MIT Reports to the President 1997-98


For the 1997-98 academic year, the Program in Media Arts and Sciences (MAS) enrolled 131 graduate students. In addition, more than 200 undergraduates registered in Media Arts and Sciences classes or actively engaged in research activities at the Media Laboratory.

During the year, we continued to explore several options that would enable us to expand the scope of our undergraduate educational program. We are working with Institute committees and other departments (most notably Physics and Materials Science and Engineering) to develop a way for Media Arts and Sciences to offer an experimental freshman program. Our hope is that this effort will be a first step toward establishing a Media Arts and Sciences undergraduate program sometime in the near future.

MAS faculty members and students also contributed significantly to advancing the field of wearable computing when they co-hosted the first International Symposium on Wearable Computers (ISWC) in October 1997. This conference, organized by Carnegie Mellon University, Georgia Institute of Technology, and MIT, was sponsored by the IEEE Computer Society and held here in Cambridge. It brought together researchers, product vendors, research sponsors, and others interested in wearable computing, and resulted in the formation of a new IEEE Technical Committee on Wearables.


The Program in Media Arts and Sciences received 254 applications during the 1997-98 academic year. From these, 55 new students (including 9 women) were selected and enrolled: 43 for the master's program, and 12 for the doctoral program. This represented a 31 percent increase over fall 1996 admissions.

The total MAS enrollment of 131 included 27 women, 3 underrepresented minorities, and 33 foreign students. Of the total, 79 were master's candidates, and 52 were doctoral candidates. Thirty-six advanced degrees were awarded during the year (26 SMs and 10 PhDs). Thirty-three graduate subjects were offered.

For 1997-98, the largest undergraduate presence at the Media Laboratory continued to be its UROP students, more than 240 of whom participated in research projects at the Media Laboratory. Many of these undergraduates pursued their undergraduate theses under MAS faculty supervision. In addition, the Program in Media Arts and Sciences offered eight undergraduate subjects, and four MAS faculty members and staff conducted freshman seminars or served as freshman advisors.


Brian Smith joined the Media Arts and Sciences faculty as an assistant professor in September 1997. Professor Smith comes to the lab from Northwestern University's Learning Sciences Program, where he explored the development and evaluation of an interactive video system for high-school classrooms.

Judith Donath, who recently completed her PhD working with Andy Lippman at the Media Laboratory, was named assistant professor in January 1998. Her work explores how identity is established in virtual environments, and how understanding "virtual identity" is essential for building vibrant online communities. Both Donath and Smith are involved in the lab's Digital Life consortium.

Alex Pentland, who heads the Media Lab's Perceptual Computing group and is academic head of the Program in Media Arts and Sciences, was promoted to full professor. Pentland's research focuses on giving computers perceptual abilities that allow them to function naturally with people. Toward this end, much of his research addresses recognition of human faces, gestures, and expression.

Aaron Bobick, LG Career Development Professor of Computational Vision who has been an assistant professor at the Media Laboratory since 1992, was promoted to associate professor. Professor Bobick's research spans human and machine vision, integration of perceptual information, and symbolic understanding of visual situations.

In addition to his promotion, Professor Pentland was named Toshiba Professor of Media Arts and Sciences. Marvin Minsky, who held the professorship since its establishment in 1989, is now Toshiba Professor Emeritus.


Professor Tod Machover was awarded the first annual DigiGlobe Prize in Germany. Sponsored by Deutsche Telekom and Focus TV, and described as the "Oscar for Digital Media," the DigiGlobe Prize was given to Machover to celebrate his creation of hyperinstruments-with special mention of the digital baton, sensor chair, and Brain Opera.

The Computer Clubhouse, a collaborative program of Boston's Computer Museum and the Media Laboratory won the seventh annual Peter F. Drucker Award for Nonprofit Innovation. The Clubhouse provides inner-city youths with the opportunity to develop their own computer animations, simulations, Web sites, robotic constructions, and musical creations. Mitchel Resnick, Fukutake Career Development Professor of Research in Education and co-founder of the Clubhouse, was among those who accepted the award in October 1997.

Professor Pattie Maes received the International Engineering Consortium award in October 1997, and was also named one of the 50 "cyber elite" in the October 1997 issue of Digital Time.

Professor Neil Gershenfeld was a finalist in the Discover magazine's ninth annual Discover Awards for Technological Innovation. He was selected for his work in quantum computing.

Chris Dodge, who received his master's degree in February 1998, won the grand prize at the 1997 ARTEC Media Art Biennale competition in Nagoya Japan. The award-winning installation was also featured at the Ars Electronica Festival (Linz, Austria), the World Wide Video Festival (Amsterdam) and ISEA '97 (Chicago).

Three MAS students received awards from ID magazine in June 1998 for their interactive media design. Peter Cho won gold for his Type Me, Type Me Not Web site; John Underkoffler won silver for Nauticoloratura, a visual mechanism for teaching and studying orchestral scores; and David Small and Tom White won bronze for Stream of Consciousness: An Interactive Poetic Garden.

Professor Rosalind W. Picard published a new book, Affective Computing, (MIT Press, 1997).

Alex Pentland

MIT Reports to the President 1997-98