entirely funded by the military can be a concern because military
funding tends to stipulate what and how information can be
shared. I became interested in unmanned aerial vehicles, or
UAVs, while researching the Afghan Explorer. I learned of
at least two cases of weddings being bombed by UAVs, based
on the images the controller saw. Anyone who has taken a basic
photography or media studies class realizes that our reaction
to images is based on our beliefs and biases, as well as by
who presents the photos. It is risky to make life or death
decisions based on grainy video.
of using planes or balloon has existed since at least World
War I. At that time, engineers and scientists working for
the Department of Ordinance in the U.S. Army covered up new
technology because they felt weapons should only be used against
the military, not civilians. By suppressing this information,
they prevented knowledge of the technology from proceeding
to higher powers. When the knowledge finally did reach military
leaders the technology was mass-produced, but was not put
to use before the armistice. This shows that humans and ethics
can have control over technology.
humans control technology, my group is trying to stage an
intervention in a specific use of UAVs. America’s Border
Patrol and a militia group called the Minutemen Project are
using UAVs to find immigrants crossing the U.S. – Mexican
border. Once found, these immigrants are rounded up and held
in the sun with rifles and attack dogs. We are developing
our own UAV. It is harmless, but will capture documentation
of these illegal activities. We are planning this in coordination
with the Southern Poverty Center and the American Civil Liberties
my students was concerned that the government can find out
more about us than we can find out about them and was especially
worried about new laws, such as the Homeland Security Act
and the U.S. Patriot Act. Admiral Poindexter, of Iran Contra
fame, runs an information database, called “Total Information
Awareness.” This database includes information on everyone
in the world, and somehow calculates each person’s terrorist
index. This is an invasion of privacy.
Ryan created the “Government Information Awareness”
database. It allowed users to find information about people
in government, a sort of Citizens Intelligence Agency, if
you will. He included automated closed-captioning on CSPAN1
and CSPAN2 and digitized faces. Then he linked the database
to open public information sites. The site launched on July
4, 2003 and immediately crashed. We have since added more
was interested in Ryan’s project and he appeared on
some news stations. He explained that GIA is a system that
allows citizens to add information. When asked about violating
the privacy of government officials, he replied that if secretly
selling information about citizens is legal, openly sharing
information must be legal. The database is not intended for
citizens to use to tattle on politicians. However, this site
is important to maintaining a democracy, he said, since technology
is currently being used to create an uneven balance of power.
ask people which of these three things is not like the others?
A TV, a computer, or a paintbrush. People often immediately
point to the paintbrush, because both televisions and computers
are information distribution technologies invented in the
twentieth century. However, we are not going to get the most
out of computers until we learn to see computers more like
paintbrushes and less like TVs. And while some people do use
television actively, they have the perception of them as one-way
information distributors. People also need to shift their
view of computers, which they see in much the same way as
with the Lifelong Kindergarten
Group. Shifting this view of computers is especially important
in education, where computers are primarily used for the distribution
of information. This may be because people tend to think of
education as the passing of information from one person to
another. So, we want to rethink how we think about technology
and education in order to get more out of them. Education
and technology should involve a learning process of creation
and self-expression. A good model of this is kindergarten.
Kindergartners use blocks to design and create structures,
and collaborate with others. Most people seem to think that
kindergarten works pretty well, so why doesn’t the rest
of the educational system work so well? Today, new technologies
can fill this gap. The Media Lab has adopted some of these
technologies and we want to spread this approach to others.
my projects brings children together with programmable Lego
bricks. This takes something from the culture of childhood
and extends its capabilities with new technology. Children
learn how to build robotic devices and learn a great deal
in the process. When we brought this to Singapore, it seemed
to be a success with both students and teachers. However,
when we asked a teacher how the technology would be incorporated
into the classroom, she said that this sort of project would
be reserved for an after-school activity. It would not be
part of the classroom. This was interesting because earlier
in our visit we spoke with the Ministry of Education, who
said that kids were scoring very high on math and science
exams, yet were not prepared for the real world. These students
were not used to thinking creatively and coming up with new
solutions. So, how can creativity be supported inside and
project is our invention workshop for girls. The girls created
projects that were personally meaningful to them. One student
created a gerbil trap, something that piqued her interest
because she made it for her gerbil. Another student, an avid
rollerblader, created an odometer for rollerblades. Another
student, a fifth-grader, created a marble machine for a science
fair. When asked to describe past projects, she could not
remember many and did not seem animated by them. However,
she was engaged while describing the “slopes and loops”
of her marble machine. At first, her teacher said that her
project didn’t fit the traditional scientific model,
since it lacked a hypothesis, data gathering, and a model.
But of course her project did involve several trials, data
collection on these trials, and investigation.
started the Computer
Clubhouses, a network of after-school clubs for kids from
low-income communities. At the first clubhouse we started,
there was a boy named Mike. He was a 16-year old dropout who
had never used a computer. He liked drawing and used the computer
to help him do this; at first he only used it to help him
color his drawings. Then he began to add layering and text
to his pictures, something he could not have done without
the computer. Other kids began to notice his work and asked
him for advice on their projects. It is important to realize
that no one had ever asked Mike for advice before. He took
this responsibility seriously, and when he noticed his drawings
were a model for others, he removed the gang and violence
imagery from his work. Mike went on to get his high school
equivalency and took a job in graphic design. In the words
of John Dewey, “education should be about learning how
to make not just a living, but also a life.” Not only
did Mike find a job, but he also changed in how he thought
about himself. And, thanks to Intel, there are now over 90
clubhouses around the world.
There are still some difficult problems to solve in these
clubhouses. Students rarely program, even when introduced
to it. So, the next effort is to have kids make important
conceptual connections with programming. SCRATCH is our latest
project that deals with this issue. Students can make an object,
such as a cat, move or turn, by giving it commands.
is to identify rich learning processes and to develop the
creative thinking skills that kids need in order to succeed
in careers and lead interesting and satisfying lives. Also,
we hope this generation will have more opportunities to think
creatively and constantly design as part of their careers.
We want this technology and a creative approach to reach both
the mainstream and those on the margins.
SINGER, MIT: Mitch, I love your faith in the kids,
because they are the future. I find it humorous to hear about
what seem to be polar opposites: political change and kindergarten.
I can think of students who struggle, here at MIT or at any
elementary school, and it is often a challenge to motivate
them to learn. Where does fact-learning fit into the educational
process? Before critical thinking, after it, or during the
process of learning how to think critically?
If we allow students to engage in critical thinking, we allow
them to determine what the facts are. They can come up with
new ideas. For example, if we had asked students what they
could create, they would have named things that already exist.
When they actually go through the process of designing and
building, they can come up with new inventions or ideas.
The girl who made an odometer for her rollerblades was motivated
to learn multiplication because it was meaningful to her.
We are opening up alternate ways to learning.
How could an adult explore these new technologies in the Boston
There are adults needed to mentor at Computer Clubhouses.
These mentors do not just have to teach, but can also gain
experience with new technology.
Is the “Government Information Awareness” site
It is not active right now because the student graduated.
I am also skeptical of corporation funding. How is your research
and interest shaped by the corporation’s ethical ideas
and agenda? Are you worried about the uses they may make of
We can sometimes match our research to a sponsor’s needs.
Often, though, it is not clear how research would be useful
to a corporation. Nicholas Negroponte said that ideas in the
lab need to be developed in a pre-competitive form. Since
many companies look at our research, it has to be useful to
more than one particular company. They also tell us that they
want technologies that won’t have an application until
father in the future. We have been grateful that our funding
does not come with tight strings attached.
I love the stuff you are working on, but it is not directed.
Students can pick a project and do it, but it is hard to add
a topic on to it. How will you put this approach into a classroom,
taking into account time efficiency? How does it meet the
goals of what school seems to require?
Time efficiency is a problem. Our approaches often won’t
fit into a classroom schedule. I visited a Detroit charter
school that spent several months exploring the concept of
bouncing. This is great because it studies many of the deeper
aspects of a topic, but most schools cannot do this. It is
also a difficult challenge to make concept connection at the
right time with projects, but the connection is more effective
once it is made.
If we can think of the first wave of technology as created
by mad scientists in their basement and the second wave by
research and development teams in corporations, do you think
the third wave of technology will be created by individuals
from all walks of life? Also, do you think future technology
will be more street-smart than theoretical, to reflect the
individuals who made them?
I hope to promote this approach, but not exclusively. We aim
to open up a new pathway to invention, experimentation.
I am responsible for coordinating classes for teaching robotics
and we are still forced to the basic older tools of robotics.
When will you choose to distribute what you are developing
to educators and education catalogs, not just museums?
We love to find ways to reach out to schools and kids, but
there is a concern about spreading our resources too thinly.
Thus far, we have been working with prototypes not robust
enough to become mainstream. However, this fall, the Playful
Inventions Company is coming out with the technology we
talked about today. Hopefully, you are educators like yourself
will help us to develop more support materials. We hope this
will allow us to reach out more broadly.
I am trying to sponsor a competition for MIT Earth Day, challenging
people to make the most useful renewable energy device from
recycled models and cans. I talked to product designers and
labs about this idea and they seemed interested. However,
when I started to talk about using simple solar energy, they
no longer would listen to what I was wanted. Why is it that
though I am giving them financial backing for the simplest
of technologies, they will not listen to what I am aiming
This reminds me of that episode of the Simpsons,
where the renewable energy booth at an exhibition is heckled
and finally replaced by a nuclear energy booth. You need to
figure out what interests the product designers and find out
what they find so uninteresting about your plan. It is important
to match skills and interests.
I have noticed in educational technology that designers spend
their time trying to make the machine smarter, for example,
by responding to the user. I do not think that this is most
valuable to education in the short term, but what is more
valuable is just not as interesting to the designers.