MIT Day 3 Summary

The agenda for the final day looked like this,

So the first main session was with Joost Bonsen from MIT. The focus of his presentation was entrepreneurship at MIT. He has made it his mission to keep an archive of alumni and curate their entrepreneurial activities as this wasn’t being done by MIT before.

MIT is an institution of relentless innovation.

This was a great session, Joost is a very entertaining and engaging speaker and we learnt so much about the history of MIT and Cambridge.

One thing I did not know is that Harvard tried to acquire MIT in 1904–1905 as they were scared about its success. With an overwhelming majority MIT alumni and faculty voted ‘no!’ (https://libraries.mit.edu/archives/exhibits/harvard-mit/). The merger would have meant that MIT effectively would have become the engineering school of Harvard.

Joost also talked about 20% passion time and when students are not attending class or doing homework they can spend their time in numerous labs and workshops around campus to work on passion projects. Students have great ideas and sometimes these projects develop over time and become successful inventions or startups. One such project turned out to be Lego Mindstorms, which is programmable Lego blocks and sensors that are used widely in schools all over the world, including Ravenswood. Sometimes these startups sell for millions and millions!

Joost showed us some interesting graphics, including these two:

This image shows the clusters of education, technology, research and more in this tiny part of Cambridge known as Kendall Square. It is an incredibly dense area of technology companies and all the top brands have a presence here, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, IBM, Yahoo, Twitter and many more.

http://www.radicalcartography.net/

The image above shows many of the educational organisations in the Boston area. It shows just how big the presence of education is here and how densely packed together they are. There is of course competition between the organisations but also lots of collaboration, especially between the medical facilities, and this means great sharing of knowledge, people and resources.

MIT was founded in 1861 just two days before the start of the American Civil War, so it officially opened in 1865. It began as an alternative to Harvard, whose motto is Veritas (Truth). Harvard was founded in 1636 and is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States.

https://cdn-assets.answersingenesis.org/img/blogs/georgia-purdom/2011/10/harvard_shield_wreath.png

The motto of MIT is Mens et Manus (Mind and Hand). MIT people are more concerned with the practical application of knowledge, making and doing. Stanford University in California is kind of a spin off of MIT and so is Caltech in California. The reach and influence of MIT is wide and significant.

William Barton Rogers, founder of MIT (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Barton_Rogers#/media/File:William_Barton_Rogers.jpg)

Our next session was about wearable devices by Sara Colomobo from the MIT Design Lab. Her presentation focused on both body and mind augmentation through wearable technology. She showed us some really incredible and futuristic technology, some of which is already at market.

For the body she divided the topic into these categories: walking assist, bio printing, body extension and brain implants. The technology in these categories was designed to improve the body in different ways. Walking assist for example she showed a Honda exoskeleton that helped workers who stand for long periods of time, especially if they have weak leg muscles.

http://world.honda.com/Walking-Assist/works/index.html

The brain implant sounded especially exciting and futuristic. By implanting a chip in the brain to sense brain activity the technology can then send a signal to another implant near a muscle to activate it. This is especially useful for people with paralysis.

Sara also talked about interactive wearables and the body becoming an interface. The Circet technology (https://cicret.com/wordpress/) projects your smart phone onto your wrist for you to interact with.

http://boredombash.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Circet-Bracelet.png

The benefits of this technology are that you can use your phone in extreme environments, such as under water.

There are lots of examples of medical applications for wearables. Some include ingestible pills that include sensors. The sensor can transmit data for a short period and communicate if the patient took their pill for example. Other examples are on skin sensors that monitor sweat and hydration levels.

Another example are smart contact lenses. Google is one company pursuing this technology. Their device aims to give you super vision, and offers a heads-up display, video cameras and sensors. These smart implants do not require surgery and can be taken on and off by the user at any time. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin have developed a contact lens that can instantly focus the eye. The smart lens includes electronic sensors and light sensors that are powered by a solar cell, all this built into a contact lens! The lens can detect when the eye needs to focus and can adjust the length of the focal length in the lens. Researchers say the technology is just 5 years away. Another project at Columbia University Medical Center is a smart contact lens that can tell if a patient’s glaucoma is progressing especially quickly. The patient wears the lens for 24 hours and the curvature of the eye is being constantly monitored during that time. From the data collected doctor’s get a much better idea on the progression of the disease.

When talking about the mind Sara divided the topic into these categories: assisted, improvements, mind activation and implants. The idea behind the technology is to improve and extend the mind. For example, brain implants to heal parts of the brain connected to memory to reactivate them to reconstruct cognitive ability after a brain injury.

As well as the technology there is the human experience. What do people feel and think when interacting with the technology. The tech needs to be meaningful and engaging. Sensory, cognitive and emotional experiences all need to be considered. A great success story is Fitbit. It appeals to all the senses and is a complete human experience.

Other issues to consider are ethics and how technology mediates human behaviour and relations.

The final presentation was about how to design for millennials by Yihyun Lim from the MIT Design Lab. Yihyun described the key characteristics of millennials and this was nicely summarised in the graphic below.

It was interesting to hear about the methods MIT take to understand their audience. They travel the world constantly to experience and engage with all sorts of cultures and people, they really put a lot of work into this.

The final part of the day was a tour of the MIT campus and the MIT Media Lab — heaven! The Media Lab (https://www.media.mit.edu/) is an incredible place. It is a collection of anti disciplinary groups committed to design and research to invent the future of social science, robotics, energy, interfaces, machine learning, social media, finance, VR and much more. There are currently 25 groups with names such as Design Fiction, Human Dynamics, Molecular Machines, Opera of the Future and Personal robots (full list https://www.media.mit.edu/research/?filter=groups). The group I am most interested in is Lifelong Kindergarten (https://www.media.mit.edu/groups/lifelong-kindergarten/overview/). They are the creators of Scratch coding, Lego Mindstorms and the Makey Makey, all resources we use at Ravenswood. These are some of the best resources I have ever used so to go to the place where they were conceived was a real thrill for me and it felt like a really exciting place to be. We visited the Lifelong Kindergarten group and this was the only group we were allowed inside the lab to have a closer look, hence the photos below.

We also had a quick tour of the MIT campus and in particular we visited the Frank Gehry designed Ray and Maria Stata Center. The building is home to the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems (LIDS) and the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy. It is a stunning building and reminds me of the Dr Chau Chak Wing building which is part of UTS in Sydney. When the Stata Center opened in 2004, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Robert Campbell wrote in the Boston Globe that the building is “a work of architecture that embodies serious thinking about how people live and work, and at the same time shouts the joy of invention.”

Very, very happy to be at the home of Scratch!
Scratch cat selfie
MIT Media Lab
Drinking from the fire hose inside the Stata Center
Ray and Maria Stata Center

Thank you to Ravenswood School for Girls for allowing me this tremendous opportunity, it wouldn’t have happened without you.

References

Elgan, M 2016, Why a smart contact lens is the ultimate wearable, Computerworld, accessed 13 July 2017, <http://www.computerworld.com/article/3066870/wearables/why-a-smart-contact-lens-is-the-ultimate-wearable.html>.

Stein, J 2013, Millennials: The Me Me Me Generation, Time, accessed 13 July 2017, <http://time.com/247/millennials-the-me-me-me-generation/>.