Laboratory for Computer Science

The MIT Laboratory for Computer Science (LCS) is an interdepartmental laboratory whose principal goal is to create computer-communications technologies of high social utility with equal attention to forefront technological underpinnings and human utility.

Founded as Project on Mathematics and Computation (Project MAC) in 1963, the laboratory developed one of the world's earliest time-shared computer systems: the Compatible Time Sharing System (CTSS) and its successor, Multics, which laid the foundation for many of today's systems and approaches, such as virtual memory, tree directories, on-line scheduling algorithms, line and page editors, secure operating systems, access control techniques, computer-aided design, and two of the earliest computer games, space wars and computer chess. Our partner in the Multics effort, AT&T, used many of the early ideas in their design of Unix.

These early developments laid the foundation for the laboratory's work on knowledge based systems-the Macsyma program for symbolic mathematics-natural language understanding, and (with Bolt Beranek and Newman Inc. [BBN]) the development and use of packet networks in the Arpanet. In the late 1970s, Project MAC, renamed as the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science, embarked on research in clinical decision making, public cryptography, distributed systems and languages and parallel systems. These led to the RSA encryption algorithm, data abstractions which served as foundations of object oriented programming, the Clu and Argus distributed systems, the dataflow principle and associated languages and architectures of parallel systems (Monsoon, Id and StarT), local area networks, program specification and workstation development, where the laboratory contributed the earliest UNIX ports and compilers and the Nubus architecture. This research also led to the X Window System, a computer intercommunication and user interface system which was further developed by the Laboratory's X-Consortium and was widely used in over one thousand different software products. Since 1994, LCS has been the principal host of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) of some 450 organizations that helps set the standard of a continuously evolving World Wide Web (W3).

The laboratory's current research falls into four principal categories: information infrastructure and distributed systems; human-machine interaction; science and computer science research; and theory.

In the areas of information infrastructure and distributed systems, we wish to understand principles and develop technologies for the architecture and use of highly scaleable information infrastructures that interconnect human-operated and autonomous computers. Transactions among such distributed systems involve the purchase, sale and free exchange of information and information work toward electronic commerce and shopping, health care, education, business, government, and many other uses as well as increased automation of human work. We wish to explore new emerging forces such as collaboration across space and time and automation of computer-to-computer actions. We also expect this overall research to have a broad impact on future systems because virtually every machine will be connected to some information infrastructure and such infrastructures are expected to last for a very long time. The laboratory's World Wide Web Consortium is a significant and major focus of our work in this area.

In the human-machine interaction area, our technical goals are to understand and construct programs and machines that have greater and more useful sensory and cognitive capabilities so that they may communicate with one another and with people toward useful ends. The two principal areas of our focus are conversational spoken dialogue systems between people and machines and graphics systems used predominantly for output. In this area, we also strive to construct tomorrow's servers by harnessing the power and economy of numerous processors working on the same task; relevant research spans parallel hardware and software architectures, that yield cost-performance improvements of several orders of magnitude relative to single processors.

In the science and computer-science area, we are interested in exploring opportunities at the boundary of traditional science and information technology. Our research includes an extensive program of clinical decision systems research between medicine and computer science, and several research activities in biology and computer science.

Taken together, these three thrusts define the laboratory's overarching goal: development, understanding, and better human communication with tomorrow's information systems. In the laboratory's fourth category of research, theory, we strive to discover and understand the fundamental forces, rules, and limits of information science and technology. As a result, theoretical work permeates our research efforts in the other three areas; for example, in the pursuit of parallel algorithms, fault tolerant computer networks, and privacy and authentication of communications. Theory also touches on the logic of programs, the inherent complexity of computations, and the use of cryptography and randomness in the formal characterization of knowledge. The laboratory expends a great deal of effort in theoretical computer science because its impact upon our world is expected to continue its past record of improving our understanding and helping us pursue new frontiers with new models, concepts, methods, and algorithms.

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Oxygen Project

Oxygen is a project aimed at inventing and developing pervasive human-centered computers. It pulls together an abundance of technological resources toward creating a new breed of systems that cater to human-level needs, rather than machine-level details. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is a participant in its funding, as are six companies-Acer, Delta, Hewlett Packard, Nokia, NTT, and Philips-that share the project's goal and comprise the Oxygen Alliance. The project's duration is five years and occupies about one third of the LCS and Artificial Intelligence (AI) Lab (which collaborates with us toward the same goal). During the reporting period, Oxygen gave rise to multiple results, notably to the use of localization techniques and intentional naming to identify system resources; the us of a speech interface that permitted several research to start combining their research interests with spoken language; face recognition; collaborative work across space and time; and automation. Oxygen is a broad project, an integrative effort that cuts across the lab's four principal categories of research of LCS.


The Network and Mobile Systems (NMS) group has designed, implemented and evaluated "Cricket," a location-support system for in-building, mobile, location-dependent applications. It allows applications running on mobile and static nodes to learn their physical location and orientation by using "listeners" that hear and analyze information from "beacons" spread throughout the building. Cricket is the result of several design goals, including user privacy, decentralized administration, network heterogeneity, and low cost. Rather than explicitly tracing user location, Cricket helps devices learn where they are and lets them decide whom to advertise this information to; it does not rely on any centralized management or control, and there is no explicit coordination between beacons; it provides information to devices regardless of their type of network connectivity.

Spoken Language Systems

This group has recently decided to offer open source license for their Galaxy Communicator architecture for conversational systems, so that institutions worldwide can adopt this standard without encumbrance. While the group continues to conduct dialogue modeling research in order to support increasingly complex applications such as air travel planning, they also are starting to develop a set of tools that will enable developers and users to implement their own, simpler applications. These light systems, as they are called, will be particularly useful in the development of the Oxygen system.

World Wide Web Consortium

As of this report, 525 organizations have joined the consortium in order to participate in and contribute to the orderly evolution of the W3. With three hosts and 10 offices worldwide, the W3C is growing in influence, as offices succeed in promoting W3C work in specific regions. Key W3C technical developments include the advancement of the Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG 1.0) Specification to Proposed Recommendation. SVG delivers two-dimensional vector graphics and mixed vector and raster graphics to the Web in XML (Extensible Markup Language), ensuring accessibility, dynamism, reusability, and extensibility. During this reporting period, as the consortium size increases, it is facing, increasingly, the challenge of balancing a broad-based consensus for standards versus "driving" the web forward based on technological capabilities and opportunities.

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Organizational Changes

Ms. Rachel Oberai-Soltz has joined the lab as Director Industry Partnerships with responsibility for both LCS industry relations as well as relations with the Oxygen partners.

Distinguished Lecture Series

The laboratory's Distinguished Lecturer Series included presentations by Michael Stonebraker, Chief Technology Officer, Cohera Corporation; Robert Brodersen, Professor, University of California, Berkeley; Mark Horowitz, Professor, Stanford; and Lawrence Lessig, Professor, Stanford.

The laboratory is organized into 19 research groups, an administrative unit, and a computer service support unit. The laboratory's membership comprises a total of 440 people, including 109 faculty and research staff, 193 graduate students, 46 undergraduate students, 60 visitors, affiliates, and postdoctoral associates and fellows, and 32 support staff. The academic affiliation of most of the laboratory's faculty and students is with the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. About 38 percent of the laboratory's funding comes from the U.S. Government's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The laboratory is also funded by and has extensive links with industrial organizations. These include partnerships for the construction of major systems such as the Oxygen Alliance, and consortia for the development of standards, such as the World Wide Web and the Oxygen Alliance.

Michael L. Dertouzos

More information on Laboratory for Computer Science can be found online at

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