MIT Reports to the President 1999–2000


For the Media Laboratory, 1999—2000 has been a banner year for new projects and new directions, both at MIT and abroad. In May, the Lab announced a 10-year collaboration with the Republic of Ireland to establish MediaLabEurope (MLE) in Dublin. This independent, university-level educational center is the culmination of several years of negotiation with the Irish government, and represents the first time that the Media Lab will attempt to replicate its unique research culture away from the MIT campus. During its first eight years of operation, MLE expects to grow to a community of 20 faculty members and 35 full- and part-time research staff, with first collaborations focusing on learning and education, arts and expression, and e-commerce. To facilitate the free exchange of information, the Media Lab and MLE will share all intellectual property developed over the initial 10-year period.

Back in Cambridge, the Lab has been moving ahead with plans for a new seven-story complex that will roughly double the size of its current space. The new building, which will be adjacent—and connected—to the current Media Lab, will house the Okawa Center for children, learning, and developing nations. It will also house two additional centers: one focused on the underlying science and technology needed to merge the bits of the digital world with the atoms of the physical world; and a second focused on arts and expression. The new building, being designed by Pritzker Prize winner Fumihiko Maki, is scheduled to be completed in 2003.

The challenge for the next several years will be for us to undertake these ventures without slipping into the mainstream–holding on to the counter culture and "outlandishness" that have defined the Lab to this point. We have often said that being different is hard, but we may find that staying different is even harder.


A sampling of 1999—2000 Media Laboratory research accomplishments includes:

An innovative way to use atomic force microscopy to create "write-once" terabit-per-square-inch data storage—like a CD, but capable of holding 5,000 times as much information in the same space.

Nami, a decentralized, distributed network of orbs that display a wave-like wash of color by communicating with each other. This could become the model for localized networks for everyday household use, where all your consumer products become "nodes" that integrate themselves into a single network with minimum effort.

A smart kitchen counter, which has been augmented with an overhead projection system and sensing device. While a Web page with cooking instructions is projected onto the counter, a hidden sensing device allows the counter to "know" where the cook’s hands are, responding with appropriate instructions.

A new technology to mass produce super-cheap transistors by printing them directly onto a plastic substrate using a solution of cadmium selenide nanocrystals.

Expressive Footwear (sneakers to be exact) that sport a wireless suite of sensors, microcomputer, and data link that measure more than a dozen different parameters of motion and feed this information wirelessly into a PC, which uses a unique program to turn the movements into sound.

Tradable bits, called i-balls (information balls)–simple computer programs, such as an animation or game, that kids can create, carry around, modify, and trade with one another by using small, hand-held and wearable computers
(i-sockets), opening up a new world of digital interaction in the schoolyard, bus, or neighborhood.

Reputation agents that help take some of the risk out of online transactions—rewarding reputable customers with lower prices, and making it more difficult for unreliable buyers and sellers to participate in e-commerce.

Wireless "digital town centers," capable of providing even the most remote and underdeveloped areas of the world with telephone, e-mail, and Web access. The centers are designed to bring new forms of medical care, education, entertainment, and commerce to remote areas.

Affective computing, which will give "emotional intelligence" to computers, making them more "reasonable" when it comes to interacting with people. Tomorrow’s affective computers will be able to sense what delights or frustrates you, or even figure out if it’s a good time to interrupt.

Wearable computing, which allows us to move beyond PCs and laptops and wear our computers as we would eyeglasses or clothing. One collaborative project with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art involves a wearable computer that adds a layer of audio-visual narrative to a visitor’s trip through an art gallery.

Expressive synthetic characters that inhabit virtual environments and interact autonomously in response to users’ actions, appearing to have minds of their own.

New ways of joining the physical environment and cyberspace by making "tangible bits" accessible through everyday physical surfaces like walls or desktops, and eventually through household surfaces like refrigerator doors.

A new class of low-cost, wireless sensors that can be used to bring digital functionality to low-cost consumer products. An example would be a 5 wireless temperature sensor that could be embedded in cookware or packaging for food or medicine.

Audio Spotlight, which uses ultrasound to project audio to highly specific locations, so that a person standing only a few feet away from someone else can be listening to an entirely different broadcast, with no distraction.

More effective, meaningful online news services. These range from Time Frames, a tool to make online news more relevant by augmenting a general news source with small amounts of information specific to the reader, to Brico, a computer knowledge base that understands the meaning of words to create "sense tagging" for multilingual translations.


Research sponsors

In Fiscal Year 2000, the Media Laboratory’s total sponsor volume reached $30.5 million. Corporate sponsors gave over $28 million (92%). The remaining $2.5 million came from government funding and subcontracts with other universities.

New directed research sponsors included: ATR, which supported Professor Alex Pentland and his Perceptual Computing group; Lucent Technologies, which supported Professor Mitchel Resnick’s work with the Boston Youth and Community Connections Program; Intel Foundation, which provided a grant for Professor Resnick’s work with the Intel Computer Clubhouse Network; and Sega Enterprises, which provided a grant to support Professor Tod Machover’s Toy Symphony project.

Corporate research partners

Intel Corporation, a long-time sponsor, and two new sponsors, the United States Postal Service and eircom, have recently joined the Media Laboratory at the Corporate Research Partner level. Corporate Research Partner status gives these companies membership in all of the Lab’s consortia and special interest groups.


New sponsors joining the Lab's other consortia include:

Digital Life

Charmed Technology, Frontline, Harman International Industries, Ltd., Masco Corporation, McDonald’s, Merrill Lynch, Royal Ahold nv, Try Group, Inc., Viant Corporation and

News in the Future

Things That Think

Agilent, Amgen, Center for Future Health/University of Rochester, Chevron Information Technology, Daimler Chrysler, International Paper Company, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc., Lear Corporation, Marks & Spencer plc, Mars, Inc., NCR Corporation, Saab AB, Schott Glas, Shell Oil Company, and Sun Microsystems

Special interest groups

One new special interest group, e-markets, was established in Fiscal Year 2000. This group focuses on new forms that transactions may take in a networked world, and explores the new social and economic order that may result.


Several of the Laboratory’s most generous sponsors continued to support the Laboratory through corporate fellows programs. In total, twelve corporations supported fellowship programs during FY’00.

Four sponsors, eircom, LEGO, McDonald’s and Toshiba, funded new fellowship programs, while BT, Chanowski (Origin), IBM, Interval Research Corporation, Merrill Lynch, Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories (MERL), Motorola, and Telecom Italia continued ongoing programs, supporting the following fellows:

BT: Brian Clarkson, Vanessa Colella, Kai-yuh Hsiao, F. Joseph Pompei, Nitin Sawhney, and Jim Youll.

Chanowski (Origin): Tom White.

eircom: Constantine (Dean) Christakos, Daniele De Francesco, Aisling Kelliher, Maggie Orth, Jonah Peretti and James Jung-Hoon Seo.

IBM: Ari Adler, Michael Best, Benjamin Fry, Vadim Gerasimov, Jeremy Levitan, Yael Maguire, Bakhtiar Mikhak, Ravikanth Pappu, Brygg Ullmer and Sunil Vemuri.

Interval Research Corporation: Mike Ananny, Erik Blankinship, Karrie Karahalios, Pengkai Pan.

LEGO: Phil Frei, Saul Griffith and Claudia Urrea.

McDonald’s: LaShaun Collier, Wendy Ju and Daniel Stevenson.

Merrill Lynch: Ta-gang (David) Chiou, Golan Levin, Bradley Rhodes, and Sybil Shearin.

Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories (MERL): James Patten.

Motorola: Rick Borovoy, Emily Cooper, Rich Fletcher, Cameron Marlow, Stefan Marti, Robert Poor and Matthew Reynolds.

Telecom Italia: Natalia Marmasse, Joan Morris, and Adam Smith.

Toshiba: Ari Benbasat, Rich DeVaul and Ali Mazalek.


To help finance the new Media Lab complex, we are establishing a number of named laboratories.

In October 1999, the Media Laboratory announced a $5-million grant from Swatch, Ltd. to establish the Nicolas G. Hayek Swatch Laboratory. The new lab will focus on the design and invention of artifacts and systems that contribute to improving the quality of life in a wide range of consumer-oriented domains, such as wearables, telecommunication products, and automobiles.

The Lab also announced a grant totaling more than $5.6 million from MasterCard International to establish the MasterCard Future of Transactions Laboratory and research fund. The MasterCard Laboratory will explore the new forms that transactions, including payment transactions, may take in a networked world, and will examine the new social and economic order that may result from these changes.

In December, the Lab announced a $6-million grant from Telefonos de Mexico, S. A. (Telmex) to establish the Telemex Laboratory for Information Technologies and to support Telmex fellows. This new laboratory will provide a focus for the Media Lab’s work in communications and development, and will reflect a mutual commitment to meaningful technological innovation, specifically in developing solutions that are technologically and economically well suited to the Mexican, North American, and Latin American markets.

The Media Lab also announced a BT Laboratory, established through a grant in excess of $6.5 million from BT. The new lab will allow BT and the Media Lab to work together to pursue new applications in mediated communications.

All four new laboratories will have temporary homes in the Wiesner building, and will be relocated to the new Media Lab building when it is completed.


In Fiscal Year 2000, the Media Laboratory received over $360,000 in equipment from the following companies: Compaq, Intel, Nortel Networks, and Symbol Technologies.


New appointments

Michael Schrage joined the Laboratory as co-director of the e-markets special interest group. A former research affiliate of the Media Laboratory, Schrage is a Merrill Lynch Forum Innovation Fellow, has written several books, and has served as a contributing editor and columnist for several newspapers and journals.

The facilities group at the Media Lab welcomed four new staff members this fiscal year: Kevin Davis and Mathew Tragert joined as facilities coordinators; Jan De Kenis joined as an administrative staff assistant, replacing Sandra Gordon who left the Lab to relocate to Spain; and John DeFrancesco, who brings 20 years of previous MIT experience to the Lab, joined as a fabrication resources coordinator.

The Lab also made several research staff appointments during 1999—00: Bakhtiar Mikhak was appointed research scientist in the Epistemology and Learning group for three years, beginning in June; Warren Sack was appointed research scientist in the Epistemology and Learning group for six months, beginning in March; and Timothy McNerney was given a three-month (February through April) appointment as a research specialist in the Context Aware Computing group. Elisabeth Sylvan was given a one-year appointment as empirical studies manager for the Gesture and Narrative Language group, beginning in April.

The Laboratory appointed six new technical staff members during the past year: Chi Yuen joined as Unix systems administrator in October, replacing An Ho who left the Laboratory after 11 years to relocate to California. Jeannie Finks joined as web designer/content manager in October 1999. Trevor Schroeder joined as systems administrator in January, replacing Fred Donovan who left the Lab to accept another position at MIT. Noah Fields joined as systems programmer in May, replacing Jon Ferguson who left the Lab to join a start-up software company. Michael Ratta joined as network engineer in April, replacing William Glesnes who left the Lab to join a start-up software company. Tanya Pfeffer joined the Laboratory as an administrative computing support specialist in May.

New visitors and affiliates

Tetsuro Chino from Toshiba Corporation was appointed as research affiliate in the Vision and Modeling group from January 1, 2000 to December 31, 2000.

Barry Kort and Robert Reilly were appointed part-time visiting scholars in the Affective Computing group from May 1, 2000 to April 30, 2002.

Charles Doria from the US Postal Service was appointed as research affiliate in the Physics and Media group from April 1, 2000 to March 31, 2003.

Arthur Tauder was appointed as visiting scholar in the News in the Future Consortium from April 1, 2000 to March 31, 2001.


Several administrative assistants were promoted to staff during 1999—00: Chad Brustin was promoted to project coordinator for the Arts and Expression group; Joanne Broekhuizen was promoted to executive assistant to Bruce Bullock, the managing director of the Media Laboratory; and Greg Wiberg was promoted to contract administrator in the Finance and Administration group


Two members of the Lab’s finance staff left during Fiscal Year 2000: Sarah Brady, who served as senior financial administrator for the past three years, left to accept another position at MIT, and Melissa Yoon, who was a fiscal officer, left to explore other career options. Other departures included Dennis Irving, facilities coordinator, who left the Lab to relocate to Florida, and Michael Genrich, administrative computing support specialist, who left to join a start-up software company.

More information about the Media Laboratory can be found at

Nicholas Negroponte


Media Laboratory Sponsors


*Members of all consortia and special interest groups


Digital Life (DL)

News in the Future (NiF)

Things That Think (TTT)





Counter Intelligence


Gray Matters

Penny PC

Toys of Tomorrow (TOT)




Muriel R. Cooper Memorial Professorship

MIT Reports to the President 1999–2000