TOP O' THE NEWS
What has the world been reading about MIT over the past month or so? Three projects in particular have generated immense amounts of media coverage: MIT work on a circuit that mimics the wiring in the brain, the Oxygen project to make computers "disappear" and a parrot that surfs the web.
Each has resulted in more than 100 stories to date, with more coming in to the MIT News Office every day. (The office subscribes to a clipping service that sends us newspaper and magazine stories with significant mention of MIT.)
The circuit, developed by researchers at MIT and Lucent Technologies' Bell Labs, is the latest advance in "neuromorphic" engineering -- creating devices that behave like neural systems (MIT Tech Talk, July 12, 2000).
Media stories on the circuit have appeared in publications ranging from the San Diego Union-Tribune to Electronics Times. Many have included a photo of the MIT researchers taken by News Office photographer Donna Coveney. They are Richard Hahnloser, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences; Rahul Sarpeshkar, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science; and H. Sebastian Seung, assistant professor of computational neuroscience.
The formation of the Oxygen Alliance to make computer power as pervasive as the oxygen in the air we breathe was announced in publications around the world. The $50 million, five-year project is a collaboration among the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science, the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (AI Lab) and a group of companies (MIT Tech Talk, July 12, 2000).
"The project envisions a largely invisible computer network permeating every place where people live, work and play," reported the Associated Press in a story that ran in US papers from the Lansing State Journal to the San Francisco Examiner.
"Polly wanna web-surf?" began Associated Press writer Lisa Lipman in her story about Arthur the African gray parrot. Headlines accompanying the piece, which ran in over 150 papers on or about July 20, included "Surfin' bird logs on to beat boredom," "MIT brains look to perch parrot on the Internet," "Forget the cracker, give Polly a modem," and "Web surfing is for the birds."
Visiting Professor Irene Pepperberg at the Media Lab and Research Assistant Benjamin Resner have indeed been trying to teach Arthur how to surf the Internet. The idea is to keep "boredom at bay" for the bird, reports Ms. Lipman. Parrots who become bored can have behavioral problems. For example, they may start to scream.
MIT's Technology, Business and Environment Program (TBE) was cited in a July 21 story in the Honolulu Pacific Business News about web sites offering "advice and news for companies looking to be seen as green." The TBE web site was among four sites profiled by writer Andrew Beach. "The program's intention is to help companies meet the dual challenges of achieving environmental excellence together with business success."
There's a stark gender gap between young people interested in computer science, according to a recent study co-chaired by an MIT professor. "Overall, girls find computer programming boring, electronic games too redundant and violent and computer careers too solitary and antisocial," writes Lisa Hoffman in a July 12 story about the American Association of University Women report.
The gap "is not because females are less capable or more intimidated by electronic technology," writes Ms. Hoffman. "Instead, it's a matter of preference."
MIT Professor Sherry Turkle of the Program in Science, Technology and Society was co-chair of the report. "It (is) clear that girls are critical of the computer culture, not computer-phobic," Professor Turkle told Ms. Hoffman.
Ms. Hoffman's Scripps Howard News Service piece ran in a variety of newspapers, from the Boulder, CO Daily Camera to the Petersburg, VA Progress-Index.
FEAR OF FLYING?
The Concorde crash July 25 prompted many news stories about the safety of flying. Rest assured. In a July 27 London Evening Standard story, Professor Arnold Barnett of the Sloan School said that "any individual passenger, on any flight taken at random, faces a risk of dying of about one in eight million. In other words, if a passenger were to choose one flight at random each day, every day, that passenger would, on average, last 21,000 years before being killed."
THE COST OF DEPRESSION
The monetary impact of employee stress was the focus of a July 24 story in the Singapore Business Times. Writer Michael Ioh reported that "a study by the Analysis Group and the MIT Sloan School of Management estimates that depression costs America $43.7 billion each year in direct costs for treatment of illness, lost earnings, and diminished productivity at the workplace... Each depressed worker costs his employer about $3,000 per year."
"This genome sequence is really going to create revolutionary change in everything associated with human health." --Richard Young, Professor of Biology and member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. His comment ran in a June 28 story in the Malaysian Business Times about the sequencing of the human genome.
"We just have no idea what the effect would be. If we went ahead, we would produce irreversible changes in the oceans. The results could easily be catastrophic." -- Professor Sallie (Penny) Chisholm, in a July 23 story in the London Daily Telegraph on a plan to end greenhouse warming by fertilizing the oceans. Professor Chisholm is in the Departments of Biology and Civil and Environmental Engineering.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on August 23, 2000.