible.</p> <p>“Her wish is to dedicate part of her parents’ legacy to the country she’s from, and to give back,” says Luz Fernandez Gandarias, director of the Institute for Advanced Analytics and Data Science within Aporta. “Her spirit is also behind the design of the program’s academic model, keeping people as the key point around which everything evolves, rather than technology. Ensuring the presence of an ethical conscience, recognizing the impact on people of technology — that humanistic view is something she’s always promoted.”</p> <p>For IDSS Director Munther Dahleh, the collaboration of Aporta and IDSS presents a compelling model of how MIT and IDSS can share their elite faculty and courses with the rest of the world: “IDSS wants to provide a rigorous data science education to the world. We think these skills are critical in the private sector, but also to solving global societal challenges.”</p> <p>This was the initial vision of Ana Maria Brescia Cafferata, who wants to give back to the country that gave her parents so much. Says Dahleh: “I am delighted to share the hopes and vision of Ana Maria. We have developed a unique program and partnership that aspires to educate students in an emerging field that is fundamentally changing the nature of work. In line with MIT’s mission of creating a better world, our goal is to create a more educated workforce capable of tackling the world’s challenges through enhanced data analysis and insights.”</p> Learners in the Advanced Program in Data Science and Global Skills interact with each other in physical space while receiving live instruction and feedback from teaching assistants, recruited by the MIT Institute for Data, Systems, and Society, to support their journey through the MicroMasters Program in Statistics and Data Science.IDSS, Latin America, MITx, Massive open online courses (MOOCs), Data, Analytics, online learning, Classes and programs, EdX, International initiatives, Global, MIT Schwarzman College of Computing 3 Questions: Renae Irving on creating supportive learning environments for middle- and high-school students http://news.mit.edu/2020/3-questions-renae-irving-creating-supportive-learning-environments-middle-high-school-students-0309 Molecular biology researcher and MIT alumna is an Office of Engineering Outreach Programs (OEOP) instructor. Mon, 09 Mar 2020 12:20:01 -0400 Office of Engineering Outreach Programs http://news.mit.edu/2020/3-questions-renae-irving-creating-supportive-learning-environments-middle-high-school-students-0309 <p><em>The MIT <a href="http://oeop.mit.edu/">Office of Engineering Outreach Programs</a> (OEOP) runs outreach programs under the School of Engineering for underrepresented and underserved students interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Since 1975, its programs have served more than 4,400 middle- and high-school students, free of charge.&nbsp;</em></p> <p><em>Renae Irving '18, is a molecular biology research associate at Finch Therapeutics Group, based in Somerville, Massachusetts, and a graduate of the OEOP <span class="ILfuVd rjOVwe"><span class="e24Kjd">Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES) </span></span>program. Her work focuses on developing genetic sequencing of the microbiome, and understanding its influence in inflammatory bowel disease and ulcerative colitis. She is also a Saturday Engineering Enrichment and Discovery (SEED) Academy Academic Mentoring Seminar (AMS) instructor, and during her five-year journey as part of the OEOP instructional staff she has also been teaching assistant for the MITES,<span class="ILfuVd rjOVwe"><span class="e24Kjd"> </span></span>MIT Online Science, Technology, and Engineering Community (MOSTEC), and E2 programs. Irving hails from Lawrenceville, Georgia, and holds a bachelor’s degree in biological engineering with a minor in Spanish from MIT; she is preparing to pursue a MD-PhD program. Irving recently spoke on her work with OEOP and its students.</em></p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> What inspired you to become an OEOP instructor and what keeps you coming back?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> I came to the OEOP as a MITES student, when I was a rising high school senior in 2013. I went to a STEM-focused high school, and had an interest in medicine and disease, but didn’t have a clear idea of the field. During MITES I was part of the genomics course, which is offered in collaboration with the <a href="https://www.broadinstitute.org/" target="_blank">Broad Institute</a>. The course gave me a better understanding of biological engineering, synthetic biology, and the vast applications for microbes. After MITES, I decided to pursue my interest in bioengineering, and I ended up at MIT as an undergrad. I knew I wanted to be a doctor and have an MD-PhD one day, so, as a pre-med student, a lot of the work I chose to do was clinically focused.</p> <p>As an undergrad, I really wanted to give back to the OEOP, so I became a teaching assistant for MITES. Over the course of three years I expanded into other programs, including MOSTEC and E2. I found being a [teaching assistant] very rewarding, because I helped create the same environment that helped me learn when I was in MITES, giving students more exposure to science and engineering. After graduation, as a professional, it only made sense to continue to give back, and I found I was best suited to be a program instructor. I was really excited to apply, but I worried it would be difficult to teach bioengineering outside of a lab. Then I saw they were also looking for an Academic Mentoring Seminar instructor for the 12th grade, and I realized I had great training for the role, and could truly support students.</p> <p>The reason I stay engaged comes down to the OEOP feeling like family. It would feel like a loss if I wasn’t in contact with this community that is like my family. I also think everything that I give to the programs and the people that I’m working with actually comes back to me in some way. It gives me so much joy working with the students, and the staff, I can’t imagine not doing it.</p> <p>I know that one day, if I’m not steps away from MIT, that I’m definitely going to miss this.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> How do you help students gain confidence to pursue a career in STEM?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> As an instructor, I share as much as I can about my journey and how I got to the position where I am. Students have told me it is really helpful to hear and see the passion that I have for the STEM-focused work I do. They enjoy hearing about my research in biological engineering and how I obtained a position in a biotech company. As a MITES student, I remember having TAs that were really good at acknowledging the challenge of STEM fields, but also did a good job highlighting the benefits of collaboration, or cool research they were looking forward to. When I became a TA, I tried to intersperse my experiences taking biochemistry in MITES with my experiences thus far as an MIT college student.</p> <p>As an instructor, I work to create an open environment where students feel they can ask questions freely, without judgment, and feel like they can fail knowing that it will lead them to learning, which is something they may not experience on a day-to-day basis in their high schools. I want to offer a supportive community, because as a MITES student I felt that I always had a team of college students and instructors supporting me. In my instructor role I really try to reinforce that sense of community.</p> <p>I also encourage students by celebrating the work they do as part of OEOP programs. Students are often building amazing things, they are all super-excited for their projects, it’s important to have someone cheering for them, celebrating their achievements and being there as they go through the challenge. I see the instructor role as supporting students both in terms of knowledge, helping them understand concepts, but also working with them to reach their college and career aspirations. My metric for success as an instructor is to empower students to choose the college that fits them best, to make choices that benefit them and make them happy in the future.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> What is the most challenging part of the OEOP instructor experience? And the most rewarding?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> OEOP students are really driven and resourceful, which can make lesson planning challenging. I plan the lesson around concepts and foundational knowledge that I want them to walk away with, but sometimes I get to class and realize the students are steps ahead of me, so I have to plan ahead for the sorts of enrichment that will be best for them when this happens. I also have to know how to answer questions I might not be prepared for, and that’s a great challenge to have.</p> <p>The best part of my experience as an instructor is seeing the students and how much they grow in the programs, and in college. I see SEED students most weeks during a semester, and many OEOP alumni end up at MIT or around Boston/Cambridge. When they leave OEOP programs they’ve already achieved so much growth. When they’re in college, you feel like you have propelled them even further.</p> <p>It’s rewarding to hear students reflect on the impact that the OEOP had on them, but also any small impact I had on them. I treasure knowing that something that I taught a student about chemistry is something they remember two years into college. Or the times when I teach my students to knit during study break. I think of all my experiences with the OEOP, and they are all muddled together in warmth and happiness of knowing that I’ve touched so many students and that I’ve had some impact throughout that time.</p> Renae Irving '18 is a molecular biology research associate, and Academic Mentoring Seminar instructor for the SEED Academy program at MIT.Photo: Dora P. GonzalezBiological engineering, Broad Institute, School of Engineering, K-12 education, 3 Questions, Diversity and inclusion, Alumni/ae, Community, STEM education, Office of Engineering Outreach Program (OEOP) MIT continues its commitment to undergraduate student support http://news.mit.edu/2020/mit-continues-its-commitment-undergraduate-student-support-0309 Financial aid will increase 7.8 percent for 2020-2021, offsetting a 3.8 percent rise in tuition and fees. Mon, 09 Mar 2020 11:05:01 -0400 Office of the Vice Chancellor http://news.mit.edu/2020/mit-continues-its-commitment-undergraduate-student-support-0309 <p>On Thursday, March 5, the MIT Corporation approved the undergraduate tuition rate for 2020-2021. Financial aid will increase by 7.8 percent, offsetting a 3.8 percent rise in tuition and fees. The Institute will commit $147 million for financial aid. The net cost for an average MIT student receiving need-based aid will be $23,442.</p> <p>“Our undergraduates are bristling with a kind of vibrant energy that you can see and feel. As a source of MIT’s power and promise to build a better world, we are committed to meeting their financial needs so they can unleash their full potential while they are here. It’s an honor to be able to support such incredible thinkers, innovators, and future leaders,” says Ian A. Waitz, vice chancellor for undergraduate and graduate education and the Jerome C. Hunsaker Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics.</p> <p>The estimated average MIT scholarship for students receiving financial aid next year is $53,258. More than 35 percent of MIT undergraduates receive aid sufficient to allow them to attend the Institute tuition-free.</p> <p>For undergraduates not receiving any need-based financial aid, tuition and fees will be $55,818 next year. Including housing and dining costs, the total will come to $73,138.</p> <p>MIT is one of only five American colleges and universities that&nbsp;admit all undergraduate students without regard to their financial circumstances; that award all financial aid based on need; and that meet the full demonstrated financial need of all admitted students.</p> <p>For students with family incomes under $90,000 a year and typical assets, MIT makes it possible for many to receive scholarship funding from all sources that will allow them to attend the Institute tuition-free. While the Institute’s financial aid program primarily supports students from lower- and middle-income households, even families earning more than $250,000 may qualify for need-based financial aid based on their family circumstances, such as if two or more children are in college at the same time.</p> <p>About 59 percent of MIT’s undergraduates receive need-based financial aid from the Institute and 18 percent receive Federal Pell Grants, which generally go to U.S. students with family incomes below $60,000.</p> <p>MIT treats the Pell Grant in a unique way to further support low income students. Unlike most other colleges and universities, MIT allows students to use the Pell Grant to offset what they are expected to contribute through work during the semester and the summer. MIT also changed its financial aid policies recently to provide more support for U.S. veterans.</p> <p>In 2019, 76 percent of MIT seniors graduated with no debt; of those who did assume debt to finance their education, the median indebtedness at graduation was $13,481.</p> The Massachusetts Avenue entrance to MITImage courtesy of the MIT Division of Student Life.Financial aid, Tuition, Admissions, Undergraduate, Vice Chancellor Mathematical model could lead to better treatment for diabetes http://news.mit.edu/2020/math-model-glucose-insulin-diabetes-0609 A new model can predict which types of glucose-responsive insulin will work in humans and animals. Mon, 09 Mar 2020 10:01:46 -0400 Anne Trafton | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2020/math-model-glucose-insulin-diabetes-0609 <p>One promising new strategy to treat diabetes is to give patients insulin that circulates in their bloodstream, staying dormant until activated by rising blood sugar levels. However, no glucose-responsive insulins (GRIs) have been approved for human use, and the only candidate that entered the clinical trial stage was discontinued after it failed to show effectiveness in humans.</p> <p>MIT researchers have now developed a mathematical model that can predict the behavior of different kinds of GRIs in both humans and in rodents. They believe this model could be used to design GRIs that are more likely to be effective in humans, and to avoid drug designs less likely to succeed in costly clinical trials.</p> <p>“There are GRIs that will fail in humans but will show success in animals, and our models can predict this,” says Michael Strano, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT. “In theory, for the animal system that diabetes researchers typically employ, we can immediately predict how the results will translate to humans.”</p> <p>Strano is the senior author of the study, which appears today in the journal <em>Diabetes</em>. MIT graduate student Jing Fan Yang is the lead author of the paper. Other MIT authors include postdoc Xun Gong and graduate student Naveed Bakh. Michael Weiss, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Indiana University School of Medicine, and Kelley Carr, Nelson Phillips, Faramarz Ismail-Beigi of Case Western Reserve University are also authors of the paper.</p> <p><strong>Optimal design</strong></p> <p>Patients with diabetes typically have to measure their blood sugar throughout the day and inject themselves with insulin when their blood sugar gets too high. As a potential alternative, many diabetes researchers are now working to develop glucose-responsive insulin, which could be injected just once a day and would spring into action whenever blood sugar levels rise.</p> <p>Scientists have used a variety of strategies to design such drugs. For instance, insulin might be carried by a polymer particle that dissolves when glucose is present, releasing the drug. Or, insulin could be modified with molecules that can bind to glucose and trigger insulin activation. In this paper, the MIT team focused on a GRI that is coated with molecules called PBA, which can bind to glucose and activate the insulin.</p> <p>The new study builds on a <a href="http://news.mit.edu/2017/model-predicts-performance-glucose-responsive-insulin-0926">mathematical model</a> that Strano’s lab first developed in 2017. The model is essentially a set of equations that describes how glucose and insulin behave in different compartments of the human body, such as blood vessels, muscle, and fatty tissue. This model can predict how a given GRI will affect blood sugar in different parts of the body, based on chemical features such as how tightly it binds to glucose and how rapidly the insulin is activated.</p> <p>“For any glucose-responsive insulin, we can turn it into mathematical equations, and then we can insert that into our model and make very clear predictions about how it will perform in humans,” Strano says.</p> <p>Although this model offered helpful guidance in developing GRIs, the researchers realized that it would be much more useful if it could also work on data from tests in animals. They decided to adapt the model so that it could predict how rodents, whose endocrine and metabolic responses are very different from those of humans, would respond to GRIs.</p> <p>“A lot of experimental work is done in rodents, but it’s known that there are lots of imperfections with using rodents. Some are now quite wittily referring to this situation as ‘lost in [clinical] translation,’” Yang says.</p> <p>“This paper is pioneering in that we’ve taken our model of the human endocrine system and we’ve linked it to an animal model,” adds Strano.</p> <p>To achieve that, the researchers determined the most important differences between humans and rodents in how they process glucose and insulin, which allowed them to adapt the model to interpret data from rodents.&nbsp;</p> <p>Using these two variants of the model, the researchers were able to predict the GRI features that would be needed for the PBA-modified GRI to work well in humans and rodents. They found that about 13 percent of the possible GRIs would work well in both rodents and humans, while 14 percent were predicted to work in humans but not rodents, and 12 percent would work in rodents but not humans.</p> <p>“We used our model to test every point in the range of potential candidates,” Gong says. “There exists an optimal design, and we found where that optimal design overlaps between humans and rodents.”</p> <p><strong>Analyzing failure</strong></p> <p>This model can also be adapted to predict the behavior of other types of GRIs. To demonstrate that, the researchers created equations that represent the chemical features of a glucose-responsive insulin that Merck tested from 2014 to 2016, which ultimately did not succeed in patients. They now plan to test whether their model would have predicted the drug’s failure.</p> <p>“That trial was based on a lot of promising animal data, but when it got to humans it failed. The question is whether this failure could have been prevented,” Strano says. “We’ve already turned it into a mathematical representation and now our tool can try to figure out why it failed.”</p> <p>Strano’s lab is also collaborating with Weiss to design and test new GRIs based on the results from the model. Doing this type of modeling during the drug development stage could help to reduce the number of animal experiments needed to test many possible variants of a proposed GRI.</p> <p>This kind of model, which the researchers are making available to anyone who wants to use it, could also be applied to other medicines designed to respond to conditions within a patient’s body.</p> <p>“You can envision new kinds of medicines, one day, that will go in the body and modulate their potency as needed based on the real-time patient response,” Strano says. “If we get GRIs to work, this could be a model for the pharmaceutical industry, where a drug is delivered and its potency is constantly modulated in response to some therapeutic endpoint, such as levels of cholesterol or fibrinogen.”</p> <p>The research was funded by JDRF.</p> A new model of glucose-responsive insulin, developed by MIT researchers, could lead to better treatment for diabetes and could eliminate the need for regular manual glucose-level testing.Research, Chemical engineering, School of Engineering, Health sciences and technology, Diabetes, Medicine The elephant in the server room http://news.mit.edu/2020/data-feminism-catherine-dignazio-0309 Catherine D’Ignazio’s new book, “Data Feminism,” examines problems of bias and power that beset modern information. Mon, 09 Mar 2020 00:00:00 -0400 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2020/data-feminism-catherine-dignazio-0309 <p>Suppose you would like to know mortality rates for women during childbirth, by country, around the world. Where would you look? One option is the <a href="http://www.womanstats.org/" target="_blank">WomanStats</a> Project, the website of an academic research effort investigating the links between the security and activities of nation-states, and the security of the women who live in them.</p> <p>The project, founded in 2001, meets a need by patching together data from around the world. Many countries are indifferent to collecting statistics about women’s lives. But even where countries try harder to gather data, there are clear challenges to arriving at useful numbers — whether it comes to women’s physical security, property rights, and government participation, among many other issues. &nbsp;</p> <p>For instance: In some countries, violations of women’s rights may be reported more regularly than in other places. That means a more responsive legal system may create the appearance of greater problems, when it provides relatively more support for women. The WomanStats Project notes many such complications.</p> <p>Thus the WomanStats Project offers some answers — for example, Australia, Canada, and much of Western Europe have low childbirth mortality rates — while also showing what the challenges are to taking numbers at face value. This, according to MIT professor Catherine D’Ignazio, makes the site unusual, and valuable.</p> <p>“The data never speak for themselves,” says D’Ignazio, referring to the general problem of finding reliable numbers about women’s lives. “There are always humans and institutions speaking for the data, and different people have their own agendas. The data are never innocent.”</p> <p>Now D’Ignazio, an assistant professor in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning, has taken a deeper look at this issue in a new book, co-authored with Lauren Klein, an associate professor of English and quantitative theory and methods at Emory University. In the book, “<a href="http://datafeminism.io/" target="_blank">Data Feminism</a>,” published this month by the MIT Press, the authors use the lens of intersectional feminism to scrutinize how data science reflects the social structures it emerges from.</p> <p>“Intersectional feminism examines unequal power,” write D’Ignazio and Klein, in the book’s introduction. “And in our contemporary world, data is power too. Because the power of data is wielded unjustly, it must be challenged and changed.”</p> <p><strong>The 4 percent problem</strong></p> <p>To see a clear case of power relations generating biased data, D’Ignazio and Klein note, consider research led by MIT’s own Joy Buolamwini, who as a graduate student in a class studying facial-recognition programs, observed that the software in question could not “see” her face. Buolamwini found that for the facial-recognition system in question, the software was based on a set of faces which were 78 percent male and 84 percent white; only 4 percent were female and dark-skinned, like herself.&nbsp;</p> <p>Subsequent media coverage of Buolamwini’s work, D’Ignazio and Klein write, contained “a hint of shock.” But the results were probably less surprising to those who are not white males, they think.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“If the past is racist, oppressive, sexist, and biased, and that’s your training data, that is what you are tuning for,” D’Ignazio says.</p> <p>Or consider another example, from tech giant Amazon, which tested an automated system that used AI to sort through promising CVs sent in by job applicants. One problem: Because a high percentage of company employees were men, the algorithm favored men’s names, other things being equal.&nbsp;</p> <p>“They thought this would help [the] process, but of course what it does is train the AI [system] to be biased toward women, because they themselves have not hired that many women,” D’Ignazio observes.</p> <p>To Amazon’s credit, it did recognize the problem. Moreover, D’Ignazio notes, this kind of issue is a problem that can be addressed. “Some of the technologies can be reformed with a more participatory process, or better training data. … If we agree that’s a good goal, one path forward is to adjust your training set and include more people of color, more women.”</p> <p><strong>“Who’s on the team? Who had the idea? Who’s benefiting?” </strong></p> <p>Still, the question of who participates in data science is, as the authors write, “the elephant in the server room.” As of 2011, only 26 percent of all undergraduates receiving computer science degrees in the U.S. were women. That is not only a low figure, but actually a decline from past levels: In 1985, 37 percent of computer science graduates were women, the highest mark on record.</p> <p>As a result of the lack of diversity in the field, D’Ignazio and Klein believe, many data projects are radically limited in their ability to see all facets of the complex social situations they purport to measure.&nbsp;</p> <p>“We want to try to tune people in to these kinds of power relationships and why they matter deeply,” D’Ignazio says. “Who’s on the team? Who had the idea? Who’s benefiting from the project? Who’s potentially harmed by the project?”</p> <p>In all, D’Ignazio and Klein outline seven principles of data feminism, from examining and challenging power, to rethinking binary systems and hierarchies, and embracing pluralism. (Those statistics about gender and computer science graduates are limited, they note, by only using the “male” and “female” categories, thus excluding people who identify in different terms.)</p> <p>People interested in data feminism, the authors state, should also “value multiple forms of knowledge,” including firsthand knowledge that may lead us to question seemingly official data. Also, they should always consider the context in which data are generated, and “make labor visible” when it comes to data science. This last principle, the researchers note, speaks to the problem that even when women and other excluded people contribute to data projects, they often receive less credit for their work.</p> <p>For all the book’s critique of existing systems, programs, and practices, D’Ignazio and Klein are also careful to include examples of positive, successful efforts, such as the WomanStats project, which has grown and thrived over two decades.</p> <p>“For people who are data people but are new to feminism, we want to provide them with a very accessible introduction, and give them concepts and tools they can use in their practice,” D’Ignazio says. “We’re not imagining that people already have feminism in their toolkit. On the other hand, we are trying to speak to folks who are very tuned in to feminism or social justice principles, and highlight for them the ways data science is both problematic, but can be marshalled in the service of justice.”</p> Catherine D’Ignazio is the co-author of a new book, “Data Feminism,” published by MIT Press in March 2020. Image: Diana Levine and MIT PressData, Women, Faculty, Research, Books and authors, MIT Press, Diversity and inclusion, Ethics, Technology and society, Artificial intelligence, Machine learning, Computer science and technology, Urban studies and planning, School of Architecture and Planning 2020 MacVicar Faculty Fellows named http://news.mit.edu/2020/2020-macvicar-faculty-fellows-named-0309 Anikeeva, Fuller, Tisdale, and White receive MIT&#039;s highest honor in undergraduate teaching. Mon, 09 Mar 2020 00:00:00 -0400 Alison Trachy | Registrar’s Office http://news.mit.edu/2020/2020-macvicar-faculty-fellows-named-0309 <p><em>This article has been updated to reflect the cancellation of the 2020 MacVicar Day symposium.</em></p> <p>The Office of the Vice Chancellor and the Registrar’s Office have announced this year’s Margaret MacVicar Faculty Fellows: materials science and engineering Professor Polina Anikeeva, literature Professor Mary Fuller, chemical engineering Professor William Tisdale, and electrical engineering and computer science Professor Jacob White.</p> <p>Role models both in and out of the classroom, the new fellows have tirelessly sought to improve themselves, their students, and the Institute writ large. They have reimagined curricula, crossed disciplines, and pushed the boundaries of what education can be. They join a matchless academy of scholars committed to exceptional instruction and innovation.</p> <p>For nearly three decades, the <a href="https://registrar.mit.edu/faculty-curriculum-support/faculty-awards/margaret-macvicar-faculty-fellows-program">MacVicar Faculty Fellows Program</a> has been recognizing exemplary undergraduate teaching and advising around the Institute. The program was&nbsp;named after Margaret MacVicar, the first dean for undergraduate education and founder of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). Nominations are made by departments and include letters of support from colleagues, students, and alumni. Fellows are appointed to 10-year terms in which they receive $10,000 per year of discretionary funds.</p> <p>This year’s MacVicar Day symposium — which had been scheduled for this Friday, March 13 — has been canceled after <a href="http://news.mit.edu/2020/events-postponed-canceled-covid-19-0309" target="_self">new MIT policies on events</a> were set in response to the 2019 novel coronavirus.</p> <p><strong>Polina Anikeeva</strong></p> <p>“I’m speechless,” Polina Anikeeva, associate professor of materials science and engineering and brain and cognitive sciences, says of becoming a MacVicar Fellow. “In my opinion, this is the greatest honor one could have at MIT.”</p> <p>Anikeeva received her PhD from MIT in 2009 and became a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering two years later. She attended St. Petersburg State Polytechnic University for her undergraduate education. Through her research — which combines materials science, electronics, and neurobiology — she works to better understand and treat brain disorders.</p> <p>Anikeeva’s colleague Christopher Schuh says, “Her ability and willingness to work with students however and whenever they need help, her engaging classroom persona, and her creative solutions to real-time challenges all culminate in one of MIT’s most talented and beloved undergraduate professors.”</p> <p>As an instructor, advisor, and <a href="http://news.mit.edu/2017/sanity-of-the-long-distance-runner-polina-anikeeva-0413">marathon runner</a>, Anikeeva has learned the importance of finding balance. Her colleague Lionel Kimerling reflects on this delicate equilibrium: “As a teacher, Professor Anikeeva is among the elite who instruct, inspire, and nurture at the same time. It is a difficult task to demand rigor with a gentle mentoring hand.”</p> <p>Students call her classes “incredibly hard” but fun and exciting at the same time. She is “the consummate scientist, splitting her time evenly between honing her craft, sharing knowledge with students and colleagues, and mentoring aspiring researchers,” wrote one.</p> <p>Her passion for her work and her devotion to her students are evident in the nomination letters. One student recounted their first conversation: “We spoke for 15 minutes, and after talking to her about her research and materials science, I had never been so viscerally excited about anything.” This same student described the guidance and support Anikeeva provided her throughout her time at MIT. After working with Anikeeva to apply what she learned in the classroom to a real-world problem, this student recalled, “I honestly felt like an engineer and a scientist for the first time ever. I have never felt so fulfilled and capable. And I realize that’s what I want for the rest of my life — to feel the highs and lows of discovery.”</p> <p>Anikeeva champions her students in faculty and committee meetings as well. She is a “reliable advocate for student issues,” says Caroline Ross, associate department head and professor in DMSE. “Professor Anikeeva is always engaged with students, committed to student well-being, and passionate about education.”</p> <p>“Undergraduate teaching has always been a crucial part of my MIT career and life,” Anikeeva reflects. “I derive my enthusiasm and energy from the incredibly talented MIT students — every year they surprise me with their ability to rise to ever-expanding intellectual challenges. Watching them grow as scientists, engineers, and — most importantly — people is like nothing else.”</p> <p><strong>Mary Fuller</strong></p> <p>Experimentation is synonymous with education at MIT and it is a crucial part of literature Professor Mary Fuller’s classes. As her colleague Arthur Bahr notes, “Mary’s habit of starting with a discrete practical challenge can yield insights into much broader questions.”</p> <p>Fuller attended Dartmouth College as an undergraduate, then received both her MA and PhD in English and American literature from The Johns Hopkins University. She began teaching at MIT in 1989. From 2013 to 2019, Fuller was head of the Literature Section. Her successor in the role, Shankar Raman, says that her nominators “found [themselves] repeatedly surprised by the different ways Mary has pushed the limits of her teaching here, going beyond her own comfort zones to experiment with new texts and techniques.”</p> <p>“Probably the most significant thing I’ve learned in 30 years of teaching here is how to ask more and better questions,” says Fuller. As part of a series of discussions on ethics and computing, she has explored the possibilities of <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-ethics-and-ai-common-ground-stories-mary-fuller">artificial intelligence</a> from a literary perspective. She is also developing a tool for the edX platform called PoetryViz, which would allow MIT students and students around the world to practice close reading through poetry annotation in an entirely new way.</p> <p>“We all innovate in our teaching. Every year. But, some of us innovate more than others,” Krishna Rajagopal, dean for digital learning, observes. “In addition to being an outstanding innovator, Mary is one of those colleagues who weaves the fabric of undergraduate education across the Institute.”</p> <p>Lessons learned in Fuller’s class also underline the importance of a well-rounded education. As one alumna reflected, “Mary’s teaching carried a compassion and ethic which enabled non-humanities students to appreciate literature as a diverse, valuable, and rewarding resource for personal and social reflection.”</p> <p>Professor Fuller, another student remarked, has created “an environment where learning is not merely the digestion of rote knowledge, but instead the broad-based exploration of ideas and the works connected to them.”</p> <p>“Her imagination is capacious, her knowledge is deep, and students trust her — so that they follow her eagerly into new and exploratory territory,” says Professor of Literature Stephen Tapscott.</p> <p>Fuller praises her students’ willingness to take that journey with her, saying, “None of my classes are required, and none are technical, so I feel that students have already shown a kind of intellectual generosity by putting themselves in the room to do the work.”</p> <p>For students, the hard work is worth it. Mary Fuller, one nominator declared, is exactly “the type of deeply impactful professor that I attended MIT hoping to learn from.”</p> <p><strong>William Tisdale</strong></p> <p>William Tisdale is the ARCO Career Development Professor of chemical engineering and, according to his colleagues, a “true star” in the department.</p> <p>A member of the faculty since 2012, he received his undergraduate degree from the University of Delaware and his PhD from the University of Minnesota. After a year as a postdoc at MIT, Tisdale became an assistant professor. His <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AcypPycfSWk">research interests</a> include nanotechnology and energy transport.</p> <p>Tisdale’s colleague Kristala Prather calls him a “curriculum fixer.” During an internal review of Course 10 subjects, the department discovered that 10.213 (Chemical and Biological Engineering) was the least popular subject in the major and needed to be revised. After carefully evaluating the coursework, and despite having never taught 10.213 himself, Tisdale envisioned a novel way of teaching it. With his suggestions, the class went from being “despised” to loved, with subject evaluations improving by 70 percent from one spring to the next. “I knew Will could make a difference, but I had no idea he could make that big of a difference in just one year,” remarks Prather. One student nominator even went so far as to call 10.213, as taught by Tisdale, “one of my best experiences at MIT.”</p> <p>Always patient, kind, and adaptable, Tisdale’s willingness to tackle difficult problems is reflected in his teaching. “While the class would occasionally start to mutiny when faced with a particularly confusing section, Prof. Tisdale would take our groans on with excitement,” wrote one student. “His attitude made us feel like we could all get through the class together.” Regardless of how they performed on a test, wrote another, Tisdale “clearly sent the message that we all always have so much more to learn, but that first and foremost he respected you as a person.”</p> <p>“I don’t think I could teach the way I teach at many other universities,” Tisdale says. “MIT students show up on the first day of class with an innate desire to understand the world around them; all I have to do is pull back the curtain!”</p> <p>“Professor Tisdale remains the best teacher, mentor, and role model that I have encountered,” one student remarked. “He has truly changed the course of my life.”</p> <p>“I am extremely thankful to be at a university that values undergraduate education so highly,” Tisdale says. “Those of us who devote ourselves to undergraduate teaching and mentoring do so out of a strong sense of responsibility to the students as well as a genuine love of learning. There are few things more validating than being rewarded for doing something that already brings you joy.”</p> <p><strong>Jacob White</strong></p> <p>Jacob White is the Cecil H. Green Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) and chair of the Committee on Curricula. After completing his undergraduate degree at MIT, he received a master’s degree and doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley. He has been a member of the Course 6 faculty since 1987.</p> <p>Colleagues and students alike observed White’s dedication not just to teaching, but to improving teaching throughout the Institute. As Luca Daniel and Asu Ozdaglar of the EECS department noted in their nomination letter, “Jacob completely understands that the most efficient way to make his passion and ideas for undergraduate education have a real lasting impact is to ‘teach it to the teachers!’”</p> <p>One student wrote that White “has spent significant time and effort educating the lab assistants” of 6.302 (Feedback System Design). As one of these teaching assistants confirmed, White’s “enthusiastic spirit” inspired them to spend hours discussing how to best teach the subject. “Many people might think this is not how they want to spend their Thursday nights,” the student wrote. “I can speak for myself and the other TAs when I say that it was an incredibly fun and educational experience.”</p> <p>His work to improve instruction has even expanded to other departments. A colleague describes White’s efforts to revamp 8.02 (Physics II) as “Herculean.” Working with a group of students and postdocs to develop experiments for this subject, “he seemed to be everywhere at once … while simultaneously teaching his own class.” Iterations took place over a year and a half, after which White trained the subject’s TAs as well. Hundreds of students are benefitting from these improved experiments.</p> <p>White is, according to Daniel and Ozdaglar, “a colleague who sincerely, genuinely, and enormously cares about our undergraduate students and their education, not just in our EECS department, but also in our entire MIT home.”</p> <p>When he’s not fine-tuning pedagogy or conducting teacher training, he is personally supporting his students. A visiting student described White’s attention: “He would regularly meet with us in groups of two to make sure we were learning. In a class of about 80 students in a huge lecture hall, it really felt like he cared for each of us.”</p> <p>And his zeal has rubbed off: “He made me feel like being excited about the material was the most important thing,” one student wrote.</p> <p>The significance of such a spark is not lost on White. "As an MIT freshman in the late 1970s, I joined an undergraduate research program being pioneered by Professor Margaret MacVicar," he says. "It was Professor MacVicar and UROP that put me on the academic's path of looking for interesting problems with instructive solutions. It is a path I have walked for decades, with extraordinary colleagues and incredible students. So, being selected as a MacVicar Fellow? No honor could mean more to me."</p> The 2020 MacVicar Faculty Fellows are: (clockwise from top left) Polina Anikeeva, Jacob White, William Tisdale, and Mary Fuller.Photos (clockwise from top left): Lillie Paquette, Sampson Wilcox, Webb Chappell, Jon SachsOffice of the Vice Chancellor, MacVicar fellows, Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), Materials Science and Engineering, Literature, EdX, Electrical engineering and computer science (EECS), School of Engineering, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Faculty, Awards, honors and fellowships, Education, teaching, academics, Mentoring, Undergraduate, Chemical engineering A mobile tool for global change http://news.mit.edu/2020/dimagi-commcare-health-0309 Dimagi’s data-collection platform has helped improve health care for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Sun, 08 Mar 2020 23:59:59 -0400 Zach Winn | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2020/dimagi-commcare-health-0309 <p>Frontline health workers represent the lifeblood of many health care systems in low- and middle-income countries around the world. Often overworked and underpaid, these workers operate outside hospital settings to meet the community’s poorest people where they live and work, ensuring health care initiatives impact the families that need them most.</p> <p>The global growth in cell phone ownership has increased the potential for mobile solutions to help these workers, and perhaps no company has unlocked that potential with more success than the social enterprise Dimagi.</p> <p>Dimagi’s flagship product, CommCare, lets users with no coding experience build apps featuring things like registration forms, decision support, and multimedia that can be accessed offline by cell phones of all types. With the backing of nonprofit organizations and governments, those capabilities have been put into the pockets of frontline workers in the most remote, impoverished regions of the world, transforming the way they collect information and provide care for hundreds of millions of people across 80 countries.</p> <p>Multiple studies have documented CommCare’s transformative effect. Randomized control trials have shown it helped frontline workers improve child nutrition in India, increase the percentage of in-facility births in Tanzania, and reduce errors in screenings for cardiovascular diseases in South Africa. Other studies have shown CommCare helped increase the frequency of HIV tests for pregnant women in Nigeria and reduced infant and maternal mortality rates in Guatemala.</p> <p>Beyond health care, Dimagi’s mobile tools are also being used in education, agricultural, and financial initiatives around the world. For founders Jonathan Jackson ’03, SM ’05 and Vikram Kumar, the company’s impact has come one successful project at a time through a user-centered approach to creating the most empowering and scalable solutions possible.</p> <p>“Our motto at Dimagi is ‘impact, team, profit,’ in that order,” Jackson says. “It’s not just what’s the most impactful thing we could make in theory, it’s what’s the most impactful thing we could make in practice that will scale with the market.”</p> <p><strong>An idea scales</strong></p> <p>In 2002, Kumar was a graduate research assistant in MIT’s Media Lab and on his way to earning his MD in the MIT-Harvard Division of Health Sciences and Technology. Jackson was building a personal digital assistant for nurses in Zambia as part of his master’s work at MIT.</p> <p>The two students met through a teacher’s assistant in one of Jackon’s classes and immediately decided to start a venture together. They initially planned to use health informatics to improve public health but realized the developing world wasn’t quite ready for that approach.</p> <p>“As soon as we got into the sector we realized there’s no good data to begin with, so we had to build the underlying data management systems,” Jackson says. “We rapidly shifted the company from public health informatics to more of a global health software focus.”</p> <p>In early consulting projects around Africa and India, the founders built a drag-and-drop system for building forms that clinicians could use in hospitals, using the Nokia phones that were quickly becoming common.</p> <p>“The writing was on the wall for massive mobile adoption in general, with dumb phones, and then you could see smartphones were going to take off,” Jackson says. “But we always focused on building for the phone technology that users had today as opposed to the technology that might be available tomorrow, and I think that was one of the reasons we were so successful.”</p> <p>One of Dimagi’s early projects was working with partners to create a national medical record system for Zambia. The system is still in use today, and because Dimagi’s solutions have been open source from the beginning, the system has since been adopted by other countries around Africa.</p> <p>Around 2008, with SMS-based solutions and a case management app built out, Dimagi began focusing on helping frontline, or community, workers. Such workers have traditionally relied on paper-based data management systems in the field that offer little on-site guidance and require data entry into a central system later on.</p> <p>With health care workers in low- and middle-income countries, “you have a workforce with amazing potential, and they are often the only option for health care provision in rural settings,” Jackson says. “These workers are often not able to be trained sufficiently, not able to be paid well, and they’re often overburdened. We thought the inclusion of mobile phones and the value that could be delivered by community health care workers and frontline providers was a great synergy.”</p> <p>The pivot made Dimagi’s users more dispersed and numerous, but Jackson says his team never wavered in its philosophy of working closely with the people they are trying to help and learning from them as they design solutions.</p> <p>“We feel incredibly strongly about getting field experience and being humble,” Jackson says. “We have a methodology called ‘Design Under the Mango Tree’ based on how we did a lot of our early work with CommCare. We were out there with the users, getting feedback, staying up late and overnight so it looked how they recommended the next day. That experience, of seeing the frontline workers, them being able to tell us they want something different, going in and changing it, and then asking if they like the change, that was an adrenaline boost for us.”</p> <p><strong>Designing under the mango tree</strong></p> <p>Dimagi’s approach has led the company to a scale the founders never could have imagined when they first started out. It has also guided them as they’ve built out features.</p> <p>Today, Dimagi boasts that CommCare allows users to “collect data on everything, in any language.” The data can include text, images, GPS coordinates, barcodes, audio, and more. Customers designing a data collection app on CommCare can monitor field workers in real time and include notifications or progress updates. Incorporating multimedia components into the app, like pictures and video instructions, allows illiterate field workers and patients to interact with CommCare and gives credibility to the workers.</p> <p>Dimagi also offers extensive support services to go with some of its subscription options. The company of about 150 people includes experts specializing in programs around women’s health and empowerment, agriculture, financial literacy, and more.</p> <p>Some of Dimagi’s biggest customers are governments. India, for example, has equipped more than half a million workers with a CommCare solution to help with state childcare and nutrition services.</p> <p>Unfortunately, scale has not brought simplicity. In fact, Jackson says things have gotten as Dimagi has grown, noting the donor-centered social enterprise space is great at launching new projects, but not good at incentivizing mature companies to continue innovating in areas where they’re already deployed.</p> <p>That’s one of the reasons Dimagi restructured its company last year. Jackson says Dimagi is now divided into three parts: its software division, its professional services team, and what he calls the impact team, which has been instructed to break even while making as much impact as possible and not worrying about profit.</p> <p>“We’re built to make an impact,” Jackson says. “That’s why everyone works at this company. It’s why we’re here. A lot of that just requires going that extra mile for the end users and that’s something that is infused in our DNA as an organization.”</p> Dimagi offers users a way to design mobile tools like registration forms that can be used by frontline health care workers in the most remote, impoverished regions of the world, transforming care.Image: DimagiInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, Health care, Poverty, Alumni/ae, Apps, Social entrepreneurship, MIT Media Lab, Agriculture, Development, Africa, Medicine, School of Architecture and Planning “Doing machine learning the right way” http://news.mit.edu/2020/aleksander-madry-machine-learning-0308 Professor Aleksander Madry strives to build machine-learning models that are more reliable, understandable, and robust. Sat, 07 Mar 2020 23:59:59 -0500 Rob Matheson | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2020/aleksander-madry-machine-learning-0308 <p>The work of MIT computer scientist Aleksander Madry is fueled by one core mission: “doing machine learning the right way.”</p> <p>Madry’s research centers largely on making machine learning — a type of artificial intelligence — more accurate, efficient, and robust against errors. In his classroom and beyond, he also worries about questions of ethical computing, as we approach an age where artificial intelligence will have great impact on many sectors of society.</p> <p>“I want society to truly embrace machine learning,” says Madry, a recently tenured professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “To do that, we need to figure out how to train models that people can use safely, reliably, and in a way that they understand.”</p> <p>Interestingly, his work with machine learning dates back only a couple of years, to shortly after he joined MIT in 2015. In that time, his research group has published several critical papers demonstrating that certain models can be easily tricked to produce inaccurate results — and showing how to make them more robust.</p> <p>In the end, he aims to make each model’s decisions more interpretable by humans, so researchers can peer inside to see where things went awry. At the same time, he wants to enable nonexperts to deploy the improved models in the real world for, say, helping diagnose disease or control driverless cars.</p> <p>“It’s not just about trying to crack open the machine-learning black box. I want to open it up, see how it works, and pack it back up, so people can use it without needing to understand what’s going on inside,” he says.</p> <p><strong>For the love of algorithms</strong></p> <p>Madry was born in Wroclaw, Poland, where he attended the University of Wroclaw as an undergraduate in the mid-2000s. While he harbored interest in computer science and physics, “I actually never thought I’d become a scientist,” he says.</p> <p>An avid video gamer, Madry initially enrolled in the computer science program with intentions of programming his own games. But in joining friends in a few classes in theoretical computer science and, in particular, theory of algorithms, he fell in love with the material. Algorithm theory aims to find efficient optimization procedures for solving computational problems, which requires tackling difficult mathematical questions. “I realized I enjoy thinking deeply about something and trying to figure it out,” says Madry, who wound up double-majoring in physics and computer science.</p> <p>When it came to delving deeper into algorithms in graduate school, he went to his first choice: MIT. Here, he worked under both Michel X. Goemans, who was a major figure in applied math and algorithm optimization, and Jonathan A. Kelner, who had just arrived to MIT as a junior faculty working in that field. For his PhD dissertation, Madry developed algorithms that solved a number of longstanding problems in graph algorithms, earning the 2011 George M. Sprowls Doctoral Dissertation Award for the best MIT doctoral thesis in computer science.</p> <p>After his PhD, Madry spent a year as a postdoc at Microsoft Research New England, before teaching for three years at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne — which Madry calls “the Swiss version of MIT.” But his alma mater kept calling him back: “MIT has the thrilling energy I was missing. It’s in my DNA.”</p> <p><strong>Getting adversarial</strong></p> <p>Shortly after joining MIT, Madry found himself swept up in a novel science: machine learning. In particular, he focused on understanding the re-emerging paradigm of deep learning. That’s an artificial-intelligence application that uses multiple computing layers to extract high-level features from raw input — such as using pixel-level data to classify images. MIT’s campus was, at the time, buzzing with new innovations in the domain.</p> <p>But that begged the question: Was machine learning all hype or solid science? “It seemed to work, but no one actually understood how and why,” Madry says.</p> <p>Answering that question set his group on a long journey, running experiment after experiment on deep-learning models to understand the underlying principles. A major milestone in this journey was an influential paper they published in 2018, developing a methodology for making machine-learning models more resistant to “adversarial examples.” Adversarial examples are slight perturbations to input data that are imperceptible to humans — such as changing the color of one pixel in an image — but cause a model to make inaccurate predictions. They illuminate a major shortcoming of existing machine-learning tools.</p> <p>Continuing this line of work, Madry’s group showed that the existence of these mysterious adversarial examples may contribute to how machine-learning models make decisions. In particular, models designed to differentiate images of, say, cats and dogs, make decisions based on features that do not align with how humans make classifications. Simply changing these features can make the model consistently misclassify cats as dogs, without changing anything in the image that’s really meaningful to humans.</p> <p>Results indicated some models — which may be used to, say, identify abnormalities in medical images or help autonomous cars identify objects in the road —&nbsp;aren’t exactly up to snuff. “People often think these models are superhuman, but they didn’t actually solve the classification problem we intend them to solve,” Madry says. “And their complete vulnerability to adversarial examples was a manifestation of that fact. That was an eye-opening finding.”</p> <p>That’s why Madry seeks to make machine-learning models more interpretable to humans. New models he’s developed show how much certain pixels in images the system is trained on can influence the system’s predictions. Researchers can then tweak the models to focus on pixels clusters more closely correlated with identifiable features — such as detecting an animal’s snout, ears, and tail. In the end, that will help make the models more humanlike —&nbsp;or “superhumanlike” —&nbsp;in their decisions. To further this work, Madry and his colleagues recently founded the <a href="http://cdml.mit.edu/">MIT Center for Deployable Machine Learning</a>, a collaborative research effort within the <a href="https://quest.mit.edu" target="_blank">MIT Quest for Intelligence</a> that is working toward building machine-learning tools ready for real-world deployment.&nbsp;</p> <p>“We want machine learning not just as a toy, but as something you can use in, say, an autonomous car, or health care. Right now, we don’t understand enough to have sufficient confidence in it for those critical applications,” Madry says.</p> <p><strong>Shaping education and policy</strong></p> <p>Madry views artificial intelligence and decision making (“AI+D” is one of the three <a href="https://news.mit.edu/2019/restructuring-mit-department-electrical-engineering-computer-science-1205">new academic units</a> in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science) as “the interface of computing that’s going to have the biggest impact on society.”</p> <p>In that regard, he makes sure to expose his students to the human aspect of computing. In part, that means considering consequences of what they’re building. Often, he says, students will be overly ambitious in creating new technologies, but they haven’t thought through potential ramifications on individuals and society. “Building something cool isn’t a good enough reason to build something,” Madry says. “It’s about thinking about not if we can build something, but if we should build something.”</p> <p>Madry has also been engaging in conversations about laws and policies to help regulate machine learning. A point of these discussions, he says, is to better understand the costs and benefits of unleashing machine-learning technologies on society.</p> <p>“Sometimes we overestimate the power of machine learning, thinking it will be our salvation. Sometimes we underestimate the cost it may have on society,” Madry says. “To do machine learning right, there’s still a lot still left to figure out.”</p> Alexander MadryImage: Ian MacLellanComputer science and technology, Algorithms, Artificial intelligence, Machine learning, Computer vision, Technology and society, Faculty, Profile, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), School of Engineering, MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, Quest for Intelligence School of Engineering fourth quarter 2019 awards http://news.mit.edu/2020/school-engineering-fourth-quarter-2019-awards-0306 Faculty members recognized for excellence via a diverse array of honors, grants, and prizes over the last quarter. Fri, 06 Mar 2020 13:30:01 -0500 School of Engineering http://news.mit.edu/2020/school-engineering-fourth-quarter-2019-awards-0306 <p>Members of the MIT engineering faculty receive many awards in recognition of their scholarship, service, and overall excellence. Every quarter, the School of Engineering publicly recognizes their achievements by highlighting the honors, prizes, and medals won by faculty working in our academic departments, labs, and centers.</p> <p>Hal Abelson, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science,&nbsp;received an <a href="https://www.eduhk.hk/main/media/press-release/951">honorary doctorate in education from the Education University of Hong Kong</a>&nbsp;on Nov. 22, 2019.</p> <p>Jesús del Alamo, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, <a href="https://www.src.org/award/university-researcher/">won the University Researcher Award</a> from the Semiconductor Industry Association and the Semiconductor Research Corporation on Nov. 7, 2019.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Mohammad Alizadeh, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science,&nbsp;won the&nbsp;<a href="https://octo.vmware.com/vmware-announces-2019-systems-research-award-recipient/">2019 VMware Systems Research Award</a>&nbsp;on Dec. 18, 2019.</p> <p>Hari Balakrishnan, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science,&nbsp;was named a&nbsp;<a href="https://www.ieee.org/content/dam/ieee-org/ieee/web/org/about/fellows/2020-ieee-fellow-class.pdf">2020 fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers</a> (IEEE)&nbsp;on Dec. 3, 2019.</p> <p>Irmgard Bischofberger, of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, won the&nbsp;<a href="https://gfm.aps.org/meetings/dfd-2019/5d80188d199e4c429a9b3152">2019 APS/DFD Milton van Dyke Award</a>&nbsp;on Dec. 4, 2019.</p> <p>Adam Chlipala, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science,&nbsp;was named a distinguished member of the Association for Computing Machinery on Dec. 20, 2019.</p> <p>William Freeman, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, <a href="http://iccv2019.thecvf.com/program/main_conference">won the Distinguished Researcher Award</a> from the IEEE Computer Society's Technical Committee on Pattern Analysis and Machine Intelligence on Oct. 30, 2019.</p> <p>Shafi Goldwasser, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science,&nbsp;received an <a href="http://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2019-06-26-honorary-degrees-awarded-encaenia-2019">honorary doctorate of science from Oxford University</a> on June 26, 2019, and she received an <a href="https://uwaterloo.ca/stories/waterloo-welcomes-two-female-computer-science-legends-campus">honorary doctorate in mathematics from the University of Waterloo</a>&nbsp;on June 13, 2019.</p> <p>Wesley L. Harris, of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, was named a&nbsp;<a href="https://www.aaas.org/page/2019-fellows">2019 AAAS Fellow</a>&nbsp;on Nov. 26, 2019.</p> <p>Jonathan How, of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, won the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.aiaa.org/SciTech/program/scitech-session/scitech-forum-awards-luncheon">2020 AIAA Intelligent Systems Award</a>&nbsp;on Dec. 5, 2019.</p> <p>Roger Kamm, of the Department of Mechanical Engineering,&nbsp;won the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.bmes.org/blog_home.asp?Display=276">Shu Chien Achievement Award</a>&nbsp;on Jan. 2.</p> <p>David Karger, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, was <a href="https://www.amacad.org/newly-elected-members">inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences</a>&nbsp;on Nov. 12, 2019.</p> <p>Heather Lechtman, of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, <a href="https://www.archaeological.org/grant/pomerance-award-for-scientific-contributions/">won the Pomerance Award for Scientific Contributions to Archaeology</a>&nbsp;on Jan. 4.</p> <p>Charles Leiserson, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, <a href="http://focs2019.cs.jhu.edu/awards/">won the Test of Time Award for 1999</a> from IEEE Symposium on the Foundations of Computer Science on Nov. 9, 2019.</p> <p>Nancy Leveson, of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, won the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.ieee.org/content/dam/ieee-org/ieee/web/org/about/awards/recipients/2020-medal-recog-recipients-citations-list.pdf">2020 IEEE Medal for Environmental and Safety Technologies</a> on Dec. 18, 2019.</p> <p>Barbara Liskov, Institute Professor Emerita of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, received an <a href="https://uwaterloo.ca/stories/waterloo-welcomes-two-female-computer-science-legends-campus">honorary doctorate in mathematics from the University of Waterloo</a>&nbsp;on June 13, 2019.</p> <p>Leonid Mirny, of the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science,&nbsp;was selected for the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.iledefrance.fr/chaires-blaise-pascal-2019-4-chercheurs-internationaux-soutenus-par-la-region">Chaires Blaise Pascal 2019</a>&nbsp;on Oct. 30, 2019.</p> <p>Dava Newman, of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, was <a href="https://aerospace.org/press-release/aerospace-elects-three-members-board-trustees">elected to the Aerospace Corporation’s Board of Trustees</a>&nbsp;on Dec. 23, 2019.</p> <p>Wim van Rees, of the Department of Mechanical Engineering,&nbsp;won the&nbsp;<a href="https://gfm.aps.org/meetings/dfd-2019/5d7f8e91199e4c429a9b3010">2019 APS/DFD Milton van Dyke Award</a>&nbsp;on Dec. 4, 2019.</p> <p>Ellen Roche, of the Department of Mechanical Engineering,&nbsp;was named <a href="https://stm.sciencemag.org/">associate scientific advisor of <em>Science Translational Medicine</em></a>&nbsp;on Jan. 17.</p> <p>Kripa Varanasi, of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, won the&nbsp;<a href="https://gfm.aps.org/meetings/dfd-2019/5d7bfb59199e4c429a9b2da8">2019 APS/DFD Milton van Dyke Award</a>&nbsp;on Dec. 4, 2019.</p> <p>Alan Willsky (post-tenure), of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science,&nbsp;won the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.ieee.org/about/awards/bios/kilby-recipients.html">IEEE Jack S. Kilby Signal Processing Medal</a>&nbsp;on May 17, 2019.</p> <p>Maria Yang, Sang-Gook Kim, and Caitlin Mueller, of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, won the&nbsp;<a href="http://esciencediversitynetwork.com/2019/07/12/leap-hi-hybrid-intelligence-for-design-bridging-human-and-machine-intelligences-for-collaborative-design-of-engineering-systems-and-infrastructure/">National Science Foundation LEAP HI Award</a>&nbsp;on Dec. 4, 2019.</p> <p>Xuanhe Zhao, of the Department of Mechanical Engineering,&nbsp;won the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.asme.org/about-asme/honors-awards/unit-awards/thomas-jr-hughes-young-investigator-award">Thomas J.R. Hughes Young Investigator Award</a>&nbsp;on Jan. 2.</p> Members of the MIT engineering faculty receive many awards in recognition of their scholarship, service, and overall excellence.Photo: Lillie Paquette/School of EngineeringSchool of Engineering, Mechanical engineering, Awards, honors and fellowships, Faculty, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), DMSE, Aeronautical and astronautical engineering Novel method for easier scaling of quantum devices http://news.mit.edu/2020/scaling-quantum-devices-quibits-0306 System “recruits” defects that usually cause disruptions, using them to instead carry out quantum operations. Thu, 05 Mar 2020 23:59:59 -0500 Rob Matheson | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2020/scaling-quantum-devices-quibits-0306 <p>In an advance that may help researchers scale up quantum devices, an MIT team has developed a method to “recruit” neighboring quantum bits made of nanoscale defects in diamond, so that instead of causing disruptions they help carry out quantum operations.</p> <p>Quantum devices perform operations using quantum bits, called “qubits,” that can represent the two states corresponding to classic binary bits — a 0 or 1 — or a “quantum superposition” of both states simultaneously. The unique superposition state can enable quantum computers to solve problems that are practically impossible for classical computers, potentially spurring breakthroughs in biosensing, neuroimaging, machine learning, and other applications.</p> <p>One promising qubit candidate is a defect in diamond, called a nitrogen-vacancy (NV) center, which holds electrons that can be manipulated by light and microwaves. In response, the defect emits photons that can carry quantum information. Because of their solid-state environments, however, NV centers are always surrounded by many other unknown defects with different spin properties, called “spin defects.” When the measurable NV-center qubit interacts with those spin defects, the qubit loses its coherent quantum state — “decoheres”—&nbsp;and operations fall apart. Traditional solutions try to identify these disrupting defects to protect the qubit from them.</p> <p>In a paper published Feb. 25 in <em>Physical Letters Review</em>, the researchers describe a method that uses an NV center to probe its environment and uncover the existence of several nearby spin defects. Then, the researchers can pinpoint the defects’ locations and control them to achieve a coherent quantum state — essentially leveraging them as additional qubits.</p> <p>In experiments, the team generated and detected quantum coherence among three electronic spins — scaling up the size of the quantum system from a single qubit (the NV center) to three qubits (adding two nearby spin defects). The findings demonstrate a step forward in scaling up quantum devices using NV centers, the researchers say. &nbsp;</p> <p>“You always have unknown spin defects in the environment that interact with an NV center. We say, ‘Let’s not ignore these spin defects, which [if left alone] could cause faster decoherence. Let’s learn about them, characterize their spins, learn to control them, and ‘recruit’ them to be part of the quantum system,’” says the lead co-author Won Kyu Calvin Sun, a graduate student in the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering and a member of the Quantum Engineering group. “Then, instead of using a single NV center [or just] one qubit, we can then use two, three, or four qubits.”</p> <p>Joining Sun on the paper are lead author Alexandre Cooper ’16 of Caltech; Jean-Christophe Jaskula, a research scientist in the MIT Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE) and member of the Quantum Engineering group at MIT; and Paola Cappellaro, a professor in the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering, a member of RLE, and head of the Quantum Engineering group at MIT.</p> <p><strong>Characterizing defects</strong></p> <p>NV centers occur where carbon atoms in two adjacent places in a diamond’s lattice structure are missing — one atom is replaced by a nitrogen atom, and the other space is an empty “vacancy.” The NV center essentially functions as an atom, with a nucleus and surrounding electrons that are extremely sensitive to tiny variations in surrounding electrical, magnetic, and optical fields. Sweeping microwaves across the center, for instance, makes it change, and thus control, the spin states of the nucleus and electrons.</p> <p>Spins are measured using a type of magnetic resonance spectroscopy. This method plots the frequencies of electron and nucleus spins in megahertz as a “resonance spectrum” that can dip and spike, like a heart monitor. Spins of an NV center under certain conditions are well-known. But the surrounding spin defects are unknown and difficult to characterize.</p> <p>In their work, the researchers identified, located, and controlled two electron-nuclear spin defects near an NV center. They first sent microwave pulses at specific frequencies to control the NV center. Simultaneously, they pulse another microwave that probes the surrounding environment for other spins. They then observed the resonance spectrum of the spin defects interacting with the NV center.</p> <p>The spectrum dipped in several spots when the probing pulse interacted with nearby electron-nuclear spins, indicating their presence. The researchers then swept a magnetic field across the area at different orientations. For each orientation, the defect would “spin” at different energies, causing different dips in the spectrum. Basically, this allowed them to measure each defect’s spin in relation to each magnetic orientation. They then plugged the energy measurements into a model equation with unknown parameters. This equation is used to describe the quantum interactions of an electron-nuclear spin defect under a magnetic field. Then, they could solve the equation to successfully characterize each defect.</p> <p><strong>Locating and controlling</strong></p> <p>After characterizing the defects, the next step was to characterize the interaction between the defects and the NV, which would simultaneously pinpoint their locations. To do so, they again swept the magnetic field at different orientations, but this time looked for changes in energies describing the interactions between the two defects and the NV center. The stronger the interaction, the closer they were to one another. They then used those interaction strengths to determine where the defects were located, in relation to the NV center and to each other. That generated a good map of the locations of all three defects in the diamond.</p> <p>Characterizing the defects and their interaction with the NV center allow for full control, which involves a few more steps to demonstrate. First, they pump the NV center and surrounding environment with a sequence of pulses of green light and microwaves that help put the three qubits in a well-known quantum state. Then, they use another sequence of pulses that ideally entangles the three qubits briefly, and then disentangles them, which enables them to detect the three-spin coherence of the qubits.</p> <p>The researchers verified the three-spin coherence by measuring a major spike in the resonance spectrum. The measurement of the spike recorded was essentially the sum of the frequencies of the three qubits. If the three qubits for instance had little or no entanglement, there would have been four separate spikes of smaller height.</p> <p>“We come into a black box [environment with each NV center]. But when we probe the NV environment, we start seeing dips and wonder which types of spins give us those dips. Once we [figure out] the spin of the unknown defects, and their interactions with the NV center, we can start controlling their coherence,” Sun says. “Then, we have full universal control of our quantum system.”</p> <p>Next, the researchers hope to better understand other environmental noise surrounding qubits. That will help them develop more robust error-correcting codes for quantum circuits. Furthermore, because on average the process of NV center creation in diamond creates numerous other spin defects, the researchers say they could potentially scale up the system to control even more qubits. “It gets more complex with scale. But if we can start finding NV centers with more resonance spikes, you can imagine starting to control larger and larger quantum systems,” Sun says.</p> An MIT team found a way to “recruit” normally disruptive quantum bits (qubits) in diamond to, instead, help carry out quantum operations. This approach could be used to help scale up quantum computing systems. Image: Christine Daniloff, MITResearch, Computer science and technology, Quantum computing, Nuclear science and engineering, Nanoscience and nanotechnology, Sensors, Research Laboratory of Electronics, Materials Science and Engineering, Physics, School of Engineering Showing robots how to do your chores http://news.mit.edu/2020/showing-robots-learn-chores-0306 By observing humans, robots learn to perform complex tasks, such as setting a table. Thu, 05 Mar 2020 23:59:59 -0500 Rob Matheson | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2020/showing-robots-learn-chores-0306 <p>Training interactive robots may one day be an easy job for everyone, even those without programming expertise. Roboticists are developing automated robots that can learn new tasks solely by observing humans. At home, you might someday show a domestic robot how to do routine chores. In the workplace, you could train robots like new employees, showing them how to perform many duties.</p> <p>Making progress on that vision, MIT researchers have designed a system that lets these types of robots learn complicated tasks that would otherwise stymie them with too many confusing rules. One such task is setting a dinner table under certain conditions. &nbsp;</p> <p>At its core, the researchers’ “Planning with Uncertain Specifications” (PUnS) system gives robots the humanlike planning ability to simultaneously weigh many ambiguous —&nbsp;and potentially contradictory —&nbsp;requirements to reach an end goal. In doing so, the system always chooses the most likely action to take, based on a “belief” about some probable specifications for the task it is supposed to perform.</p> <p>In their work, the researchers compiled a dataset with information about how eight objects — a mug, glass, spoon, fork, knife, dinner plate, small plate, and bowl — could be placed on a table in various configurations. A robotic arm first observed randomly selected human demonstrations of setting the table with the objects. Then, the researchers tasked the arm with automatically setting a table in a specific configuration, in real-world experiments and in simulation, based on what it had seen.</p> <p>To succeed, the robot had to weigh many possible placement orderings, even when items were purposely removed, stacked, or hidden. Normally, all of that would confuse robots too much. But the researchers’ robot made no mistakes over several real-world experiments, and only a handful of mistakes over tens of thousands of simulated test runs. &nbsp;</p> <p>“The vision is to put programming in the hands of domain experts, who can program robots through intuitive ways, rather than describing orders to an engineer to add to their code,” says first author Ankit Shah, a graduate student in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AeroAstro) and the Interactive Robotics Group, who emphasizes that their work is just one step in fulfilling that vision. “That way, robots won’t have to perform preprogrammed tasks anymore. Factory workers can teach a robot to do multiple complex assembly tasks. Domestic robots can learn how to stack cabinets, load the dishwasher, or set the table from people at home.”</p> <p>Joining Shah on the paper are AeroAstro and Interactive Robotics Group graduate student Shen Li and Interactive Robotics Group leader Julie Shah, an associate professor in AeroAstro and the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.</p> <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> <p><strong>Bots hedging bets</strong></p> <p>Robots are fine planners in tasks with clear “specifications,” which help describe the task the robot needs to fulfill, considering its actions, environment, and end goal. Learning to set a table by observing demonstrations, is full of uncertain specifications. Items must be placed in certain spots, depending on the menu and where guests are seated, and in certain orders, depending on an item’s immediate availability or social conventions. Present approaches to planning are not capable of dealing with such uncertain specifications.</p> <p>A popular approach to planning is “reinforcement learning,” a trial-and-error machine-learning technique that rewards and penalizes them for actions as they work to complete a task. But for tasks with uncertain specifications, it’s difficult to define clear rewards and penalties. In short, robots never fully learn right from wrong.</p> <p>The researchers’ system, called PUnS (for Planning with Uncertain Specifications), enables a robot to hold a “belief” over a range of possible specifications. The belief itself can then be used to dish out rewards and penalties. “The robot is essentially hedging its bets in terms of what’s intended in a task, and takes actions that satisfy its belief, instead of us giving it a clear specification,” Ankit Shah says.</p> <p>The system is built on “linear temporal logic” (LTL), an expressive language that enables robotic reasoning about current and future outcomes. The researchers defined templates in LTL that model various time-based conditions, such as what must happen now, must eventually happen, and must happen until something else occurs. The robot’s observations of 30 human demonstrations for setting the table yielded a probability distribution over 25 different LTL formulas. Each formula encoded a slightly different preference — or specification — for setting the table. That probability distribution becomes its belief.</p> <p>“Each formula encodes something different, but when the robot considers various combinations of all the templates, and tries to satisfy everything together, it ends up doing the right thing eventually,” Ankit Shah says.</p> <p><strong>Following criteria</strong></p> <p>The researchers also developed several criteria that guide the robot toward satisfying the entire belief over those candidate formulas. One, for instance, satisfies the most likely formula, which discards everything else apart from the template with the highest probability. Others satisfy the largest number of unique formulas, without considering their overall probability, or they satisfy several formulas that represent highest total probability. Another simply minimizes error, so the system ignores formulas with high probability of failure.</p> <p>Designers can choose any one of the four criteria to preset before training and testing. Each has its own tradeoff between flexibility and risk aversion. The choice of criteria depends entirely on the task. In safety critical situations, for instance, a designer may choose to limit possibility of failure. But where consequences of failure are not as severe, designers can choose to give robots greater flexibility to try different approaches.</p> <p>With the criteria in place, the researchers developed an algorithm to convert the robot’s belief — the probability distribution pointing to the desired formula — into an equivalent reinforcement learning problem. This model will ping the robot with a reward or penalty for an action it takes, based on the specification it’s decided to follow.</p> <p>In simulations asking the robot to set the table in different configurations, it only made six mistakes out of 20,000 tries. In real-world demonstrations, it showed behavior similar to how a human would perform the task. If an item wasn’t initially visible, for instance, the robot would finish setting the rest of the table without the item. Then, when the fork was revealed, it would set the fork in the proper place. “That’s where flexibility is very important,” Ankit Shah says. “Otherwise it would get stuck when it expects to place a fork and not finish the rest of table setup.”</p> <p>Next, the researchers hope to modify the system to help robots change their behavior based on verbal instructions, corrections, or a user’s assessment of the robot’s performance. “Say a person demonstrates to a robot how to set a table at only one spot. The person may say, ‘do the same thing for all other spots,’ or, ‘place the knife before the fork here instead,’” Ankit Shah says. “We want to develop methods for the system to naturally adapt to handle those verbal commands, without needing additional demonstrations.”&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> Roboticists are developing automated robots that can learn new tasks solely by observing humans. At home, you might someday show a domestic robot how to do routine chores.Image: Christine Daniloff, MITResearch, Computer science and technology, Algorithms, Artificial intelligence, Machine learning, Robots, Robotics, Assistive technology, Aeronautical and astronautical engineering, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), School of Engineering Letter regarding MIT&#039;s response to the coronavirus disease http://news.mit.edu/2020/letter-regarding-coronavirus-disease-0305 Thu, 05 Mar 2020 18:31:29 -0500 MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2020/letter-regarding-coronavirus-disease-0305 <p><em>The following email&nbsp;was sent to the MIT community today by President L. Rafael Reif.</em></p> <p>To the members of the MIT community,</p> <p>Since early January, we have been tracking the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) situation daily, offering <a href="https://medical.mit.edu/news/2020/01/2019-novel-coronavirus-updates-1" target="_blank">standing guidance</a> and regular updates. We will continue that practice. However, with the disease now established in the US, and with spring break and major holidays coming up shortly, <strong>we are intensifying our institutional response</strong>.</p> <p>I write now to share important new MIT policies and guidelines about travel and events. <strong>Because they will affect all of us on campus in some way, I ask that everyone – students, staff, postdocs, affiliates and faculty – take the time to read the new <a href="http://mit.edu/covid19/" target="_blank">policies, which appear here</a> and below.</strong></p> <p><u>For our campus community, the current risk level associated with COVID-19 is low.</u></p> <p>However, global hotspots shift, and the contagion pattern is not well understood. With that uncertainty, we need to make prudent choices to protect the health of our own community and the broader communities we belong to, without creating unnecessary disruptions to the normal pursuit of our educational and research mission.</p> <p>This balanced approach led us to the travel, visitor and event policies below. In shaping them, we consulted experts at MIT Medical and carefully considered the decisions of peer universities and major businesses around the world that are also striving to respond to this fluid situation.</p> <p>These guidelines represent our best judgment, at this moment, about practical steps we can all take to reduce risk for ourselves and for each other. Because MIT is a community constantly on the move and always inviting people in, I know that asking you to abide by the restrictions in these new policies is non-trivial. Where we can safely consider exceptions, we have provided a process for doing so. Beyond that, I ask for everyone’s cooperation as we try to choose a sound path for us all.</p> <p>Since future challenges from COVID-19 could disrupt critical Institute functions, we are developing contingency plans. For example, in case we face an urgent need to switch to online instruction, we are actively developing options; the vice chancellor will follow up with faculty and instructors to better understand their needs and guide them to initial resources.</p> <p>I encourage each of you to think through how you can help limit risk as well, starting with shifting to virtual meetings when you can. Supervisors may wish to consider now how telecommuting might work in their unit, if public health concerns grow worse.</p> <p>I know that both the spread of this disease and our decisions about it affect not only MIT programs and planning, but the lives of individuals. For many of you, the steps we are taking to protect the health of the community may involve significant inconvenience and personal sacrifice. Please accept my gratitude in advance for your goodwill and understanding.</p> <p>I also hope we can be sensitive to each other’s burdens in this situation and make accommodations when we can. And I count on every member of our community to make sure that the discrimination, shunning and bullying that sometimes accompany an outbreak never occur at MIT.</p> <p>In this uncertain moment, I have every confidence in our community’s ability to pull together with kindness, care and concern for the common good.</p> <p>Sincerely,</p> <p>L. Rafael Reif</p> <p>----------------</p> <p><strong>NEW POLICIES AND GUIDELINES ON TRAVEL, VISITORS AND EVENTS: MARCH 5–MAY 15, 2020</strong><br /> <br /> The policies below will take effect immediately and stay in place through at least May 15. In this two-month period, we will review them on a rolling basis, provide frequent updates and offer new guidance about activities after May 15 as soon as we can.</p> <p>If you have questions about how these policies apply in your own situation, our Emergency Management staff can help triage your requests. Please contact em-staff@mit.edu.</p> <p>We recognize that responding to the new requirements may have financial implications for units across campus. If the costs feel significant for your unit, please bring these concerns to your unit head. The information we gather from these conversations will help us understand the impact across campus and assess how we can help.</p> <p><strong>MIT Guidance for Travel, Visitors and Events</strong></p> <p><strong>TRAVEL ABROAD</strong></p> <p><strong>Effective immediately – and in step with <a href="https://www.mass.gov/news/governor-baker-and-state-health-officials-discuss-community-preparedness-with-health-care" target="_blank">new advice from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health</a> – we are suspending all international travel on MIT business or with MIT programs, for all faculty, students, postdocs and staff. This includes any travel associated with one’s scholarly activities as an MIT employee, even travel funded by a government grant, foundation, company or other university.</strong></p> <p>Rare exceptions will be considered; those who feel they have a compelling need to travel internationally may apply in writing to the provost and the chancellor at COVIDtravel@mit.edu. Anyone currently abroad may return to MIT or in some cases to their home.</p> <p>We also <em>discourage personal travel to international locations</em> by any MIT community member. If you must travel to any country on the CDC’s <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html" target="_blank">COVID-19 travel advisories</a> page, please know that you are required to <a href="https://mit.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_4VAuWaLc73TtTWl" target="_blank">fill out this form</a> two or three days before you return. Those returning from Level 3 countries will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days upon return; others may also be required to self-quarantine.</p> <p>We know many students plan travel for spring break. We urge you to weigh the risks and potential consequences for yourself and others. If you travel to any nation where the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html" target="_blank">CDC reports</a> “widespread sustained (ongoing) transmission” of COVID-19, you will not be permitted to complete your required two-week self-quarantine on campus. Further, as new outbreaks occur and government travel restrictions shift, be aware that, if you choose to travel outside the United States, you may encounter difficulties in returning.</p> <p><strong>TRAVEL IN THE US</strong></p> <p>We will continue to fund MIT-related domestic travel as usual. However, we encourage everyone in our community – faculty, staff, postdocs and students – to <strong>weigh whether any domestic travel between now and May 15 is essential</strong> and to explore options to join meetings or events remotely, especially in the growing number of areas with high infection rates.</p> <p><strong>TRACKING TRAVEL FOR PUBLIC HEALTH PURPOSES</strong></p> <p><strong>Until May 15, we strongly encourage everyone in the MIT community to register ALL non-commuting travel outside of Massachusetts in the confidential <a href="http://kb.mit.edu/confluence/display/istcontrib/MIT+Travel+Registry" target="_blank">MIT travel registry</a></strong>. This applies to both personal and MIT-related trips, international and domestic. If a new COVID-19 outbreak occurs in a place where our community members have been traveling, having this confidential information will help our public health team take effective action.</p> <p><strong>VISITORS FROM OUTSIDE MIT</strong></p> <p>Visitors from countries which the CDC finds <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html" target="_blank">have “widespread sustained (ongoing) transmission” of COVID-19</a> cannot join us on campus until they have successfully completed 14 days of self-quarantine.</p> <p>Other visitors are welcome at MIT. However, common sense dictates that the next two months are not the best time to host large groups.</p> <p>To protect children and older visitors to campus, we ask that you:</p> <ul> <li>Cancel or reschedule all K–12 programs and visits to be held at MIT from now through May 15.</li> <li>Consider postponing a meeting if your visitors are over the age of 60.</li> </ul> <p><strong>MIT EVENTS</strong></p> <p><strong>Effective immediately, if you are planning any in-person MIT event with more than 150 attendees that will take place between now and Friday, May 15, on campus or off campus, you must postpone, cancel or “virtualize” it.</strong></p> <p>This new policy does not apply to classroom instruction or other internal gatherings (e.g., colloquia) attended solely by members of the MIT on-campus community.</p> <p>Unfortunately, it does apply to Campus Preview Weekend and other signature spring semester conferences and celebrations. As an example, we have now postponed the MIT Excellence Awards until June.</p> <p><em>Exceptions are possible for imminent events with travelers already here or en route; please inform us immediately at COVIDevents@mit.edu if you are hosting such a gathering. In very limited cases, we may consider appeals to hold larger gatherings attended only by members of our community. You may submit an inquiry at COVIDevents@mit.edu.</em></p> <p>We chose 150 people as a threshold to help reduce risk of transmission without calling a halt to all activity on campus. However, group size is only one factor to consider in planning an event – and our success in managing the risk of COVID-19 depends not only on the existence of these policies, but on your cooperation and common sense.</p> <p>As you plan events with fewer than 150 attendees, please consider these factors:</p> <ol> <li><strong>How many people will attend, and will they be in close quarters?</strong> In some cases, it may make sense to go ahead with an event but to reduce the attendance well below 150. Even with fewer people, if your event is planned for a confined space, you may want to choose a larger site, allow people to participate remotely or both.</li> <li><strong>How many participants will be coming from abroad, or from US locations with high infection rates?</strong> Given the changeability of travel restrictions, international visitors may face difficulties coming from or returning to their home countries.</li> <li><strong>What do you know about the age and health of expected attendees? </strong>Evidence to date suggests that COVID-19 hits certain vulnerable populations harder, including older individuals. Whatever the size of your event, consider postponing it if many attendees will be over the age of 60.</li> <li><strong>What is the risk to staff who will help prepare for your event, serve your guests and clean up afterward?</strong> Staff working for outside service vendors may not have generous health insurance or sick leave, and we should take steps to help keep them safe.</li> </ol> <p>For all events of every size:</p> <ul> <li>Encourage handwashing!</li> <li>Make it easy for your guests to practice good health hygiene: provide hand sanitizer and tissues, and minimize communal food.</li> <li>Educate your attendees about proper precautions.</li> <li>Urge anyone who feels unwell to stay home and to participate online if possible.</li> <li>You may also want to arrange for enhanced cleaning of the event site, before and after.</li> </ul> <p><strong>MIT CLASSES AND INSTRUCTIONAL MEETINGS</strong></p> <p>All meetings and classes attended by members of the on-campus community can continue to be held as normal.</p> <p>However, please stay home if you feel sick, and urge others to do so. Encourage handwashing, provide hand sanitizer and tissues, minimize communal food, and educate your students and colleagues about proper precautions.</p> <p>For large classes, consider offering a way to attend online or arranging other accommodations.</p> <p>----------------</p> <p>You can find the latest advice any time at medical.mit.edu/covid-19. For support or questions, please email covid19-support@mit.edu.</p> <p>-----------------</p> <p><strong>These policies and guidelines reflect MIT’s official position as of March 5, 2020. In this fluid situation, they may need to change in the future with little warning.</strong></p> Staff, Faculty, Administration, Community, President L. Rafael Reif