Here & There


SWING AND SWAY

Students will have the opportunity to strut their stuff with nimble-footed faculty and administrators at this Friday night's Swing Night (September 17) from 8pm-midnight on Kresge Oval (or in the Sala de Puerto Rico if it rains).

Among the faculty who will show up in their dancing pumps are Professors John M. Essigmann, Shaoul Ezekiel and Paul Lagace, all talented ballroom dancers. They will choose student partners randomly. Admission is free and refreshments will be served.

Music will be provided by the Mid Life Crisis Swing Band, featuring Professor Emeritus Samuel J. Keyser on trombone. The band plays monthly swing dances at the First Baptist Church in Central Square, attracting turnaway crowds of young professionals.

"The only refreshments are water and candy," said Professor Keyser, who is the interim special assistant to the president and the chancellor for alcohol education.

Prior to the dance, members of the Ballroom Dance Team and the Ballroom Dance Club will offer instruction in Lobby 13. Classes will be held today from 6-8pm and tomorrow (September 16) from 5-7pm.

Swing Night is sponsored by the Campus Activities Complex Program Board, the Graduate Student Council Activities Committee, the Dance Team and the Dance Club.

MACHINES AND SOULS

The controversial work of Anne Foerst, a German research scientist and resident theologian at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, was described at length in a September 9 article for the Newhouse News Service titled "Theologian Works With Smart Robots on Spiritual Questions. "

The article, which could appear in as many as 42 newspapers nationwide, describes Ms. Foerst as having a "calling" to answer the question, "Can man-made creatures have souls?"

"Ms. Foerst has spent the last four years pondering how increasingly smart machines may impact our sense of humanity," the article noted. It quotes her as saying, "I think that computer science, and especially artificial intelligence, is the field for religious inquiry. "

Ms. Foerst commented on Cog, AI Lab Director Rodney Brooks's robot in human form: "At some point, Cog-like robots will be part of our community. If these robots look like us, act like us, and are aware, then shouldn't we welcome them into the community of mankind?"

The article also quotes Professor Brooks as noting that he can understand how faith such as Ms. Foerst demonstrates can coexist with science. "From a scientific point of view, my kids are bags of skin full of molecules interacting, but that's not how I treat them. I love them. I operate on two completely different levels, and I manage to live with these two different levels. I suspect the same can be said of religious scientists."

Professor Brooks described himself in the Newshouse article as a "scientific rationalist and a strong atheist."

TALKING TRANSPORTATION

Professor Joseph E. Sussman played a featured role on local news programs during the launch of the fall television season, discussing transportation issues on WBZ-TV/Channel 4 and New England Cable News on consecutive nights.

Dr. Sussman, the JR East Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, was quizzed about the Massachusetts Turnpike Fast Lane electronic toll collection system system for the 5pm news on Channel 4 on September 1. "Fast Lane is win-win for the turnpike and for travelers," he told reporter John Doherty. "The turnpike should consider giving away the transponders to encourage use."

On the following night, Professor Sussman spoke with NECN reporter Mont Fennel about delays in implementing high-speed rail service between Boston and New York. "A modest delay is not critical," he said on the 9pm news. "What is important is that this service can be a positive prototype for regional high-speed rail systems around the US."

Professor Sussman later quipped about the back-to-back interviews: "Now I'm concerned about overexposure."

A version of this
article appeared in the
September 15, 1999

issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume
44, Number
5).


Topics: Faculty, Staff

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