MIT Reports to the President 1997-98


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

Founded as 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 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 of some 260 organizations that helps set the standard of a continuously evolving world wide web.

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. The principal goals of these four categories are as follows:

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 groupwork 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.

Highlights during the reporting period are as follows:


During this period, we created a new research group under the leadership of Professor Srini Devadas. The objective of this group is to develop technologies for automating certain low-level tasks, now being carried out by people. We believe that successful research in this area can increase human productivity significantly over the next few decades.


This group has significantly expanded its activities during the past year. Professors Dorsey and Teller have been joined by Professor McMillan, a new faculty member in EECS. We have constructed a new graphics research laboratory, and the group recently won a National Science Foundation CISE Research Infrastructure Grant for $1.65M to build the computational infrastructure for this facility. The group research involves the automatic acquisition of 3D urban scenes; computational video techniques for organizing and interacting with video objects; in exploration, including research in immersive image-based virtual environments, hybrid geometry and image-based representations, and hardware for accelerated walk-throughs; research in computer-aided lighting and acoustic modeling, interactive high-fidelity rendering, weathering and surface appearance, and photomontage. The group is also developing a new curriculum in computer graphics and visualization and a system for collaborative pedagogy of algorithmic concepts.


This group is pursuing a new approach to human-machine interaction via LCS-35, a handheld system that accepts input only via human speech and delivers both spoken and visual output, while communicating with a network for its computational needs. Technically, this approach calls for creation of a speech driven switch (or operating system) that replaces the traditional screen/keyboard input and that switches among several domains of specialized services depending on what the speaker says. Socially, we are interested in exploring how such systems may significantly reduce the burden of human-machine communication by relying on means of interaction that are already familiar to people.


As of this report, 264 organizations have joined the consortium in order to participate in and contribute to the orderly evolution of the World Wide Web (W3). In 1998, we introduced the notion of W3C Offices, which deal with the member organizations in their respective regions, but do not carry out technical development, like the hosts. The key W3C technical development has been metadata, through which people and machines will be able to represent and, therefore, write and read characterizations about information such as its quality, veracity and appropriateness for designated purposes.

During this reporting period. Mr. Tim Berners Lee, director of the W3C, was awarded the prestigious MacArthur Award. The Laboratory's Distinguished Lecturer Series included presentations by Dr. James Gosling, Sun Microsystems, Inc., Dr. Robert Morris, retired, National Security Agency, Professor Randy H. Katz, United Microelectronics Corporation Distinguished Professor and Chairman, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department University of California, Berkeley, Eckhard Pfeiffer, President and CEO Compaq Computer Corporation, and Professor Patrick Hanrahan, Department of Computer Science, Stanford.

The Laboratory is organized into 15 research groups, an administrative unit, and a computer service support unit. The Laboratory's membership comprises a total of 511 people, including 77 faculty and research staff, 158 graduate students, 146 undergraduate students, 99 visitors, affiliates, and postdoctoral associates and fellows, and 31 support staff. The academic affiliation of most of the Laboratory's faculty and students is with the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS). About 65% of the Laboratory's funding comes from the US Government's 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 hardware systems, consortia for the development and maintenance of standards, such as the World Wide Web, and joint studies on research areas of common concern.

More information about the Laboratory can be found on the Web at

Michael L. Dertouzos

MIT Reports to the President 1997-98