MIT News - Comparative Media Studies/Writing - Media - Film and Television - Center for Civic Media - Game design - Game Lab 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, 03 Mar 2020 23:59:59 -0500 Design, power, and justice In new book “Design Justice,” Associate Professor Sasha Costanza-Chock examines how to make technology work for more people in society. Tue, 03 Mar 2020 23:59:59 -0500 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p>When Sasha Costanza-Chock goes through airport security, it is an unusually uncomfortable experience.</p> <p>Costanza-Chock, an MIT associate professor, is transgender and nonbinary. They use the pronouns they/them, and their body does not match binary norms. But airport security millimeter wave scanners are set up with binary, male/female configurations. To operate the machine, agents press a button based on their assumptions about the person entering the scanner: blue for “boy,” or pink for “girl.” &nbsp;The machine nearly always flags Costanza-Chock for a hands-on check by security officials.</p> <p>“I know I’m almost certainly about to experience an embarrassing, uncomfortable, and perhaps humiliating search … after my body is flagged as anomalous by the millimeter wave scanner,” they write, recounting one such episode, in a new book about technology, design, and social justice.</p> <p>This is an experience familiar to many who fall outside the system’s norms, Costanza-Chock explains: Trans and gender nonconforming people’s bodies, black women’s hair, head wraps, and assistive devices are regularly flagged as “risky.”</p> <p>The airport security scanner is just one type of problem that emerges when technology does not match social reality. There are biases built into everyday objects, including software interfaces, medical devices, social media, and the built environment, and these biases reflect existing power structures in society.</p> <p>The new book — “Design Justice: Community Led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need,” published by the MIT Press — looks broadly at such shortcomings and offers a framework for fixing them while lifting up methods of technology design that can be used to help build a more inclusive future.</p> <p>“Design justice is both a community of practice, and a framework for analysis,” says Costanza-Chock, who is the Mitsui Career Development Associate Professor in MIT’s Comparative Media Studies/Writing program. “In the book I’m trying to both narrate the emergence of this community, based on my own participation in it, and rethink some of the core concepts from design theory through this lens.”</p> <p><strong>Who designs? </strong></p> <p>The book has its roots in the activities of the Design Justice Network (DJN), founded in 2016 with the aim of “rethinking design processes so they center people who are often marginalized by design,” in the organization’s own description. (Costanza-Chock sits on the DJN’s steering committee.) The book draws on the concepts of intersectional feminism and the idea that technologies, and society more broadly, are structured by what the black feminist sociologist Patricia Hill Collins calls a “matrix of domination” in the form of white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, capitalism, and settler colonialism.</p> <p>The book also looks at the issue of who designs technology, a subject Costanza-Chock has examined extensively — for instance in the 2018 report “#MoreThanCode,” which pointed out the need for more systematic inclusion and equity efforts in the emerging field of public interest technology.</p> <p>“There is a growing conversation about the lack of intersectional racial and gender diversity in the tech sector,” notes Costanza-Chock. “Many Silicon Valley firms are now producing diversity statistics every year. …&nbsp; But just because it’s being recognized doesn’t mean it’s going to be solved any time soon.”</p> <p>The problem of designing fairly for society is not as simple as diversifying that workforce, however.</p> <p>“Design justice goes farther,” Costanza-Chock says. “Even if we had extremely diverse teams of people working inside Silicon Valley, they would by and large still be mostly organizing their time and energy around producing products that would be attractive to a very thin slice of the global population — people who have disposable income, always-on internet connectivity, and broadband.”</p> <p>Still, the two problems are related, and “Design Justice” references a wide range of innovation areas where a lack of design inclusivity generates problematic products. Many product users have long had to devise ad-hoc improvements to technology themselves. For instance, nurses have often been prolific innovators, tinkering with medical devices — a phenomenon partly unearthed, the book notes, by Jose Gomez-Marquez, co-director of MIT’s Little Devices Lab.</p> <p>“Every day, all around us, people are innovating in small and large ways, based on everyday needs,” Costanza-Chock reflects. Although that’s not what we hear from tech firms, which often circulate narratives “about a lone genius inventor, who had a ‘eureka’ moment and created a product and brought it into the world.”</p> <p>For instance, in one widely circulated story, Twitter’s origins flow from a flash of insight by co-founder Jack Dorsey. Another version assigns its beginnings to hackers and activists of the Indymedia network and to then-MIT researcher Tad Hirsch, who in 2004 created a tool for protestors called TXTMob, which served as the demo design for the first Twitter prototype.</p> <p>“I’m not making a claim in the book for the one true origin story,” explains Costanza-Chock. “I’m emphasizing that technological innovation and design processes are quite messy, and that people are often marginalized from the stories we hear about the creation of new tools. Social movements are often hotbeds of innovation, but their contributions aren't always recognized.”</p> <p><strong>Better hackathons and more collaboration</strong></p> <p>Costanza-Chock does believe that design processes can be made more inclusive. In the book, they draw on years of experience teaching the <a href="">MIT Collaborative Design Studio </a>to synthesize lessons for inclusive innovation. For example: Try staging a hackathon that is more inclusive than the usual format of marathon sessions catered only to twenty-something coders.</p> <p>“I really enjoy hackathons, and I have participated in many of them myself,” Costanza-Chock says. “That said, hackathons … tend to be dominated by certain kinds of people. They tend to be gendered, more accessible to younger people who don’t have kids, can take an entire day or weekend for free labor, and who can survive on pizza and soda.”</p> <p>Whether designing a hackathon or building a long-term design team, “There are many ways to be better and more inclusive,” Costanza-Chock adds. “You need people with domain experience in the areas you’re working on, personal experience, or deep knowledge from study. If you’re working on Boston’s urban transit systems, you need to have people from different places in those systems on your designs teams, from the MBTA [Boston’s transit authority] to people that ride transit on a daily basis.”</p> <p>Scholars who examine the social dimension of innovation have praised “Design Justice.” Princeton University sociologist Ruha Benjamin has said the book “offers essential tools for rethinking and reimagining the social infrastructure of tech design.”</p> <p>Costanza-Chock, for one, hopes the book will interest people not only for the criticism it offers, but as a way of moving forward and deploying better practices.</p> <p>“My book is not primarily or only critique,” Costanza-Chock says. “One of the things about the Design Justice Network is that we try to spend more time building than tearing down. I think design justice is about articulating a critique, while constantly trying to point toward ways of doing things better.”</p> Sasha Costanza-Chock, the Mitsui Career Development Associate Professor in MIT’s Comparative Media Studies/Writing program, is author of a new book, “Design Justice: Community Led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need,” published by the MIT Press.Photo: Caydie McCumberComparative Media Studies/Writing, Faculty, Research, Books and authors, Diversity and inclusion, Technology and society, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences Business lessons from “Ford v. Ferrari” A look at the popular film through a lens of systems thinking and process improvement. Tue, 07 Jan 2020 13:55:01 -0500 MIT Sloan Executive Education <p>The new feature film&nbsp;“<a href="">Ford v. Ferrari</a>,” starring&nbsp;Matt Damon and Christian Bale, recreates Henry Ford II’s scheme to reinvent the Ford Motor Company while simultaneously avenging a bitter rivalry between himself and Enzo Ferrari. Adhering closely to A.J. Baime’s 2009 book “Go Like Hell,” the movie chronicles the company’s outrageous pursuit of designing, building, and racing a car that could beat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the most prestigious and brutal race in the world.</p> <p>Initially the herculean task was assigned to Ford's Advanced Vehicles Group in the U.K., but the team couldn’t figure out how to make the first batch of GT40s stay firmly on the tarmac or run continuously for 24 hours. After consecutive losses to Ferrari at Le Mans in 1964 and 1965, Ford enlisted legendary Los Angeles car designer Carroll Shelby — one of the only American drivers to ever win at Le Mans — to run race operations. Rather than starting from scratch, Shelby and his go-to test driver and engineering specialist Ken Miles collaborated with Advanced Vehicle Group and Ford's experimental engine group to reinvent the GT40.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">John Carrier</a> leads the MIT Sloan Executive Education program <a href="">Implementing Industry 4.0: Leading Change in Manufacturing and Operations</a>. He also teaches in the F1&nbsp;Extreme Innovation&nbsp;series, a collaboration between Formula One and MIT Sloan Executive Education. A native Detroiter who sees the world through a lens of systems thinking, Carrier recently watched the film (twice) with process improvement in mind. Here are three business lessons that “Ford v. Ferrari” demonstrates with historical accuracy and a touch of Hollywood flair.</p> <p><strong>Lesson 1: </strong><strong>Don’t adopt new tech until you know what problem you are trying to solve.</strong></p> <p>In racing, understanding aerodynamic resistance is key. The better a car cuts through the air, the less power and fuel is required. Optimizing aerodynamics can also prevent undesired lift forces, increasing stability at high speeds. To test the aerodynamics of the GT40 prototype, the original Ford engineers put a large, heavy computer with attached sensors into the car. The Shelby team ripped out the computer and instead taped strings over the surface of the car, then observed the exterior of the car to see how air traveled over and around the vehicle. "Often the best model of the system is the system itself," Carrier says.</p> <p>Another takeaway from this example is that the strings make the issue observable<em>, </em>something discussed at length in Carrier's <a href="">MIT Sloan Executive Education program</a>. Unlike a computer printout, the streamers provided direct and immediate visual measurement of the entire system. Indeed, the very presence of the computer in the car distorted the performance of the system, as it significantly increased the weight of the car. “How many times have we witnessed a new technology producing the exact opposite of its intended effect?” Carrier asks. “From Roger Smith’s 'Lights Out' factory to Elon Musk’s flirtation with excess automation at the Tesla facility, the 'shiny new toy' technology fallacy seems to be one mistake most companies will continue repeating.”</p> <p><strong>Lesson 2: </strong><strong>Flatten your decision-making.</strong></p> <p>In the movie, Ford’s decision on the Shelby program went through the classic “15 middle managers,” visualized by a red folder circulating the Ford’s Dearborn, Michigan, headquarters, known as the Glass House. The red folder is the perfect analogy for the “hidden factory” of middle management. (A “hidden factory” is any activity or set of activities that reduce the quality or efficiency of operations but are not initially known to managers or others seeking to improve the process.)</p> <p>Shelby eventually shortens the feedback loop by insisting he report directly to Henry Ford II. Similarly, Carrier explains that organizations should flatten decision-making as much as possible to ensure that decision makers have actually seen what’s in the folder. “Paraphrasing a conversation I once had with Jay Forrester, the father of system dynamics, the purpose of middle management seems to be to turn the message 180 degrees while adding a time delay — the absolutely optimal way to destroy the performance of any system,” Carrier says.</p> <p><strong>Lesson 3: Learn from others.</strong></p> <p>In the Daytona race, Shelby bet his company to the Ford Motor Company on his driver, Ken Miles, winning — even against another Ford team in the race. Meanwhile, the Shelby team observed that the second Ford team in the next pit bay was having much faster pit stops. Shelby discovered they were utilizing NASCAR pit crew members.</p> <p>“The lesson here is simple,” Carrier explains. “Look outside your own team, company, and/or industry for better ways of doing what you’re doing.”</p> <p>“There are a great many parallels between business and racing, from the importance of your team, the capital required, significant investments in technology, and the goal of winning in a short period of time,” Carrier adds. “If anything slows you down, you will lose.”</p> <p>Spoiler alert: In the case of Ford, all their hard work and lessons learned paid off. The GT40 MK II defeated Ferrari at Le Mans in 1966, capturing first, second, and third places. And they won again the following year.</p> Slot car model of the Ford GT40Photo: MIT Sloan Executive EducationBusiness and management, Systems design, Film and Television, Engineering Systems, Sloan School of Management, Sloan Executive Education Exploring hip hop history with art and technology With its centerpiece exhibit for the forthcoming Universal Hip Hop Museum, an MIT team uses artificial intelligence to explore the rich history of hip hop music. Fri, 20 Dec 2019 09:00:00 -0500 Suzanne Day | Office of Open Learning <p>A new museum is coming to New York City in 2023, the year of hip-hop’s 50th birthday, and an MIT team has helped to pave the way for the city to celebrate the legacy of this important musical genre — by designing unique creative experiences at the intersection of art, learning, and contemporary technology.</p> <p>With “The [R]evolution of Hip Hop Breakbeat Narratives,” a team led by D. Fox Harrell, professor of digital media and artificial intelligence and director of the MIT Center for Advanced Virtuality, has created an art installation that takes museum-goers on an interactive, personalized journey through hip hop history.</p> <p>The installation served as the centerpiece of an event held this month by leaders of the highly anticipated Universal Hip Hop Museum (UHHM), which will officially open in just a few years in the Bronx — the future home of the UHHM, and where many agree that the genre of hip hop music originated.</p> <p>“Hip hop is much more than a musical genre. It is a global phenomenon, with a rich history and massive social and cultural impact, with local roots in the Bronx,” Harrell says. “As an educational center, the Universal Hip Hop Museum will have the power to connect people to the surrounding community.”</p> <p>Harrell’s immersive art installation takes museum-goers on a journey through hip hop culture and history, from the 1970s to the present. However, not everyone experiences the installation in the same way. Using a computational model of users’ preferences and artificial intelligence technologies to drive interaction, the team of artists and computer scientists from the Center for Advanced Virtuality has created layered, personalized virtual experiences.</p> <p>When approaching the exhibit, museum-goers are greeted by “The Elementals,” or novel characters named after the five elements of hip hop (MC, DJ, Breakdance, Graffiti Art, and Knowledge) that guide users and ask key questions — “What is your favorite hip hop song?” or “Which from this pair of lyrics do you like the most?” Based on those answers, the Elementals take users through their own personalized narrative of hip hop history.</p> <p>Harrell developed the Elementals with professors John Jennings of the University of California at Riverside and Stacey Robinson of the University of Illinois — artists collectively known as Black Kirby. This visual aesthetic ties the work into the rich, imaginative cultures and iconography of the African diaspora.</p> <p>Through these conversations with the Elementals they encounter, people can explore broad social issues surrounding hip hop, such as gender, fashion, and location. At the end of their journey, they can take home a personalized playlist of songs.&nbsp;</p> <p>“We designed the Breakbeat Narratives installation by integrating Microsoft conversational AI technologies, which made our user modeling more personable, with a music visualization platform from the TunesMap Educational Foundation,” Harrell says.</p> <p>The exploration of social issues is about as close to the heart of Harrell’s mission in the Center for Advanced Virtuality as one can get. In the center, Harrell designs virtual technologies to stimulate creative expression, cultural analysis, and positive social change.</p> <p>“We wanted to tell stories that pushed beyond stereotypical representations, digging into the complexities of both empowering and problematic representations that often coexist,” he says. “This work fits into our endeavor called the Narrative, Orality, and Improvisation Research (NOIR) Initiative that uses AI technologies to forward the art forms of diverse global cultures.”</p> <p>Through this art project enabled by contemporary technologies, Harrell hopes that he has helped museum leadership to achieve their goal of celebrating hip-hop’s heritage and legacy.</p> <p>“Now, people internationally can have a stake in this great art.”</p> Designed by an MIT team using artificial intelligence, “The [R]evolution of Hip Hop Breakbeat Narratives” is an immersive art installation designed for the forthcoming Universal Hip Hop Museum in New York City.Photo: MIT Center for Advanced VirtualityOffice of Open Learning, Machine learning, Artificial intelligence, History, Arts, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Technology and society, Music, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, School of Engineering Two MIT seniors named 2020 Marshall Scholars Talya Klinger and Steven Truong will begin graduate studies in the UK next fall. Mon, 09 Dec 2019 00:59:59 -0500 Julia Mongo | Distinguished Fellowships <p>Talya Klinger and Steven Truong are MIT’s newest Marshall Scholars. The students are recipients of the prestigious British government-funded fellowship, which provides outstanding young American scholars the opportunity to pursue two years of graduate study in any subject at any academic institution in the United Kingdom.</p> <p>The Marshall Scholarship program annually receives over 1,000 applications from top students representing higher education institutions across the United States. Around 40 scholars are selected each year.</p> <p>MIT’s Marshall applicants were advised and supported by the distinguished fellowships team, led by Assistant Dean Kim Benard in Career Advising and Professional Development. They were also mentored by the MIT Presidential Committee on Distinguished Fellowships, co-chaired by professors Will Broadhead and Tamar Schapiro.</p> <p>“MIT’s Marshall Scholarship applicants embody the academic excellence, personal integrity, and future-minded optimism that characterize MIT undergraduates at their best,” Broadhead says. “We on the Distinguished Fellowships Committee have been inspired by all of them and are especially pleased to congratulate Talya and Steven as they take their richly deserved places in this year’s class of Marshall Scholars.”</p> <p><strong>Talya Klinger</strong></p> <p>Hailing from Novato, California, Klinger is a senior majoring in physics with a minor in mathematics. As a Marshall Scholar, she will pursue a MASt in mathematics, followed by an MPhil in physics, at Cambridge University. After completing her two-year Marshall program, she plans to return to the U.S. for a PhD in physics. She hopes to have a career leading research on gravitational waves either as a professor or national lab scientist.</p> <p>Klinger has conducted physics research with the Hughes group at the MIT Kavli Institute, the Thaler group at the MIT Center for Theoretical Physics, and the MIT Photon Scattering Lab. She has also conducted research abroad at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Ontario, Canada, and the Weizmann Institute of Science Astroparticle Physics Lab in Israel.</p> <p>Deeply committed to social justice, Klinger helped found the MIT Prison Education Initiative, a student group that advocates for educational opportunities for local prison inmates. Klinger is also a dedicated teacher and mentor. She advises women considering majoring in physics and incoming first year students, and she has taught classes to middle and high school students through the MIT Educational Studies Program. She is vice president of the Society of Physics Students. A talented visual artist, Klinger has been an integral part of the MIT Shakespeare Ensemble, working as a costume and special effects designer. She has won writing awards for her essays and in high school was a nationally ranked classics scholar.</p> <p><strong>Steven Truong</strong></p> <p>Steven Truong, from Blaine, Minnesota, will graduate this spring with a double major in biological engineering and creative writing. At Imperial College London, he will read for an MS degree in biostatistics, and after one year will read for an MS degree in integrated immunology at Oxford University. Upon returning to the U.S., Truong will pursue an MD/PhD degree with the goal of working in both the research and clinical aspects of diabetes treatment. Many of his own family members have contended with the disease, including his father, Buu Truong, who passed away from diabetes complications during Truong’s junior year of college.</p> <p>The son of Vietnamese refugees, Truong spent two years researching diabetes therapies in the laboratories of professors Daniel Anderson and Robert Langer in the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT. He subsequently pursued diabetes research in the laboratory of Professor Douglas Lauffenburger in the Department of Biological Engineering and received a National Science Foundation summer grant to conduct research at the University of California at San Francisco Diabetes Research Center. Truong is also co-principal investigator for a diabetes research project that he founded in Vietnam the summer after his first year at MIT. Truong was a Goldwater Scholar and has won awards for his science fiction and other writing.</p> <p>Truong served as co-president of the Biological Engineering Undergrad Board and as opinion editor for the MIT student newspaper&nbsp;<em>The Tech</em>. He has volunteered with the Joslin Diabetes Center, MIT MedLinks, and the QuestBridge Scholars Network. In addition, Truong performs magic shows for MIT ClubChem and is a&nbsp;collegiate powerlifter.</p> Talya Klinger and Steven TruongImage: Ian MacLellanPhysics, Biological engineering, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, School of Science, School of Engineering, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Undergraduate, Awards, honors and fellowships Using computers to view the unseen A new computational imaging method could change how we view hidden information in scenes. Fri, 06 Dec 2019 11:05:01 -0500 Rachel Gordon | CSAIL <p>Cameras and computers together can conquer some seriously stunning feats. Giving computers vision has helped us <a href="" target="_blank">fight wildfires in California</a>, understand complex and treacherous roads — and even see around corners.&nbsp;</p> <p>Specifically, seven years ago a group of MIT researchers created a <a href="" target="_self">new imaging system</a> that used floors, doors, and walls as “mirrors” to understand information about scenes outside a normal line of sight. Using special lasers to produce recognizable 3D images, the work opened up a realm of possibilities in letting us better understand what we can’t see.&nbsp;</p> <p>Recently, a different group of scientists from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) has built off of this work, but this time with no special equipment needed: They developed a method that can reconstruct hidden video from just the subtle shadows and reflections on an observed pile of clutter. This means that, with a video camera turned on in a room, they can reconstruct a video of an unseen corner of the room, even if it falls outside the camera's field of view.&nbsp;</p> <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> <p>By observing the interplay of shadow and geometry in video, the team’s algorithm predicts the way that light travels in a scene, which is known as “light transport.” The system then uses that to estimate the hidden video from the observed shadows — and it can even construct the silhouette of a live-action performance.&nbsp;</p> <p>This type of image reconstruction could one day benefit many facets of society: Self-driving cars could better understand what’s emerging from behind corners, elder-care centers could enhance safety for their residents, and search-and-rescue teams could even improve their ability to navigate dangerous or obstructed areas.&nbsp;</p> <p>The technique, which is “passive,” meaning there are no lasers or other interventions to the scene, still currently takes about two hours to process, but the researchers say it could eventually be helpful in reconstructing scenes not in the traditional line of sight for the aforementioned applications.&nbsp;</p> <p>“You can achieve quite a bit with non-line-of-sight imaging equipment like lasers, but in our approach you only have access to the light that's naturally reaching the camera, and you try to make the most out of the scarce information in it,” says Miika Aittala, former CSAIL postdoc and current research scientist at NVIDIA<strong>, </strong>and the lead researcher on the new technique. “Given the recent advances in neural networks, this seemed like a great time to visit some challenges that, in this space, were considered largely unapproachable before.”&nbsp;</p> <p>To capture this unseen information, the team uses subtle, indirect lighting cues, such as shadows and highlights from the clutter in the observed area.</p> <p>In a way, a pile of clutter behaves somewhat like a pinhole camera, similar to something you might build in an elementary school science class: It blocks some light rays, but allows others to pass through, and these paint an image of the surroundings wherever they hit. But where a pinhole camera is designed to let through just the amount of right rays to form a readable picture, a general pile of clutter produces an image that is scrambled (by the light transport) beyond recognition, into a complex play of shadows and shading.&nbsp;</p> <p>You can think of the clutter, then, as a mirror that gives you a scrambled view into the surroundings around it — for example, behind a corner where you can’t see directly.&nbsp;</p> <p>The challenge addressed by the team's algorithm was to unscramble and make sense of these lighting cues. Specifically, the goal was to recover a human-readable video of the activity in the hidden scene, which is a multiplication of the light transport and the hidden video.&nbsp;</p> <p>However, unscrambling proved to be a classic “chicken-or-egg” problem. To figure out the scrambling pattern, a user would need to know the hidden video already, and vice versa.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Mathematically, it’s like if I told you that I’m thinking of two secret numbers, and their product is 80. Can you guess what they are? Maybe 40 and 2? Or perhaps 371.8 and 0.2152? In our problem, we face a similar situation at every pixel,” says Aittala. “Almost any hidden video can be explained by a corresponding scramble, and vice versa. If we let the computer choose, it’ll just do the easy thing and give us a big pile of essentially random images that don’t look like anything.”&nbsp;</p> <p>With that in mind, the team focused on breaking the ambiguity by specifying algorithmically that they wanted a “scrambling” pattern that corresponds to plausible real-world shadowing and shading, to uncover the hidden video that looks like it has edges and objects that move coherently.&nbsp;</p> <p>The team also used the surprising fact that neural networks naturally prefer to express “image-like” content, even when they’ve never been trained to do so, which helped break the ambiguity. The algorithm trains two neural networks simultaneously, where they’re specialized for the one target video only, using ideas from a machine learning concept called <a href="">Deep Image Prior</a>. One network produces the scrambling pattern, and the other estimates the hidden video. The networks are rewarded when the combination of these two factors reproduce the video recorded from the clutter, driving them to explain the observations with plausible hidden data.</p> <p>To test the system, the team first piled up objects on one wall, and either projected a video or physically moved themselves on the opposite wall. From this, they were able to reconstruct videos where you could get a general sense of what motion was taking place in the hidden area of the room.</p> <p>In the future, the team hopes to improve the overall resolution of the system, and eventually test the technique in an uncontrolled environment.&nbsp;</p> <p>Aittala wrote a new paper on the technique alongside CSAIL PhD students Prafull Sharma, Lukas Murmann, and Adam Yedidia, with MIT professors Fredo Durand, Bill Freeman, and Gregory Wornell. They will present it next week at the Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems in Vancouver, British Columbia.&nbsp;</p> Based on shadows that an out-of-view video casts on nearby objects, MIT researchers can estimate the contents of the unseen video. In the top row, researchers used this method to recreate visual elements in an out-of-view video; the original elements are shown in the bottom row. Images courtesy of the researchers.Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Electrical engineering and computer science (EECS), School of Engineering, Research, Algorithms, Computer science and technology, Computer vision, Video games, Video, Disaster response, Film and Television Designing humanity’s future in space The Space Exploration Initiative’s latest research flight explores work and play in microgravity. Tue, 26 Nov 2019 15:20:01 -0500 Janine Liberty | MIT Media Lab <p>How will dancers perform in space? How will scientists do lab experiments without work tables? How will artists pursue crafting in microgravity? How can exercise, gastronomy, research, and other uniquely human endeavors be reimagined for the unique environment of space? These are the questions that drove the <a href="">14 projects</a> aboard the MIT Media Lab Space Exploration Initiative’s second parabolic research flight.</p> <p>Just past the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, humanity’s life in space isn’t so very far away. Virgin Galactic just opened its spaceport with the goal of launching space tourists into orbit within months, not years; Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket is gearing up to carry its first human cargo to the edge of space, with New Glenn and a moon mission not far behind. We are nearing a future where trained, professional astronauts aren’t the only people who will regularly leave Earth. The new Space Age will reach beyond the technical and scientific achievements of getting people into space and keeping them alive there; the next frontier is bringing our creativity, our values, our personal pursuits and hobbies with us, and letting them evolve into a new culture unique to off-planet life.&nbsp;</p> <p>But unlike the world of Star Trek, there’s no artificial gravity capability in sight. Any time spent in space will, for the foreseeable future, mean life without weight, and without the rules of gravity that govern every aspect of life on the ground. Through its annual parabolic flight charter with the ZERO-G Research Program, the Space Exploration Initiative (SEI) is actively anticipating and solving for the challenges of microgravity.</p> <p><strong>Space for everyone</strong></p> <p>SEI’s first zero-gravity flight, in 2017, set a high bar for the <a href="">caliber of the projects</a>, but it was also a learning experience in doing research in 20-second bursts of microgravity. In preparation for an annual research flight, SEI founder and lead Ariel Ekblaw organized MIT's first graduate course for parabolic flights (<a href="">Prototyping Our Sci-Fi Space Future: Zero Gravity Flight Class</a>) with the goal of preparing researchers for the realities of parabolic flights, from the rigors of the preflight test readiness review inspections to project hardware considerations and mid-flight adjustments.</p> <p>The class also served to take some of the intimidation factor out of the prospect of space research and focused on democratizing access to microgravity testbed environments.&nbsp;</p> <p>“The addition of the course helped us build bridges across other departments at MIT and take the time to document and open-source our mentorship process for robust, creative, and rigorous experiments,” says Ekblaw.</p> <p>SEI’s mission of democratizing access to space is broad: It extends to actively recruiting researchers, artists, and designers, whose work isn’t usually associated with space, as well as ensuring that the traditional engineering and hard sciences of space research are open to people of all genders, nationalities, and identities. This proactive openness was manifest in every aspect of this year’s microgravity flight.&nbsp;</p> <p>While incubated in the Media Lab, the Space Exploration Initiative now supports research across MIT. Paula do Vale Pereira, a grad student in MIT's Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AeroAsto), was on board to test out automated actuators for <a href="">CubeSats</a>. Tim McGrath and Jeremy Stroming, also from AeroAstro, built an <a href="">erg machine</a> specially designed for exercise in microgravity. Chris Carr and Maria Zuber, of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, flew to test out the latest iteration of their <a href="">Electronic Life-detection Instrument</a> (ELI) research.</p> <p>Research specialist Maggie Coblentz is pursuing her fascination with food in space — including the world’s first <a href="">molecular gastronomy experiment</a> in microgravity. She also custom-made an astronaut’s helmet specially designed to accommodate a multi-course tasting menu, allowing her to experiment with different textures and techniques to make both food and eating more enjoyable on long space flights.&nbsp;</p> <p>“The function of food is not simply to provide nourishment — it’s a key creature comfort in spaceflight and will play an even more significant role on long-duration space travel and future life in space habitats. I hope to uncover new food cultures and food preparation techniques by evoking the imagination and sense of play in space, Willy Wonka style,” says Coblentz.</p> <p>With <a href="">Sensory Synchrony</a>, a project supported by NASA's <span class="st">Translational Research Institute for Space Health</span>, Abhi Jain and fellow researchers in the Media Lab's Fluid Interfaces group investigated vestibular neuromodulation techniques for mitigating the effects of motion sickness caused by the sensory mismatch in microgravity. The team will iterate on the data from this flight to consider possibilities for novel experiences using augmented and virtual reality in microgravity environments.</p> <p>The Space Enabled research group is testing how paraffin wax behaves as a liquid in microgravity, exploring it as an affordable, accessible alternative satellite fuel. Their microgravity experiment, run by Juliet Wanyiri, aimed to determine the speed threshold, and corresponding voltage, needed for the wax to form into a shape called an annulus, which is one of the preferred geometric shapes to store satellite fuel. “This will help us understand what design might be appropriate to use wax as a satellite fuel for an on-orbit mission in the future,” explains Wanyiri.</p> <p>Xin Liu flew for the second time this year, with a new project that continues her explorations into the relationship between <a href="">couture</a>, <a href="">movement</a>, and self-expression when an artist is released from the constraints of gravity. This year’s project, <a href="">Mollastica</a>, is a mollusk-inspired costume designed to swell and float in microgravity. Liu also motion-captured a body performance to be rendered later for a “deep-sea-to-deep-space” video work.</p> <p><strong>The human experience</strong></p> <p>The extraordinary range of fields, goals, projects, and people represented on this year’s microgravity flight speaks to the unique role the Space Exploration Initiative is already starting to play in the future of space.&nbsp;</p> <p>For designer and researcher Alexis Hope, the flight offered the opportunity to discover how weightlessness affects the creative process — how it changes not only the art, but also the artist. Her project, <a href="">Space/Craft</a>, was an experiment in zero-g sculpture: exploring the artistic processes and possibilities enabled by microgravity by using a hot glue gun to "draw in 3D."</p> <p>Like all of the researchers aboard the flight, Hope found the experience both challenging and inspiring. Her key takeaway, she says, is excitement for all the unexplored possibilities of art, crafting, and creativity in space.</p> <p>“Humans always find a way to express themselves creatively, and I expect no different in a zero-gravity environment,” she says. “I’m excited for new materials that will behave in interesting ways in a zero-gravity environment, and curious about how those new materials might inspire future artists to create novel structures, forms, and physical expressions.”</p> <p>Ekblaw herself spent the flight testing out the latest iteration of <a href="">TESSERAE</a>, her self-assembling space architecture prototype. The research has matured extensively over the last year and a half, including a recent <a href="">suborbital test flight</a> with Blue Origin and an upcoming International Space Station mission to take place in early 2020.&nbsp;</p> <p>All of the research projects from this year’s flight — as well as some early results, the projects from the Blue Origin flight, and the early prototypes for the ISS mission — were on display at a recent SEI open house at the Media Lab.&nbsp;</p> <p>For Ekblaw, the great challenge and the great opportunity in these recurring research flights is helping researchers to keep their projects and goals realistic in the moment, while keeping SEI’s gaze firmly fixed on the future.&nbsp;</p> <p>“While parabolic flights are already a remarkable experience, this year was particularly meaningful for us. We had the immense privilege of finalizing our pre-flight testing over the exact days when Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Mike Collins were in microgravity on their way to the moon,” she says. “This 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 reminds us that the next 50 years of interplanetary civilization beckons. We are all now part of this — designing, building, and testing artifacts for our human, lived experience of space.”</p> <div></div> Chris Carr and Maria Zuber of the MIT Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences have a little fun while monitoring their life-detection data experiment in microgravity.Photo: Steve Boxall/ZERO-GMedia Lab, EAPS, School of Architecture and Planning, Space, astronomy and planetary science, Aeronautical and astronautical engineering, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, School of Science, School of Engineering, Arts, Technology and society, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences Six MIT faculty elected 2019 AAAS Fellows Baggeroer, Flynn, Harris, Klopfer, Lauffenburger, and Leonard are recognized for their efforts to advance science. Tue, 26 Nov 2019 11:00:00 -0500 MIT News Office <p>Six MIT faculty members have been elected as fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)<em>.</em></p> <p>The new fellows are among a group of 443 AAAS members elected by their peers in recognition of their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science. This year’s fellows will be honored at a ceremony on Feb. 15, at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Seattle.</p> <p><a href="">Arthur B. Baggeroer</a> is a professor of mechanical, ocean and electrical engineering, the Ford Professor of Engineering, Emeritus, and an international authority on underwater acoustics. Throughout his career he made significant advances to geophysical signal processing and sonar technology, in addition to serving as a long-time intellectual resource to the U.S. Navy.</p> <p><a href="">Suzanne Flynn</a> is a professor of linguistics and language acquisition, and a leading researcher on the acquisition of various aspects of syntax by children and adults in bilingual, second- and third-language contexts. She also works on the neural representation of the multilingual brain and issues related to language impairment, autism, and aging.&nbsp;Flynn is currently editor-in-chief and a co-founding editor of&nbsp;<em>Syntax: A Journal of Theoretical, Experimental and Interdisciplinary Research</em>. &nbsp;</p> <p><a href="">Wesley L. Harris&nbsp;</a>is the Charles Stark Draper Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and has served as MIT associate provost and head of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. His academic research program includes unsteady aerodynamics, aeroacoustics, rarefied gas dynamics, sustainment of capital assets, and chaos in sickle cell disease. Prior to coming to MIT, he was a NASA associate administrator, responsible for all programs, facilities, and personnel in aeronautics.</p> <p><a href="">Eric Klopfer</a> is a professor and head of the Comparative Media Studies/Writing program and the director of the Scheller Teacher Education Program and The Education Arcade at MIT. His interests range from the design and development of new technologies for learning to professional development and implementation in schools.&nbsp;Much of Klopfer’s research has focused on computer games and simulations for building understanding of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.</p> <p><a href="">Douglas Lauffenburger</a>, is the Ford Professor of Biological Engineering, Chemical Engineering, and Biology. He and his research group investigate the interface of bioengineering, quantitative cell biology, and systems biology. The lab’s main focus has been on fundamental aspects of cell dysregulation, complemented by translational efforts in identifying and testing new therapeutic ideas.</p> <p><a href="">John J. Leonard</a> is the&nbsp;Samuel C. Collins Professor of Mechanical and Ocean Engineering and a leading expert in navigation and mapping for autonomous mobile robots. His research focuses on long-term visual simultaneous localization and mapping in dynamic environments. In addition to underwater vehicles, Leonard has applied his pursuit of persistent autonomy to the development of self-driving cars.</p> <p>This year’s fellows will be formally announced in the AAAS News and Notes section of <em>Science</em> on Nov. 28.</p> From left to right, top to bottom: Suzanne Flynn, Wesley L. Harris, Eric Klopfer, Douglas A. Lauffenburger, John J. Leonard, Arthur B. BaggeroerFaculty, School of Engineering, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Mechanical engineering, Linguistics, Aeronautics and Astronautics, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Biological engineering, Awards, honors and fellowships MIT art installation aims to empower a more discerning public With “In Event of Moon Disaster,” the MIT Center for Advanced Virtuality aims to educate the public on deepfakes with an alternative history of the moon landing. Mon, 25 Nov 2019 11:30:01 -0500 Suzanne Day | MIT Open Learning <p>Videos doctored by artificial intelligence, culturally known as “deepfakes,” are being created and shared by the public at an alarming rate. Using advanced computer graphics and audio processing to realistically emulate speech and mannerisms, deepfakes have the power to distort reality, erode truth, and spread misinformation. In a troubling example, researchers around the world have sounded the alarm that they carry significant potential to influence American voters in the 2020 elections.&nbsp;</p> <p>While technology companies race to develop ways to detect and control deepfakes on social media platforms, and lawmakers search for ways to regulate them, a team of artists and computer scientists led by the MIT Center for Advanced Virtuality have designed an art installation to empower and educate the public on how to discern reality from deepfakes on their own.</p> <p>“Computer-based misinformation is a global challenge,” says Fox Harrell, professor of digital media and of artificial intelligence at MIT and director of the MIT Center for Advanced Virtuality. “We are galvanized to make a broad impact on the literacy of the public, and we are committed to using AI not for misinformation, but for truth. We are pleased to bring onboard people such as our new XR Creative Director Francesca Panetta to help further this mission.”</p> <p>Panetta is the director of “In Event of Moon Disaster,” along with co-director Halsey Burgund, a fellow in the MIT Open Documentary Lab. She says, “We hope that our work will spark critical awareness among the public. We want them to be alert to what is possible with today’s technology, to explore their own susceptibility, and to be ready to question what they see and hear as we enter a future fraught with challenges over the question of truth.”</p> <p>With “In Event of Moon Disaster,” which opened Friday at the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam, the team has reimagined the story of the moon landing. Installed in a 1960s-era living room, audiences are invited to sit on vintage furniture surrounded by three screens, including a vintage television set. The screens play an edited array of vintage footage from NASA, taking the audience on a journey from takeoff into space and to the moon. Then, on the center television, Richard Nixon reads a contingency speech written for him by his speech writer, Bill Safire, “in event of moon disaster” which he was to read if the Apollo 11 astronauts had not been able to return to Earth. In this installation, Richard Nixon reads this speech from the Oval Office.</p> <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> <p>To recreate this moving elegy that never happened, the team used deep learning techniques and the contributions of a voice actor to build the voice of Richard Nixon, producing a synthetic speech working with the Ukranian-based company Respeecher. They also worked with Israeli company Canny AI to use video dialogue replacement techniques to study and replicate the movement of Nixon’s mouth and lips, making it look as though he is reading this very speech from the Oval Office. The resulting video is highly believable, highlighting the possibilities of deepfake technology today.</p> <p>The researchers chose to create a deepfake of this historical moment for a number of reasons: Space is a widely loved topic, so potentially engaging to a wide audience; the piece is apolitical and less likely to alienate, unlike a lot of misinformation; and, as the 1969 moon landing is an event widely accepted by the general public to have taken place, the deepfake elements will be starkly obvious.&nbsp;</p> <p>Rounding out the educational experience, “In Event of Moon Disaster” transparently provides information regarding what is possible with today’s technology, and the goal of increasing public awareness and ability to identify misinformation in the form of deepfakes. This will be in the form of newspapers written especially for the exhibit which detail the making of the installation, how to spot a deepfake, and the most current work being done in algorithmic detection. Audience participants will be encouraged to take this away.</p> <p>"Our goal was to use the most advanced artificial intelligence techniques available today to create the most believable result possible — and then point to it and say, ‘This is fake; here’s how we did it; and here’s why we did it,’” says Burgund.</p> <p>While the physical installation opens in November 2019 in Amsterdam, the team is building a web-based version that is expected to go live in spring 2020.</p> "In Event of Moon Disaster" reimagines the story of the first moon landing as if the Apollo 11 astronauts had not been able to return to Earth. It was created to highlight the concern about computer-based misinformation, or "deepfakes."Photo: Chris BoebelOffice of Open Learning, Augmented and virtual reality, Machine learning, Artificial intelligence, History, Space exploration, Film and Television, Arts, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Comparative Media Studies/Writing, NASA, Computer science and technology, Technology and society, History of science, School of Engineering, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences “From Controversy to Cure” documentary chronicles the biotech boom in Cambridge, Massachusetts Film looks at how Kendall Square became a beacon for industries working on treatments for diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes. Wed, 20 Nov 2019 15:20:01 -0500 MIT Video Productions <p>Kendall Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is home to the greatest concentration of biotechnology companies in the world. Once a salt marsh on the Charles River, the now-bustling enclave surrounding&nbsp;the MIT campus has evolved from a desolate wasteland of empty parking lots and crumbling warehouses in the 1970s to a&nbsp;vibrant&nbsp;ecosystem of innovation: the beating heart of the nation’s biotechnology industry today.</p> <p>But how did this urban rags-to-riches tale begin? How did one of Cambridge’s&nbsp;least-appealing&nbsp;areas — one locals avoided after dark for decades — become a beacon for titans of industry and innovative startups working on treatments for devastating diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes?</p> <p>“<a href=";">From Controversy to Cure: Inside the Cambridge Biotech Boom</a>”<em>&nbsp;</em>is a new documentary film by MIT Video Productions premiering this week with <a href=";mc_cid=857654e78d&amp;mc_eid=83c48734c1&amp;mc_cid=217d9c00f3&amp;mc_eid=60c3735fed">showings</a> at MIT. It tells the story of the long, largely unplanned, and often haphazard series of events in Cambridge and beyond that ignited a “bio boom” in&nbsp;the greater&nbsp;Boston&nbsp;region.</p> <p>“This isn’t just about Kendall Square: It is a story of how, in a very unusual community, scientific breakthroughs were translated into societal benefits ... the treatment and control of disease,” says MIT Institute Professor Phillip Sharp, whose pioneering research on split genes earned him a Nobel Prize in 1993.</p> <p>In 1978, Sharp and Harvard University biochemist Wally Gilbert founded Biogen, a company using the new field of recombinant DNA to develop treatments for diseases that include leukemia and multiple sclerosis. The company became the cornerstone on which biotech was built in Kendall Square, but that growth took time — and community input.&nbsp;</p> <p>“It was important that this community was supportive of the science and the universities,” says Sharp, adding that the unprecedented research taking place in molecular biology during the 1970s made many in Cambridge uncomfortable.</p> <p>In the film, he sheds light on the June 1977&nbsp;Cambridge City Council hearings to discuss DNA experimentation, which led to the city council’s decision to regulate the industry. Sharp recalls Mayor Alfred Vellucci’s special hearing to grill scientists from MIT and Harvard about potential risks of genetic engineering.</p> <p>“Our response to Mayor Vellucci wasn’t [Sturm und Drang] ... it was, let’s work with him. We have nothing to hide, but we think this science is very important. We thought, let’s work with the city and convince them that we are working in a prudent, transparent way. That ultimately brought us to a place where the community accepted this technology and biotech.”</p> <p>Those tense hearings, along with other scenes of Kendall Square’s transformation, are brought to life in the MIT film through well-preserved archival&nbsp;footage. The MIT Video Productions team dusted off hours of archived video clips to take its audience back in time so that it, too, could witness the transformation of&nbsp;an urban district&nbsp;and an industry.</p> <p>This ambitious project, two years in the making, was initiated by Larry Gallagher, the film’s executive producer and former senior director of&nbsp;MIT Video Productions.&nbsp;“We had recently completed a series of documentaries in support of the MIT2016 celebration and we were looking for other opportunities to produce content of historical importance. Kendall Square was booming and we knew there was a rich and fascinating story about how it all came to be,”&nbsp;Gallagher says. “For several years, we had been applying a generous gift by Neil and Jane Pappalardo to produce content that highlights the excellence of MIT, in all its forms. In this case, Ann and Phil Sharp joined the Pappalardos in funding the most significant documentary we have had the good fortune to produce.” &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The film’s director, Joe McMaster, a former television producer at WGBH’s Nova, says advances in science and technology were only part of this story.&nbsp;“Even the story of the land here in Cambridge is crucial: People probably don’t realize that this area was once cleared to make way for a branch of NASA to come and conduct electronics research for the space race, a project that went away. So many unexpected factors contributed to the introduction of biotech. It’s easy to tell a story of A led to B led to C ... but that was not the case here: It’s a much more complicated, and therefore interesting, story.”</p> <p>The MVP team conducted more than 40 interviews during the documentary process, and the film includes a range of voices, from biotech executives to industry newcomers. Future plans include an archive to comprise all that footage, plus the film itself, a resource that Gallagher hopes will inspire Kendall Square’s next generation of innovators.</p> <p>Among those interviewed is Susan Whitehead, vice chair and life board member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, who told the story of her father Jack Whitehead’s $150 million contribution to the institute. She credits the film with shining a light on biotech’s early innovators and investors. “Biotech is slow tech,” Whitehead explains. “And slow tech found a hospitable environment here. Twenty-five years ago, Kendall Square had no Novartis or Pfizer or Bristol-Myers Squibb — but there was an appetite for research plus the patience to nurture it — and industry has followed.”</p> <p>“People are interested in the history of societies,” says Sharp. “Here is a major fundamental advance in our science and how our society solves problems. It’s fortunate that in this day and age, with media and people living longer, that this video has been able to capture that moment — to show how science had to move through a series of events to create new ways of solving problems.”</p> "From Controversy to Cure: Inside the Cambridge Biotech Boom" documents how science, engineering, politics, the space race, and urban renewal transformed a desolate Kendall Square into the biotechnology hub we recognize today. At left is the undeveloped plot that is now home to Draper Laboratory, as seen from what is now Galileo Way, looking west, with 400 Technology Square at far left.Images courtesy of MIT Video ProductionsWhitehead Institute, MIT Museum, Koch Institute, Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES), Technology Licensing Office, Technology and society, Broad Institute, Office of Open Learning, History of MIT, Kendall Square, Bioengineering and biotechnology, Cambridge, Boston and region, Film and Television, Biotechnology Investigating the power of group think Political science doctoral student Clara Vandeweerdt studies how identity shapes beliefs on complex political topics such as climate change. Thu, 07 Nov 2019 15:10:01 -0500 Leda Zimmerman | MIT Political Science <p>While many people might find it difficult, if not downright distasteful, to dive into 1.5 million hours of partisan talk radio, <a href="">Clara Vandeweerdt</a> found it thrilling.</p> <p>“Honestly, it’s been one of the most fun things I've had to do in my PhD career,” says Vandeweerdt, a native of Belgium who is in her final year of doctoral studies in political science. “Hearing two points of view on different issues, I’ve gotten to know a side of the U.S. I was unfamiliar with, and it’s been really interesting.”</p> <p>Vandeweerdt has been analyzing more than a year's worth of talk radio as part of a research agenda focused on political behavior and the various forces that might shape it. Her doctoral research depends on novel data sets and quantitative methods to investigate the impact of social identity and affiliation on political beliefs.</p> <p>“I am broadly interested in the connection between social groups and identity, and politics,” she says. “Specifically, I want to understand how people use their identities and social groups as shortcuts to arrive at conclusions about complicated political topics, like climate change.”</p> <p><strong>Talk radio divides us</strong></p> <p>Real-world events can strongly shape discussion of political topics. But Vandeweerdt wants to understand if and how these events might shift thinking in arenas where ideology has already gripped political thought (think polarizing subjects such as climate change, mass shootings, and immigration). To pursue these questions, Vandeweerdt decided to analyze talk radio — both conservative and liberal media sources — before and after newsworthy events. It was a project she credits to the unexpected emergence “of a really exciting dataset.”</p> <p>Her singular trove came courtesy of the MIT Media Lab, whose <a class="external" href="" target="_blank">Laboratory for Social Machines</a> generated the RadioTalk corpus — 2.8 billion words of talk radio speech transcripts, generated by natural language algorithms, from October 2018-March 2019. This corpus, containing metadata with geographical location and radio program information, provided Vandeweerdt with the means to interrogate how big news changes media discussion.</p> <p>Examining word content of 120,000 radio show episodes from 150 U.S. radio stations, Vandeweerdt first determined the shows’ ideological bias. Then, with the help of human coders, she identified speech fragments containing political topics. She searched for major events, seeking to measure the change in quantity of talk on these topics before and after the events. And finally, she analyzed the talk on either side of these events to determine whether there had been any shift in political framing (ideological bias).</p> <p>With a specific concern for climate change, Vandeweerdt zeroed in on hurricanes as a major news event. Her analysis found “a huge spike in the number of times climate change was mentioned after a hurricane on both conservative and liberal radio shows,” she says. “Unlike many attempts to detect the effect of a real-world event on people's opinions, where you have to fight to make the statistical case, this spike jumped out, with a two-to three-factor increase in the number of times the topic was mentioned.”</p> <p>Her second finding demonstrated that there was no change in the political framing of the discussion. “Liberal shows remained concerned about climate change, and conservative radio shows remained skeptical, assuring listeners that hurricanes were not a sign of climate change.”</p> <p>She found a similar rigidity in framing in regard to mass shootings and gun policy, and family separations and immigration policy. Vandeweerdt hopes to delve further into this hard ideological divide, with a follow-up project that examines whether talk radio listeners can shift opinions when exposed to partisan talk that supports or erodes their initial beliefs.</p> <p><strong>Immovable beliefs</strong></p> <p>Other research projects Vandeweerdt is pursuing bolster the idea that Americans are not just deeply divided, but dug in. Working with subjects representing 10 different social identity groups (e.g., women, men, African-American, Latinx, LGBTQ), she tested the degree to which information on the impact of certain issues on these groups might drive individuals’ political concerns.</p> <p>One of her studies showed that even when group members learned that a specific problem powerfully affected their group, their attitude toward political policy related to the problem did not change. For instance, LGBTQ respondents did not change their views about unemployment policy after learning that unemployment was a much greater challenge for LGBTQ group members than for others.</p> <p>“I found surprising and convincing evidence that these interest cues have very small effects, at most," Vandeweerdt says. “People seem to use group identity to cue them about the right opinion on a topic, but often that opinion does not line up with the material interest of the group.”</p> <p><strong>Teaching to change minds</strong></p> <p>Vandeweerdt hopes to harness her twin interests in human and political behavior to effect real change in the world. “People don’t seem cognitively equipped to make decisions about problems like climate change because they are so much bigger than life and hard to relate to,” she says. “My career plan is to use the precise methods of political science to find ways to change people's minds, and convince them to make sure that their opinions are lined up with their values.”</p> <p>She also views teaching as another means to this end. “Shaping people’s minds, where you can really see the results, is by far the most impactful thing I do,” says Vandeweerdt, who has served as a lecturer and teaching assistant in MIT courses on quantitative methods and public policy, and is currently lecturing at the University of Copenhagen on political behavior and public opinion.</p> <p>While her research offers fresh perspectives on political discourse and belief in the United States, Vandeweerdt has sometimes found it hard to take the relentless noise and anger in current American politics. So in the midst of analyzing data and writing her dissertation, she found a novel refuge from partisan babble. “One of the things I did to switch it off for a while was improv comedy, which I did with a friend,” she says. The duo’s name: <a class="external" href="" target="_blank">Belgian Waffles</a>.</p> MIT political science PhD candidate Clara VandeweerdtPhoto courtesy of Clara VandeweerdtPolitical science, Media Lab, Research, Behavior, Media, Students, Graduate, postdoctoral, Social sciences, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, School of Architecture and Planning, Politics, Science communications 3 Questions: Alan Lightman’s new novel about Cambodia and family MIT writer’s new work, “Three Flames,” explores the fractures and bonds among kin in a rebuilding society. Mon, 14 Oct 2019 23:59:59 -0400 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p><em>MIT’s Alan Lightman is a physicist who made a leap to becoming a writer — one with an unusually broad range of interests. In his novels, nonfiction books, and essays, Lightman, a professor of the practice of the humanities at MIT, has explored many topics, from science to society. His new novel, “Three Flames,” recently published by Counterpoint Press, follows the fortunes of a family in post-civil war Cambodia. It’s a topic Lightman knows well: He is the founder the Harpswell Foundation, which works to empower a new generation of female leaders in Cambodia and across Southeast Asia. Lightman recently talked to </em>MIT News<em> about “Three Flames.” </em></p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> What are the origins of ‘Three Flames”?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> I’ve been working in Cambodia for 15 years, and I’ve spent a lot of time there, and I’ve heard a lot of stories of families, particularly [about] the residue of the Khmer Rouge genocide in the mid-1970s. Just about anybody you meet in Cambodia today has a relative who was killed or starved or tortured over that period of time. So it’s affected everybody in the entire country. And I have been very interested in how a country can recover its humanity after that kind of devastation, when family members were turned against each other. The Khmer Rouge soldiers rounded up anybody that they had the slightest suspicion about, and encouraged families to turn in anybody that they had any suspicion about. It disrupted families and led to an every-person-for-themselves mentality, which still hasn’t disappeared.</p> <p>In the face of all that destruction and moral degradation, I also heard stories of courage and resilience and forgiveness. After many years, I thought I was beginning to understand the culture enough to begin writing stories about it. But I waited 10 years before I started writing anything. You have to understand a culture much more deeply to write fiction about it than to write nonfiction, because fiction involves small daily mannerisms, which you have to get right. And you don’t pick that up from a couple of trips.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> There are many connected stories in this novel, and many distinctive characters. What is the main theme, and how did you weave that in throughout different parts of the book?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> The overriding story is the struggle that women have in a male-dominated society. And that, of course, is true not only in Cambodia but in many countries, even the U.S. Almost every chapter of the book has that struggle in it. … A number of the [other] themes in the book are universal. I hope the themes of redemption, and forgiveness, and revenge, and women’s struggles will go beyond Cambodia.</p> <p>Five years ago, I wrote the first chapter of the book, about the mother, Ryna. When I wrote that, it was a stand-alone short story [published in the journal <em>Daily Lit</em>, and as an Amazon Kindle single]. In that story, I mention other members of the family. One daughter is married off to a rubber merchant; another one went to Phnom Penh to work to pay off a family debt; the son is kind of a ne’er-do-well; the father is very ignorant, sexist, and condescending. About a year after writing the first story, I began wondering about the other family members. Once you write a character in fiction, they come to life and stay in your head. And so I decided I would write a story about each member of the family. Of course, I had to interweave all the stories, as they involve the same family.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> How did you then assemble those elements into a cohesive story? It must have been fairly complicated to place these parts of the story into a larger narrative. &nbsp;</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> After I had written the book, I decided to place the stories in the order where they would have the most dramatic impact. For the story about Pich, the father, I wanted to wait until that character had been developed to show how he became the person he is, because none of us are all good or bad. The story about Nita [a daughter of Pich], I wanted to save until the later part of the book because it’s such a shocking story. The story about Srepov has to come last, because she’s the only hope for the future. The date of each story is when the most dramatic action happened to each character, the most influential [moment] in shaping who they are.</p> <p>[In books], there are two times that are important. There’s chronological time, and then the time of readerly experience. Taking the Pich story as an example, in my view as a writer it’s more powerful to first see Pich as he is today, an unsympathetic, dictatorial, cruel father, and to even grow to hate him. Then, only later in the book, we see him in childhood and see the forces that shaped him as he is. To save the childhood portrait for later, that’s a more powerful experience for the reader.</p> Alan Lightman and his new novel, “Three Flames.”Image: Greg Peverill-ContiSchool of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Faculty, Books and authors, Asia, History Game changer: How Christopher Weaver helped to transform video games and game studies at MIT Revolutionizing video games with physics, Weaver has also influenced MIT students with lessons on design, virtual reality, storytelling, and games for social change. Wed, 25 Sep 2019 13:40:01 -0400 Comparative Media Studies/Writing <p>In the mid-1980s, an electrical engineer and avid sports fan named Ed Fletcher approached his boss with a simple question: The communications consultancy firm Fletcher worked for had just acquired a <a href="">Commodore Amiga</a> computer. Could he use it to build a football-themed video game? Christopher Weaver SM ’85, the company’s founder and president, had a background in physics, mechanical engineering, and computer science but had spent most of his professional life in broadcast television. He had never played a sports video game before, but he agreed, and months later saw Fletcher’s work.</p> <p>“It was really very boring. He put in the same inputs and got the same outputs,” Weaver explains. “I said, look, let’s build a <a href="">physics engine</a> bounded by the rules of football and see what it looks like. It will be a hell of a lot more dynamic.”</p> <p>The result was <a href="">Gridiron!</a>, the first sports game to incorporate real physics into gameplay. While the game’s graphics were primitive, Gridiron!’s pixelated players were modeled off of statistics from real-life football stars, giving players different masses and accelerations. Players with larger masses could block and break tackles, but speedier players could beeline to the end zone, adding a never-before-seen layer of reality-based strategy to sports simulators. Weaver formed <a href="">Bethesda Softworks</a>, released Gridiron! as the company’s first title in 1986, and watched as the game captured attention from football and video game fans as well as Electronic Arts, then a goliath game company that hired Weaver’s team and used Gridiron!’s engine as the basis for the original Madden game series. Suddenly, Weaver was a game pioneer entirely by accident.</p> <p>“Sometimes not having a lot of knowledge about an area can be a good very useful thing,” he says. “It forces you to look at it with untutored or naive eyes.”</p> <p>After more than 30 years in the game industry, Weaver still tries to approach the field from new angles, and he encourages his MIT students to do the same. A longtime research scientist and lecturer in MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program (now Comparative Media Studies/Writing), Weaver spent nearly two decades at Bethesda, overseeing seminal titles including the massively popular Elder Scrolls role-playing game series, before co-founding the multimedia development company <a href="">ZeniMax Media</a>. Weaver returned to his alma mater in 1998 to teach courses in game theory and development, as well as media systems.</p> <p>Weaver’s work, both as an instructor and in bolstering MIT’s game studies curriculum, has rippled through the industry. Started informally in the late 1990s by Henry Jenkins and William Uricchio, the flexible curriculum originally centered largely on game design and research. Weaver brought a much-needed industry perspective and as game engines like Unity and Flash enabled small teams to make interesting projects, he began to teach an always-popular game industry course. Since its inception, the MIT games curriculum has transformed to include both game studies and design courses as well as coursework in virtual reality, data storytelling, and games for social change.</p> <p>Doris C. Rusch, a game designer and founder of the Play for Change lab at DePaul University, connected with Weaver after taking his class in 2006.</p> <p>In that class, “I learned that all my lofty, artsy ambitions, they have to measure up to reality,” Rusch said in a CMS/W interview. “If the game is not entertaining, then nobody’s going to care about all of the positive stuff you’re trying to put into it. It’s about keeping that engagement and the game play front and center.”</p> <p>Troy Ko, who graduated from the MIT Sloan School of Management in 2011, recalls Weaver challenging existing paradigms.</p> <p>“When you meet him, just be prepared to think critically,” Ko says. “Be prepared to come in with an open mind, because he’s going to just introduce all of these ideas and try to push you and nudge you in different directions to really question the norm and how things are done.”</p> <p>Today, Weaver splits his time between teaching in Comparative Media Studies/Writing — he has long taught <a href="">CMS.610 Media Industries and Systems: The Art, Science and Business of Games</a> — and the MIT Microphotonics Center. He also teaches STEM development at Wesleyan University and co-directs the <a href="">Videogame Pioneers Initiative</a> in the Lemelson Center for the Study of Innovation and Invention at the National Museum of American History. His goal is to broaden the reach of games and help students understand how to apply the power of game tools to break ground in areas ranging from education to medicine to senior care.</p> <p>“There’s a lot of research now that is demonstrating that if you want to teach, simulate, or train, if you’re capable of using some of these tools, you’ll have a much higher success ratio than standard methodology that’s been developed during the Industrial Revolution,” Weaver says. “We have a whole 21st century to bring students into.”</p> Christopher Weaver, research scientist and lecturer at MIT Comparative Media Studies/WritingImage courtesy of Christopher WeaverComparative Media Studies/Writing, Staff, Video games, Mechanical engineering, Technology and society, Industry, Alumni/ae, Startups, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Physics, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, School of Engineering, Sloan School of Management, DMSE, Microphotonics Center Computing and artificial intelligence: Humanistic perspectives from MIT How the humanities, arts, and social science fields can help shape the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing — and benefit from advanced computing. Tue, 24 Sep 2019 00:00:00 -0400 School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences <p><em>The MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing </em><em>(SCC) </em><em>will reorient the Institute to bring the power of computing and artificial intelligence to all fields at MIT, and to allow the future of computing and AI to be shaped by all MIT disciplines.</em></p> <p><em>To support ongoing planning for the new college, Dean Melissa Nobles invited faculty from all 14 of MIT’s humanistic disciplines in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences to respond to two questions:&nbsp;&nbsp; </em></p> <p><em>1) What domain knowledge, perspectives, and methods from your field should be integrated into the new MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, and why? </em><br /> <br /> <em>2) What are some of the meaningful opportunities that advanced computing makes possible in your field?&nbsp; </em></p> <p><em>As Nobles says in her foreword to the series, “Together, the following responses to these two questions offer something of a guidebook to the myriad, productive ways that technical, humanistic, and scientific fields can join forces at MIT, and elsewhere, to further human and planetary well-being.” </em></p> <p><em>The following excerpts highlight faculty responses, with links to full commentaries. The excerpts are sequenced by fields in the following order: the humanities, arts, and social sciences. </em></p> <p><strong>Foreword by Melissa Nobles, professor of political science and the Kenan Sahin Dean of the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences </strong></p> <p>“The advent of artificial intelligence presents our species with an historic opportunity — disguised as an existential challenge: Can we stay human in the age of AI?&nbsp; In fact, can we grow in humanity, can we shape a more humane, more just, and sustainable world? With a sense of promise and urgency, we are embarked at MIT on an accelerated effort to more fully integrate the technical and humanistic forms of discovery in our curriculum and research, and in our habits of mind and action.” <a href="" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Comparative Media Studies: William Uricchio, professor of comparative media studies</strong></p> <p>“Given our research and practice focus, the CMS perspective can be key for understanding the implications of computation for knowledge and representation, as well as computation’s relationship to the critical process of how knowledge works in culture — the way it is formed, shared, and validated.”</p> <p>Recommended action: “Bring media and computer scholars together to explore issues that require both areas of expertise: text-generating algorithms (that force us to ask what it means to be human); the nature of computational gatekeepers (that compels us to reflect on implicit cultural priorities); and personalized filters and texts (that require us to consider the shape of our own biases).” <a href="" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Global Languages: Emma J. Teng, the T.T. and Wei Fong Chao Professor of Asian Civilizations</strong></p> <p>“Language and culture learning are gateways to international experiences and an important means to develop cross-cultural understanding and sensitivity. Such understanding is essential to addressing the social and ethical implications of the expanding array of technology affecting everyday life across the globe.”</p> <p>Recommended action: “We aim to create a 21st-century language center to provide a convening space for cross-cultural communication, collaboration, action research, and global classrooms. We also plan to keep the intimate size and human experience of MIT’s language classes, which only increase in value as technology saturates the world.” <a href="" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>History: Jeffrey Ravel, professor of history and head of MIT History </strong></p> <p>“Emerging innovations in computational methods will continue to improve our access to the past and the tools through which we interpret evidence. But the field of history will continue to be served by older methods of scholarship as well; critical thinking by human beings is fundamental to our endeavors in the humanities.”</p> <p>Recommended action: “Call on the nuanced debates in which historians engage about causality to provide a useful frame of reference for considering the issues that will inevitably emerge from new computing technologies. This methodology of the history field is a powerful way to help imagine our way out of today’s existential threats.” <a href="" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Linguistics: Faculty of MIT Linguistics</strong></p> <p>“Perhaps the most obvious opportunities for computational and linguistics research concern the interrelation between specific hypotheses about the formal properties of language and their computational implementation in the form of systems that learn, parse, and produce human language.”</p> <p>Recommended action: “Critically, transformative new tools have come from researchers at institutions where linguists work side-by-side with computational researchers who are able to translate back and forth between computational properties of linguistic grammars and of other systems.” <a href="" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Literature: Shankar Raman, with Mary C. Fuller, professors of literature</strong></p> <p>“In the age of AI, we could invent new tools for reading. Making the expert reading skills we teach MIT students even partially available to readers outside the academy would widen access to our materials in profound ways.”</p> <p>Recommended action: At least three priorities of current literary engagement with the digital should be integrated into the SCC’s research and curriculum: democratization of knowledge; new modes of and possibilities for knowledge production; and critical analysis of the social conditions governing what can be known and who can know it.” <a href="" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Philosophy: Alex Byrne, professor of philosophy and head of MIT Philosophy; and Tamar Schapiro, associate professor of philosophy</strong></p> <p>“Computing and AI pose many ethical problems related to: privacy (e.g., data systems design), discrimination (e.g., bias in machine learning), policing (e.g., surveillance), democracy (e.g., the&nbsp;Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal), remote warfare, intellectual property, political regulation, and corporate responsibility.”</p> <p>Recommended action: “The SCC presents an opportunity for MIT to be an intellectual leader in the ethics of technology. The ethics lab we propose could turn this opportunity into reality.” <a href="" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Science, Technology, and Society: Eden Medina and Dwaipayan Banerjee, associate professors of science, technology, and society</strong></p> <p>“A more global view of computing would demonstrate a broader range of possibilities than one centered on the American experience, while also illuminating how computer systems can reflect and respond to different needs and systems. Such experiences can prove generative for thinking about the future of computing writ large.”</p> <p>Recommended action: “Adopt a global approach to the research and teaching in the SCC, an approach that views the U.S. experience as one among many.” <a href="" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Women's and Gender Studies: Ruth Perry, the Ann Friedlaender Professor of Literature; with Sally Haslanger, the Ford Professor of Philosophy, and Elizabeth Wood, professor of history</strong></p> <p>“The SCC presents MIT with a unique opportunity to take a leadership role in addressing some of most pressing challenges that have emerged from the role computing technologies play in our society — including how these technologies are reinforcing social inequalities.”</p> <p>Recommended action: “Ensure that women’s voices are heard and that coursework and research is designed with a keen awareness of the difference that gender makes. This is the single-most powerful way that MIT can address the inequities in the computing fields.” <a href="" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Writing: Tom Levenson, professor of science writing </strong></p> <p>“Computation and its applications in fields that directly affect society cannot be an unexamined good. Professional science and technology writers are a crucial resource for the mission of new college of computing, and they need to be embedded within its research apparatus.”</p> <p>Recommended action: “Intertwine writing and the ideas in coursework to provide conceptual depth that purely technical mastery cannot offer.” <a href="" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Music: Eran Egozy, professor of the practice in music technology</strong></p> <p>“Creating tomorrow’s music systems responsibly will require a truly multidisciplinary education, one that covers everything from scientific models and engineering challenges to artistic practice and societal implications. The new music technology will be accompanied by difficult questions. Who owns the output of generative music algorithms that are trained on human compositions? How do we ensure that music, an art form intrinsic to all humans, does not become controlled by only a few?”</p> <p>Recommended action: Through the SCC, our responsibility will be not only to develop the new technologies of music creation, distribution, and interaction, but also to study their cultural implications and define the parameters of a harmonious outcome for all.” <a href="" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Theater Arts: Sara Brown, assistant professor of theater arts and MIT Theater Arts director of design</strong></p> <p>“As a subject, AI problematizes what is means to be human. There are an unending series of questions posed by the presence of an intelligent machine. The theater, as a synthetic art form that values and exploits liveness, is an ideal place to explore the complex and layered problems posed by AI and advanced computing.”</p> <p>Recommended action: “There are myriad opportunities for advanced computing to be integrated into theater, both as a tool and as a subject of exploration. As a tool, advanced computing can be used to develop performance systems that respond directly to a live performer in real time, or to integrate virtual reality as a previsualization tool for designers.” <a href="" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Anthropology: Heather Paxson, the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Anthropology</strong></p> <p>“The methods used in anthropology —&nbsp;a field that systematically studies human cultural beliefs and practices — are uniquely suited to studying the effects of automation and digital technologies in social life. For anthropologists, ‘Can artificial intelligence be ethical?’ is an empirical, not a hypothetical, question. Ethical for what? To whom? Under what circumstances?”</p> <p>Recommended action: “Incorporate anthropological thinking into the new college to prepare students to live and work effectively and responsibly in a world of technological, demographic, and cultural exchanges. We envision an ethnography lab that will provide digital and computing tools tailored to anthropological research and projects.” <a href="" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Economics: Nancy L. Rose, the Charles P. Kindleberger Professor of Applied Economics and head of the Department of Economics; and David Autor, the Ford Professor of Economics and co-director of the MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future</strong></p> <p>“The intellectual affinity between economics and computer science traces back almost a century, to the founding of game theory in 1928. Today, the practical synergies between economics and computer science are flourishing. We outline some of the many opportunities for the two disciplines to engage more deeply through the new SCC.”</p> <p>Recommended action: “Research that engages the tools and expertise of economics on matters of fairness, expertise, and cognitive biases in machine-supported and machine-delegated decision-making; and on market design, industrial organization, and the future of work. Scholarship at the intersection of data science, econometrics, and causal inference. Cultivate depth in network science, algorithmic game theory and mechanism design, and online learning. Develop tools for rapid, cost-effective, and ongoing education and retraining for workers.” <a href="" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Political Science: Faculty of the Department of Political Science</strong></p> <p>“The advance of computation gives rise to a number of conceptual and normative questions that are political, rather than ethical in character. Political science and theory have a significant role in addressing such questions as: How do major players in the technology sector seek to legitimate their authority to make decisions that affect us all? And where should that authority actually reside in a democratic polity?”</p> <p>Recommended action: “Incorporate the research and perspectives of political science in SCC research and education to help ensure that computational research is socially aware, especially with issues involving governing institutions, the relations between nations, and human rights.” <a href="" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><span style="font-size:11px;"><em>Series prepared by SHASS Communications<br /> Series Editor and Designer: Emily Hiestand<br /> Series Co-Editor: Kathryn O’Neill</em></span></p> Image: Christine Daniloff, MITEducation, teaching, academics, Humanities, Arts, Social sciences, Computer science and technology, Artificial intelligence, Technology and society, MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, Anthropology, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Economics, Global Studies and Languages, History, Linguistics, Literature, Music, Philosophy, Political science, Program in STS, Theater, Music and theater arts, Women's and Gender Studies How “information gerrymandering” influences voters Study analyzes how networks can distort voters’ perceptions and change election results. Wed, 04 Sep 2019 13:00:00 -0400 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p>Many voters today seem to live in partisan bubbles, where they receive only partial information about how others feel regarding political issues. Now, an experiment developed in part by MIT researchers sheds light on how this phenomenon influences people when they vote.</p> <p>The experiment, which placed participants in simulated elections, found not only that communication networks (such as social media) can distort voters’ perceptions of how others plan to vote, but also that this distortion can increase the chance of electoral deadlock or bias overall election outcomes in favor of one party.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“The structure of information networks can really fundamentally influence the outcomes of elections,” says David Rand, an associate professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and a co-author of a new paper detailing the study. “It can make a big difference and is an issue people should be taking seriously.”</p> <p>More specifically, the study found that “information gerrymandering” can bias the outcome of a vote, such that one party wins up to 60 percent of the time in simulated elections of two-party situations where the opposing groups are equally popular. In a follow-up empirical study of the U.S. federal government and eight European legislative bodies, the researchers also identified actual information networks that show similar patterns, with structures that could skew over 10 percent of the vote in the study’s experiments.</p> <p>The paper, “Information gerrymandering and undemocratic decisions,” is being published today in&nbsp;<em>Nature</em>.</p> <p>The authors are Alexander J. Stewart of the University of Houston; Mohsen Mosleh, a research scientist at MIT Sloan; Marina Diakonova of the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University; Antonio Arechar, an associate research scientist at MIT Sloan and a researcher at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE) in Aguascalientes, Mexico; Rand, who is also the principal investigator for MIT Sloan’s Human Cooperation Lab; and Joshua B. Plotkin of the University of Pennsylvania. Stewart is the lead author.</p> <p><strong>Formal knowledge</strong></p> <p>While there is a burgeoning academic literature on media preferences, political ideology, and voter choices, the current study is an effort to create general models of the fundamental influence that information networks can have. Through abstract mathematical models and experiments, the researchers can analyze how strongly networks can influence voter behavior, even when long-established layers of voter identity and ideology are removed from the political arena.</p> <p>“Part of the contribution here is to try to formalize how information about politics flows through social networks, and how that can influence voters’ decisions,” says Stewart.</p> <p>The study used experiments involving 2,520 particpants, who played a “voter game” in one of a variety of conditions. (The participants were recruited via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform and took part in the simulated elections via Breadboard, a platform generating multiplayer network interactions.) The players were divided into two teams, a “yellow” team and a “purple” team, usually with 24 people on each side, and were allowed to change their voting intentions in response to continuously updated polling data.</p> <p>The participants also had incentives to try to produce certain vote outcomes reflective of what the authors call a “compromise worldview.” For instance, players would receive a (modest) payoff if their team received a super-majority vote share; a smaller payoff if the other team earned a super-majority; and zero payoff if neither team reached that threshold. The election games usually lasted four minutes, during which time each voter had to decide how to vote.</p> <p>In general, voters almost always voted for their own party when the polling data showed it had a chance of reaching a super-majority share. They also voted for their own side when the polling data showed a deadlock was likely. But when the opposing party was likely to achieve a super-majority, half the players would vote for it, and half would continue to vote for their own side.</p> <p>During a baseline series of election games where all the players had unbiased, random polling information, each side won roughly a quarter of the time, and a deadlock without a super-majority resulted about half the time. But the researchers also varied the game in multiple ways. In one iteration of the game, they added information gerrymandering to the polls, such that some members of one team were placed inside the other team’s echo chamber. In another iteration, the research team deployed online bots, comprising about 20 percent of voters, to behave like “zealots,” as the scholars called them; the bots would strongly support one side only.</p> <p>After months of iterations of the game, the researchers concluded that election outcomes could be heavily biased by the ways in which the polling information was distributed over the networks, and by the actions of the zealot bots. When members of one party were led to believe that most others were voting for the other party, they often switched their votes to avoid deadlock.</p> <p>“The network experiments are important, because they allow us to test the predictions of the mathematical models,” says Mosleh, who led the experimental portion of the research “When we added echo chambers, we saw that deadlock happened much more often — and, more importantly, we saw that information gerrymandering biased the election results in favor of one party over the other.”</p> <p><strong>The empirical case</strong></p> <p>As part of the larger project, the team also sought out some empirical information about similar scenarios among elected governments. There are many instances where elected officials might either support their first-choice legislation, settle for a cross-partisan compromise, or remain in deadlock. In those cases, having unbiased information about the voting intentions of other legislators would seem to be very important.</p> <p>Looking at the co-sponsorship of bills in the U.S. Congress from 1973 to 2007, the researchers found that the Democratic Party had greater “influence assortment” — more exposure to the voting intentions of people in their own party — than the Republican Party of the same time. However, after Republicans gained control of Congress in 1994, their own influence assortment became equivalent to that of the Democrats, as part of a highly polarized pair of legislative influence networks. The researchers found similar levels of polarization in the influence networks of six out of the eight European parliaments they evaluated, generally during the last decade.</p> <p>Rand says he hopes the current study will help generate additional research by other scholars who want to keep exploring these dynamics empirically.</p> <p>“Our hope is that laying out this information gerrymandering theory, and introducing this voter game, we will spur new research around these topics to understand how these effects play out in real-world networks,” Rand says.</p> <p>Support for the research was provided by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Initiative of the Miami Foundation, the Templeton World Charity Foundation and the John Templeton Foundation, the Army Research Office, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.</p> A new study co-authored by MIT scholars examines the impact of political information on voter behavior, under a variety of conditions. The schematic images here represent voter information networks, ranging from those with connections across political parties, upper left, to those with no contact between opposing party members, bottom right.Image: Courtesy of the researchersPolitics, Voting and elections, Behavioral economics, Game theory, Networks, Research, Social media, Technology and society, Film and Television, Government, Political science, Sloan School of Management 3 Questions: Heather Hendershot on the state of US political discourse Media historian and expert on conservatism considers the end of rational dialog. Tue, 20 Aug 2019 16:45:01 -0400 School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences <p><em>Heather Hendershot, professor of comparative media studies, researches conservative media and political movements, film and television genres, and American film history. She has authored several books, including "Open to Debate: How William F. Buckley Put Liberal America on the Firing Line" (2016),</em> <em>and recently received a fellowship at the Stanford Humanities Center, where she will work on her next book during the 2019-20 academic year. SHASS Communications spoke with Hendershot about the current state of political media and discourse in the United States.</em><br /> &nbsp;<br /> <strong>Q</strong>: Your book, "Open to Debate<em>,</em>"<em> </em>examined how William F. Buckley's television program offered deeply intellectual and stimulating conversations with and among individuals who had opposing views. To many, it seems the 2016 presidential election ushered in an era of contentious, hyperpartisan shouting matches. Why don’t we currently have the type of thoughtful dialogue that Buckley provided?</p> <p><strong>A: </strong>My 2016 book argues that "Firing Line," a public affairs show that aired (mostly) on PBS from 1966 to 1999, offers a model for civil debate that focused on ideas over emotion. At the same time, the show made space for humor, and people did sometimes lose their cool on the air. In other words, it was an intellectual show but also a lively show. It provokes a bit of nostalgia to revisit this kind of TV, given the current climate of loud and obnoxious cable news arguments, with sound bites getting more airtime than careful discussion.</p> <p>The nostalgia is warranted, but we should not over-romanticize TV history. The fact is, "Firing Line" was not typical. In the pre-cable days, most public affairs shows were deadly dull, news broadcasts assiduously avoided controversy, and Buckley’s show highlighted intellectuals in a way that was unique.</p> <p>So it’s not so much that political discussion on TV used to be so much better than it is today, but that there used to be one show that really nailed the best way to discuss politics, and now there are (arguably) no such shows. The situation has spiraled since 2016, but it wasn’t great before then. Could we have a successful version of "Firing Line" today? Margaret Hoover rebooted the show on PBS, with some success, though it doesn’t hit Buckley’s intellectual high notes in the same way.</p> <p>The bottom line is, you can’t have a show exactly like "Firing Line" because Buckley was such a unique personality. Also, in today’s niche media environment, people don’t all watch the same shows like they used to, and it’s hard to stand out with a new program and turn a profit. Furthermore, TV is expensive. I think podcasts are the future (and the present, for that matter) in terms of making room for smart, spirited political discussion. But it remains hard for them to reach a broad audience holding varying political beliefs — hard to get beyond the echo chamber.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> Your current research project examines the media coverage of the 1968 Democratic National Convention where, you contend, conservatives’ distrust of the news media began to take root. Today, we have conservative leadership responding to nearly any news coverage that they do not like as “fake news.” Are these responses to news coverage similar because these are two similarly tumultuous times in our history, or has our inability to have thoughtful dialogue dissipated these past 50 years?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong>&nbsp; We have to be careful how we use the word “conservative.” It means different things over time, and we would not all agree on what it means now. Many people who identify as conservatives have left the GOP, because they are disturbed by President Trump’s populism, demeanor, and lack of coherent policy objectives. In a recent <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Atlantic</em> essay</a>, for example, political commentator George Will is quoted saying that Trump has not “made a contribution to our understanding of conservatism.”</p> <p>From this perspective, it is Trump and his populist base, not conservatives per se, who call news they don’t like “fake news.” I’m a liberal and have no investment in arguing for the integrity of some pure version of conservatism, but separating families and putting them in detention camps and choosing not to protect our elections from foreign interference do not strike me as “conservative” actions, per se.</p> <p>That said, attacking the media for “liberal bias” is a familiar conservative tactic. The notion preceded the 1968 Democratic National Convention, but at that point it dominated among segregationists in the Deep South who objected to national news coverage of the civil rights movement. (David Greenberg wrote the <a href="" target="_blank">definitive essay</a> on this.)</p> <p>What is unique about Chicago is that it was a moment when the idea that the media was unfair was nationalized: Viewers across America saw TV images of Chicago police beating protesters in the streets, and, in effect, said what they were seeing was not reality, that journalists had chosen not to show the violence of the protesters themselves, and that a more balanced picture would have revealed that police behaved appropriately.</p> <p>Viewers sent angry telegrams to CBS at 2 a.m., just moments after the network signed off during the convention, and letters to CBS in the weeks following the convention ran 11-to-1 against CBS. Viewers attacked NBC too, but less ABC, which did not air complete convention coverage. Congress commissioned an impartial study that concluded the protesters had sometimes been violent in Chicago, but that what had happened there was a “police riot” in which protesters, journalists, and even passers-by were beaten bloody by cops, many of whom were out of control. The study concluded by releasing an impressive 350 page report.</p> <p>One takeaway is the obvious point that it is live pictures on TV that resonate most strongly with people, not later reasoned discussions of those images. Other big takeaways for me: This particular attack on the networks was “organic;” it wasn’t organized. And it came from people who self-identified as both conservatives and liberals. Nixon’s genius was to tap into that spontaneous hostile energy and actively, strategically cultivate the idea of liberal media bias. This is one way to trace the lineage of Trump’s “fake news” accusations, though it’s just one piece of the puzzle.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> If the general public sees mainstream media outlets as blatantly biased, our current polarization will continue. Do you see this intolerance reflected among your students?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> I don't have a master plan to solve these problems, which I agree are grave, but I do think it is helpful to teach people about the history of journalism so they understand how notions of bias and objectivity have played out over time. A highly readable book on this is Michael Schudson’s "<a href="" target="_blank">Discovering the News: A Social History of American Newspapers</a>." More recently, there is Matthew Pressman’s book "<a href="" target="_blank">On Press: The Liberal Values that Shaped the News</a>."<br /> <br /> The crux of this question may be the whole notion of “mainstream media outlets.” What does that mean today? There have long been journals of opinion, such as <em>The Nation</em> on the left and <em>National Review</em> on the right, with remaining journalism focused on a mass readership assumed to be a mix of liberal and conservatives. Today, opinion seems louder than reporting, and people gravitate to multiple niche outlets that support what they already believe.</p> <p>What does “mainstream” mean in this context? It means, in part, <em>The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, </em>the<em> Chicago Tribune</em>. These are all outlets that may sometimes exhibit a bias — <em>The Wall Street Journal </em>leans conservative and <em>The New York Times </em>is more centrist. Still, we must adamantly insist that these publications, though they may sometimes frame stories in ways we do not care for, are not simply making things up. Education helps with this, but it’s not going to get through to everyone encompassed by the phrase “the general public.” Belief in the mendacity of mainstream media to many is precisely that, belief. Like religion, it is unfalsifiable.<br /> <br /> I take encouragement from my MIT students, who are so consistently thoughtful about these issues. I teach a course in science fiction, for example, and much of it centers on how we use allegory and other kinds of narrative to think through political crises and strategize for a better world. Most of my students have a technical or scientific orientation, so they tend to take a very rational approach to thinking through arguments. Sometimes we hit a very interesting brick wall when we deal with science fiction texts that are as much about affect as argumentation. How do you argue about feelings, which are simply not empirical in the same way that certain facts are?</p> <p>Often, it is history that helps us sort things out. I teach "The Handmaid’s Tale," both the novel and the TV show, for example, and have <a href="" target="_blank">written about the show</a>. You can’t sort out all the emotional layers of the novel without a deep history lesson on the politics of the Reagan years, the Meese Commission, Women Against Pornography, Take Back the Night marches, and so on. Our starting point is viewing Ronald Reagan’s 1984 “<a href="" target="_blank">It’s Morning Again in America</a>” campaign spot, and then we watch the Super Bowl <a href="" target="_blank">ad for season three of "The Handmaid’s Tale,"</a> which is a trenchant parody of the Reagan spot.&nbsp;</p> <p>Time and time again, I find in the classroom it is historical understanding that helps us sort through ways of understanding contemporary issues, even if we cannot come up with easy solutions.</p> <h5><em>Story prepared by MIT SHASS Communications<br /> Editorial team: Emily Hiestand and Maria Iacobo</em></h5> 'It's not so much that political discussion on TV used to be so much better than it is today," says MIT media historian Heather Hendershot, "but that there used to be one show that really nailed the best way to discuss politics, and now there are (arguably) no such shows."Photo: Jon Sachs/SHASS Communications Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Faculty, Media, Politics, 3 Questions, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Government, Voting and elections, Technology and society, Film and Television Does cable news shape your views? MIT study finds partisan news coverage has a bigger impact on viewers without strong media preferences. Wed, 07 Aug 2019 23:59:59 -0400 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p>It’s a classic question in contemporary politics: Does partisan news media coverage shape people’s ideologies? Or do people decide to consume political media that is already aligned with their beliefs?</p> <p>A new study led by MIT political scientists tackles this issue head-on and arrives at a nuanced conclusion: While partisan media does indeed have “a strong persuasive impact” on political attitudes, as the researchers write in a newly published paper, news media exposure has a bigger impact on people without strongly held preferences for partisan media than it does for people who seek out partisan media outlets.</p> <p>In short, certain kinds of political media affect a cross-section of viewers in varying manners, and to varying degrees — so while the influence of partisan news is real, it also has its limits.</p> <p>“Different populations are going to respond to partisan media in different ways,” says Adam Berinsky, the Mitsui Professor of Political Science and director of the Political Experiments Research Lab (PERL) at MIT, and a co-author of the study.</p> <p>“Political persuasion is hard,” Berinsky adds. “If it were easy, the world would already look a lot different.”</p> <p>The paper, “Persuading the Enemy: Estimating the Persuasive Effects of Partisan Media with the Preference-Incorporating Choice and Assignment Design,” is now available in advance online form from the <em>American Political Science Review</em>.</p> <p>In addition to Berinsky, the authors are Justin de Benedictis-Kessner PhD ’17, an assistant professor of political science at Boston University; Mathew A. Baum, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School; and Teppei Yamamoto, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Political Science.</p> <p><strong>Breaking down the problem</strong></p> <p>A substantial political science literature has debated the question of media influence; some scholars have contended that partisan media significantly shapes public opinion, but others have argued that “selective exposure,” in which people watch what they already agree with, is predominant.&nbsp;</p> <p>“It’s a really tricky problem,” Berinsky says. “How do you disentangle these things?”</p> <p>The new research aims to do that, in part, by disaggregating the viewing public. The study consists of a series of experiments and surveys analyzing the responses of smaller subgroups, which were divided according to media consumption preferences, ideology, and more.</p> <p>That allows the researchers to tease apart the cause-and-effect issues surrounding media consumption by looking more specifically at the impact of media on people with different ideologies and different levels of willingness to view media. The researchers call this approach the Preference-Incorporating Choice and Assignment design, or PICA.</p> <p>For instance, one experiment within the study gave participants the option of reading web posts from either the conservative Fox News channel; MSNBC, which has several shows leaning in a significantly more liberal-left direction; or the Food Network. Other participants were assigned to watch one of the three.</p> <p>By examing viewer responses to the content, the scholars found that people who elected to read materials from partisan news channels were less influenced by the content. By contrast, participants who gravitated to the Food Network but were assigned to watch cable news, were more influenced by the content.</p> <p>How big is the effect? Quantitatively, the researchers found, a single exposure to partisan media can change the views of relatively nonpolitical citizens by an amount equal to one-third of the average ideological gap that exists between partisans on the right and left sides of the political spectrum.</p> <p>Thus, the influence of cable news depends on who it is reaching. “People do respond differently based on their preferences,” Berinsky says.</p> <p>And while the impact of partisan cable news on people who elect to watch it is smaller, it does exist, the researchers found. For instance, in another of the study’s experiments, the researchers tested cable news’ effects on viewers’ beliefs about marijuana legislation. Even among regular cable-news viewers, partisan content influenced people’s views.</p> <p>Overall, Yamamoto states, the PICA method is novel because it “allows us to make inferences about what is never [otherwise] directly observable,” that is, the impact of partisan media on people who would normally choose not to consume it. &nbsp;</p> <p><strong>“Most people just don’t want news”</strong></p> <p>To put the findings in the context of daily news viewership in the U.S., consider the recent congressional hearings in which special counsel Robert Mueller testified about his presidential investigation. Fox News led the cable ratings with an average of 3 million viewers during most of the day, while MSNBC had an average of 2.4 million viewers. Overall, 13 million people watched. But the Super Bowl, for example, regularly pulls in around 100 million viewers.</p> <p>“Most people just don’t want to be exposed to political news,” Berinsky notes. “These are not bad people or bad citizens. In theory, a democracy is working well when you can ignore politics.”</p> <p>One implication of the larger lack of interest in politics, consequently, is that any audience gains that partisan media outlets experience can produce relatively greater influence — since that growth would apply to formerly irregular consumers of news, who may be more easily influenced. Again, though, such audience gains are likely to be limited, due to the reluctance of most Americans to consume partisan media.</p> <p>“We only learned those people are persuadable because we made them watch the news,” Berinsky says.</p> <p>Other scholars in the field say the paper is a valuable addition to the literature on media influence. Kevin Arceneaux, the Thomas J. Freaney, Jr. Professor of Political Science and director of the Behavioral Foundations Lab at Temple University, says the study “represents an important methodological leap forward in the study of media effects.”</p> <p>Arceneaux says the researchers “convincingly demonstrate that partisan news media have the largest effects among individuals who tend to avoid consuming news,” and suggests some possible implications pertaining to the larger media landscape.</p> <p>For people who do follow politics, he suggests, having many news options available may “blunt the persuasive and polarizing effects of partisan news media”; at the same time, social media could be “an important source of polarization” by introducing some people to news. Arceneaux also notes that further research on the effects of “counterattitudinal” partisan news — content that argues against the beliefs of consumers — would shed more light on the dynamics of media influence.</p> <p>The study was supported by a National Science Foundation grant and the Political Experiments Research Lab at MIT; Berinsky’s contribution was partly supported by a Joan Shorenstein Fellowship.</p> Certain kinds of political media affect a cross-section of viewers in different ways, and to varying degrees, new research shows.Image: MIT NewsSchool of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Political science, Politics, Media, Voting and elections Transmedia Storytelling Initiative launches with $1.1 million gift Program creates a new hub for pedagogy and research in time-based media. Wed, 12 Jun 2019 10:00:00 -0400 School of Architecture and Planning <p>Driven by the rise of transformative digital technologies and the proliferation of data, human storytelling is rapidly evolving in ways that challenge and expand our very understanding of narrative. Transmedia — where stories and data operate across multiple platforms and social transformations — and its wide range of theoretical, philosophical, and creative perspectives, needs shared critique around making and understanding.</p> <p>MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning (SA+P), working closely with faculty in the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS) and others across the Institute, has launched the Transmedia Storytelling Initiative under the direction of Professor Caroline Jones, an art historian, critic, and curator in the History, Theory, Criticism section of SA+P’s Department of Architecture. The initiative will build on MIT’s bold tradition of art education, research, production, and innovation in media-based storytelling, from film through augmented reality. Supported by a foundational gift from David and Nina Fialkow, this initiative will create an influential hub for pedagogy and research in time-based media.</p> <p>The goal of the program is to create new partnerships among faculty across schools, offer pioneering pedagogy to students at the graduate and undergraduate levels, convene conversations among makers and theorists of time-based media, and encourage shared debate and public knowledge about pressing social issues, aesthetic theories, and technologies of the moving image.</p> <p>The program will bring together faculty from SA+P and SHASS, including the Comparative Media Studies/Writing program, and from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). The formation of the MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing adds another powerful dimension to the collaborative potential.</p> <p>“We are grateful to Nina and David for helping us build on the rich heritage of MIT in this domain and carry it forward,” says SA+P Dean Hashim Sarkis. “Their passion for both innovation and art is invaluable as we embark on this new venture.”</p> <p>The Fialkows’ interest in the initiative stems from their longstanding engagement with filmmaking. David Fialkow, cofounder and managing director of venture capital firm General Catalyst, earned the 2018 Academy Award for producing the year's best documentary, “Icarus<em>.</em>” Nina Fialkow has worked as an independent film producer for PBS as well as on several award-winning documentaries. Nina has served as chair of the Massachusetts Cultural Council since 2016.</p> <p>“We are thrilled and humbled to support MIT’s vision for storytelling,” say David and Nina Fialkow. “We hope to tap into our ecosystem of premier thinkers, creators, and funders to grow this initiative into a transformative program for MIT’s students, the broader community, and our society.”</p> <p><strong>The building blocks</strong></p> <p>The Transmedia Storytelling Initiative draws on MIT’s long commitment to provocative work produced at the intersection of art and technology.</p> <p>In 1967, the Department of Architecture established the Film Section and founded the Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS). Over time, CAVS brought scores of important video, computer, and “systems” artists to campus. In parallel, the Film Section trained generations of filmmakers as part of Architecture’s Visual Arts Program (VAP). SA+P uniquely brought making together with theorizing, as Urban Studies and Architecture departments fostered sections such as History, Theory, Criticism (HTC), and the Architecture Machine group that became the Media Lab in 1985.</p> <p>A major proponent of “direct cinema,” the Film Section was based in the Department of Architecture until it relocated to the Media Lab. With the retirement of its charismatic leader, Professor Richard Leacock, its energies shifted to the Media Lab’s Interactive Cinema group (1987–2004) under the direction of the lab’s research scientist and Leacock’s former student, Glorianna Davenport.</p> <p>The 1990s’ shift from analog film and video to “digitally convergent” forms (based on bits, bytes, and algorithms) transformed production and critical understanding of time-based media, distributing storytelling and making across the Institute (and across media platforms, going “viral” around the globe).</p> <p>In parallel to Davenport’s Interactive Cinema group and preceding the Media Lab’s Future Storytelling group (2008–2017), the Comparative Media Studies program — now Comparative Media Studies/Writing (CMS/W) — emerged in SHASS in 1999 and quickly proved to be a leader in cross-media studies. The research of CMS/W scholars such as Henry Jenkins gave rise to the terms “transmedia storytelling” and “convergence” that have since become widely adopted.<br /> <br /> The program’s commitment to MIT’s “mens-et-manus” (“mind-and-hand”) ethos takes the form of several field-shaping research labs, including: the Open Documentary Lab, which partners with Sundance and Oculus, explores storytelling and storyfinding with interactive, immersive, and machine learning systems; and the Game Lab, which draws on emergent technologies and partners with colleagues in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering to create rule-based ludic narratives.&nbsp;Current CMS/W faculty such as professors William Uricchio, Nick Montfort, D. Fox Harrell, and Lisa Parks each lead labs that draw fellows and postdocs to their explorations of expressive systems. All have been actively involved in the discussions leading to and shaping this new initiative.</p> <p>Reflecting on the new initiative, Melissa Nobles, Kenan Sahin Dean of SHASS, says, “For more than two decades,&nbsp;the&nbsp;media, writing, and literature faculty in MIT SHASS have been at the forefront of examining the changing nature of media to empower storytelling, collaborating with other schools across the Institute. The Transmedia Initiative will enable our faculty in CMS/W and other disciplines in our school to work with the SA+P faculty and build new partnerships that apply the humanistic lens to emerging media, especially as it becomes increasingly digital and ever more influential in our society.”<br /> <br /> The Transmedia Storytelling initiative will draw on these related conversations across MIT, in the urgent social project of revealing stories created within data by filters and algorithms, as well as producing new stories through the emerging media of the future.</p> <p>“For the first time since the analog days of the Film Section, there will be a shared conversation around the moving image and its relationship to our lived realities,” says Caroline Jones. “Transmedia’s existing capacity to multiply storylines and allow users to participate in co-creation will be amplified by the collaborative force of MIT makers and theorists. MIT is the perfect place to launch this, and now is the time.”</p> <p>Involving members of several schools will be important to the success of the new initiative. Increasingly, faculty across SA+P use moving images, cinematic tropes, and powerful narratives to model potential realities and tell stories with design in the world. Media theorists in SHASS use humanistic tools to decode the stories embedded in our algorithms and the feelings provoked by media, from immersion to surveillance.&nbsp;</p> <p>SA+P’s Art, Culture and Technology program — the successor to VAP and CAVS — currently includes three faculty who are renowned for theorizing and producing innovative forms of what has long been theorized as “expanded cinema”: Judith Barry (filmic installations and media theory); Renée Green (“Free Agent Media,” “Cinematic Migrations”); and Nida Sinnokrot (“Horizontal Cinema”). In these artists’ works, the historical “new media” of cinema is reanimated, deconstructed, and reassembled to address wholly contemporary concerns.</p> <p><strong>Vision for the initiative</strong></p> <p>Understandings of narrative, the making of time-based media, and modes of alternative storytelling go well beyond “film.” CMS in particular ranges across popular culture entities such as music video, computer games, and graphic novels, as well as more academically focused practices from computational poetry to net art.</p> <p>The Transmedia Storytelling Initiative will draw together the various strands of such compelling research and teaching about time-based media to meet the 21st century’s unprecedented demands, including consideration of ethical dimensions.</p> <p>“Stories unwind to reveal humans’ moral thinking,” says Jones. “Implicit in the Transmedia Storytelling Initiative is the imperative to convene an ethical conversation about what narratives are propelling the platforms we share and how we can mindfully create new stories together.”</p> <p>Aiming ultimately for a physical footprint offering gathering, production, and presentation spaces, the initiative will begin to coordinate pedagogy for a proposed undergraduate minor in Transmedia. This course of study will encompass storytelling via production and theory, spanning from computational platforms that convert data to affective videos to artistic documentary forms, to analysis and critique of contemporary media technologies.</p> Left to right: David Fialkow; Nina Fialkow; Melissa Nobles, Kenan Sahin Dean of the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences; Hashim Sarkis, dean of the MIT School of Architecture and Planning; and Caroline Jones, professor in the Department of Architecture and director of the Transmedia Storytelling InitiativeGiving, Faculty, Students, Digital humanities, Data, Computation, Classes and programs, Media Lab, School of Architecture and Planning, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Computer science and technology, Film and Television, Augmented and virtual reality, School of Engineering, MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, History of MIT, Architecture, Arts Twelve MIT students accept 2019 Fulbright Fellowships Grantees will spend the 2019-2020 academic year pursuing research and teaching opportunities abroad. Thu, 16 May 2019 15:40:01 -0400 Julia Mongo | Office of Distinguished Fellowships <p><em>This article has been updated to include a scholar who was promoted from alternate to winner in June 2019.</em></p> <p>Twelve MIT graduating seniors and current graduate students have been named winners in the 2019-2020 Fulbright U.S. Student Fellowship Program. In addition to the 12 students accepting their awards, three applicants from MIT were selected as finalists but decided to decline their grants.</p> <p>MIT’s newest Fulbright students will engage in independent research and English teaching assignments in Brazil, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Russia, Taiwan, and Senegal.</p> <p>Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the mission of Fulbright is to promote cultural exchange, increase mutual understanding, and build lasting relationships among people of the world. The Fulbright U.S. Student Program offers grants in over 140 countries.</p> <p>The MIT students were supported in the application process by the Presidential Committee on Distinguished Fellowships, chaired by professors Rebecca Saxe and Will Broadhead, and by MIT’s Distinguished Fellowships Office within Career Advising and Professional Development. The MIT winners are:</p> <p><strong>Annamarie "Anna" Bair</strong> ’18 earned a bachelor of science in computer science and engineering in June 2018 and will receive her master of engineering degree in computer science later this year. In Barcelona, Spain, Bair will engage in complex systems research.</p> <p><strong>Abigail "Abby" Bertics</strong> will graduate in June with a bachelor of science in electrical engineering and computer science. Her research in Yekaterinburg, Russia, will focus on natural language processing methods for understanding English second language acquisition by Russian speakers.</p> <p><strong>Hope Chen</strong> is a senior graduating with a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering. She will be going to Taiwan as an English Teaching Assistant in primary school classrooms. After completing her Fulbright program and returning to the U.S., Chen will matriculate in medical school.</p> <p><strong>Dariel Cobb</strong> is a doctoral student in the History, Theory and Criticism program within the MIT School of Architecture and Planning. In France, she will conduct archival research on architect Henri Chomette’s projects in Francophone West Africa in the years surrounding independence, and the influence of the Négritude movement on modern architecture.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Alexis D’Alessandro</strong> will graduate this spring with a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering. For her research in Aracaju, Brazil, she will develop an educational program and chemical sensing tool to promote water safety awareness among children.</p> <p><strong>Sarah DiIorio</strong> will earn her bachelor of science in biological engineering in June. She is headed to Eindhoven, the Netherlands, to conduct medical research related to cartilage regeneration for osteoarthritis. &nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Katie Fisher</strong> is a senior in MIT’s Scheller Teaching Education Program graduating with a bachelor of science in urban studies and planning with a concentration in education. As an English teaching assistant in the Netherlands, Fisher will work with students at a vocational college in Amsterdam.</p> <p><strong>Miranda McClellan</strong> ’18 received a bachelor of science in computer science and engineering in June 2018 and will earn her master of engineering degree in computer science this spring. McClellan will research automated scaling of 5G computer network resources in Barcelona, Spain.</p> <p><strong>Samira Okudo</strong> will graduate in June with a joint bachelor of science in computer science and comparative media studies. As an English teaching assistant in Brazil, she will work with university students training to be English-language instructors.</p> <p><strong>James Pelletier</strong> is a PhD candidate in physics. For his Fulbright research in Madrid, Spain, he will develop biophysical models to investigate how plants process information for cellular resource allocation and agricultural efficiency.</p> <p><strong>Jonars Spielberg</strong> is a third-year doctoral student in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning’s international development program. In Senegal, he will examine how the personal interactions of bureaucrats and farmers shape agricultural policy implementation in the country's main irrigated regions.</p> <p><strong>Catherine Wu</strong> will graduate in June with a bachelor of science in biology. She will be working with university students in Brazil as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant.</p> <p>MIT students interested in applying to the Fulbright U.S. Student Program should contact Julia Mongo in Distinguished Fellowships.</p> Clockwise from top left: Katie Fisher, Abby Bertics, Catherine Wu, Jonars Spielberg, Samira Okudo, Hope Chen, Alexis D'Alessandro, Anna Bair, Miranda McClellan, Sarah DiIorio, James Pelletier. Not shown: Dariel CobbAwards, honors and fellowships, Students, Undergraduate, Graduate, postdoctoral, Mechanical engineering, Biological engineering, Urban studies and planning, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Physics, Biology, School of Science, School of Engineering, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, School of Architecture and Planning, International initiatives, Global, Program in HTC Virtual reality game simulates experiences with race A novel computational model that considers how users have been conditioned to think about race might facilitate training for teachers and students. Thu, 16 May 2019 12:20:01 -0400 Suzanne Day | MIT Open Learning <p>Video games that use virtual reality to create immersive experiences have become increasingly popular for entertainment and for research. However, the representation of race in these simulations is often shallow — and fails to go beyond physical appearance attributes like skin color.&nbsp;</p> <p>For a more lived, embodied experience in the virtual world, MIT researchers have developed a new computational model that captures how individuals might have been taught to think about race in their upbringing. The new model of racial and ethnic socialization, presented at the <a href="">AAAI 2019 Spring Symposium</a>, has the potential to not only enhance video game simulations, but also to facilitate training for teachers and students who might encounter racial issues in the classroom.</p> <p>“As video game developers, we have the ability within virtual worlds to challenge the biased ideologies that exist in the physical world, rather than continue replicating them,” says <a href="" target="_blank">Danielle Olson</a>, a PhD student in the <a href="">Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory</a> (CSAIL) at MIT, whose dissertation project includes the work reported at the symposium. “My hope is that this work can be a catalyst for dialogue and reflection by teachers, parents, and students in better understanding the devastating social-emotional, academic, and health impacts of racialized encounters and race-based traumatic stress.”</p> <p>“People are socialized to think about race in a variety of ways — some parents teach their children to ignore race entirely, while others promote an alertness to racial discrimination or cultural pride,” says <a href="" target="_blank">D. Fox Harrell</a>, professor of digital media and of artificial intelligence and director of the MIT <a href="">Center for Advanced Virtuality</a>, where he designs virtual technologies to stimulate social change. “The system we’ve developed captures this socialization, and we hope that it may become an effective tool for training people to be thinking more about racial issues, perhaps for teachers and students to minimize discrimination in the classroom.”</p> <p>Olson and Harrell embedded their new model into a virtual reality software prototype, "Passage Home VR," and conducted user testing to understand the game’s effectiveness.&nbsp;</p> <p>"Passage Home VR" serves up an immersive story, grounded in social science work conducted in the physical world on how parents socialize their children to think about race and ethnicity, both verbally and nonverbally, and the impact on how individuals perceive and cope with racial stressors.&nbsp;</p> <p>In the game, the user assumes the virtual identity of an African American girl whose high school teacher has accused her of plagiarizing an essay when, in fact, the character is a passionate, high-achieving English student who took the assignment very seriously and wrote the essay herself.&nbsp;</p> <p>As users navigate the discriminatory encounter with the teacher, the ways in which they respond to the teacher’s actions — with different body language, verbal responses and more — influence the outcome and feedback presented at the end of the game.&nbsp;</p> <p>Overall, the results of the study suggest that the experiences people have in their lives with how they have been socialized to think about the role of race and ethnicity in society — their racial and ethnic socialization — influence their behavior in the game.&nbsp;</p> <p>Of the 17 participants in the study who tested out the game, most were identified as “colorblind” by the game, which was also confirmed through semi-structured verbal interviews conducted following the game. Colorblind users were also less likely to explicitly mention race in their thematic analyses of the story in the game. A smaller number of users displayed in-game behavior that identified them as having other socialization strategies, such as “alertness to discrimination” or “preparation for bias.”&nbsp;</p> <p>“The game choices were aligned with their real-world socialization of these issues,” Harrell says.&nbsp;</p> <p>This feedback for users may be a powerful training tool — serving as an assessment of how prepared people are to think about and respond to racial issues.</p> <p>Harrell added that his lab is now preparing to deploy and study the efficacy of "Passage Home VR" as a professional development tool for teachers.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Learning with virtual reality can only be effective if we present robust simulations that capture experiences as close to the real-world as possible,” Harrell said. “Our hope is that this work can help developers to make their simulations much richer, unlocking the power to address social issues.”</p> MIT researchers have developed a computational model that could enhance video game simulations designed to facilitate training for teachers and students who might encounter racial issues in the classroom. Image: screenshot from "Passage Home VR"Office of Open Learning, Diversity and inclusion, Video games, Augmented and virtual reality, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, School of Engineering, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Race and gender, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) Ashwin Sah, Megan Yamoah, and Steven Truong named 2019-20 Goldwater Scholars Three MIT undergraduates honored for their academic achievements. Fri, 10 May 2019 15:30:01 -0400 School of Science <p>Three undergraduate students have been selected for a 2019-20 <a href="">Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship</a>, two in the <a href="">School of Science</a> and one in the <a href="">School of Engineering</a>. In partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense National Defense Education Programs, the Goldwater Foundation gave the award to 496 sophomore and junior students within the United States, chosen from more than 5,000 nominations this year.</p> <p>One of the 62 fellows in mathematics and computer science majors, Ashwin Sah, is not only aiming on continuing his education in mathematics to acquire a PhD but also hopes to teach as a faculty member at a university, researching theoretical mathematics. Now a sophomore in the <a href="">Department of Mathematics</a>, he was previously one of six Putnam Fellows at the Putnam Mathematics Competition and won the gold medal at the International Math Olympiad. Sah produced two papers accepted for publication in research journals, has written several others independently, and solved a 2001 conjecture by Jeff Kahn regarding the maximum number of independent sets in a graph. He is on track to graduate with his bachelor’s degree in three years.</p> <p>Megan Yamoah, a junior in the <a href="">Department of Physics</a>, is among the 360 recipients majoring in natural sciences. In addition to an outstanding academic record, she performed research in two groups and continues in another as a repeat participant in MIT’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. Yamoah has built a control system for a semiconductor, culminating in a patent currently under review. She also helped install dilution refrigerators in a lab on MIT's campus and experiments with them largely on her own, designing and engineering <font size="2"><span style="font-size:10pt;">devices to investigate two-dimensional materials used in novel quantum computing</span></font>. In her future, Yamoah plans to focus on quantum computing. Beyond research, she is a strong student leader in many physics societies and groups on campus.</p> <p>In Course 20 (biological engineering), Steven Truong joins 74 engineers across the country who were granted this year’s Goldwater fellowship. He is a junior in the <a href="">Department of Biological Engineering</a>&nbsp;and is also a double-major in <a href="">Writing</a>. Truong has an&nbsp;outstanding academic record and is also an opinion&nbsp;editor for the <em>MIT Tech</em> newspaper and co-president of the MIT Biological Engineering Undergraduate Board. His&nbsp;research interests lie in studying diabetes, such as developing new ways to deliver insulin to diabetics. He currently works with members of the <a href="">MIT Koch Institute</a> and has also collaborated with the Joslin Diabetes Center, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, and traveled to Vietnam for a project he co-led.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program was established by Congress in 1986 to honor Senator Barry Goldwater, who served for 30 years in the U.S. Senate. The program was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students in their pursuit of careers in mathematics, the natural sciences, and engineering, providing recipients with stipends of $7,500 per year to contribute toward their educational expenses.</p> Left to right: Ashwin Sah, Megan Yamoah, and Steven Truong are among just under 500 undergraduate students in the United States to receive 2019 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships. Photos courtesy of Sah, Yamoah, and TruongSchool of Science, School of Engineering, Mathematics, Physics, Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), Biological engineering, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Koch Institute, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Awards, honors and fellowships, Undergraduates, Students Cultural curator Graduate student and New York City DJ Rekha Malhotra draws inspiration from the intersection of art and activism. Tue, 07 May 2019 23:59:59 -0400 Bridget E. Begg | Office of Graduate Education <p>Rekha Malhotra joined MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program as a master’s student after 20 years as a flourishing New York City DJ. She has also accrued major accolades for other artistic endeavors: She was the sound designer for a Tony Award-winning Broadway show and a New York University artist in residence, and she has been inducted into People’s Hall of Fame in New York City.</p> <p>All of these laurels arose from <a href="">Basement Bhangra</a>, a wildly popular monthly club night that Malhotra began in 1997. The show mixed traditional Punjabi dance music, called bhangra, with old-school hip hop, a fusion Malhotra helped to bring from the U.K. to the U.S. in the 1990s.</p> <p>At the time, she says, many club owners discouraged or outright banned the genres because South Asian producers didn’t want to hear black music or the “lower-class” bhangra. But Malhotra was undeterred. “I love these two styles of music, and I didn’t want to water it down. I didn’t want anybody to tell me what I can and can’t play,” she explains. Her perseverance paid off: Since then, Malhotra has DJ’ed everywhere from celebrity weddings to the Obama White House to the historic Women’s March on Washington in 2017.</p> <p><strong>“You always open”</strong></p> <p>Not only a musical artist, Malhotra is also an activist at her core. She was a founding member of the <a href="">South Asian Youth Organization</a> in 1996. In college, she was part of a South Asian political rights organization that was formed in response to <a href="">racial violence in Jersey City</a>, in which one person was killed and one left for dead at a fire station. None of the accused were convicted. The experience politicized her.</p> <p>For Malhotra, blending bhangra and hip hop was always about more than just producing innovative mixes. In creating her club nights, she also intended to create a space for her audience — and by extension, to support a community of South Asians, dancers, and community activists. She was particularly galvanized by the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.</p> <p>“9/11 was a very significant moment in New York,” Malhotra says. “People of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent were real targets. Nine days after 9/11 we had a party on the books and I really had to think about DJ’ing when there was a collective mourning in the city. And the venue was only a mile from [the World Trade Center]. This neighborhood had finally opened again, and the question was ‘Do we open?’ And the answer is: ‘Yes.’ You always open. … Fundamental to my work is not just playing music, but creating a space to play the music.” Malhotra sees herself as not just a DJ, but as a cultural curator, because of how her activism intersects with her performances.</p> <p>Ultimately, it was this community work that brought Malhotra to MIT. She had heard about the CMS program from professors and graduates whom she met in New York. At the same time, Malhotra found that she was craving more intellectual engagement with her work.</p> <p>“Definitely in the pace and the hustle of New York there wasn’t always time to think,” she recalls. “I wanted to reflect on the work I was doing, to gain the qualifications to eventually teach more, to gain an opportunity to write critically and reflect, and also to be in a community of other people who are also thinking and writing and engaged.”</p> <p><strong>Innovation over tradition</strong></p> <p>At MIT, Malhotra works with Associate Professor Vivek Bald in the Open Documentary Lab on the <a href="">Lost Histories Project</a>. The first year of the CMS program is highly structured with coursework, colloquia, and lectures, but in the second year, students are encouraged to sample many of the intellectual resources at MIT and Harvard University. Malhotra relishes the flexibility of the program and has taken full advantage of the broad array of available coursework, including 21M.361 (Electronic Music Composition), 11.S948 (Writing About the Modern City), MAS.S62 (Principles of Awareness), and Harvard’s WOMGEN 1212 (Beyoncé Feminism and Rihanna Woman).</p> <p>She also appreciates the diversity of the students and faculty in CMS. “I feel like I’ve been able to be myself here,” she says. “And I think that the uniqueness of our program is that there are so many different kinds of people. … We’ve got filmmakers and gamers and scholars and anthropologists. And our professors have so many different interests and backgrounds. They’re in the world and in their academic space too. It’s such a rich community of people.”</p> <p>As her June graduation nears, Malhotra is working on her thesis, which examines the mythologies around DJ’ing as a cultural practice. She’s weaving in ideas about the physical practices of DJ’ing, gender in DJ’ing, and the concept of authenticity and tradition in club music. “There’s a certain sense of ubiquity around DJ’ing, but what do we really understand about it and how is it actually practiced?” she says. “Is it about cutting and scratching? Is that really how people perform or consume music? It’s one technique and it’s one small part of the spectrum of DJ’ing, and that’s turntablism, which is very specific. A scratch interrupts the flow, but it’s demonstrative. I’m interested in that.”</p> <p>As an artist who melds the strong cultural touchstones of bhangra and hip hop music, Malhotra also contends with traditionalists. “Once you introduce recording, how does the medium change the art — or does it?” she says. “For any style of culture, there’s often someone saying that it’s being morphed into something that’s not original. But the nature of culture is to keep changing — according to me.” She pauses, adding, “I try to go from a more aesthetic place: Does it sound good? Will it make people dance? That’s my guiding principle. I don’t have any hang-ups around what’s traditional.”</p> <p><strong>New York, New York</strong></p> <p>Though a die-hard New Yorker, Malhotra has a fond appreciation for her temporary home in Cambridge. “I try to get immersed in the state of mind and where I’m living. I try to follow local happenings and newsletters. I feel like it’s important to know about the community you’re in. Cambridge really cares about itself.” She smiles. “So much so, that you can’t park a car here! Yes, I’m a grumpy New Yorker and I’d like things to stay open later, but it’s been manageable.”</p> <p>Luckily, Malhotra can commiserate with several friends from her New York South Asian activist and artist community who are also pursuing work at Harvard and MIT. She also attends an open mic nights organized by SubDrift, a community of Boston-based South Asians. Although she has focused deeply on her academic work while at MIT, she’s made some time to DJ in Boston at the Museum of Fine Arts Late Night, MIT Sloan, and an all-ages party called Local Beats in Somerville. &nbsp;</p> <p>After graduation, Malhotra plans to continue the bhangra music <a href="">podcast</a> she began in 2011, as well as her DJ gigs. She will also attend a <a href="">Feet in 2 Worlds</a> audio workshop called “Telling Immigrant Food Stories,” for which she was awarded a scholarship. She looks forward to returning to her beloved Jackson Heights neighborhood in Queens, where she has a place on the board of Chhaya CDC, a community organization supporting New Yorkers of South Asian origin. But she is also embracing any new opportunities that come her way.</p> <p>“The world is open in some ways, but I want to be more intentional and think about what I want to do in the world,” Malhotra says. “I’m in a great space of privilege in having an art career and now having this educational experience. Coming [to MIT] has definitely opened doors in opportunities and in my way of thinking.”</p> Rehka MalhotraImage: Joseph LeeStudents, Profile, Graduate, postdoctoral, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Arts, Music, India, Asia Three from MIT awarded 2019 Guggenheim Fellowships Professors David Jerison, Hong Liu, and Seth Mnookin are among 168 recognized. Mon, 22 Apr 2019 17:10:01 -0400 Laura Carter | School of Science <p>Three MIT faculty members are among 168 people out of 3,000 applicants granted a fellowship by the <a href="">John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation</a>. The foundation's announcement notes that the awardees were chosen based on their prior accomplishments and strong future potential. The MIT recipients are David Jerison and Hong Liu in the School of Science, and Seth Mnookin in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.</p> <p>“It’s exceptionally satisfying to name 168 new Guggenheim Fellows,” says Edward Hirsch, president of the Guggenheim Foundation. “These artists and writers, scholars and scientists, represent the best of the best.” This year’s recipients join more than 18,000 extraordinary individuals who previously received this honor.</p> <p><a href="">David Jerison</a>, a professor in the <a href="">Department of Mathematics</a>, has received <a href="">a Guggenheim fellowship</a> to study interfaces that divide regions in optimal ways; these can be applied to situations where minimized energy or cost is important. Previously, he was one of 10 principal investigators awarded a 2018 Simons Foundation Collaboration Grant. He is also a recipient of a Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship, the Bergman Prize, and a National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award. He is also currently a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Mathematical Society, and vice president of the American Mathematical Society. A dedicated teacher, Jerison became an MIT MacVicar Faculty Fellow in 2004 and has designed many popular courses for MIT’s Open Courseware, <em>MITx</em> and edX.</p> <p><a href="">Hong Liu</a> will be applying <a href="">his fellowship</a> to his interdisciplinary research on black holes, turbulence, and quantum many-body systems. A professor in the <a href="">Department of Physics</a>, Liu has helped found interconnections between gravitational, nuclear and condensed matter physics, one of the first to use string theory to study quark-gluon plasma and identify similarities between black holes and superconductors. Prior to this fellowship, he was elected an Alfred Sloan Fellow, an Outstanding Junior Investigator by the Department of Energy, and a Simons Fellow.</p> <p><a href="">Seth Mnookin</a> is the director of the <a href="">Graduate Program in Science Writing</a> and a professor in the <a href="">Comparative Media Studies/Writing</a> program. He has authored three books to date: his first was recognized as Best Book of the Year by <em>The Washington Post,</em> his second reached <em>The New York Times</em>' bestseller list, and the most recent won the “Science in Society Award” from the National Association of Science Writers. <a href="">The Guggenheim Fellowship</a> is the most recent award for Mnookin, whose other accolades include the American Medical Writers Association prize for best story of 2014 and his election to the board of the National Association of Science Writers.</p> Guggenheim Fellowship recipients (left to right) David Jerison, Hong Liu, and Seth MnookinPhotos: David Jerison, Hong Liu, and Seth MnookinSchool of Science, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Mathematics, Physics, Science writing, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Awards, honors and fellowships, Faculty Celebrating passionate teachers and enthusiastic learners At this year&#039;s MacVicar Day symposium, faculty and students reflect on the challenges and joys of education in the 21st century. Fri, 29 Mar 2019 11:50:00 -0400 Alison Trachy | Registrar’s Office <p>What skills, ideas, and experiences should students expect to leave college with?</p> <p>The MIT community explored this question during MacVicar Day on&nbsp;Friday, Mar.&nbsp;8. The&nbsp;annual celebration of learning is named after the late Margaret MacVicar, the first dean for undergraduate education and the founder of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP).</p> <p>Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz hosted the afternoon’s festivities and began by introducing the <a href="">2019 MacVicar Faculty Fellows</a>: Ford Professor of Economics Joshua Angrist, computer science professor Erik Demaine, anthropology professor Graham Jones, and comparative media studies professor T.L. Taylor. Each was honored for their contributions to undergraduate education and selected through nominations from their colleagues and students.</p> <p>The annual <a href="">symposium</a> followed. This year, four faculty members and three students were asked to present three-minute&nbsp;lightning talks&nbsp;on what is important to today’s learners. While the topics varied, enthusiasm, conviction, and a tangible sense of excitement pervaded the talks and several&nbsp;key ideas surfaced.</p> <p><strong>Time has compressed</strong></p> <p>We are able to solve problems at an accelerating rate, said Divya Goel, a senior majoring in Course 6-14 (Computer Science, Economics, and Data Science). In the past, technologists would create something, and then humanists would be tasked with responding to any consequences. Goel believes that this model is no longer sufficient; technologists and humanists must work together from the start. As an example, she cited a seemingly promising program that was created to predict relapses into criminal behavior. The program, however, is fundamentally flawed, overpredicting and underpredicting recidivism rates based on race. “We’re training machines based off of human choices, decisions that we’ve made in the past, and humans are flawed,” Goel explained. An interdisciplinary approach that accounted for systemic biases could have led to a more accurate result.</p> <p>Fadi Atieh, a junior who studies mathematics, agreed that higher education must react to the rapid rate of change in the 21st century in order to solve these types of complex problems. He suggested a problem-solving class for all students at MIT. While some subjects like this already exist, he noted that they are advanced classes that require a very high level of specialty and skill. Both Goel and Atieh think there is much to be gained from taking the time to look at a given problem from multiple points of view to gain a nuanced understanding of how it might be solved.</p> <p><strong>Learning as self-preservation</strong></p> <p>Caspar Hare, professor of philosophy, outlined the two conflicting narratives of work throughout history: work as obligatory and unpleasant, and work as a means to find salvation and meaning in life. While the latter was the dominant strand in the 20th century, the age of work is in decline in the 21st century. How can students prepare themselves for a world without work? “The skill that we really need to imbue in students [for] this new post-work age that they’re going to find themselves in,” Hare said, is the ability to identify what they want and why.</p> <p>Sanjay Sarma, the Vice President for Open Learning and the Fred Fort Flowers and Daniel Fort Flowers Professor of Mechanical Engineering said he believes “that learning and really understanding what it means to learn is going to be a central skill for us, but also a matter of self-preservation." He explained how humans are helpless when they are born because they have evolved to learn from their environments. In this way, we must become “learning machines,” he said, constantly adapting to the changing world while continuing to follow our natural instincts.</p> <p><strong>The humanities ... and our shared humanity</strong></p> <p>Katie O’Nell, a brain and cognitive studies major and self-described “wee nerd” who writes iambic pentameter into lab reports for fun, credited her humanities subjects for doing the most to shape her as a scientist. She recounted how a discussion of feminist epistemology in her literature and philosophy course helped her realize that neuroscience studies were inherently flawed when they only used male mice, which are protected against many genetic disorders by fetal testosterone. “When I tell you that I don’t understand where many of my assumptions about the world come from, this is a good thing,” she concluded. “It means that my time at MIT, and particularly my humanities education here, have forced me to examine the lenses through which I view the world a lot more closely.”</p> <p>Susan Silbey, the Leon and Anne Goldberg Professor of Humanities, Sociology, and Anthropology and professor of behavioral and policy sciences at the Sloan School of Management, also provided a rousing defense of the humanities. She lamented the trend in higher education to move away from the humanities and emphasized what a contradiction it is for other schools to close humanities departments while championing interdisciplinary studies. “Education is not professional training for a job,” she said. Education should focus on truth, critical thinking, and questioning assumptions, especially as it becomes increasingly unlikely that students will be doing exactly what they learned in college in their careers.</p> <p>Michael Sipser, the Donner Professor of Mathematics and dean of the School of Science, focused on the importance of human connection in his teaching. His role as a teacher, he said, “goes far beyond just the conveying of information.” For him, it is about nurturing souls and helping students grow. He sees himself as a guide on a journey, and tries to teach students the way he would like to be taught. Human interaction, he believes, is what allows students to thrive.</p> <p><strong>Hope for the future</strong></p> <p>“Education is good unto itself. It is better to be educated than not to be,” Silbey said. “Education is better because it makes each moment of living different ... education creates new instincts, habits of looking for new meanings, [and] of questioning old ones.” To her, this understanding of education is nothing new. It is fundamental in explaining who we are now, who we have been, and who we will be.</p> <p>When asked what made them hopeful for the future of higher education, the student panelists reflected on growth in various forms. Goel has noticed a shift among her peers, whose interests have broadened from their first year to their senior year to include aspirations in law, politics, and economics. O’Nell reflected on how, as a first-year advisor, she has been able to witness “academic humility” and the first time students encounter a problem they cannot solve right away. And Atieh, who grew up in Syria in an education system that was based on “memorization, but not a lot of understanding,” felt optimistic when he came to MIT and for the first time recognized, through the passion of his professors, what learning could be.</p> <p>The faculty commented on how their students seem more engaged, more thoughtful, more sensible, and more caring every year. “The students have a joy of learning, and it’s just a pleasure to see,” Sipser said.</p> Professor Susan Silbey provided a rousing defense of the humanities during her lightning talk at the 2019 MacVicar Day symposium.Photo: Jake Belcher PhotographyUndergraduate, Awards, honors and fellowships, Faculty, Students, Special events and guest speakers, Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), education, Education, teaching, academics, Economics, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), Anthropology, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Mathematics, Philosophy, Office of Open Learning, Brain and cognitive sciences, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, School of Science, Sloan School of Management, School of Architecture and Planning, School of Engineering Ethics, computing, and AI: Perspectives from MIT Faculty representing all five MIT schools offer views on the ethical and societal implications of new technologies. Mon, 18 Mar 2019 10:24:42 -0400 School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences <p><em>The MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing will reorient the Institute to bring the power of computing and artificial intelligence to all fields at MIT; allow the future of computing and AI to be shaped by all MIT disciplines; and advance research and education in ethics and public policy to help ensure that new technologies benefit the greater good.</em></p> <p><em>To support ongoing planning for the new college, School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences Dean Melissa Nobles invited faculty from all five MIT schools to offer perspectives on the societal and ethical dimensions of emerging technologies. This <a href="">series</a> presents the resulting commentaries — practical, inspiring, concerned, and clear-eyed views from an optimistic community deeply engaged with issues that are among the most consequential of our time.&nbsp;</em></p> <p><em>The commentaries represent diverse branches of knowledge, but they sound some common themes, including: the vision of an MIT culture in which all of us are equipped and encouraged to discern the impact and ethical implications of our endeavors.</em></p> <p>FOREWORD<br /> <strong>Ethics, Computing, and AI &nbsp;</strong><br /> Melissa Nobles, Kenan Sahin Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences and professor of political science<br /> School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences</p> <p>"These commentaries, representing faculty from all five MIT schools, implore us to be collaborative, foresighted, and courageous as we shape a new college — and to proceed with judicious humility. Rightly so. We are embarking on an endeavor that will influence nearly every aspect of the human future." <a href="">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p>INTRODUCTION<br /> <strong>The Tools of Moral Philosophy </strong><br /> Caspar Hare, professor of philosophy<br /> Kieran Setiya, professor of philosophy<br /> School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences</p> <p>"We face ethical questions every day. Philosophy does not provide easy answers for these questions, nor even fail-safe techniques for resolving them. What it does provide is a disciplined way to think about ethical questions, to identify hidden moral assumptions, and to establish principles by which our actions may be guided and judged. Framing a discussion of the risks of advanced technology entirely in terms of ethics suggests that the problems raised are ones that can and should be solved by individual action. In fact, many of the challenges presented by computer science will prove difficult to address without systemic change.”</p> <p><strong>Action</strong>: Moral philosophers can serve both as teachers in the new College and as advisers/consultants on project teams. <a href="">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p>WELCOMING REMARKS<br /> <strong>A New Kind of Education </strong><br /> Susan Silbey, chair of the MIT faculty<br /> Celebration for the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing<br /> 28 February 2018</p> <p>"The college of computing will be dedicated to educating a different kind of technologist. We hope to integrate computing with just about every other subject at MIT so that students leave here with the knowledge and resources to be wiser, more ethically and technologically competent citizens and professionals." <a href="">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Part I: A Human Endeavor<br /> <em>Computing is embedded in cultural, economic, and political realities.</em></strong></p> <p><strong>Computing is Deeply Human</strong><br /> Stefan Helmreich, Elting E. Morison Professor of Anthropology<br /> Heather Paxson, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Anthropology<br /> School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences</p> <p>"Computing is a human practice that entails judgment and is embedded in politics. Computing is not an external force that has an impact on society; instead, society — institutional structures that organize systems of social norms —&nbsp;is built right into&nbsp;making, programming, and using computers."</p> <p><strong>Action</strong>: The computational is political; MIT can make that recognition one of the pillars of computing and AI research. <a href="">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>When Computer Programs Become Unpredictable </strong><br /> John Guttag, Dugald C. Jackson Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering<br /> School of Engineering</p> <p>“We should look forward to the many good things machine-learning will bring to society. But we should also insist that technologists study the risks and clearly explain them. And society as whole should take responsibility for understanding the risks and for making human-centric choices about how best to use this ever-evolving technology.”</p> <p><strong>Action</strong>: Develop platforms that enable a wide spectrum of society to engage with the societal and ethical issues of new technology. <a href="">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Safeguarding Humanity in the Age of AI</strong><br /> Bernhardt Trout, Raymond F. Baddour Professor of Chemical Engineering<br /> School of Engineering</p> <p>"There seem to be two possibilities for how AI will turn out. In the first, AI will do what it is on track to do: slowly take over every human discipline. The second possibility is that we take the existential threat of AI with the utmost seriousness and completely change our approach. This means redirecting our thinking from a blind belief in efficiency to a considered understanding of what is most important about human life." <a href="">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong><strong>Action</strong>: </strong>Develop a curriculum that encourages us to reflect deeply on fundamental questions: What is justice? How ought I to live?</p> <p><strong>II. COMMUNITY INSIGHTS<br /> <em>Shaping ethical technology is a collective responsibility.</em></strong></p> <p><strong>The Common Ground of Stories</strong><br /> Mary Fuller, professor of literature, and head of the MIT Literature section<br /> School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Science</p> <p>“Stories are things in themselves, and they are also things to think with. Stories allow us to model interpretive, affective, ethical choices; they also become common ground. Reading about Milton’s angelic intelligences or William Gibson’s “bright lattices of logic” won’t tell us what we should do with the future, but reading such stories at MIT may offer a conceptual meeting place to think together across the diversity of what and how we know."</p> <p><strong>Action</strong>: Create residencies for global storytellers in the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing. <a href="">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Who's Calling the Shots with AI?</strong><br /> Leigh Hafrey, senior lecturer of leadership and ethics<br /> MIT Sloan School of Management</p> <p>"'Efficiency' is a perennial business value and a constant factor in corporate design, strategy, and execution. But in a world where the exercise of social control by larger entities is real, developments in artificial intelligence have yet to yield the ethics by which we might manage their effects. The integrity of our vision for the future depends on our learning from the past and celebrating the fact that people, not artifacts and institutions, set our rules of engagement."</p> <p><strong>Action</strong>: Adopt a full-on stakeholder view of business in society and the individual in business. <a href="">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>In Praise of Wetware </strong><br /> Caroline A. Jones, professor of art history<br /> School of Architecture and Planning</p> <p>“As we enshrine computation as the core of smartness, we would be well advised to think of the complexity of our ‘wet’ cognition, which entails a much more distributed notion of intelligence that goes well beyond the sacred cranium and may not even be bounded by our own skin.”</p> <p><strong>Action</strong>: Before claiming that it is "intelligence" we've produced in machines or modeled in computation, we should better understand the adaptive, responsive human wetware — and its dependence on a larger living ecosystem. <a href="">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Blind Spots</strong><br /> David Kaiser, Germeshausen Professor of the History of Science, and professor of physics<br /> School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, and Department of Physics</p> <p>“MIT has a powerful opportunity to lead in the development of new technologies while also leading careful, deliberate, broad-ranging, and ongoing community discussions about the “whys” and 'what ifs,' not just the 'hows.' No group of researchers, flushed with the excitement of learning and building something new, can overcome the limitations of blind spots and momentum alone."</p> <p><strong>Action</strong>: Create ongoing forums for brainstorming and debate; we will benefit from engaging as many stakeholders as possible. <a href="">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Assessing the Impact of AI on Society</strong><br /> Lisa Parks, professor of comparative media studies<br /> School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences</p> <p>“Three fundamental societal challenges have emerged from the use of AI, particularly for data collection and machine learning. The first challenge centers on this question: Who has the power to know about how AI tools work, and who does not? A second challenge involves learning how AI tools intersect with international relations and the dynamics of globalization. Beyond questions of knowledge, power, and globalization, it is important to consider the relationship between AI and social justice."</p> <p><strong>Action</strong>: Conduct a political, economic, and materialist analysis of the relationship of AI technology to global trade, governance, natural environments, and culture. <a href="">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Clues and Caution for AI from the History of Biomedicine </strong><br /> Robin Wolfe Scheffler, Leo Marx Career Development Professor in the History and Culture of Science and Technology<br /> School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences</p> <p>"The use of AI in the biomedical fields today deepens longstanding questions raised by the past intractability of biology and medicine to computation, and by the flawed assumptions that were adopted in attempting to make them so. The history of these efforts underlines two major points: 'Quantification is a process of judgment and evaluation, not simple measurement' and 'Prediction is not destiny.'"</p> <p><strong>Action</strong>: First, understand the nature of the problems we want to solve — which include issues not solvable by technical innovation alone. Let that knowledge guide new AI and technology projects. <a href="">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>The Environment for Ethical Action</strong><br /> T.L. Taylor, professor of comparative media studies<br /> School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences</p> <p>"We can cultivate our students as ethical thinkers but if they aren’t working in (or studying in) structures that support advocacy, interventions, and pushing back on proposed processes, they will be stymied. Ethical considerations must include a sociological model that focuses on processes, policies, and structures and not simply individual actors."</p> <p><strong>Action</strong>: Place a commitment to social justice at the heart of the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing. <a href="">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Biological Intelligence and AI</strong><br /> Matthew A. Wilson, Sherman Fairchild Professor of Neuroscience<br /> School of Science and the Picower Institute</p> <p>"An understanding of biological intelligence is relevant to the development of AI, and the effort to develop artificial general intelligence (AGI) magnifies its significance. AGIs will be expected to conform to standards of behavior...Should we hold AIs to the same standards as the average human? Or will we expect AIs to perform at the level of an ideal human?"</p> <p><strong>Action</strong>: Conduct research on how innate morality arises in human intelligence, as an important step toward incorporating such a capacity into artificial intelligences. <a href="">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Machine Anxiety </strong><br /> Bernardo Zacka, assistant professor of political science<br /> School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences</p> <p>"To someone who studies bureaucracy, the anxieties surrounding AI have an eerily familiar ring. So too does the excitement. For much of the 20th century, bureaucracies were thought to be intelligent machines. As we examine the ethical and political implications of AI, there are at least two insights to draw from bureaucracy's history: That it is worth studying our anxieties whether or not they are realistic; and that in doing so we should not write off human agency."</p> <p><strong>Action</strong>: When societies undergo deep transformations, envisioning a future that is both hopeful and inclusive is a task that requires moral imagination, empathy, and solidarity. We can study the success of societies that have faced such challenges well. <a href="">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Part III: A Structure for Collaboration</strong><br /> <strong><em>Thinking together is powerful.</em></strong></p> <p><strong>Bilinguals and Blending </strong><br /> Hal Abelson, Class of 1922 Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science<br /> School of Engineering</p> <p>"When we study society today, we can no longer separate humanities — the study of what’s human — from computing. So, while there’s discussion under way about building bridges between computing and the humanities, arts, and social sciences, what the College of Computing needs is blending, not bridging. MIT’s guideline should be President Reif’s goal to 'educate the bilinguals of the future' —experts in many fields who are also skilled in modern computing."</p> <p><strong>Action</strong>: Develop approaches for joint research and joint teaching. <a href="">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>A Dream of Computing</strong><br /> Fox Harrell, professor of digital media and artificial intelligence<br /> School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences and Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory</p> <p>"There are numerous perspectives on what computing is: some people focus on theoretical underpinnings, others on implementation, others still on social or environmental impacts. These perspectives are unified by shared characteristics, including some less commonly noted: computing can involve great beauty and creativity."</p> <p><strong>Action</strong>: "We must reimagine our shared dreams for computing technologies as ones where their potential social and cultural impacts are considered intrinsic to the engineering practices of inventing them." <a href="">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>A Network of Practitioners </strong><br /> Nick Montfort, professor of media studies<br /> School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences</p> <p>"Computing is not a single discipline or even a set of disciplines; it is a practice. The new college presents an opportunity for many practitioners of computing at MIT."</p> <p><strong>Action</strong>: Build a robust network with many relevant types of connections, not all of them through a single core. <a href="">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Two Commentaries </strong><br /> Susan Silbey, chair of the MIT Faculty; Goldberg Professor of Humanities, professor of sociology and anthropology; and professor of behavioral and policy sciences<br /> School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences and MIT Sloan School of Management</p> <p>How Not To Teach Ethics: "Rather than thinking about ethics as a series of anecdotal instances of problematic choice-making, we might think about ethics as participation in a moral culture, and then ask how that culture supports or challenges ethical behavior."</p> <p>Forming the College:&nbsp; "The Stephen A. Schwarzman College is envisioned to be the nexus connecting those who advance computer science, those who use computational tools in specific subject fields, and those who analyze and write about digital worlds." <a href="">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Ethical AI by Design </strong><br /> Abby Everett Jaques, postdoc in philosophy<br /> School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences</p> <p>"We are teaching an ethical protocol, a step-by-step process that students can use for their own projects. In this age of self-driving cars and machine learning, the questions&nbsp;feel&nbsp;new, but in many ways they’re not. Philosophy offers powerful tools to help us answer them." <a href="">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><em>Series prepared by MIT SHASS Communications<br /> Office of the Dean, MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences<br /> Series Editors: Emily Hiestand, Kathryn O'Neill</em></p> Image: MIT News OfficeSchool of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, School of Engineering, School of Science, MIT Sloan School of Management, School of Architecture and Planning, Biology, Chemical engineering, Anthropology, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Literature, Philosophy, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), Physics, Management, MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, Technology and society, Artifical intelligence, Machine learning, Ethics, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Political science Spenser’s &quot;Faerie Queene&quot; as a modern visual comic Junior Ivy Li, a literature and physics major, adapts a legendary work and innovates in an enduring literary tradition. Thu, 07 Mar 2019 11:45:00 -0500 School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences <p>Adapting a story — from page to screen, or from biography to fiction — is a precarious process, as a narrative is reinvented in the translation from one medium to another,&nbsp;often&nbsp;radically different medium from the original.<br /> <br /> Junior Ivy Li, a double major in literature and physics, navigated a particularly gnarly adaptation process recently while studying one of the legendary works of English literature. &nbsp;</p> <p>Edmund Spenser’s "The Faerie Queene" is a phantasmagoric adventure, a 16th century epic poem by a contemporary of Shakespeare. It’s also immense, stretching over six books of challenging material. In course 21L.705 (Major Authors: Avatars, Allegory, and&nbsp;Apocalypse in Spenser’s "Faerie Queene")&nbsp;MIT students wrangle with understanding, and ultimately transforming, this monumental work.<br /> <br /> Professor Mary Fuller, who teaches 21L.705 and heads the MIT Literature section, explains the historical background for her students’ 21st century creative engagements with "The Faerie Queene": “From 1596 on, Spenser’s readers have been interacting with the poem to produce new paratextual material: tools to navigate and understand the text, adaptation in other genres and media, additions to a work that is both massive and notoriously unfinished.”<br /> <br /> This tradition of “active reading,” which both elucidates and expands a story, is the basis of Fuller’s course; her students work to contextualize Spenser’s many-layered narrative. Written at the dawn of a nascent British Empire struggling to find its national identity, the text is a successor to medieval chivalric romance, and has since seen sprawling use in fantasy genres and modern allegory. It’s a famously meandering story rife with knightly quests, flexible gender roles, sharp comedy, and political argument.<br /> <br /> Li says Spenser’s epic poem&nbsp;“is essentially an alternate-universe fan fiction,” the story of King Arthur “before he was king: a virtuous man is destined for glory, but he needs to wander a bit first.”</p> <p>Each week, the students in Fuller’s class plot the roaming, narrative arc of the poem, visually storyboarding and mapping the movement of characters and events through the story’s six books. The coursework includes research presentations and analytical writing, alongside what the syllabus calls “a modest amount of creative work.”<br /> <br /> Li took that creative charge above and beyond. Pouring 70 hours of work into the creative final project over “a two-week drawing binge,” Li produced a detailed, stylized, and striking <a href="" target="_blank">visual comic adaption</a> of a particularly difficult portion of The Faerie Queene’s fourth book.&nbsp;<br /> <br /> “Using roughly a tenth as many words as the original,” writes Professor Fuller, “[Li’s adaptation] makes shapely narrative from a part of the poem that used to be considered incoherent and obscure. Ivy also makes sure you get the jokes.”<br /> <br /> For Li, the study of both literature and physics is based in a deep aesthetic appreciation of the universe and the human condition.</p> <p>“Physics and literature both search for explanations to the universe around us,” writes Li, “one through mathematics and experimentation, the other, through words. The fact that there's some fundamental truth that can be explained through human language is incredible to me.”<br /> <br /> Participating in the MIT Arts Scholars program, and serving as an arts editor for <em>The Tech,</em> MIT's student newspaper, have also provided Li opportunities to develop a deeper understanding of the literary and visual arts, including the comic medium which Li has long admired for its malleable, interdisciplinary nature.<br /> <br /> “Since childhood, I’ve been passionate about comics because they tell rich stories by blending elements of different media,” Li says.&nbsp;“Requiring the skills of a playwright and a cinematographer, the comic book medium sits snugly at the intersection between text and visual art.”<br /> <br /> Li began honing that skill as a first-year student, jumping at the opportunity to take 21W.744 (The Sweet Art of Comic Book Writing),&nbsp;taught by acclaimed author Marjorie Liu. The class — technically a specialized genre fiction workshop — takes students on a survey of a wide variety of comics, from indie web comics to big corporate print titles.<br /> <br /> During that far-ranging sampler, students explore&nbsp;questions of gender, race, ethnicity, and sexuality in narrative, and have a chance to create their own short scripts and comic book stories. Liu, the first woman to win the Eisner Award for Best Writer, the comic industry’s top writing prize, is the writer behind Black Widow, Astonishing X-Men, and most recently Monstress.<br /> <br /> The Faerie Queene adaptation project provided the next creative frontier for Li: “At MIT, I have done some illustration and comic strip work for <em>The Tech, </em>but I had never before worked on something of this length and scale. I was excited yet nervous for my first full-page comic project.”<br /> <br /> Li studied, drafted, and experimented with layouts and character designs, working from reference images of horses and knights as well as human anatomy. The project was still in full swing when the class deadline brought it to a close. Even after Li put down the fountain pen, however, the mental revising and improving continued.<br /> <br /> “Creative work enriches my literature experience,” Li reflected, several weeks after finishing the massive endeavor, “bringing me greater insight into a work’s meaning. The magic of adaption is that interpreting a work through another medium sheds an interesting new perspective while maintaining the integrity of the original.”</p> <p>Ivy Li's complete adaptation from the fourth book of Edmund Spenser's "The Faerie Queene" is available as&nbsp;an <a href="" target="_blank">online digital book</a>, accompanied by commentaries from Li and Mary Fuller.&nbsp;</p> <p><em><span style="font-size:12px;">Story prepared by MIT SHASS Communications<br /> Emily Hiestand, editorial director<br /> Alison Lanier, senior communications associate </span></em></p> For Li, the study of both literature and physics is based in a deep aesthetic appreciation of the universe and the human condition. “Physics and literature both search for explanations to the universe around us, one through mathematics and experimentation, the other, through words. The fact that there's some fundamental truth that can be explained through human language is incredible to me.”Photo: Jon SachsSchool of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Literature, Physics, Students, Books and authors, Arts, School of Science 2019 MacVicar Faculty Fellows named Professors Angrist, Demaine, Jones, and Taylor receive MIT&#039;s highest honor in undergraduate teaching. Mon, 04 Mar 2019 23:59:59 -0500 Alison Trachy | Registrar’s Office <p>The Office of the Vice Chancellor and the Registrar’s Office have announced this year’s <a href="">Margaret MacVicar Faculty Fellows</a>: economics Professor Joshua Angrist, computer science Professor Erik Demaine, anthropology Associate Professor Graham Jones, and comparative media studies Professor T. L. Taylor. They will be honored this Friday, March 8, during <a href="">MacVicar Day</a>.</p> <p>The fellows come from across the Institute and represent a diverse range of academic disciplines. This academy of scholars is committed to exceptional instruction and innovation in education, embodying through their work the continuing promise of an MIT education for the future. This year’s MacVicar Day program seeks to examine what this future looks like.</p> <p>A symposium, entitled “The Educated Student: Thinking and Doing for the 21st Century,” will feature lightning talks by professors and students that address the following questions: “What’s important to today’s learner?” and “How is MIT adapting to these changing needs?”</p> <p>In addition to celebrating the new fellows, Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz will host the event, which will take place on Friday from 2 to 4 p.m. in Room 6-120. A Q&amp;A panel and reception will follow. All in the MIT community are welcome to attend.</p> <p>The Margaret MacVicar Faculty Fellows Program was named to honor the life and contributions of the late Margaret MacVicar, professor of physical science and the first dean for undergraduate education. It recognizes exemplary undergraduate teaching by appointing fellows to 10-year terms in which they receive $10,000 per year of discretionary funds. Faculty are nominated through letters from colleagues and students.</p> <p><strong>Joshua Angrist</strong></p> <p>Joshua Angrist is the Ford Professor of Economics, a director of MIT’s School Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative, and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. After completing his undergraduate degree at Oberlin College, Angrist received his MA and PhD from Princeton University. He began teaching at MIT in 1996.</p> <p>“Joshua Angrist is a path-breaking scholar whose brilliant work has advanced the cause of transparency, robustness, and ultimately credibility in empirical economics and public policy for over three decades,” says Parag Pathak, the Jane Berkowitz Carlton and Dennis William Carlton Professor of Microeconomics.</p> <p>A disruptor and <a href="">natural experimenter</a>, Angrist isn’t afraid to rock the boat. “There’s always a good argument for why ‘the current way is the best way,’” says his colleague David Autor, the Ford Professor of Economics. “To Angrist’s credit, he pushed hard, made unpopular arguments, and coaxed and goaded the department to innovate in the undergraduate program. … He has devoted his scholarship, pedagogy, and Institute service to advancing teaching brilliantly, modernizing the economics curriculum broadly, and improving the MIT undergraduate experience at the Institute-wide level.”</p> <p>Duane Boning, professor of electrical engineering and computer science and chair of the Committee on the Undergraduate Program, concurs, admiring how Angrist encourages the committee to consider “big ideas and not just small tweaks” when it comes to the evolution of the undergraduate curriculum. “Josh is quite willing to be controversial in his positions and arguments — resulting in lively and much richer discussions that might not otherwise be possible," says Boning.</p> <p>When it comes to advising, Angrist goes the extra mile. Students considering doctoral programs appreciated how he shared his own experiences with graduate school and put them in touch with colleagues and former students who could offer additional perspectives. One wrote, “In econometrics, we argue causality when there is an exogenous shock to the system. Prof. Angrist is my exogenous shock. It was a stroke of random luck that I took his 14.32 class my sophomore spring, but that experience pushed me from a clueless undergraduate… to a Ph.D. candidate in economics hoping to use econometric techniques to better the world.”</p> <p>“I love teaching, especially at MIT,” Angrist says. “It’s gratifying to know that many of my students have as much fun in my classes as I do.”</p> <p><strong>Erik Demaine</strong></p> <p>In 2001, at the age of 20, Professor in Computer Science Erik Demaine became the youngest faculty member ever hired by MIT. He has been at the Institute ever since, pursuing wide-ranging interests that have led to a <a href="">MacArthur “genius” grant</a> and <a href="">art displays</a> at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Smithsonian Institution. In 2017, he helped construct a <a href="">universal algorithm</a> for folding origami shapes, a project which he had initially begun almost two decades prior.</p> <p>“I chose to join MIT’s faculty because of their care for undergraduate education and the constant quest for improvement,” Demaine says. “It’s awesome to share this honor with the many great educators here.”</p> <p>Charles Leiserson, a Course 6 colleague, described what it was like to co-teach with Demaine during his first term at MIT: “In my 37 years at MIT, this teaching experience was surely among my most pleasurable. Erik … [was] well-prepared, articulate, inspiring, empathetic, imaginative, engaging, and fun. He taught with a passion. I have never seen a brand-new faculty member with such a complete ‘package’ of teaching skills.”</p> <p>Many nominators spoke of how his meticulous lecture notes have become the gold standard for teaching in the field. Demaine’s notes “convey the magic of algorithms in a clean, crisp, and inviting, yet still complete way,” says Konstantinos Daskalakis, professor of computer science and electrical engineering.</p> <p>“Erik has a deep conceptual view of how to organize and explain the interplay between the ideas in algorithm design,” adds Ronitt Rubinfeld, another EECS professor. “His notes especially shine in the difficult topics, such as how to teach dynamic programming. His deep and thoughtful classification of the different ideas that go into explaining why dynamic programming algorithms work is well beyond any explanation that I have heard in the past 30 years.”</p> <p>“Erik has a joyful, energetic style of teaching that everyone loves,” says Srini Devadas, the Webster Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.</p> <p>This energy is evident in his classes, which are centered around collective problem-solving. To harness this spirit of cooperation, he developed a tool called Coauthor. As one student explained, “Coauthor allowed people to collaborate even beyond class hours … as people suggested different directions, and made incremental progress over several days.”</p> <p>“The combination of both the drive and ability to impact student learning for the better is what makes Erik such an effective teacher, both inside and outside the classroom,” said another student.</p> <p><strong>Graham Jones</strong></p> <p>An “infectious passion.” An “unassuming nature” and a “willingness to learn and grow.” A “commitment to excellence.” Nominators enthusiastically listed the qualities that made Graham Jones, associate professor of anthropology, worthy of the MacVicar Fellow honor.</p> <p>Jones came to MIT in 2010, following three years as a lecturer and postdoctoral member of the Princeton Society of Fellows. He received an undergraduate degree in literature at Reed College before attending New York University to complete his PhD in anthropology.</p> <p>Calling the recognition “both thrilling and humbling,” Jones expressed gratitude for his colleagues and reflected on how deep thought and conversation with students can lead to a strong sense of shared purpose. “Anthropology has been called the most humanistic of the sciences and the most scientific of the humanities. I have learned to embrace that duality,” he says. “This makes for a really exciting way for me to invite brilliant students with backgrounds in science and engineering into the heart of a discipline that seeks to help us understand what it means to be human.”</p> <p>One particular class, <a href="">21A.157 (The Meaning of Life)</a>, seems to have had an outsized effect on the students who have taken it. “Given the name, I came in with high expectations,” wrote one student nominator. “Professors Jones and [Heather] Paxson, who co-taught the class, did not disappoint.”</p> <p>Another wrote: “The emphasis that Professor Jones places on fostering discussion that makes the abstracted ideas in a reading immediate and relevant creates an environment where students come into class bursting at the seams to start picking apart the day’s topics.”</p> <p>“Graham is without peer in my estimation, always leaving a positive, indelible mark on the students,” says Susan Silbey, the Leon and Anne Goldberg Professor of Humanities, Sociology, and Anthropology, a professor of behavioral and policy sciences at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the head of the faculty. “Graham’s classes transform the students, setting them on paths of lifelong learning and self-reflection.”</p> <p>Students emphatically agreed. One wrote, “Professor Jones has been integral to my success as an undergraduate at MIT. I would not have nearly as much confidence, joy, self-respect, or courage as I have now without him.”</p> <p><strong>T. L. Taylor</strong></p> <p>“To be given such an honor based on doing work I truly enjoy is a rare gift,” says T. L. Taylor, professor of comparative media studies, upon learning that she had been named a MacVicar Fellow. “Our students are this wonderful mix of super-sharp, hardworking, and humble. I’m constantly impressed with how game they are to think critically and sociologically. Getting to work with them around topics related to media and technology has been incredibly gratifying.”</p> <p>Taylor received her bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley and her MA and PhD from Brandeis University. Her classes, such as CMS.614 (Network Cultures) and CMS.616 (Games and Culture), focus on how we interact with online environments.</p> <p>In addition to <a href="">promoting inclusion</a> within the e-sports community, she is also active in the Institute’s First Generation Program, which champions students who are the first in their family to attend college. Scott Hughes, professor of physics and fellow program member, explains that Taylor “[is] always bringing a focus on the economic needs that are disproportionately important to first-gen students to our discussions. The passion that T. L. brings to our group’s work exemplifies the commitment to MIT’s undergraduate students that is a hallmark of a MacVicar Fellow.”</p> <p>Students appreciated Taylor’s ability to help them have a personal conversation with the course material. “Students have the freedom to dive deeper into what really intrigues them without losing sight of the path,” wrote one nominator. “The opportunity for us to personally engage with the content is critical to Taylor’s success in the classroom: It’s how she lets us bridge the gap between the theory and the reality of our personal world,” wrote another.</p> <p>In her involvement with the Comparative Media Studies/Writing curriculum committee, Taylor is “always sensitive and empathic where students are concerned,” says CMS Professor Heather Hendershot, and this commitment does not end at graduation. One alumnus wrote, “With the benefit of hindsight, I can now say with certainty that it took me two years to realize that T. L. was completely correct about my passions, skills, and what I want to do in the future. I continue to seek her advice even after MIT because she remains just as accessible and compassionate as she was when I was at MIT.”</p> Left to right: Erik Demaine, Graham Jones, T.L. Taylor, Joshua AngristImage courtesy of MITOffice of the Vice Chancellor, MacVicar fellows, School of Humanities Arts and Social Science, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), School of Engineering, Anthropology, Sloan School of Management, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Faculty, Awards, honors and fellowships, Undergraduate, Education, teaching, academics, Mentoring Festival of Learning highlights innovation Digital technologies, such as virtual reality, drive better outcomes for MIT students and global learners. Tue, 19 Feb 2019 15:10:01 -0500 Chuck Leddy | MIT Open Learning <p>The third annual <a href="" target="_blank">Festival of Learning</a>, organized by <a href="" target="_blank">MIT Open Learning</a> and the <a href="" target="_blank">Office of the Vice Chancellor</a>, highlighted educational innovation, including how digital technologies and shared best practices are enabling educators to drive better learning outcomes for MIT students and global learners via online courses. “As a community, we are energized by all the transformation and innovation happening within the education space right now,” said <a href="" target="_blank">Krishna Rajagopal</a>, dean for digital learning, open learning, as he kicked off the festival.</p> <p><strong>The educator’s role: to engage and inspire learners</strong></p> <p>Keynote speaker <a href="" target="_blank">Po-Shen Loh</a>, Carnegie Mellon University associate professor, founder of online education platform <a href="" target="_blank">Expii</a>, and coach of the U.S. International Math Olympiad Team, surprised a morning audience of about 400 people in Room 10-250 when he held up a small red die and asked why opposite sides of the die always add up to seven. Loh then began a lively, Socratic interaction with the audience that blended math and physics with engaging humor. What Loh’s inquiry consciously didn’t include was digital technology.</p> <p>“If we’re all here in this room together,” explained Loh, “we should be taking advantage of this unique opportunity to interact dynamically with each other.” Loh rejected the idea that an educator is someone who simply transmits content to learners. “The teacher’s role is not just to convey information, but to be a cheerleader and a coach inspiring learners to pursue knowledge on their own initiative.”</p> <p>Loh then held up his smartphone. “Today, every person has an enormous amount of power to do good if they leverage technology.” He described how he founded Expii as a student-directed online learning platform in math and science that would allow users to tailor educational content to however they preferred to learn. As an example, Loh mentioned that teenagers love YouTube because it allows them to decide for themselves how they’ll pursue their own interests; he mentioned the viral <a href="" target="_blank">Baby Shark</a> phenomenon as an example. Expii followed a similar “personalized engagement” model: “Expii is built in such a way that anyone can contribute and anyone can learn in the ways they want to learn,” said Loh. The takeaway for educators was clear: Making space for personalization can drive engagement.</p> <p>Loh concluded his hourlong talk by explaining that the accelerating pace of technological change, and the way that change impacts learning and work, have made the capacity to keep learning both urgent and essential: “You need to learn constantly today, no matter who you are and where you are in life,” he said.</p> <p><strong>Virtual reality in education</strong></p> <p>Next, <a href="" target="_blank">D. Fox Harrell</a>, professor of digital media and artificial intelligence and director of the MIT Center for Advanced Virtuality, kicked off the panel “Virtual Experience, Real Liberation: Technologies for Education and the Arts.” He moderated the panel and presented research on how extended-reality technologies such as virtual reality (VR) can be used to enable people to understand systematic social phenomena, such as dehumanizing the other in war, racial and ethnic socialization, and sexism in the workplace. Harrell argued that technologies of virtuality can play a role in serving the social good by reducing bias and helping people critically reflect upon society.</p> <p>Harrell highlighted research projects on “how to use computer science to impact social issues” such as police brutality and global conflict resolution. VR, for example, is being used to allow people to engage with those on opposite sides of global conflicts virtually, providing them with insights into aspects of their shared humanity and fostering empathy.</p> <p>Panelist <a href="" target="_blank">Tabitha Peck</a>, professor of mathematics and computer science at Davidson College, shared her research on using VR to combat implicit bias and stereotype threat, a situation in which individuals are at risk of conforming to a negative stereotype about a group to which they belong. By enabling users to inhabit another person’s body virtually, noted Peck, “a person is offered different perspectives that can impact behavior.” In one example, a domestic abuser was subjected to verbal abuse in a virtual world. “He broke down and cried after,” Peck said, and the experience became an important part of his treatment and recovery efforts.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Eran Egozy</a>​, professor of the practice in music technology and co-founder of Harmonix, next described how he has spent his career tackling a single question: "Can we create a musical instrument which shortens the learning curve for music-making, enabling learners to get to a point of enjoyment faster?” The extremely popular culmination of Egozy’s efforts at Harmonix was “Guitar Hero,” and he detailed the development of the blockbuster game. Egozy ended his talk on a high note, asking everyone in Room 10-250 to pull out their smartphones, connect to the internet, and use their phones to perform as an orchestra in an audience-participation experience called "Tutti." With Egozy waving a baton in the front, and each section of the auditorium assigned a different, smartphone-enabled instrument, the audience played a three-minute musical composition called “Engineered Engineers.”</p> <p>Finally, in the panel’s Q&amp;A session that ended the morning festivities, Harrell prompted Peck and Egozy to explore how each of their systems play parts in broader ecologies of users, designers, collaborators, caregivers, artists, and more. Technologies of virtuality, he asserted, are not panaceas on their own, but can act within networks of people and systems to serve the greater good.</p> <p><strong>Afternoon expo and workshops</strong></p> <p>The festival also featured 26 exhibits developed by faculty and staff. Visitors had the opportunity to experience the Institute’s hallmark approach to pedagogy — hands-on learning — from observing their own brain waves and writing equations seemingly in mid-air to learning about digitally-certified diplomas and exploring autonomously-driven vehicles. One exhibitor was <a href="" target="_blank">Residential Education</a>, which uses digital tools to drive improved educational outcomes for on-campus courses. Meredith Davies, senior education technologist, explained “we’re here at the festival to educate MIT faculty on the various ways they can use innovation to improve learning. We advise MIT faculty on how they can leverage research-based teaching practices and tailor digital tools to the needs of their learners.”</p> <p>The festival concluded with three afternoon workshops. MIT Senior Learning Scientist <a href="" target="_blank">Aaron Kessler</a> explored the origins of learning science as a bridge between cognitive psychology and other fields such as sociology, political science, computer science, education, and economics. Associate Dean Kate Trimble led a well-attended workshop that looked at new ways to envision experiential learning at MIT. And Tabitha Peck’s workshop explored body-illusion dynamics in virtual reality.</p> <p>“It’s been great being here today at the Festival of Learning and seeing so many engaged people with so many different ideas about how to improve education,”&nbsp;Poh-Shen Loh said. “What’s really struck me is the high level of enthusiasm everyone has shown for doing things better.”</p> Keynote speaker Po-Shen Loh is a Carnegie Mellon University associate professor, founder of online education platform Expii, and coach of the U.S. International Math Olympiad Team.Photo: Allen YannoneTechnology and society, Augmented and virtual reality, Special events and guest speakers, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Music and theater arts, Office of Open Learning, Vice Chancellor, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Education, teaching, academics Times Higher Education ranks MIT No.1 in business and economics, No.2 in arts and humanities Worldwide honors for 2019 span three MIT schools. Thu, 15 Nov 2018 13:25:01 -0500 School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences <p>MIT has taken the top spot in the Business and Economics subject category in the 2019 Times Higher Education World University Rankings and, for the second year in a row, the No. 2 spot worldwide for Arts and Humanities.<br /> <br /> The Times Higher Education World University Rankings is an annual publication of university rankings by&nbsp;<em>Times Higher Education,</em> a leading British education magazine. The rankings use a set of 13 rigorous performance indicators to evaluate schools both overall and within individual fields. Criteria include teaching and learning environment, research volume and influence, and international outlook.</p> <p><strong>Business and Economics</strong></p> <p>The No. 1 ranking for Business and Economics is based on an evaluation of both the MIT Department of Economics — housed in the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences — and of the MIT Sloan School of Management.</p> <p>“We are always delighted when the high quality of work going on in our school and across MIT is recognized, and warmly congratulate our colleagues in MIT Sloan with whom we share this honor,” said Melissa Nobles, the Kenan Sahin Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS).</p> <p>The Business and Economics ranking evaluated 585 universities for their excellence in business, management, accounting, finance, economics, and econometrics subjects. In this category, MIT was followed by Stanford University and Oxford University.</p> <p>“Being recognized as first in business and management is gratifying and we are thrilled to share the honors with our colleagues in the MIT Department of Economics and MIT SHASS,” said David Schmittlein, dean of MIT Sloan.</p> <p>MIT has long been a powerhouse in economics. For over a century, the Department of Economics at MIT has played a leading role in economics education, research, and public service and the department’s faculty have won a total of nine Nobel Prizes over the years. MIT Sloan faculty have also won two Nobels, and the school is known as a driving force behind MIT’s entrepreneurial ecosystem: Companies started by MIT alumni have created millions of jobs and generate nearly $2 trillion a year in revenue.</p> <p><strong>Arts and Humanities</strong></p> <p>The Arts and Humanities ranking evaluated 506 universities that lead in art, performing arts, design, languages, literature, linguistics, history, philosophy, theology, architecture, and archaeology subjects. MIT was rated just below Stanford and above Harvard University in this category. MIT’s high ranking reflects the strength of both the humanities disciplines and performing arts located in MIT SHASS and the design fields and humanistic work located in MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning (SA+P).</p> <p>At MIT, outstanding humanities and arts programs in SHASS — including literature; history; music and theater arts; linguistics; philosophy; comparative media studies; writing; languages; science, technology and society; and women’s and gender studies — sit alongside equally strong initiatives within SA+P in the arts; architecture; design; urbanism; and history, theory, and criticism. SA+P is also home to the Media Lab, which focuses on unconventional research in technology, media, science, art, and design.</p> <p>“The recognition from <em>Times Higher Education</em> confirms the importance of creativity and human values in the advancement of science and technology,” said Hashim Sarkis, dean of SA+P. “It also rewards MIT’s longstanding commitment to “The Arts” — words that are carved in the Lobby 7 dome signifying one of the main areas for the application of technology.”</p> <p>Receiving awards in multiple categories and in categories that span multiple schools at MIT is a recognition of the success MIT has had in fostering cross-disciplinary thinking, said Dean Nobles.</p> <p>“It’s a testament to the strength of MIT’s model that these areas of scholarship and pedagogy are deeply seeded in multiple administrative areas,” Nobles said. “At MIT, we know that solving challenging problems requires the combined insight and knowledge from many fields. The world’s complex issues are not only scientific and technological problems; they are as much human and ethical problems.”</p> “At MIT, we know that solving challenging problems requires the combined knowledge and insight from many fields. The world’s complex issues are not only scientific and technological problems; they are as much human and ethical problems,” says Melissa Nobles, the Kenan Sahin Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.Photo: Madcoverboy/Wikimedia CommonsAwards, honors and fellowships, Arts, Architecture, Business and management, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Economics, Global Studies and Languages, Humanities, History, Literature, Linguistics, Management, Music, Philosophy, Theater, Urban studies and planning, Rankings, Media Lab, School of Architecture and Planning, Sloan School of Management, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences Inside the world of livestreaming as entertainment T.L. Taylor looks at how computer gaming and other forms of online broadcasting became big-time spectator sports. Wed, 07 Nov 2018 00:00:00 -0500 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p>Several years ago, a couple thousand people filed into Le Grand Rex, a Paris auditorium, to watch a performance. It was not a concert, however. Instead, a group of professional computer-game players competed to see who could win at “StarCraft 2,” a science fiction game where human exiles from Earth battle aliens.</p> <p>Beyond the audience watching in person, meanwhile, was another audience streaming an online broadcast of the competition — including T.L. Taylor, a professor in the Comparative Media Studies/Writing program at MIT.</p> <p>For years, Taylor has been chronicling the rise of esports: competitive computer games watched by audiences like the one at Le Grand Rex. But, as Taylor chronicles in a new book, esports showcases are part of a larger cultural trend toward livestreaming as a distinctive mode of entertainment. That trend also encompasses a scrappier outsider culture of do-it-yourself gaming broadcasts and other uses of streaming, a genre as popular as it is overlooked in the mainstream media.</p> <p>“We’re at a fascinating moment right now,” says Taylor, about the growth of the livestreaming movement.</p> <p>And now, in her book, “Watch Me Play: Twitch and the Rise of Game Livestreaming,” Taylor examines the ascendance of livestreaming in its many forms, while analyzing the commercialization of streaming and some of the social tensions that come with the subculture.</p> <p>As Taylor emphasizes in the book, the rise of livestreaming is very much tied to Twitch, the San Francisco-based streaming website where people broadcast their contests, and their lives. Twitch has about 10 million active daily users and was purchased by Amazon in 2014.</p> <p>“Formalized competitive computer gaming has been around for decades,” Taylor notes. “But it also used to be a lot of work to be a fan. You had to know what specialist websites to visit. You had to download replay files or seek out recorded videos. Livestreaming changed everything.”</p> <p>Originally, livestreaming was not necessarily meant to focus on gaming. Instead, it was partly conceived as a “new form of reality TV,” according to Justin Kan, who in 2007 founded, a site broadcasting events from his own life. After seeing how popular livestreaming of gaming was, however, Kan and some partners founded Twitch as a separate platform. It has since grown to encompass people who stream cooking and “social eating” content, music shows, and more.</p> <p>Still, computer gaming remains a principal driver of livestreaming. One branch of this has become organized esports, complete with teams, sponsors, and corporate investment. Another branch consists of individuals building their own audiences and brands, one gaming session at a time, broadcasting on camera while playing and interacting with their audiences.</p> <p>This can be a grueling occupation. In the book, Taylor visits the home of a suburban Florida gaming entrepreneur while he broadcasts a playing session that begins at 3:30 a.m., to draw a global audience. After several hours, the session netted this independent livestreaming player about 50 new subscribers, 800 new followers, and $500 in donations, all while his children slept.</p> <p>“Eventually these livestreamers become not only content producers but also brand and community managers,” Taylor writes in the book. Some of them are also unlikely broadcast personalities, by their own admission. “I guess a part of me is that talkative person on the screen, but as soon as it goes off … I’m kind of a quiet person offstream,” says gaming star J.P. McDaniel, as recounted in Taylor’s book.</p> <p>Meanwhile, livestreaming is a heavily male-dominated field. As Taylor documents in the book, women, people of color, and participants from the LGBTQ community can face serious levels of harassment, which limits their participation in the culture.</p> <p>“Women also continue to face stereotypes and pushback when they focus on competitive games and have professional aspirations,” Taylor writes in the book. Indeed, a central theme of “Watch Me Play” is that all forms of livestreaming, including professional esports, have much to tell us about larger social trends, instead of existing as a kind of cultural cul-de-sac.</p> <p>“Far too often we imagine what happens in play and games as being separate from ‘real life,’” says Taylor. “But our leisure is infused with not only our identities and social worlds, but broader cultural issues. This is probably most obvious when we think about how gender plays a powerful role in our leisure, shaping who is seen as legitimately allowed to play, what they can play, and in what ways.”</p> <p>For this reason, Taylor adds, “those very moments when people are engaging in play remain some of the most politically infused spaces” in society. Thus, for all the novelty, Taylor hopes her study of livestreaming will appeal to those who have never watched competitive computer games, alone or at Le Grand Rex.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“My hope is that it [the book] gets picked up by not only those who are interested in livestreaming, but readers who might want to finally understand how to think about gaming” as it expands in society, and as entertainment becomes diversified across media platforms, Taylor says.</p> <p>“Digital games have become a part of many people’s everyday lives,” she adds. “My hope is that the work helps make clear what is at stake in that.”</p> T.L. Taylor of MIT’s Comparative Media Studies/Writing program has written a book about the rise of eSports and competitive gaming called “Watch Me Play.” Image: T.L. Taylor and Bryce VickmarkSchool of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Gaming, Video games, Technology and society, Faculty, Books and authors, Women Analyzing the 2018 election: Insights from MIT scholars SHASS faculty members offer research-based perspectives with commentaries, plus a Music for the Midterms playlist, and an election book list. Tue, 30 Oct 2018 12:00:00 -0400 School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences <p><em>For the 2018 version of the <a href="">Election Insights</a> series,&nbsp;MIT humanities, arts, and social science faculty members are&nbsp;offering research-based perspectives on issues of importance to the country — ranging from the future of work to national security to civic discourse and the role that, as the Constitution states,&nbsp;"we, the people" have in the defense of democracy itself.</em></p> <p><em>In addition to&nbsp;commentaries, the series also includes "Music for the Midterms," a lively playlist created by our music faculty,&nbsp;and an annotated election book list consisting of&nbsp;nine works selected by MIT humanities scholars for their value&nbsp;illuminating&nbsp;this moment in American history.</em></p> <p><em>Please, remember to vote on&nbsp;or before Nov. 6.</em></p> <p><strong>Commentary: On civil society and the defense of democracy</strong><br /> <br /> "What is written in a constitution can take a nation only so far unless society is willing to act to protect it. Every constitutional design has its loopholes, and every age brings its new challenges, which even farsighted constitutional designers cannot anticipate. We have to keep reminding ourselves that the future of our much-cherished institutions depends not on others but on ourselves, and that we are all individually responsible for our institutions." <em>—Daron Acemoglu, the Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics</em>&nbsp; <a href="" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a><br /> <br /> <strong>Commentary:&nbsp;On partisan politics</strong><br /> <br /> "Partisan polarization is one of most important political developments of the past half-century. Of course, Democrats and Republicans have always taken divergent positions on issues ranging from slavery to internal improvements. Nevertheless, contemporary polarization differs from that of earlier eras, if only because the U.S. government directly shapes the lives of so many more people, in the U.S. and around the world." <em>—Devin Caughey, associate professor of political science</em>&nbsp; <a href="" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a><br /> <br /> <strong>Commentary:&nbsp;On media technology and immigration policy</strong><br /> <br /> "Widespread access to social media lowers the barrier for communities that have been marginalized by mass media and makes it easier for them to gain visibility and adherents. How might any of this affect the midterm elections? Here are three brief hypotheses, based on my ongoing research into the relationship between media technologies and social movements." <em>—Sasha Costanza-Chock, associate professor of civic media</em> <a href="" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a><br /> <br /> <strong>Commentary:&nbsp;On democracy and civic discourse</strong><br /> <br /> "Elections are helpful reminders (as if we needed any) that we do not all agree. Yet, we must somehow figure out how to get along despite our disagreements. In particular, we may wonder whether, and to what extent, we should tolerate views we disagree with. In some cases, a well-functioning discursive market — a public forum of diverse views — may require us to respond to certain views with 'discursive intolerance." <em>—Justin Khoo, associate professor of philosophy&nbsp; </em><a href="" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a><br /> <br /> <strong>Commentary:&nbsp;On female candidates of color</strong><br /> <br /> “A record number of women have filed as candidates this year, and a record number have won primaries in House and Senate races. Women of color make up one-third of the women candidates for the House, and three of four female gubernatorial nominees are women of color." <em>—Helen Elaine Lee, professor of writing</em>&nbsp; <a href="" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a><br /> <br /> <strong>Commentary:&nbsp;On social media and youth political engagement</strong><br /> <br /> "Although discussions about youth and new media tend to assume that something about the technology itself is responsible for political and social changes, in fact, the political possibilities associated with contemporary media are highly contingent upon societal power structures.” <em>—Jennifer Light, the Bern Dibner Professor of the History of Science and Technology</em>&nbsp; <a href="" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a><br /> <br /> <strong>Commentary:&nbsp;On the U.S.-</strong><strong>North Korea relationship</strong><br /> <br /> "The North Korean nuclear program is not something to be 'solved' — that window has closed — it is an issue to be managed. The good news is that the United States has a lot of experience managing the emergence of new nuclear weapons powers." <em>—Vipin Narang, associate professor of political science</em>&nbsp; <a href="" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a><br /> <br /> <strong>Commentary:&nbsp;On reducing gun violence</strong><br /> <br /> "America’s gun culture is a resilient fact of political life. Attempts to reverse the country’s appetite for firearms have largely failed, even as gun violence persists at an astonishing pace. Lately, however, a social movement to challenge gun culture has rocked politics for the first time in a generation." <em>—John Tirman, executive director and principal research scientist in the Center for International Studies</em>&nbsp; <a href="" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a><br /> <br /> <strong>Commentary:&nbsp;On American identity</strong><br /> <br /> "The stories and interpretations that different groups of Americans offer of economic changes, including the loss of manufacturing jobs and growing inequality, are central to how they understand their own social positions as well as the kinds of economic and political futures they can envision. Many Americans are now struggling for a way to understand and talk about these economic changes — changes that are also apparent in other wealthy countries but more extreme in the United States.” <em>—Christine Walley, professor of anthropology&nbsp;</em> <a href="" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a><br /> <br /> <strong>Playlist: Music for the Midterms</strong><br /> <br /> As America heads toward the 2018 midterm elections on Nov. 6, MIT Music faculty offer a wide-ranging playlist — from Verdi to Gershwin to Lin-Manuel Miranda — along with notes on why each work resonates with this election season. <a href="" target="_blank">Access the playlist &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Annotated election book list: Reading for the Midterms</strong><br /> <br /> As the 2018 midterms approach, MIT writers and scholars in the humanities offer a selection of nine books — along with notes on why each work is illuminating for this moment in American political history. <a href="" target="_blank">Browse the book list &gt;&gt;</a></p> The 2018 Election Insights series includes: Research-based commentaries by MIT experts on key issues for the country; a "Music for the Midterms" playlist; and an annotated election booklist.School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Anthropology, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Economics, International initiatives, Philosophy, Political science, Technology and society, Security studies and military, Books and authors, Manufacturing, Music, North Korea, Social media, Voting and elections Amy Finkelstein, Lisa Parks win 2018 MacArthur Fellowships Health care economist and media studies scholar are the latest MIT faculty to nab prestigious “genius grant.” Thu, 04 Oct 2018 12:01:00 -0400 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p>Two MIT professors, health care economist Amy Finkelstein and media studies scholar Lisa Parks, have each been awarded a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship.</p> <p>The prominent award, colloquially known as the “genius grant,” comes in the form of a five-year $625,000 fellowship, which is unrestricted, meaning recipients can use the funding any way they wish. There are 25 such fellowships being awarded in 2018. Alumna Deborah Estrin SM ’83, PhD ’85, a computer scientist at Cornell Tech, is also a new MacArthur Fellow.</p> <p>“I’m very honored,” says Finkelstein, the John and Jennie S. MacDonald Professor of Economics at MIT, adding that she was surprised when first notified by the MacArthur Foundation.</p> <p>“I’m extremely grateful to MIT,” says Finkelstein, who has been both a doctoral student and faculty member at the Institute. “I’ve essentially spent my entire intellectual life here.”</p> <p>Noting that the award is a sign of respect for her branch of economics generally, Finkelstein says she appreciates the “broader attention to the scientific work that health care economists are doing and recognition of the progress we have made as a science.”</p> <p>Parks says her MacArthur award is “an incredible honor,” and that she is “thrilled to be receiving it as a humanities scholar.” She also notes that the grant will help support a new writing project as well as other research efforts.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“The fellowship will help me to write another book and will be a big boost for the Global Media Technologies and Cultures (GMTaC) Lab that I recently launched at MIT,” Parks says.</p> <p>Parks, who joined the MIT faculty in 2016 after teaching at the University of California at Santa Barbara, credited the intellectual environment at both places, adding that she was “grateful to my colleagues and students at MIT and UC Santa Barbara, and share this honor with them. They supported me as I tried experimental approaches and ventured off the beaten path.”</p> <p><strong>Decoding medical costs</strong></p> <p>Finkelstein’s research has yielded major empirical findings about the cost, value, and use of health care in the U.S. Her studies are known for both their results and their rigorous methodological approach; Finkelstein often uses “natural experiments,” in which certain social policies create two otherwise similar groups of people who differ in, say, their access to medical care. This allows her to study the specific effects of policies and treatments of interest.</p> <p>One of the best-known research projects of Finkelstein’s career focuses on Oregon’s use of a lottery to expand state access to Medicaid. In a series of papers, Finkelstein and her co-authors found that access to Medicaid helped the poor get more medical treatment and avoid some financial shocks, while actually increasing use of emergency rooms.</p> <p>Earlier in her career, Finkelstein published an influential 2007 paper detailing the varied effects of the introduction of Medicare in the U.S. in the 1960s. The study showed that Medicare's launch was associated with increases in health care spending and the adoption of new medical technologies, while having positive financial effects on the program's recipients.</p> <p>Finkelstein has trained her investigative lens on a wide variety of other issues, however. Earlier this year, she published multiple papers showing that serious medical problems subsequently reduce earnings and hurt employment, while increasing personal debt, but do not lead to outright bankruptcy as often as is sometimes claimed.&nbsp;</p> <p>Finkelstein received her PhD from MIT in 2001 and joined the Institute faculty in 2005. In addition to her professorship in MIT’s Department of Economics, Finkelstein is co-scientific director of <em>J</em><em>-</em><em>PAL North America</em>, an MIT-based research center that encourages randomized evaluations of social science questions. In 2012, she received the John Bates Clark Medal, granted by the American Economic Association to the best economist under the age of 40.</p> <p><strong>Satellite scholar</strong></p> <p>Parks is an expert on the cultural effects of space-age technologies, especially satellites. She has written in close detail about the ways new technology has shaped our conception of things as diverse as war zones and the idea of a “global village.” As Parks has said, her work aims to get people “to think of the satellite not only as this technology that’s floating around out there in orbit, but as a machine that plays a structuring role in our everyday lives.”</p> <p>Parks is the author of the influential 2005 book, “Cultures in Orbit,” and has co-edited five books of essays on technology and culture, including the 2017 volume “Life in the Age of Drone Warfare.”</p> <p>Parks also has a keen interest in technology and economic inequality, and her research has also examined topics such as the video content accessible to Aboriginal Australians, who, starting in the 1980s, attempted to gain greater control of satellite television programming in rural Australia.</p> <p>As the principal investigator for MIT’s Global Media Technologies and Cultures Lab, Parks and MIT graduate students in the lab conduct onsite research about media usage in a range of places, including rural Africa.</p> <p>Parks received her PhD at the University of Wisconsin before joining the faculty at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and then moving to MIT.</p> <p>Including Finkelstein and Parks, 23 MIT faculty members and three staff members have won the MacArthur fellowship.</p> <p>MIT faculty who have won the award over the last decade include computer scientist Regina Barzilay (2017); economist Heidi Williams (2015); computer scientist Dina Kitabi and astrophysicist Sara Seager (2013); writer Junot Diaz (2012); physicist Nergis Mavalvala (2010); economist Esther Duflo (2009); and architectural engineer John Ochsendorf and physicist Marin Soljacic (2008).</p> Amy Finkelstein (left) and Lisa Parks.Image: Bryce Vickmark and Jake BelcherFaculty, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Economics, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Awards, honors and fellowships, Health care, Satellites, Technology and society 3 Questions: Sasha Costanza-Chock on new “#MoreThanCode” report Study of 188 practitioners distills key recommendations about using technology to advance social justice and the public interest. Thu, 23 Aug 2018 23:59:59 -0400 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p><em>Not every technology platform or tool you use, or website you visit, comes straight from a startup or Silicon Valley. Many are developed by nonprofits, government agencies, or advocacy groups practicing community technology, technology for social justice, or “public interest technology.” What can we learn from these community-engaged technology practitioners? How can organizations that work for equity achieve the diversity they often advocate for in society? </em></p> <p><em>Sasha Costanza-Chock, an associate professor in Comparative Media Studies/Writing at MIT, is the lead author of a new report, titled “<a href="">#MoreThanCode: Practitioners reimagine the landscape of technology for justice and equity</a>,” which delves into these issues. The report distills 109 interviews, 11 focus groups, and data from thousands of organizations into five high-level recommendations for those who want to use technology for the public good. (The report was funded by NetGain, the Ford Foundation, Mozilla, Code for America, and OTI.) </em>MIT News<em> sat down with Costanza-Chock to talk about the report and its recommendations.</em></p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> Who are the practitioners in this tech ecosystem?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> “#MoreThanCode” is a report about people working to use technology for social good and for social justice — the space the report’s funders call “public interest technology.” There’s a very wide range of roles for people who use technology to advance the public interest, and it’s not only software developers who are active.</p> <p>One of our key recommendations is that when funders and organzations — be they city governments or nonprofits or for-profit companies — are putting together teams, they need to think broadly about who is on that team. We found that a good team to develop technology that’s going to advance social justice or the public interest is going to include software developers, graphic designers, researchers, and domain [subject] experts. Domain experts might have formal expertise, but the most important team member is someone with lived experience of the particular condition that technology is supposed to address.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> On that note, can you say a little about the current state of social diversity in this sector?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> Certainly. One of our key goals in the report was to produce baseline knowledge about who’s working in public interest technology. And unfortunately, in terms of hard data, the main finding is that we don’t have it, because many organizations in the space have not published diversity and inclusivity data about who their staff are, who their volunteers are.</p> <p>And so one recommendation in the report is that everybody who says they’re doing public interest technology, or using technology for good, should be gathering data about, at the very least, race and gender, and publicly releasing it. Gathering and releasing diversity data, and setting time-bound, public targets for diversity and inclusion goals, are two main things that we know work in organizations, from the evidence-based literature. Good intentions aren’t enough.</p> <p>Although we weren’t able to gather that kind of sector-wide diversity data, we did interview 109 people and conduct focus groups with 79 more, and asked them about their experiences with racism, sexism, transphobia, ableism, and other common forms of systematic marginalization people experience. About half of the people we talked to for the report said they had experiences like that.</p> <p>The leading recommendation at the end of the report is summed up in a slogan from the disability justice movement, which is, “Nothing about us, without us.” The idea is that when you’re going to develop a technology to help a community, you have to include members of that community from the beginning of your process … and ideally in the governance of the project when it’s deployed.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> The report also suggests people should not always look for “silver bullets” or instant answers from technology alone. Why is that, and what are some of the other recommendations from the report?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> I’m not going to say it’s never about finding a new [technological] solution, but over and over again, the people we interviewed said the projects that were most successful were deployments of resilient, proven technology, rather than some super-exciting new app that’s suddenly supposed to solve everything.</p> <p>One recommendation is that when organizations set up tech teams, you want someone from the community on the design team, not just at a moment of consultation. That’s a pretty important takeaway. A lot of people told us it was important to go further than just doing initial consultations with a community — having people on the design team from beginning to end is a best practice we recommend.</p> <p>Some people talked about creating tech clinics, modeled after legal clinics in education. That would be something a place like MIT could think about. Law schools often require students to spend a certain number of hours providing legal services pro bono to people in different domains who otherwise can’t afford lawyers. It would be interesting to consider whether there could be a [similar] tech clinic concept.</p> <p>Our final recommendation was about recognizing organizational models beyond traditional startups, government offices, or 501c3 nonprofits — for example, consider tech cooperatives, or ad hoc networks that emerge around a crisis moment. These are hard for investors or foundations to fund: Whom do you fund? And yet a lot of really important technology projects are informal. In the wake of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, there were hundreds of developers, techies, and community organizers doing everything they could, ad hoc, to get communications infrastructure back up.</p> <p>People should develop strategies for supporting those kinds of networks when they do spring up. For funders, that may mean setting up a crisis response fund with a mechanism to rapidly dispense smaller amounts of funds. And members of the MIT community who are creating new companies to bring “tech for good” innovations to market should consider worker-owned cooperatives, platform co-ops, and other models that internally mirror the kind of world they’d like to build.</p> <p><em>The report can be accessed at <a href=""></a>. </em></p> Sasha Costanza-Chock Image: Allegra BovermanDiversity and inclusion, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Computer science and technology, Politics, Social media, Social networks, Social justice, Technology and society, Social sciences, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences Seth Mnookin brings bestselling author’s touch to teaching science journalism Science “pushes me to constantly go out of my comfort zone,” says director of MIT’s science writing program. Thu, 26 Jul 2018 23:59:59 -0400 David L. Chandler | MIT News Office <p>As an undergraduate, Seth Mnookin went through five or six different majors before finally settling on history and science — an apt combination for someone who would end up heading MIT’s Graduate Program in Science Writing, as he does now. But there was a long road in between these endpoints.</p> <p>“I didn’t think I had the skills to be a bench scientist,” Mnookin recalls, “but science was something that fascinated me.” At the same time, he says, “I knew since high school that I wanted to be a journalist.”</p> <p>At Newton North High School in Newton, Massachusetts, he worked on the school paper, where he says he learned more from the paper’s advisor, Helen Smith, than he has “from any other person.” Smith imparted to her students the importance of attention to detail, Mnookin recalls, by “treating our paper as if it was <em>The New York Times.</em> … She really laid the foundations [and showed] that being a reporter gave you a way to go anywhere, talk to anyone.”</p> <p>Mnookin pursued a dual history and science major as an undergraduate at Harvard University, which, he says, “allowed me to focus on science through a humanities lens.” That combination worked well for him, leading to a career as a writer for prestigious publications and eventually to penning award-winning books including “The Panic Virus,” about the erroneous belief that vaccines contributed to a rise in autism cases.</p> <p>It wasn’t all science along the way, though. “I didn’t do anything with my degree for about 15 years,” Mnookin says. Instead, he covered very different topics, including the amazing rise of the Red Sox to win their first World Series in nearly a century, in his book “Feeding the Monster: How Money, Smarts, and Nerve Took a Team to the Top.” Earlier, he wrote about journalism, in his 2004 book “Hard News: The Scandals at <em>The New York Times </em>and Their Meaning for American Media,” which was named by <em>The Washington Post</em> as a best book of the year.</p> <p>Mnookin started his journalism career as a freelance rock and jazz critic before joining <em>The Palm Beach Post</em> in Florida as a crime and metro reporter in 1997. In 1999 he moved to New York City, where he covered City Hall for <em>The Forward,</em> a Jewish weekly newspaper. The following year, he was hired by <em>Brill’s Content </em>to cover the 2000 presidential campaign.</p> <p>He describes that campaign as a great introduction to political coverage, which found him riding on press planes with people who had been covering politics since John F. Kennedy’s campaign and later the Watergate scandal. “It was an incredible experience,” he recalls. Among other things, “I got to interview [Bill] Clinton in the Oval Office.”</p> <p>After<em> Brill’s Content</em> closed shortly after Sept. 11, Mnookin was hired as a senior writer at <em>Newsweek</em>, where he covered the media.</p> <p>Soon, a series of scandals rocked the journalism world, involving plagiarism and falsified interviews with people who turned out not to exist. Jayson Blair at <em>The New York Times,</em> for example, was found to have invented sources for numerous stories. “I had been skeptical” about the leadership at the <em>Times</em> in those days, he says, and that led to his first book, “Hard News,” which was an account of those events.</p> <p>After that project, as he was wondering about what to write as a second book project, “a fortuitous confluence of events” led Mnookin to follow the progress of a new young general manager: local boy Theo Epstein, who had taken over at the Red Sox, vowing that “this is the year they’re going to win” after having failed to win a World Series since 1918.</p> <p>“I spent a year living with the team,” Mnookin says, a period that included the amazing come-from-behind win of the 2004 series. The book came out in the summer of 2006 and made the <em>Times</em> best-seller list in its first week. The fact that the book did so well, Mnookin says, had “less to do with me, and more about the fact that people like to read about winning sports teams.” The success of that book, he says, “gave me more freedom to choose what’s next.”</p> <p>He had previously interviewed for science writing positions, including at <em>The Wall Street Journal,</em> and “I knew that was something I wanted to get back into.” He started looking into what was then heating up as an intense controversy: the now thoroughly debunked notion that vaccines were contributing to a rise in autism rates. That became the subject of his next book, “The Panic Virus,” which he says took him longer to write and required more discipline than anything he had done before.</p> <p>He says the reason he finds writing about science so attractive, compared to, say, music, which he also loves to write about, is that “science was a difficult type of challenge. It pushes me to constantly go out of my comfort zone. You’re always learning about new things, and I think that’s the coolest part about being a journalist.”</p> <p>Mnookin joined MIT in 2011, first as a lecturer in the Graduate Program in Science Writing. The following year, he was hired as an assistant professor and became the program's co-director. In 2016 he became the director of that program and and the following year was promoted to professor of science writing in the Comparative Media Studies/Writing program. “What we do here is a little bit different” than at many other journalism schools, he says, stressing the importance of providing students with real-world journalistic experiences and giving them the hands-on knowledge that he says is indispensable in today’s journalism world.</p> <p>These days, with newspapers declining and fewer entry-level jobs in the business, he says, “it’s much more difficult to just pop in and learn on the job — to understand what the null principle is, or to get a study and immediately focus on what the shortcomings are, [or to ask,] ‘is the sample size sufficient for the conclusions the authors claim?’ That kind of stuff can be pretty difficult to learn on the job.”</p> <p>Since he’s been the director, the science writing program has added some new modules to its curriculum every year, he says, including one on podcasting and another on data journalism. “We want to constantly update ourselves,” including finding more ways to help fund students’ learning and find them employment opportunities.</p> <p>Mnookin has also been collaborating with Deborah Blum, director of MIT’s Knight Science Journalism Fellowship Program, to find ways for the two programs to work together. Each year, four students from the graduate program work as editorial interns for <em>Undark</em>, a magazine Blum runs out of the Knight program. The students also write profiles of all Knight fellows each year as a way for the two groups to get to know each other.</p> <p>In addition to his academic work, Mnookin has met with MIT students struggling with drug-use issues, and has served as a resource for Student Support Services. He's motivated by personal experiences with drug-use disorders, which stretched from high school through his mid-twenties. “I almost died as a result of heroin dependency,” he says.</p> <p>Outside of MIT, Mnookin spends his free time with his wife Sara and their two children, Max and Eliza. They love music and go to a lot of concerts together, says Mnookin, who also enjoys playing the mandolin.</p> Seth MnookinImage: Bryce VickmarkSchool of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Science writing, Science journalism, Science communications, Books and authors, Faculty, Profile Reveling in a complex, unknowable future MIT Media Lab and MIT Press announce winners of the Journal of Design and Science essay competition. Mon, 23 Jul 2018 12:30:01 -0400 Amy Harris | MIT Press <p>The inaugural <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Journal of Design and Science</em></a> (<em>JoDS</em>) essay competition recently concluded with the announcement of 10 winners. Answering the call to create works in conversation with Media Lab Director Joi Ito’s manifesto “<a href="" target="_blank">Resisting Reduction</a>” and the articles on this theme published in the third issue of <em>JoDS, </em>the authors of the winning essays addressed topics including gender and power in the age of AI, the contributions social workers can make to data-based systems, and the fluid boundaries of non-communicable disease, among others.</p> <p>Ito and MIT Press Director Amy Brand conceived of the competition as a way to support the free exchange of ideas, and more than 260 entrants answered the open call for submissions. Following a double-blind review and selection process, the judges decided to grant the maximum number of available prizes. Each winning essay entitles its authors to a $10,000 award funded by the Media Lab and the MIT Press Innovations Fund, which supports open access and experimental publishing projects.</p> <p>"One of our primary goals with <em>JoDS</em> is to invite interaction between the sometimes siloed academic disciplines as well as those public intellectuals who don’t fit in a discipline," said Ito. "This contest was part of a larger effort to experiment with open access and open discourse in scholarly communication, and I'm very excited about the level of informed ideas and the delightful diversity the contest winners have brought to the conversation."</p> <p>The 10 winning pieces are now published on the <em>JoDS</em> website under a Creative Commons license. In the coming months, they will go through further peer review and revision, and will finally be collected in an MIT Press book to be published in 2019. Proceeds from the sale of this volume will support open access publishing at the Institute.</p> <p>“We are encouraged by the response to the competition and the range of perspectives that the entrants brought to bear in exploring the theme of Resisting Reduction across industries and schools of thought,” said Brand. “<em>JoDS</em> aims to bridge gaps between disciplines, and the winning essays will expand the conversations already taking place in the journal by generating further discussion and exchange.”</p> <p>A joint venture of the MIT Media Lab and the MIT Press, the <em>Journal of Design and Science </em>is hosted on <a href="" style="color: rgb(17, 85, 204); text-decoration: none;" target="_blank">PubPub</a>, an open-access, open-review, rapid-publication platform that invites lively discussions, unconventional formats, and widespread participation among members of many different communities. Readers are now able to enjoy and interact with the 10 winning essays:</p> <ul> <li> <p>“<a href="" style="color: rgb(17, 85, 204); text-decoration: none;" target="_blank">The Wicked Queen’s Smart Mirror</a>” by Snoweria Zhang. Zhang is currently a research fellow at the MIT Senseable City Lab.</p> </li> <li> <p>“<a href="" style="color: rgb(17, 85, 204); text-decoration: none;" target="_blank">Making Kin with the Machines</a>” by Jason Edward Lewis, Noelani Arista, Archer Pechawis, and Suzanne Kite. Arista is assistant professor of Hawaiian and U.S. history at University of Hawai‘i-Mānoa. Pechawis is a practicing artist with particular interest in the intersection of Plains Cree culture and digital technology. Kite — an Oglala Lakota performance artist, visual artist, and composer<strong> — </strong>is currently a PhD student at Concordia University.</p> </li> <li> <p>“<a href="" style="color: rgb(17, 85, 204); text-decoration: none;" target="_blank">Systems Seduction: The Aesthetics of Decentralization</a>” by Gary Zhexi Zhang. Zhang is currently a graduate student in the Program in Art, Culture, and Technology at MIT.</p> </li> <li> <p>“<a href="" style="color: rgb(17, 85, 204); text-decoration: none;" target="_blank">Design Justice, AI, and Escape from the Matrix of Domination</a>” by Sasha Costanza-Chock. Costanza-Chock is a scholar, activist, and media-maker who is currently associate professor of civic media at MIT.</p> </li> <li> <p>“<a href="" style="color: rgb(17, 85, 204); text-decoration: none;" target="_blank">Systems Justice</a>” by Vafa Ghazavi. Ghazavi is a John Monash Scholar and doctoral student at the University of Oxford.</p> </li> <li> <p>“<a href="" style="color: rgb(17, 85, 204); text-decoration: none;" target="_blank">Myth and the Making of AI</a>” by Kat Holmes and Molly McCue. Holmes is founder of Kata and <a href="" style="color: rgb(17, 85, 204);" target="_blank"></a>, complimentary ventures for advancing inclusion in product development and digital experiences. McCue is a writer, musician, and founder of a non-profit that helps artists and churches create together in new ways.</p> </li> <li> <p>“<a href="" style="color: rgb(17, 85, 204); text-decoration: none;" target="_blank">How to Become a Centaur</a>” by Nicky Case. Case makes “explorable explanations” — games designed to explain complex issues, including The Evolution of Trust, Parable of the Polygons, A Better Ballot, and Fireflies.</p> </li> <li> <p>“<a href="" style="color: rgb(17, 85, 204); text-decoration: none;" target="_blank">What Social Work Got Right and Why it is Needed for our [Technology] Evolution</a>” by Jaclyn Sawyer. Sawyer currently serves as the director of data services at Breaking Ground, a non-profit organization that provides homeless street outreach and housing opportunity.</p> </li> <li> <p>“<a href="" style="color: rgb(17, 85, 204); text-decoration: none;" target="_blank">Resisting Reduction: The Fluid Boundaries of Non-Communicable Disease</a>” by Cathryn Klusmeier. Klusmeier graduated with distinction from the University of Oxford in 2018 with a master’s degree in medical anthropology and currently lives in Sitka, Alaska, working as a commercial salmon fisherwoman and writer.</p> </li> <li> <p>“<a href="" style="color: rgb(17, 85, 204); text-decoration: none;" target="_blank">The Truth Will Set Us Free: A Paradigm to End Reductionism According to Girls</a>” by Heidi Therese Dangelmaier. Dangelmaier is an inventor, designer, scientist and founder of the growth and innovation firm, Girlapproved.</p> </li> </ul> Journal of Design and Science winning essays cover a range of disciplines and perspectives, from design and tech, to health and gender, to AI and morality.Image: Nick PhilipContests and academic competitions, MIT Press, Media Lab, Open access, Center for Civic Media, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Art, Culture and Technology, School of Architecture and Planning, Urban studies and planning, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences Contemplating the eyes in the sky Media studies scholar Lisa Parks examines the way satellites and other aerial technologies have changed society. Fri, 20 Jul 2018 00:00:00 -0400 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p>Satellites have changed the way we experience the world, by beaming back images from around the globe and letting us explore the planet through online maps and other visuals. Such tools are so familiar today we often take them for granted.</p> <p>Lisa Parks does not. A professor in MIT’s Comparative Media Studies/Writing program, Parks is an expert on satellites and their cultural effects, among other forms of aerial technology. Her work analyzes how technology informs the content of our culture, from images of war zones to our idea of a “global village.”</p> <p>“I really wanted people to think of the satellite not only as this technology that’s floating around out there in orbit, but as a machine that plays a structuring role in our everyday lives,” Parks says.</p> <p>As such, Parks thinks we often need to think more crisply about both the power and limitations of the technology. Satellite images helped reveal the presence of mass graves following the Srebrenica massacre in the 1990s Balkans war, for instance. But they became a form of “proof” only after careful follow-up reporting by journalists and other investigators who reconstructed what had happened. Satellites often offer hints about life on the ground, but not omniscience.</p> <p>“Since satellite images are so abstract and remote, they necessitate closer scrutiny, re-viewing, careful description, and interpretation in ways that other images of war do not,” Parks writes in her 2005 book “Cultures in Orbit.”</p> <p>Alternately, satellite images can open up our world — or be exclusionary. The landmark 1967 BBC show “Our World,” one of the first broadcasts to feature live global satellite video links, was touted as a global celebration. But as Parks writes, it reinforced distinctions between regions, by emphasizing “the modernity, permanence, and civilizational processes of industrial nations,” and thus “undermining the utopian assumption that satellites inevitably turned the world into a harmonic ‘global village.’”&nbsp;</p> <p>For her distinctive scholarship, Parks was hired by MIT in 2016. She studies a range of media technologies — from the content of television to drone imagery — and has co-edited five books of essays on such topics, including the 2017 volume “Life in the Age of Drone Warfare.” Parks is also the principal investigator for MIT’s Global Media Technologies and Cultures Lab, which conducts on-site research about media usage in a range of circumstances.</p> <p>“Technology and culture is what I’m interested in,” Parks says.</p> <p><strong>Big sky, then and now</strong></p> <p>Parks grew up in Southern California and Montana. Her father was a civil engineer and her mother was a social worker — a combination, Parks suggests, that may have helped shape her interests in the social effects of technology.</p> <p>As an undergraduate at the University of Montana, Parks received her BA in political science and history. She initially expected to become a lawyer but then reconsidered her career path.</p> <p>“I didn’t want to be in an office all of the time,” Parks says. So she went back to the classroom, at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where she received her PhD in media studies. It was there that Parks’ attention really turned to the skies and the technologies orbiting in them. She wrote a research paper on satellites that turned into both her dissertation and first book. Parks then took a job at the University of California at Santa Barbara, where she taught for over a decade before joining MIT.</p> <p>“I loved my job there, I loved working in the U.C. system, and I had excellent colleagues,” says Parks. Still, she adds, she was fascinated by the opportunities MIT offers, including its abundant interdisciplinary projects that pull together researchers from multiple fields.</p> <p>“MIT seems to really value those kinds of relationships,” Parks says.</p> <p>In the classroom, Parks teaches an undergraduate course on current debates in media, which grapples with topics ranging from surveillance to net neutrality and media conglomerations. For graduate students, she has been teaching a foundational media theory course.&nbsp;</p> <p>“If you’re an MIT student and you want to come out of this place having thought about some of the policy implications relating to the media in this current environment, our classes equip you to think historically and critically about media issues,” Parks says.</p> <p><strong>Technology … and justice for all</strong></p> <p>One other issue strongly motivates Parks’ scholarship: the idea that technology is unevenly distributed around the world, with important implications for inequality.</p> <p>“Most people in the world live in relatively disenfranchised or underprivileged conditions,” Parks says. “If we shift the question about designing technologies so they serve a broader array of people’s interests, and designs are interwoven with concerns about equity, justice, and other democratic principles, don’t those technologies start to look different?”</p> <p>To this end, MIT’s Global Media Technologies and Cultures Lab, under Parks’ direction, studies topics such as media infrastructure, to see how video is distributed in places such as rural Zambia. Parks’ research has also examined topics such as the video content accessible to Aboriginal Australians, who, starting in the 1980s, attempted to gain greater control of, and autonomy over, the satellite television programming in rural Australia.</p> <p>Parks’ research takes place in a variety of social and economic orbits: In March, you could have found her and a research assistant, Matt Graydon, at the Satellite 2018 convention in Washington, interviewing CEOs and industry leaders for a new study of satellite-based internet services.</p> <p>In some places around the globe, the effects of aerial technology are more immediate. In the volume on drones, Parks writes that these tools create a “vertical mediation” between ground and sky — that when “drones are operating in an area over time, above a certain region, they change the status of sites and motions on the ground.” She elaborates on this in her new book, out this year, “Rethinking Media Coverage: Vertical Mediation and the War on Terror.”</p> <p>As diverse as these topics may seem at first, Parks’ scholarly output is intended to expore more deeply the connection between aerial and orbital technologies and life on the ground, even if it is not on the mental radar for most of us.&nbsp;</p> <p>“We need to be studying these objects in orbit above, and think about orbital real estate as something that’s relevant to life on Earth,” Parks says.</p> “I really wanted people to think of the satellite not only as this technology that’s floating around out there in orbit, but as a machine that plays a structuring role in our everyday lives,” says Lisa Parks, a professor in MIT’s Comparative Media Studies/Writing program.Photo: Jake BelcherFaculty, Profile, Satellites, Humanities, History of science, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Technology and society, Autonomous vehicles, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences At doctoral hooding ceremony, a call to make the world “more just, more fair” Candis Callison SM ’02, PhD ’10, professor and journalist, tells doctoral graduates they can “shift society” for the better. Thu, 07 Jun 2018 14:30:00 -0400 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p>Professor and journalist Candis Callison SM ’02 PhD ’10 urged MIT’s doctoral graduates to “make the world a more just, more fair place,” in her keynote speech today at the Institute’s colorful 2018 Investiture of Doctoral Hoods.</p> <p>“The contributions you can make with your PhD can amplify some kinds of data, collaborations, problems, and solutions over others,” said Callison, a scholar at the University of British Columbia and award-winning journalist. “Should you choose, your work and your research can shift society toward better systems and processes, which make the world a more just, more fair place for all of us to live in.”</p> <p>The joyous ceremony celebrates new graduates earning doctoral degrees this academic year. It was held in MIT’s Johnson Athletics Center, where a large audience of family members and friends filled the stands.</p> <p>MIT professors, clad in the visually brilliant, multihued robes of the universities where they received their own doctorates — including MIT — placed doctoral hoods over students from 26 departments, programs, and centers at the Institute, as well as MIT’s joint program with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.</p> <p>In all, MIT awarded 645 doctoral degrees in the 2017-2018 academic year.&nbsp;</p> <p>With most of those graduates in attendance, Callison offered a welcoming sentence — translated as “I am happy for what you’ve all done” — in the language of the Tahltan Nation, an indigenous people of British Columbia, of which she is a member. The audience then repeated the greeting along with her.</p> <p>In her remarks, Callison reflected on the culture of MIT as well as her own experiences as a doctoral student at the Institute.</p> <p>“MIT is a place that values not only experimental methods and outcomes in research, but an experimental life,” Callison said, adding that this can include “working hard, taking detours and risks, becoming resilient when things don’t go as planned, taking the scenic route through failures and innovative efforts to define and solve problems.”</p> <p>She suggested that “there are very few, if any other places, that I think would have had faculty that supported me to do my coursework and research the way I did.”</p> <p>Callison began her career as a journalist for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and CTV News. After eight years in television, she arrived at MIT, where she first pursued a master’s degree in the Comparative Media Studies program, something she termed “an incredible experience.” She then earned her PhD in 2010 from the HASTS program, the joint doctoral group comprising MIT History faculty, the program in Anthropology, and the program in Science, Technology, and Society.</p> <p>Callison’s doctoral thesis examined the ways knowledge about climate change relates to the social groups in which people live; that PhD research also formed the basis of her 2014 book, “How Climate Change Comes to Matter: The Communal Facts of Life,” published by Duke University Press. Callison is currently an associate professor at the University of British Columbia.</p> <p>As Callison recounted, she also had two children while a PhD student at MIT — “Just in case you thought I was joking about leading an experimental life” —</p> <p>which certainly presented challenges when it came to finishing her degree. And, while she noted that “it takes a lot of mettle to succeed” in doctoral studies at MIT, “having a community of others doing what you’re doing really helps.”</p> <p>Callison also observed that obtaining a PhD at MIT both amplifies the values and ideas that students bring with them to graduate school, and provides them with tools to be used subsequently, at all stages of life.</p> <p>“I’ve come to think of my time here as one of the best and most formative parts of my journey,” Callison observed, adding: “It’s neither a beginning nor an end.”</p> <p>Callison was introduced by MIT Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart SM ’86, PhD ’88, the Ford Foundation Professor of Engineering, who also briefly addressed the graduates.</p> <p>“You have made discoveries and created knowledge at a time when society faces grand challenges and urgently needs more understanding, more innovation, and more problem-solving,” Barnhart said, adding that the faculty “feel fortunate to stand with you in applying ‘mens et manus et cor,’ mind and hand and heart, toward building a better world.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Barnhart also quipped that the ceremony represented a moment of “accomplishment, elation, hope, and, let’s be honest, of relief” for the new doctorate holders, after years of concerted study.</p> <p>The current format of MIT’s doctoral hooding ceremony represents the revitalization of an venerable tradition. Callison’s speech in 2018 marks the fourth year the ceremony has had a keynote speaker (who thus far has always had an MIT doctorate). Callison was chosen with input from MIT faculty and doctoral students.</p> <p>The colorful academic regalia of the doctoral ceremony represents an evolving tradition as well. Academic regalia dates at least to the 15th century, but American universities did not codify the standards of graduation gowns and hoods until 1893.</p> <p>At MIT, doctoral degree robes have featured their current design since 1995. MIT gowns have a silver-gray robe with a striking cardinal red velvet front panel, as well as cardinal red velvet bars on the sleeves. There are additional color markings denoting whether graduates have received a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or a Doctor of Science (ScD) degree.</p> <p>The doctoral hoods themselves are part of the doctoral robe ensemble. After the welcoming remarks by Barnhart and the keynote address by Callison, all doctoral graduates had their names announced as they walked across the stage individually. The new doctoral degree holders then had the hoods draped over their shoulder by their department or program heads.</p> Graduates celebrated at MIT’s Investiture of Doctoral Hoods, June 7, 2018.Image: Dominick Reuter Commencement, Graduate, postdoctoral, Special events and guest speakers, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, School of Science, School of Engineering, Sloan School of Management, School of Architecture and Planning, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Students, Community, Alumni/ae Hacking virtual reality Contributing to a culture of pioneers, MIT students explore the technical, philosophical, and artful dimensions of VR. Thu, 31 May 2018 23:59:59 -0400 School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences <p>One of the newest makerspaces on MIT’s campus exists in virtual reality — where students are pioneering a medium so new that the terminology is still being defined.</p> <p>In the hands-on humanities class CMS.339 (<a href="">Virtual Reality and Immersive Media Production</a>) students are grappling with multiple dimensions of making virtual reality (VR), among them: technical challenges, such as how to prevent the fatigue common to users of VR devices; philosophical questions, such as the difference between “presence” and “immersion”; and issues related to the art of storytelling, especially discovering the visual languages and narrative forms that VR enables.</p> <p>“It takes eight minutes to learn how to make the 360-video camera work. The rest — figuring out the experience you want to make — is your mind,” says instructor <a href="">Sandra Rodriguez</a>, who first taught the semester-long class in 2017 in collaboration with William Uricchio, professor of comparative media studies. Their class, which made history as the first VR class ever to be offered at MIT, ran again this term.</p> <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> <p><strong>Inventing a new language</strong></p> <p>Offered by the Comparative Media Studies/Writing program (CMS/W), the new VR class appeals to students interested in the nexus of technology, design, and storytelling. Production in the class relies on tech elements — including the Unity development platform — and the course focuses on the creative works that the technology supports.</p> <p>“A medium is a way of expression. With this new medium, we’re inventing new language,” says Rodriguez, who is also a visiting scholar in the Open Documentary Lab within the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences and creative director of the EyeSteelFilm Creative Reality Lab.<br /> &nbsp;</p> <p>Cattalyya Nuengsigkapian, a junior majoring in computer science, says she enjoys the class because it delves more into design than most of her classes. “This is not only technical. It’s more like art," she says. "That’s why I think I learn a lot.”</p> <p><strong>Entering the world of virtual reality</strong></p> <p>To enable students to gain a rich understanding both of the medium and its potential, Rodriguez begins with an introduction. “I want our students to understand the field and to be able to distinguish themselves.”</p> <p>First, the terms. Today, “virtual reality” is generally held to mean a computer-generated experience that attempts to immerse the user in a simulated world. “Augmented reality” (AR) inserts computer-generated elements into the user’s view of the real world; you might, for example, be able to bounce a virtual ball while otherwise viewing the room in which you are actually standing. Another term, “360 video,” describes the experience of essentially being in the movie you are viewing — except that you are not an actor; while you can look at the scene from every angle, you can’t affect the scene.</p> <p><strong>A longstanding dream</strong></p> <p>Next, Rodriguez outlines the history of the field. Students learn that the earliest VR forays date back to the 1950s and ’60s. In 1962, for example, a “Sensorama” machine was created that gave users a way to see films enhanced with sounds, odors, and motion. “Human beings have long had this dream of being in the scene," says Rodriguez. "We like to have our senses fooled and to feel like we are there. That’s not new.”</p> <p>Rodriguez notes that one could easily teach a whole class on the history of VR, and another on the pure technical requirements of a 360 video or VR experience production. But as a documentary-maker herself — she worked on “<a href="">Do Not Track</a>,” an interactive web series that won a Peabody Award in 2015 — she chooses to focus the bulk of the CMS.339 class on helping MIT's maker-oriented students produce their own virtual reality projects.</p> <p>“For this medium to thrive, we need to ensure there is a healthy diversity in the stories that are created, produced, and distributed. To me, this means helping students become creators themselves,” Rodriguez says.</p> <p>Students get to experiment with emergent VR gear including new Oculus Rift Touch Controllers, Samsung Gear 360 cameras and headsets, and Mixed Reality HP headsets. Rodriguez also introduces them to principles of design and storytelling.<br /> <br /> “You need to understand the technical tools," she says, "but this class is about creativity, overcoming challenges, and contributing to the culture of pioneers.”</p> <p>To illustrate the process, the class features a rich array of guest speakers chosen from among the top contributors in the VR field. Highlights this year included talks by Arnaud Colinart, co-founder of AtlasV, which produced "<a href="">Notes on Blindness</a>," a star attraction at the Sundance Film Festival in 2016; and Viktor Phoenix, head of audio for Los Angeles at Headspace Studio, which won a Primetime Emmy Award for the VR work “<a href="">The People's House</a>: Inside the White House with Barack and Michelle Obama.”</p> <p>“In this class, we start on the creative side. People are gravitating toward the stories they want to tell,” says Emily Salvador ’16, a master’s student in media arts and sciences who serves as the teaching assistant for the class. “I’m trying to help them bring their stories to a technically implemented reality,” says Salvador, who previously designed immersive experiences as an intern for Walt Disney Imagineering and NBCUniversal Media.</p> <p><strong>Hands-on humanities</strong></p> <p>As the spring 2018 class began to focus on production, the 21 students split into seven teams to develop their own VR and AR projects, ranging from an interactive game in which users work to unlock their chakras to a 360 video centered on life after incarceration.</p> <p>Nuengsigkapian’s group, for example, is creating a virtual reality tour of MIT. “We think it would be great if we could share our world here on campus, make it even more real than on the MIT website,” she says.</p> <p>Libby Falck, a first-year graduate student in CMS/W, is part of a team that is producing a VR experience about the future of work. A native of Wisconsin, Falck says she has seen how the loss of industry impacts workers, and she is interested in exploring both the history of work and a vision for the future through VR. “We would like to exhibit our final VR work in libraries,” she says.</p> <p><strong>The art of the possible </strong></p> <p>The students’ goals are ambitious for a one-term class, but Rodriguez says exploring what’s possible is part of the creative process. “Feel free to fail. That’s the best way to learn,” she tells students. “It's about iteration. You have an idea. You try it. You iterate.”</p> <p>The success of MIT’s first virtual reality class suggests a promising future for MIT VR endeavors. One student sent his 360 video to the Vatican and now has a full-time job shooting 360 videos of Pope Francis. Another is working on VR projects for the New York Police Department.</p> <p>Not every student in the class will make a career of virtual reality, of course, but for Rodriguez it is rewarding that the class is opening up the VR world to more makers. Because VR equipment is expensive, access to the field has often been limited. “My preoccupation," says Rodriguez "is about facilitating access to creation.”<br /> <br /> Equipment for CMS.339 was provided by Oculus through a partnership with Oculus NextGen, a program that selected 12 leading universities across the United States to jumpstart the next generation of VR and AR makers.</p> <p><em>Story prepared by MIT SHASS Communications<br /> Editorial and Design Director: Emily Hiestand<br /> Senior Writer: Kathryn O’Neill</em></p> In MIT's hands-on humanities class CMS.339 (Virtual Reality and Immersive Media Production), students are grappling with multiple dimensions of making virtual reality, from technical challenges, to philosophical questions, to the art of storytelling. Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Classes and programs, Technology and society, Augmented and virtual reality, Faculty, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences CS+HASS SuperUROP debuts with nine research projects In yearlong program, MIT students apply computer science to humanities, arts, and social science research. Tue, 15 May 2018 16:10:01 -0400 School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences <p>Trade policy, government transparency, and music composition systems were among the humanities, arts, and social science (HASS) research areas explored this year by students in MIT’s Advanced Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, better known as the SuperUROP.<br /> <br /> These and similar HASS-related research projects materialized because the SuperUROP — which launched in 2012 in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) — was extended to support research projects in MIT's School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. Thanks to a generous grant from an anonymous donor, nine students <a href="">participated in the yearlong program</a> as CS+HASS Undergraduate Research and Innovation Scholars.</p> <p>“The cool thing about CS+HASS is that a lot of computer science is not yet applied to the social science and humanities fields,” says Samir Dutta, a junior in computer science with a minor in economics. “You are combining two fields that haven’t been combined that much in the past, so it’s a great opportunity to find new things. You’re pioneering a new type of analysis.”<br /> <br /> <strong>Pioneering students </strong></p> <p>Dutta’s SuperUROP project involved applying machine learning and big data analysis to a dataset of more than 10 billion tariff rate observations with the goal of better understanding the economic and political determinants of tariffs. “His research advances our understanding of the interaction between political institutions and product-level polices,” says In Song Kim, an assistant professor of political science and one of Samir’s SuperUROP advisors.</p> <p>Mikayla Murphy, a senior in civil and environmental engineering who is minoring in computer science, says that using computer science to advance political science research “felt different” from anything she had done before. For her SuperUROP, Murphy worked on a MIT GOV/LAB’s project examining local U.S. government websites and rating them for transparency. Her task was to automate the data analysis system to produce useful fact sheets for government officials and the public.<br /> <br /> “Being able to do this cross-disciplinary project applying CS to political science has definitely been very interesting,” she says. “I had seen how science labs operate, but in a political science lab it’s different. Seeing how my advisor [F. Daniel Hidalgo, the Cecil and Ida Green Associate Professor of Political Science] approaches problems and wants to release all this information to the public — which is not always the goal of scientific research — has been cool.”<br /> <br /> <strong>A deep dive for undergraduates</strong></p> <p>The SuperUROP program consists of a two-semester course, 6.UAR (Seminar in Undergraduate Advanced Research), and at least 10 hours a week in the lab — making it a deep dive into research that is a new experience for many undergraduates.<br /> <br /> “This is my first super-real-serious research endeavor, so it’s been a crazy learning experience,” says Jacob Higgins, a junior in comparative media studies who did his SuperUROP with Professor D. Fox Harrell, who has appointments in both Comparative Media Studies and the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. “Being able to interact with people much further along on their journey as researchers is so valuable to me just starting out.”<br /> <br /> For his project, Higgins worked on a tool for applications such as Chimeria Grayscale, a video game intended to spark reflection on topics like sexism in the workplace. The tool is designed to automate the work of developers by ensuring interactive narratives take different paths in response to user inputs.<br /> <br /> “It’s a lot of human-computer interaction,” Higgins says, noting that the work called for a truly interdisciplinary skillset. “I did a lot of coding and computational thinking, including applying the fundamentals of software construction I learned in 6.031 to implement the tool. And, from the humanities side, the critical analysis I’ve done in Comparative Media Studies prepared me to think of stakeholders and evaluate tools using metrics that are correct for this kind of interdisciplinary, human-computer interaction field.”<br /> <br /> The first nine CS+HASS SuperUROP research projects are: "Does Democracy Cause Free Trade?" by <a href="" target="_blank">Emma Bingham</a>; "Eye-Tracking Experiment on Reading Patterns of Non-Natives" by <a href="" target="_blank">Run Chen</a>; "Spectacles: Assisting Speculative Analysis in Active Archives" by <a href="" target="_blank">Peter Downs</a>; "Linking the Political and Economic Determinants of International Trade with Tariff Rate Data" by <a href="" target="_blank">Samir Dutta</a>; "Dynamic Background Music for Action Adventure Video Games" by <a href="" target="_blank">Patrick Egbuchlam</a>; "Video Games for Social Issues" by <a href="" target="_blank">Jacob Higgins</a>; "Digital Governance: Using Big Data to Measure Government Transparency Online" by <a href="" target="_blank">Mikayla Murphy</a>; "Theatryc: A New Theater-Arts Communication Platform" by <a href="" target="_blank">Nitah Nyang'ate Onsongo</a>; and "Real-Time Audio Synchronization" by <a href="" target="_blank">Smriti Pramanick</a>.</p> <h5><em>Story prepared by SHASS Communications<br /> Editorial and Design Director: Emily Hiestand<br /> Senior Writer: Kathryn O'Neill</em></h5> “Realizing that I could leverage my technical background in computer science to drive innovation in the theater arts motivated me to be part of the CS+HASS-SuperUROP,” says Nitah Nyang’ate Onsongo. “I hope to gain a better understanding of the scope of the communication breakdown within the theater field and help revolutionize how theater is received by society.”Photo: Gretchen Ertl Classes and programs, Arts, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Computer science and technology, Economics, Humanities, Political science, Social sciences, Students, Research, SuperUROP, Theater, Global Studies and Languages, Video games, School of Engineering, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs) J-WEL names spring 2018 grant recipients Education Innovation Grant program for pK-12 and higher education awards $400,000 to MIT faculty to support education innovation both at MIT and globally. Mon, 07 May 2018 14:15:00 -0400 Danielle Pagano | Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab (J-WEL) <p>The Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab (J-WEL) at MIT has selected 10 projects to receive grants as part of its program to support educational innovation. J-WEL grants support initiatives that impact MIT education, with the broad potential for impact in global settings. They are awarded bi-annually to MIT faculty, with spring and fall rounds.</p> <p><strong>Grant recipients, pK-12 projects</strong></p> <p>J-WEL Grants in pK-12 Education Innovation were awarded to the following projects:</p> <p>"Teacher Practice Spaces for Equity Teaching Practices" — Justin Reich, professor of comparative media studies/writing. Equity Teaching Practices are classroom strategies that counter the pernicious effects of structural inequality. Reich’s team will use their simulation platform, TeacherMoments, to help teachers from all disciplines, with particular emphasis on STEM fields, rehearse for and reflect on these practices.</p> <p>"Tailoring STEM for Girls with Social Impact: Curricula, Self-Efficacy Change and Factors of Success in Multi-Week Interventions" — David Wallace, professor of mechanical engineering, and Larissa&nbsp;Nietner, postdoc in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. To increase their participation in STEM, girls need to experience STEM content as socially impactful. This project will develop and test adequate curricula, materials, and generalizable principles, which can be shared and transferred between schools across both the U.S. and the developing world.</p> <p>"High School Global STEM Project-Based Learning, Leveraging MIT BLOSSOMS" — Richard Larson, the Mitsui Professor of Data, Systems, and Society, and Dan Frey, professor of mechanical engineering. This project will leverage MIT BLOSSOMS, a resource library where educators can find teaching materials, to create and evaluate compelling project-based learning (PBL) lesson plans for secondary-school STEM teachers and students. Working with MIT students and selected educational partners, the team will utilize existing BLOSSOMS lessons well-suited for PBL follow-up.</p> <p>"The Compassionate Systems Framework and Network Development" — Peter Senge and Mette Miriam Boell, J-WEL. In 2016, Peter Senge and Mette Miriam Boell began working with the international baccalaureate (IB) network to develop and prototype a “Compassionate Systems Framework,” connecting systems thinking with mindfulness practices and social-emotional learning across the pK-12 spectrum. In this project, their team will assess impact and identify best practices that can be extended beyond the IB.</p> <p>"XRoads: Building Educator Capacity in XR" — Patty Maes, professor of media arts and sciences, and Eric Klopfer, professor of comparative media studies/writing. Virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) — collectively known as “XR” — have great potential as educational tools, but few attempts have been made to integrate educators into the design and delivery of relevant experiences. Building upon their work in the Education Arcade and the MIT Media Lab's Fluid Interfaces group, research scientists Meredith Thompson and Scott W. Greenwald will work closely with teachers to adapt their work in room-scale VR for K-12 STEAM contexts and pilot the experiences with teachers and students.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>"Modular Curriculum With Hands-On, Low-Cost Biology Educational Activities" — Jim Collins, the Termeer Professor of Medical Engineering and Science and professor of biological engineering. Collins and his team, led by biological engineering PhD student Ally Huang, previously&nbsp;developed a hands-on, low-cost synthetic biology educational&nbsp;kit based on&nbsp;freeze-dried cell-free reactions, which demonstrate biological concepts in an&nbsp;engaging manner. This project will develop a database of modular lessons using&nbsp;these&nbsp;activities, allowing educators to create their own curriculum suited for&nbsp;their students’ needs.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Grant recipients, higher education projects</strong></p> <p>The four higher education recipients for the spring 2018 grant round are:</p> <p>"Technology Design for Coffee Production in Colombia: A Co-Design Experience" — Dan Frey, professor of mechanical engineering. Frey, PhD student Pedro Reynolds-Cuéllar, and their team will develop an Independent Activities Period course for both graduate and undergraduate students from all five MIT schools. Students in the course will co-create or re-design, along with Colombian coffee farmers, technologies for different stages of the coffee production process in Colombia in the context of climate change adaptation.</p> <p>"Advancing Socially-Directed STEM Education" —<strong> </strong>Christine Ortiz, the Morris Cohen Professor of Materials Science and Engineering. This project will focus on the development of course materials to be implemented in the MIT fall term class 3.087 (Materials, Societal Impact, and Social Innovation). The materials will not only be applied within MIT, but also to historically marginalized and underserved students nationwide and globally through a new nonprofit educational organization, Station1, founded by Ortiz.</p> <p>"'Social IT Solutions' Workshop in Tanzania" — Lisa Parks, professor of comparative media studies. The “Social IT Solutions” workshop will equip computer science students at the Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology (DIT) and the State University of Zanzibar (SUZA) with interdisciplinary knowledge and skills in the areas of information communication technologies for development, digital media, and design learning. The MIT team, which will include four students, will work alongside faculty from DIT and SUZA to facilitate a two-week workshop for Tanzanian computer science students.</p> <p>"Skicinuwi-npisun: A Community-Centered Project for Documentation and Teaching of the Passamaquoddy Language" — Norvin Richards, professor of linguistics. This project supports the work of linguistics graduate student Newell Lewey, from the Passamaquoddy nation of northern Maine, to support language teaching and curriculum development to help preserve the severely endangered Passamaquoddy language. It also provides funds for MIT linguists to work with the remaining speakers of the language, both to help with the creation of pedagogical materials and to further understanding of the grammar of the language. Copies of all records and materials will be provided to the Passamaquoddy tribe, as well as being archived at MIT.</p> Colombian farmers demonstrate the coffee-growing process to D-Lab students.Image courtesy of MIT D-LabAbdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab (J-WEL), Awards, honors and fellowships, Education, teaching, academics, Linguistics, Global, International initiatives, Women in STEM, Funding, Grants, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Mechanical engineering, Biological engineering, DMSE, IDSS, Media Lab, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, School of Engineering 3Q: Alan Lightman on science, religion, and our yearning for absolute knowledge New book, “Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine,” examines the tensions between belief and knowing. Fri, 27 Apr 2018 00:00:00 -0400 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p><em>A few years ago MIT scholar Alan Lightman was lying in a boat off the coast of Maine, staring at the stars, when he </em><em>felt as if he were “becoming a part of something far larger than himself.” This moment, which he calls a “transcendent experience,” gave him a greater appreciation for the allure of the ethereal and the permanent. But Lightman remains a scientist, committed to the material world, so </em><em>he decided to write about that tension. The result is a new book, “Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine,” published by Pantheon, which is an extended essay on science, religion, and knowledge. Lightman, a trained theoretical physicist and senior lecturer in physics, as well as a professor of the practice of the humanities at the Institute, recently talked with </em>MIT News<em> about his new work. </em></p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> What is your new book about?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> Well, it’s generally about science and religion. More specifically, it’s about the different kinds of knowledge that are had in science and religion, and the differences in the way that knowledge is obtained. When I’m talking about religion, I’m mainly not talking about organized, institutional religion, but the personal religious experience, or what one might call the transcendent experience. I draw on recent scientific developments to discuss the way science has rendered everything in the physical universe impermanent, which strikes at many of the beliefs of religious doctrine. But I also draw on philosophers and theologians and writers, from Aristotle to St. Augustine to Emily Dickinson. Because these are weighty issues, I don’t confront them head-on, in a didactic manner. The book is written in the style of an extended meditation, in the vein of Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden” or Annie Dillard’s “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.” So, it has that kind of meandering tone that is rooted in a geographical place. In this case it’s an island in Maine.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> You draw out a distinction in the book between “absolute” and “relative” forms of knowledge, as a way of thinking about the differences between science and religion — and even about the tensions within science. Could you explain this distinction?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> The conversation between science and religion is is embedded in a larger conversation about what I call the “absolutes” versus the “relatives.” The absolutes are qualities including permanence, immortality, unity, certainty — all qualities religious belief rewards us with. And I think we have a deep psychological yearning for those qualities. And the relatives are the converse of that: Impermanence, fragmentation, mortality, materiality, divisibility — qualities that have been found by science to exist in the material world.</p> <p>We once thought the atom was indivisible and indestructible, and science has shown the atom can be split, and even its component parts can be split, and we don’t know where the splitting will end. Stars, which were considered to be permanent and even divine, have been shown by modern science to be just [objects] which will exhaust their nuclear fuel and burn out. Even the entire universe was once thought to be the largest unity possible, but leading scientists [suggest] our universe is just one of many universes out there, the multiverse. Of course there’s also Einstein’s relativity, that even motion and time are not absolute either. If you found all your absolutes have been negated, is there still anything to hold on to, if you long for permanence and unity? To me that’s a larger framework in which to discuss science and religion.</p> <p>Our longing for absolutes is so strong that even within the sciences we believe in certain absolutes, which are beliefs that cannot be proven. The most important absolute in science, which I call the central doctrine of science, is the belief that nature is lawful, and that those laws hold true everywhere and all the time. Many scientists also believe there is a final theory of nature. In principle you could calculate any phenomena to infinite accuracy with a final theory. The irony there is that even if we found it, we wouldn’t know that we had found it, because you can never be certain that tomorrow there would not be some phenomena that violated your theory.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> To what extent do these transcendent experiences, such as losing yourself in wonder as you gaze at the stars, help generate the more strictly intellectual inquiry of the book?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> With the particular subject matter of this book, about how does one balance spirituality and materiality, if you haven’t had the spiritual experience, you could not write about it with any authority. I think everybody has had transcendent experiences, where you feel at least briefly that you are connected to something much larger than yourelf. I don’t think you have to be on an island in Maine or in a boat looking up at the stars to have experiences like that. That can happen anywhere, as long as you’ve got a quiet moment. Because most of my life has been spent as a scientist, it would be very easy to be condescending toward the spiritual dimension of the world. I wanted to show that I do understand that — whether I’m a believer or an atheist, I have felt it myself.</p> Alan Lightman has a new book coming out this month, titled “Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine.”Image: Greg Peverill-ContiSchool of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Humanities, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Books and authors, 3 Questions, Faculty Featured video: Celebrating the arts at MIT A mercurial snapshot of the myriad ways in which MIT community members can express themselves through the arts Thu, 05 Apr 2018 10:50:00 -0400 MIT News Office <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> <p>What makes the arts such a vital part of MIT? A creative culture where experimentation and innovation cross all disciplines and break all boundaries. More than half of all undergraduates expand their horizons by enrolling in arts classes each year, on a campus that features more than 3,500 noted works of contemporary art and landmark buildings designed by legendary architects like Frank Gehry and I.M. Pei.</p> <p>Since the 1960s, MIT has been forging connections between the fields of science and engineering and the worlds of visual and performing arts. From the founding of the <a href="" target="_blank">Center for Art, Science and Technology</a> (CAST) to the <a href="" target="_blank">opening of a new performance space</a> for our preeminent prominent music and theater program to the planned relocation and expansion of the MIT Museum, investment in the arts at MIT has never been stronger.</p> <p>The arts have been an essential part of the MIT culture from the start. Our <a href="" target="_blank">School of Architecture and Planning</a>, founded in 1865, was the first architecture program in the United States and remains at the forefront of design innovation today. In 1967, Bauhaus artist György Kepes created the Center for Advanced Visual Studies to bring together artists, scientists, and engineers and to pioneer the use of new technology as an artistic medium. The legacy of those collaborations continues through the Media Lab, Program in Art, Culture and Technology, Comparative Media Studies and CAST. The List Visual Arts Center, founded in 1985, is one of the region’s most esteemed venues for cutting-edge contemporary art exhibitions. In the performing arts, two professors of music hold the highest honor awarded to MIT faculty, Institute Professor; the award-winning faculty in the <a href="" target="_blank">School of Humanties, Arts, and Social Sciences</a> provide conservatory-level training and compose, commission, and perform classical, contemporary, and world music.</p> <p>With over 25 majors, minors and degree programs; hands-on classes; makerspaces; and 100-plus concerts and exhibitions open to the public each year, there are more ways than ever for the campus community to express itself through the arts at MIT.</p> <p><em><span style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Roboto, Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; white-space: pre-wrap;">Submitted by: Arts at MIT </span></em><span style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Roboto, Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; white-space: pre-wrap;">| </span><em><span style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Roboto, Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; white-space: pre-wrap;">Video by: Arts at MIT and Trillium Studios </span></em><span style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Roboto, Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; white-space: pre-wrap;">|</span><em><span style="color: rgb(17, 17, 17); font-family: Roboto, Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; white-space: pre-wrap;"> 1 min, 49 sec</span></em></p> A video from Arts at MIT provides a mercurial snapshot of the myriad ways in which MIT community members can express themselves through the arts.Photo: Arts at MITArts, Featured video, Center for Art, Science and Technology, MIT Museum, Architecture, Music, Theater, Media Lab, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, School of Architecture and Planning, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Technology and society, List Visual Arts Center Candis Callison SM &#039;02 PhD &#039;10, professor and award-winning journalist, to speak at 2018 Investiture of Doctoral Hoods Tue, 03 Apr 2018 09:00:00 -0400 MIT Institute Events <p>Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart announced today that <a href="" target="_blank">Candis Callison</a> SM ’02 PhD ’10, associate&nbsp;professor in the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of British Columbia Vancouver, will be the guest speaker at MIT’s 2018 Investiture of Doctoral Hoods.</p> <p>Callison’s participation marks the fourth consecutive year that MIT has welcomed a guest speaker to the ceremony. “Professor Callison is an accomplished thought leader in science communication, having used scholarship to bring context and understanding to the distinct belief systems that influence public opinion on issues related to science and technology,” said Chancellor Barnhart, host of the ceremony. “Hearing her speak about her guiding principles and her journey from journalist to graduate student to public intellectual will be an inspiration to our newest doctoral candidates at this important time in their lives.”</p> <p>The speaker selection process engages MIT faculty and doctoral students to identify an alum whose acumen and professional and personal experience will resonate with new PhDs and ScDs as they embark on their careers.&nbsp;Eric Grimson, chancellor for academic advancement, chairs the Commencement Committee. “It is exciting to collaborate with our students and faculty, who continue to identify alumni from diverse disciplines and personal backgrounds and whose paths exemplify ways to use the MIT doctorate in rewarding pursuits,” he said. “We are honored to welcome Professor Callison home to campus on June 7.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Born and raised in Vancouver, Callison is a member of the Tahltan Nation, an Indigenous people located in northwestern British Columbia, Canada. Prior to graduate school, she worked as a journalist for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and CTV News. While at CTV, she was the original host and co-creator of "First Story," the first news and current affairs series on Indigenous issues to be broadcast nationally in Canada and later syndicated to the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN).</p> <p>After nearly eight years in industry, Callison came to MIT to pursue her master’s degree in comparative media studies, where she concentrated on issues related to visual culture, media convergence, and digital representations of the environment. Subsequently, she earned her PhD in history, anthropology, and science, technology, and society. Her doctoral research focused on how Americans learn about climate change by examining the work and experiences of five distinct social groups, including science journalists, climate scientists involved in public and policy discourse, Inuit leaders, corporate responsibility advocates, and evangelical Christians. This research was later incorporated into a book, "How Climate Change Comes to Matter: The Communal Facts of Life"<em> </em>(Duke University Press, 2014).</p> <p>Callison joined the faculty at the University of British Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in 2009, leading and team-teaching a number of courses, including Media Ethics and Leadership, New Media and Society, Science and Environment Journalism, Anthropology of Science and Technology, and Feminist and Postcolonial Critique and Journalism in a Digital Age.</p> <p>Callison is involved in several ongoing collaborative research projects. She leads a research team on&nbsp;Arctic Journalism, launched in 2014, that studies changes to professional norms, practices, and standards for Canadian Arctic journalists working in an era of environmental change and global audiences. Other projects, which are funded by the Canadian Media Research Consortium, include a study of gender, race, colonialism, and journalism that will result in a 2018 co-authored book for McGill-Queens University Press with UBC colleague Mary Lynn Young. A second project investigates how social networking technologies are being used by First Nations individuals and communities in Canada for social engagement, self-representation, and governance.&nbsp;A third involves the Social Media Advanced Research, Teaching and Training Lab (SMARTT Lab), an interdisciplinary center at the Journalism School dedicated to understanding the interplay between social networks, the media, and public discourse.</p> <p>Currently, as an associate&nbsp;professor and chair of the&nbsp;Bachelor of Media Studies Program, Callison’s research and teaching focus on changes to media practices and platforms, journalism ethics, the role of social movements in public discourse, and understanding how issues related to science and technology become meaningful for diverse publics. Next year, Callison will be the Pathy Distinguished Visitor in Canadian Studies at Princeton University.</p> <p>Callison is a regular contributor to "Media Indigena," a weekly Indigenous current affairs podcast, funded by listeners. She was also named to Open Canada’s 2018 list of Indigenous Twitterati.</p> <p>The 2018 Investiture of Doctoral Hoods will take place on June 7 at 10 a.m. in the Johnson Athletics Center Ice Rink. The ceremony is open to family and friends of doctoral candidates; no tickets are required.&nbsp;</p> Candis Callison SM ’02 PhD ’10, associate professor in the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of British Columbia Vancouver, will be the guest speaker at MIT’s 2018 Investiture of Doctoral Hoods. Photo courtesy of the UBC Graduate School of Journalism.Commencement, Special events and guest speakers, Alumni/ae, History, Anthropology, Journalism, Program in STS, SHASS, Comparative Media Studies/Writing Fright makes right Eugenie Brinkema studies the aesthetics and ethics of horror films. Wed, 28 Mar 2018 23:59:59 -0400 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p>When a horror film reaches its most dramatic scenes, most people tense up. Eugenie Brinkema just keeps taking notes.</p> <p>Brinkema, an associate professor of literature, is an expert on the formal properties of films: their use of light, color, sound, time, and other structural elements that convey sensations and ideas. In particular, she studies the techniques that make horror films and intense thrillers so gripping to so many viewers — while also grappling with the moral issues that arise in many of these movies.</p> <p>“I am really interested in the ethics and the aesthetics of extremity,” Brinkema says.</p> <p>After all, she says, in films depicting “wartime, or trauma, or being trapped in a room when it’s either you or me [as a victim], which is the premise of so many horror films, that moment of extremity brings to the surface how ethics work.” Such situations, she adds, are also when “interesting aesthetic solutions have to be devised.”</p> <p>So, for instance, in the famous shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” it may be the apparent tear rolling down Janet Leigh’s face that moves you. More likely, as Brinkema contends in her first book, “The Form of the Affects,” it is Hitchcock’s use of bright light that affects your emotions. Alternately, in a lowbrow horror film, the gory visuals may not grip your nervous system as much as the subtle use of dissonant sound. Either way, it may be the technical construction of a scene that most affects viewers.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>So while Brinkema teaches literature to undergraduates and especially loves the writing of the existentialists, she most frequently rolls up her sleeves and decodes all manner of cinema — from “Psycho” and “The Shining” to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and a recent French horror film called “Rubber” — including many films that lack critical respect.</p> <p>“If it’s not under the radar, I often find it interminably boring,” Brinkema says. “The kind of cinema that wins at the Oscars … is the kind of body of work I rarely teach.”</p> <p><strong>“I grew up in the courtroom”</strong></p> <p>Brinkema is from Virgina, where her mother is a federal judge and her father worked in the judiciary. As she tells it, her long-term exposure to heavy-duty legal cases, and the extreme moments of human experience they represented, had a formative effect on her interests.</p> <p>“I grew up in the courtroom,” Brinkema says. “I was always really, really interested in violence, justice, and problems of ethics.”</p> <p>She adds: “If I were not a film theorist, I would be a public defender.”</p> <p>As an undergraduate, Brinkema attended Yale University, where, she says, “I assumed I was going to be a philosophy major and I assumed I was going to be a lawyer.” That changed, partly due to a film class taught by Professor Brigitte Peucker, which showed Brinkema how she might blend her own seemingly disparate interests in film and ethics.</p> <p>As a graduate student, Brinkema studied psychoanalysis at the University of Buffalo for two years before moving to Brown University, where in 2010 she received her PhD in modern culture and media. Brinkema joined the MIT faculty as an assistant professor; for her research and teaching, she was awarded tenure at the Institute last year.</p> <p>Brinkema’s research includes “The Form of the Affects,” published in 2014, which won honorable mention in the Modern Language Association First Book Prize; she has also published many articles. Brinkema is currently working on a new book, “Algebras of Sensation,” that further develops her work about the formal cinematic properties of both horror and love.</p> <p>For her classroom efforts, Brinkema was awarded the James A. and Ruth Levitan Award for Excellence in Teaching in MIT’s School for Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS). In addition to teaching undergraduates in SHASS, Brinkema has helped advise students in the History, Theory, and Criticism of Architecture and Art program in the School of Architecture and Planning. And in another interdisciplinary venture, Brinkema wrote an article for the catalogue accompanying the contemporary art show “An Inventory of Shimmers,” which ran in 2017 at MIT’s List Visual Arts Center. She also helped organize a symposium about the show.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>One shining moment</strong></p> <p>Given that Brinkema spends a relatively large portion of her time watching horror films and other kinds of challenging material, it raises a question: How does she manage to stomach what others find so difficult to watch? Brinkema says that’s an inquiry she often hears.</p> <p>“I get versions of it from other academics and from my students,” she acknowledges. The answer, it turns out, involves being coolly analytical about the material. Horror films are, after all, fictions designed to elicit specific audience reactions, and focusing on the techniques they use produces a certain detachment.</p> <p>“If you really watch for form, what you also start to see is that bodies are also forms,” says Brinkema. “A body in a horror film is also a problem of space or color. I’m not saying it [watching film this way] gets rid of violence, but it redefines it, so you can think with it, instead of only being horrified.”</p> <p>To take a relatively tame example, Brinkema says, ask yourself, “How does the construction of architecture in ‘The Shining’ produce this experience of vertiginous disorientation and nausea and horror and terror? We could say, ‘Oh, I thought the horror was about the ‘Heeeeeere’s Johnny’ moment in the bathroom. But now, I think the horror [stems from] the problem of scale and perspective.’”</p> <p>To be sure, it probably does help to have a sturdy stomach before enrolling in one of Brinkema’s film classes; she does not let students skip class sessions because they’re wary of the material. But as in any other course, Brinkema notes, she gives students a chance to explore the world: “I just encourage students to keep thinking, stay curious, and keep asking questions.”</p> Eugenie Brinkema, an associate professor of literature, is an expert on the formal properties of films: their use of light, color, sound, time, and other structural elements that convey sensations and ideas. Image: Bryce VickmarkLiterature, languages and writing, Film and Television, Arts, Faculty, Profile, SHASS, Program in HTC “American Panda,” set on MIT campus, explores cultural stereotypes New novel set by dentist-turned-writer Gloria Chao ’08 reveals the protagonist&#039;s struggles between Taiwanese and American cultural values. Mon, 19 Feb 2018 15:20:01 -0500 Nancy DuVergne Smith | MIT Alumni Association <p><em>The young adult novel, “American Panda,” recently arrived in bookstores for the Lunar New Year. The book, the debut novel of dentist-turned-writer Gloria Chao ’08 is set on the MIT campus. The protagonist, Mei, struggles between Taiwanese and American cultural values, particularly involving romance and career. The interview below with Chao reveals her motivations, what’s next in her writing career, and her favorite holiday foods.</em></p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>What are some of the important messages in “American Panda” about how young Asian-Americans can balance their heritage and their contemporary life in the U.S.?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> I wanted “American Panda” to show readers that they aren’t alone, that it’s okay to not feel wholly one thing or another, and that cultural gaps can be difficult. I wanted to capture the struggles I went through as a teen that were difficult to explain to my friends, and to write a character that was relatable to many but also specific enough to show a window into another world. I also wanted readers to know that things can get better, as they did for me in real life. It took 30 years, but my parents and I learned how to communicate, and a large part of that was in thanks to this book, which forced us to talk through some of the past and, more importantly, the present.</p> <p>There isn’t one right answer for balancing heritage and a contemporary life in the U.S., but I tried to capture one Taiwanese-American experience in the book: mine. I’m still figuring things out, but I hope some of my experiences can help others.</p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>Why did you decide to focus on writing young adult novels? And what’s next?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> When I was in dental school, I fell in love with young adult novels, and when I decided to switch careers, I wanted to write the book I needed as a teen. I had a very windy path here, but writing is what I’m most passionate about. I just wish I had discovered it sooner so I could have taken advantage of MIT’s impressive <a href="" target="_blank">creative writing curriculum</a>! I took one class, [21W.021/21W.024] Writing and Experience, with Lucy Marx, and absolutely loved it, and one of my regrets is not exploring 21W more!</p> <p>My second novel recently sold to Simon Pulse and will be released fall 2019. “Misaligned” follows a teen outcast who is swept up in a forbidden romance and down a rabbit hole of dark family secrets when another Asian family moves to her small, predominantly white Midwestern town.</p> <p>For an MIT insider’s comments, read <em><a href="" target="_blank">The Tech</a> </em>review by first-year student Patricia Gao.</p> <p>Happy Year of the Dog!</p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>What are your best personal memories of Chinese New Year?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> My family is very food-oriented, especially at the New Year. We like to follow some of the fun traditions, like ordering fish because the Chinese word for “fish” (魚) is a homonym for “surplus” (餘), and eating dumplings because they look like old Chinese money. Some of my favorite Chinese New Year memories involve big family gatherings with my grandmother and aunts flying in from Minnesota for a huge feast with several courses. Fish slathered in sweet-and-sour sauce, pork shoulder, sometimes even Peking duck. And we’d always finish with my favorite Chinese dessert: eight-treasure rice with candied fruits, nuts, plums, and other deliciousness. Another one of our Chinese New Year traditions is to pay respect to my late grandfathers. After honoring the deceased, my brothers and I used to receive a red envelope with money inside.</p> <p><em>A version of this article originally appeared on the MIT Alumni Association's </em><a href="" target="_blank">Slice of MIT</a><em> blog.</em></p> Image courtesy of Gloria ChaoBooks and authors, Campus, Profiles, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Writing, Diversity and inclusion, Community, SHASS, Alumni/ae 3Q: T.L. Taylor on diversity in e-sports MIT sociologist’s “AnyKey” initiative aims to level the playing field of online sports. Thu, 15 Feb 2018 23:59:59 -0500 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p><em>Imagine a sports arena full of cheering fans. Are you picturing basketball, or perhaps hockey? Actually, that image also applies to high-level e-sports (short for electronic sports), the competitions where fans watch people playing popular video games. E-sports have experienced a surge in growth in recent years, and boast their own professional teams as well as partnerships with major team sports. But how diverse are e-sports? A little over two years ago, an initiative called “AnyKey,” co-directed by MIT’s T.L Taylor, began examining that question. The group has released a series of research papers and worked to establish codes of conduct for e-sports. Taylor, a professor in MIT Comparative Media Studies|Writing, recently talked to </em>MIT News<em> about the challenges in the field. </em></p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> What is “AnyKey”?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> AnyKey was started as a project supported by Intel and the Electronic Sports League, and our mission is to foster more inclusion and diversity in e-sports. Lots of people are playing e-sports competitively, and some of them are playing for money. AnyKey is trying to foster fairness and inclusivity in that space.</p> <p>The way I often talk about it is: Imagine how traditional sports were pre-Title IX, [in terms of] trying to get women on the playing field. AnyKey is tackling that with digital sports. Women actually play a lot of computer games. … But we still do have the hurdle of women feeling that they cannot be competitors and play on a professional level. We also think about how to support people of color, how to support LGBTQ players as well, and we put out guidelines recently about how to help tournament organizers create trans-inclusive spaces.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> What have you found in the project’s two years of study?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> One thing that’s clear to us is not only do women want to be participating in competitive e-sports, they have been doing it for a very long time, but often in spite of the culture present. Things like harrassment or other barriers to access pose tremendous challenges to bringing women into the space and keeping them there. This affects not only women who want to be pros, but those who just want to play or spectate in e-sports games. So we’ve been active in trying to help organizations and communities think about practices, cultural shifts they can make to open that space.</p> <p>That means everything from putting in codes of conduct to supporting communities that are trying to build healthy cultures. We have an affiliate program where we amplify the work of communities that are providing spaces for people to come into these games. We highlight role models to help people see the range of ways they can be involved. We do research to provide data to help better inform people working in the space. There are a lot of people in e-sports who want things to be better, even tournament organizers who want it to be better, but they often either don’t know how, or are crunched with just trying to keep the ship afloat. So we provide information and prefab solutions people can use, and support the good work that’s already being done.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> Where do you go from here?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> We’re in the next round of finding sponsoring partners for AnyKey. We’ve created tremendous momentum we want to keep building on. For example, back in October we ran what we thought was going to be a very modest initiative where we said to people, come sign our code of conduct, the “Good Luck Have Fun” pledge, to show your support for the values of inclusion and open participation in gaming and e-sports. We were blown away when we got a quarter of a million signatures! This is encouraging and shows a lot of people want things to be better. But there’s more work to be done.</p> <p>We’d love to help launch something like a co-ed tournament to support more men and women playing together, like mixed doubles, and we have some fantastic partners we’d like to keep supporting. We’re at a really important point, because e-sports is getting commercialized very quickly and getting the attention of traditional sports entities who now own e-sports teams (including the Boston Celtics). There’s tremendous potential, but it would also be easy to close down possibilities or slot e-sports in narrow models about who wants to compete. We want to keep people thinking expansively about what participation and inclusion in these new digital playing fields can, and should, be.</p> MIT professor T.L. Taylor has been co-director of AnyKey, an initiative to encourage diversity in esports. Image: Bryce VickmarkSHASS, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Diversity and inclusion, Technology and society, Women, Video games, 3 Questions Study finds gender and skin-type bias in commercial artificial-intelligence systems Examination of facial-analysis software shows error rate of 0.8 percent for light-skinned men, 34.7 percent for dark-skinned women. Sun, 11 Feb 2018 23:59:59 -0500 Larry Hardesty | MIT News Office <p>Three commercially released facial-analysis programs from major technology companies demonstrate both skin-type and gender biases, according to a new paper researchers from MIT and Stanford University will present later this month at the Conference on Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency.</p> <p>In the researchers’ experiments, the three programs’ error rates in determining the gender of light-skinned men were never worse than 0.8 percent. For darker-skinned women, however, the error rates ballooned — to more than 20 percent in one case and more than 34 percent in the other two.</p> <p>The findings raise questions about how today’s neural networks, which learn to perform computational tasks by looking for patterns in huge data sets, are trained and evaluated. For instance, according to the paper, researchers at a major U.S. technology company claimed an accuracy rate of more than 97 percent for a face-recognition system they’d designed. But the data set used to assess its performance was more than 77 percent male and more than 83 percent white.</p> <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> <p>“What’s really important here is the method and how that method applies to other applications,” says Joy Buolamwini, a researcher in the MIT Media Lab’s Civic Media group and first author on the new paper. “The same data-centric techniques that can be used to try to determine somebody’s gender are also used to identify a person when you’re looking for a criminal suspect or to unlock your phone. And it’s not just about computer vision. I’m really hopeful that this will spur more work into looking at [other] disparities.”</p> <p>Buolamwini is joined on the paper by Timnit Gebru, who was a graduate student at Stanford when the work was done and is now a postdoc at Microsoft Research.</p> <p><strong>Chance discoveries</strong></p> <p>The three programs that Buolamwini and Gebru investigated were general-purpose facial-analysis systems, which could be used to match faces in different photos as well as to assess characteristics such as gender, age, and mood. All three systems treated gender classification as a binary decision — male or female — which made their performance on that task particularly easy to assess statistically. But the same types of bias probably afflict the programs’ performance on other tasks, too.</p> <p>Indeed, it was the chance discovery of apparent bias in face-tracking by one of the programs that prompted Buolamwini’s investigation in the first place.</p> <p>Several years ago, as a graduate student at the Media Lab, Buolamwini was working on a system she called Upbeat Walls, an interactive, multimedia art installation that allowed users to control colorful patterns projected on a reflective surface by moving their heads. To track the user’s movements, the system used a commercial facial-analysis program.</p> <p>The team that Buolamwini assembled to work on the project was ethnically diverse, but the researchers found that, when it came time to present the device in public, they had to rely on one of the lighter-skinned team members to demonstrate it. The system just didn’t seem to work reliably with darker-skinned users.</p> <p>Curious, Buolamwini, who is black, began submitting photos of herself to commercial facial-recognition programs. In several cases, the programs failed to recognize the photos as featuring a human face at all. When they did, they consistently misclassified Buolamwini’s gender.</p> <p><strong>Quantitative standards</strong></p> <p>To begin investigating the programs’ biases systematically, Buolamwini first assembled a set of images in which women and people with dark skin are much better-represented than they are in the data sets typically used to evaluate face-analysis systems. The final set contained more than 1,200 images.</p> <p>Next, she worked with a dermatologic surgeon to code the images according to the Fitzpatrick scale of skin tones, a six-point scale, from light to dark, originally developed by dermatologists as a means of assessing risk of sunburn.</p> <p>Then she applied three commercial facial-analysis systems from major technology companies to her newly constructed data set. Across all three, the error rates for gender classification were consistently higher for females than they were for males, and for darker-skinned subjects than for lighter-skinned subjects.</p> <p>For darker-skinned women — those assigned scores of IV, V, or VI on the Fitzpatrick scale — the error rates were 20.8 percent, 34.5 percent, and 34.7. But with two of the systems, the error rates for the darkest-skinned women in the data set — those assigned a score of VI — were worse still: 46.5 percent and 46.8 percent. Essentially, for those women, the system might as well have been guessing gender at random.</p> <p>“To fail on one in three, in a commercial system, on something that’s been reduced to a binary classification task, you have to ask, would that have been permitted if those failure rates were in a different subgroup?” Buolamwini says. “The other big lesson ... is that our benchmarks, the standards by which we measure success, themselves can give us a false sense of progress.”</p> <p>“This is an area where the data sets have a large influence on what happens to the model,” says Ruchir Puri, chief architect of IBM’s Watson artificial-intelligence system. “We have a new model now that we brought out that is much more balanced in terms of accuracy across the benchmark that Joy was looking at. It has a half a million images with balanced types, and we have a different underlying neural network that is much more robust.”</p> <p>“It takes time for us to do these things,” he adds. “We’ve been working on this roughly eight to nine months. The model isn’t specifically a response to her paper, but we took it upon ourselves to address the questions she had raised directly, including her benchmark. She was bringing up some very important points, and we should look at how our new work stands up to them.”</p> Joy Buolamwini, a researcher in the MIT Media Lab's Civic Media groupPhoto: Bryce VickmarkResearch, School of Architecture and Planning, Media Lab, Center for Civic Media, Artificial intelligence, Computer science and technology, Diversity and inclusion, Machine learning, Technology and society Cornel West advocates the “examined life” on campus In MIT talk, prominent philosopher urges self-reflection to keep academic institutions vital and fair. Fri, 09 Feb 2018 10:07:33 -0500 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p>How can universities be a force for social good in turbulent times? At an MIT talk on Wednesday evening, the prominent philosopher Cornel West had a clear answer: painful self-reflection.</p> <p>More precisely, West suggested, the individuals who populate institutions of higher education should rigorously reexamine the consensus beliefs they encounter and, ideally, develop an “aversion to conformity” that will help bring vitality and diversity to academic life.</p> <p>“The unexamined life is not worth living,” West said, alluding to the ideas of Socrates. “The examined life is painful.”</p> <p>Higher education, West added, should be about not “information,” but “transformation” — a process of questioning assumptions and refining habits of critical thinking that can be applied to any issue.</p> <p>“I don’t fetishize smartness,” West said, observing that the lessons of one discipline do not necessarily translate into other realms — and that we should be wary of overestimating people based on their apparent sharpness in one sphere of life. At leading universities, West suggested, there is greater danger in overestimating people than in being humble about our capabilities.</p> <p>“We recognize we will be wrong as well as right,” West said.</p> <p>West’s talk, titled “Speaking Truth to Power! A Discussion on Institutional Provincialism,” took place before a packed auditorium in MIT’s Room 10-250. West was joined by five MIT scholars who made their own remarks after his talk and engaged with an extensive round of questions from the audience.</p> <p>West is a professor of the practice of public philosophy at Harvard Divinity School and holds a joint appointment with Harvard’s Department of African and African-American Studies. He is author of, among other books, “Race Matters” and “Democracy Matters.” He has appeared in over two dozen documentaries about social issues and released three spoken-word albums.</p> <p>West was introduced by Ty Austin, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Architecture, who outlined the issue West discussed: Institutions benefit by developing stable identities, but too much conformity, or too narrow an institutional identity, can limit an university’s ability to influence an ever-changing world.</p> <p>“We bring a sort of identity [and] mindset into this vast metropolis of higher learning,” Austin said. And yet, he observed, if a university’s inhabitants adhere to “the same identity and like-mindedness,” it is quite possible that “the very institutions that are said to broaden horizons and advance technology and society” would exist for “the benefit of the few, by marginalizing the many.”</p> <p><strong>“A test of who we are”</strong></p> <p>West did not offer a detailed critique of the Institute: “I’m not here to pontificate. I don’t know that much about the internal dynamics of MIT,” he said. Instead, he offered reflections about the practice of self-examination, as well as the larger, pressing problems in the world today. &nbsp;</p> <p>We are facing, among other hazards, “economic catastrophe” in the form of inequality, West said. He noted that the three richest Americans have wealth equivalent to the bottom half of the population.</p> <p>“Salute their smartness, their intelligence, [but] we’re talking about structures, we’re talking about institutions in place, we’re talking about policies that generate massive redistribution of wealth from poorer working people to the well-to-do,” West contended.</p> <p>The changing climate, West said, was an environmental “catastrophe” in the making for all of society. He also decried the increase of racially charged politics and immigration issues in the U.S. in recent years.</p> <p>“We live in one of the bleakest moments in the history of the empire,” West said, adding: “It’s a test of who we are.”</p> <p>West’s talk occurred during Black History Month, which he called “sacred ground” in American life, and he decried the use of sanitizing euphemisms for political discord in the U.S., such as the term “race problem” as a description of civic conflict. Instead, West said, there have been a “series of catastrophes visited upon blacks” in the U.S.</p> <p>While talking about the need for self-critique on campuses, West also sounded upbeat notes about the possibilities for social rejuvenation that come with intellectual freedom.</p> <p>“Social movements need some MIT folks — who do their homework,” West said.</p> <p>“That’s a challenge to all my brothers and sisters here of all colors at MIT,” he added. “How do you not just talk about it, but enact a sensitivity to the problem, in your curriculum, in your own praxis, in your organizational affiliation.”</p> <p>The event was sponsored by all five of MIT’s schools — the School of Engineering, the School of Science, the School of Architecture and Planning, the Sloan School of Management, and the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences — as well as the Media Lab, the Program in Media Arts and Sciences, the Office of Graduate Education, the Institute Community and Equity Office, and the Committee on Race and Diversity.</p> <p><strong>The view from the panel</strong></p> <p>The event also featured a panel of MIT students and faculty who spoke about how they work to help bring alternate ideas to the Institute.</p> <p>Joy Buolamwini, a PhD student at the MIT Media Lab, founded the Algorithmic Justice League to push back against ethnic biases in machine learning, such as in facial recognition programs.</p> <p>“I’m coming up against something I call ‘the coded gaze,’” Buolamwini said, referring to the decisions and assumptions in such programs, which, she noted, reflect “the priorities and preferences of what those who have power choose to focus on, who’s visible, who’s rendered invisible.”</p> <p>Sasha Costanza-Chock, the Mitsui Career Development Associate Professor in Contemporary Technology, suggested that preventing intellectual provincialism at MIT means avoiding “the technological solutionist ideology” of attempting to solve hard problems from the lab without sufficient on-the-ground knowledge of social realities.</p> <p>“In this process of problem-solving,” said Costanza-Chock, it is important “to think about how do we say, ‘Well, I may be a brilliant person, and I may have a certain set of skills and knowledge in one domain, but how do I really work in partnership with, or even in service to [people who] are experiencing the lived reality of intersectional oppression?”</p> <p>Jennifer Light, chair of MIT’s Program in Science, Technology, and Society, observed that knowledge of the past can make clear that science and technology should always be understood in relationship to civic life — and have been used to exacerbate harmful social goals. For instance, Light noted, professors at elite U.S. universities in the 1920s favored eugenics programs.</p> <p>“Smart people have lots of bad ideas,” said Light. “And history can be a tool to understand that, and take to your own present.”</p> <p>The panel was moderated by Ceasar McDowell, a professor of civic design in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning, who also contributed remarks to the discussion. In contemporary higher education, he noted, there can be a tension between the effort to support a high volume of innovation and the need to understand the social effects of new technologies.&nbsp; &nbsp;<br /> &nbsp;<br /> “We want people to innovate. We want people to move things to market,” McDowell said. And yet, he noted, institutions can guide the process of research and development, potentially with ideas of social good and ethical standards in mind. In that sense, McDowell said, one challenging form of self-examination for universities would be to discuss the “set of standards [for] things we’re going to innovate around.”</p> <p><strong>Finding joy in social activism</strong></p> <p>The event’s concluding remarks were delivered by Duane Lee, an astronomer who is a postdoc at Vanderbilt University and an MLK Visiting Scholar at MIT. Lee discussed the need to challenge conventional wisdom as a way of increasing diversity in academia.</p> <p>“At times we delude ourselves that we are immune to biases,” said Lee, relating multiple instances in which professional colleagues have asserted to him that increased diversity in his field would lead to a lowering of overall academic standards.</p> <p>On the contrary, Lee suggested, if the discipline had been tapping into a talent pool consisting of everyone in society, not just the narrower cross-section of society it has traditionally employed, then the standards of the field, along with the rate of progress, would likely be higher than they currently are.</p> <p>West praised the contributions of the other panelists and, along with them, fielded audience questions, telling one undergraduate that social engagement can also be a source of energy and enjoyment.</p> <p>“There’s got to be some joy in it,” West said about the practice of social activism. “If it’s just done out of joylessness, then you’re not going to be a long-distance runner.”</p> <p>For that matter, West noted earlier in the event, persistence and determination are key components of enacting civic change in the face of setbacks or just intermittent public indifference.&nbsp;</p> <p>“All of us fall short,” West said. “Samuel Beckett is right: Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”</p> Philosopher Cornel West at MIT giving a talk, “Speaking Truth to Power!” on Feb. 7. Photo: Jake BelcherSpecial events and guest speakers, Diversity and inclusion, Community, Administration, Faculty, Staff, Books and authors, Media Lab, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Technology and society, SHASS, MLK visiting scholars Play Labs accelerator announces second annual open call for submissions Digital currency and blockchain technology added to this year’s list of “playful tech” eligible startups. Wed, 24 Jan 2018 17:15:01 -0500 MIT Game Lab <p>Play Labs and the MIT Game Lab have announced that applications are now open for the second batch of startups within the playful technology accelerator, which will run from June through August 2018 on campus at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts.&nbsp;Startups that are accepted into Play Labs will each&nbsp;receive an initial investment&nbsp;of $20,000 in either cash or Bitcoin in return for common stock.&nbsp;Startups that graduate from the program and meet certain criteria will be eligible for up to $80,000 in additional funding from the Play Labs Fund and its investment partners.</p> <p>Deadlines for applications are due&nbsp;March 15, 2018, after which time finalists will be selected and a subset of those finalists will be given offers to participate in the program. Applications are open to both MIT-affiliated startups, and startups with no MIT affiliation that wish to come to MIT for the summer to participate.</p> <p>Play Labs provides mentoring, facilities, and funding for early-stage startups that utilize “playful technology.” The areas of technology for this second batch of incubated startups include:</p> <ul> <li><em>Digital Currency/Blockchain</em>:&nbsp;The explosion of digital currencies like Bitcoin and the underlying technology, blockchain, have created a new virtual economy and opportunities for decentralizing many industries.</li> <li><em>E-sports/Video Game</em>s:&nbsp;Video games have moved into the competitive era, and e-sports is seen as one of the biggest opportunities for expansion.</li> <li><em>Virtual Reality (VR)/Augmented Reality (AR)</em>:&nbsp;A big focus for the first batch of incubated startups in Play Labs, now VR and AR are categories that continue to evolve and will revolutionize many industries.</li> <li><em>Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning</em>:&nbsp;Artificial intelligence and machine learning software and hardware (i.e., robotics), have advanced to the point of many practical applications.</li> </ul> <p>Candidate startups may apply these technology areas into any industry, including video games, e-sports, finance, healthcare, manufacturing, and more.</p> <p>As before, the program will be run&nbsp;by Bayview Labs and its executive director, Rizwan Virk ’92 a prolific Silicon Valley angel investor, advisor, and mentor. Virk and Bayview have been early investors in Bitcoin and blockchain startups, as well as a long list of successful gaming-related tech startups including Tapjoy, Discord, Funzio, Pocket Gems, Telltale Games, and</p> <p>“MIT has been the starting point for many successful startups over the years,” says Virk. “We had a successful first batch and we are excited to see what exciting technology projects MIT students, alumni, and the greater community will come up for this second batch. We started the accelerator because a lot of focus for these areas has been on the West Coast, but I believe that the ecosystem around MIT and Boston has great talent and startup ideas in these areas.”</p> <p>“When I graduated from MIT and thought of doing my first startup, I wish I had this kind of accelerator program, with support from both MIT staff and industry entrepreneurs and mentors,” says Virk. “That’s why I designed the program in this way.”</p> <p>Bayview will run Play Labs in conjunction with the Seraph Group, a seed stage venture capital investment firm founded by Tuff Yen. The teams will be supported by a group a successful mentors and partners, including Rajeev Surati&nbsp;PhD ’99 and co-founder of Flash Communications,, and Scalable Display Technologies, based on his PhD research at MIT.&nbsp;Also participating is VR@MIT, a student organization on campus dedicated to fostering VR and AR entrepreneurship at MIT.</p> <p>The MIT Game Lab, a research group in MIT's Comparative Media Studies/Writing program, and&nbsp;Ludus, the MIT Center for Games, Learning, and Playful Media, will host and conduct the educational program for Play Labs.&nbsp;Teams will be given workspace on the MIT campus for the duration of the program.</p> <p>“MIT students thrive on innovation and creative exploration,” says Scot Osterweil, managing director for&nbsp;Ludus. “We are pleased that through Play Labs we will help them move their most imaginative ideas into the realm of the possible.”</p> <p>“We see tremendous opportunity to invest, support, and partner with the MIT community of outstanding people, which is why we are supporting Play Labs’ second batch,” says Tuff Yen, president of Seraph Group. “Our network of successful investors will bring valuable experience, access and resources to startups.”</p> <p>Full information on the program, eligibility, and benefits can be found on the Play Labs <a href="" target="_blank">website</a>.</p> SHASS, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Game Lab, Video games, Game design, Augmented and virtual reality, Artificial intelligence, Machine learning, Contests and academic competitions, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E) 3Q: D. Fox Harrell on his video game for the #MeToo era The computer scientist’s group has designed a game that gets players to reflect on sexual misconduct in the workplace. Fri, 19 Jan 2018 11:00:00 -0500 Larry Hardesty | MIT News Office <p><em>The Imagination, Computation, and Expression Laboratory at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) has released a new video game called Grayscale, which is designed to sensitize players to problems of sexism, sexual harassment, and sexual assault in the workplace. D. Fox Harrell, the lab’s director, and students in his course CMS.628 (Advanced Identity Representation) completed the initial version of the game more than a year ago, and the ICE Lab has been working on it consistently since. But it addresses many of the themes brought to the fore by the recent #MeToo movement. The game is built atop the ICE Lab’s Chimeria computational platform, which was designed to give computer systems a more subtle, flexible, and dynamic model of how humans categorize members of various groups. </em>MIT News<em> spoke to Harrell, a professor of digital media and artificial intelligence in CSAIL and Comparative Media Studies/Writing, about Grayscale (or to give it its more formal name, Chimeria:Grayscale).</em></p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> How does the game work?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> You’re playing the role of an employee of a corporation called Grayscale. It’s a kind of melancholy place: Everything is gray toned. The interface looks like a streamlined email interface. You’re a temporary human resources manager, and as you play, messages begin coming in. And the messages from other employees have embedded within them evidence of different types of sexism from the <a href=";rep=rep1&amp;type=pdf">Fiske and Glick</a> social-science model.</p> <p>We chose this particular model of sexism because it addresses this notion of ambivalent sexism, which includes both hostile sexism — which is the very overt sexism that we know well and could include everything from heinous assaults to gender discrimination — and what they call “benevolent sexism.” It’s not benevolent in the sense that it’s anything good; it’s oppressive too. Fixing a woman’s computer for her under the assumption she cannot do it herself, these researchers would say, is “protective paternalism.” “Complimentary gender differentiation” involves statements like, “Oh, you must be so emotionally adept.”</p> <p>Over the course of the week you have new emails coming in, new fires to put out. Some of them are more subtle. For instance, the office temperature is deemed to be too cold by some employee. There’s been research that shows that’s a place of inequity because people perceive temperature differently, in part based on gender or even clothing that we typically associate with gender.</p> <p>That’s a kind of gentle introduction into this. But some of them are more obvious in different sorts of ways. So a co-worker, say, commenting that wearing yoga pants in the office is (a) unprofessional and (b) distracting. He sends that to the entire list. So do you tell everyone to look at the manual for the dress code? Or do you comment to this guy? Or do you tell everybody it’s actually commenting on your coworker’s attire being “distracting” that’s the problem?</p> <p>Other emails deal more directly with assault, like somebody who touched somebody inappropriately in an office space.</p> <p>So you have to make choices about all of these different options. You might have four draft messages, as if you’d been deliberating about which one you’re going to send, and then you finally hit reply with one of your possible drafts. And on the back end, we have each of those connected with particular ways that sexism is exhibited.</p> <p>The thing that people find compelling about it is that there’s not always an easy answer for each of the questions. You might find tension between one answer and another. Should I send this to the entire list, or should I send it just to the person directly? Or you might think, I really hate the way this guy phrased this email, but at the same time, maybe there are standards within the manual.</p> <p>Finally, you get your performance evaluation at the very end of the story. We didn't want it to be straightforward, that if you’ve been nonsexist you get the job, and if you’ve been sexist you don’t. You end up with some kinds of tensions, because maybe you’ve been promoted, but you compromised your values. Maybe you’re kept on but not really seen as a team player, so you have to watch your step. You’re navigating those kinds of tensions between what is seen as the corporate culture, what would get you ahead, and your own personal thoughts about the sexism that’s displayed.</p> <p>This also isn’t the only vector through which you get feedback. You’re also getting feedback based on what happens to the other characters as well.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> Whom do you envision playing this game?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> There have been thematic indie games that have come out recently. There’s a game addressing issues like isolation and human connection, Firewatch, that was pretty <a href="">popular</a>. And games about social issues, like the game Dys4ia, which is a game about gender dysphoria.</p> <p>There was also a <a href="">lot</a> of <a href="">press</a> recently about a game called <a href="">Hair Nah</a>. This was a game related to the fact that for a lot of African-American women, other people like to touch their hair in a way that’s as irritating as it is othering. Such games act like editorials about particular topics. They are not novels, but more like opinion pieces about an issue.</p> <p>People who like this type of indie game, I think, [would like Grayscale].</p> <p>We intend for it to be a compelling narrative. That means understanding the back stories of the co-workers, getting to know their personalities. So there could be a bit of humor, a bit of pathos.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> How does the Chimeria platform work?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> At the core is the Chimeria engine, which models social-category membership with more nuance than a lot of other systems — in particular, building on models that come from cognitive science on how humans cognitively categorize. We enable people to be members of multiple categories or to have gradient degrees of categories and have those categories change over time. It’s a patent-pending technology I’m in the process of spinning out now through my company called Blues Identity Systems.</p> <p>Most computational systems that categorize users — whether that’s your social-media profile or e-commerce account or video-game character — model category membership in almost a taxonomic way: If you have a certain number of features that are defined to be the features of that category, then you’re going to be a member of that category.</p> <p>In cognitive science, researchers like George Lakoff and Eleanor Rosch have this idea that actually that’s not the way the human brain categorizes. Eleanor Rosch’s famous work argues that we categorize based on prototypes. When people categorize, say, a bird, it’s not because we’re going down this list of features: “Does it have feathers?” “Check.” “Does it have a beak?” It’s more that we have a typical bird in our mind, and we look at how it relates to that prototype. If you say, think of a bird, the idea is people wouldn’t think of a penguin or ostrich. They’d think of something that is prototypical to them — for example, in the U.S. it might be a robin. And then there’s gradient membership from there.</p> <p>So what I thought was, what if we could take out the taxonomic model currently in a lot of systems and replace it with this more nuanced model? What new kinds of possibilities emerge from there?</p> <p>One of the first papers we wrote about Chimeria involved using it for authoring conversations in games. A lot of times now, it’s a branching narrative: You have four choices, say, and four more for each of those, and so on. That’s exponential growth in terms of choices.</p> <p>Instead, we can look at your category. Have you been playing as a physically oriented character, like a warrior? Have you been playing aggressively? And so on. And then based upon your category membership — and how it’s been changing — we can customize conversation.</p> <p>So instead of branching plot points, you might have wild cards within the text that change based upon the current category that you’re in — or the trajectory. It actually breaks bottlenecks in authoring, but it also opens up new types of expressive possibilities.</p> D. Fox Harrell is the director of the Imagination, Computation, and Expression Laboratory at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Image: Bryce Vickmark3 Questions, Artificial intelligence, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Computer science and technology, Software, SHASS, Video games Q&amp;A: Seth Mnookin on the fallacy of “both sides” journalism &quot;We’ve seen too many journalists confuse not taking sides with not calling out liars and frauds,&quot; says MIT researcher and author. Fri, 12 Jan 2018 16:00:01 -0500 School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences <p><em>A longtime journalist and science writer, Seth Mnookin is a professor of science writing, director of the Graduate Program in Science Writing, and director of the MIT Communications Forum. In his most recent book, "The Panic Virus: The True Story Behind the Vaccine-Autism Controversy," which won the Science in Society Award, Mnookin tackles a fundamental question: How do we decide what the truth is? SHASS Communications spoke with Mnookin recently about the state of journalism in an era when public trust is threatened by cries of "fake news" from political partisans aiming to discredit unflattering stories and to diminish the efficacy of the free press.</em></p> <p><strong>Q</strong>: Your most recent book, <em>"</em>The Panic Virus," examines what happened when science journalists led the public astray on the issue of vaccinations. What changes have there been in the way the issue has been reported since the book was published?</p> <p><strong>A</strong>: In the nine months before my book came out in early 2011, the fraudulent 1998 study that launched the unfounded fears that the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine was linked to autism was retracted and the lead author lost his medical license. Those factors, along with my book, the work by other journalists, and the countless studies that showed there was no link between the MMR vaccine and autism helped put an end to the “on the one hand, on the other hand” reporting that had plagued so much of the journalism on the issue for so long.</p> <p>Since then we’ve seen the issue occasionally creep back into the news — typically when a politician (Michelle Bachman in late 2011, Donald Trump more recently) makes an outrageous and inaccurate claim at a debate or press conference — but for the most part, reporting on this topic has been much improved.<br /> <br /> <strong>Q</strong>: Some have called the current media climate “postfactual.” Have you observed any changes, for better or worse, in the coverage of other major scientific topics, such as climate change, health care, or energy policy?</p> <p><strong>A</strong>: American journalism is based on the principle of objectivity: journalists are supposed to be dispassionate about the subjects they cover. We’ve seen too many journalists confuse not taking sides with not calling out liars and frauds or giving too much credence to fringe or extreme views. HBO's John Oliver illustrated the fundamental dishonesty of presenting “both sides” of settled issues as having equal weight when he had a segment that featured one climate change denier and 100 scientists who all agreed that human activity was contributing to dramatic changes in the environment.</p> <p>It’s crucial for journalists to remember that even reporting that something is false will lead to a certain percentage of people believing that it’s actually true. One of the most important lessons I teach my students is sometimes, the best way to cover a controversy is not to cover it at all.<br /> <br /> <strong>Q</strong>: Why is it so important that the public be informed about current research findings? Since sharing factual data does not, alas, always change strongly-felt but erroneous views, what additional approaches do you think can work to help the general public and leaders make data-based decisions?</p> <p><strong>A</strong>: I always get concerned when journalists start talking about using tactics to get politicians or the public to act in a certain way, regardless of how commendable or virtuous that behavior would be. The media’s responsibility is to report things fairly, accurately, and comprehensively. I think it is the responsibility of our elected and nonelected leaders to support the truth.</p> <p>Unfortunately, the current administration has done almost the exact opposite. I do think that there is an enormous opportunity at the moment for scientists to become public advocates and ambassadors. President Reif has done that consistently and eloquently, as have other MIT scientists, including people like Eric Lander at the Broad Institute.<br /> <br /> <strong>Q</strong>: As President Reif has said, solving the great challenges of our time will require multidisciplinary problem-solving — bringing together expertise and ideas from the humanities, arts, social science, and STEM fields.&nbsp;Can you share why you believe it’s important in such global problem-solving to incorporate research and insights from the humanities fields? What challenges do you see to such collaborations — and how can we overcome them?<br /> <br /> <strong>A:</strong> As we’ve seen in areas like climate change and the vaccine-autism debate, having mountains of scientific research supporting a single conclusion is not enough in and of itself to spark widespread public acceptance. Tackling these challenges, like many other global issues, will require messengers who can communicate what the problems are and why the general public should care. Academia is often structured and incentivized in a way that discourages collaborations outside of one’s own field. Creating opportunities for those within STEM fields and the humanities to work together is one way to begin overcoming that obstacle.<br /> &nbsp;<br /> <strong>Q</strong>: What are the biggest challenges the MIT Graduate Program in Science Writing faces in the future?</p> <p><strong>A</strong>: GPSW students are trained to be fair in their reporting and to accurately inform&nbsp;the public. Doing this requires overcoming significant obstacles within the media industry. Changes in the industry’s financial structure have meant that there are fewer staff opportunities for dedicated science reporters than ever before and freelancers are struggling with lower pay and larger workloads. Aspiring writers and journalists who decide to focus on science are already making enormous sacrifices. Our biggest challenge right now is to find a way to fully fund our students, so that they can embark on their careers without any debt.</p> <h5><em>Interview prepared by MIT SHASS Communications<br /> Editorial team: Emily Hiestand (series editor) and Daniel Pritchard</em></h5> "I do think that there is an enormous opportunity at the moment for scientists to become public advocates and ambassadors," says Seth Mnookin. "President Reif has done that consistently and eloquently, as have other MIT scientists."Photo courtesy of Seth MnookinFaculty, SHASS, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Science journalism, Science writing, Science communications, Vaccination, Autism, Books and authors, Technology and society