Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Keith visits the Media Lab

As one of the Knight program’s twice-weekly seminars, we had a fun tour of a program at MIT called the Media Lab. It’s kind of a misleading name, since most of the research underway there has very little connection with what you might think of as media. Instead, it’s all about the intersection of technology and humans. Our group met with four of the researchers there (out of 25 on the faculty).

One interesting project is by Deb Roy, who has been recording every second of his baby’s life. Actually, the baby is now almost 2-1/2, and the recording phase is winding down. He’s hoping to to shed light on childhood language acquisition. His specialty is interactive robots, and he wired his suburban hosue with a ceiling camera in every room. They can be switched off, but he basically has recorded nearly every moment of family life with his son over the past couple years. There’s a whole room at MIT holding the computers that have all that data. His wife is a speech pathologist, so it’s a team effort. In the meantime, he’s developing creative computer techniques to sort and analyze massive amounts of video and audio. The project is titled, "The Human Speechome."

The whole Media Lab is self-consciously promoting itself as “creative,” which is annoying at first, and using the image to solicit corporate contributions. But after talking to the people there, it really does feel like an incredibly creative place, where people are living up to their principles, to work collaboratively across fields and define problems in new ways.

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