Now, though, after seeing what was really going on there... 30+ years of rigged demos, high-profile failures like OLPC, and maybe one or two useful inventions among the years of pointless impractical stuff that "looks cool", all funded by the largess of child molesters. Forget about a "leadership transition", the lab is unsalvageable. Burn it to the ground and salt the earth.
Now, what to do with the two-year gap on my resume...
You know what they call someone that graduated medical school with a 2.0 GPA? Doctor
When it comes to something like certification or education, no one cares about your standards. MIT set the bar, and you pasted it. It might be below your standards, but no one cares.
People say this because they have learned that when they answer “I went to Harvard” they get instantly treated differently by many people they have tried talking to, and it’s annoying.
Here's their current list of projects. Some of the less useful ones:
"Tasting Menu in Zero G"
"Sculpting in zero gravity"
"Discreet Teeth Gestures for Mobile Device Interaction"
"Blockchained Agent-based Simulator for Cities"
It looks like they're pivoting from media to - something.
Meh. The Media Lab is (or was) doing some of the best work in the field in food and flavor science. Arielle Johnson  in particular is known for her work and expertise on flavor and fermentation, and she went on to lead R&D at Noma's science bunker  and now has her own lab in East Village . She's probably has had an outsized impact on the food world in the last decade or so on stuff like fermentation, which is gradually making its way beyond just fine dining and is something that I'm particularly excited about.
It’s also true that the Media Lab’s advantages aren’t the same as they were before multiple tech industry booms, but they retain a fairly unique position where disciplines interact with corporate resources, and without a direct corporate motive. That’s where my favorite of the Lab’s output came from — Lifelong Kindergarten, Computing Culture, Center for Civic Media, Center for Bits and Atoms, Biomechatronics, etc. Hopefully the next director has the vision to focus it in directions where neither big tech nor startups aren’t going.
Disclaimer: Media Lab alum.
Even OLPC was an extremely noble goal, and they did likely inspire others to create low-cost PCs including netbooks and Chromebooks.
The Media Lab isn't intended to be a profitable business. Success of a Media Lab project isn't defined by its "products" getting a million users and a hockey stick curve. Success of a Media Lab project means that it is successful in demoing something that eventually does become our future.
I was at the lab a long time ago (from its opening in 1985 until 1997). What made it unique at the time was breaking down the barriers between computation, technology, creative arts, and popular culture in a way that seems so natural now. On a campus where hundreds of other PhD students seemed to be working on amazing research on very detailed topics, we were building pieces of the future and demoing them daily to industry and lay people alike. That wasn't considered hard science at a place like MIT, but the ultimate impact on society was huge.
One other area of huge but unsung impact was speech technology. Chris Schmandt's Speech Research Group group envisioned and developed audio assistants that paved the way for Siri and Alexa. His students and research have also helped shape an entire field.
As for current controversies, well after my time. The big deal about funding back at the beginning of the Media Lab was taking corporate money vs government/defense money (90% corporate for the ML vs 90% government for the rest of MIT).
Sure they've produced some cool projects here and there - but they've also shown research labs around the world that chasing empty hype is more lucrative than doing real research, which I think have had a quite insidious, damaging effect on academic institutions.
That's kind of the point, isn't it? Once you got up close and personal with the thing, you saw the issues... The netbook-class computers were much better designed, overall.
As for your gap, perhaps call it your "2 year research project on magical thinking in an engineering setting" ...?
>30+ years of <pretending to actually be doing useful things>, high-profile failures, and maybe one or two useful <things> among the years of pointless impractical <wastes of time and money> "looks cool", all funded by <shady people of at best questionable morals>.
The above generalized form describes basically every "esteemed" public and quasi-public-nonprofit institution (higher education falling in the latter category here) in the greater Boston area (I'm sure there's a short list of exceptions but I can't think of any right now). This is a culture problem, not a problem with a particular institution.
Look at history. Cultural problems do not go away overnight and they certainly do not go away just by swapping out what's basically a department head. You have to slowly build the expectation that people will not do whatever the problem thing is. Unfortunately, the people of MA mostly just expect that the upper class (social class in this context) is a (ethically) dirty bunch and scandals like this are met with a shrug and a fatalistic "well what are you gonna do" by the general population. People in places of power doing highly unethical things (like accepting Epstein's money) is simply not a problem that society in MA cares much about or even feels it can solve (at present).
FYI I'm only speaking for the greater Boston area because that's what I know. I have no idea how they do things in Chicago or Moscow (but I like to think I could take a good guess).
One day I noticed all of the team’s demos had been done already by an MIT professor. I guess that’s where they’d got the inspiration. I figured the professor’s demos were at least real.
Now I’m not so sure. As far as I know, none of the work has made it out of the professor’s lab.
Maybe it will, but this whole incident has aroused suspicion.
""It's essentially a grow box with some sensors for collecting data," Cerqueira, a dietitian who worked as a project manager at the Open Agriculture Initiative for two years [...] The boxes were not air-tight, so staff couldn't control variables like the levels of carbon dioxide and even basic environmental factors like temperature and humidity, Cerqueira and the other person said. "
Looking at https://www.media.mit.edu/groups/open-agriculture-openag/pro... it looks like the food computer project was just one among several, though it might've been the more prioritized 'audacious goal' among them considering it's prominence on the main open ag site: https://www.media.mit.edu/groups/open-agriculture-openag/
The last paper I saw (2018-10-20) ( https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-3-030-02683-... ) on food computer version 2 is more about the building process of it, not so much on results yet. https://wiki.openag.media.mit.edu/faq discusses the version differences.
Finally, Caleb comments on the BI article here: https://forum.openag.media.mit.edu/t/can-we-get-a-comment/51...
(sidebar: the food computer thing weirdly reminds me of reddit.com/r/spacebuckets )
On top of that, the headline claim that the "personal food computer" "simply doesn't work" seems to be outright untrue. I had a look and the designs seem to be pretty widely replicated and tested - everything from an MIT-supplied version of the latest design in a New York museum operated by unaffiliated volunteers to a homebrew version of an old foam-based design built from scratch by a Baltimore school using material from Lowes. Some versions do seem to be a little temperamental on the electronics side, to the point members of the team have advised people not to built v2 on the forum, but they do work and grow things. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the photoshoots and static displays were faked, though; turnaround time for a real grow is at least a month.
Sometimes missed in talk of what research deserves to be funded, is that a valuable function of the Media Lab is to conduct the flow of ideas from science fiction to reality. And the projects fall all along that spectrum.
While I do agree that producing thought-provoking technical demos has some (perhaps considerable) merit, the Media Lab still presents themselves as a research institute, not some creative agency making conceptual mockups/videos.
When something comes out of the Media Lab (or any other MIT-affiliated organization) the expectation will be that even if the ideas may not be workable immediately, the biggest technical/scientific hurdles have been overcome, i.e., they're not pure science fiction. MIT has built up reputation and goodwill so the public gives them benefit of the doubt.
Presenting half-baked, unworkable demos as research is to take advantage of (and exhaust) that goodwill, painstakingly cultivated over decades by the entire MIT community.
I thought it was mainly funded by corporations?
University research in general?
I hope this crisis refocuses it on breakthrough research,where its talent and resources could be very well spent.
But that's because the LCS and AI labs were doing different stuff from the Media Lab. They weren't comparable. Computation and networked devices were a tool towards something larger at the Media Lab. Yes, there were demos didn't work, or couldn't work. In Spatial Imaging, we couldn't fake physics, so we were somewhat immune. But with years of retrospect I look back fondly on some of those crazy "unworkable" ideas and see successful modern versions of them. Broadening one's vision is supposed to be part of academia; the Media Lab just approached it in a non-hardcore science MIT way.
I also think the Media Lab changed CSAIL (when LCS and AI merged) much more than vice versa. Start with the Geary-designed building but look at the type of research and approach to funding. There's plenty of research at CSAIL that would have fit right at home at the ML in its old days, precisely because it is aimed at technology closer to end users and aligned with corporate sponsors and interests. Maybe that's because the world has changed; it's hard to interpret cause and effect. But the Media Lab was clearly a part of that.
Disclaimer: left in 1997, not part of current controversy.
I wonder if "disobedience" is a learned skill and whether we should be putting in more effort to teach it.
1. Diverse views
2. Confidence to speak
3. candor and honesty
Having said that there needs to be a minimum amount of agreement on some values/principles/philosophy.
Without agreement on this you end up in chaos. What you want is to keep culture at the “edge of chaos” . Also have a look at the adaptive cycle  and diversity in perspectives.
You need (a) the members of the culture to have a shared ethos that sees the work as a noble pursuit and work towards, (b) enough money to ensure the system has enough slack that people can take the initiative to do things like help each other without everything falling apart, but (c) not so much money flowing around that the ethos gets overwhelmed by self-interest.
The trouble is that at a few million dollars money becomes a motive with a universal adapter, and enough people will let ethics slide to score that trust and shared values become unreliable. So it's nearly impossible to achieve in a VC-backed startup setting.
If you really want academic research about how the mixture of altruism and self-interest affects the balance of rule-making and individual initiative, then IMO the best thing to read is the economist Julian le Grand's 2003 book _Motivation, Agency and Public Policy: Of Knights and Knaves, Pawns and Queens_.
But no, this is obviously some kind of witch hunt. /s
Edit: six digit
This isn't about unpersons, this is about honesty.
nope, wait, didn't see that in the press release, taps still open boys.
This is about leadership transition, not everything to date. Don’t over sensationalize.