MIT News - Technology and society 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 Mon, 09 Mar 2020 00:00:00 -0400 The elephant in the server room Catherine D’Ignazio’s new book, “Data Feminism,” examines problems of bias and power that beset modern information. Mon, 09 Mar 2020 00:00:00 -0400 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p>Suppose you would like to know mortality rates for women during childbirth, by country, around the world. Where would you look? One option is the <a href="" target="_blank">WomanStats</a> Project, the website of an academic research effort investigating the links between the security and activities of nation-states, and the security of the women who live in them.</p> <p>The project, founded in 2001, meets a need by patching together data from around the world. Many countries are indifferent to collecting statistics about women’s lives. But even where countries try harder to gather data, there are clear challenges to arriving at useful numbers — whether it comes to women’s physical security, property rights, and government participation, among many other issues. &nbsp;</p> <p>For instance: In some countries, violations of women’s rights may be reported more regularly than in other places. That means a more responsive legal system may create the appearance of greater problems, when it provides relatively more support for women. The WomanStats Project notes many such complications.</p> <p>Thus the WomanStats Project offers some answers — for example, Australia, Canada, and much of Western Europe have low childbirth mortality rates — while also showing what the challenges are to taking numbers at face value. This, according to MIT professor Catherine D’Ignazio, makes the site unusual, and valuable.</p> <p>“The data never speak for themselves,” says D’Ignazio, referring to the general problem of finding reliable numbers about women’s lives. “There are always humans and institutions speaking for the data, and different people have their own agendas. The data are never innocent.”</p> <p>Now D’Ignazio, an assistant professor in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning, has taken a deeper look at this issue in a new book, co-authored with Lauren Klein, an associate professor of English and quantitative theory and methods at Emory University. In the book, “<a href="" target="_blank">Data Feminism</a>,” published this month by the MIT Press, the authors use the lens of intersectional feminism to scrutinize how data science reflects the social structures it emerges from.</p> <p>“Intersectional feminism examines unequal power,” write D’Ignazio and Klein, in the book’s introduction. “And in our contemporary world, data is power too. Because the power of data is wielded unjustly, it must be challenged and changed.”</p> <p><strong>The 4 percent problem</strong></p> <p>To see a clear case of power relations generating biased data, D’Ignazio and Klein note, consider research led by MIT’s own Joy Buolamwini, who as a graduate student in a class studying facial-recognition programs, observed that the software in question could not “see” her face. Buolamwini found that for the facial-recognition system in question, the software was based on a set of faces which were 78 percent male and 84 percent white; only 4 percent were female and dark-skinned, like herself.&nbsp;</p> <p>Subsequent media coverage of Buolamwini’s work, D’Ignazio and Klein write, contained “a hint of shock.” But the results were probably less surprising to those who are not white males, they think.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“If the past is racist, oppressive, sexist, and biased, and that’s your training data, that is what you are tuning for,” D’Ignazio says.</p> <p>Or consider another example, from tech giant Amazon, which tested an automated system that used AI to sort through promising CVs sent in by job applicants. One problem: Because a high percentage of company employees were men, the algorithm favored men’s names, other things being equal.&nbsp;</p> <p>“They thought this would help [the] process, but of course what it does is train the AI [system] to be biased toward women, because they themselves have not hired that many women,” D’Ignazio observes.</p> <p>To Amazon’s credit, it did recognize the problem. Moreover, D’Ignazio notes, this kind of issue is a problem that can be addressed. “Some of the technologies can be reformed with a more participatory process, or better training data. … If we agree that’s a good goal, one path forward is to adjust your training set and include more people of color, more women.”</p> <p><strong>“Who’s on the team? Who had the idea? Who’s benefiting?” </strong></p> <p>Still, the question of who participates in data science is, as the authors write, “the elephant in the server room.” As of 2011, only 26 percent of all undergraduates receiving computer science degrees in the U.S. were women. That is not only a low figure, but actually a decline from past levels: In 1985, 37 percent of computer science graduates were women, the highest mark on record.</p> <p>As a result of the lack of diversity in the field, D’Ignazio and Klein believe, many data projects are radically limited in their ability to see all facets of the complex social situations they purport to measure.&nbsp;</p> <p>“We want to try to tune people in to these kinds of power relationships and why they matter deeply,” D’Ignazio says. “Who’s on the team? Who had the idea? Who’s benefiting from the project? Who’s potentially harmed by the project?”</p> <p>In all, D’Ignazio and Klein outline seven principles of data feminism, from examining and challenging power, to rethinking binary systems and hierarchies, and embracing pluralism. (Those statistics about gender and computer science graduates are limited, they note, by only using the “male” and “female” categories, thus excluding people who identify in different terms.)</p> <p>People interested in data feminism, the authors state, should also “value multiple forms of knowledge,” including firsthand knowledge that may lead us to question seemingly official data. Also, they should always consider the context in which data are generated, and “make labor visible” when it comes to data science. This last principle, the researchers note, speaks to the problem that even when women and other excluded people contribute to data projects, they often receive less credit for their work.</p> <p>For all the book’s critique of existing systems, programs, and practices, D’Ignazio and Klein are also careful to include examples of positive, successful efforts, such as the WomanStats project, which has grown and thrived over two decades.</p> <p>“For people who are data people but are new to feminism, we want to provide them with a very accessible introduction, and give them concepts and tools they can use in their practice,” D’Ignazio says. “We’re not imagining that people already have feminism in their toolkit. On the other hand, we are trying to speak to folks who are very tuned in to feminism or social justice principles, and highlight for them the ways data science is both problematic, but can be marshalled in the service of justice.”</p> Catherine D’Ignazio is the co-author of a new book, “Data Feminism,” published by MIT Press in March 2020. Image: Diana Levine and MIT PressData, Women, Faculty, Research, Books and authors, MIT Press, Diversity and inclusion, Ethics, Technology and society, Artificial intelligence, Machine learning, Computer science and technology, Urban studies and planning, School of Architecture and Planning “Doing machine learning the right way” Professor Aleksander Madry strives to build machine-learning models that are more reliable, understandable, and robust. Sat, 07 Mar 2020 23:59:59 -0500 Rob Matheson | MIT News Office <p>The work of MIT computer scientist Aleksander Madry is fueled by one core mission: “doing machine learning the right way.”</p> <p>Madry’s research centers largely on making machine learning — a type of artificial intelligence — more accurate, efficient, and robust against errors. In his classroom and beyond, he also worries about questions of ethical computing, as we approach an age where artificial intelligence will have great impact on many sectors of society.</p> <p>“I want society to truly embrace machine learning,” says Madry, a recently tenured professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “To do that, we need to figure out how to train models that people can use safely, reliably, and in a way that they understand.”</p> <p>Interestingly, his work with machine learning dates back only a couple of years, to shortly after he joined MIT in 2015. In that time, his research group has published several critical papers demonstrating that certain models can be easily tricked to produce inaccurate results — and showing how to make them more robust.</p> <p>In the end, he aims to make each model’s decisions more interpretable by humans, so researchers can peer inside to see where things went awry. At the same time, he wants to enable nonexperts to deploy the improved models in the real world for, say, helping diagnose disease or control driverless cars.</p> <p>“It’s not just about trying to crack open the machine-learning black box. I want to open it up, see how it works, and pack it back up, so people can use it without needing to understand what’s going on inside,” he says.</p> <p><strong>For the love of algorithms</strong></p> <p>Madry was born in Wroclaw, Poland, where he attended the University of Wroclaw as an undergraduate in the mid-2000s. While he harbored interest in computer science and physics, “I actually never thought I’d become a scientist,” he says.</p> <p>An avid video gamer, Madry initially enrolled in the computer science program with intentions of programming his own games. But in joining friends in a few classes in theoretical computer science and, in particular, theory of algorithms, he fell in love with the material. Algorithm theory aims to find efficient optimization procedures for solving computational problems, which requires tackling difficult mathematical questions. “I realized I enjoy thinking deeply about something and trying to figure it out,” says Madry, who wound up double-majoring in physics and computer science.</p> <p>When it came to delving deeper into algorithms in graduate school, he went to his first choice: MIT. Here, he worked under both Michel X. Goemans, who was a major figure in applied math and algorithm optimization, and Jonathan A. Kelner, who had just arrived to MIT as a junior faculty working in that field. For his PhD dissertation, Madry developed algorithms that solved a number of longstanding problems in graph algorithms, earning the 2011 George M. Sprowls Doctoral Dissertation Award for the best MIT doctoral thesis in computer science.</p> <p>After his PhD, Madry spent a year as a postdoc at Microsoft Research New England, before teaching for three years at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne — which Madry calls “the Swiss version of MIT.” But his alma mater kept calling him back: “MIT has the thrilling energy I was missing. It’s in my DNA.”</p> <p><strong>Getting adversarial</strong></p> <p>Shortly after joining MIT, Madry found himself swept up in a novel science: machine learning. In particular, he focused on understanding the re-emerging paradigm of deep learning. That’s an artificial-intelligence application that uses multiple computing layers to extract high-level features from raw input — such as using pixel-level data to classify images. MIT’s campus was, at the time, buzzing with new innovations in the domain.</p> <p>But that begged the question: Was machine learning all hype or solid science? “It seemed to work, but no one actually understood how and why,” Madry says.</p> <p>Answering that question set his group on a long journey, running experiment after experiment on deep-learning models to understand the underlying principles. A major milestone in this journey was an influential paper they published in 2018, developing a methodology for making machine-learning models more resistant to “adversarial examples.” Adversarial examples are slight perturbations to input data that are imperceptible to humans — such as changing the color of one pixel in an image — but cause a model to make inaccurate predictions. They illuminate a major shortcoming of existing machine-learning tools.</p> <p>Continuing this line of work, Madry’s group showed that the existence of these mysterious adversarial examples may contribute to how machine-learning models make decisions. In particular, models designed to differentiate images of, say, cats and dogs, make decisions based on features that do not align with how humans make classifications. Simply changing these features can make the model consistently misclassify cats as dogs, without changing anything in the image that’s really meaningful to humans.</p> <p>Results indicated some models — which may be used to, say, identify abnormalities in medical images or help autonomous cars identify objects in the road —&nbsp;aren’t exactly up to snuff. “People often think these models are superhuman, but they didn’t actually solve the classification problem we intend them to solve,” Madry says. “And their complete vulnerability to adversarial examples was a manifestation of that fact. That was an eye-opening finding.”</p> <p>That’s why Madry seeks to make machine-learning models more interpretable to humans. New models he’s developed show how much certain pixels in images the system is trained on can influence the system’s predictions. Researchers can then tweak the models to focus on pixels clusters more closely correlated with identifiable features — such as detecting an animal’s snout, ears, and tail. In the end, that will help make the models more humanlike —&nbsp;or “superhumanlike” —&nbsp;in their decisions. To further this work, Madry and his colleagues recently founded the <a href="">MIT Center for Deployable Machine Learning</a>, a collaborative research effort within the <a href="" target="_blank">MIT Quest for Intelligence</a> that is working toward building machine-learning tools ready for real-world deployment.&nbsp;</p> <p>“We want machine learning not just as a toy, but as something you can use in, say, an autonomous car, or health care. Right now, we don’t understand enough to have sufficient confidence in it for those critical applications,” Madry says.</p> <p><strong>Shaping education and policy</strong></p> <p>Madry views artificial intelligence and decision making (“AI+D” is one of the three <a href="">new academic units</a> in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science) as “the interface of computing that’s going to have the biggest impact on society.”</p> <p>In that regard, he makes sure to expose his students to the human aspect of computing. In part, that means considering consequences of what they’re building. Often, he says, students will be overly ambitious in creating new technologies, but they haven’t thought through potential ramifications on individuals and society. “Building something cool isn’t a good enough reason to build something,” Madry says. “It’s about thinking about not if we can build something, but if we should build something.”</p> <p>Madry has also been engaging in conversations about laws and policies to help regulate machine learning. A point of these discussions, he says, is to better understand the costs and benefits of unleashing machine-learning technologies on society.</p> <p>“Sometimes we overestimate the power of machine learning, thinking it will be our salvation. Sometimes we underestimate the cost it may have on society,” Madry says. “To do machine learning right, there’s still a lot still left to figure out.”</p> Alexander MadryImage: Ian MacLellanComputer science and technology, Algorithms, Artificial intelligence, Machine learning, Computer vision, Technology and society, Faculty, Profile, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), School of Engineering, MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, Quest for Intelligence 3 Questions: Joe Steinmeyer on guiding students into the world of STEM Since 2009, Steinmeyer has taught more than 400 students in the MITES, MOSTEC, SEED Academy, and E2 programs. Wed, 04 Mar 2020 12:30:01 -0500 Dora P. Gonzalez | Office of Engineering Outreach Programs <p><em>Joe Steinmeyer is a principal lecturer in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) at MIT. His work includes the study of the intersection of biology and neuroscience with EECS, focusing on automation and control; and more recently, research in instrumentation and on novel ways to improve student learning. Steinmeyer&nbsp;SM ’10, PhD ’14 joined the Office of Engineering Outreach Programs (OEOP) instructional staff in 2009 and since then has taught more than 400 students in the Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES), MIT Online Science, Technology, and Engineering Community (MOSTEC), Saturday Engineering Enrichment and Discovery</em> (<em>SEED) Academy, and E2 programs. He is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and holds a bachelor’s degree in EECS from the University of Michigan in addition to his MIT degrees in EECS.</em></p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> What inspired you to become an OEOP instructor, and what keeps you coming back?</p> <p><strong>A: </strong>Coming out of undergrad, I was choosing between teaching as a career and engineering. I applied to PhD programs, but I also applied to Teach for America and almost went down that road. I got in MIT for grad school and decided to do research, but I wanted to keep teaching. The year after I got to MIT, around 2009, they were looking for an electronics instructor for MITES, and I was really excited because I have always liked the OEOP’s mission. Boston abounds with teaching opportunities, but few have a mission like the OEOP.</p> <p>I also liked that I could teach concepts I liked, so that’s how I got involved.</p> <p>Since I became a lecturer at MIT I’ve done more education-focused research, including some papers on the MITES curriculum, and devices we are using to teach EECS. For the past couple of years, I’ve also been trying to develop ways to analyze what students are doing in hardware when we are working from different locations, like with MOSTEC. You can analyze students’ programming capabilities through the internet, but how do you actually help them or give them a similar level of guidance in debugging a circuit, which is decoupled from a computer, when you’re not looking over their shoulder like you could in MITES and SEED? That has been an ongoing research project for me.</p> <p>I stay engaged because I like the mission of preparing students to be in a good position for college. OEOP programs are unique in that way, and there is also a lot of freedom with what we can teach students. It’s fun to teach them electronics because there is no one way to do programming, it’s an evolving field.</p> <p>I believe students benefit from a programming-focused curriculum, because that is one of the great have/have-not situations in education today. The schools with more resources will have programming curricula, where schools with less resources would not.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> How do you help students gain confidence to pursue a career in STEM?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> First by having sort of a judgement-free zone. Every student comes in with different background experiences, and I’ve learned to adjust curricula for the individual person. When I first started as an instructor, I had this vision that everyone would have to do the same kind of project. But a student that comes in with no experience may not end up moving as far along as someone who came in with lots of previous experience, so having a rough idea of what you want everyone to do, and tailoring that for people, works best.</p> <p>I am also a big fan of letting students develop projects that they come up with, so they have a vested interest in their work. I see computation as an essential skill in every modern STEM field. Programming is used in every engineering field now, which also allows students to apply EECS concepts to something they already are interested in or care about. A couple of years ago we had a student who was really into dance, so we did a dance-focused project. Other students are interested in medical-leaning applications. We also do a lot of traditional EECS-themed projects like games, because those can be done in a short period of time.</p> <p>STEM education for those who want to self-learn can be extremely daunting and scary. If you go on any of the common forums where people can learn how to program, people can be very harsh and mean, and a student who goes on for the first time can feel discouraged and think programming isn’t for them. So I let students learn about the environment, but also try to ‘bumper bowl’ or guide the experience a little bit.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> What is the most challenging part of the OEOP instructor experience? And the most rewarding?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> The vast differences in educational backgrounds of the students is a challenge, but it’s not one that I don’t like; I find that actually rewarding. It requires you to find what’s the right mix of challenging students but not breaking them down.</p> <p>The most rewarding part is seeing students a few years down the line, where they end up or what they are doing, it’s really fulfilling. I have been an instructor for MITES for 10 years so I have a couple early MITES kids who are in PhD programs now. It has been really nice to see students’ journeys.</p> <p>I had a student who came from East LA [Los Angeles, California], who was extremely smart, but had a lot of confidence issues. She worked really hard in the MITES electronics class, and at the time, they had to do individual presentations of their work, and she was really nervous about explaining her project but she did really well. She went through the college application process and got into Harvard and Brown. After visiting Brown she decided that was her college, and throughout her undergrad years she was a teaching assistant for MITES. She invited me to go to her graduation at Brown and it was a really fulfilling moment for me. It was neat to see her evolve into this really confident young woman. She then got into Harvard for her PhD and is doing very interesting hearing/ear research. Stories like this motivate me.</p> <p>Programming moves so fast and transforms so fast that there are no more books to learn from, it’s sort of like going out on to the web and scraping information from people. I find it rewarding to see how students go from not knowing that they can teach themselves from the internet, to learning how to look up information that’s out there, loosely organized, and use it to solve a problem with their final projects. It’s also nice to see how much students mature once they are in college. At the end they are a well-seasoned person who can have their pick of what they want to do with life, that’s my goal. I don’t want to see anyone get forced into a certain career path, it doesn’t have to be EECS, if they can get to a spot and they can make a choice, and they’re not forced into it, it’s success.</p> Joe Steinmeyer and SEED Academy students Lea Grohmann (left), Daysia Charles (center), and Yenifer Lemus (right) prepare for their final electronics presentations.Photo: Gretchen ErtlElectrical engineering and computer science (EECS), 3 Questions, Diversity and inclusion, Technology and society, Alumni/ae, Office of Engineering Outreach Program (OEOP), Computer science and technology, Faculty 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 The catch to putting warning labels on fake news Study finds disclaimers on some false news stories make people more readily believe other false stories. Mon, 02 Mar 2020 23:59:59 -0500 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p>After the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Facebook began putting warning tags on news stories fact-checkers judged to be false. But there’s a catch: Tagging some stories as false makes readers more willing to believe other stories and share them with friends, even if those additional, untagged stories also turn out to be false.</p> <p>That is the main finding of a new study co-authored by an MIT professor, based on multiple experiments with news consumers. The researchers call this unintended consequence — in which the selective labeling of false news makes other news stories seem more legitimate — the “implied-truth effect” in news consumption.</p> <p>“Putting a warning on some content is going to make you think, to some extent, that all of the other content without the warning might have been checked and verified,” says David Rand, the Erwin H. Schell Professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and co-author of a newly published paper detailing the study.</p> <p>“There’s no way the fact-checkers can keep up with the stream of misinformation, so even if the warnings do really reduce belief in the tagged stories, you still have a problem, because of the implied truth effect,” Rand adds.</p> <p>Moreover, Rand observes, the implied truth effect “is actually perfectly rational” on the part of readers, since there is ambiguity about whether untagged stories were verified or just not yet checked. “That makes these warnings potentially problematic,” he says. “Because people will reasonably make this inference.”</p> <p>Even so, the findings also suggest a solution: Placing “Verified” tags on stories found to be true eliminates the problem.</p> <p>The paper, “The Implied Truth Effect,” has just appeared in online form in the journal <em>Management Science</em>. In addition to Rand, the authors are Gordon Pennycook, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Regina; Adam Bear, a postdoc in the Cushman Lab at Harvard University; and Evan T. Collins, an undergraduate researcher on the project from Yale University.</p> <p><strong>BREAKING: More labels are better</strong></p> <p>To conduct the study, the researchers conducted a pair of online experiments with a total of 6,739 U.S. residents, recruited via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform. Participants were given a variety of true and false news headlines in a Facebook-style format. The false stories were chosen from the website and included headlines such as “BREAKING NEWS: Hillary Clinton Filed for Divorce in New York Courts” and “Republican Senator Unveils Plan To Send All Of America’s Teachers Through A Marine Bootcamp.”</p> <p>The participants viewed an equal mix of true stories and false stories, and were asked whether they would consider sharing each story on social media. Some participants were assigned to a control group in which no stories were labeled; others saw a set of stories where some of the false ones displayed a “FALSE” label; and some participants saw a set of stories with warning labels on some false stories and “TRUE” verification labels for some true stories.</p> <p>In the first place, stamping warnings on false stories does make people less likely to consider sharing them. For instance, with no labels being used at all, participants considered sharing 29.8 percent of false stories in the sample. That figure dropped to 16.1 percent of false stories that had a warning label attached.</p> <p>However, the researchers also saw the implied truth effect take effect. Readers were willing to share 36.2 percent of the remaining false stories that did not have warning labels, up from 29.8 percent.</p> <p>“We robustly observe this implied-truth effect, where if false content doesn’t have a warning, people believe it more and say they would be more likely to share it,” Rand notes.</p> <p>But when the warning labels on some false stories were complemented with verification labels on some of the true stories, participants were less likely to consider sharing false stories, across the board. In those circumstances, they shared only 13.7 percent of the headlines labeled as false, and just 26.9 percent of the nonlabeled false stories.</p> <p>“If, in addition to putting warnings on things fact-checkers find to be false, you also put verification panels on things fact-checkers find to be true, then that solves the problem, because there’s no longer any ambiguity,” Rand says. “If you see a story without a label, you know it simply hasn’t been checked.”</p> <p><strong>Policy implications</strong></p> <p>The findings come with one additional twist that Rand emphasizes, namely, that participants in the survey did not seem to reject warnings on the basis of ideology. They were still likely to change their perceptions of stories with warning or verifications labels, even if discredited news items were “concordant” with their stated political views.</p> <p>“These results are not consistent with the idea that our reasoning powers are hijacked by our partisanship,” Rand says.</p> <p>Rand notes that, while continued research on the subject is important, the current study suggests a straightforward way that social media platforms can take action to further improve their systems of labeling online news content.</p> <p>“I think this has clear policy implications when platforms are thinking about attaching warnings,” he says. “They should be very careful to check not just the effect of the warnings on the content with the tag, but also check the effects on all the other content.”</p> <p>Support for the research was provided, in part, by the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Initiative of the Miami Foundation, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.</p> A new study co-authored by MIT Professor David Rand shows that labeling some news stories as false makes all other news stories seem more legitimate online.Social media, Internet, Politics, Marketing, Technology and society, Sloan School of Management President Reif testifies before Congress on U.S. competitiveness “To stay ahead, the U.S. needs to do more to capitalize on our own strengths,” he tells representatives. Thu, 27 Feb 2020 15:53:46 -0500 MIT News Office <p>No U.S. strategy to respond to competition from&nbsp;China will succeed unless it includes increased investment in research, a concerted effort to attract more students to key research fields, and a more creative approach to turning ideas into commercial products, MIT President L. Rafael Reif said in congressional testimony on Wednesday, Feb. 26.</p> <p>Reif spoke at a hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee on “U.S.-China Trade and Competition.”</p> <p>“Whatever else the U.S. does to counter the challenges posed by China, we must increase our investment in research in key technology areas, and we must enhance our capacity to get the most out of that investment,” he told the panel. “U.S. strategy is unlikely to succeed if it is merely defensive; to stay ahead, the U.S. needs to do more to capitalize on our own strengths.”</p> <p>Reif’s Capitol Hill appearance came immediately after he delivered an opening talk at a National Academy of Sciences (NAS)_event commemorating the 75th anniversary of “Science, The Endless Frontier,” a 1945 report to U.S. President Harry S. Truman that is seen as the founding document of the post-World War II research system in the U.S. The report was written by the late Vannevar Bush, who had a long career at MIT, including service as the Institute’s vice president and dean of engineering.</p> <p>At both the NAS and on Capitol Hill, Reif called for a “visible, focused, and sustained” federal program that would increase funding for research and target the increase at key technologies, such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and advanced communications.</p> <p>“The U.S. lacks an effective, coordinated way to target research toward specific areas and funding has fallen far behind what’s needed to stay ahead of our competitors,” Reif told Congress. “One promising proposal is to create a new directorate at the National Science Foundation with that mission, and giving that new unit the authority to be run more like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).”</p> <p>Reif also said that attracting top talent is another essential element of a successful strategy. “At the university level, that requires two parallel tasks — attracting top U.S. students to key fields, and attracting and retaining the best researchers from around the world,” he said.</p> <p>Specifically, he called for new programs to offer federal support to undergraduates, graduate students, and postdocs who are willing to study in fields related to key technologies. He also said foreign students who receive a U.S. doctorate should immediately be given a green card to settle in the U.S., and he warned against anti-immigrant rhetoric.</p> <p>Finally, Reif said the U.S. needs to experiment with ways to speed the transition of ideas from lab to market. He called for new ways to de-risk technologies and to create more patient capital, and suggested that the Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax policy, should look at tax policies to create incentives for longer-term investment and to foster more university-industry cooperation.</p> <p>“The U.S. edge in science and technology has been a foundation for U.S. security, prosperity, and quality of life,” Reif said, in conclusion. “But that edge has to be regularly honed; it is not ours by right or by nature. We can best sharpen it with a strategy founded on confidence in ourselves, not fear of others.”</p> <p>Two weeks ago, Vice President for Research Maria Zuber delivered a similar message to Congress, in testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on how to improve the intelligence services’ access to science and technology.</p> <p>Zuber said that to help the intelligence services, the U.S. needs to capitalize on its strengths, which she said include “world-class universities, an open research system, and the ability to attract and retain top talent from around the world.”</p> <p>Like Reif, Zuber highlighted a proposal to create a new technology directorate at the National Science Foundation, as well as the need to attract talent domestically and from abroad. She also cited MIT’s <a href="">AI Accelerator</a> — a cooperative project between MIT and the U.S. Air Force — as the kind of cooperative work that the intelligence services could foster.</p> <p>In her testimony, Zuber emphasized the need to maintain an open U.S. research system: “The U.S. faces new challenges and competitors,” she said, “but we are well-placed to succeed if we get the most from our unrivaled strengths.”</p> President L. Rafael Reif, Policy, Government, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Funding, Administration, Technology and society, National Science Foundation (NSF), China, Quantum computing Protecting sensitive metadata so it can’t be used for surveillance System ensures hackers eavesdropping on large networks can’t find out who’s communicating and when they’re doing so. Wed, 26 Feb 2020 00:00:00 -0500 Rob Matheson | MIT News Office <p>MIT researchers have designed a scalable system that secures the metadata — such as who’s corresponding and when — of millions of users in communications networks, to help protect the information against possible state-level surveillance.</p> <p>Data encryption schemes that protect the content of online communications are prevalent today. Apps like WhatsApp, for instance, use “end-to-end encryption” (E2EE), a scheme that ensures third-party eavesdroppers can’t read messages sent by end users.</p> <p>But most of those schemes overlook metadata, which contains information about who’s talking, when the messages are sent, the size of message, and other information. Many times, that’s all a government or other hacker needs to know to track an individual. This can be especially dangerous for, say, a government whistleblower or people living in oppressive regimes talking with journalists.</p> <p>Systems that fully protect user metadata with cryptographic privacy are complex, and they suffer scalability and speed issues that have so far limited their practicality. Some methods can operate quickly but provide much weaker security. In a paper being presented at the USENIX Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation, the MIT researchers describe “XRD” (for Crossroads), a metadata-protection scheme that can handle cryptographic communications from millions of users in minutes, whereas traditional methods with the same level of security would take hours to send everyone’s messages.</p> <p>“There is a huge lack in protection for metadata, which is sometimes very sensitive. The fact that I’m sending someone a message at all is not protected by encryption,” says first author Albert Kwon PhD ’19, a recent graduate from the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). “Encryption can protect content well. But how can we fully protect users from metadata leaks that a state-level adversary can leverage?”</p> <p>Joining Kwon on the paper are David Lu, an undergraduate in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; and Srinivas Devadas, the Edwin Sibley Webster Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in CSAIL.</p> <p><strong>New spin on mix nets</strong></p> <p>Starting in 2013, disclosures of classified information by Edward Snowden revealed widespread global surveillance by the U.S. government. Although the mass collection of metadata by the National Security Agency was subsequently discontinued, in 2014 former director of the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency Michael Hayden explained that the government can often rely solely on metadata to find the information it’s seeking. As it happens, this is right around the time Kwon started his PhD studies.</p> <p>“That was like a punch to the cryptography and security communities,” Kwon says. “That meant encryption wasn’t really doing anything to stop spying in that regard.”</p> <p>Kwon spent most of his PhD program focusing on metadata privacy. With XRD, Kwon says he “put a new spin” on a traditional E2EE metadata-protecting scheme, called “mix nets,” which was invented decades ago but suffers from scalability issues.</p> <p>Mix nets use chains of servers, known as mixes, and public-private key encryption. The first server receives encrypted messages from many users and decrypts a single layer of encryption from each message. Then, it shuffles the messages in random order and transmits them to the next server, which does the same thing, and so on down the chain. The last server decrypts the final encryption layer and sends the message to the target receiver.</p> <p>Servers only know the identities of the immediate source (the previous server) and immediate destination (the next server). Basically, the shuffling and limited identity information breaks the link between source and destination users, making it very difficult for eavesdroppers to get that information. As long as one server in the chain is “honest”— meaning it follows protocol — metadata is almost always safe.</p> <p>However, “active attacks” can occur, in which a malicious server in a mix net tampers with the messages to reveal user sources and destinations. In short, the malicious server can drop messages or modify sending times to create communications patterns that reveal direct links between users.</p> <p>Some methods add cryptographic proofs between servers to ensure there’s been no tampering. These rely on public key cryptography, which is secure, but it’s also slow and limits scaling. For XRD, the researchers invented a far more efficient version of the cryptographic proofs, called “aggregate hybrid shuffle,” that guarantees servers are receiving and shuffling message correctly, to detect any malicious server activity.</p> <p>Each server has a secret private key and two shared public keys. Each server must know all the keys to decrypt and shuffle messages. Users encrypt messages in layers, using each server’s secret private key in its respective layer. When a server receives messages, it decrypts and shuffles them using one of the public keys combined with its own private key. Then, it uses the second public key to generate a proof confirming that it had, indeed, shuffled every message without dropping or manipulating any. All other servers in the chain use their secret private keys and the other servers’ public keys in a way that verifies this proof. If, at any point in the chain, a server doesn’t produce the proof or provides an incorrect proof, it’s immediately identified as malicious.</p> <p>This relies on a clever combination of the popular public key scheme with one called “authenticated encryption,” which uses only private keys but is very quick at generating and verifying the proofs. In this way, XRD achieves tight security from public key encryption while running quickly and efficiently.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>To further boost efficiency, they split the servers into multiple chains and divide their use among users. (This is another traditional technique they improved upon.) Using some statistical techniques, they estimate how many servers in each chain could be malicious, based on IP addresses and other information. From that, they calculate how many servers need to be in each chain to guarantee there’s at least one honest server.&nbsp; Then, they divide the users into groups that send duplicate messages to multiple, random chains, which further protects their privacy while speeding things up.</p> <p><strong>Getting to real-time</strong></p> <p>In computer simulations of activity from 2 million users sending messages on a network of 100 servers, XRD was able to get everyone’s messages through in about four minutes. Traditional systems using the same server and user numbers, and providing the same cryptographic security, took one to two hours.</p> <p>“This seems slow in terms of absolute speed in today’s communication world,” Kwon says. “But it’s important to keep in mind that the fastest systems right now [for metadata protection] take hours, whereas ours takes minutes.”</p> <p>Next, the researchers hope to make the network more robust to few users and in instances where servers go offline in the midst of operations, and to speed things up. “Four minutes is acceptable for sensitive messages and emails where two parties’ lives are in danger, but it’s not as natural as today’s internet,” Kwon says. “We want to get to the point where we’re sending metadata-protected messages in near real-time.”</p> In a new metadata-protecting scheme, users send encrypted messages to multiple chains of servers, with each chain mathematically guaranteed to have at least one hacker-free server. Each server decrypts and shuffles the messages in random order, before shooting them to the next server in line. Image: courtesy of the researchersResearch, Computer science and technology, Algorithms, Cyber security, Data, Technology and society, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), School of Engineering MIT Solve announces 2020 global challenges Tech-based solutions sought for challenges in work environments, education for girls and women, maternal and newborn health, and sustainable food. Tue, 25 Feb 2020 16:15:01 -0500 Claire Crowther | MIT Solve <p>On Feb. 25, MIT Solve launched its <a href="">2020 Global Challenges</a>: Good Jobs and Inclusive Entrepreneurship, Learning for Girls and Women, Maternal and Newborn Health, and Sustainable Food Systems, with&nbsp;over $1 million in prize funding&nbsp;available across the challenges.</p> <p>Solve seeks tech-based solutions from social entrepreneurs around the world that address these four challenges. Anyone, anywhere can apply by the June 18 deadline. This year, to guide applicants, Solve created a course with <em>MITx</em> entitled “<a href="">Business and Impact Planning for Social Enterprises</a>,” which introduces core business-model and theory-of-change concepts to early-stage entrepreneurs.</p> <p>Finalists will be invited to attend Solve Challenge Finals on Sept. 20 in New York City during U.N. General Assembly week. At the event, they will pitch their solutions to Solve’s Challenge Leadership Groups, judging panels comprised of industry leaders and MIT faculty. The judges will select the most promising solutions as Solver teams.</p> <p>“Based all over the world, our Solver teams are incredibly diverse and have innovative solutions that turn air pollution into ink, recycle and resell used textiles, crowdsource data on wheelchair accessibility in public spaces, and much more,” says Solve Executive Director Alex Amouyel. “World-changing ideas can come from anywhere, and if you have a relevant solution, we want to hear it.”</p> <p>Solver teams participate in a nine-month program that connects them to the resources they need to scale. To date, Solve has facilitated more than 175 partnerships providing resources such as mentorship, technical expertise, and impact planning. In the past three years, Solve has brokered over $14 million in funding commitments to Solver teams and entrepreneurs.</p> <p>Solve’s challenge design process collects insights and ideas from industry leaders, MIT faculty, and local community voices alike. To develop the 2020 Global Challenges, Solve consulted more than 500 subject matter experts and hosted 14 Challenge Design Workshops in eight countries — in places ranging from Silicon Valley to London to Lagos to Ho Chi Minh City. Solve’s open innovation platform garnered more than 26,000 online votes on challenge themes.</p> <ol> <li> <p>Good Jobs and Inclusive Entrepreneurship:<strong> </strong>How can marginalized populations access and create good jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities for themselves?</p> </li> <li> <p>Learning for Girls and Women:<strong> </strong>How can marginalized girls and young women access quality learning opportunities to succeed?</p> </li> <li> <p>Maternal and Newborn Health:<strong> </strong>How can every pregnant woman, new mother, and newborn access the care they need to survive and thrive?</p> </li> <li> <p>Sustainable Food Systems:<strong> </strong>How can we produce and consume low-carbon, resilient, and nutritious food?</p> </li> </ol> <p>As a marketplace for social impact innovation, Solve’s mission is to solve world challenges. Solve finds promising tech-based social entrepreneurs around the world, then brings together MIT’s innovation ecosystem and a community of members to fund and support these entrepreneurs to help scale their impact. Organizations interested in joining the Solve community can learn more and <a href="">apply for membership here</a>.</p> <div></div> Renewed products consist of upcycled or recycling materials. The Renewal Workshop is an MIT Solver team that works to save textiles from landfill.Photo: The Renewal Workshop MIT Solve, Special events and guest speakers, Global, Technology and society, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), International development, Artificial intelligence, Learning, Environment, Health, Community, Startups, Crowdsourcing Low-cost “smart” diaper can notify caregiver when it’s wet Design combines a common diaper material with RFID technology. Thu, 13 Feb 2020 23:59:59 -0500 Jennifer Chu | MIT News Office <p>For some infants, a wet diaper is cause for an instant, vociferous demand to be changed, while other babies may be unfazed and happy to haul around the damp cargo for lengthy periods without complaint. But if worn too long, a wet diaper can cause painful rashes, and miserable babies — and parents.</p> <p>Now MIT researchers have developed a “smart” diaper embedded with a moisture sensor that can alert a caregiver when a diaper is wet. When the sensor detects dampness in the diaper, it sends a signal to a nearby receiver, which in turn can send a notification to a smartphone or computer.</p> <p>The sensor consists of a passive radio frequency identification (RFID) tag, that is placed below a layer of super absorbent polymer, a type of hydrogel that is typically used in diapers to soak up moisture. When the hydrogel is wet, the material expands and becomes slightly conductive — enough to trigger the RFID tag to send a radio signal to an RFID reader up to 1 meter away.</p> <p>The researchers say the design is the first demonstration of hydrogel as a functional antenna element for moisture sensing in diapers using RFID. They estimate that the sensor costs less than 2 cents to manufacture, making it a low-cost, disposable alternative to other smart diaper technology.</p> <p>Over time, smart diapers may help record and identify certain health problems, such as signs of constipation or incontinence. The new sensor may be especially useful for nurses working in neonatal units and caring for multiple babies at a time.</p> <p>Pankhuri Sen, a research assistant in MIT’s AutoID Laboratory, envisions that the sensor could also be integrated into adult diapers, for patients who might be unaware or too embarrassed to report themselves that a change is needed.</p> <p>“Diapers are used not just for babies, but for aging populations, or patients who are bedridden and unable to take care of themselves,” Sen says. “It would be convenient in these cases for a caregiver to be notified that a patient, particularly in a multibed hospital, needs changing.”</p> <p>“This could prevent rashes and some infections like urinary tract infections, in both aging and infant populations,” adds collaborator Sai Nithin R. Kantareddy, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.</p> <p>Sen, Kantareddy, and their colleagues at MIT, including Rahul Bhattacharryya and Sanjay Sarma, along with Joshua Siegel at Michigan State University, have published their results today in the journal <em>IEEE Sensors</em>. Sarma is MIT’s vice president&nbsp; for open learning and the Fred Fort Flowers and Daniel Fort Flowers Professor of Mechanical Engineering.</p> <p><strong>Sticker sense</strong></p> <p>Many off-the-shelf diapers incorporate wetness indicators in the form of strips, printed along the outside of a diaper, that change color when wet — a design that usually requires removing multiple layers of clothing to be able to see the actual diaper.</p> <p>Companies looking into smart diaper technology are considering wetness sensors that are wireless or Bluetooth-enabled, with devices that attach to a diaper’s exterior, along with bulky batteries to power long-range connections to the internet. These sensors are designed to be reusable, requiring a caregiver to remove and clean the sensor before attaching it to each new diaper. Current sensors being explored for smart diapers, Sen estimates, retail for over $40.</p> <p>RFID tags in contrast are low-cost and disposable, and can be printed in rolls of individual stickers, similar to barcode tags. MIT’s AutoID Laboratory, founded by Sarma, has been at the forefront of RFID tag development, with the goal of using them to connect our physical world with the internet.</p> <p>A typical RFID tag has two elements: an antenna for backscattering radio frequency signals, and an RFID chip that stores the tag’s information, such as the specific product that the tag is affixed to. RFID tags don’t require batteries; they receive energy in the form of radio waves emitted by an RFID reader. When an RFID tag picks up this energy, its antenna activates the RFID chip, which tweaks the radio waves and sends a signal back to the reader, with its information encoded within the waves. This is how, for instance, products labeled with RFID tags can be identified and tracked.</p> <p>Sarma’s group has been enabling RFID tags to work not just as wireless trackers, but also <a href="">as sensors</a>. Most recently, as part of MIT’s Industrial Liason Program, the team started up a collaboration with Softys, a diaper manufacturer based in South America, to see how RFID tags could be configured as low-cost, disposable wetness detectors in diapers. The researchers visited one of the company’s factories to get a sense of the machinery and assembly involved in diaper manufacturing, then came back to MIT to design a RFID sensor that might reasonably be integrated within the diaper manufacturing process.</p> <p><strong>Tag, you’re it</strong></p> <p>The design they came up with can be incorporated in the bottom layer of a typical diaper. The sensor itself resembles a bow tie, the middle of which consists of a typical RFID chip connecting the bow tie’s two triangles, each made from the hydrogel super absorbent polymer, or SAP.</p> <p>Normally, SAP is an insulating material, meaning that it doesn’t conduct current. But when the hydrogel becomes wet, the researchers found that the material properties change and the hydrogel becomes conductive. The conductivity is very weak, but it’s enough to react to any radio signals in the environment, such as those emitted by an RFID reader. This interaction generates a small current that turns on the sensor’s chip, which then acts as a typical RFID tag, tweaking and sending the radio signal back to the reader with information — in this case, that the diaper is wet.</p> <p>The researchers found that by adding a small amount of copper to the sensor, they could boost the sensor’s conductivity and therefore the range at which the tag can communicate to a reader, reaching more than 1 meter away.</p> <p>To test the sensor’s performance, they placed a tag within the bottom layers of newborn-sized diapers and wrapped each diaper around a life-sized baby doll, which they filled with saltwater whose conductive properties were similar to human bodily fluids. They placed the dolls at various distances from an RFID reader, at various orientations, such as lying flat versus sitting upright. They found that the particular sensor they designed to fit into newborn-sized diapers was able to activate and communicate to a reader up to 1 meter away when the diaper was fully wet.</p> <p>Sen envisions that an RFID reader connected to the internet could be placed in a baby’s room to detect wet diapers, at which point it could send a notification to a caregiver’s phone or computer that a change is needed. For geriatric patients who might also benefit from smart diapers, she says small RFID readers may even be attached to assistive devices, such as canes and wheelchairs to pick up a tag’s signals.</p> <p>This research was supported in part by Softys under the MIT Industry Liason Program.</p> A new disposable, affordable “smart” diaper embedded with an RFID tag is designed by MIT researchers to sense and communicate wetness to a nearby RFID reader, which in turn can wirelessly send a notification to a caregiver that it’s time for a change.Image: MIT NewsAssistive technology, Mechanical engineering, Research, School of Engineering, Technology and society, Health science and technology MIT researchers identify security vulnerabilities in voting app Mobile voting application could allow hackers to alter individual votes and may pose privacy issues for users. Thu, 13 Feb 2020 03:00:00 -0500 Abby Abazorius | MIT News Office <p>In recent years, there has been a growing interest in using internet and mobile technology to increase access to the voting process. At the same time, computer security experts caution that paper ballots are the only secure means of voting.</p> <p>Now, MIT researchers are raising another concern: They say they have uncovered security vulnerabilities in a mobile voting application that was used during the 2018 midterm elections in West Virginia. Their security analysis of the application, called Voatz, pinpoints a number of weaknesses, including the opportunity for hackers to alter, stop, or expose how an individual user has voted. Additionally, the researchers found that Voatz’s use of a third-party vendor for voter identification and verification poses potential privacy issues for users.</p> <p>The findings are described in a new <a href="">technical paper</a> by Michael Specter, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) and a member of MIT’s <a href="">Internet Policy Research Initiative</a>, and James Koppel, also a graduate student in EECS. The research was conducted under the guidance of Daniel Weitzner, a principal research scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) and founding director of the Internet Policy Research Initiative.</p> <p>After uncovering these security vulnerabilities, the researchers disclosed their findings to the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA). The researchers, along with the Boston University/MIT Technology Law Clinic, worked in close coordination with election security officials within CISA to ensure that impacted elections officials and the vendor were aware of the findings before the research was made public. This included preparing written summaries of the findings with proof-of-concept code, and direct discussions with affected elections officials on calls arranged by CISA.</p> <p>In addition to its use in the 2018 West Virginia elections, the app was deployed in elections in Denver, Oregon, and Utah, as well as at the 2016 Massachusetts Democratic Convention and the 2016 Utah Republican Convention. Voatz was not used during the 2020 Iowa caucuses.</p> <p>The findings underscore the need for transparency in the design of voting systems, according to the researchers.</p> <p>“We all have an interest in increasing access to the ballot, but in order to maintain trust in our elections system, we must assure that voting systems meet the high technical and operation security standards before they are put in the field,” says Weitzner. “We cannot experiment on our democracy.”&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>“The consensus of security experts is that running a secure election over the internet is not possible today,” adds Koppel. “The reasoning is that weaknesses anywhere in a large chain can give an adversary undue influence over an election, and today’s software is shaky enough that the existence of unknown exploitable flaws is too great a risk to take.”</p> <p><strong>Breaking down the results</strong></p> <p>The researchers were initially inspired to perform a security analysis of Voatz based on Specter’s <a href="">research</a> with Ronald Rivest, Institute Professor at MIT; Neha Narula, director of the MIT Digital Currency Initiative; and Sunoo Park SM ’15, PhD ’18 , exploring the feasibility of using blockchain systems in elections. According to the researchers, Voatz claims to use a permissioned blockchain to ensure security, but has not released any source code or public documentation for how their system operates.</p> <p>Specter, who co-teaches an MIT <a href="">Independent Activities Period course</a> founded by Koppel that is focused on reverse engineering software, broached the idea of reverse engineering Voatz’s application, in an effort to better understand how its system worked. To ensure that they did not interfere with any ongoing elections or expose user records, Specter and Koppel reverse-engineered the application and then created a model of Voatz’s server.</p> <p>They found that an adversary with remote access to the device can alter or discover a user’s vote, and that the server, if hacked, could easily change those votes. “It does not appear that the app’s protocol attempts to verify [genuine votes] with the back-end blockchain,” Specter explains.</p> <p>“Perhaps most alarmingly, we found that a passive network adversary, like your internet service provider, or someone nearby you if you’re on unencrypted Wi-Fi, could detect which way you voted in some configurations of the election. Worse, more aggressive attackers could potentially detect which way you’re going to vote and then stop the connection based on that alone.”</p> <p>In addition to detecting vulnerabilities with Voatz’s voting process, Specter and Koppel found that the app poses privacy issues for users. As the app uses an external vendor for voter ID verification, a third party could potentially access a voter’s photo, driver’s license data, or other forms of identification, if that vendor’s platform isn’t also secure.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>“Though Voatz’s privacy policy does talk about sending some information to third parties, as far as we can tell the fact that any third party is getting the voter’s driver’s license and selfie isn’t explicitly mentioned,” Specter notes.</p> <p><strong>Calls for increased openness</strong></p> <p>Specter and Koppel say that their findings point to the need for openness when it comes to election administration, in order to ensure the integrity of the election process. Currently, they note, the election process in states that use paper ballots is designed to be transparent, and citizens and political party representatives are given opportunities to observe the voting process.</p> <p>In contrast, Koppel notes, “Voatz’s app and infrastructure were completely closed-source; we were only able to get access to the app itself.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>“I think this type of analysis is extremely important. Right now, there’s a drive to make voting more accessible, by using internet and mobile-based voting systems. The problem here is that sometimes those systems aren’t made by people who have expertise in keeping voting systems secure, and they’re deployed before they can get proper review,” says Matthew Green, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute. In the case of Voatz, he adds, “It looks like there were many good intentions here, but the result lacks key features that would protect a voter and protect the integrity of elections.”</p> <p>Going forward, the researchers caution that software developers should prove their systems are as secure as paper ballots.</p> <p>“The biggest issue is transparency,” says Specter. “When you have part of the election that is opaque, that is not viewable, that is not public, that has some sort of proprietary component, that part of the system is inherently suspect and needs to be put under a lot of scrutiny.”</p> Cyber security, Voting and elections, Computer science and technology, Apps, Technology and society, Internet Policy Research Initiative, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), School of Engineering Automated system can rewrite outdated sentences in Wikipedia articles Text-generating tool pinpoints and replaces specific information in sentences while retaining humanlike grammar and style. Wed, 12 Feb 2020 13:51:56 -0500 Rob Matheson | MIT News Office <p>A system created by MIT researchers could be used to automatically update factual inconsistencies in Wikipedia articles, reducing time and effort spent by human editors who now do the task manually.</p> <p>Wikipedia comprises millions of articles that are in constant need of edits to reflect new information. That can involve article expansions, major rewrites, or more routine modifications such as updating numbers, dates, names, and locations. Currently, humans across the globe volunteer their time to make these edits.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>In a paper being presented at the AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence, the researchers describe a text-generating system that pinpoints and replaces specific information in relevant Wikipedia sentences, while keeping the language similar to how humans write and edit.</p> <p>The idea is that humans would type into an interface an unstructured sentence with updated information, without needing to worry about style or grammar. The system would then search Wikipedia, locate the appropriate page and outdated sentence, and rewrite it in a humanlike fashion. In the future, the researchers say, there’s potential to build a fully automated system that identifies and uses the latest information from around the web to produce rewritten sentences in corresponding Wikipedia articles that reflect updated information.</p> <p>“There are so many updates constantly needed to Wikipedia articles. It would be beneficial to automatically modify exact portions of the articles, with little to no human intervention,” says Darsh Shah, a PhD student in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and one of the lead authors. “Instead of hundreds of people working on modifying each Wikipedia article, then you’ll only need a few, because the model is helping or doing it automatically. That offers dramatic improvements in efficiency.”</p> <p>Many other bots exist that make automatic Wikipedia edits. Typically, those work on mitigating vandalism or dropping some narrowly defined information into predefined templates, Shah says. The researchers’ model, he says, solves a harder artificial intelligence problem: Given a new piece of unstructured information, the model automatically modifies the sentence in a humanlike fashion. “The other [bot] tasks are more rule-based, while this is a task requiring reasoning over contradictory parts in two sentences and generating a coherent piece of text,” he says.</p> <p>The system can be used for other text-generating applications as well, says co-lead author and CSAIL graduate student Tal Schuster. In their paper, the researchers also used it to automatically synthesize sentences in a popular fact-checking dataset that helped reduce bias, without manually collecting additional data. “This way, the performance improves for automatic fact-verification models that train on the dataset for, say, fake news detection,” Schuster says.</p> <p>Shah and Schuster worked on the paper with their academic advisor Regina Barzilay, the Delta Electronics Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a professor in CSAIL.</p> <p><strong>Neutrality masking and fusing</strong></p> <p>Behind the system is a fair bit of text-generating ingenuity in identifying contradictory information between, and then fusing together, two separate sentences. It takes as input an “outdated” sentence from a Wikipedia article, plus a separate “claim” sentence that contains the updated and conflicting information. The system must automatically delete and keep specific words in the outdated sentence, based on information in the claim, to update facts but maintain style and grammar. That’s an easy task for humans, but a novel one in machine learning.</p> <p>For example, say there’s a required update to this sentence (in bold): “Fund A considers <strong>28 of their 42</strong> minority stakeholdings in operationally active companies to be of particular significance to the group.” The claim sentence with updated information may read: “Fund A considers <strong>23 of 43</strong> minority stakeholdings significant.” The system would locate the relevant Wikipedia text for “Fund A,” based on the claim. It then automatically strips out the outdated numbers (28 and 42) and replaces them with the new numbers (23 and 43), while keeping the sentence exactly the same and grammatically correct. (In their work, the researchers ran the system on a dataset of specific Wikipedia sentences, not on all Wikipedia pages.)</p> <p>The system was trained on a popular dataset that contains pairs of sentences, in which one sentence is a claim and the other is a relevant Wikipedia sentence. Each pair is labeled in one of three ways: “agree,” meaning the sentences contain matching factual information; “disagree,” meaning they contain contradictory information; or “neutral,” where there’s not enough information for either label. The system must make all disagreeing pairs agree, by modifying the outdated sentence to match the claim. That requires using two separate models to produce the desired output.</p> <p>The first model is a fact-checking classifier — pretrained to label each sentence pair as “agree,” “disagree,” or “neutral” — that focuses on disagreeing pairs. Running in conjunction with the classifier is a custom “neutrality masker” module that identifies which words in the outdated sentence contradict the claim. The module removes the minimal number of words required to “maximize neutrality” — meaning the pair can be labeled as neutral. That’s the starting point: While the sentences don’t agree, they no longer contain obviously contradictory information. The module creates a binary “mask” over the outdated sentence, where a 0 gets placed over words that most likely require deleting, while a 1 goes on top of keepers.</p> <p>After masking, a novel two-encoder-decoder framework is used to generate the final output sentence. This model learns compressed representations of the claim and the outdated sentence. Working in conjunction, the two encoder-decoders fuse the dissimilar words from the claim, by sliding them into the spots left vacant by the deleted words (the ones covered with 0s) in the outdated sentence.</p> <p>In one test, the model scored higher than all traditional methods, using a technique called “SARI” that measures how well machines delete, add, and keep words compared to the way humans modify sentences. They used a dataset with manually edited Wikipedia sentences, which the model hadn’t seen before. Compared to several traditional text-generating methods, the new model was more accurate in making factual updates and its output more closely resembled human writing. In another test, crowdsourced humans scored the model (on a scale of 1 to 5) based on how well its output sentences contained factual updates and matched human grammar. The model achieved average scores of 4 in factual updates and 3.85 in matching grammar.</p> <p><strong>Removing bias</strong></p> <p>The study also showed that the system can be used to augment datasets to eliminate bias when training detectors of “fake news,” a form of propaganda containing disinformation created to mislead readers in order to generate website views or steer public opinion. Some of these detectors train on datasets of agree-disagree sentence pairs to “learn” to verify a claim by matching it to given evidence.</p> <p>In these pairs, the claim will either match certain information with a supporting “evidence” sentence from Wikipedia (agree) or it will be modified by humans to include information contradictory to the evidence sentence (disagree). The models are trained to flag claims with refuting evidence as “false,” which can be used to help identify fake news.</p> <p>Unfortunately, such datasets currently come with unintended biases, Shah says: “During training, models use some language of the human written claims as “give-away” phrases to mark them as false, without relying much on the corresponding evidence sentence. This reduces the model’s accuracy when evaluating real-world examples, as it does not perform fact-checking.”</p> <p>The researchers used the same deletion and fusion techniques from their Wikipedia project to balance the disagree-agree pairs in the dataset and help mitigate the bias. For some “disagree” pairs, they used the modified sentence’s false information to regenerate a fake “evidence” supporting sentence. Some of the give-away phrases then exist in both the “agree” and “disagree” sentences, which forces models to analyze more features. Using their augmented dataset, the researchers reduced the error rate of a popular fake-news detector by 13 percent.</p> <p>“If you have a bias in your dataset, and you’re fooling your model into just looking at one sentence in a disagree pair to make predictions, your model will not survive the real world,” Shah says. “We make models look at both sentences in all agree-disagree pairs.”</p> MIT researchers have created an automated text-generating system that pinpoints and replaces specific information in relevant Wikipedia sentences, while keeping the language similar to how humans write and edit.Image: Christine Daniloff, MITResearch, Computer science and technology, Algorithms, Machine learning, Data, Internet, Crowdsourcing, Social media, Technology and society, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), School of Engineering Hey Alexa! Sorry I fooled you ... MIT’s new system TextFooler can trick the types of natural-language-processing systems that Google uses to help power its search results, including audio for Google Home. Fri, 07 Feb 2020 11:20:01 -0500 Rachel Gordon | MIT CSAIL <p>A human can likely tell the difference between a turtle and a rifle. Two years ago, Google’s AI wasn’t so <a href="">sure</a>. For quite some time, a subset of computer science research has been dedicated to better understanding how machine-learning models handle these “adversarial” attacks, which are inputs deliberately created to trick or fool machine-learning algorithms.&nbsp;</p> <p>While much of this work has focused on <a href="">speech</a> and <a href="">images</a>, recently, a team from MIT’s <a href="">Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory</a> (CSAIL) tested the boundaries of text. They came up with “TextFooler,” a general framework that can successfully attack natural language processing (NLP) systems — the types of systems that let us interact with our Siri and Alexa voice assistants — and “fool” them into making the wrong predictions.&nbsp;</p> <p>One could imagine using TextFooler for many applications related to internet safety, such as email spam filtering, hate speech flagging, or “sensitive” political speech text detection — which are all based on text classification models.&nbsp;</p> <p>“If those tools are vulnerable to purposeful adversarial attacking, then the consequences may be disastrous,” says Di Jin, MIT PhD student and lead author on a new paper about TextFooler. “These tools need to have effective defense approaches to protect themselves, and in order to make such a safe defense system, we need to first examine the adversarial methods.”&nbsp;</p> <p>TextFooler works in two parts: altering a given text, and then using that text to test two different language tasks to see if the system can successfully trick machine-learning models.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The system first identifies the most important words that will influence the target model’s prediction, and then selects the synonyms that fit contextually. This is all while maintaining grammar and the original meaning to look “human” enough, until the prediction is altered.&nbsp;</p> <p>Then, the framework is applied to two different tasks — text classification, and entailment (which is the relationship between text fragments in a sentence), with the goal of changing the classification or invalidating the entailment judgment of the original models.&nbsp;</p> <p>In one example, TextFooler’s input and output were:</p> <p>“The characters, cast in impossibly contrived situations, are totally estranged from reality.”&nbsp;</p> <p>“The characters, cast in impossibly engineered circumstances, are fully estranged from reality.”&nbsp;</p> <p>In this case, when testing on an NLP model, it gets the example input right, but then gets the modified input wrong.&nbsp;</p> <p>In total, TextFooler successfully attacked three target models, including “BERT,” the popular open-source NLP model. It fooled the target models with an accuracy of over 90 percent to under 20 percent, by changing only 10 percent of the words in a given text. The team evaluated success on three criteria: changing the model's prediction for classification or entailment; whether it looked similar in meaning to a human reader, compared with the original example; and whether the text looked natural enough.&nbsp;</p> <p>The researchers note that while attacking existing models is not the end goal, they hope that this work will help more abstract models generalize to new, unseen data.&nbsp;</p> <p>“The system can be used or extended to attack any classification-based NLP models to test their robustness,” says Jin. “On the other hand, the generated adversaries can be used to improve the robustness and generalization of deep-learning models via adversarial training, which is a critical direction of this work.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Jin wrote the paper alongside MIT Professor Peter Szolovits, Zhijing Jin of the University of Hong Kong, and Joey Tianyi Zhou of A*STAR, Singapore. They will present the paper at the AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence in New York.&nbsp;</p> CSAIL PhD student Di Jin led the development of the TextFooler system.Photo: Jason Dorfman/MIT CSAILComputer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Computer science and technology, Machine learning, Algorithms, Data, Natural language processing, Artificial intelligence, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), School of Engineering, Technology and society How to tackle depression in Japan? CCI and Takeda collaborate on a theoretical approach leveraging networks of people and machines in support of individuals experiencing depression. Tue, 04 Feb 2020 14:30:01 -0500 Annalyn Bachmann | Center for Collective Intelligence <p>The health care sector is at an important crossroads. With new diseases emerging and endemic diseases becoming more widespread, the industry is having to explore new ways to face such challenges.</p> <p>One key concern is depression, which impacts the lives of tens of millions of people worldwide and costs society hundreds of billions of dollars annually. It was this challenge that recently brought together MIT’s Center for Collective Intelligence (CCI) and pharmaceutical company Takeda, headquartered in Japan, to explore new ways to approach complex problems.</p> <p>Takeda’s Center for Scientific Leadership and Innovation (CSLI) identified a specific and particularly difficult health care challenge — depression in Japan — to test-drive new ways of improving health care and of building capabilities in its leadership ranks. The collaboration between Takeda and CCI, which included over 30 Takeda executives from throughout the world and the company, centered around a process of ideation called “supermind design.” This process helps innovators “think in systems” and inspires them to tackle problems in a completely unique way. The approach included virtual and in-person sessions to leverage a diverse ecosystem of people, including MIT faculty, students, and affiliates that added new perspectives to the solution.</p> <p>After a six-month process, CCI and Takeda synthesized all of the ideas generated by the participants and used them to develop a theoretical technology-enabled platform called CareNet. The platform harnesses the ability of groups and increasingly artificially intelligent machines to both detect depression’s signals as soon as possible and also provide the right support to the individuals who are affected by the disease — namely, patients, caregivers, doctors, and others. The technology is unique because it is composed of superminds, or networks of people and machines, that support the user every step of their journey from diagnosis to management of the condition.&nbsp;</p> <p>The overall collaboration resulted in <a href="" target="_blank">report</a> that outlines the process and new technology, and is a coalescence of the perspectives of over 60 people who participated in the project from Takeda, CCI, and the wider biomedical community.</p> <p>Key to the CareNet user experience are networks of people and machines that support users every step of the way across diagnosis and management of the condition. These superminds can help fight depression in Japan by collectively creating options for people, sensing the environment, remembering what has worked, helping people decide, and learning together as a networked group. An important characteristic of this solution is that it focuses on depression but deals with it in an inclusive, stigma-avoiding way that enables a broader set of people to be part of it.</p> <p>"Human-machine networks," the report concludes "can be sources of systemic resilience in a society where individuals and institutions are left fighting their respective battles individually or through traditional, linear processes."</p> <div></div> “Supermind” design helps innovators “think in systems” and inspires them to tackle large problems — such as the persistence of global depression — in a new way.Research, Depression, Disease, Systems engineering, Center for Collective Intelligence, Industry, Collaboration, Health care, Technology and society, Apps, Mental health Experts join J-PAL North America in advancing conversation on the work of the future Academic, government, and advocacy leaders gathered to promote collaborative research partnerships to identify strategies that help workers thrive in today’s labor market. Fri, 31 Jan 2020 15:30:01 -0500 J-PAL North America <p>On Jan. 14, J-PAL North America’s <a href="" target="_blank">Work of the Future Initiative</a> hosted an afternoon of conversation on how to address the changing nature of work while advancing equity and opportunity. The event, entitled <a href="" target="_blank">Building A Future That Works For All</a>, was attended by 35 leaders from nonprofits, academia, government, philanthropy, and advocacy organizations.&nbsp;</p> <p>“The assumption that we can solve these problems without workers in the conversation is one that we need to leave behind,” said Ai-jen Poo, co-founder and executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, as she kicked off the first panel of the day. This theme was echoed throughout the day’s conversations, which were hosted by the Gerri and Rich Wong family at the Accel office in Palo Alto, California. Rich Wong is an alumnus of MIT engineering and the MIT Sloan School of Management.&nbsp;</p> <p>The event sought to continue J-PAL North America and the Work of the Future Initiative’s efforts to shift the conversations surrounding the future of work to focus on working people and collaborative research partnerships. As J-PAL North America Executive Director Mary Ann Bates stated in her introductory remarks: “We’re here to talk about the work of the future, which is about many big ideas — automation, artificial intelligence, and more — but we care about this work because of the people.”&nbsp;</p> <p>J-PAL North America launched the Work of the Future Initiative in April 2019 to identify effective, evidence-based strategies to increase opportunities, reduce disparities, and help all workers navigate and thrive in the labor markets of the future.&nbsp;</p> <p>Research partnerships are vital to generating the rigorous evidence necessary to identify these effective strategies. The recent event’s conversations sought to provide attendees with a chance to forge new partnerships and discuss innovative ideas for new programs and evaluations.&nbsp;</p> <p>The first panel discussed the role of rigorous research to inform worker-centered policies. Ai-jen Poo focused her discussion on the care sector — a workforce that will grow at five times the rate of any other sector in the coming years. Specifically, Poo noted the creative and innovative measures that the National Domestic Workers Alliance is taking to ensure that care work is dignified and that domestic workers are protected, including turning to technology: “What we’re trying to do is deploy technology to solve for dignity and equity.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Harvard professor and J-PAL North America Co-Scientific Director Lawrence Katz followed Poo’s remarks by discussing the growing divergence between real wages and worker productivity. Katz cited rising inequality as a primary driver of the decline in upward mobility and the stagnation of wages; more so than slow economic growth.&nbsp;</p> <p>Lastly, Aneesh Raman, senior advisor to California Governor Gavin Newsom, closed the conversation with a discussion on why collaboration across sectors and a willingness to innovate is crucial to progress: “We live in a world where politicians have very little opportunity to fail, which makes it very hard to innovate. We need to create a shared ownership of risk. Philanthropy, government, the private sector, and the nonprofit community need to come together to innovate and make a difference.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Other highlights of the day included a discussion of an ongoing research partnership between MIT Professor and Work of the Future Initiative Co-Chair David Autor, Rutgers University professor and J-PAL-affiliated researcher Amanda Agan, and Irene Liu and Jen Yeh of <a href="" target="_blank">Checkr</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>Checkr is a selected partner through the Work of the Future Initiative’s <a href="" target="_blank">inaugural innovation competition</a>. The company partnered with Autor and Agan to evaluate whether their Positive Adjudication Matrix (PAM) can reduce bias in the background-check and hiring process. PAM allows employers to deem certain types of offenses irrelevant to the roles for which they’re hiring. Companies can then choose to either filter out or de-emphasize these criminal records.&nbsp;</p> <p>The candid conversation addressed the challenging aspects of partnering to design an evaluation and discussed what conditions must hold for more productive research partnerships to form in the future. Autor discussed the need for a champion within a partner organization, stating, “Data is threatening in the sense that it can produce results that you’re not looking for. You need a champion within your organization to move this forward.”&nbsp;</p> <p>The Checkr team expressed their hope that the evaluation of their product can inform policy decisions in the future: “There are states that have laws dictating who can and cannot apply to these companies. If we have evidence there, that can be really helpful.”</p> <p>Other panelists, such as Katy Hamilton of the <a href="" target="_blank">Center for Work Education and Employment</a> and Jukay Hsu of <a href="" target="_blank">Pursuit</a>, run organizations that provide direct support to workers seeking quality jobs. Hamilton and Hsu discussed the programs that they hope to evaluate and turned to the audience for advice and constructive questions to inform their evaluation design processes.&nbsp;</p> <p>To wrap up the day, representatives from academia, philanthropy, the private sector, and government offered a call to action to other leaders within their sectors. Themes included centering workers’ voices and collaborating across sectors.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Katy Knight of the Siegel Family Endowment discussed the steps that philanthropic organizations should take to promote people-centered practices: “We need to bring other people into the conversation and listen to their personal expertise to make sure we really understand the work we’re doing.” Mark Gorenberg of Zetta Venture Partners echoed these statements, stressing the private sector’s obligation to invest responsibly in programs that promote dignity.&nbsp;</p> <p>José Cisneros, elected treasurer for the City and County of San Francisco, discussed how collaboration is crucial for innovation: “The government is ready to be creative and work in partnership with philanthropy and the private sector to see if we can do things differently.” Columbia University professor and J-PAL-affiliated researcher Peter Bergman advocated for a similar type of collaboration within the academic community, calling for larger and more diverse research teams to conduct both quantitative and qualitative analyses of programs.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Work of the Future Initiative will continue to shape the dialogue surrounding the future of work by bringing together leaders and innovators across sectors to engage in conversations and research partnerships that center worker voices and concerns. By generating research on strategies to help workers thrive in today’s labor market, the initiative seeks to shape a more equitable future of work.</p> <div></div> Katy Knight (left) of the Siegel Family Endowment and José Cisneros (right), elected treasurer for the City and County of San Francisco, listen as MIT professor and Work of the Future Initiative co-chair David Autor provides feedback on how to design an effective evaluation of a labor force development program.Photo: J-PAL North AmericaAbdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), Economics, Technology and society, Jobs, Sloan School of Management, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences Giving cryptocurrency users more bang for their buck Routing scheme boosts efficiency in networks that help speed up blockchain transactions. Thu, 30 Jan 2020 13:43:32 -0500 Rob Matheson | MIT News Office <p>A new cryptocurrency-routing scheme co-invented by MIT researchers can boost the efficiency — and, ultimately, profits — of certain networks designed to speed up notoriously slow blockchain transactions.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Cryptocurrencies hold promise for peer-to-peer financial transactions, potentially making banks and credit cards obsolete. But there’s a scalability issue: Bitcoin, for instance, processes only a handful of transactions per second, while major credit cards process hundreds or thousands. That’s because the blockchain — the digital ledger cryptocurrencies are built on — takes a really long time to process transactions.&nbsp;</p> <p>A new solution is “payment channel networks” (PCNs), where transactions are completed with minimal involvement from the blockchain. Pairs of PCN users form off-blockchain escrow accounts with a dedicated amount of money, forming a large, interconnected network of joint accounts. Users route payments through these &nbsp;accounts, only pinging the blockchain to establish and close the accounts, which speeds things up dramatically. Accounts can also collect a tiny fee when transactions get routed through them.</p> <p>Inefficient routing schemes, however, slow down even these fast solutions. They deplete users’ balances in these accounts frequently, forcing them to invest a lot of money in each account or frequently rebalance their accounts on the blockchain. In a paper being presented next month at the USENIX Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation, the researchers introduce “Spider,” a more efficient routing scheme that lets users invest only a fraction of funds in each account and process roughly four times more transactions before rebalancing on the blockchain.</p> <p>“It’s important to have balanced, high-throughput routing in PCNs to ensure the money that users put into joint accounts is used efficiently,” says first author Vibhaalakshmi Sivaraman, a graduate student in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). “This should be efficient and a lucrative business. That means routing as many transactions as possible, with as little funds as possible, to give PCNs the best bang for their buck.”</p> <p>Joining Sivaraman on the paper are former postdoc Shaileshh Bojja Venkatakrishnan, CSAIL graduate students Parimarjan Negi and Lei Yang, and Mohammad Alizadeh, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science and a CSAIL researcher; Radhika Mittal of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and Kathleen Ruan and Giulia Fanti of Carnegie Mellon University.</p> <p><strong>Packet payments</strong></p> <p>PCNs rely heavily on bidirectional joint accounts — where both parties can receive and send money — so money can be routed between any users. User B can have a joint account with user A, while also linking separately to user C. Users A and C are not directly connected, but user A can send money to user C via the A-B and B-C joint accounts.</p> <p>To exchange funds, each party must approve and update the balances in their joint accounts. Payments can only be routed on channels with sufficient funds to handle the transactions, causing major issues.</p> <p>Traditional schemes send transactions along the shortest path possible, without being aware of any given user’s balance or the rate of sending on that account. This can cause one of the users in the joint account to handle too many transactions and drop to a zero balance, making it unable to route further transactions. What’s more, users can only send a payment in full. If a user wants to send, say, 10 bitcoins, current schemes try to push the full amount on the shortest path possible. If that path can’t support all 10 bitcoins at once, they’ll search for the next shortest path, and so on — which can slow down or completely fail the transaction.</p> <p>Inspired by a technique for internet communications called packet switching, Spider splits each full transaction into smaller “packets” that are sent across different channels at different rates. This lets the scheme route chunks of these large payments through potentially low-funded accounts. Each packet is then far more likely to reach its destination without slowing down the network or being rejected in any given account for its size.</p> <p>“Shortest-path routing can cause imbalances between accounts that deplete key payment channels and paralyze the system,” Sivaraman says. “Routing money in a way that the funds of both users in each joint account are balanced allows us to reuse the same initial funds to support as many transactions as possible.”</p> <p><br /> <strong>All queued up</strong></p> <p>Another innovation was creating queues at congested accounts. If an account can’t handle incoming transactions that require it to send money, instead of rejecting them, it queues them up. Then, it waits for any transactions that will replenish its funds — within a reasonable time frame — to be able to process those transactions.</p> <p>“If you’re waiting on a queue, but I send you funds within the next second, you can then use any of those funds to send your waiting transactions,” Sivaraman says.</p> <p>The researchers also adopted an algorithm —&nbsp;built by Alizadeh and other researchers&nbsp;— that monitors data center congestion to identify queueing delays at congested accounts. This helps control the rate of transactions. Say user A sends funds to user C through user B, which has a long queue. The receiver C sends the sender A, along with the payment confirmation, one bit of information representing the transaction’s wait time at user B. If it’s too long, user A routes fewer transactions through user B. As the queueing time decreases, account A routes more transactions through B. In this manner, by monitoring the queues alone, Spider is able to ensure that the rate of transactions is both balanced and as high as possible.</p> <p>Ultimately, the more balanced the routing of PCNs, the smaller the capacity required — meaning, overall funds across all joint accounts — for high transaction throughput. In PCN simulations, Spider processed 95 percent of all transactions using only 25 percent of the capacity needed in traditional schemes.</p> <p>The researchers also ran tests on tricky transactions called “DAGs,” which are one-directional payments where one user inevitably runs out of funds and needs to rebalance on the blockchain. A key metric for the performance of PCNs on DAG transactions is the number of off-chain transactions enabled for each transaction on the blockchain. In this regard, Spider is able to process eight times as many off-chain transactions for each transaction on-chain. In contrast, traditional schemes only support twice as many off-chain transactions.</p> <p>“Even with extremely frequent rebalancing, traditional schemes can’t process all DAG transactions. But with very low-frequency rebalancing, Spider can complete them all,” Sivaraman says.</p> <p>Next, the researchers are making Spider more robust to DAG transactions, which can cause bottlenecks. They’re also exploring data privacy issues and ways to incentivize users to use Spider.</p> Spider, a new cryptocurrency-routing scheme, splits each full transaction into smaller “packets” that are sent across different channels at different rates.Image: Chelsea Turner, MITResearch, Computer science and technology, Algorithms, Cyber security, Technology and society, Networks, Finance, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), School of Engineering Demystifying artificial intelligence Doctoral candidate Natalie Lao wants to show that anyone can learn to use AI to make a better world. Wed, 29 Jan 2020 13:55:01 -0500 Kim Martineau | MIT Quest for Intelligence <p><a href="">Natalie Lao</a>&nbsp;was set on becoming an electrical engineer, like her parents, until she stumbled on course 6.S192 (<a href="">Making Mobile Apps</a>), taught by Professor <a href="">Hal Abelson</a>. Here was a blueprint for turning a smartphone into a tool for finding clean drinking water, or sorting pictures of faces, or doing just about anything. “I thought, I wish people knew building tech could be like this,” she said on a recent afternoon, taking a break from writing her dissertation.</p> <p>After shifting her focus as an MIT undergraduate&nbsp;to computer science, Lao joined Abelson’s lab, which was busy spreading its&nbsp;<a href="">App Inventor</a>&nbsp;platform and do-it-yourself philosophy to high school students around the world. App Inventor set Lao on her path to making it easy for anyone, from farmers to factory workers, to understand AI, and use it to improve their lives. Now in the third and final year of her PhD at MIT, Lao is also the co-founder of an AI startup to fight fake news, and the co-producer of a series of machine learning tutorials. It’s all part of her mission to help people find the creator and free thinker within.&nbsp;</p> <p>“She just radiates optimism and enthusiasm,” says Abelson, the Class of 1922 Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS). “She’s a natural leader who knows how to get people excited and organized.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Lao was immersed in App Inventor, building modules to teach students to build face recognition models and store data in the cloud. Then, in 2016, the surprise election of Donald Trump to U.S. president forced her to think more critically about technology. She was less upset by Trump the politician as by revelations that social media-fueled propaganda and misinformation had tilted the race in Trump’s favor.</p> <p>When a friend, Elan Pavlov, a then-EECS postdoc, approached Lao about an idea he had for building a platform to combat fake news she was ready to dive in. Having grown up in rural, urban, and suburban parts of Tennessee and Ohio, Lao was used to hearing a range of political views. But now, social platforms were filtering those voices, and amplifying polarizing, often inaccurate, content. Pavlov’s idea stood out for its focus on identifying the people (and bots) spreading misinformation and disinformation, rather than the content itself.&nbsp;</p> <p>Lao recruited two friends,&nbsp;<a href="">Andrew Tsai</a>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="">Keertan Kini</a>, to help build out the platform. They would later name it&nbsp;<a href="">HINTS</a>, or Human Interaction News Trustworthiness System, after an early page-ranking algorithm called HITS.&nbsp;</p> <p>In a demo last fall, Lao and Tsai highlighted a network of Twitter accounts that had shared conspiracy theories tied to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi under the hashtag #khashoggi. When they looked at what else those accounts had shared, they found streams of other false and misleading news. Topping the list was the incorrect claim that then-U.S. Congressman Beto O’Rourke had funded a caravan of migrants headed for the U.S. border.</p> <p>The HINTS team hopes that by flagging the networks that spread fake news, social platforms will move faster to remove fake accounts and contain the propagation of misinformation.</p> <p>“Fake news doesn’t have any impact in a vacuum — real people have to read it and share it,” says Lao. “No matter what your political views, we’re concerned about facts and democracy. There’s fake news being pushed on both sides and it’s making the political divide even worse.”</p> <p>The HINTS team is now working with its first client, a media analytics firm based in Virginia. As CEO, Lao has called on her experience as a project manager from internships at GE, Google, and Apple, where, most recently, she led the rollout of the iPhone XR display screen. “I’ve never met anyone as good at managing people and tech,” says Tsai, an EECS master’s student who met Lao as a lab assistant for Abelson’s course 6.S198 (<a href="">Deep Learning Practicum</a>), and is now CTO of HINTS.</p> <p>As HINTS was getting off the ground, Lao co-founded a second startup,&nbsp;<a href="">ML Tidbits</a>, with EECS graduate student&nbsp;<a href="">Harini Suresh</a>. While learning to build AI models, both women grew frustrated by the tutorials on YouTube. “They were full of formulas, with very few pictures,” she says. “Even if the material isn’t that hard, it looks hard!”&nbsp;</p> <p>Convinced they could do better, Lao and Suresh reimagined a menu of intimidating topics like unsupervised learning and model-fitting as a set of inviting side dishes. Sitting cross-legged on a table, as if by a cozy fire, Lao and Suresh put viewers at ease with real-world anecdotes, playful drawings, and an engaging tone. Six more videos, funded by&nbsp;<a href="">MIT Sandbox</a>&nbsp;and the&nbsp;MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab, are planned for release this spring.&nbsp;</p> <p>If her audience learns one thing from ML Tidbits, Lao says, she hopes it’s that anyone can learn the basic underpinnings of AI. “I want them to think, ‘Oh, this technology isn't just something that professional computer scientists or mathematicians can touch. I can learn it too. I can form educated opinions and join discussions about how it should be used and regulated.’ ”</p> A PhD student in the MIT Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Natalie Lao has co-founded startups aimed at democratizing artificial intelligence and using AI to protect democracy by fighting false and misleading information.Photo: Andrew TsaiQuest for Intelligence, MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab, School of Engineering, Computer science and technology, Technology and society, STEM education, K-12 education, Apps, Invention, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Electrical engineering and computer science (EECS), Artificial intelligence, Graduate, postdoctoral, Profile, education, Education, teaching, academics Bradford Parkinson SM ’61 awarded Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering “Father of GPS” honored with three colleagues for creating the first truly global, satellite-based positioning system. Fri, 24 Jan 2020 15:10:01 -0500 Mary Hopkins | Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics <p>Bradford Parkinson SM ’61, who received his master of science degree in the MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AeroAstro), was honored last month with the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering along with three colleagues responsible for creating the first truly global, satellite-based positioning system (GPS).</p> <p>The Queen Elizabeth Prize is the world’s most prestigious engineering accolade, a £1 million (about $1.3 million) award that celebrates the global impact of engineering innovation on humanity. Parkinson was honored along with Hugo Fruehauf, Richard Schwartz, and James Spilker Jr., whose widow received the award, at Buckingham Palace in December from the Prince of Wales.</p> <p>“This recognition reflects the responsibility incumbent upon those developing technology today to strive to do so for the good of humanity,” said Parkinson. “Day after day, we are astounded at the new ways in which people across the world use GPS. It is a ‘System for Humanity’ in each and every sense.”</p> <p>The global positioning system represents a pioneering innovation which, for the first time, enabled free, immediate access to accurate position and timing information around the world. An estimated 4 billion people use GPS, and its applications range from navigation and disaster relief to climate monitoring systems, banking systems, and the foundation of tomorrow’s transport, agriculture, and industry.</p> <p>Parkinson, often called the “father of GPS,” successfully built upon several separate systems to create the current GPS design. He directed the program and led the development, design, and testing of its key components, insisting that GPS needed to be intuitive and inexpensive, which is why it is accessible worldwide today. Leading the original advocacy for the system in 1973 as a U.S. Air Force colonel, he became the first director of the GPS Joint Program Office and led the original development of spacecraft, Master Control Station, and eight types of user equipment. He guided the program through the extensive test validation process, including being launch commander for the first GPS satellite launches.</p> <p>“One of the most important things we had when the project started was a vision of world impact,” said Parkinson. “Without that inspiration, it would have been difficult for us to weather the storms of doing something for the first time. Back in 1978, I made a few drawings that depicted GPS applications that I could personally foresee; they included an automobile navigation system, semi-automatic air traffic control, and wide-area vehicle monitoring, that seem to be rather accurate 41 years later.”</p> <p>GPS combines a constellation of at least 24 orbiting satellites with ground stations and receiving devices. Each satellite contains a set of atomic clocks that keep ultra-precise time down to a billionth of a second. The satellite broadcasts its time as well as a radio signal containing its location to GPS receivers on Earth, which require signals from at least four satellites to determine their position. GPS receivers measure the time delay in each signal to calculate the distance to each satellite, then use that information to pinpoint the receiver’s location on earth.</p> <p>Using GPS technology, simple smartphone apps can track disease outbreaks, self-driving tractors can optimize crop harvests, and sports teams can improve team performance. New applications for GPS continue to revolutionize entire industries, and its annual economic value has been estimated to be $80 billion for the United States alone.</p> <p>“This year’s laureates have demonstrated that engineering makes things happen. With the first global, satellite-based positioning system, they created an engineered system which provides free, immediate and accurate information about position and time, anywhere around the globe,” said Lord Browne of Madingley, chair of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Foundation. “The world now depends on GPS completely and without exception. In honoring the 2019 prize winners, we hope to inspire the next generation of engineers to continue to push back the frontiers of the possible.”</p> <p>A professor emeritus of aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford University, Parkinson received his undergraduate degree in engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1957, his master’s degree at MIT, and his doctoral degree in aeronautics and astronautics from Stanford in 1966. During his military career, he served 21 years in the Air Force and five years In the U.S. Navy, retiring as a full colonel in 1978. At Stanford University, he led the development of many innovative applications of GPS, including: commercial aircraft (Boeing 737) blind landing using GPS alone, fully automatic GPS control of farm tractors on a rough field to an accuracy of two inches, and pioneering the augmentation to GPS (WAAS) that allows any user to achieve accuracies of two feet and very high levels of integrity assurance.</p> Bradford Parkinson was honored with the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering.Photo courtesy of Bradford Parkinson.Aeronautics and Astronautics, School of Engineering, Alumni/ae, Technology and society, Invention, awards, Awards, honors and fellowships Blood and politics in India New book explores the use of blood in political rhetoric, imagery, and activism, and even the politics of blood drives. Tue, 21 Jan 2020 23:59:59 -0500 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p>Mahatma Gandhi, an icon of nonviolent resistance who helped lead India to independence by force of will and strength of mind, rather than physical power, might not seem like a person preoccupied with corporeal matters.</p> <p>In fact, Gandhi endlessly monitored his own blood pressure and had a “preoccupation with blood,” as MIT scholar Dwai Banerjee and co-author Jacob Copeman write in “Hematologies,” a new book about blood and politics in India.</p> <p>Gandhi believed the quality of his own blood indicated his body’s “capacity for self-purification,” the authors write, and he hoped that other dissidents would also possess “blood that could withstand the corruption and poison of colonial violence.” Ultimately, they add, Gandhi’s “single-minded focus on the substance was remarkable in its omission of other available foci of symbolization.”</p> <p>If India’s most famous ascetic and pacifist was actually busy thinking about politics in terms of blood, then almost anyone could have been doing the same. And many people have. Now Banerjee, an assistant professor in MIT’s Program in Science, Technology, and Society, and Copeman, a senior lecturer in social anthropology at the University of Edinburgh, look broadly at the links between blood and politics in “Hematologies,” recently published by Cornell University Press.</p> <p>The book encompasses topics as diverse as the rhetoric of blood in political discourse, the politics of blood drives, the uses of blood in protests, and the imagery used by leaders, including Gandhi. Ultimately, the scholars use the topic to explore the many — and seemingly unavoidable — divisions in Indian politics and society.</p> <p>For progressives wanting a pluralistic society, the rhetoric of blood has often been used to claim that people are essentially alike, no matter their religious or social differences. The notion is that “if you bleed and I bleed, we bleed the same color,” Banerjee says. “In the first few decades after India’s independence [in 1948], there was this idea that blood would unite all different kinds of Indians, and all these years of caste discrimination and colonial rule that had divided us and pitted us against each other would now be fixed.”</p> <p>But the idea that different groups in society are divided by blood is also a powerful one, as Banerjee and Copeman note, and as India has moved away from pluralism in recent years, a very different rhetoric of blood has regained popularity. In this vision, different ethnic or religious groups are separated by their blood — and bloodshed may be the price for disrupting this supposed order.</p> <p>“What’s become clear in the last five years is that this other valence of blood, that it divides us [and has] more violent connotations, is becoming much more inescapable now,” Banerjee says.</p> <p>That is not what many expected in an age of technocratic and globally integrated economics, but it is a reminder of the power of narrow forms of nationalism.&nbsp;</p> <p>“The whole idea of modern politics is supposed to be this transcending of blood [and] ethnic religious nationalisms, and that modern contractual politics is based on less biologically based forms of cohabitation,” Banerjee says. “That never seems to work out.”</p> <p>Focused on Northern India, where Banerjee and Copeman did their fieldwork over several years, “Hematologies” explores these issues in everyday life and with fine-grained detail. As they examine in the book, for instance, political protesters sometimes use their own blood as a medium of expression, to signal both their own commitment and the serious of the issues at hand.</p> <p>The authors look closely at an advocacy group for survivors of (and residents near) the site of 1984’s Bhopal chemical plant disaster, which wrote a letter in blood — collected from young adults — to the prime minister, asking for a meeting. Somewhat similarly, Indian women have gained attention using blood in the imagery they have created to accompany campaigns against sexual violence and gender discrimination. In so doing, “they deploy the substance as a medium of truth and a mechanism of exposure,” Banerjee and Copeman write.</p> <p>Even blood drives and blood donations have intricate political implications that the authors explore. While supposed to be separated from politics, some blood drives are de facto rallying points in campaigns and expressions of political solidarity. Blood drives also serve to highlight a tension between science and politics; some medical experts might prefer a more steady flow of donated blood, while a politically prompted donor drive can produce an unnecessary surge of blood.</p> <p>“Educational campaigns talk very strategically about this,” Banerjee says.</p> <p>While writing the book together, Banerjee and Copeman initially had slightly different research areas of interest, but before long both discovered they were fully engaged with a whole range of connections between blood and politics.</p> <p>“To me, it seemed we found this synergy in the way we worked and thought, and I can’t think of a moment where we ever significantly doubted the process we were going through,” says Banerjee. “Constantly bouncing ideas off another person keeps it interesting.”</p> <p>“Hematologies” has drawn praise from other scholars in the field. Emily Martin, an anthropologist at New York University, has called it “an extraordinary exploration of the multitudes of meanings and uses of blood in northern India.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Banerjee notes that India is hardly unique in the way the rhetoric of blood spills into politics. “There is a global similarity in which blood is always a political substance,” he notes, while adding that India’s own unique history gives the subject “its own flavor” in the country.</p> <p>Ultimately the story of blood being traced in “Hematologies” represents a distinctive way of examining divisions, conflicts, and tensions — the very stuff of contested politics and power.</p> <p>“Again and again we see that blood always gets caught up with division and divisive politics,” Banerjee says. “It never escapes politics in the way that reformist and secular imaginations hope it will.”</p> Dwai Banerjee is co-author of a new book titled “Hematologies: The Political Life of Blood in India.” Image: Jon Sachs, MIT SHASS CommunicationsTechnology and society, Social sciences, India, Program in STS, Books and authors, Faculty, Politics, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences MIT Sloan launches MITx MicroMasters Program in Finance Taught by faculty in the MIT Sloan School of Management, MIT’s fifth MicroMasters program offers learners an opportunity to enhance their financial skill set. Wed, 15 Jan 2020 08:00:00 -0500 MIT Open Learning <p>The skills and expertise required for a career in finance are in high demand across industries and the world. To address this need, MIT recently launched the <em>MITx</em> MicroMasters Program in Finance, an online program taught by faculty in the MIT Sloan School of Management and the Institute’s fifth MicroMasters Program to date. Available on the edX platform, the program offers recent graduates, early- to mid-stage professionals, and other individuals interested in or already pursuing a career in finance an opportunity to enhance their financial skill set or to fast-track a master’s degree in finance from MIT Sloan.</p> <p>“The <em>MITx</em> MicroMasters Program in Finance is part of MIT’s mission to make high-quality education accessible around the world. A pioneer and leader in the field of finance, MIT Sloan is uniquely positioned to drive awareness about financial issues, increase interest, and build skills,” says David Schmittlein, the John C Head III Dean of MIT Sloan. “This program is an exciting opportunity to give learners who cannot come to campus the knowledge, models, and tools needed to advance their careers.”</p> <p>The <em>MITx</em> MicroMasters&nbsp;Program in Finance includes a bundle of five online courses in finance taught by MIT Sloan faculty on the edX platform. Drawn from the STEM-based curriculum taught on campus, all five courses mirror on-campus, graduate-level MIT coursework and cover topics such as modern finance, financial accounting, mathematical methods for quantitative finance, and derivative markets. Learners will gain a comprehensive understanding of global markets and learn to apply critical financial theories, models, and frameworks across all areas of finance.</p> <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> <p>MIT Sloan Professor Leonid Kogan, who teaches in the <em>MITx</em> MicroMasters&nbsp;Program in Finance, says, “Finance can fuel progress in the way people live, the health of our world, and the integrity of our global financial systems. MIT Sloan is a robust ecosystem of finance educators, research innovators, and industry practitioners with diverse and accomplished students and alumni working at the forefront of the field to solve high-impact problems and drive progress. The MicroMasters&nbsp;program enables students around the world to engage in this ecosystem and learn how to make a positive difference in finance.”</p> <p>Heidi Pickett, assistant dean of the Master of Finance Program, agrees. “Finance is the backbone of how economies and companies operate. It is necessary in virtually every part of the world in both the private and public sectors. This program will help meet the growing and evolving needs of finance by training professionals and helping qualified individuals to fast-track their MIT master’s degree in finance.”</p> <p>Learners who complete and pass each course in the program may apply to the MIT Sloan Master of Finance Program and, upon acceptance, earn credit for the work performed online. This educational pathway allows learners to complete the master’s degree quicker, with only two terms spent on campus at MIT.</p> <p>The first available course in the <em>MITx</em> MicroMasters Program in Finance starts April 1; enrollment is open now.</p> <p>“We are proud to launch our fifth <em>MITx</em> MicroMasters program for learners around the globe in collaboration with MIT Sloan,” says MIT Dean for Digital Learning Krishna Rajagopal. “MicroMasters programs unlock the potential of learners with the drive and capability to tackle MIT courses, advancing their careers without interrupting their careers.”</p> Available on the edX platform, the MITx MicroMasters Program in Finance offers recent graduates, early- to mid-stage professionals, and others interested in or already pursuing a career in finance an opportunity to enhance their financial skill set or to fast-track a master’s degree in finance from MIT Sloan.Image: Office of Open LearningSloan School of Management, MITx, EdX, online learning, Massive open online courses (MOOCs), OpenCourseWare, Office of Digital Learning, Office of Open Learning, Classes and programs, Technology and society, Graduate, postdoctoral, Business and management How to stage a revolution MIT History class explores the roots and complexities of revolutions across the globe. Tue, 07 Jan 2020 14:30:01 -0500 School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences <p>Revolutions are monumental social upheavals that can remake whole nations, dismantling — often violently — old paradigms. But the stories of the epic struggles that leave their mark on the world’s history are frequently fragile, precarious, and idiosyncratic in their details, leaving some key questions only partially understood: Why and how do peoples overthrow their governments? Why do some revolutions succeed and others fail?</p> <p>These are not simple questions, and, for 12 years, MIT students and faculty have set out to answer them in a survey course that spans centuries and continents. &nbsp;<br /> <br /> Course 21H.001 (How to Stage a Revolution, or Revolutions for short) is an MIT history class that examines the roots, drivers, and complexities of how governments fall. Co-taught this past fall by three historians — History Section head Professor Jeffrey Ravel, Associate Professor Tanalís Padilla, and Lecturer Pouya Alimagham — the semester is divided into three parts, with each instructor covering, respectively, the French Revolution, the Mexican Revolution, and the Iranian Revolution.<br /> <br /> During a mixture of lectures and breakout discussion sessions, students explore the causes, tactics, goals, and significant factors of each revolution, drawing insights from music, film, art, constitutions, declarations, and the writings of revolutionaries themselves.<br /> <br /> <strong>A wide-angle approach</strong><br /> <br /> The topics covered this year span centuries, from the near-mythic French Revolution (1789–99) to the Mexican Revolution (1910-20) to events that have emerged in the students’ own lifetimes, such as the Arab Spring (2010-12). Alimagham brought the semester to a close with a focus on the Iranian Revolution; having students begin their exploration with the roots of American intervention in Iran the latter half of the 20th century, and tracking developments through to today’s western media narrative of the Sunni/Shia conflict.<br /> <br /> “Revolutions are a surprisingly good way to learn about a culture,” says Quinn Bowers, a first-year student who took the opportunity to deepen his understanding of history as a parallel to his intended double major in mechanical engineering and aerospace engineering. “Revolutions&nbsp;draw&nbsp;attention to the values the culture holds. This class did a lot to dispel assumptions I didn’t even know I had.”<br /> <br /> For another first-year student, Somaia Saba, the offering leapt out at her as she browsed the course catalog to plan her first semester at MIT. With an intended major in computation and cognition (Course 6.9), she was drawn to the class by a fascination with major political transformations, “especially because of the tense political climate in which we are currently living.”<br /> <br /> The freedom and exploration in essay-writing was a transformative experience for Saba; essay prompts and writing assignments had never been her favorite aspect of the classroom. But, snagged by a brief mention in class about women’s roles during the Mexican Revolution, she found herself writing extensively on the subject, drawing on her personal attentiveness to women’s issues and roles in history.<br /> <br /> “I did not realize the extent to which these issues mattered to me until [seeing the professor’s] comments on my essay.” She also notes that the class has given her ways of thinking and analyzing that allow her to be more engaged with current political events.</p> <p><strong>Ever-evolving </strong><br /> <br /> How to Stage a Revolution is also a chameleon course in that its subject matter fluxes from year to year depending on the expertise of the faculty instructors — a plan that allows a venerable course to cover any number of revolutionary histories. Two years ago, for instance, when Alimagham first taught the course, working alongside MIT historians Caley Horan and Malick Ghachem, the class consisted of modules on the Haitian Revolution, the American Civil War (as America’s second revolution), and the Iranian Revolution.<br /> <br /> Not only is the course constantly transforming, Alimagham notes, but its three co-instructors are always adapting as well. “When you’re involved in a team-taught course that includes material in which you are not the primary expert, you evolve as an instructor. It keeps you on your toes.”<br /> <br /> Ravel agrees: “One benefit of co-teaching is that we learn from each other. It’s a great conversation among the three of us.”<br /> <br /> Ravel currently serves as the head of the MIT History Section, as president of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, and as a co-director for the Comédie-Française Registers Project, which is producing a collaborative, extensive history of one of France’s iconic theater groups. “Co-teaching reminds me of what it’s like to be a student again,” reflects Padilla. “It makes me more sensitive to how students are taking in information that, for me, is now second nature.”<br /> <br /> Padilla is a historian of Latin America and a contributor to numerous publications and volumes surrounding the Mexican Revolution. Her current book project centers on how rural schoolteachers “went from being agents of state consolidation to activists against a government that increasingly abandoned its commitment to social justice.”<br /> <br /> <strong>The technological contexts of revolutions</strong><br /> <br /> Like a number of other humanistic courses at MIT, How to Stage a Revolution is also a hands-on “maker class.” In addition to classroom lectures and discussion sessions, students produce posters on MIT’s Beaver Press, a student-built replica of the wooden, handset printing presses on which the great documents of the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Scientific Revolution were printed.<br /> <br /> Carving linoleum printing plates and inking them by hand, students use their academic understanding of various revolutions to design and produce colorful pro- and counter-revolutionary posters. In one print, the evocative image of a Mexican worker raises the Olympic rings between his hands like chains. In another, the guillotine stands ready with its victims nearby, indicating a mounting death toll, each head labeled respectively with Liberté, Egalité, and Fraternité.<br /> <br /> Historic revolutionary narratives have a particular urgency in an MIT classroom: From the dissemination of revolutionary messages via an 18th century printing press to changing fuel technologies to the global social media that shaped the Arab Spring, the technological contexts of revolutions are intrinsic to understanding them.<br /> <br /> “Whatever we end up doing in our post-MIT lives and careers will be in the context of complex, real-world problems,” says Bowers. “This class sheds light on some of the world’s most volatile problems.”</p> <h5><em>Story by MIT SHASS Communications<br /> Editorial and design director: Emily Hiestand<br /> Writer/reporter: Alison Lanier</em></h5> Like a number of other humanistic courses at MIT, How to Stage a Revolution is also a hands-on "maker class." In addition to lectures and discussion sessions, students produce posters on MIT’s Beaver Press, a student-built replica of the wooden, handset printing presses on which the great documents of the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Scientific Revolution were printed.Photo: Jon Sachs/SHASS Communications History, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Technology and society, Classes and programs, Faculty Bose grants for 2019 reward bold ideas across disciplines Three innovative research projects in literature, plant epigenetics, and chemical engineering will be supported by Professor Amar G. Bose Research Grants. Mon, 23 Dec 2019 14:40:11 -0500 MIT Resource Development <p>Now in their seventh year, the Professor Amar G. Bose Research Grants support visionary projects that represent intellectual curiosity and a pioneering spirit. Three MIT faculty members have each been awarded one of these prestigious awards for 2019 to pursue diverse questions in the humanities, biology, and engineering.</p> <p>At a ceremony hosted by MIT President L. Rafael Reif on Nov. 25 and attended by past awardees, Provost Martin Schmidt, the Ray and Maria Stata Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, formally announced this year’s Amar G. Bose Research Fellows: Sandy Alexandre, Mary Gehring, and Kristala L.J. Prather.</p> <p>The fellowships are named&nbsp;for&nbsp;the late Amar G. Bose ’51, SM ’52, ScD ’56, a longtime MIT faculty member and the founder of the Bose Corporation. Speaking at the event, President Reif expressed appreciation for the Bose Fellowships, which enable highly creative and unusual research in areas that can be hard to fund through traditional means. “We are tremendously grateful to the Bose family for providing the support that allows bold and curious thinkers at MIT to dream big, challenge themselves, and explore.”</p> <p>Judith Bose, widow of Amar’s son, Vanu ’87, SM ’94, PhD ’99, congratulated the fellows on behalf of the Bose family. “We talk a lot at this event about the power of a great innovative idea, but I think it was a personal mission of Dr. Bose to nurture the ability, in each individual that he met along the way, to follow through — not just to have the great idea but the agency that comes with being able to pursue your idea, follow it through, and actually see where it leads,” Bose said. “And Vanu was the same way. That care that was epitomized by Dr. Bose not just in the idea itself, but in the personal investment, agency, and nurturing necessary to bring the idea to life — that care is a large part of what makes true change in the world."</p> <p><strong>The relationship between literature and engineering</strong></p> <p>Many technological innovations have resulted from the influence of literature, one of the most notable being the World Wide Web. According to many sources, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the web’s inventor, found inspiration from a short story by Arthur C. Clarke titled “Dial F for Frankenstein.” Science fiction has presaged a number of real-life technological innovations, including&nbsp;the defibrillator, noted in Mary Shelley’s "Frankenstein;" the submarine, described in Jules Verne’s "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea;" and earbuds, described in Ray Bradbury’s "Fahrenheit 451." But the data about literature’s influence on STEM innovations are spotty, and these one-to-one relationships are not always clear-cut.</p> <p>Sandy Alexandre, associate professor of literature, intends to change that by creating a large-scale database of the imaginary inventions found in literature. Alexandre’s project will enact the step-by-step mechanics of STEM innovation via one of its oft-unsung sources: literature. “To deny or sever the ties that bind STEM and literature is to suggest — rather disingenuously — that the ideas for many of the STEM devices that we know and love miraculously just came out of nowhere or from an elsewhere where literature isn’t considered relevant or at all,” she says.</p> <p>During the first phase of her work, Alexandre will collaborate with students to enter into the database the imaginary inventions as they are described verbatim in a selection of books and other texts that fall under the category of speculative fiction—a category that includes but is not limited to the subgenres of fantasy, Afrofuturism, and science fiction. This first phase will, of course, require that students carefully read these texts in general, but also read for these imaginary inventions more specifically. Additionally, students with drawing skills will be tasked with interpreting the descriptions by illustrating them as two-dimensional images.</p> <p>From this vast inventory of innovations, Alexandre, in consultation with students involved in the project, will decide on a short list of inventions that meet five criteria: they must be feasible, ethical, worthwhile, useful, and necessary. This vetting process, which constitutes the second phase of the project, is guided by a very important question: what can creating and thinking with a vast database of speculative fiction’s imaginary inventions teach us about what kinds of ideas we should (and shouldn’t) attempt to make into a reality? For the third and final phase, Alexandre will convene a team to build a real-life prototype of one of the imaginary inventions. She envisions this prototype being placed on exhibit at the MIT Museum.</p> <p>The Bose research grant, Alexandre says, will allow her to take this project from a thought experiment to lab experiment. “This project aims to ensure that literature no longer play an overlooked role in STEM innovations. Therefore, the STEM innovation, which will be the culminating prototype of this research project, will cite a work of literature as the main source of information used in its invention.”</p> <p><strong>Nature’s role in chemical production</strong></p> <p>Kristala L.J. Prather ’94, the Arthur D. Little Professor of Chemical Engineering, has been focused on using biological systems for chemical production during the 15 years she’s been at the Institute. Biology as a medium for chemical synthesis has been successfully exploited to commercially produce molecules for uses that range from food to pharmaceuticals — ethanol is a good example. However, there is a range of other molecules with which scientists have been trying to work, but they have faced challenges around an insufficient amount of material being produced and a lack of defined steps needed to make a specific compound.</p> <p>Prather’s research is rooted in the fact that there are a number of naturally (and unnaturally) occurring chemical compounds in the environment, and cells have evolved to be able to consume them. These cells have evolved or developed a protein that will sense a compound’s presence — a biosensor — and in response will make other proteins that help the cells utilize that compound for its benefit.</p> <p>“We know biology can do this,” Prather says, “so if we can put together a sufficiently diverse set of microorganisms, can we just let nature make these regulatory molecules for anything that we want to be able to sense or detect?” Her hypothesis is that if her team exposes cells to a new compound for a long enough period of time, the cells will evolve the ability to either utilize that carbon source or develop an ability to respond to it. If Prather and her team can then identify the protein that’s now recognizing what that new compound is, they can isolate it and use it to improve the production of that compound in other systems. “The idea is to let nature evolve specificity for particular molecules that we’re interested in,” she adds.</p> <p>Prather’s lab has been working with biosensors for some time, but her team has been limited to sensors that are already well characterized and that were readily available. She’s interested in how they can get access to a wider range of what she knows nature has available through the incremental exposure of new compounds to a more comprehensive subset of microorganisms.</p> <p>“To accelerate the transformation of the chemical industry, we must find a way to create better biological catalysts and to create new tools when the existing ones are insufficient,” Prather says. “I am grateful to the Bose Fellowship Committee for allowing me to explore this novel idea.”</p> <p>Prather’s findings as a result of this project hold the possibility of broad impacts in the field of metabolic engineering, including the development of microbial systems that can be engineered to enhance degradation of both toxic and nontoxic waste.</p> <p><strong>Adopting orphan crops to adapt to climate change</strong></p> <p>In the context of increased environmental pressure and competing land uses, meeting global food security needs is a pressing challenge. Although yield gains in staple grains such as rice, wheat, and corn have been high over the last 50 years, these have been accompanied by a homogenization of the global food supply; only 50 crops provide 90% of global food needs.</p> <p>However, there are at least 3,000 plants that can be grown and consumed by humans, and many of these species thrive in marginal soils, at high temperatures, and with little rainfall. These “orphan” crops are important food sources for farmers in less developed countries but have been the subject of little research.</p> <p>Mary Gehring, associate professor of biology at MIT, seeks to bring orphan crops into the molecular age through epigenetic engineering. She is working to promote hybridization, increase genetic diversity, and reveal desired traits for two orphan seed crops: an oilseed crop, <em>Camelina sativa </em>(false flax), and a high-protein legume, <em>Cajanus cajan </em>(pigeon pea).</p> <p><em>C. sativa, </em>which produces seeds with potential for uses in food and biofuel applications, can grow on land with low rainfall, requires minimal fertilizer inputs, and is resistant to several common plant pathogens. Until the mid-20th century, <em>C. sativa </em>was widely grown in Europe but was supplanted by canola, with a resulting loss of genetic diversity. Gehring proposes to recover this genetic diversity by creating and characterizing hybrids between <em>C. sativa </em>and wild relatives that have increased genetic diversity.</p> <p>“To find the best cultivars of orphan crops that will withstand ever increasing environmental insults requires a deeper understanding of the diversity present within these species. We need to expand the plants we rely on for our food supply if we want to continue to thrive in the future,” says Gehring. “Studying orphan crops represents a significant step in that direction. The Bose grant will allow my lab to focus on this historically neglected but vitally important field.”</p> Left to right: MIT Provost Martin Schmidt and President L. Rafael Reif stand with 2019 Bose Fellows Kristala Prather, Mary Gehring, and Sandy Alexandre, along with Judy Bose and Ursula Bose.Photo: Rose LincolnAwards, honors and fellowships, Grants, Faculty, Literature, Technology and society, Chemical engineering, Drug development, Chemistry, Biology, Microbes, Agriculture, Climate change, School of Science, School of Engineering, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Alumni/ae When machine learning packs an economic punch Study: After eBay improved its translation software, international commerce increased sharply. Fri, 20 Dec 2019 10:04:08 -0500 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p>A new study co-authored by an MIT economist shows that improved translation software can significantly boost international trade online — a notable case of machine learning having a clear impact on economic activity.</p> <p>The research finds that after eBay improved its automatic translation program in 2014, commerce shot up by 10.9 percent among pairs of countries where people could use the new system.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>“That’s a striking number. To have it be so clear in such a short amount of time really says a lot about the power of this technology,” says Erik Brynjolfsson, an MIT economist and co-author of a new paper detailing the results.</p> <p>To put the results in perspective, he adds, consider that physical distance is, by itself, also a significant barrier to global commerce. The 10.9 percent change generated by eBay’s new translation software increases trade by the same amount as “making the world 26 percent smaller, in terms of its impact on the goods that we studied,” he says.</p> <p>The paper, “Does Machine Translation Affect International Trade? Evidence from a Large Digital Platform,” appears in the December issue of <em>Management Science</em>. The authors are Brynjolfsson, who is the Schussel Family Professor of Management Science at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and Xiang Hui and Meng Liu, who are both assistant professors in the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis.</p> <p><strong>Just cause</strong></p> <p>To conduct the study, the scholars examined what happened after eBay, in 2014, introduced its new eBay Machine Translation (eMT) system — a proprietary machine-learning program that, by several objective measures, significantly improved translation quality on eBay’s site. The new system initially was focused on English-Spanish translations, to facilitate trade between the United States and Latin America</p> <p>Previously, eBay had used Bing Translator to render the titles of objects for sale. By one evaluation measure, called the Human Acceptance Rate (HAR), in which three experts accept or reject translations, the eMT system increased the number of acceptable Spanish-language item titles on eBay from 82 percent to 90 percent.</p> <p>Using administrative data from eBay, the researchers then examined the volume of trade on the platform, within countries, after the eMT system went into use. Other factors being equal, the study showed that the new translation system not only had an effect on sales, but that trade increased by 1.06 percent for each additional word in the titles of items on eBay.</p> <p>That is a substantial change for a commerce platform on which, as the paper notes, items for sale often have long, descriptive titles such as “Diamond-Cut Stackable Thin Wedding Ring New .925 Sterling Silver Band Sizes 4-12,” or “Alpine Swiss Keira Women’s Trench Coast Double Breasted Wool Jacket Belted.” In those cases, making the translation clearer helps potential buyers understand exactly what they might be purchasing.</p> <p>Given the study’s level of specificity, Brynjolfsson calls it “a really fortunate natural experiment, with a before-and-after that sharply distinguished what happened when you had machine translation and when you didn’t.”</p> <p>The structure of the study, he adds, has enabled the researchers to say with confidence that the new eBay program, and not outside factors, directly generated the change in trade volume among affected countries.</p> <p>“In economics, it’s often hard to do causal analyses and prove that A caused B, not just that A was associated with B,” says Brynjolfsson. “But in this case, I feel very comfortable using causal language and saying that improvement in machine translation caused the increase in international trade.”</p> <p><strong>Larger puzzle: The productivity issue</strong></p> <p>The genesis of the paper stems from an ongoing question about new technology and economic productivity. While many forms of artificial intelligence have been developed and expanded in the last couple of decades, the impact of AI, including things like machine-translation systems, has not been obvious in economics statistics.</p> <p>“There’s definitely some amazing progress in the core technologies, including in things like natural language processing and translation,” Brynjolfsson says. “But what’s been lacking has been evidence of an economic impact, or business impact. So that’s a bit of a puzzle.”</p> <p>When looking to see if an economic impact for various forms of AI could be measured, Brynjolfsson, Hui, and Liu thought machine translation “made sense, because it’s a relatively straightforward implementation,” Brynjolfsson adds. That is, better translations could influence economic activity, at least on eBay, without any other changes in technology occurring.</p> <p>In this vein, the findings fit with a larger postulation Brynjolfsson has developed in recent years — that the adoption of AI technologies produces a “J-curve” in productivity. As Brynjolfsson has previously written, broad-ranging AI technologies nonetheless “require significant complementary investments, including business process redesign, co-invention of new products and business models, and investments in human capital” to have a large economic impact.</p> <p>As a result, when AI technologies are introduced, productivity may appear to slow down, and when the complementary technologies are developed, productivity may appear to take off — in the “J-curve” shape.</p> <p>So while Brynjolfsson believes the results of this study are clear, he warns against generalizing too much on the basis of this finding about the impact of machine learning and other forms of AI on economic activity. Every case is different, and AI will not always produce such notable changes by itself.</p> <p>“This was a case where not a lot of other changes had to happen in order for the technology to benefit the company,” Brynjolfsson says. “But in many other cases, much more complicated, complementary changes are needed. That’s why, in most cases with machine learning, it takes longer for the benefits to be delivered.”</p> A study co-authored by an MIT economist shows that an improved, automated language-translation system significantly boosted commerce on eBay’s website.Sloan School of Management, Business and management, Machine learning, Artificial intelligence, Economics, Technology and society, Social sciences, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E) 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 The uncertain role of natural gas in the transition to clean energy MIT study finds that challenges in measuring and mitigating leakage of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, prove pivotal. Mon, 16 Dec 2019 10:43:54 -0500 David L. Chandler | MIT News Office <p>A new MIT study examines the opposing roles of natural gas in the battle against climate change — as a bridge toward a lower-emissions future, but also a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.</p> <p>Natural gas, which is mostly methane, is viewed as a significant “bridge fuel” to help the world move away from the greenhouse gas emissions of fossil fuels, since burning natural gas for electricity produces about half as much carbon dioxide as burning coal. But methane is itself a potent greenhouse gas, and it currently leaks from production wells, storage tanks, pipelines, and urban distribution pipes for natural gas. Increasing its usage, as a strategy for decarbonizing the electricity supply, will also increase the potential for such “fugitive” methane emissions, although there is great uncertainty about how much to expect. Recent studies have documented the difficulty in even measuring today’s emissions levels.</p> <p>This uncertainty adds to the difficulty of assessing natural gas’ role as a bridge to a net-zero-carbon energy system, and in knowing when to transition away from it. But strategic choices must be made now about whether to invest in natural gas infrastructure. This inspired MIT researchers to quantify timelines for cleaning up natural gas infrastructure in the United States or accelerating a shift away from it, while recognizing the uncertainty about fugitive methane emissions.</p> <p>The study shows that in order for natural gas to be a major component of the nation’s effort to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets over the coming decade, present methods of controlling methane leakage would have to improve by anywhere from 30 to 90 percent. Given current difficulties in monitoring methane, achieving those levels of reduction may be a challenge. Methane is a valuable commodity, and therefore companies producing, storing, and distributing it already have some incentive to minimize its losses. However, despite this, even intentional natural gas venting and flaring (emitting carbon dioxide) continues.</p> <p>The study also finds policies that favor moving directly to carbon-free power sources, such as wind, solar, and nuclear, could meet the emissions targets without requiring such improvements in leakage mitigation, even though natural gas use would still be a significant part of the energy mix.</p> <p>The researchers compared several different scenarios for curbing methane from the electric generation system in order to meet a target for 2030 of a 32 percent cut in carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions relative to 2005 levels, which is consistent with past U.S. commitments to mitigate climate change. The findings appear today in the journal <em>Environmental Research Letters</em>, in a paper by MIT postdoc Magdalena Klemun and Associate Professor Jessika Trancik.</p> <p>Methane is a much stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, although how much more depends on the timeframe you choose to look at. Although methane traps heat much more, it doesn’t last as long once it’s in the atmosphere — for decades, not centuries. &nbsp;When averaged over a 100-year timeline, which is the comparison most widely used, methane is approximately 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. But averaged over a 20-year period, it is 86 times stronger.</p> <p>The actual leakage rates associated with the use of methane are widely distributed, highly variable, and very hard to pin down. Using figures from a variety of sources, the researchers found the overall range to be somewhere between 1.5 percent and 4.9 percent of the amount of gas produced and distributed. Some of this happens right at the wells, some occurs during processing and from storage tanks, and some is from the distribution system. Thus, a variety of different kinds of monitoring systems and mitigation measures may be needed to address the different conditions.</p> <p>“Fugitive emissions can be escaping all the way from where natural gas is being extracted and produced, all the way along to the end user,” Trancik says. “It’s difficult and expensive to monitor it along the way.”</p> <p>That in itself poses a challenge. “An important thing to keep in mind when thinking about greenhouse gases,” she says, “is that the difficulty in tracking and measuring methane is itself a risk.” If researchers are unsure how much there is and where it is, it’s hard for policymakers to formulate effective strategies to mitigate it. This study’s approach is to embrace the uncertainty instead of being hamstrung by it, Trancik says: The uncertainty itself should inform current strategies, the authors say, by motivating investments in leak detection to reduce uncertainty, or a faster transition away from natural gas.</p> <p>“Emissions rates for the same type of equipment, in the same year, can vary significantly,” adds Klemun. “It can vary depending on which time of day you measure it, or which time of year. There are a lot of factors.”</p> <p>Much attention has focused on so-called “super-emitters,” but even these can be difficult to track down. “In many data sets, a small fraction of point sources contributes disproportionately to overall emissions,” Klemun says. “If it were easy to predict where these occur, and if we better understood why, detection and repair programs could become more targeted.” But achieving this will require additional data with high spatial resolution, covering wide areas and many segments of the supply chain, she says.</p> <p>The researchers looked at the whole range of uncertainties, from how much methane is escaping to how to characterize its climate impacts, under a variety of different scenarios. One approach places strong emphasis on replacing coal-fired plants with natural gas, for example; others increase investment in zero-carbon sources while still maintaining a role for natural gas.</p> <p>In the first approach, methane&nbsp;emissions from the U.S. power sector would need to be reduced by 30 to 90 percent from today’s levels by 2030,&nbsp;along with&nbsp;a 20 percent reduction in&nbsp;carbon dioxide.&nbsp;Alternatively,&nbsp;that target could be met through even greater carbon dioxide&nbsp;reductions, such as through faster expansion of low-carbon electricity, without&nbsp;requiring any&nbsp;reductions in natural&nbsp;gas leakage&nbsp;rates. The higher end of the published ranges reflects greater emphasis on methane’s short-term warming contribution.</p> <p>One question raised by the study is how much to invest in developing technologies and infrastructure for safely expanding natural gas use, given the difficulties in measuring and mitigating methane emissions, and given that virtually all scenarios for meeting greenhouse gas reduction targets call for ultimately phasing out natural gas that doesn’t include carbon capture and storage by mid-century. “A certain amount of investment probably makes sense to improve and make use of current infrastructure, but if you’re interested in really deep reduction targets, our results make it harder to make a case for that expansion right now,” Trancik says.</p> <p>The detailed analysis in this study should provide guidance for local and regional regulators as well as policymakers all the way to federal agencies, they say. The insights also apply to other economies relying on natural gas. The best choices and exact timelines are likely to vary depending on local circumstances, but the study frames the issue by examining a variety of possibilities that include the extremes in both directions — that is, toward investing mostly in improving the natural gas infrastructure while expanding its use, or accelerating a move away from it.</p> <p>The research was supported by the MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative. The researchers also received support from MIT’s Policy Lab at the Center for International Studies.</p> Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and it currently leaks from production wells, storage tanks, pipelines, and urban distribution pipes for natural gas.IDSS, Research, Solar, Energy, Renewable energy, Alternative energy, Climate change, Technology and society, Oil and gas, Economics, Policy, MIT Energy Initiative, Emissions, Sustainability, ESI, Greenhouse gases Journalists and academics explore the communication of science Daylong symposium at MIT showcases innovative ways of sharing facts and building trust in research results. Fri, 06 Dec 2019 16:48:41 -0500 David L. Chandler | MIT News Office <p>The amount of trust people place in different professions has ebbed and flowed over the years, though in recent years faith in most categories has plummeted, with Congress and the press among the least-trusted groups, surveys have shown. Trust in scientists, by contrast, has remained remarkably steady, at a level that’s comparatively high but still only around 40 percent.</p> <p>The ways that information about science gets out to the public have changed significantly in recent years, with newsrooms downsizing nationwide, sources of misinformation proliferating, and skepticism growing about what is reported, including about science. To explore ways of building trust in science and communicating accurate information, a daylong symposium at MIT convened journalists working at newspapers, magazines, podcasts and videos; academics who study science communications; and scientists who focus on communicating with the public.</p> <p>The symposium, titled “Spreading facts: communicating science for a better world,” was co-sponsored by <em>MIT Technology Review</em>, MIT Press, and the Knowledge Futures Group. The Dec. 3 event drew 175 participants at MIT’s Samberg Conference Center despite a snowstorm that had delayed the institute’s opening that day.</p> <p>In a keynote address, Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences, mentioned that last year the Oxford English Dictionary picked “post-truth” as its word of the year, referring to a time when “feelings and intuition are valued above scientific analysis.”</p> <p>In part, that reflects an idea that “science may be motivated by concerns that are not those of the public,” she said. “Many members of the public don’t understand the self-correcting nature of science” and don’t adequately distinguish between the results of a single study and a clear scientific consensus built up over time, McNutt said.</p> <p>She used the analogy of a giant game of Jenga, where a tall tower is built from blocks that are then removed one at a time until the tower topples. Similarly, she said, scientific consensus is built up from many pieces over time, but it’s always subject to review if one of those lower pieces is removed. If a few key studies are withdrawn or found to have been significantly flawed, the tower may crumble, an event known in science as a paradigm shift, when theories undergo fundamental changes.</p> <p>She said that in communicating science, while scientists are trained to present everything in a neutral and impersonal way, “for the public, the scientists and their stories are important. They want to know that there are real people involved.”</p> <p>McNutt offered some suggestions on how the public’s trust in science could be improved. First, there should be improvements in the peer review system, including dealing with issues such as predatory journals that don’t carry out the reviews they claim, and peer review rings where people agree to provide each other positive reviews. People should also be recognized for the work they do in carrying out peer reviews.</p> <p>“We need to clearly signal which papers have earned trust,” she said, proposing a system of badges for papers that have passed certain specific criteria for validation.</p> <p>When dealing with people who are skeptical of science or of some particular aspect of it, McNutt said it’s important to be clear about terminology. For example, if asked whether she believes in climate change, she answers: “There is an evidentiary basis for climate change.”</p> <p>“To say you believe puts it in the same realm as religion. You need to distinguish between what has predictive power and what doesn’t,” she said.</p> <p>In a panel discussion, Mariette DiChristina, dean of the Boston University College of Communication and former editor of <em>Scientific American</em>, noted that “the industry has fairly imploded in the past 10 years,” with an estimated one in four journalism jobs being eliminated. Charles Seife, a professor of journalism at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, agreed that “these are hard times for science journalists.” A few years ago, he said, the number of active journalists in comparison to other communications professionals, such as public relations specialists, was 1 to 3. It’s now 1 to 5 or more.</p> <p>Because of the many new channels of communication available, someone coming right out of journalism school “can build a large audience very quickly, if they have something to say,” Seife said.</p> <p>A good example of that is recent MIT graduate Dianna Cowern, who has built a large following on YouTube as “Physics Girl,” and who appeared on a separate panel at Tuesday’s event. With more than a million followers, Cowern’s channel has been funded by the PBS network for the last four years, and some of her videos have gone viral. “Going viral is not an easy thing for science videos,” she said, since they have to compete with millions of cute cat videos. One of her most successful videos depicts an experiment to see how high the top ball in a pile of three dropped balls would bounce.</p> <p>The main thing to strive for to get wide viewership online, she said, is “shareability.” She quipped: “As Einstein said, nothing is worth doing unless you can share it on Facebook.” Novelty, curiosity, and excitement also play a strong part in her short, slightly zany videos.</p> <p>John Randell, director of science, engineering and technology programs at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, described research on the public’s trust of leaders in various professions since 1973. The military has tended toward the top tiers of trust, although attitudes toward it have seesawed up and down dramatically over the years. By contrast, trust in scientists has remained very steady at around 40 percent over that whole period, though it has shown a recent small uptick. Trust in the press and in Congress, meanwhile, are now under 10 percent.</p> <p>But in the same surveys, about 70 percent of respondents say that the benefits of scientific research outweigh its harmful effects, Randell said. And younger Americans have greater trust in science than those in older age groups. There is no type or category of people who can be described as “antiscience,” he said; rather, people have a range of opinions on particular issues.</p> <p>Several participants described novel approaches to communicating ideas about scientific subjects. In addition to Cowern, there was Grant Sanderson, who described a series of mathematics-based podcasts he produces, and Clifford Johnson, a professor of physics, who described his work developing graphical ways of depicting scientific concepts, which he has created in the form of comic books (or “graphical sequences”). His comics are based on dialogues about ideas, he said, which is “one of the oldest forms of communication.” Galileo’s findings, he pointed out, were written in this form.</p> <p>Another innovative approach to science communications was described by Beth Daley, editor and general manager of The Conversation US. She explained how that organization provides a way for scientists to communicate their work to the public, by helping them to write articles in a journalistic style, aimed at the general public, which are then distributed for use by newspapers around the country.</p> <p>This new approach has been quite effective, she said. A staff of about 30 people edits, fact-checks, and works with the scientists, helping them to write a popular piece “in their own voice.” To achieve that, she said, “they often need a lot of help in translating” their work into accessible language. The organization currently publishes about 10 news stories a day.</p> <p>In closing remarks, Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Media Lab’s Center for Civic Media, pointed out that despite an increasingly polarized society in which people are disagreeing even on the nature of facts, polls showing a relatively steady level of trust in science are encouraging. “I’m optimistic for the next generation,” he said.</p> A panel discussion featured Mariette DiChristina, dean of Boston University's College of Communication (center), and Charles Seife, professor of journalism at New York University, (right), and was moderated by Gideon Lichfield, editor-in-chief of MIT Technology Review (left).Image: David ChandlerSpecial events and guest speakers, MIT Press, Science writing, Technology and society, Media Lab Uncovering the role of technology and medicine in deaf and signing worlds Timothy Loh, a HASTS program doctoral student studying deafness, sign language, and technology, is a sociocultural and medical anthropologist-in-training. Thu, 05 Dec 2019 15:00:01 -0500 School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences <p>If the joy and excitement of following your own path could be personified, it would look like Timothy Loh. A love of languages led him nearly around the world to study, and then to MIT, where he is a sociocultural and medical anthropologist-in-training.<br /> <br /> Now in his second year in the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences doctoral program in History/Anthropology/Science, Technology and Society — HASTS for short — Loh marvels at what he has already learned and at the “happy confluence” that led him to MIT.<br /> <br /> Growing up in Singapore, Loh was already fascinated with languages. In school there, he studied French and started learning sign language. Add his native languages — English and Mandarin Chinese — and Loh was a polyglot before he arrived at Georgetown University in 2012. There, he studied in the School of Foreign Service where, to satisfy a language requirement, he opted for Arabic, a language he had never before encountered.&nbsp;&nbsp;<br /> <br /> “Structurally, I found it very compelling,” says Loh. “There’s a tri-consonantal root in Arabic, so every word has three letters that form the root of a word, and they can be manipulated into different ways to create new words. I was really blown away.”<br /> <br /> “But I also remember very distinctly in Arabic class when my classmates were talking about the Syrian crisis and I couldn’t understand their conversation. Not because I didn’t understand the words, but because I didn’t know anything about Syria. That marked a turning point for me. I started taking classes in the history, politics, and economics of the Middle East. I realized that you can’t really understand a language without knowing the culture and history behind it.”</p> <p><strong>Sign language, identity, and assistive technology</strong><br /> <br /> For an undergraduate research project, Loh merged these two interests — sign language and the Middle East — and received a grant to study the pedagogical structure of a school for the deaf in Jordan, picking up some Jordanian Sign Language in the process to carry out the research.<br /> <br /> “Sign languages are different in every country,” Loh explains, “because they emerge naturally within communities. They develop individually and become different languages, just as spoken languages do. American Sign Language and British Sign Language, for example, are different sign languages even though these signers are all surrounded by English speakers.”<br /> <br /> Soon, however, Loh began to explore assistive technology and, in particular, cochlear implants. These devices are surgically implanted and bypass the normal acoustic hearing process with electronic signals; these stimulate the auditory nerve to provide a sense of sound to the user.<br /> <br /> “Implants were controversial within the deaf community in the United States at first,” says Loh, “and still are, to some extent. There was a fear of what they would mean for the future of the deaf community. There were scholars who described cochlear implants for the deaf as a form of cultural or linguistic genocide. That sounds like an extreme description, but it really does index the depth of attachment that people have to a sense of themselves as deaf. So, I started thinking about the implications that technology has in the world of the deaf and for their ability to navigate the world.”<br /> <br /> <strong>Teaching and learning in the Middle East</strong><br /> <br /> Returning from Jordan to Georgetown, Loh completed a master’s degree in Arab Studies, considered starting a PhD in anthropology, then decided to spent two years first working in the Middle East: the first year with a refugee program for Syrian, Iraqi, and Sudanese families in urban areas in Amman; and the second at a boarding school in Madaba, teaching Chinese and Middle East history.<br /> <br /> By then, Loh knew his next step was a doctoral program in anthropology, in which he could explore deafness, sign language, and the role of technology and medicine. “MIT is the best place to be an anthropologist studying issues of science and technology,” he says. “We’re right beside colleagues who are inventing the very technologies and devices whose ethical and social implications we’re trying to understand. It’s a place where we’re able to think deeply and critically about how scientific knowledge and authority is constructed.<br /> <br /> Loh is now framing his doctoral thesis and taking advantage of features available to HASTS students, such as auditing MIT classes in technical fields and also taking Harvard classes. “It’s such a privilege to be able to draw on the intellectual resources of two universities in one city,” says Loh.<br /> <br /> “I’ve also found that as a program and a cohort of students, MIT HASTS is very collegial and welcoming,” he says. “As doctoral students, we benefit from a level of focused attention from professors across all three HASTS departments that’s really rare and generative for interdisciplinary work.”</p> <p><strong>Speaking truth to power</strong></p> <p>Reflecting on his first year at MIT, Loh says it was humbling for several reasons: realizing how much he didn’t yet know; doing research in languages in which he’s not a native speaker; and the politics of writing about the deaf community, particularly as a person who is not deaf.</p> <p>“The history of anthropology is full of foreigners, often ones with privilege and social capital, coming in and speaking for a group that, for some reason, might not be able to speak for itself. With that history in mind, we as anthropologists are constantly thinking, ‘How do we represent social life responsibly?’</p> <p>“Last summer, when I was doing fieldwork, one of my deaf friends asked me straight up, ‘How does your work benefit the deaf community in Jordan?’ That’s a fair question. I told him I am still thinking about this. It’s an important question to answer well. How do anthropologists give back to the community that we’re learning from?</p> <p>“I think for many anthropologists, we hope that our work can ‘speak truth to power,’ to resist and complicate simplistic and hegemonic narratives, like the idea that technology can provide technical solutions for political problems. I do hope that my research can eventually inform policymaking for people in the Middle East whose voices need to be heard.”<br /> &nbsp;</p> <h5><em>Story prepared by MIT SHASS Communications<br /> Editorial and Design Director: Emily Hiestand<br /> Writer, Photographer: Maria Iacobo</em></h5> “MIT is the best place to be an anthropologist studying issues of science and technology," says Timothy Loh, a sophomore in the HASTS PhD program. "It’s a place where we’re able to think deeply and critically about how scientific knowledge and authority is constructed."Photo:Maria IacoboSchool of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Anthropology, History, Technology and society, Assistive technology, Middle East, Students, Gradaute, Graduate, postdoctoral, Profile, Program in STS Technology and Policy Program launches Research to Policy Engagement Initiative Initiative will support efforts to inform policy with scientific research. Thu, 05 Dec 2019 14:25:01 -0500 Scott Murray | Institute for Data, Systems, and Society <p>The MIT <a href="" target="_blank">Technology and Policy Program</a> (TPP) has launched a new Research to Policy Engagement Initiative aimed at bridging knowledge to action on major societal challenges, and connecting policymakers, stakeholders, and researchers from diverse disciplines.</p> <p>“TPP’s Research to Policy Engagement Initiative has two complementary goals,” says TPP Director Noelle Eckley Selin, an associate professor of both <a href="">Earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences</a> and the <a href="">Institute for Data, Systems, and Society</a> (IDSS). “First, it aims to help bring scientific and technical knowledge to bear to inform solutions to complex policy problems, bridging the design and conduct of research at MIT with communities of practice. Second, it will create an intellectual community of researchers who can learn, apply, and contribute to developing best practices in bridging knowledge to action on societal challenges, across experiences in different research domains.”</p> <p>In addition to building community and holding events, the initiative supports the work of students and postdocs working at the intersection of technology and policy through fellowships and research assistantships. “Especially in cases like climate change, where technology already exists to solve the problem, I think the MIT community should be equipping its graduates with the rhetorical and political skills necessary to make a positive impact,” says Brandon Leshchinskiy, a TPP student supported by the initiative who is developing nonpartisan climate outreach materials for high schools.</p> <p>The initiative launched with a kickoff discussion, organized by IDSS postdoc Poushali Maji and Media Lab research scientist Katlyn Turner, called “Technology, Design and Policy for Equity.” The event focused on the societal implications of the design of technology, exploring the intersections of design, policy, and social equity, and drawing examples from domains like energy technology and artificial intelligence.</p> <p>“It’s exciting to be part of an initiative that can create a space for cross-disciplinary collaborations,” says Maji. “One of the aims of the initiative is to help us think through problem-solution systems more holistically, and go beyond a techno-centric approach.”</p> <p>The inaugural Research to Policy Engagement Initiative event was a robust discussion with researchers from different disciplines, covering topics including the disparity between the intent and impact of technologies and associated policies, and the ways in which inequities can often drive technology adoption patterns. “One key takeaway that surfaced,” says Maji, “is that societal challenges often need simple technological solutions, but involve complex challenges in other dimensions — logistical, institutional, and cultural.”</p> <p>“This first discussion drove home the importance of considering policy at the inception of research, rather than being forced to shape some kind of narrative retroactively,” says Nina Peluso, a TPP student who attended the event. “The event served as a great reminder of the many groups that confront policy issues at MIT every day.”</p> <p>The discussion included a presentation from Sidhant Pai, co-founder of Protoprint, an MIT IDEAS challenge-winning social enterprise that aims to empower waste pickers in India by making 3D printer filament out of collected waste plastic.</p> <p>The next Research to Policy Engagement Initiative discussion is planned for Friday, Dec. 6. Details on the initiative can be found on the <a href="">TPP website</a>.</p> TPP student Nina Peluso shares discussion takeaways at the inaugural event for the Technology and Policy Program’s new Research to Policy Engagement Initiative.Photo: Barbara DeLaBarreIDSS, EAPS, Policy, Technology and society, Social sciences, Special events and guest speakers, Government, Data, School of Science, School of Engineering 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 3 Questions: Dan Huttenlocher on the formation of the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing The inaugural dean shares an update on the process of building a college. Tue, 26 Nov 2019 14:15:01 -0500 Terri Park | MIT Schwarzman College of Computing <p><em>Since beginning his position in August, Dean Dan Huttenlocher has been working on developing the organizational structure of the new MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing. He shares an update on the process of building the college and offers a glimpse into the plans for the new college headquarters.&nbsp; </em></p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>Can you give us a status update on the college?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> We have been concentrating our efforts on developing an organizational plan for the college, drawing on last spring’s <a href="" target="_blank">College of Computing Task Force Working Group reports</a>, and discussions with the leadership of all of the schools and departments, the Faculty Policy Committee, and a number of other groups. The process has been ongoing and iterative, with the development of an approximately 20-page plan that has undergone substantial changes in response to feedback on previous versions.</p> <p>The latest draft of the plan was presented at the Institute Faculty meeting last Wednesday. It was sent to the entire faculty about three weeks ago and shared with student leadership as well. We expect to share it with the entire MIT community as soon as additional input from the faculty is reflected in the draft, and then to have the initial structure of the college in place by January.</p> <p>There will undoubtedly continue to be revisions to the organizational plan as we learn more, but I’m really excited to be moving forward with the implementation, some of which has already begun, such as academic implementation work led by Asu Ozdaglar and the initial startup of Social and Ethical Responsibilities of Computing led by David Kaiser and Julie Shah. Our work is just beginning, and in particular, new curricula, classes, and programs will be developed over time by academic units in the college, in partnership with others across MIT.</p> <p>I’m thankful to the MIT community for the tremendous amount of time and effort they have put into the initial planning of the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing.</p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>Last year MIT <a href="" target="_self">announced the location</a> for construction of the college’s new headquarters, near the intersection of Vassar and Main streets. What are the plans for the new building, and when is construction expected to be complete?<strong> </strong></p> <p><strong>A:</strong> The building’s central location will serve as an interdisciplinary hub. The new building will enable the growth of the faculty and bring together those from numerous departments, centers, and labs at MIT that integrate computing into their work, and it will provide convening spaces for classes, seminars, conferences, and interdisciplinary computing projects, in addition to much needed open areas for students across disciplines to meet, mingle, work, and collaborate.</p> <p>After an in-depth search and selection process, we have chosen Skidmore, Owings &amp; Merrill (SOM) to design the new building. SOM is a firm whose practice spans the fields of architecture, engineering, interior design, and urban planning. They have worked on thousands of projects around the world and have designed some of the most technically and environmentally advanced buildings, among them The New School in New York.&nbsp;</p> <p>We are currently early in the design with SOM, a process that began in October. Completion of the new college headquarters is slated for 2023.</p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>As the college begins to take shape, what has the reaction been so far?&nbsp;<strong> </strong></p> <p><strong>A: </strong>There has been widespread recognition of the importance of the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing and the changes that we are undertaking. Our colleagues at other top institutions are interested in what we are doing and how we are doing it, and some are already beginning to consider how they might make relevant changes at their university. No other academic institution is taking on the scale and scope of change that we are pursuing at MIT; reorganizing academic programs that involve many of the faculty and most of the students to position them for the computing age; changing how we develop what we teach in computing, changing how many of our research activities are organized to bring other fields together with computing and artificial intelligence, notably the social sciences, humanities, design, and the arts; and attending to the social and ethical responsibilities in both teaching and research.</p> Dean Dan Huttenlocher has been working on developing the organizational structure of the new MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing. He answers three questions about building the college and offers a glimpse into the new college headquarters. MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, Electrical engineering and computer science (EECS), Artificial intelligence, Computer science and technology, Technology and society, Alumni/ae, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), School of Engineering, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences Zach Lieberman joins MIT Media Lab New adjunct associate professor combines fine arts and coding. Mon, 25 Nov 2019 13:10:01 -0500 Janine Liberty | MIT Media Lab <p>Artist and educator Zach Lieberman has been appointed as an adjunct associate professor of media arts and sciences at the Media Lab. As of the fall 2019 semester, he is teaching courses and working on projects at the lab under the aegis of his newly founded research group, <a href="" target="_blank">Future Sketches</a>.</p> <p>A new-media artist with a background in fine arts, Lieberman creates animations, public art, and installations that explore the relationship between computation, art, and movement. He holds degrees from Hunter College and Parsons School of Design, has been artist-in-residence at Ars Electronica Futurelab, Eyebeam, Dance Theater Workshop, and the Hangar Center for the Arts in Barcelona, and his work has been exhibited around the world. He is one of the co-founders of openFrameworks, a C++ library for creative coding.</p> <p>Lieberman is particularly drawn to coding as a mode of expression, comparing it to poetry in its dichotomy between precision and infinite variation. “What I like about poetry is that it’s an art form where you’re using really precise words in a certain order to describe what it means to be human, what it means to be alive. It’s an art form that’s about precision with language,” says Lieberman. “And coding is really about precision, too, with an artificial language. You’re using language in a very specific order to make something emerge.”</p> <p>His interest in code as a creative medium led Lieberman to found the School for Poetic Computation in 2013, an alternative school for art and technology in New York, where he continues to teach and advise. Lieberman also has a longstanding affinity for, and affiliation with, the Media Lab, citing John Maeda’s book “Design By Numbers” as a crucial influence. He worked with Golan Levin, a Media Lab alum from Maeda’s Aesthetics and Computation group, on a series of audiovisual projects under the moniker Tmema.</p> <p>Lieberman also points to Media Lab founding faculty member Muriel Cooper as an inspiration and exemplar; his research group’s name, Future Sketches, is an homage to her. “The name comes from Muriel Cooper, whose work means a lot to me. She has this letter that she wrote for <em>Plan Magazine</em> in 1980, with a <a href="">12-page spread</a> of all the work being done in her Visual Language Workshop. She finished that letter with, ‘This stands as a sketch for the future.’ My work is dedicated to exploring this tradition.”</p> <p>“We’re really thrilled to have Zach join us at the lab,” says Tod Machover, Muriel R. Cooper Professor of Music and Media, who directs the Opera of the Future research group and is academic head of the Program in Media Arts and Sciences. “In addition to carrying on the legacy of Muriel Cooper that’s so intrinsic to the lab in a playful and thoughtful way, Zach is also committed to mentorship and fostering creativity. He has already become a kind of artistic Pied Piper to many of our students, in the loveliest, most productive way. I believe that Zach’s work and pedagogy will have a profound impact on the future fabric of the Media Lab.”</p> Artwork by Zach LiebermanImage: Zach LiebermanMedia Lab, School of Architecture and Planning, Technology and society, Design, Computer science and technology, Faculty 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 Inclusive Innovation Challenge recognizes startups improving the future of work Competition awards entrepreneurs from around the world working to ensure technological progress brings greater prosperity. Fri, 22 Nov 2019 16:44:19 -0500 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>Startups working to broaden economic opportunities around the world were awarded $1.6 million in prizes at the MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge (IIC) yesterday.</p> <p>The $250,000 grand prize winners were JobGet, a mobile platform that matches&nbsp;low-income job seekers with employers; Agros, a company using remote sensing and precision agriculture to assist small farmers in Latin America; Reaktor Education, which uses online courses to teach people about artificial intelligence; and TiendaPago, an online lender giving small, mom-and-pop stores in Latin America short-term loans.</p> <p>“The conversation about technology, we feel, has been too pessimistic, too focused on the possible downsides, too focused on automation taking everyone’s jobs away,” said Andrew McAfee, a principal research scientist at the MIT Sloan School of Management who co-founded the IIC with Erik Brynjolfsson, an MIT Sloan professor. “We think that’s wrong, so we try to shift the conversation and recognize the people and groups doing exactly the opposite — using technology to bring economic opportunity to people.”</p> <p>The winners were chosen from a pool of 20 finalists from around the world. Each of the finalists had been vetted and selected by judges at five regional events hosted by the IIC and its partner organizations, who considered more than 1,500 registrants this year.</p> <p>“It’s too bad people always say this, because in this case it’s true: They’re all amazing,” said Brynjolfsson. “These applications just blow you away. The organizations that didn’t win are incredibly impressive as well. I would’ve been proud if any one of them had won. It’s a real cause for optimism. … We’ve picked out a few of them tonight, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.”</p> <p>The solutions were put into categories such as financial inclusion, income growth and job creation, technology access, and skills development and opportunity matching.</p> <p><a href="">JobGet</a>, which earned the top spot in the income and job creation category, has been onboarding job seekers and employers to its mobile app for about eight months. In that time, the company has helped nearly 10,000 people, primarily in blue-collar fields, improve their employment options and job security.</p> <p>“[JobGet] is a mobile app; there’s no resumes required, no cover letters, no interview questions,” Director of Community Caroline Forrest said. “All you need to do is set up a profile, which takes anywhere from two to five minutes. After you have that profile, you can apply to hundreds of jobs.”</p> <p><a href="">TiendaPago</a>, the winner of the financial inclusion category, has created a lending tool that helps small stores in Latin America maintain inventory without relying on informal loan sharks that demand high interest rates. The company’s short-term credit can be accessed with cell phones through WhatsApp, SMS messaging, or the company’s mobile app. TiendaPago has already enrolled more than 27,000 store owners in Mexico and Peru, and it aims to help more than 150,000 families around Latin American in the next two years.</p> <p><a href="">Agros</a>, the winner in the technology access category, uses precision agriculture technologies like satellite images, weather data, and georeferenced information to improve yield for family farmers across Latin America. The information collected is also shared with financial institutions to help farmers get loans with lower interest rates.</p> <p>“Now these farmers have the opportunity to access technology in their own language, leaving all the complicated aspects to us, so they can focus on what they do best: feed the world,” said Agros founder Robinson Lopez.</p> <p><a href="">Reaktor Education</a>, the winner of the skills development and opportunity matching category, builds its online educational content with focus groups to ensure the programs about AI are easy to navigate, empowering, and fun.</p> <p>“We believe there’s a better way to educate, across demographics and at scale, using our combination of humanist copyediting, design, and technology,” Reaktor chief operating officer Megan Schaible said.</p> <p>The company partnered with the University of Helsinki in Finland to create its first free online course, Elements of AI, which launched in 2018 and has attracted more than 230,000 registrants. The company says more than 40 percent of the people who signed up for the class are women, while more than a quarter of registrants are over the age of 45. The company is now expanding around the world, working with governments and universities to replicate its early success.</p> <p>The lively event, held at MIT’s Samberg Conference Center, also featured an audience choice award, which went to Nairobi-based child care startup Tiny Totos. The company offers loans for daycare centers, training for care givers, and a mobile app that allows daycare managers to track attendance, income, and expenses.</p> <p>For all of the finalists, the event marked an opportunity to celebrate their progress so far and socialize with other people committed to improving the future of work.</p> <p>“[Finalists] are meeting people they wouldn’t normally connect with, and they have so much in common that they can learn from each other, so it’s exciting that they can leave with takeaways besides money,” said Devin Cook, the executive producer of the IIC. “Finalists also have an opportunity to meet with the MIT community more broadly, so they get these connections that can help them continue to scale when they go home.”</p> <p>This was the fourth annual Inclusive Innovation Challenge. For the MIT team that put it together, the goal was to go beyond researching the impact of technology on the global economy and to empower the entrepreneurs who are making the economy work for more people.</p> <p>“Like a lot of academics, we’ve been diagnosing the problem and talking about it, but we wanted to actually move the dial and change things by recognizing all these organizations that are doing amazing things, and give them the resources to thrive,” Brynjolfsson said, noting that there’s still much work to be done to ensure technological progress brings greater prosperity. “There’s no one silver bullet. We want to push all fronts. But if we can help some of these startups change the world, that would be awesome.”</p> The fourth annual Inclusive Innovation Challenge (IIC) featured four grand prize winners. Here members of all the winning organizations pose with IIC organizers.Images courtesy of the Inclusive Innovation ChallengeInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, Sloan School of Management, Africa, Contests and academic competions, Jobs, Developing countries, Technology and society MIT conference focuses on preparing workers for the era of artificial intelligence As automation rises in the workplace, speakers explore ways to train students and reskill workers. Fri, 22 Nov 2019 16:35:55 -0500 Rob Matheson | MIT News Office <p>In opening yesterday’s AI and the Work of the Future Congress, MIT Professor Daniela Rus presented diverging views of how artificial intelligence will impact jobs worldwide.</p> <p>By automating certain menial tasks, experts think AI is poised to improve human quality of life, boost profits, and create jobs, said Rus, director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.</p> <p>Rus then quoted a World Economic Forum study estimating AI could help create 133 million new jobs worldwide over the next five years. Juxtaposing this optimistic view, however, she noted a recent survey that found about two-thirds of Americans believe machines will soon rob humans of their careers. “So, who is right? The economists, who predict greater productivity and new jobs? The technologists, who dream of creating better lives? Or the factory line workers who worry about unemployment?” Rus asked. “The answer is, probably all of them.”</p> <p>Her remarks kicked off an all-day conference in Kresge Auditorium that convened experts from industry and academia for panel discussions and informal talks about preparing humans of all ages and backgrounds for a future of AI automation in the workplace. The event was co-sponsored by CSAIL, the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy (IDE), and the MIT Work of the Future Task Force, an Institute-wide effort launched in 2018 that aims to understand and shape the evolution of jobs during an age of innovation.</p> <p>Presenters were billed as “leaders and visionaries” rigorously measuring technological impact on enterprise, government, and society, and generating solutions. Apart from Rus, who also moderated a panel on dispelling AI myths, speakers included Chief Technology Officer of the United States Michael Kratsios; executives from Amazon, Nissan, Liberty Mutual, IBM, Ford, and Adobe; venture capitalists and tech entrepreneurs; representatives of nonprofits and colleges; journalists who cover AI issues; and several MIT professors and researchers.</p> <p>Rus, a self-described “technology optimist,” drove home a point that echoed throughout all discussions of the day: AI doesn’t automate jobs<em>,&nbsp;</em>it automates tasks. Rus quoted a recent McKinsey Global Institute study that estimated 45 percent of tasks that humans are paid to do can now be automated. But, she said, humans can adapt to work in concert with AI —&nbsp;meaning job tasks may change dramatically, but jobs may not disappear entirely. “If we make the right choices and the right investments, we can ensure that those benefits get distributed widely across our workforce and our planet,” Rus said.</p> <p><strong>Avoiding the “job-pocalypse”</strong></p> <p>Common topics throughout the day included reskilling veteran employees to use AI technologies; investing heavily in training young students in AI through tech apprenticeships, vocational programs, and other education initiatives; ensuring workers can make livable incomes; and promoting greater inclusivity in tech-based careers. The hope is to avoid, as one speaker put it, a “job-pocalypse,” where most humans will lose their jobs to machines.</p> <p>A panel moderated by David Mindell, the Dibner Professor of the History of Engineering and Manufacturing and a professor of aeronautics and astronautics, focused on how AI technologies are changing workflow and skills, especially within sectors resistant to change. Mindell asked panelists for specific examples of implementing AI technologies into their companies.</p> <p>In response, David Johnson, vice president of production and engineering at Nissan, shared an anecdote about pairing an MIT student with a 20-year employee in developing AI methods to autonomously predict car-part quality. In the end, the veteran employee became immersed in the technology and is now using his seasoned expertise to deploy it in other areas, while the student learned more about the technology’s real-world applications. “Only through this synergy, when you purposely pair these people with a common goal, can you really drive the skills forward … for mass new technology adoption and deployment,” Johnson said.</p> <p>In a panel about shaping public policies to ensure technology benefits society — which included U.S. CTO Kratsios — moderator Erik Brynjolfsson, director of IDE and a professor in the MIT Sloan School of Management, got straight to the point: “People have been dancing around this question: Will AI destroy jobs?”</p> <p>“Yes, it will — but not to the extent that people presume,” replied MIT Institute Professor Daron Acemoglu. AI, he said, will mostly automate mundane operations in white-collar jobs, which will free up humans to refine their creative, interpersonal, and other high-level skills for new roles. Humans, he noted, also won’t be stuck doing low-paying jobs, such as labeling data for machine-learning algorithms.</p> <p>“That’s not the future of work,” he said. “The hope is we use our amazing creativity and all these wonderful and technological platforms to create meaningful jobs in which humans can use their flexibility, creativity, and all the things … machines won’t be able to do — at least in the next 100 years.”</p> <p>Kratsios emphasized a need for public and private sectors to collaborate to reskill workers. Specifically, he pointed to the Pledge to the America’s Worker, the federal initiative that now has 370 U.S. companies committed to retraining roughly 4 million American workers for tech-based jobs over the next five years.</p> <p>Responding to an audience question about potential public policy changes, Kratsios echoed sentiments of many panelists, saying education policy should focus on all levels of education, not just college degrees. “A vast majority of our policies, and most of our departments and agencies, are targeted toward coaxing people toward a four-year degree,” Kratsios said. “There are incredible opportunities for Americans to live and work and do fantastic jobs that don’t require four-year degrees. So, [a change is] thinking about using the same pool of resources to reskill, or retrain, or [help students] go to vocational schools.”</p> <p><strong>Inclusivity and underserved populations</strong></p> <p>Entrepreneurs at the event explained how AI can help create diverse workforces. For instance, a panel about creating economically and geographically diverse workforces, moderated by Devin Cook, executive producer of IDE’s Inclusive Innovation Challenge, included Radha Basu, who founded Hewlett Packard’s operations in India in the 1970s. In 2012, Basu founded iMerit, which hires employees — half are young women and more than 80 percent come from underserved populations —&nbsp;to provide AI services for computer vision, machine learning, and other applications.</p> <p>A panel hosted by Paul Osterman, co-director of the MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research and an MIT Sloan professor, explored how labor markets are changing in the face of technological innovations. Panelist Jacob Hsu is CEO of Catalyte, which uses an AI-powered assessment test to predict a candidate’s ability to succeed as a software engineer, and hires and trains those who are most successful. Many of their employees don’t have four-year degrees, and their ages range from anywhere from 17 to 72.</p> <p>A “media spotlight” session, in which journalists discussed their reporting on the impact of AI on the workplace and the world, included David Fanning, founder and producer of the investigative documentary series FRONTLINE, which recently ran a documentary titled “In the Era of AI.” Fanning briefly discussed how, during his investigations, he learned about the profound effect AI is having on workplaces in the developing world, which rely heavily on manual labor, such as manufacturing lines.</p> <p>“What happens as automation expands, the manufacturing ladder that was opened to people in developing countries to work their way out of rural poverty — all that manufacturing gets replaced by machines,” Fanning said. “Will we end up across the world with people who have nowhere to go? Will they become the new economic migrants we have to deal with in the age of AI?”</p> <p><strong>Education: The great counterbalance</strong></p> <p>Elisabeth Reynolds, executive director for the MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future and of the MIT Industrial Performance Center, and Andrew McAfee, co-director of IDE and a principal research scientist at the MIT Sloan School of Management, closed out the conference and discussed next steps.</p> <p>Reynolds said the MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future, over the next year, will further study how AI is being adopted, diffused, and implemented across the U.S., as well as issues of race and gender bias in AI. In closing, she charged the audience with helping tackle the issues: “I would challenge everybody here to say, ‘What on Monday morning is [our] organization doing in respect to this agenda?’”&nbsp;</p> <p>In paraphrasing economist Robert Gordon, McAfee reemphasized the shifting nature of jobs in the era of AI: “We don’t have a job quantity problem, we have a job quality problem.”</p> <p>AI may generate more jobs and company profits, but it may also have numerous negative effects on employees. Proper education and training are keys to ensuring the future workforce is paid well and enjoys a high quality of life, he said: “Tech progress, we’ve known for a long time, is an engine of inequality. The great counterbalancing force is education.”</p> Daniela Rus (far right), director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), moderated a panel on dispelling the myths of AI technologies in the workplace. The AI and the Work of the Future Congress was co-organized by CSAIL, the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, and the MIT Work of the Future Task Force.Image: Andrew KubicaResearch, Computer science and technology, Algorithms, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Sloan School of Management, Technology and society, Jobs, Economics, Policy, Artificial intelligence, Machine learning, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Business and management, Manufacturing, Careers, Special events and guest speakers “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 Students push to speed up artificial intelligence adoption in Latin America To help the region catch up, students organize summit to bring Latin policymakers and researchers to MIT. Tue, 19 Nov 2019 16:30:01 -0500 Kim Martineau | MIT Quest for Intelligence <p>Omar Costilla Reyes reels off all the ways that artificial intelligence might benefit his native Mexico. It could raise living standards, he says, lower health care costs, improve literacy and promote greater transparency and accountability in government.</p> <p>But Mexico, like many of its Latin American neighbors, has failed to invest as heavily in AI as other developing countries. That worries <a href="">Costilla Reyes</a>, a postdoc at MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences.</p> <p>To give the region a nudge, Costilla Reyes and three other MIT graduate students — <a href="" target="_blank">Guillermo Bernal</a>, <a href="">Emilia Simison</a> and <a href="">Pedro Colon-Hernandez</a> — have spent the last six months putting together a three-day event that will &nbsp;bring together policymakers and AI researchers in Latin America with AI researchers in the United States. The <a href="">AI Latin American sumMIT</a> will take place in January at the <a href="">MIT Media Lab</a>.</p> <p>“Africa is getting lots of support — Africa will eventually catch up,” Costilla Reyes says. “You don’t see anything like that in Latin America, despite the potential for AI to move the region forward socially and economically.”</p> <p><strong>Four paths to MIT and research inspired by AI</strong></p> <p>Each of the four students took a different route to MIT, where AI plays a central role in their work — on the brain, voice assistants, augmented creativity and politics. Costilla Reyes got his first computer in high school, and though it had only dial-up internet access, it exposed him to a world far beyond his home city of Toluca. He studied for a PhD &nbsp;at the University of Manchester, where he developed an <a href="">AI system</a> with applications in security and health to identify individuals by their gait. At MIT, Costilla Reyes is building computational models of how firing neurons in the brain produce memory and cognition, information he hopes can also advance AI.</p> <p>After graduating from a vocational high school in El Salvador, Bernal moved in with relatives in New Jersey and studied English at a nearby community college. He continued on to Pratt Institute, where he learned to incorporate Python into his design work. Now at the MIT Media Lab, he’s developing interactive storytelling tools like <a href="">PaperDreams</a> that uses AI to help people unlock their creativity. His work recently won a <a href="">Schnitzer Prize</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>Simison came to MIT to study for a PhD in political science after her professors at Argentina’s University Torcuato Di Tella encouraged her to continue her studies in the United States. She is currently using text analysis tools to mine archival records in Brazil and Argentina to understand the role that political parties and unions played under the last dictatorships in both countries.</p> <p>Colon-Hernandez grew up in Puerto Rico fascinated with video games. A robotics class in high school inspired him to build a computer to play video games of his own, which led to a degree in computer engineering at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez.&nbsp;After helping a friend with a project at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, Colon-Hernandez applied to a summer research program at MIT, and later, the MIT Media Lab’s graduate program. He’s currently working on intelligent voice assistants.</p> <p>It’s hard to generalize about a region as culturally diverse and geographically vast as Latin America, stretching from Mexico and the Caribbean to the tip of South America. But protests, violence and reports of entrenched corruption have dominated the news for years, and the average income per person has been <a href="">falling</a> with respect to the United States since the 1950s. All four students see AI as a means to bring stability and greater opportunity to their home countries.</p> <p><strong>AI with a humanitarian agenda</strong></p> <p>The idea to bring Latin American policymakers to MIT was hatched last December, at the world’s premier conference for AI research, <a href="">NeurIPS</a>. The organizers of NeurIPS had launched several new workshops to promote diversity in response to growing criticism of the exclusion of women and minorities in tech. At <a href="">Latinx,</a> a workshop for Latin American students, Costilla Reyes met Colon-Hernandez, who was giving a talk on voice-activated wearables. A few hours later they began drafting a plan to bring a Latinx-style event to MIT.</p> <p>Back in Cambridge, they found support from <a href="">Armando Solar-Lezama</a>, a <a href="">native of Mexico</a> and a professor at MIT’s <a href="">Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science</a>. They also began knocking on doors for funding, securing an initial $25,000 grant from MIT’s <a href="">Institute Community and Equity Office</a>. Other graduate students joined the cause, including, and together they set out to recruit speakers, reserve space at the MIT Media Lab and design a website. RIMAC, the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab, X Development, and Facebook have all since offered support for the event.</p> <p>Unlike other AI conferences, this one has a practical bent, with themes that echo many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals: to end extreme poverty, develop quality education, create fair and transparent institutions, address climate change and provide good health.</p> <p>The students have set similarly concrete goals for the conference, from mapping the current state of AI-adoption across Latin America to outlining steps policymakers can take to coordinate efforts. U.S. researchers will offer tutorials on open-source AI platforms like TensorFlow and scikit-learn for Python, and the students are continuing to raise money to fly 10 of their counterparts from Latin America to attend the poster session.</p> <p>“We reinvent the wheel so much of the time,” says Simison. “If we can motivate countries to integrate their efforts, progress could move much faster.”</p> <p>The potential rewards are high. A <a href="">2017 report</a> by Accenture estimated that if AI were integrated into South America’s top five economies — Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Peru — which generate about 85 percent of the continent’s economic output, they could each add up to 1 percent to their annual growth rate.</p> <p>In developed countries like the U.S. and in Europe, AI is sometimes viewed apprehensively for its potential to eliminate jobs, spread misinformation and perpetuate bias and inequality. But the risk of not embracing AI, especially in countries that are already lagging behind economically, is potentially far greater, says Solar-Lezama. “There’s an urgency to make sure these countries have a seat at the table and can benefit from what will be one of the big engines for economic development in the future,” he says.</p> <p>Post-conference deliverables include a set of recommendations for policymakers to move forward. “People are protesting across the entire continent due to the marginal living conditions that most face,” says Costilla Reyes. “We believe that AI plays a key role now, and in the future development of the region, if it’s used in the right way.”</p> “We believe that AI plays a key role now, and in the future development of the region, if it’s used in the right way,” says Omar Costilla Reyes, one of four MIT graduate students working to help Latin America adopt artificial intelligence technologies. Pictured here (left to right) are Costilla Reyes, Emilia Simison, Pedro Antonio Colon-Hernandez, and Guillermo Bernal.Photo: Kim MartineauQuest for Intelligence, Electrical engineering and computer science (EECS), Media Lab, Brain and cognitive sciences, Lincoln Laboratory, MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab, School of Engineering, School of Science, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Artificial intelligence, Computer science and technology, Technology and society, Machine learning, Software, Algorithms, Political science, Latin America New research partnership evaluates innovation in family engagement Randomized evaluation of the TalkingPoints multilingual family engagement platform will assess the intervention&#039;s impact on student achievement. Tue, 19 Nov 2019 10:40:01 -0500 J-PAL North America <p>This fall, <a href="">J-PAL North America</a> partnered with <a href="">TalkingPoints</a>, an education technology non-profit, and the<a href="" style="text-decoration-line: none;"> </a><a href="">Behavioral Insights and Parenting Lab</a> (BIP Lab) at the University of Chicago, to evaluate the TalkingPoints multilingual family engagement platform. The platform will be assessed through a year-long randomized evaluation that will be conducted in more than 50 third-grade classrooms across the country. This evaluation will produce insights on whether the TalkingPoints platform increases parental engagement, and if so, whether there is a resulting increase in children’s executive function — a precursor to improved academic outcomes across all education levels such as literacy, numeracy, and high school graduation rates.</p> <p>Beginning in 2015, local and federal law began requiring schools to provide programming intended to promote parental engagement in their children’s education. TalkingPoints was founded that year to drive student success — especially in underserved, diverse communities — by using accessible technology to unlock the potential of families to support their children's education. TalkingPoints developed a multilingual family engagement platform that allows educators to communicate directly with English and non-English speaking parents. Currently, it supports two-way messaging in more than 100 languages and provides tips for communicating with teachers and other information about their children’s education.&nbsp;</p> <p>“We are excited for this opportunity to rigorously test our family engagement platform to understand its true impact on parental engagement and, ultimately, student achievement,” says Heejae Lim, founder and CEO of TalkingPoints.&nbsp;</p> <p>“We also hope that this evaluation can raise awareness of the value that rigorous evaluations like this can contribute to the field of using technology in education and leveraging parents and families as key partners to schools,” says Nancy Bromberger, vice president of partnerships at TalkingPoints.</p> <p>The evaluation will be led by the BIP Lab at the University of Chicago, which conducts rigorous research on the science of parental decision-making. The BIP Lab specializes in research to identify light-touch behavioral interventions for parents that work to change child outcomes, particularly for disadvantaged children.&nbsp;</p> <p>“This research partnership highlights the BIP Lab&nbsp;and TalkingPoints’ mutual interest in identifying effective behavioral tools and our shared focus on low cost, accessible interventions,” says Professor Ariel Kalil, BIP Lab co-founder.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Working to improve the quality and quantity of parent engagement to positively affect child outcomes is central to the mission of both of our organizations,” says Susan Mayer, BIP Lab co-founder.&nbsp; “We are excited to be launching this rigorous evaluation to contribute to the evidence base.”&nbsp;</p> <p>The evaluation is funded through the <a href="">J-PAL North America Education, Technology, and Opportunity Initiative</a>, which supports education leaders in using randomized evaluations to generate evidence on how and to what extent uses of technology and innovation work to improve student learning.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“We are thrilled to be catalyzing this rigorous evaluation of a promising education technology platform,” says Kim Dadisman, J-PAL North America Education, Technology and Opportunity Initiative manager. “We are inspired by committed researchers and implementing partners like the BIP Lab and TalkingPoints that we connect to identify policy-relevant research questions and translate research into action.”&nbsp;</p> <p>The Education, Technology and Opportunity Initiative,&nbsp;supported by Arnold Ventures and the Overdeck Family Foundation, has funded seven evaluations to date on educational technology programs, ranging from computer-assisted learning to technology-enabled behavioral interventions. The TalkingPoints evaluation will be piloted in spring 2020, followed by full implementation beginning in fall 2020. J-PAL North America, TalkingPoints, and the BIP Lab are committed to sharing study results and identifying relevant policy lessons to inform the broader field of family engagement.</p> <div></div> The TalkingPoints multilingual family engagement platform allows educators to communicate directly with English and non-English speaking parents through two-way messaging. J-PAL North America, TalkingPoints, and the BIP Lab are partnering to rigorously evaluate whether the innovative intervention increases parental engagement and children’s executive function.Photo: TalkingPointsAbdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Economics, Learning, K-12 education, Technology and society, Education, teaching, academics Jaleesa Trapp shakes things up in the classroom and in computing The PhD student and former high school teacher aims to study the ways young people of color interact with technology. Thu, 14 Nov 2019 23:59:59 -0500 Bridget E. Begg | Office of Graduate Education <p>“My introduction to MIT was an interesting one,” says Jaleesa Trapp, a graduate student in the MIT Media Lab. “MIT came to me.”</p> <p>That introduction came in the form of an afterschool program called the Computer Clubhouse in Trapp’s hometown of Tacoma, Washington. The program, founded by the Media Lab research group Lifelong Kindergarten and run by the The Clubhouse Network, is a technology-based learning environment for high school students that has been introduced to 100 underserved neighborhoods in over 20 countries. At the Clubhouse, Trapp learned graphic design, coding, video editing, and robotics, and she was introduced to a wide spectrum of possible STEM careers.</p> <p>Now, Trapp is working toward her PhD in the very same research group. Informed by many happy hours spent at the Clubhouse, her undergraduate studies, and her experience teaching high school, she aims to study the different ways youth, particularly black and brown youth, interact with computers and technology. She is especially curious about nonstandard human-computer interfaces — technologies distinct from desktop or laptop interactions.</p> <p><strong>Shaking things up</strong></p> <p>The Clubhouse in Tacoma was in close proximity to Trapp’s high school, yet it felt worlds away. “I hated high school, but I liked going to the Clubhouse,” she says. “It was like I was in two different worlds. My teachers had no idea that at the Clubhouse I was creating these interactive CD-ROMs and doing all types of things.”</p> <p>Trapp’s experience at the Clubhouse, along with a high school internship at Microsoft, crystallized her interest in using technology to solve problems for people. She received her undergraduate degree at the University of Washington in human-centered design and engineering with a concentration in human-computer interactions.</p> <p>After college, Trapp spent a year with AmeriCorps before returning to the Clubhouse as a coordinator, running the program she had attended just a few years before. After a year working solely at the Clubhouse, she was approached by local educators to teach high school. She hesitated at first but then realized the impact she could have. “I ended up going back to teach high school [because] I wanted to give more youth the opportunity to have the same Clubhouse experience I did — but inside the classroom. Not all students can come to an afterschool program, so I try to find a way to do that inside the school.”</p> <p>Trapp describes her pedagogical approach as a bit unorthodox. She recalls a computer science class in which she taught students how to make their own playdough to use with Makey Makey, software that allows children to make their own controllers with conductive objects. “The way that I run things, when I go to other teachers’ classrooms I know they think, ‘She’s letting these kids run wild!’ I like going and shaking things up.”</p> <p><strong>Returning to kindergarten</strong></p> <p>After teaching for three years, Trapp wanted to apply her skills and her proclivity for shaking things up to the world of academic research. When she applied to the Media Lab, the Lifelong Kindergarten Group was a natural fit. The group is inspired by the way learning occurs in kindergarten — through building and experimenting — and aims to expand that concept to other technologies and learning experiences.</p> <p>One of the strengths of the program, she says, is the diverse backgrounds of others in the Media Lab. "Kind of like the real world!” she laughs. “We all have these different skills and knowledge to bring to work on a project, which I think makes it a lot more dynamic than if we were to work alone.”</p> <p>Despite the diversity of backgrounds, Trapp notes that she is one of just a few black students in the Media Lab, which at times makes her feel hypervisible: “I change my hair a lot. I wear a lot of braids and twists and stuff. And just the comments about my hair, asking why it’s so different … just having to answer that type of question is really exhausting. Like, you get to come here and be a student, and I get to come here and teach you about black hair … and then be a student.”</p> <p><strong>Empowering her students</strong></p> <p>Trapp has channeled the added pressure she feels as a minority student into her master’s thesis, which she recently finished. It’s an antiracist learning guide that helps educators engage marginalized youth in STEM activities by creating an equitable learning space. One important way to do that, Trapp explains, is by shifting power: “Even just the way we do introductions, allowing students to stand up there and say their names instead of [teachers] butchering their names, asking them their preferred name, giving them that power, asking them what they value.”</p> <p>“I don’t have rules in my classroom,” she adds. “They come in and as a group we decide, how do we want to treat each other in this space? How do we want to treat this space, and how do we hold each other accountable for it? And by doing that, if something happens I can always remind them, ‘You set this up, not me, and I’m also held accountable to it.’” Trapp looks forward to using her master’s thesis work as a foundation for her PhD thesis, but with more of a focus on how youth interact with computing.</p> <p>As she gears up for her next four years in Boston, Trapp admits she misses her beloved Tacoma, where her strongest support system remains. (The town raised thousands of dollars after she was admitted to MIT, to help her to move to campus and settle in.) She also feels a responsibility to the youth of Tacoma.</p> <p>“I think I’m so invested because I want to be able to give opportunities that I didn’t have,” she says. “If there were more opportunities like the Clubhouse … I think that could inspire kids to do other things, and know that they’re capable, and know that there’s more out there. And then, hopefully, they would still want to give back to Tacoma, too. For the future of Tacoma, I want kids to know that they can go and do anything that they want to do.”</p> Jaleesa TrappImage: Gretchen ErtlStudents, Media Lab, School of Architecture and Planning, K-12 education, STEM education, Education, teaching, academics, Diversity and inclusion, Technology and society, Human-computer interaction, Profile, Graduate, postdoctoral Historian of the hinterlands In overlooked spots on the map, MIT Professor Kate Brown examines the turbulence of the modern world. Tue, 12 Nov 2019 23:59:59 -0500 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p>History can help us face hard truths. The places Kate Brown studies are particularly full of them. &nbsp;</p> <p>Brown, a historian in MIT’s Program in Science, Technology, and Society, has made a career out of studying what she calls “modernist wastelands” — areas suffering after years of warfare, social conflict, and even radioactive fallout from atomic accidents.&nbsp;</p> <p>Brown has spent years conducting research in the former Soviet Union, often returning to a large region stretching across the Poland-Ukraine border, which has been beset by two world wars, ethnic cleansing, purges, famine, and changes in power. It’s the setting for her acclaimed first book, “A Biography of No Place” (2004), a chronicle of the region’s conflicts and their consequences.</p> <p>The same region includes the site of the Chernobyl nuclear-reactor explosion, subject of Brown’s fourth and most recent book, “Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future” (2019), which uncovers extensive new evidence about the effects of the disaster on the area and its people.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Progress [often] occurs in big capitals, but if you go to the hinterlands, you see what’s left in the wake of progress, and it’s usually a lot of destruction,” says Brown, speaking of areas that have suffered due to technological or economic changes.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>That does not apply only to the former Soviet Union and its former satellite states, to be sure. Brown, who considers herself an transnational historian, is also the author of 2013’s “Plutopia,” reconstructing life in and around the plutonium-producing plants in Richland, Washington, and Ozersk, Russia, which have both left a legacy of nuclear contamination.</p> <p>With a record of innovative and award-winning research over more than two decades in academia, Brown joined MIT with tenure, as a professor of science, technology, and society, in early 2019.</p> <p><strong>When “no place” is like home</strong></p> <p>The lesson that life can be tough in less-glamorous locales is one Brown says she learned early on. Brown grew up in Elgin, Illinois, once headquarters of the famous Elgin National Watch Company — although that changed.</p> <p>“The year I was born, 1965, the Elgin watch factory was shuttered, and they blew up the watch tower,” Brown says. “It was a company town, and that was the main business. I grew up watching the supporting businesses close, and then regular clothing stores and grocery stores went bankrupt.”</p> <p>And while the changes in Elgin were very different (and less severe) than those in the places she has studied professionally, Brown believes her hometown milieu has shaped her work.</p> <p>“It was nothing near what I describe in wartime Ukraine, or Chernobyl, or one of plutonium plants, but I finally realized I was so interested in modernist wastelands because of my own background,” Brown says.</p> <p>Indeed, Brown notes, her mother moved four times in her life because of the “deindustrialized landscape,” from places like Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, and Detroit. And her parents, she says, “moved to Elgin thinking it was healthy, small-town America. So how many times do they have to jump? … What if you care about your family and community? What if you’re loyal?”</p> <p>As it happens, part of the direct impetus for Brown’s career came from her mother. One day in the 1980s, Brown recalls, she was talking to her parents and criticizing the superficial culture surrounding U.S.-Soviet relations. To which Brown’s mother responded, “Do something about it. Study Russian, change the world.”</p> <p>As an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin, Brown soon “took everything Russian, Russian lit and translation, grammar, history, politics, and I just got hooked. Then I thought I should go study there.” In 1987, she spent a year abroad in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). After graduating, Brown worked for a study-abroad program in the Soviet Union for three more years, helping students troubleshoot “pretty major problems, with housing and food and medical care,” as well as some cases where students had run afoul of Soviet authorities.&nbsp;</p> <p>Returning to the U.S., Brown entered the graduate program in history at the University of Washington while working as a journalist. She kept returning to the Ukraine borderlands region, collecting archival and observational material, and writing it up, for her dissertation “in the narrative mode of a first-person travelogue.”</p> <p>That did not fit the model of a typical PhD thesis. But Richard White, a prominent American historian with an openness toward innovative work, who was then at the University of Washington, advocated to keep the form of Brown’s work largely intact. She received her PhD, and more: Her thesis formed the basis of “A Biography of No Place,” which won the George Louis Beer Prize for International European History from the American Historical Association (AHA). Brown joined the faculty at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County before joining MIT.</p> <p><strong>A treasure island for research</strong></p> <p>In all of Brown’s books, a significant portion of the work, a bit atypically for academia, has continued to incorporate first-person material about her travels, experiences, and research, something she also regards as crucial.</p> <p>“Because these places are rarely visited, they’re hard to imagine for the readers,” Brown says. “That puts me in the narrative, though not for all of it.”</p> <p>Brown’s approach to history is also highly archival: She has unearthed key documents in all manner of local, regional, and national repositories. When she entered the profession, in the 1990s, many Soviet archives were just opening up, providing some rich opportunities for original research.&nbsp;</p> <p>“It’s amazing,” Brown says. “Over and over again I’ve been one of the first persons to walk into an archive and see what’s there. And that is just sort of a treasure island quality of historical research. Being a Soviet historian in the early 1990s, there was nothing else like it.”</p> <p>The archives continue to be profitable for Brown, yielding some of her key new insights in “Manual for Survival.” In assessing Chernobyl, Brown shows, local and regional studies of the disaster’s effects were often extensive and candid, but the official record became sanitized as it moved up the Soviet bureaucratic hierarchy.</p> <p>Brown’s combination of approaches to writing history has certainly produced extensive professional success. “Plutopia” was awarded the AHA’s Albert J. Beveridge and John H. Dunning prizes as the best book in American history and the Organization of American Historians’ Ellis H. Hawley Award, among others. Brown has also received Guggenheim Foundation and Carnegie Foundation fellowships.</p> <p>Brown is currently working on a new research project, examining overlooked forms of human knowledge about plants and the natural environment. She notes that there are many types of “indigenous knowledge and practices we have missed or rejected,” which could foster a more sustainable relationship between human society and the environment.</p> <p>It is a different type of topic than Brown’s previous work, although, like her other projects, this one recognizes that we have spent too long mishandling the environment, rather than prioritizing its care — another hard truth to consider.</p> Kate Brown is a professor in MIT's Program in Science, Technology, and Society.Image: Allegra BovermanSchool of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Faculty, Profile, Technology and society, Energy, History, Program in STS, Nuclear power and reactors, History of science, Science communications The technology of enchantment In a new anthropology and studio art course, MIT students investigate the human dimensions of interacting with technologies. Thu, 07 Nov 2019 00:00:00 -0500 School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences <p>An audible gasp goes through the classroom as Seth Riskin, manager of the MIT Museum Studio and Compton Gallery, uses his hand to trace streams of light through the empty air. The illusion is a simple one: Gradually turning up the speed on a strobe light, Riskin creates the visual magic by sweeping his hand through the rapidly changing beam.</p> <p>A strobe light is hardly the most advanced technology found in an MIT lab, but as co-instructor and professor of anthropology Graham Jones comments, “In 10 years of teaching at MIT, I’ve never heard a whole classroom gasp like that.”&nbsp;</p> <p>However basic, Riskin’s deft manipulation of light produces a profound effect, one that the students experience collectively in a moment of surprise and wonder. That’s what a new anthropology class, 21A.S01 (Paranormal Machines), is all about: exploring the human experience of the disconcerting and the uncanny&nbsp;in relation to technology and discovering how people and cultures build stories and beliefs around out-of-the ordinary experiences.

</p> <p><strong>Working across disciplines</strong>

</p> <p>In everyday parlance, the word paranormal usually refers to the phantasmal world of ghost hunters and clairvoyants. But Riskin and Jones use the word differently, and more fundamentally, to encompass qualities of human experience that challenge our typical expectations and perceptions. It turns out that this is a great topic of mutual inquiry for the arts, with their capacity to create new and transformative experiences, and anthropology, a science that studies the diversity of experience. “When we explore the overlap of art and anthropology," says Riskin, “we find deep and complex connections.”</p> <p>A cross-disciplinary class development grant from MIT’s Center for Art, Science and Technology (CAST) allowed Riskin and Jones to make this timely exploration. The qualities of experience that students in 21A.S01 are studying have a new relevance in our era, as artificial intelligence becomes ever more a part of our daily lives and we begin to encounter machines that seem to think, see, and understand — that can seem to have a life of their own. People perceive and experience such technology in a wide range of ways, including with wonder, anxiety, excitement, delight, fear, uncertainty, and affection.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Experiential learning</strong>

</p> <p>Students in the course are making anthropological and artistic explorations of such perceptions, using a humanistic lens to better understand our evolving relationship to technology. The experiences generated in the class give students a chance to consider the ways human beings make meaning around multilayered and enigmatic experiences, including interactions with advanced technologies.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“The students are learning about the course content experientially,” says Riskin. “It’s a new method for many of the students that draws on art practice and perception.” 21A.S01 asks students to use a mix of creative interpretation, theoretical understanding, and personal reflection as well as technical knowledge and information.</p> <p>“This approach allows us to learn along with our students,” Jones adds. “I’m constantly discovering things that enrich my anthropological understanding, and that I want to fold back into future iterations of the class. This is precisely why CAST’s support is so transformative.”</p> <p>Students in the course are first introduced to anthropological readings and artistic creations — from kinetic art to ritual objects — then strive to develop an understanding of how the human mind can perceive these works as alive, aware, or responsive. CAST’s support also ensures that students have the resources to develop their own demos and engineer experiences that can produce wonder, uncertainty, or fascination.

</p> <p><strong>A laboratory for the visual arts</strong>

</p> <p>The course runs in the MIT Museum Studio and Compton Gallery, a bustling, glass-walled workshop and experimental exhibition gallery in Building 10 operated by the MIT Museum.</p> <p>Home to a creative community of practice exploring commonalities between scientific and artistic methods, the space dazzles with the lights and sounds of large-scale technological art pieces made by past students. Divided into alternating studio sessions and seminars, led respectively by Riskin and Jones, the course was developed by the two instructors collaboratively. “What’s interesting to us is looking at the kind of uncanny experiences or perceptions that can give rise to complex beliefs,” says Jones.&nbsp;
</p> <p>“When you write about those things in an anthropological text you’re containing the power of the experience with language, analysis, and critical commentary,” he adds. “A part of what we wanted to explore with technological works of art is the possibility of engendering those kinds of experiences and perceptions and dwelling on them, focusing on experiencing their power.”&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“We talk about the minimal amount of signal it takes for something to be perceived as human-like,” says class member Erica Yuen, a second-year graduate student in the MEng program. “Turns out that it doesn’t take that much. The course has challenged my perception of reality because it has shown that we project our past experiences onto ambiguous signals to create a story.”</p> <p><strong>Engineering emotive machines?</strong></p> <p>In one studio session focused on abstraction and ambiguity, students are presented with a thin sheet of translucent paper and an array of small lights. Using webcams and other sensors, the students can create real-time variations in the lights misted by paper. At the end of the studio session, one group has created a simple, soft glowing orb that used ultrasonic signals to detect movement. If someone moves too quickly or got too close, the orb vanishes, only to slowly reappear elsewhere on the array. Presenting the creation to the class, a fidget too close to the sensors means that the entire apparatus went dark.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Careful,” says one student, “you’re scaring it!”</p> <p>Why do we assign emotion and narrative to nonhuman, nonnarrative visuals? That’s one of the foundational questions of the course, and to begin to answer it, students explore the moments of ambiguity where those perceptions begin.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Artists are interested in playing with states of indeterminacy or states of ambiguity,” says Jones. “Often the best art is powerful precisely because it can’t be resolved into any one simple interpretation, and the value of the artwork really hinges on the possibility that multiple interpretations might simultaneously be true, and not mutually exclusive. We’re trying to carve out a complementary space between anthropological ideas and artistic expression — in terms of these experiential moments of interpretive uncertainty.”</p> <p>In one studio session focused on ambiguous mechanical motion, Liv Koslow, a senior majoring in mathematics, shows off her team’s demo: reacting to speed and proximity, the different materials of their mechanism move — some predictably, some unpredictably. While the machine doesn’t have a function the way that, say, a Roomba or a surveillance drone might, Koslow explains that the principle of its interaction with humans is the same: The machine is designed to immediately indicate an ability to sense and react — except in this case, it’s also conveying the appearance of emotive behavior.</p> <p>The students don’t only work with ambiguity around machines’ perceived behavior. Using a metallic material that, through simple pressure changes, can be made to appear fluid, Ether Bezugla, a sophomore majoring in electrical engineering and computer science, demonstrates how design elements can elevate or manipulate human perception. Bezugla, who was drawn to the class by their interest in exploring ambiguity of the senses, uses this surprising design exercise to “explore the threshold at which a person perceives abnormality” and begins trying to make meaning to explain it.</p> <p><strong>The applications of ambiguity</strong></p> <p>Jones’s anthropological research has long focused on entertainment magic — what we think of as stage magic, tricks, and illusions. 21A.S01 is a departure for him; the class is about wonder, not illusion. Ironically, he says, “some of the fiercest critics of wondrous, enigmatic experiences can be magicians because they understand how easily people can be misled in their beliefs.”</p> <p>The concepts developed in this course bring key questions and insights about human perception into contact with the cutting edge of human-interfacing technology: How can technologies deepen human experience and enrich the inner landscape? How do we push technology to feel more “alive” or more human? What — as we chat with Alexa or name our Roombas — makes us treat our technology as if it really has a life of its own?</p> <p>Yuen says the illuminating experiences of the class will inform her work in a computational approach to cognitive sciences. Working with the most minute aspects of perception and reaction, she also plans to apply the experiences of Paranormal Machines to her artwork on ambiguity and facial structures.&nbsp;</p> <p>Riskin sees the class as a contribution to what MIT President L. Rafael Reif has termed the “bilingual” educational mission at MIT: for students to develop expertise in both technical and humanistic fields and ways of exploring and knowing. “Connecting across disciplinary languages, in this case, art and anthropology, brings precision and method to what we mean by bilingual intelligence and how it adds up in a learning experience,” Riskin says.</p> <p><em>Story prepared by SHASS Communications</em>
</p> <p><em>Editorial Team: Alison Lanier and Emily Hiestand </em>
</p> Prathima Muniyappa (with camera) and other class members examining a student demo. In studying various ambiguous images and works, students discover how emotional content and prior experiences contribute to what we think we see. Image: Graham JonesClasses and programs, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Anthropology, Arts, Students, MIT Museum, Technology and society, MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST) Better autonomous “reasoning” at tricky intersections Model alerts driverless cars when it’s safest to merge into traffic at intersections with obstructed views. Mon, 04 Nov 2019 12:44:49 -0500 Rob Matheson | MIT News Office <p>MIT and Toyota researchers have designed a new model to help autonomous vehicles determine when it’s safe to merge into traffic at intersections with obstructed views.</p> <p>Navigating intersections can be dangerous for driverless cars and humans alike. In 2016, roughly 23 percent of fatal and 32 percent of nonfatal U.S. traffic accidents occurred at intersections, according to a 2018 Department of Transportation study. Automated systems that help driverless cars and human drivers steer through intersections can require direct visibility of the objects they must avoid. When their line of sight is blocked by nearby buildings or other obstructions, these systems can fail.</p> <p>The researchers developed a model that instead uses its own uncertainty to estimate the risk of potential collisions or other traffic disruptions at such intersections. It weighs several critical factors, including all nearby visual obstructions, sensor noise and errors, the speed of other cars, and even the attentiveness of other drivers. Based on the measured risk, the system may advise the car to stop, pull into traffic, or nudge forward to gather more data.</p> <p>“When you approach an intersection there is potential danger for collision. Cameras and other sensors require line of sight. If there are occlusions, they don’t have enough visibility to assess whether it’s likely that something is coming,” says Daniela Rus, director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “In this work, we use a predictive-control model that’s more robust to uncertainty, to help vehicles safely navigate these challenging road situations.”</p> <p>The researchers tested the system in more than 100 trials of remote-controlled cars turning left at a busy, obstructed intersection in a mock city, with other cars constantly driving through the cross street. Experiments involved fully autonomous cars and cars driven by humans but assisted by the system. In all cases, the system successfully helped the cars avoid collision from 70 to 100 percent of the time, depending on various factors. Other similar models implemented in the same remote-control cars sometimes couldn’t complete a single trial run without a collision.</p> <p>Joining Rus on the paper are: first author Stephen G. McGill, Guy Rosman, and Luke Fletcher of the Toyota Research Institute (TRI); graduate students Teddy Ort and Brandon Araki, researcher Alyssa Pierson, and postdoc Igor Gilitschenski, all of CSAIL; Sertac Karaman, an MIT associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics; and John J. Leonard, the Samuel C. Collins Professor of Mechanical and Ocean Engineering of MIT and a TRI technical advisor.</p> <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> <p><strong>Modeling road segments</strong></p> <p>The model is specifically designed for road junctions in which there is no stoplight and a car must yield before maneuvering into traffic at the cross street, such as taking a left turn through multiple lanes or roundabouts. In their work, the researchers split a road into small segments. This helps the model determine if any given segment is occupied to estimate a conditional risk of collision.</p> <p>Autonomous cars are equipped with sensors that measure the speed of other cars on the road. When a sensor clocks a passing car traveling into a visible segment, the model uses that speed to predict the car’s progression through all other segments. A probabilistic “Bayesian network” also considers uncertainties — such as noisy sensors or unpredictable speed changes — to determine the likelihood that each segment is occupied by a passing car.</p> <p>Because of nearby occlusions, however, this single measurement may not suffice. Basically, if a sensor can’t ever see a designated road segment, then the model assigns it a high likelihood of being occluded. From where the car is positioned, there’s increased risk of collision if the car just pulls out fast into traffic. This encourages the car to nudge forward to get a better view of all occluded segments. As the car does so, the model lowers its uncertainty and, in turn, risk.</p> <p>But even if the model does everything correctly, there’s still human error, so the model also estimates the awareness of other drivers. “These days, drivers may be texting or otherwise distracted, so the amount of time it takes to react may be a lot longer,” McGill says. “We model that conditional risk, as well.”</p> <p>That depends on computing the probability that a driver saw or didn’t see the autonomous car pulling into the intersection. To do so, the model looks at the number of segments a traveling car has passed through before the intersection. The more segments it had occupied before reaching the intersection, the higher the likelihood it has spotted the autonomous car and the lower the risk of collision.</p> <p>The model sums all risk estimates from traffic speed, occlusions, noisy sensors, and driver awareness. It also considers how long it will take the autonomous car to steer a preplanned path through the intersection, as well as all safe stopping spots for crossing traffic. This produces a total risk estimate.</p> <p>That risk estimate gets updated continuously for wherever the car is located at the intersection. In the presence of multiple occlusions, for instance, it’ll nudge forward, little by little, to reduce uncertainty. When the risk estimate is low enough, the model tells the car to drive through the intersection without stopping. Lingering in the middle of the intersection for too long, the researchers found, also increases risk of a collision.</p> <p><strong>Assistance and intervention</strong></p> <p>Running the model on remote-control cars in real-time indicates that it’s efficient and fast enough to deploy into full-scale autonomous test cars in the near future, the researchers say. (Many other models are too computationally heavy to run on those cars.) The model still needs far more rigorous testing before being used for real-world implementation in production vehicles.</p> <p>The model would serve as a supplemental risk metric that an autonomous vehicle system can use to better reason about driving through intersections safely. The model could also potentially be implemented in certain “advanced driver-assistive systems” (ADAS), where humans maintain shared control of the vehicle.</p> <p>Next, the researchers aim to include other challenging risk factors in the model, such as the presence of pedestrians in and around the road junction.</p> MIT and Toyota researchers have designed a new model that weighs various uncertainties and risks to help autonomous vehicles determine when it’s safe to merge into traffic at intersections with objects obstructing views, such as buildings blocking the line of sight. Image courtesy of the researchersResearch, Computer science and technology, Algorithms, Robotics, Robots, Autonomous vehicles, Automobiles, Artificial intelligence, Machine learning, Transportation, Technology and society, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), School of Engineering Homegrown help: Seeding a culture of innovation in Nigeria MIT Professional Education delivers Radical Innovation course to help civil servants modernize government and promote economic development. Thu, 31 Oct 2019 15:20:01 -0400 MIT Professional Education <p>Nigeria may not be known as a global hub for innovation, but officials there hope someday it will be. And they’ve recruited <a href=";utm_medium=web&amp;utm_campaign=IP-2020">MIT Professional Education</a> to help jump-start the process.</p> <p>In September, more than 80 top federal civil service officials from across ministries, departments and government agencies in Nigeria gathered in the capital city of Abuja to attend Radical Innovation, a two-day intensive training course taught by Sanjay Sarma, the Fred Fort Flowers and Daniel Fort Flowers Professor of Mechanical Engineering and vice president of open learning at MIT.</p> <p><strong>From shareholders to stakeholders</strong></p> <p>Sarma has taught tailored versions of the <a href=";utm_medium=web&amp;utm_campaign=SP-RI-2020">Radical Innovation</a> course nearly two dozen times all over the world, but his participants are typically corporate professionals. This was one of the few times he spoke to an audience of career civil servants.&nbsp;</p> <p>“These are people struggling with issues such as road construction, fisheries, and environmental impact — all in the same room,” says Sarma. “It actually brought me back to my own roots. My father was a civil servant in India. So, I was already familiar with some of the unique challenges civil servants face, having grown up in a developing country.”</p> <p>Participants came to learn how the government can leverage innovation to deliver services more effectively to the public and promote economic diversity. According to Sarma, there was a universal openness to new ideas and willingness to embrace change. Everyone was looking to start some type of innovation, such as how data could be used to improve fisheries. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“I was struck by how caring and open-minded these civil servants were. They were globally-minded, well-educated, and diverse as well. In fact, more than half of the enrollees were women, which I thought was remarkable,” says Sarma. What’s more, two of those women are mothers of students who are currently attending MIT. But the MIT connections don’t end there.</p> <p><strong>Ties that bind</strong></p> <p>The seed for bringing Radical Innovation to Africa was planted in 2012 when Gideon Adogbo, a civil servant, enrolled in Sarma’s Radical Innovation course on campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This course is part of the <a href=";utm_medium=web&amp;utm_campaign=SP-ICERT-2020">Innovation and Technology Professional Certificate</a><em> </em>offered through MIT Professional Education, and Adogbo was among the first cohort of participants who received the certificate. Since then, he has taken numerous courses, such as <a href=";utm_medium=web&amp;utm_campaign=SP-ACS-2020">Applied Cybersecurity</a> and <a href=";utm_medium=web&amp;utm_campaign=SP-AM3D-2020">Additive Manufacturing: From 3D Printing to the Factory Floor</a>, but Radical Innovation stood out for him. Adogbo became determined to bring the course to Nigeria.&nbsp;</p> <p>Adogbo is the special assistant (technical) to the head of the Civil Service of the Federation in Nigeria. Several years ago, government leaders there launched an ambitious initiative to boost innovation in technology and accelerate entrepreneurship. A key priority of the 2017-20 Federal Civil Service Strategy and Implementation Plan was to drive innovation in service. To help realize that goal, Adogbo recommended the federal government seek the assistance of MIT Professional Education. The Nigerian Office of the President soon reached out — and, in keeping with MIT’s mission to advance knowledge that will best serve the world in the 21st century, Sarma and Bhaskar Pant, executive director of MIT Professional Education, agreed to step in and help.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Nigeria, among the larger nations in Africa, is developing rapidly, and the federal government there is determined to break out of old bureaucratic ways. It wants to modernize and enable greater transparency and entrepreneurship within the country, to ultimately serve as a shining example of success for the rest of Africa. We feel honored to have been chosen to spur new innovative thinking among those in the country responsible to bring about change, via Sanjay Sarma’s globally popular MIT Professional Education course on innovation,” says Pant.</p> <p>“This is indeed a time of change. Innovation is happening worldwide, and that creates both opportunities and challenges for governments and private companies alike,” says Sarma. “It makes sense that Nigeria would start with innovation training for civil servants. In my view, they are the unheralded champions of all the systems that make a country work. And I hope the knowledge we shared will help them succeed.”</p> <p><strong>A bright future ahead </strong></p> <p>It doesn’t end here. Pant says his unit hopes to engage with other governments and the private sector in Africa to help develop similar programs that promote innovative thinking and practices.</p> <p>“I was born in southern Africa, so I have a particular affinity to help bring the best of MIT to Africa. With this first-ever MIT Professional Education course delivered in Africa, we have made a great beginning. Spreading knowledge for the greater good is at the heart of what MIT represents,” says Pant.</p> During an MIT Professional Education Radical Innovation course in Abuja, Nigeria, acting head of service of the federation Folasade Yemi-Esan declared the era of bureaucracy is over and civil servants must embrace new innovations for better service delivery. During an MIT Professional Education Radical Innovation course in Abuja, Nigeria, acting head of service of the federation Folasade Yemi-Esan declared the era of bureaucracy is over and civil servants must embrace new innovations for better service delivery. MIT's Bhaskar Pant and Sanjay Sarma are seen standing to her right and left, respectively.Photo: Lu MenMIT Professional Education, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Leadership, Global, Faculty, Technology and society, International initiatives, International development, Africa Helping autonomous vehicles see around corners By sensing tiny changes in shadows, a new system identifies approaching objects that may cause a collision. Sun, 27 Oct 2019 23:59:59 -0400 Rob Matheson | MIT News Office <p>To improve the safety of autonomous systems, MIT engineers have developed a system that can sense tiny changes in shadows on the ground to determine if there’s a moving object coming around the corner. &nbsp;</p> <p>Autonomous cars could one day use the system to quickly avoid a potential collision with another car or pedestrian emerging from around a building’s corner or from in between parked cars. In the future, robots that may navigate hospital hallways to make medication or supply deliveries could use the system to avoid hitting people.</p> <p>In a paper being presented at next week’s International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS), the researchers describe successful experiments with an autonomous car driving around a parking garage and an autonomous wheelchair navigating hallways. When sensing and stopping for an approaching vehicle, the car-based system beats traditional LiDAR — which can only detect visible objects — by more than half a second.</p> <p>That may not seem like much, but fractions of a second matter when it comes to fast-moving autonomous vehicles, the researchers say.</p> <p>“For applications where robots are moving around environments with other moving objects or people, our method can give the robot an early warning that somebody is coming around the corner, so the vehicle can slow down, adapt its path, and prepare in advance to avoid a collision,” adds co-author Daniela Rus, director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “The big dream is to provide ‘X-ray vision’ of sorts to vehicles moving fast on the streets.”</p> <p>Currently, the system has only been tested in indoor settings. Robotic speeds are much lower indoors, and lighting conditions are more consistent, making it easier for the system to sense and analyze shadows.</p> <p>Joining Rus on the paper are: first author Felix Naser SM ’19, a former CSAIL researcher; Alexander Amini, a CSAIL graduate student; Igor Gilitschenski, a CSAIL postdoc; recent graduate Christina Liao ’19; Guy Rosman of the Toyota Research Institute; and Sertac Karaman, an associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT.</p> <p><strong>Extending ShadowCam</strong></p> <p>For their work, the researchers built on their system, called “ShadowCam,” that uses computer-vision techniques to detect and classify changes to shadows on the ground. MIT professors William Freeman and Antonio Torralba, who are not co-authors on the IROS paper, collaborated on the earlier versions of the system, which were presented at conferences in 2017 and 2018.</p> <p>For input, ShadowCam uses sequences of video frames from a camera targeting a specific area, such as the floor in front of a corner. It detects changes in light intensity over time, from image to image, that may indicate something moving away or coming closer. Some of those changes may be difficult to detect or invisible to the naked eye, and can be determined by various properties of the object and environment. ShadowCam computes that information and classifies each image as containing a stationary object or a dynamic, moving one. If it gets to a dynamic image, it reacts accordingly.</p> <p>Adapting ShadowCam for autonomous vehicles required a few advances. The early version, for instance, relied on lining an area with augmented reality labels called “AprilTags,” which resemble simplified QR codes. Robots scan AprilTags to detect and compute their precise 3D position and orientation relative to the tag. ShadowCam used the tags as features of the environment to zero in on specific patches of pixels that may contain shadows. But modifying real-world environments with AprilTags is not practical.</p> <p>The researchers developed a novel process that combines image registration and a new visual-odometry technique. Often used in computer vision, image registration essentially overlays multiple images to reveal variations in the images. Medical image registration, for instance, overlaps medical scans to compare and analyze anatomical differences.</p> <p>Visual odometry, used for Mars Rovers, estimates the motion of a camera in real-time by analyzing pose and geometry in sequences of images. The researchers specifically employ “Direct Sparse Odometry” (DSO), which can compute feature points in environments similar to those captured by AprilTags. Essentially, DSO plots features of an environment on a 3D point cloud, and then a computer-vision pipeline selects only the features located in a region of interest, such as the floor near a corner. (Regions of interest were annotated manually beforehand.)</p> <p>As ShadowCam takes input image sequences of a region of interest, it uses the DSO-image-registration method to overlay all the images from same viewpoint of the robot. Even as a robot is moving, it’s able to zero in on the exact same patch of pixels where a shadow is located to help it detect any subtle deviations between images.</p> <p>Next is signal amplification, a technique introduced in the first paper. Pixels that may contain shadows get a boost in color that reduces the signal-to-noise ratio. This makes extremely weak signals from shadow changes far more detectable. If the boosted signal reaches a certain threshold — based partly on how much it deviates from other nearby shadows —&nbsp;ShadowCam classifies the image as “dynamic.” Depending on the strength of that signal, the system may tell the robot to slow down or stop.</p> <p>“By detecting that signal, you can then be careful. It may be a shadow of some person running from behind the corner or a parked car, so the autonomous car can slow down or stop completely,” Naser says.</p> <p><strong>Tag-free testing</strong></p> <p>In one test, the researchers evaluated the system’s performance in classifying moving or stationary objects using AprilTags and the new DSO-based method. An autonomous wheelchair steered toward various hallway corners while humans turned the corner into the wheelchair’s path. Both methods achieved the same 70-percent classification accuracy, indicating AprilTags are no longer needed.</p> <p>In a separate test, the researchers implemented ShadowCam in an autonomous car in a parking garage, where the headlights were turned off, mimicking nighttime driving conditions. They compared car-detection times versus LiDAR. In an example scenario, ShadowCam detected the car turning around pillars about 0.72 seconds faster than LiDAR. Moreover, because the researchers had tuned ShadowCam specifically to the garage’s lighting conditions, the system achieved a classification accuracy of around 86 percent.</p> <p>Next, the researchers are developing the system further to work in different indoor and outdoor lighting conditions. In the future, there could also be ways to speed up the system’s shadow detection and automate the process of annotating targeted areas for shadow sensing.</p> <p>This work was funded by the Toyota Research Institute.</p> MIT engineers have developed a system for autonomous vehicles that senses tiny changes in shadows on the ground to determine if there’s a moving object coming around the corner, such as when another car is approaching from behind a pillar in a parking garage.Research, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), Aeronautical and astronautical engineering, School of Engineering, Computer science and technology, Algorithms, Robotics, Robots, Autonomous vehicles, Automobiles, Artificial intelligence, Machine learning, Transportation, Technology and society J-PAL North America announces first partners through Work of the Future Innovation Competition Partners will work with J-PAL North America to develop randomized evaluations addressing today’s rapidly shifting labor market. Fri, 25 Oct 2019 10:00:00 -0400 J-PAL North America <p>J-PAL North America, a research center at MIT, will partner with four organizations to test promising models to help workers navigate the shifting labor market as part of the center’s inaugural <a href="" target="_blank">Work of the Future Innovation Competition</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>Currently in its first year, J-PAL North America’s <a href="" target="_blank">Work of the Future Initiative</a> provides direct support to organizations and agencies interested in evaluating programs or policies related to the changing nature of work in North America. In the coming year, J-PAL North America will partner with the <a href="">Center for Work Education and Employment (CWEE)</a>, <a href="">Checkr</a>, the<a href="" style="text-decoration-line: none;"> </a><a href="">City of Los Angeles Mayor's Innovation Team</a>, and the <a href="">Montana Department of Labor and Industry</a> to develop and support rigorous evaluations of programs seeking to improve outcomes for workers. These programs aim to reduce barriers to employment, support workers as they navigate the complex job market, and bolster jobseekers’ abilities to secure and retain quality work.&nbsp;</p> <p>"It's exciting to see so many promising proposals in just the first year of the Work of the Future Initiative," says Lawrence Katz, co-scientific director of J-PAL North America and academic advisor to the Work of the Future Initiative. "We're hopeful that the initiative can continue to generate this level of enthusiasm as it seeks to develop promising programs and identify effective methods to help workers navigate the shifting labor market."&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>CWEE is a workforce development agency based in Denver, Colorado, that provides low-income parents, the majority of whom are Temporary Assistance for Needy Families recipients, with complete career readiness and retention skills. CWEE will partner with J-PAL North America to develop an evaluation on the impact of its intensive case management and career readiness program on employment outcomes.&nbsp;</p> <p>“CWEE has been supporting low-income families in the Denver metro community for almost four decades, so it feels incumbent upon us to&nbsp; take a deeper dive and better understand how the programs and support provided contribute to economic mobility,” says Katy Hamilton, CEO of CWEE. “It’s rare for a nonprofit of our size to have an opportunity like this to learn from the foremost thinkers in the space of academic assessments and social programs.”</p> <p>Checkr is a background-check company focused on making hiring more inclusive and efficient. J-PAL North America will partner with Checkr to evaluate if the implementation of the Positive Adjudication Matrix (PAM) can reduce bias in the background-check and hiring process. PAM allows employers to deem certain types of offenses irrelevant to the roles for which they’re hiring. Companies can then choose to either filter out or de-emphasize these criminal records.&nbsp;</p> <p>“We believe advanced technology plays a critical role in reducing hiring bias,” says Checkr Co-Founder and CEO Daniel Yanisse. “With rigorous research, we can better develop products to ensure a fairer, more inclusive hiring process.”</p> <p>The Mayor’s Innovation Team (i-team) works with Los Angeles, California, city departments to closely examine complex challenges and discover innovative solutions that can improve the quality of life in LA. The LA i-team will partner with J-PAL North America to design an evaluation of a program that helps job seekers better access employment services at the city's WorkSource Centers. The i-team seeks to apply behavioral science techniques and use technology to support job seekers, increase usage of the centers’ resources, and improve job placements that create opportunities for Angelenos and lift families out of poverty.</p> <p>“Our mission is simple: We want to help people get access to resources that can change their lives,” says Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. “This partnership will help us expand that work — so that more Angelenos have opportunities to find a career, support their families, contribute to the economy, and strengthen our communities.”&nbsp;</p> <p>The Montana Department of Labor and Industry (MTDLI) is a government agency that promotes the well-being of Montana’s workers, employers, and citizens. MTDLI will partner with J-PAL North America to evaluate the effectiveness of Reemployment Services and Eligibility Assessments, a national program for individuals claiming unemployment insurance who have been identified as likely to exhaust their UI benefits.</p> <p>“All organizations must set priorities and find the most effective solutions using limited resources, and MTDLI is no different. MTDLI strives to provide top-notch services to Montana’s workforce in cost-effective and successful ways,” says Barbara Wagner, chief economist at MTDLI. “Using data and research to drive decision-making helps us focus our resources on the best solutions, therefore allowing us to have a greater impact on our workers, businesses, and economy.”</p> <p>In working with these four organizations J-PAL North America looks to support the development of randomized evaluations of strategies and innovations that address the changing nature of work in North America. Partnerships with the Center for Work Education and Employment, Checkr, the City of Los Angeles, and the Montana Department of Labor and Industry will help J-PAL North America generate solutions that increase opportunity, reduce disparities, and help all workers navigate shifts in the labor market.</p> <p>J-PAL North America is a regional office of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab. J-PAL was established in 2003 as a research center at MIT’s Department of Economics. Since then, it has built a global network of affiliated professors based at over 58 universities and regional offices in Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. J-PAL North America was established with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and Arnold Ventures and works to improve the effectiveness of social programs in North America through three core activities: research, policy outreach, and capacity building. The Work of the Future Initiative was launched with support from Arnold Ventures, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Gerri and Rich Wong Family.</p> <div></div> Two career seekers work in the Center for Work Education and Employment’s (CWEE) computer lab with a digital literacy instructor. CWEE is one of four organizations to partner with the Work of the Future Initiative to design an evaluation of their program. Photo: Center for Work Education and EmploymentAbdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), Economics, Technology and society, Jobs, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences System prevents speedy drones from crashing in unfamiliar areas Drones can fly at high speeds to a destination while keeping safe “backup” plans if things go awry. Fri, 25 Oct 2019 09:21:43 -0400 Rob Matheson | MIT News Office <p>Autonomous drones are cautious when navigating the unknown. They creep forward, frequently mapping unfamiliar areas before proceeding lest they crash into undetected objects. But this slowdown isn’t ideal for drones carrying out time-sensitive tasks, such as flying search-and-rescue missions through dense forests. &nbsp;</p> <p>Now MIT researchers have developed a trajectory-planning model that helps drones fly at high speeds through previously unexplored areas, while staying safe.</p> <p>The model — aptly named “FASTER” — estimates the quickest possible path from a starting point to a destination point across all areas the drone can and can’t see, with no regard for safety. But, as the drone flies, the model continuously logs collision-free “back-up” paths that slightly deviate from that fast flight path. When the drone is unsure about a particular area, it detours down the back-up path and replans its path. The drone can thus cruise at high speeds along the quickest trajectory while occasionally slowing down slightly to ensure safety.</p> <p>“We always want to execute the fastest path, but we don’t always know it’s safe. If, as we move along this fastest path, we discover there’s a problem, we need to have a backup plan,” says Jesus Tordesillas, a graduate student in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AeroAstro) and first author on a paper describing the model being presented at next month’s International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems. “We obtain a higher velocity trajectory that may not be safe and a slow-velocity trajectory that’s completely safe. The two paths are stitched together at first, but then one deviates for performance and the other for safety.”</p> <p>In forest simulations, where a virtual drone navigates around cylinders representing trees, FASTER-powered drones safely completed flight paths about two times quicker than traditional models. In real-life tests, FASTER-powered drones maneuvering around cardboard boxes in a large room achieved speeds of 7.8 meters per second. That’s pushing limits for how fast the drones can fly, based on weight and reaction times, the researchers say.</p> <p>“That’s about as fast as you can go,” says co-author Jonathan How, the Richard Cockburn Maclaurin Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics. “If you were standing in a room with a drone flying 7 to 8 meters per second in it, you’d probably take a step back."</p> <p>The paper’s other co-author is Brett T. Lopez, a former PhD student in AeroAstro and now a postdoc at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.</p> <p><strong>Splitting paths </strong></p> <p>Drones use cameras to capture environment as voxels, 3D cubes generated from depth information. As the drone flies, each detected voxel gets labeled as “free-known space,” unoccupied by objects, and “occupied-known space,” which contains objects. The rest of the environment is “unknown space.”&nbsp;</p> <p>FASTER utilizes all of those areas to plan three types of trajectories — “whole,” “safe,” and “committed.” The whole trajectory is the entire path from starting point A to goal location B, through known and unknown areas. To do so, “convex decomposition,” a technique that breaks down complex models into discrete components, generates overlapping polyhedrons that model those three areas in an environment. Using some geometric techniques and mathematical constraints, the model uses these polyhedrons to compute an optimal whole trajectory.</p> <p>Simultaneously, the model plans a safe trajectory. Somewhere along the whole trajectory, it plots a “rescue” point that indicates the last moment a drone can detour to unobstructed free-known space, based on its speed and other factors. To find a safe destination, it computes new polyhedrons that cover the free-known space. Then, it locates a spot inside these new polyhedrons. Basically, the drone stops in a spot that’s safe but as close as possible to unknown space, enabling a very quick and efficient detour.</p> <p><strong>Committed trajectory</strong></p> <p>The committed trajectory consists of the first interval of the whole trajectory, as well as the entire safe trajectory. But this first interval is independent of the safe trajectory, and therefore it is not affected by the braking needed for the safe trajectory.</p> <p>The drone computes one whole trajectory at a time, while always keeping track of the safe trajectory. But it’s given a time limit: When it reaches the rescue point, it must have successfully computed the next whole trajectory through known or unknown space. If it does, it will continue following the whole trajectory. Otherwise, it diverts to the safe trajectory. This approach enables the drone to maintain high velocities along the committed trajectories, which is key to achieving high overall speeds.</p> <p>For this to all work, the researchers designed ways for the drones to process all the planning data very quickly, which was challenging. Because the maps are so varied, for instance, the time limit given to each committed trajectory initially varied dramatically. That was computationally expensive and slowed down the drone’s planning, so the researchers developed a method to quickly compute fixed times for all the intervals along the trajectories, which simplified computations. The researchers also designed methods to reduce how many polyhedrons the drone must process to map its surroundings. Both of those methods dramatically increased planning times.</p> <p>"How to increase the flight speed and maintain safety is one of the hardest problems for drone’s motion planning,” says Sikang Liu, a software engineer at Waymo, formerly Google’s self-driving car project, and an expert in trajectory-planning algorithms. “This work showed a great solution to this problem by enhancing the existing trajectory generation framework. In the trajectory optimization pipeline, the time allocation is always a tricky problem that could lead to convergence issue and undesired behavior. This paper addressed this problem through a novel approach … which could be an insightful contribution to this field."</p> <p>The researchers are currently building larger FASTER-powered drones with propellers designed to enable steady horizontal flight. Traditionally, drones will need to roll and pitch as they’re flying. But this custom drone would stay completely flat for various applications.</p> <p>A potential application for FASTER, which has been developed with support by U.S. Department of Defense,&nbsp;could be improving search-and-rescue missions in forest environments, which present many planning and navigational challenges for autonomous drones. “But the unknown area doesn’t have to be forest,” How says. “It could be any area where you don’t know what’s coming, and it matters how quickly you acquire that knowledge. The main motivation is building more agile drones.”</p> MIT researchers have developed a trajectory-planning model that helps drones fly more safely at high speeds through previously unexplored areas, which could aid search-and-rescue missions through dense forests.Research, Aeronautical and astronautical engineering, School of Engineering, Computer science and technology, Algorithms, Autonomous vehicles, Drones, Robots, Robotics, Computer vision, Technology and society MIT Press to develop a sustainable framework for open access monographs $850,000 grant from Arcadia will allow exploration of alternatives to the traditional market-based business model for professional and scholarly monographs. Mon, 07 Oct 2019 16:10:01 -0400 Jessica Pellien | MIT Press <p>The MIT Press has received a three-year $850,000 grant from <a href="" target="_blank">Arcadia</a>, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, to perform a broad-based monograph publishing cost analysis and to develop and openly disseminate a durable financial framework and business plan for open-access (OA) monographs. The press, <a href="" target="_blank">a leader in OA publishing</a> for almost 25 years, will also undertake a pilot program to implement the resulting framework for scholarly front- and backlist titles.</p> <p>Amy Brand, director of the MIT Press and principal investigator for the grant, sees it as an opportunity to explore alternatives to the traditional market-based business model for professional and scholarly monographs. “Until the mid-1990s, most U.S. university presses could count on sales of 1,300–1,700 units, but today monograph sales are typically in the range of 300–500 units,” says Brand. “Many presses make up this difference with internal subsidies or subventions from institutional or philanthropic sources, but this is not sustainable and often unpredictable. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, this generous award from Arcadia will allow us to develop and test a flexible OA sustainability model that can then be adapted to the needs of our peers.”</p> <p>There is growing consensus within the university press community that publishing academic monographs through a durable OA model may be the best way to advance scholarship and fulfill their mission. The U.S.-based Association of University Presses comprises 148 member presses that collectively publish approximately 15,000 monographs per year. Crafting and promoting a viable OA model for this community — and leading the way, as the MIT Press intends to do — would represent a major breakthrough.</p> <p>Work on the grant is scheduled to start in 2019 and the first grant-funded OA monographs will be available in 2020. At the conclusion of the grant in June 2022, MIT Press will openly share a robust, blended OA model that the university press community can adopt, and adapt, paving the way for the many scholarly monographs published each year by university presses and other mission-based scholarly publishers to be more readily discovered, accessed, and shared.</p> <p>“We know the content we produce is highly valued by scholars and librarians. Broad and comprehensive availability of OA scholarly works published by university presses will increase the impact of research and contribute significantly to the knowledge-sharing mission of the academy,” concludes Brand.</p> MIT Press, Open access, Open source, Digital humanities, Grants, Books and authors, Technology and society MIT.nano awards inaugural NCSOFT seed grants for gaming technologies Five software and hardware projects will launch the MIT.nano Immersion Lab Gaming Program. Mon, 30 Sep 2019 15:20:01 -0400 MIT.nano <p>MIT.nano has announced the first recipients of NCSOFT seed grants to foster hardware and software innovations in gaming technology. The grants are part of the new MIT.nano Immersion Lab Gaming program, with inaugural funding provided by video game developer NCSOFT, a founding member of the MIT.nano Consortium.</p> <p>The newly awarded projects address topics such as 3-D/4-D data interaction and analysis, behavioral learning, fabrication of sensors, light field manipulation, and micro-display optics.&nbsp;</p> <p>“New technologies and new paradigms of gaming will change the way researchers conduct their work by enabling immersive visualization and multi-dimensional interaction,” says MIT.nano Associate Director Brian W. Anthony. “This year’s funded projects highlight the wide range of topics that will be enhanced and influenced by augmented and virtual reality.”</p> <p>In addition to the sponsored research funds, each awardee will be given funds specifically to foster a community of collaborative users of MIT.nano’s Immersion Lab.</p> <p>The MIT.nano Immersion Lab is a new, two-story immersive space dedicated to visualization, augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), and the depiction and analysis of spatially related data. Currently being outfitted with equipment and software tools, the facility will be available starting this semester for use by researchers and educators interested in using and creating new experiences, including the seed grant projects.&nbsp;</p> <p>The five projects to receive NCSOFT seed grants are:</p> <p><strong>Stefanie Mueller: connecting the virtual and physical world</strong></p> <p>Virtual game play is often accompanied by a prop — a steering wheel, a tennis racket, or some other object the gamer uses in the physical world to create a reaction in the virtual game. Build-it-yourself cardboard kits have expanded access to these props by lowering costs; however, these kits are pre-cut, and thus limited in form and function. What if users could build their own dynamic props that evolve as they progress through the game?</p> <p>Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) Professor Stefanie Mueller aims to enhance the user’s experience by developing a new type of gameplay with tighter virtual-physical connection. In Mueller’s game, the player unlocks a physical template after completing a virtual challenge, builds a prop from this template, and then, as the game progresses, can unlock new functionalities to that same item. The prop can be expanded upon and take on new meaning, and the user learns new technical skills by building physical prototypes.</p> <p><strong>Luca Daniel and Micha Feigin-Almon: replicating human movements in virtual characters</strong></p> <p>Athletes, martial artists, and ballerinas share the ability to move their body in an elegant manner that efficiently converts energy and minimizes injury risk. Professor Luca Daniel, EECS and Research Laboratory of Electronics, and Micha Feigin-Almon, research scientist in mechanical engineering, seek to compare the movements of trained and untrained individuals to learn the limits of the human body with the goal of generating elegant, realistic movement trajectories for virtual reality characters.</p> <p>In addition to use in gaming software, their research on different movement patterns will predict stresses on joints, which could lead to nervous system models for use by artists and athletes.</p> <p><strong>Wojciech Matusik: using phase-only holograms</strong></p> <p>Holographic displays are optimal for use in augmented and virtual reality. However, critical issues show a need for improvement. Out-of-focus objects look unnatural, and complex holograms have to be converted to phase-only or amplitude-only in order to be physically realized. To combat these issues, EECS Professor Wojciech Matusik proposes to adopt machine learning techniques for synthesis of phase-only holograms in an end-to-end fashion. Using a learning-based approach, the holograms could display visually appealing three-dimensional objects.</p> <p>“While this system is specifically designed for varifocal, multifocal, and light field displays, we firmly believe that extending it to work with holographic displays has the greatest potential to revolutionize the future of near-eye displays and provide the best experiences for gaming,” says Matusik.</p> <p><strong>Fox Harrell: teaching socially impactful behavior</strong></p> <p>Project VISIBLE — Virtuality for Immersive Socially Impactful Behavioral Learning Enhancement — utilizes virtual reality in an educational setting to teach users how to recognize, cope with, and avoid committing microaggressions. In a virtual environment designed by Comparative Media Studies Professor Fox Harrell, users will encounter micro-insults, followed by major micro-aggression themes. The user’s physical response drives the narrative of the scenario, so one person can play the game multiple times and reach different conclusions, thus learning the various implications of social behavior.</p> <p><strong>Juejun Hu: displaying a wider field of view in high resolution</strong></p> <p>Professor Juejun Hu from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering seeks to develop high-performance, ultra-thin immersive micro-displays for AR/VR applications. These displays, based on metasurface optics, will allow for a large, continuous field of view, on-demand control of optical wavefronts, high-resolution projection, and a compact, flat, lightweight engine. While current commercial waveguide AR/VR systems offer less than 45 degrees of visibility, Hu and his team aim to design a high-quality display with a field of view close to 180 degrees.</p> The MIT.nano Immersion Lab will provide an array of software and hardware for NCSOFT seed grant recipients and other researchers at MIT who are investigating augmented reality, virtual reality, and the display and analysis of spatially related data. Photo: Tom Gearty/MIT.nanoMIT.nano, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), Research Laboratory of Electronics, Mechanical engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, Video games, Augmented and virtual reality, Computer science and technology, Artificial intelligence, Collaboration, Technology and society, Grants, Funding, Research, Sensors, Industry, Nanoscience and nanotechnology Using math to blend musical notes seamlessly Algorithm enables one audio signal to glide into another, recreating the “portamento” effect of some musical instruments. Fri, 27 Sep 2019 00:00:00 -0400 Rob Matheson | MIT News Office <p>In music, “portamento” is a term that’s been used for hundreds of years, referring to the effect of gliding a note at one pitch into a note of a lower or higher pitch. But only instruments that can continuously vary in pitch — such as the human voice, string instruments, and trombones — can pull off the effect.</p> <p>Now an MIT student has invented a novel algorithm that produces a portamento effect between any two audio signals in real-time. In experiments, the algorithm seamlessly merged various audio clips, such as a piano note gliding into a human voice, and one song blending into another. His paper describing the algorithm won the “best student paper” award at the recent International Conference on Digital Audio Effects.</p> <p>The algorithm relies on “optimal transport,” a geometry-based framework that determines the most efficient ways to move objects — or data points — between multiple origin and destination configurations. Formulated in the 1700s, the framework has been applied to supply chains, fluid dynamics, image alignment, 3-D modeling, computer graphics, and more.</p> <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> <p>In work that originated in a class project, Trevor Henderson, now a graduate student in computer science, applied optimal transport to interpolating audio signals — or blending one signal into another. The algorithm first breaks the audio signals into brief segments. Then, it finds the optimal way to move the pitches in &nbsp;each segment to pitches in the other signal, to produce the smooth glide of the portamento effect. The algorithm also includes specialized techniques to maintain the fidelity of the audio signal as it transitions.</p> <p>“Optimal transport is used here to determine how to map pitches in one sound to the pitches in the other,” says Henderson, a classically trained organist who performs electronic music and has been a DJ on <a href="">WMBR 88.1</a>, MIT’s radio station. “If it’s transforming one chord into a chord with a different harmony, or with more notes, for instance, the notes will split from the first chord and find a position to seamlessly glide to in the other chord.”</p> <p>According to Henderson, this is one of the first techniques to apply optimal transport to transforming audio signals. He has already used the algorithm to build equipment that seamlessly transitions between songs on his radio show. DJs could also use the equipment to transition between tracks during live performances. Other musicians might use it to blend instruments and voice on stage or in the studio.</p> <p>Henderson’s co-author on the paper is Justin Solomon, an X-Consortium Career Development Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Solomon —&nbsp;who also plays cello and piano —&nbsp;leads the Geometric Data Processing Group in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and is a member of the Center for Computational Engineering.</p> <p>Henderson took Solomon’s class, 6.838 (Shape Analysis), which tasks students with applying geometric tools like optimal transport to real-world applications. Student projects usually focus on 3-D shapes from virtual reality or computer graphics. So Henderson’s project came as a surprise to Solomon. “Trevor saw an abstract connection between geometry and moving frequencies around in audio signals to create a portamento effect,” Solomon says. “He was in and out of my office all semester with DJ equipment. It wasn’t what I expected to see, but it was pretty entertaining.”</p> <p>For Henderson, it wasn’t too much of a stretch. “When I see a new idea, I ask, ‘Is this applicable to music?’” he says. “So, when we talked about optimal transport, I wondered what would happen if I connected it to audio spectra.”</p> <p>A good way to think of optimal transport, Henderson says, is finding “a lazy way to build a sand castle.” In that analogy, the framework is used to calculate the way to move each grain of sand from its position in a shapeless pile into a corresponding position in a sand castle, using as little work as possible. In computer graphics, for instance, optimal transport can be used to transform or morph shapes by finding the optimal movement from each point on one shape into the other.</p> <p>Applying this theory to audio clips involves some additional ideas from signal processing. Musical instruments produce sound through vibrations of components, depending on the instrument. Violins use strings, brass instruments use air inside hollow bodies, and humans use vocal cords. These vibrations can be captured as audio signals, where the frequency and amplitude (peak height) represent different pitches.&nbsp;</p> <p>Conventionally, the transition between two audio signals is done with a fade, where one signal is reduced in volume while the other rises. Henderson’s algorithm, on the other hand, smoothly slides frequency segments from one clip into another, with no fading of volume.</p> <p>To do so, the algorithm splits any two audio clips into windows of about 50 milliseconds. Then, it runs a Fourier transform, which turns each window into its frequency components. The frequency components within a window are lumped together into individual synthesized “notes.” Optimal transport then maps how the notes in one signal’s window will move to the notes in the other.</p> <p>Then, an “interpolation parameter” takes over. That’s basically a value that determines where each note will be on the path from its starting pitch in one signal to its ending pitch in the other. Manually changing the parameter value will sweep the pitches between the two positions, producing the portamento effect. That single parameter can also be programmed into and controlled by, say, a crossfader, a slider component on a DJ’s mixing board that smoothly fades between songs. As the crossfader slides, the interpolation parameter changes to produce the effect.</p> <p>Behind the scenes are two innovations that ensure a distortion-free signal. First, Henderson used a novel application of a signal-processing technique, called “frequency reassignment,” that lumps the frequency bins together to form single notes that can easily transition between signals. Second, he invented a way to synthesize new phases for each audio signal while stitching together the 50-millisecond windows, so neighboring windows don’t interfere with each other.</p> <p>Next, Henderson wants to experiment with feeding the output of the effect back into its input. This, he thinks, could automatically create another classic music effect, “legato,” which is a smooth transition between distinct notes. Unlike a portamento —&nbsp;which plays all notes between a start and end note —&nbsp;a legato seamlessly transitions between two distinct notes, without capturing any notes in between.</p> Trevor Henderson in the record library at WMBR, MIT’s student radio station.Image: Melanie Gonick, MITResearch, Computer science and technology, Algorithms, Music, Arts, Technology and society, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), School of Engineering Learning from MIT, learning from the field Robert Rains MS ’19 earned his master’s without putting his important work — improving safety and quality of life for struggling communities in Africa — on hold. Thu, 26 Sep 2019 16:00:01 -0400 Suzanne Day | MIT Open Learning <p>As project manager for an organization charged with improving conditions in austere and hostile environments in developing countries, Robert Rains MS ’19 has seen his share of high stakes, risky projects — responding to the Ebola outbreak in Africa, monitoring a ceasefire in South Sudan, and launching counter-poaching efforts in Tanzania and Democratic Republic of the Congo. He’s also a former member of the U.S. military, having served time in Iraq.&nbsp;</p> <p>His work in the field, as a member of the military and as a civilian, has prepared him well for the difficult conditions he faces every day in international development. “In the military, we made our living by being tough and durable,” he said.&nbsp;</p> <p>It was his work on the Ebola response that really impressed employers and helped him to land his first project manager role.&nbsp;</p> <p>At that point in his career, he joined a room full of project managers with long resumes — many of them with degrees and credentials in supply chain management.&nbsp;</p> <p>Motivated to add these qualifications to his resume as well, Rains sought further training through the <em>MITx</em> MicroMasters program in supply chain management. He felt that this would give him a competitive edge in securing projects, as well as prepare him for the more challenging ones in the future.&nbsp;</p> <p>Importantly, the program also allowed Rains the flexibility of time and geography to continue working across Africa.</p> <p>“The online program was very helpful in making sure that I could complete the bulk of that course work on my own schedule, which was very hectic,” Rains says. “Not only was I based in Africa at the time, but I moved countries almost every week. I had to study around different time zones and shifting work schedules.”</p> <p>The world’s first-ever MicroMaster’s program, the supply chain management credential is a rigorously assessed online educational pathway consisting of a series of courses that culminate in a digitally-delivered credential. The credential is recognized by employers and institutions as commensurate with one semester of graduate-level coursework at MIT. Successful credential earners must complete a demanding sequence of <em>MITx</em> massive open online courses (MOOCs) that demonstrates their mastery of the concepts and skills necessary for a strong foundation in the supply chain management profession.</p> <p>For Rains, the courses mirrored much of what he sees at work every day. When a community needed help getting proper nutrition, Rains applied the analytical and forecasting tools he learned in the courses to develop a nutrition program.&nbsp;</p> <p>“There’s always a supply chain component to the projects and programs we support, as much of the supplies that we bring in are not procured locally” he says. “We need to think carefully about what goes into sustaining something that we’re putting on the ground. We need to be sure that the life cycle extends beyond our putting things on the ground.”</p> <p>In late 2017, Rains successfully earned his credential — and decided that he wasn’t ready to stop there. With support from his employer, he took a six-month leave of absence from work to spend time on the MIT campus as a graduate student, earning his full master’s degree in supply chain management last May.&nbsp;</p> <p>The in-person experience, he says, was invaluable.&nbsp;</p> <p>“MIT really makes the most of the time on campus,” Rains says. “I appreciated the time we had to work together in teams, which was an important complement to the independent work we did online.”</p> <p>Now back at work in Africa, Rains is taking his experience in online and on-campus classrooms back to the field.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Pursuing this program put me in a position to advocate for solutions better,” he says. He explained that, using the systems-thinking strategies and project management tools he studied, “Now, I’m not just a field guy. I can advocate for things with a mix of my experience in the field and from a rigorous academic program.”</p> Robert Rains MS ’19 earned his master's degree in supply chain management from MIT, despite his limited time and challenging location, by first earning an MITx MicroMasters credential online.Photo: Yvonne Ng/MIT Open LearningMITx, Massive open online courses (MOOCs), Office of Open Learning, EdX, Classes and programs, Technology and society, Graduate, postdoctoral, MicroMasters, Alumni/ae, Global Helping lower-income households reap the benefits of solar energy Solstice makes community solar projects more accessible for people unable to invest in rooftop panels. Thu, 26 Sep 2019 00:00:00 -0400 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>Rooftop solar panels are a great way for people to invest in renewable energy while saving money on electricity. Unfortunately, the rooftop solar industry only serves a fraction of society.</p> <p>Many Americans are unable to invest in rooftop solar; they may be renters or lack the upfront money required for installations or live in locations that don’t get enough sun. Some states have tried to address these limitations with community solar programs, which allow residents to invest in portions of large, remote solar projects and enjoy savings on their electricity bills each month.</p> <p>But as community solar projects have exploded in popularity in the last few years, higher-income households have been the main beneficiaries. That’s because most developers of community solar arrays require residents to have high credit scores and sign long-term contracts.</p> <p>Now the community solar startup Solstice is changing the system. The company recruits and manages customers for community solar projects while pushing developers for simpler, more inclusive contract terms. Solstice has also developed the EnergyScore, a proprietary customer qualification metric that approves a wider pool of residents for participation in community solar projects, compared to the credit scores typically used by developers.</p> <p><strong>“</strong>We’re always pushing our developer partners to be more inclusive and customer-friendly,” says Solstice co-founder Sandhya Murali MBA ’15, who co-founded the company with Stephanie Speirs MBA ’17. “We want them to design contracts that will be appealing to the customer and kind of a no-brainer.”</p> <p>To date, Solstice has helped about 6,400 households sign up for community solar projects. The founders say involving a more diverse pool of residents will be essential to continue the industry’s breakneck growth.</p> <p>“We think it’s imperative that we figure out how to make this model of residential solar, which can save people money and has the power to impact millions of people across the country, scale quickly,” Murali says.</p> <p><strong>A more inclusive system</strong></p> <p>In 2014, Speirs had been working on improving access to solar energy in Pakistan and India as part of a fellowship with the global investment firm Acumen. But she realized developing countries weren’t the only areas that dealt with energy inequalities.</p> <p>“There are problems with solar in America,” Speirs says. “Eighty percent of people are locked out of the solar market because they can’t put solar on their rooftop. People who need solar savings the most in this country, low- to moderate-income Americans, are the least likely to get it.”</p> <p>Speirs was planning to come to MIT’s Sloan School of Management to pursue her MBA the following year, so she used a Sloan email list to see if anyone was interested in joining the early-stage venture. Murali agreed to volunteer, and although she graduated in 2015 as Speirs entered Sloan, Murali spent a lot of time on campus helping Speirs get the company off the ground. Speirs also received a fellowship from MIT's Legatum Center.</p> <p><strong>“</strong>Steph’s time at Sloan was focused on Solstice, so we kind of became an MIT startup,” Murali says. “I would say MIT sort of adopted Solstice, and we’ve grown since then with support from the school.”</p> <p>Community solar is an effective way to include residents in solar projects who might not have the resources to invest in traditional rooftop solar panels. Speirs says there are no upfront costs associated with community solar projects, and residents can participate by investing in a portion of the planned solar array whether they own a home or not.</p> <p>When a developer has enough resident commitments for a project, they build a solar array in another location and the electricity it generates is sent to the grid. Residents receive a credit on their monthly electric bills for the solar power produced by their portion of the project.</p> <p>Still, there are aspects of the community solar industry that discourage many lower-income residents from participating. Solar array developers have traditionally required qualified customers to sign long contracts, sometimes lasting 30 years, and to agree to cancellation fees if they leave the contract prematurely.</p> <p>Solstice, which began as a nonprofit to improve access to solar energy for low-income Americans, advocates for customers, working with developers to reduce contract lengths, lower credit requirements, and eliminate cancellation fees.</p> <p>As they engaged with developers, Solstice’s founders realized the challenges associated with recruiting and managing customers for community solar projects were holding the industry back, so they decided to start a for-profit arm of the company to work with customers of all backgrounds and income levels.</p> <p>“Solstice’s obsession is how do we make it so easy and affordable to sign up for community solar such that everyone does it,” Speirs says.&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2016, Solstice was accepted into The Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship’s delta v accelerator, where the founders began helping developers find customers for large solar projects. The founders also began developing a web-based customer portal to make participation in projects as seamless as possible.</p> <p>But they realized those solutions didn’t directly address the biggest factor preventing lower-income Americans from investing in solar power.</p> <p>“To get solar in this country, you either have to be able to afford to put solar on your rooftop, which costs $10,000 to $30,000, or you have to have the right FICO score for community solar,” Speirs says, referring to a credit score used by community solar developers to qualify customers. “Your FICO score is your destiny in this country, yet FICO doesn’t measure whether you pay your utility bills on time, or your cell phone bills, or rental bills.”</p> <p>With this in mind, the founders teamed up with data scientists from MIT and Stanford University, including Christopher Knittle, the George P. Shultz Professor at MIT Sloan, to create a new qualification metric, the EnergyScore. The EnergyScore uses a machine learning system trained on data from nearly 875,000 consumer records, including things like utility payments, to predict payment behavior in community solar contracts. Solstice says it predicts future payment behavior more accurately than FICO credit scores, and it qualifies a larger portion of low-to-moderate income customers for projects.</p> <p><strong>Driving change</strong></p> <p>Last year, Solstice began handling the entire customer experience, from the initial education and sales to ongoing support during the life of contracts. To date, the company has helped find customers for solar projects that have a combined output of 100 megawatts of electricity in New York and Massachusetts.</p> <p>And later this year, Solstice will begin qualifying customers with its EnergyScore, enabling a whole new class of Americans to participate in community solar projects. One of the projects using the EnergyScore will put solar arrays on the rooftops of public housing buildings in New York City in partnership with the NYC Housing Authority.</p> <p>Ultimately, the founders believe including a broader swath of American households in community solar projects isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also an essential part of the fight against climate change.</p> <p>“[Community solar] is a huge, untapped market, and we’re unnecessarily restricting ourselves by creating some of these contract barriers that make community solar remain in the hands of the wealthy,” Murali says. “We’re never going to scale community solar and make the impact on climate change we need to make if we don’t figure out how to make this form of solar work for everyone.”</p> Solstice works with solar developers to fund large, remote solar farms that communities can invest in.Image courtesy of SolsticeInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, Alumni/ae, Technology and society, Depression, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, Sloan School of Management, Energy, Solar, Renewable energy 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