Media Laboratory

Digital technology is now ubiquitous: travelers send email wirelessly from 35,000 feet over the Pacific, our cars tell us where we are, and kids leave text messages for their parents through their cell phones rather than scrawled notes on the kitchen table. But many of these technologies are still in their infancy, and we have only begun to scratch the surface of how they can be integrated into improving the quality of our everyday lives. Tomorrow's computers will not only be spiffy machines with fast connections but will also have common sense and the ability to understand and respond to us in more satisfying and "human" ways.

Toward this end, the Media Lab is now embarking on the next phase of the digital revolution—looking at how we can leverage digital technologies in new and meaningful ways. Over the past year, the lab announced two new initiatives: an MIT-wide Communications Futures Program and an expanded effort in common-sense computing.

Led by Andrew Lippman and David P. Reed, the Communications Futures Program is a joint effort with the School of Engineering and Sloan School of Management to better deploy the wide range of research resources across campus in inventing tomorrow's roadmaps for the communications industry. The goal is to strengthen and apply the diverse experience and expertise of six to ten MIT laboratories and research programs to define the possible future structures of this rapidly changing industry and develop the critical technologies and models necessary to guide investment and organization. Just as the advent of the PC dramatically altered the computing landscape, digital, scalable, open-architecture communications will open doors for innovation, new business models, and new entrants.

Common-sense computing is certainly not a new idea. For almost 50 years, Marvin Minsky has been asking the question, "Why has it been so hard to give computers the ability to reason about ordinary goals and concerns?" Now the Media Lab is taking a fresh look at this problem, exploring ways to give computers common-sense knowledge about the physical world in which they exist, social knowledge of how people interact, sensory knowledge of how things look and taste, and psychological knowledge about the way people think.

The Media Lab is inventing a future where our machines will not only respond to our commands but will also understand our emotions—a future where our human capabilities are digitally assisted and augmented and where innovation becomes the domain of all.

Research Achievements

Here is a sampling of 2002–2003 Media Laboratory research accomplishments:

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Exhibitions and Performances

Three Media Lab projects representing the work of assistant professor Cynthia Breazeal, Professor Tod Machover, and graduate student Ben Fry were included in the 2003 National Design Triennial at the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York City. The exhibit runs from April 2003 through January 25, 2004.

In April and May, following its huge successes in Berlin, Dublin, and Edinburgh, Tod Machover's Toy Symphony made its US debut with performances at MIT and in New York City.

Professor John Maeda's Føød exhibit, which included 30 digital photographs, was shown at the Cristinerose Gallery in New York City during December and January.

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Collaboration within MIT

The Media Laboratory continues to vigorously engage in collaborations within MIT. These collaborations are in the form of joint academic appointments, teaching efforts, and research programs. Some 20 percent of the graduate students supported by the lab and directly supervised by Media Arts and Sciences (MAS) faculty are from departments other than MAS. As in years past, the lab engaged approximately 280 undergraduates through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program and had 23 students enroll in the alternative freshman program, which completed its third year.

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Media Lab Abroad

Media Lab Europe

Media Lab Europe (MLE), under the guidance of acting director Kenneth Haase, continues to grow intellectually and programmatically. Its current research agenda is defined by three broad themes: augmenting senses, enhancing thinking, and connecting people. In September 2002, MLE stepped up activity with the launch of a series of open house events to provide existing and potential partners the opportunity to learn more about the lab and to meet with academic and industry leaders in specific fields of interest. A number of MIT faculty members participated in these events as guest speakers. This year, in conjunction with Trinity College, Dublin, MLE also hosted Eurohaptics 2003, an international conference for researchers in the field of human haptic sensing and touch-enabled computer applications.

Media Lab Europe has attracted three new partners in the last financial year: Orange, Portuguese Science & Technology Foundation, and Scottish Business Lab. These join existing partners, which include the AIB Group, BBC, Ericsson, Essilor, and Fondazione Ugo Bordoni. Donors include Denis O'Brien, Compaq, Hewlett Packard, Heidrick and Struggles, and Motorola.

Media Lab Asia

After an 18-month trial period, the government of India and the MIT Media Lab have decided not to continue their administrative partnership in developing a Media Lab Asia in India. Some of the projects initiated will continue to be funded by the government of India, some will be picked up by other institutions in India, and some will be terminated. This decision will not lessen the Media Lab's commitment to e-development and to meeting the challenges faced by the developing world; the Media Lab continues to participate in collaborative projects focused on learning, health, and economic development in Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Panama.

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During most of FY2003, funding for the Media Lab's research programs continued to be affected by a weak economy, declining to a level closer to FY2001 but with a larger portion coming from directed research sponsorships. However, the final quarter of FY2003 saw a resurgence of corporate support.

Research Sponsors

In FY2003 the Media Lab submitted approximately 50 proposals for new and continuing directed research projects. Half of these proposals remain under consideration, and 13 have resulted in awards. Over 95 percent of the proposals submitted were in response to government solicitations (NSF, DARPA, and NIH), with additional limited interest in directed sponsorship from foundations and nongovernmental sources. The proposals ranged in size from $28K to $3.5M, spanning one to five years; grants that were awarded ranged from $28K to $1.5M, with an average award of $150K per year for two years.


Sponsors joining the lab's consortia include the following:

Special Funds

Six corporate sponsors—BT, France Telecom, Intel, LEGO, Motorola, and Telmex—funded student fellows. Additional fellow sponsors included the family and friends of the late Steven R. Holtzman, who established a fellowship in his memory; Media Lab Europe; and Media Lab Asia.

The following were named fellows during FY2003:

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Human Resources/Administration

Several new staff members were welcomed to the Media Lab in 2002–2003. These included Stephen Whitney, who joined the lab as director of finance, Valerie Chin, who came from MIT Information Systems to take on the role of fiscal officer for the Media Lab's finance group, and Teresa Kratman, who assumed the position of contracts and intellectual property administrator.

There were also a number of support staff appointments, including John Archambault, Lisa Breede, Linda Carpenter, Maureen Coleman, Sarah Dionne, and Lynne Lenker.

The Media Lab was pleased to announce two internal promotions. Melissa Corley was promoted to program manager for the Things That Think consortium and Melania Lewis was promoted to executive assistant for the chairman of the Media Lab. In addition, Elizabeth Farley was promoted to administrative assistant in the Human Design group.

Walter Bender
Executive Director
Senior Research Scientist

More information about the Media Laboratory can be found on the web at

Media Laboratory Sponsors



Hewlett-Packard Company

Information and Communications University

Learning Lab Denmark

The LEGO Group

MasterCard International

Motorola, Inc.

Swatch AG


US Postal Service

*Members of all consortia and special interest groups


Changing Places

Salt River Project

State Farm Insurance

Digital Life (DL)

Acer Incorporated

Banco Bradesco

Bertelsmann AG/BMG Entertainment

Eastman Kodak

Eyematic Interfaces, Inc.

France Telecom/Orange

Hallmark Cards, Inc.

Industrial Technology Research Institute

McDonald's Corporation

Nortel Networks

NTT Comware

Panasonic Technologies Company

Philip Morris USA

Royal Ahold

Sony Corporation

Stan Winston Studio, Inc.

Telecom Italia LAB

Digital Nations

Banco Bradesco

Corporación Colombia Digital Nation



information: organized (i:o)


Eastman Kodak

Grupo Estado

Johnson & Johnson


Sun Microsystems

Time Inc. Production

US Department of Defense

Things That Think (TTT)

American Greetings Corporation

ChevronTexaco Information Technology Company

Cleanup Corporation



FEI Company

Fraunhofer e.V.

General Motors


International Business Machines

Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc.

Lucent Technologies

Mars, Incorporated

Mattel, Inc.

Microsoft Corporation

Minolta Co., Ltd.

NEC Solutions (America), Inc.

Nokia Corporation

Pitney Bowes, Inc.

Ricoh Co., Ltd.

Roche Diagnostics Corporation

Saab AB

Schott Glas

Sensormatic Electronics Corp.

Steelcase Inc.

Sun Microsystems

Telenor R&D

TOPPAN Printing Co., Ltd.


Yamaha Corporation

Zebra Technologies

Counter Intelligence

Cleanup Corporation

Royal Ahold


Acer Incorporated

Royal Ahold

Gray Matters


Silicon Biology /Personal Fabrication


Lucent Technologies

Roche Diagnostics Corporation

Sensormatic Electronics Corp.



ASCII Corporation


CSK Corporation

Heller Werkstatt

The LEGO Group

Motorola, Inc.

NTT Comware

SEED Foundation




France Telecom/Orange

W.K. Kellogg Foundation

Microsoft Corporation

National Science Foundation

Old Dominion University/NASA

US Air Force

US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

US Department of the Army



Datalogic S.p.A.

Escher Group, Ltd.

Sanyo Electric Company, Inc.

Varian, Inc.


Rudge and Nancy Allen

Asahi Broadcasting Corporation

AT&T Corp.

Armand and Celeste Bartos


Joseph Chung

Alex Dreyfoos, Jr.

Fukutake Publishing

Informatix, Inc.

The LEGO Group

LG Electronics, Inc.

MasterCard International

Misawa Homes

Motorola, Inc.


Isao Okawa


Sony Corporation

Swatch AG



Philippe Villers

Media Lab Europe is the Media Lab's European Research Partner.


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