MIT Media Lab celebrates 30 with Martha Stewart, magicians and visionaries

IDG News Service | Oct 30, 2015

MIT's Media Lab celebrated its 30th anniversary with tech visionaries including Marvin Minsky, Alan Kay and Danny Hillis.

Almost always when a machine starts to do something, we become unimpressed with it.

MIT's Media Lab celebrated 30 years of invention and innovation with the likes of celebrities like Martha Stewart, magicians Penn and Teller, and tech visionaries like Marvin Minsky.

Looking ahead to the next 30 years, the thinkers that have created so many of the technologies today, think the pace of invention needs to quicken.

The interfaces we're using today were largely the product of a number of really good ideas from the 60s plus several ARPA supported and Xerox PARC supported labs in the 70s. Most of what has happened has been packaging of ideas that were paid for with a completely different funding that led to invention. The funding for the last 35 years has been for innovation not for invention.

Kay said that hardware manufacturing like chip fabrication is a reliable science, but didn't think the same about software.

The problem is you can get away with murder with software because most software doesn't fail quickly enough. Compared to physical structures it's like gossamer. It's like making a bridge out of cobwebs on a planet with no gravity and almost no wind. This bridge can even stay up for a couple of years, but it's fragile it's actually crashing slowly.

If Kay and Hillis had it to do over again, they might steered away from technology, but toward what they think is a similar field.

I think the field of synthetic biology is probably in the same state as the field that computers was when I was I student. I would probably be a synthetic biologist if I was coming to MIT today.

If I was in the position today I would have stayed in biology. Some of us who worked on the internet had biology in our background. The internet is a biologically informed design. It doesn't like a computer system.

I think that the intellectual leaders in technology are people who just don't think about technology, they think about science, they think about society. They are interdisciplinary thinkers. And the people who were the real leaders in computers were like that too. People like Alan Kay, people like Marvin Minsky. The same thing is true today. The leaders in technology are really the leaders of thinking in general.