In the News

Genuine enthusiasm for AI

MIT News - Thu, 04/27/2017 - 23:59

On an afternoon in early April, Tommi Jaakkola is pacing at the front of the vast auditorium that is 26-100. The chalkboards behind him are covered with equations. Jaakkola looks relaxed in a short-sleeved black shirt and jeans, and gestures to the board. “What is the answer here?” he asks the 500 MIT students before him. “If you answer, you get a chocolate. If nobody answers, I get one — because I knew the answer and you didn’t.” The room erupts in laugher.

With similar flair but a tighter focus on the first few rows of seats, Regina Barzilay had held the room the week prior. She paused often to ask: “Does this make sense?” If silence ensued, she warmly met the eyes of the students and reassured them: “It’s okay. It will come.” Barzilay acts as though she is teaching a small seminar rather than a stadium-sized class requiring four instructors, 15 teaching assistants, and, on occasion, an overflow room.

Welcome to “Introduction to Machine Learning,” a course in understanding how to give computers the ability to learn things without being explicitly programmed to do so. The popularity of 6.036, as it is also known, grew steadily after it was first offered, from 138 in 2013 to 302 students in 2016. This year 700 students registered for the course — so many that professors had to find ways to winnow the class down to about 500, a size that could fit in one of MIT’s largest lecture halls.

Jaakkola, the Thomas Siebel Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society, and Barzilay, the Delta Electronics Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, have led 6.036 since its inception. They provide students from varied departments with the necessary tools to apply machine learning in the real world — and they do so, according to students, in a manner that is remarkably engaging.

Greg Young, an MIT senior and electrical engineering and computer science major, says the orchestration of the class, which is co-taught by Wojciech Matusik and Pablo Parrilo from the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), is impressive. This is all the more so because the trendiness of machine learning (and, consequently, the class enrollment), in his opinion, is nearly out of hand.

“I think people are going where they think the next big thing is,” Young says. Waving an arm to indicate the hundreds of students lined up in desks below him, he says: “The professors certainly do a good job keeping us engaged, considering the size of this class.”

Indeed, the popularity of 6.036 is such that a version for graduate students — 6.862 (Applied Machine Learning) — was folded into it last spring. These students take 6.036 and do an additional semester-long project that involves applying machine learning methods to a problem in their own research.

“Nowadays machine learning is used almost everywhere to make sense of data,” says faculty lead, Stefanie Jegelka, the X-Window Consortium Career Development Assistant Professor in EECS. She says her students come from MIT’s schools of engineering, architecture, science, management, and elsewhere. Only one-third of graduate students seeking to take the spinoff secured seats this semester.

How they learn

The success of 6.036, according to its faculty designers, has to do with its balanced delivery of theoretical content and programming experience — all in enough depth to prove challenging but graspable, and, above all, useful. “Our students want to learn to think like an applied machine-learning person,” says Jaakkola, who launched the pilot course with Barzilay. “We try to expose the material in a way that enables students with very minimal background to sort of get the gist of how things work and why they work.”

Once the domain of science fiction and movies, machine learning has become an integral part of our lived experience. From our expectations as consumers (think of those Netflix and Amazon recommendations), to how we interact with social media (those ads on Facebook are no accident), to how we acquire any kind of information (“Alexa, what is the Laplace transform?”), machine learning algorithms operate, in the simplest sense, by converting large collections of knowledge and information into predictions that are relevant to individual needs.

As a discipline, then, machine learning is the attempt to design and build computer programs that learn from experience for the purpose of prediction or control. In 6.036, students study principles and algorithms for turning training data into effective automated predictions. “The course provides an excellent survey of techniques,” says EECS graduate student Helen Zhou, a 6.036 teaching assistant. “It helps build a foundation for understanding what all those buzzwords in the tech industry mean.”

Guadalupe Fabre, also a graduate student in electrical science and engineering and a teaching assistant, recommends 6.036 for people seeking to “develop a clear understanding of algorithms used in real life.” Fabre took the course himself as an undergraduate. “I learned to code and understand some of the latest algorithms used in machine learning,” he says. “I use a lot of the things I learned in my research.”

Be warned, however, that 6.036 teaches both theory and application, says Fabre, and grasping that combination requires hard work. “There is a risk of understanding one but not the other, and that can make the course challenging for some students,” he says. “If you want to impress interviewers with real knowledge about machine learning, take the course,” says Fabre. “However, if you are not willing to put in the time, don't take it. You are just going to stress out at the end.”

The majority of people taking 6.036 are willing to do the work, Zhou adds, crediting broad cultural excitement toward the applications of machine learning. “People in the class come from diverse backgrounds. I imagine they will apply these techniques in a wide variety of domains.”

Making it look easy

The comfort level — and charm — that Jaakkola and Barzilay display in the lecture hall is striking and goes a long way toward making their carefully designed course resonate with its huge audience. It helps dial back the impersonality that often comes with such numbers, students say.

In one of Barzilay’s recent classes, a volunteer solved an equation for k-means clustering, which involves the partitioning of data space, on the chalkboard at the front of the packed auditorium. After she correctly solved the equation, the class broke into spontaneous applause. “Wow, she solved that in front of 500 people,” shouted one student from the back of the room.

Rishabh Chandra, a first-year student who is an early sophomore in EECS, said the class size takes adjusting to. “It was hard to get beyond the first day,” he says, “but they do things to get people involved.” Half of the lectures are delivered by Barzilay and Jaakkola; additional faculty — this semester, Matusik and Parrilo — take care of the remainder.

Slipping from the same class a few minutes early to beat the rush, EECS junior Stephanie Liu, a front row regular, says Barzilay and Jaakkola have created a class that is detailed, well-structured, and even fun. “They teach really well,” she says. “And you’ve got to love the chocolates.”

Categories: In the News

To appreciate import of noncitizens voting, look at Maryland city where they already do

Cambridge Day - Thu, 04/27/2017 - 21:42
Without noncitizen voting, a significant proportion of the population in Maryland's Takoma Park would be disenfranchised. This observation is especially meaningful in cities such as Cambridge, where more than 28 percent of residents are foreign-born.
Categories: In the News

Five things to do this weekend: April 28-30

Cambridge Day - Thu, 04/27/2017 - 18:57
Bourgeois Mystics, Primal Static and Of The Sun rock; Harvard Arts First Festival; Annual Harvard Powwow; A Sunday of Early Music; and Ladies Night Adult Folktale Telling.
Categories: In the News

Barnhart appoints Waitz vice chancellor for overseeing offices of graduate, undergraduate education

MIT News - Thu, 04/27/2017 - 16:30

In a letter to the MIT community today, Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart announced she has appointed Ian A. Waitz to the newly created position of vice chancellor responsible for leading and integrating the offices for graduate and undergraduate education. In his new role, which begins July 1, Waitz will be working alongside students, faculty, and staff from across the Institute to enhance the student academic experience.

“Today’s announcement is wonderful news. Ian’s deep understanding of MIT, his vision, and his creative passion for improving education make him an ideal leader as we seek to enhance the academic experience for all our students, from the first year to the final diploma,” says MIT President L. Rafael Reif. “I am also delighted that, with this appointment, Chancellor Barnhart is creating an outstanding new team in a strong new structure. As we aspire to make a better world, it is essential that we also strive to make a better MIT, and the moves announced today mark important progress toward that permanent goal. I am deeply grateful to everyone involved for their creativity, flexibility, and magnificent dedication to our students.”  

As vice chancellor, Waitz will be focused in these primary areas:

  • engaging with students and departments to develop and pursue a roadmap for enhancing the first-year student academic experience;
     
  • partnering with community members to make improvements for students in areas such as advising, professional development, diversity and inclusion, and well-being;
     
  • implementing the residential education innovations called for in the Institute-wide Task Force on the Future of MIT Education; and
     
  • working with the staff from undergraduate and graduate education to conduct an organizational review that positions the two offices to support the above efforts as well as optimize services for our students and faculty.

“This a marvelous opportunity to work across MIT to take our exceptional educational experiences and advance them further,” says Waitz, who is also the Jerome C. Hunsaker Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics. “I am very excited to work with Chancellor Barnhart and the excellent team in her organization who dedicate themselves to serving our students and faculty.”

The vice chancellor position, which will effectively merge the roles of dean for undergraduate education and dean for graduate education, and its responsibilities are well aligned with Waitz’s work in residential education innovation. During his tenure as dean at the School of Engineering, Waitz helped to launch new efforts such as the MIT Sandbox Innovation Fund Program and the MIT Beaver Works Center. He also strengthened co-curricular and enrichment programs for undergraduate and graduate students as well as worked with engineering department heads to offer more flexible degrees and allow students to take courses remotely or online for credit.

Most recently, he has championed a school effort dubbed New Engineering Education Transformation (NEET), led by Edward Crawley, Ford Professor of Engineering, and Anette (Peko) Hosoi, professor of mechanical engineering. By creating educational program options that span multiple departments and that are more strongly tied to modern pedagogical approaches, their aim is to better prepare engineering students to lead and innovate in a world of rapidly evolving technology, where traditional disciplinary boundaries are disappearing.

New roles for Freeman, Staton

In her letter, Barnhart also described new opportunities for Dean for Undergraduate Education Dennis (Denny) Freeman and Interim Dean for Graduate Education Blanche Staton, within the Office of the Chancellor.

Barnhart wrote that “Denny’s leadership, creativity, and boundless passion for undergraduate teaching and advising have been on full display” during his four-year tenure as dean. Passionate about advising, Freeman has worked with faculty and students to increase faculty participation in freshman advising and promote best practices. He also oversaw important surveys and analyses of emerging patterns and trends in academic majors, career exploration, student academic workload, identifying early indicators for academic success, academic stress, and the Institute’s undergraduate leave and return policies. And, along with the chair of the faculty, Freeman launched an in-depth study of whether — and if so, how — MIT should ensure that undergraduate students learn about algorithmic reason and computational thinking.

In her letter, Barnhart pointed to the tremendous success of the “Mens et Manus” freshman advising seminar Freeman launched as one of his signature achievements.

“To build on the seminar’s progress, I have asked Denny, beginning July 1, to focus his efforts on launching a year-long pilot that will experiment with and evaluate novel models for the first-year experience,” Barnhart wrote. “He will report to Ian and engage with the community and with faculty governance on strategies and programs designed to improve learning outcomes and strengthen the links between educational innovation and the student experience.”

Highlighting Staton’s service since former Dean for Graduate Education Christine Ortiz stepped down, Barnhart wrote, “[Staton] was extremely gracious to take on these expanded duties, and graduate students have benefited from her expertise and compassion.”

On July 1, Staton will return to her full-time role as senior associate dean for graduate education and will work closely with Waitz on all matters related to graduate education, advocacy, and support.

“I look forward to working closely with Denny and Blanche — both of whom have made, and will continue to make, tremendous contributions to enhancing MIT’s educational environment — and to working with their dedicated professional staff,” Waitz says. “Meeting our charge to reinvent the 21st century residential academic experience and provide a way forward for MIT will require a team effort and the collective support of the extended Institute community.”

While his new role will not start until July 1, Waitz plans to begin the transition process immediately through meeting with students, faculty, and staff.

Categories: In the News

Earth Observing–1 satellite is retired, leaving a legacy of spectacular imagery

MIT News - Thu, 04/27/2017 - 12:00

After more than 16 years of operation, NASA's Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) spacecraft was decommissioned on March 30. The EO-1 satellite was a component of NASA's New Millennium Program to validate new technologies that could reduce costs and improve capabilities for future space missions. Aboard EO-1 was the Advanced Land Imager (ALI) instrument developed by MIT Lincoln Laboratory as an alternative to the land-imaging sensor that was used by the Landsat Earth-observing program.

"From its inception, ALI was intended to demonstrate new technologies that would carry on Landsat's more than 30-year legacy of continuous land monitoring while providing substantial size, weight, power, and cost reductions," says Jeffrey Mendenhall, current leader of Lincoln Laboratory's Advanced Imager Technology Group and a member of the ALI development team. "Thirty international Earth science teams evaluated a variety of ALI data — for example, data for agriculture, forestry, urban development, climate, volcanology, glaciology, geology, water management — collected over the first year of operation to assess the instrument's performance relative to Landsat program expectations. The ultimate conclusion was that ALI met, or in many instances, exceeded the Landsat 7 instrument's performance."

ALI not only achieved higher image resolution and quality, it also exhibited greater sensitivity and dynamic range, and realized higher radiometric accuracy. Moreover, compared to the Landsat imager, ALI was only about three-quarters as heavy, occupied two-thirds as much space, consumed one-fifth as much power, and cost significantly less to build.

The EO-1 satellite was launched on November 21, 2000 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on a planned one-year mission to collect 2,000 images of Earth. The spacecraft was designed to operate for another year and carried fuel adequate for another five years. However, EO-1 proved to be a workhorse. NASA, in collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey, National Reconnaissance Office, Naval Research Laboratory, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, operated EO-1 for more than 15 years beyond its intended mission life.

ALI has collected more than 90,000 images, many of which were groundbreaking, such as the first mapping of a lava flow from space and the first tracking of regrowth of an Amazon forest as seen from space. During its lifetime, ALI captured many dramatic scenes — depictions of the ash deposits left by the 2001 World Trade Center attacks, flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the December 2015 eruption of Momotombo volcano in Nicaragua, to name a few.

Lincoln Laboratory's role

Lincoln Laboratory's involvement in the EO-1 mission began in January 1994. NASA asked the laboratory to conduct a study to investigate the rapid development of an inexpensive land-imaging mission that could fill the gap in data collection created when the Landsat 6 spacecraft failed to launch. The recommendations of this investigation were not implemented immediately, but the study's findings did inform the later EO-1 sensor design and mission concept. In spring 1994, Lincoln Laboratory began work with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center to conceive a follow-on to the Landsat Earth-imaging mission. Further collaboration in 1995 with the New Millennium Program and SSG, Inc. led to the design for ALI.

The ALI development was a rigorous, time-intensive program of development, fabrication, system calibration, and preflight testing. "A most significant Lincoln Lab effort was the optomechanical redesign of the telescope structure using three pieces of Invar. The initial intent of an outside vendor was to use an all-silicon carbide design that we found could not be implemented. In a very short period, so as not to compromise a very demanding schedule, Vin Cerrati and Keith Doyle of the [then] Optical Systems Engineering Group redesigned and analyzed the structure to efficiently support the optics and focal plane," recalls Steven Forman of the laboratory's Engineering Division, which provided fabrication support to the lead R&D team from the Aerospace Division.

Lincoln Laboratory delivered ALI to NASA in 1999, and the system was integrated on the EO-1 satellite at Swales Aerospace. Five days after EO-1's 2000 launch, ALI captured its first images of land. Those images showed remarkable detail of Sutton, Alaska, a small town wedged in a dark valley. Later that day, Nov. 25, ALI collected imagery of east Antarctica, the Marshallese island of Roi-Namur, and north-central Australia.

ALI's impact

One of the objectives of the ALI demonstration was to evaluate its imagery against that of the Landsat 7 instrument. Thus, EO-1 was maneuvered into orbit to trail Landsat 7 by one minute as it completed 14 orbits each day and repeated the collections every 16 days. Comparison of the ALI and Landsat performances on imaging the same regions at virtually the same times confirmed that the new imager could image Earth at the same level of detail (30 meters per pixel) as the Landsat sensor; however, ALI's set of sensors enabled sharper, photo-like images once the data were processed at the ground station.

ALI's combination of design choices resulted in an innovative system. "The Advanced Land Imager employed a new architecture that eliminated the Landsat scan mirror and implemented new technologies, such as large, modular focal plane arrays and wide-field-of-view optics," says William Brown, head of the Aerospace Division at the time of ALI's development.

To reduce the optical diameter of the sensor, and thus its weight, the laboratory's researchers increased the number of detectors in the focal plane array. This choice allowed a "push-broom" approach to scanning a wide swath of Earth each day. The Landsat system had employed a sensor that collected data in a "whisk broom" mode, i.e., using a single camera that focuses on narrow section of a scene. Such a whisk broom sensor is heavy and expensive, requiring large moving parts that are difficult to stabilize. "By building a focal plane that could be used as a 'push broom' to collect the data as the satellite flies along the ground track, the ALI team demonstrated that the necessary data could be acquired with an instrument that had no moving parts This was a groundbreaking technology advance," says Grant Stokes, head of the laboratory's Space Systems and Technology Division.

In addition, ALI used detectors fabricated from different materials to enable the use of several spectral bands for comprehensive imaging of objects and topography, and the ground data system was automated to permit one operator to quickly acquire and process ALI data.  

"The lab's unique understanding of sensor technology and the mission needs enabled a revolutionary technology to be developed for the Landsat program. EO-1 demonstrated technology on orbit that was transferred to industry to enable Landsat 8," Stokes says. The Landsat 8 instrument, the Operational Land Imager, is based on the ALI design and has been in orbit since 2013, collecting valuable data about Earth's surfaces in the visible, near-infrared, and short-wave infrared bands.

Farewell

When, on March 30, EO-1's operation ended, NASA had shut down the satellite by depleting its fuel, stopping all moving parts, discharging the battery, and turning off the transmitter. EO-1's orbit will slowly degrade and, in approximately 39 years, EO-1 will reenter Earth's atmosphere, where it is expected to fragment and then burn up.

EO-1 has had a great run. It changed the way spectral measurements are made and used by the scientific community, according to Betsy Middleton, EO-1's project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. EO-1 has also validated new concepts and systems for science missions, and has offered us intriguing, spectacular views of Earth.

Categories: In the News

The creation of a public engineer

MIT News - Thu, 04/27/2017 - 10:25

“In my lab, we bridge a gap,” says Hadley Sikes. “We try to figure out how to take established science and implement it in clinical practice in a reliable, easy and cost-effective way.”

The associate professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering is one of an increasing number of MIT faculty members who do what might best be called public engineering, which emphasizes the interaction between society and technology.

Her team is integrating molecular technologies for diagnosing malaria and other infectious diseases in resource-limited areas, including Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia. At the same time, her lab is developing technologies to predict the effectiveness of particular chemotherapeutics in treating an individual patient’s cancer that might one day be used at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

The desire to bridge that gap — between theory and practice, the local and the global, the developed world and the developing world — inspired Sikes to transition from academic basic science to chemical engineering when she was a post-doc. That decision has guided her career and teaching ever since.

Graduate students in the Sikes Lab, for example, study research literature on molecular signatures of health and disease, which, in turn, informs their ongoing design of technologies to help medical practitioners save lives in rural villages, in urban centers, and in countries rich and poor.

“I want our devices to be widely used in clinical settings all over the world,” says Sikes. “Their widespread adoption would have a profound impact on people suffering from various diseases. I want to be part of that — and I want our lab to be part of that.”

Learning by doing

Growing up in Alabama, Sikes developed a love of science, math, and innovation, but her public school lacked the funds for high-tech equipment. The school did, however, host an annual science fair, which inspired Sikes to be creative in the way she embraced project design and drew on her accumulated knowledge.

Sikes passes on such lessons to her students in courses like 10.492 (Integrated Chemical Engineering), a senior design class focused on biosensors. The class acquaints students with approaches to the detection and quantification of biological molecules for purposes ranging from medical diagnostics to environmental monitoring to food safety to defense.

In a group design project, students creatively apply concepts from kinetics, thermodynamics, and transport to current problems.

“I give students an opportunity to practice what they’ve learned in their core classes,” she says. “They tap that knowledge in new ways and apply it in practice.”

The here and now

Google software engineer Derek Wu ’15, a former 10.492 student, says his design project involved drawing on concepts from other disciplines, and applying that knowledge in the context of biology and human health.

His group proposed using microneedle patches, rather than injections, to deliver synthetic biomarkers into the human body to detect non-communicable diseases, such as cancer or thrombosis. Using the patches requires much less training compared with injections — a useful technique, particularly in resource-limited settings.

“Whenever I had questions, Hadley always approached answers from the student point of view,” recalls Wu. “I always felt she was on my side when she was helping me address various challenges.”

His former classmate Matias Porras ’15, now a program analyst at Genentech in San Francisco, worked on the project with Wu. “I really enjoyed finding a way to improve the way diagnostics are done in developing countries,” he says.

Sikes says MIT is at the center of innovation — and that’s exactly where she, and her students love to be.

“Students can start to do the clinical testing and prototyping right away," she says. Things seem possible here. Things that seem kind of far-off maybe in other places — those things are happening here.”

Categories: In the News

Wireless power could enable ingestible electronics

MIT News - Thu, 04/27/2017 - 05:00

Researchers at MIT, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory have devised a way to wirelessly power small electronic devices that can linger in the digestive tract indefinitely after being swallowed. Such devices could be used to sense conditions in the gastrointestinal tract, or carry small reservoirs of drugs to be delivered over an extended period.

Finding a safe and efficient power source is a critical step in the development of such ingestible electronic devices, says Giovanni Traverso, a research affiliate at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and a gastroenterologist and biomedical engineer at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

“If we’re proposing to have systems reside in the body for a long time, power becomes crucial,” says Traverso, one of the senior authors of the study. “Having the ability to transmit power wirelessly opens up new possibilities as we start to approach this problem.”

The new strategy, described in the April 27 issue of the journal Scientific Reports, is based on the wireless transfer of power from an antenna outside the body to another one inside the digestive tract. This method yields enough power to run sensors that could monitor heart rate, temperature, or levels of particular nutrients or gases in the stomach.

“Right now we have no way of measuring things like core body temperature or concentration of micronutrients over an extended period of time, and with these devices you could start to do that kind of thing,” says Abubakar Abid, a former MIT graduate student who is the paper’s first author.

Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT, is also a senior author of the paper. Other authors are Koch Institute technical associates Taylor Bensel and Cody Cleveland, former Koch Institute research technician Lucas Booth, and Draper researchers Brian Smith and Jonathan O’Brien.

Wireless transmission

The research team has been working for several years on different types of ingestible electronics, including sensors that can monitor vital signs, and drug delivery vehicles that can remain in the digestive tract for weeks or months. To power these devices, the team has been exploring various options, including a galvanic cell that is powered by interactions with the acid of the stomach.

However, one drawback to using this type of battery cell is that the metal electrodes stop working over time. In their latest study, the team wanted to come up with a way to power their devices without using electrodes, allowing them to remain in the GI tract indefinitely.

The researchers first considered the possibility of using near-field transmission, that is, wireless energy transfer between two antennas over very small distances. This approach is now used for some cell phone chargers, but because the antennas have to be very close together, the researchers realized it would not work for transferring power over the distances they needed — about 5 to 10 centimeters.

Instead, they decided to explore midfield transmission, which can transfer power across longer distances. Researchers at Stanford University have recently explored using this strategy to power pacemakers, but no one had tried using it for devices in the digestive tract.

Using this approach, the researchers were able to deliver 100 to 200 microwatts of power to their device, which is more than enough to power small electronics, Abid says. A temperature sensor that wirelessly transmits a temperature reading every 10 seconds would require about 30 microwatts, as would a video camera that takes 10 to 20 frames per second.

In a study conducted in pigs, the external antenna was able to transfer power over distances ranging from 2 to 10 centimeters, and the researchers found that the energy transfer caused no tissue damage.

“We’re able to efficiently send power from the transmitter antennas outside the body to antennas inside the body, and do it in a way that minimizes the radiation being absorbed by the tissue itself,” Abid says.

Christopher Bettinger, an associate professor of materials science and biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, describes the study as a “great advancement” in the rapidly growing field of ingestible electronics.

“This is a classic problem with implantable devices: How do you power them? What they’re doing with wireless power is a very nice approach,” says Bettinger, who was not involved in the research.

An alternative to batteries

For this study, the researchers used square antennas with 6.8-millimeter sides. The internal antenna has to be small enough that it can be swallowed, but the external antenna can be larger, which offers the possibility of generating larger amounts of energy. The external power source could be used either to continuously power the internal device or to charge it up, Traverso says.

“It’s really a proof-of-concept in establishing an alternative to batteries for the powering of devices in the GI tract,” he says.

“This work, combined with exciting advancements in subthreshold electronics, low-power systems-on-a-chip, and novel packaging miniaturization, can enable many sensing, monitoring, and even stimulation or actuation applications,” Smith says.

The researchers are continuing to explore different ways to power devices in the GI tract, and they hope that some of their devices will be ready for human testing within about five years.

“We’re developing a whole series of other devices that can stay in the stomach for a long time, and looking at different timescales of how long we want to keep them in,” Traverso says. “I suspect that depending on the different applications, some methods of powering them may be better suited than others.”

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and by a Draper Fellowship.

Categories: In the News

Separated bike path for Cambridge Street welcomed for installation as soon as June

Cambridge Day - Thu, 04/27/2017 - 04:11
The first public meeting on a Cambridge Street separated bike lane project drew some 150 residents, who greeted the design – shifting the bike lane between parked cars and the curb – and summer timeline with overwhelming support.
Categories: In the News

&pizza wins over Harvard Square advisers, tests zoning board with tardy submissions

Cambridge Day - Thu, 04/27/2017 - 01:43
A decision on whether &pizza will be allowed to fill two spaces in Harvard Square should come Thursday when the Board of Zoning Appeals is scheduled to hear the chain's request for a fast food special permit – a hearing that’s been continued twice already.
Categories: In the News

Big in Japan

MIT News - Thu, 04/27/2017 - 00:00

In 1929, the Victor Talking Machine Company of Japan, a subsidiary of RCA, released a recording of the song “Tokyo March,” an ode to modern life, with lines about “dancing to jazz and drinking liqueur late into the night.” Performed by the singer Sato Chiyako, “Tokyo March” quickly sold 150,000 copies, making it the first big pop hit in Japanese history.

From that point through the 1960s, Japan’s pop music industry became a powerhouse. Despite disruptions due to war and postwar reconstruction, companies churned out hundreds of what were termed “popular songs,” or “ryukoka,” in Japanese.

By the time this pop-music boom slowed, in the 1970s, Japan had transformed itself from a traditional and hierarchical society into a nation where almost everyone described themselves as being part of the country’s middle class.

For Hiromu Nagahara, the Cecil and Ida Green Career Development Assistant Professor of History at MIT, these developments are related. Japanese popular music, he believes, helped create a larger common culture in the country — including a larger culture of consumption — that placed more people on common social ground.

“Japan was a highly class-conscious society,” says Nagahara, referring to the era when “Tokyo March” was released. “For the vast majority of Japanese, they didn’t feel like they were middle class. But by the time you get to the 1970s and 1980s, people feel they are all middle class.”

Now Nagahara has written a new book examining the way popular music became intertwined with the larger transformation of Japan. In “Tokyo Boogie-Woogie: Japan’s Pop Era and Its Discontents,” published this month by Harvard University Press, he examines the politics of popular music and concludes that “Japan’s masses … emerged not only as the chief consumers of mass media and mass culture but also as the protagonists of the broader social change” that upended the country.

Footloose in ’47

To be sure, as Nagahara explains, “popular” music in Japan during this era accommodated a variety of styles. Some songs, like the star Kasagi Shizuko’s 1947 hit “Tokyo Boogie-Woogie,” the basis of the book’s title, were upbeat and swing-based; others were more somber and hinted at more traditional influences.

As the popular music industry expanded, not everyone became a fan of the new songs. Indeed, a central part of Nagahara’s book addresses the ongoing resistance to pop music, often stemming from cultural elites who preferred other types of Western music, including classical music, which they viewed as a mark of refinement.

“The ongoing concern was that the music was vulgar and low,” says Nagahara. “Well into the 1960s, the common stance of Japan’s intellectual and cultural elite was that these songs were inherently vulgar.”

On one level, that represents a familiar cultural clash, with echoes of generational disputes over rock and roll in the U.S. or Britain. But in Japan, the politics of pop music had some unique features. Consider the post-World War II occupation and reconstruction of Japan by the U.S., which lasted until 1952. Critics of pop music saw the occupation as a chance to squelch Japanese pop music styles and re-emphasize the value of Western music.

For instance, as Nagahara notes, one highbrow pop critic, Aragaki Hideo, argued that the “despair” and “melancholy” of some pop songs were holding the country back. “When I listen to these songs,” he wrote, “I get depressed and the reconstruction of Japanese spirit seems totally impossible.”

That might sound extreme, but it was not an uncommon view to find in print.

“The critics hoped the occupation would help Americanize Japanese music,” Nagahara explains.

It didn’t, however, creating an important social dynamic. Japanese pop music was not only an increasingly common, shared cultural experience for the budding middle class; it was also regarded as a “reflection of the nation’s culture,” as Nagahara puts it. People could be patriotic, and be consumers, at the same time.

Video killed the radio star

The critics of Japanese pop music might have been fighting a “long war,” as Nagahara terms it, but they did not win it. “Popular songs produced by the recording industry became uncontroversial and even came to be seen as part of Japan’s cultural establishment by new generations of musicians,” Nagahara writes in the book.

Instead, the centrality of pop music in Japanese culture finally became limited by other forms of entertainment: mostly television, which became fully pervasive by the 1970s, as well as other Japanese mass-culture products such as cartoons and computer games. 

Still, to Nagahara, pop music did not just reflect the changes in Japanese society but helped constitute them, making it part of an important cultural episode.

Other scholars who have read the book agree. Christine Yano, an anthropology professor at the University of Hawaii who has also written about Japanese popular music, calls the book “a wonderfully insightful and nuanced history,” which is going to “make a strong contribution to the field of modern Japanese history and pop music and pop culture studies.”

So while the genre of “ryukoka” had become, even by the 1970s, “increasingly antiquated,” as Nagahara puts it, scholars have found that understanding pop music’s impact in the preceding half-century is a valuable window into Japanese life. Or, as a common adage from the time stated: “As the world goes, so go the songs; as the songs go, so goes the world.”

Categories: In the News

City Council agenda

Cambridge Civic Journal - Wed, 04/26/2017 - 21:45

Apr 24, 2017
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amended Apr 26

Agenda on City web site

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Categories: In the News

Surveillance policy, MIT lab proposal combine to alarm officials, residents

Cambridge Day - Wed, 04/26/2017 - 18:44
City surveillance policy debate and an MIT lab proposal raised questions Monday: How should Cambridge control digital surveillance technologies by city government? Should the City Council leave deployment of technologies to the city manager?
Categories: In the News

Revolutionizing global health

MIT News - Wed, 04/26/2017 - 17:25

MIT research scientist Richard Fletcher directs the Mobile Technology Group at MIT D-Lab, which develops a variety of mobile sensors, analytic tools, and diagnostic algorithms to study problems in global health and behavior medicine. Utilizing mobile technologies — which include smartphones, wearable sensors, and the so-called internet of things — his group applies these technologies to real-world social problems with global implications. These issues involve a variety of areas, such as environmental monitoring and air pollution, agriculture, farming, and global health.

Fletcher notes that public health is of enormous importance and includes a wide range of diseases and conditions. His work at D-Lab has a myriad of applications: Sometimes this means simply doing better point-of-care diagnosis of acute or chronic diseases; other times, the focus is on screening and identifying those who are sick but don’t realize it. “For example, consider the fact that every two minutes around the world a woman dies in childbirth. This is something that is for the most part preventable if problems can be detected ahead of time,” Fletcher says.

Fletcher’s group also creates tools that promote healthier behaviors and lifestyles. In addition to cardiometabolic diseases, such as diabetes, he points to the multitude of mental health disorders, like depression, anxiety disorders, sleep disorders, and the crisis of substance abuse, which negatively impact millions of lives, as areas that are in severe need of better solutions. His work seeks to apply technology to address many of these fundamental social problems affecting people on a daily basis.

“Mobile technology is a double-edged sword,” says Fletcher. “Addiction to smartphones and social media are emerging as serious problems, and most mobile health apps on the market have never been validated or tested clinically. But our group is trying to change that, and demonstrate that mobile technology can be a powerful tool to positively impact people’s health.”

While some might question whether this type of public health work has a place at an engineering school, Fletcher insists that the combination of technical knowledge coupled with the freedom to seek out novel approaches to design flaws are part of what makes MIT D-Lab the ideal setting for the work. Fletcher’s philosophy with regard to the intersection of technology and health is global. He is adamant in his belief that the design constraints encountered in the developing world must be considered and confronted in the early stages of design. While health researchers and doctors don’t generally have the luxury of designing their technology, and instead usually customize what is available, Fletcher’s group is uniquely interdisciplinary and designs everything from the ground up: from the electronic circuit boards and firmware to the software and the algorithms to the network communications and server-side software. He believes the incorporation of this knowledge will ultimately produce a superior product, best suited to the end customer and their constraints.

“Having this feedback loop that extends from the early stages of technology development all the way to clinical field studies, is the true marriage of technology and global and public health,” Feltcher says. In his view, developing countries need the most advanced technology that is simplified so it may be used by people with lower technical skills and less training. But Fletcher is quick to point out that this doesn’t mean dumbed-down versions. Rather, the opposite is true; the tools must be endowed with an extremely high level of intelligence, including machine learning algorithms to provide diagnostic support, and also the use of technologies such as augmented reality to make the interface easy to use. “We often say, we like to empower ordinary people to do extraordinary things. This is what technology should really be about.”

Global health was not Rich Fletcher’s initial field interest. Rather, he devoted the first stages of his career, including graduate school and time in the military, to the development of wireless sensors and radio frequency identification (RFID). At that time, he was interested in the early visions of the internet of things, which led to thinking about ubiquitous computing. One of the fundamental tenets of that vision was that every object in our environment should have its own unique ID. Fletcher worked with Kevin Ashton at Proctor and Gamble, who coined the term “internet of things” together with his MIT advisor Neil Gershenfeld. Building on his five-year research experience at the U.S. Air Force Materials Lab, Fletcher worked with Gershenfeld to create unique ID codes embedded within smart materials themselves.

“Every material has its own electromagnetic signature,” he explains, “and you can use that signature to identify the things in your environment.” The next step in the puzzle involved researching how to apply material structures to do the sensing in the environment. Fletcher says, “You not only want the devices in your environment to have an ID, and be able to talk to them, but you also want them to sense what is going on. Things as simple as light, vibration, temperature, and so forth.” He created sensors made from low-cost materials, which spawned his startup Tag-Sense, and spinoffs including Fresh Temp, which was acquired a few months ago by internet of things company Digi.

Working with one of the world’s first RFID companies, Indala Corporation, and then later MIT groups led by Gershenfeld and MIT Professor Sanjay Sarma, Fletcher has been integral to the evolution of RFID technology. From identification, to sensing, to communication protocol that allows these things to talk to one another, and even to the idea of energy harvesting, or how to use vibration, light, and heat to power these things and create micro-batteries or energy harvesting circuits. After completing his PhD at the Media Lab, Fletcher also built sensors for living plants and agriculture, inspired by JC Bose in Calcutta, India, who was one of the first people to detect and produce radio waves in the late 1800s. Bose proved that plants have primitive nervous systems and can communicate with their environments. It was this work with signals that attracted Fletcher to the signals produced by biological systems and the living things themselves (i.e., plants, animals, humans). “I discovered that there is enormous complexity in these signals, and an enormous opportunity to explore these signals for health applications. I also learned that we can apply machine learning and other advanced analysis to the data produced by humans, animals, and plants, and be able to create some very powerful tools for analyzing and improving our health.” Fletcher then went on to build wearable sensors for children with autism with Professor Rosalind Picard at the MIT Media Lab and also made wearable sensors for monkeys and primates with Institute Professor Ann Graybiel, who studies the neuroscience of addiction.

Working with smartphones led Fletcher to the realm of mental health. With the phone’s ability to deliver images, videos, and sounds, and connect to other people, Fletcher suggests we can think of our phones as a drug delivery device, capable of delivering therapy outside the clinic. Creative utilization of the technology has spawned forward thinking models for helping those in need. For example, his group has recently partnered with a preeminent yoga school in India to develop mobile tools that will help train people to meditate as a means to alleviate stress and manage pain.

Fletcher also recognizes the difficulties inherent in mobile technologies and wearable sensors. Oftentimes those who need these technologies are the most resistant to wearing them (for example, elderly people or people with mental health issues). For this reason, he and his group are developing technologies that can measure physiology and monitor behavior in a non-contact manner, without the need for wearable sensors, utilizing devices such as low-cost Doppler radar devices imbedded in car seats, walls, or furniture, to measure heart rate and respiration. He also uses special cameras and thermal imaging, even odors emitted from the human body. All of these technologies and signals can tell us about our health. In his eyes, this “ubiquitous sensing” is the future direction of the field.

An essential element to Rich Fletcher’s work is the desire for his research have a significant impact in the real world. As such, entrepreneurship, and by extension partnering with individuals, startup companies, or organizations, is integral to his endeavors. Because Fletcher is interested in sustainability of the product and the business model. It is not only a marriage of technology and health, but also an embrace of the multi-faceted process required to positively impact the world. “Now is really an exciting time,” Fletcher says. “The vision we had 20 years ago of the internet of things is now finally becoming a reality. Now that the technology has matured, we’re starting to look at what we can do with these technologies and what is possible. And that’s what my group does today. We look at how we can apply all these wonderful mobile wireless technologies in ways that can have real social impact and apply them to solve real social problems.”

Categories: In the News

Statewide sex sting results in seven arrests at East Cambridge hotel; no Cantabrigians

Cambridge Day - Wed, 04/26/2017 - 17:20
Seven men were arrested in a sting operation March 9 at a Cambridge hotel as part of a effort to fight sex trafficking – but none of the johns were from Cambridge.
Categories: In the News

MIT community members honored for work to prevent sexual misconduct

MIT News - Wed, 04/26/2017 - 16:55

As part of the Institute’s efforts to call attention to sexual assault education and prevention work during national Sexual Assault Awareness Month, MIT Violence Prevention and Response (VPR) and the Title IX Office hosted the first annual Change Maker Awards on April 11. The ceremony, which brought advocates and allies from across campus together, recognized select students, faculty, and staff for their outstanding work to end sexual violence at MIT.

“The VPR and Title IX teams came up with the idea for the Change Maker Awards because we want to make the positive visible,” said Kate McCarthy, director of VPR. “We want to celebrate the people who are working to create a more inclusive and welcoming community.”

The awards honor individuals who reflect the values and mission of the Institute, challenge harmful attitudes, language, and behaviors, and help take positive strides toward shifting the culture that perpetuates sexual violence. Faculty, staff, and students were encouraged to nominate individuals or student groups who are working to make a difference at MIT. The selection committee, which included representatives from VPR and Title IX, reviewed the nominations and selected this year’s award recipients.

Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart, who has made sexual assault education and prevention a top priority during her tenure, congratulated VPR, Title IX, and the first class of Change Makers for their hard work and dedication.

“I believe it is important for us to take a moment out of our hectic day-to-day lives to recognize our students, faculty, staff, and organizations in this way. By honoring the individuals who are responsible for moving us forward, we are making a powerful statement about our collective commitment to education, prevention, and cultural change,” Barnhart said during welcoming remarks at the ceremony.

The 2017 Change Maker Award recipients play diverse roles on campus and bring unique perspectives, expertise, creativity, and commitment to eliminating one of the most pressing problems in higher education today.

The following individuals and student group make up the inaugural class of Change Makers:

  • Senior Charlie Andrews-Jubelt was selected for his contributions as a member of Students Advocating for Education and Respectful Relationships (SAFER2) and founding peer educator in PLEASURE. Andrews-Jubelt is known for speaking up to challenge harmful cultural norms.
  • Graduate student Priya Moni was recognized for her initiative to improve the online sexual harassment training programs new students take during orientation by adding content tailored to the MIT community.
  • MIT’s Interfraternity Council’s sexual misconduct committee members were named Change Makers because the group designed the Consent Awareness and Prevention (CAP) certification program to recognize fraternities who prioritize member education.
  • David Singer, associate professor of political science and associate head of house at MacGregor, received recognition for his work chairing the Presidential Committee on Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response. Singer spearheaded the effort to ensure all faculty and staff receive training on sexual misconduct prevention as well as how to respond to a student who discloses a sexual misconduct incident.
  • Graduate student Brittney Johnson was selected by her peers and by Vienna Rothberg, program manager of the PLEASURE program, for her consistent positive energy, dedication, and constructive criticism as a member of the PLEASURE Executive Board. Johnson has also instituted proactive changes to improve the group’s operations.

VPR and Title IX staff will continue to work with these allies as well as the countless other champions of change in the hopes of eliminating sexual violence at MIT. 

Categories: In the News

MIT community members honored for work to prevent sexual misconduct

MIT Events - Wed, 04/26/2017 - 16:55

As part of the Institute’s efforts to call attention to sexual assault education and prevention work during national Sexual Assault Awareness Month, MIT Violence Prevention and Response (VPR) and the Title IX Office hosted the first annual Change Maker Awards on April 11. The ceremony, which brought advocates and allies from across campus together, recognized select students, faculty, and staff for their outstanding work to end sexual violence at MIT.

“The VPR and Title IX teams came up with the idea for the Change Maker Awards because we want to make the positive visible,” said Kate McCarthy, director of VPR. “We want to celebrate the people who are working to create a more inclusive and welcoming community.”

The awards honor individuals who reflect the values and mission of the Institute, challenge harmful attitudes, language, and behaviors, and help take positive strides toward shifting the culture that perpetuates sexual violence. Faculty, staff, and students were encouraged to nominate individuals or student groups who are working to make a difference at MIT. The selection committee, which included representatives from VPR and Title IX, reviewed the nominations and selected this year’s award recipients.

Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart, who has made sexual assault education and prevention a top priority during her tenure, congratulated VPR, Title IX, and the first class of Change Makers for their hard work and dedication.

“I believe it is important for us to take a moment out of our hectic day-to-day lives to recognize our students, faculty, staff, and organizations in this way. By honoring the individuals who are responsible for moving us forward, we are making a powerful statement about our collective commitment to education, prevention, and cultural change,” Barnhart said during welcoming remarks at the ceremony.

The 2017 Change Maker Award recipients play diverse roles on campus and bring unique perspectives, expertise, creativity, and commitment to eliminating one of the most pressing problems in higher education today.

The following individuals and student group make up the inaugural class of Change Makers:

  • Senior Charlie Andrews-Jubelt was selected for his contributions as a member of Students Advocating for Education and Respectful Relationships (SAFER2) and founding peer educator in PLEASURE. Andrews-Jubelt is known for speaking up to challenge harmful cultural norms.
  • Graduate student Priya Moni was recognized for her initiative to improve the online sexual harassment training programs new students take during orientation by adding content tailored to the MIT community.
  • MIT’s Interfraternity Council’s sexual misconduct committee members were named Change Makers because the group designed the Consent Awareness and Prevention (CAP) certification program to recognize fraternities who prioritize member education.
  • David Singer, associate professor of political science and associate head of house at MacGregor, received recognition for his work chairing the Presidential Committee on Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response. Singer spearheaded the effort to ensure all faculty and staff receive training on sexual misconduct prevention as well as how to respond to a student who discloses a sexual misconduct incident.
  • Graduate student Brittney Johnson was selected by her peers and by Vienna Rothberg, program manager of the PLEASURE program, for her consistent positive energy, dedication, and constructive criticism as a member of the PLEASURE Executive Board. Johnson has also instituted proactive changes to improve the group’s operations.

VPR and Title IX staff will continue to work with these allies as well as the countless other champions of change in the hopes of eliminating sexual violence at MIT. 

Categories: In the News

Chicken & Rice Guys trucks remain closed as state awaits E. coli outbreak test results

Cambridge Day - Wed, 04/26/2017 - 16:40
Chicken & Rice Guys’ four restaurants have reopened after the Middle Eastern-themed lunch and dinner business was linked to an outbreak of E. coli infections, but the company’s four food trucks – three serve Cambridge – and one pop-up eatery remain shuttered.
Categories: In the News

Pizza chain eyeing Harvard Square space must show ‘need’ to zoning appeals board

Cambridge Day - Wed, 04/26/2017 - 16:13
A pizza chain based in Washington, D.C., dubbed &pizza, is applying for what’s called a “fast food special permit” to be allowed to open another branch of its expanding chain – this time right in the middle of Harvard Square.
Categories: In the News

3-D printing offers new approach to making buildings

MIT News - Wed, 04/26/2017 - 14:00

The list of materials that can be produced by 3-D printing has grown to include not just plastics but also metal, glass, and even food. Now, MIT researchers are expanding the list further, with the design of a system that can 3-D print the basic structure of an entire building.

Structures built with this system could be produced faster and less expensively than traditional construction methods allow, the researchers say. A building could also be completely customized to the needs of a particular site and the desires of its maker. Even the internal structure could be modified in new ways; different materials could be incorporated as the process goes along, and material density could be varied to provide optimum combinations of strength, insulation, or other properties.

Ultimately, the researchers say, this approach could enable the design and construction of new kinds of buildings that would not be feasible with traditional building methods.

The robotic system is described this week in the journal Science Robotics, in a paper by Steven Keating PhD ’16, a mechanical engineering graduate and former research affiliate in the Mediated Matter group at the MIT Media Lab; Julian Leland and Levi Cai, both research assistants in the Mediated Matter group; and Neri Oxman, group director and associate professor of media arts and sciences.

The system consists of a tracked vehicle that carries a large, industrial robotic arm, which has a smaller, precision-motion robotic arm at its end. This highly controllable arm can then be used to direct any conventional (or unconventional) construction nozzle, such as those used for pouring concrete or spraying insulation material, as well as additional digital fabrication end effectors, such as a milling head.

Unlike typical 3-D printing systems, most of which use some kind of an enclosed, fixed structure to support their nozzles and are limited to building objects that can fit within their overall enclosure, this free-moving system can construct an object of any size. As a proof of concept, the researchers used a prototype to build the basic structure of the walls of a 50-foot-diameter, 12-foot-high dome — a project that was completed in less than 14 hours of “printing” time.

For these initial tests, the system fabricated the foam-insulation framework used to form a finished concrete structure. This construction method, in which polyurethane foam molds are filled with concrete, is similar to traditional commercial insulated-concrete formwork techniques. Following this approach for their initial work, the researchers showed that the system can be easily adapted to existing building sites and equipment, and that it will fit existing building codes without requiring whole new evaluations, Keating explains.

Ultimately, the system is intended to be self-sufficient. It is equipped with a scoop that could be used to both prepare the building surface and acquire local materials, such as dirt for a rammed-earth building, for the construction itself. The whole system could be operated electrically, even powered by solar panels. The idea is that such systems could be deployed to remote regions, for example in the developing world, or to areas for disaster relief after a major storm or earthquake, to provide durable shelter rapidly.

The ultimate vision is “in the future, to have something totally autonomous, that you could send to the moon or Mars or Antarctica, and it would just go out and make these buildings for years,” says Keating, who led the development of the system as his doctoral thesis work.

But in the meantime, he says, “we also wanted to show that we could build something tomorrow that could be used right away.” That’s what the team did with its initial mobile platform. “With this process, we can replace one of the key parts of making a building, right now,” he says. “It could be integrated into a building site tomorrow.”

“The construction industry is still mostly doing things the way it has for hundreds of years,” says Keating. “The buildings are rectilinear, mostly built from single materials, put together with saws and nails,” and mostly built from standardized plans.

But, Keating wondered, what if every building could be individualized and designed using on-site environmental data? In the future, the supporting pillars of such a building could be placed in optimal locations based on ground-penetrating radar analysis of the site, and walls could have varying thickness depending on their orientation. For example, a building could have thicker, more insulated walls on its north side in cold climates, or walls that taper from bottom to top as their load-bearing requirements decrease, or curves that help the structure withstand winds.

The creation of this system, which the researchers call a Digital Construction Platform (DCP), was motivated by the Mediated Matter group’s overall vision of designing buildings without parts. Such a vision includes, for example, combining “structure and skin,” and beams and windows, in a single production process, and adapting multiple design and construction processes on the fly, as the structure is being built.

From an architectural perspective, Oxman says, the project “challenges traditional building typologies such as walls, floors, or windows, and proposes that a single system could be fabricated using the DCP that can vary its properties continuously to create wall-like elements that continuously fuse into windows.”

To this end, the nozzles of the new 3-D printing system can be adapted to vary the density of the material being poured, and even to mix different materials as it goes along. In the version used in the initial tests, the device created an insulating foam shell that would be left in place after the concrete is poured; interior and exterior finish materials could be applied directly to that foam surface.

The system can even create complex shapes and overhangs, which the team demonstrated by including a wide, built-in bench in their prototype dome. Any needed wiring and plumbing can be inserted into the mold before the concrete is poured, providing a finished wall structure all at once. It can also incorporate data about the site collected during the process, using built-in sensors for temperature, light, and other parameters to make adjustments to the structure as it is built.

Keating says the team’s analysis shows that such construction methods could produce a structure faster and less expensively than present methods can, and would also be much safer. (The construction industry is one of the most dangerous occupations, and this system requires less hands-on work.) In addition, because shapes and thicknesses can be optimized for what is needed structurally, rather than having to match what’s available in premade lumber and other materials, the total amount of material needed could be reduced.

While the platform represents an engineering advance, Oxman notes. “Making it faster, better, and cheaper is one thing. But the ability to design and digitally fabricate multifunctional structures in a single build embodies a shift from the machine age to the biological age — from considering the building as a machine to live in, made of standardized parts, to the building as an organism, which is computationally grown, additively manufactured, and possibly biologically augmented.”

“So to me it’s not merely a printer,” she says, “but an entirely new way of thinking about making, that facilitates a paradigm shift in the area of digital fabrication, but also for architectural design. … Our system points to a future vision of digital construction that enables new possibilities on our planet and beyond.”

Categories: In the News

Tommi Jaakkola appointed Thomas Siebel Professor in EECS and IDSS

MIT News - Wed, 04/26/2017 - 12:35

Tommi Jaakkola, a professor of computer science and engineering at MIT, has been named the inaugural holder of the Thomas Siebel Professorship in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) and the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS).

The appointment was announced by Anantha Chandrakasan, head of EECS and the Vannevar Bush Professor of EECS, and by Munther A. Dahleh, IDSS director and the William Coolidge Professor of EECS. “The appointment recognizes Professor Jaakkola's leadership in the area of machine learning and his outstanding mentorship and educational contributions,” Chandrakasan and Dahleh wrote in a message to EECS faculty. “Professor Jaakkola is internationally well-known in the fields of machine learning and natural language processing, as well as in computational biology. He is widely respected as an original researcher and has made high-impact contributions.”

The new professorship was established through the generous contribution of veteran software entrepreneur Thomas Siebel, chair and CEO of C3IoT. Siebel is well-known at MIT for having established the Siebel Scholars program, which annually provides support for 16 MIT graduate students (five in EECS, five in the Department of Biological Engineering, five in the MIT Sloan School of Management, and one focusing in energy science).

At the core of Jaakkola’s research are inferential and estimation questions in complex modeling tasks, ranging from developing the underlying theory and associated algorithms to translating such advances into applications. He has been a leading contributor to developing distributed probabilistic inference algorithms from this field’s inception to its current state as a well-established area of research.

From the modeling point of view, Jaakkola’s work covers a broad spectrum of areas, from the interface between generative and discriminative modeling, rethinking modeling from the point of view of randomization and combinatorial optimization, to recovery questions associated with continuous embedding of objects. In natural language processing (NLP), his contributions solving hard combinatorial inference problems such as natural language parsing, developing deep convolutional representations of text, and reframing complex models to reveal interpretable rationales for prediction. Several of his papers have received best-paper awards at leading events. 

In addition, Jaakkola “has made outstanding educational contributions,” Chandrakasan and Dahleh noted. He established and oversaw the growth of the graduate machine learning course, teaching it for many years until Professor Leslie Kaelbling took it over for further development. Together with Professor Regina Barzilay, he developed the undergraduate machine learning course, which now enrolls more than 500 students per term. He modernized the advanced NLP course, again taught with Barzilay, from the point of view of neural approaches to NLP. In 2015, Jaakkola received the Jamieson Award for Excellence in Teaching in recognition of his educational contributions.

He has also made valuable professional contributions in his field and within EECS. He has held editorial positions on prestigious journals such as the Journal of Machine Learning Research and the Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research. He has also co-chaired or overseen areas of major conferences, including the Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems (NIPS), the Conference on Uncertainty in Artificial Intelligence (UAI), and the Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Statistics (AISTATS). He served for many years on the EECS Faculty Search Committee and has been a member of other committees as well. He has also contributed to the career paths of many students and postdocs that he has supervised and mentored at MIT. Former students and postdocs from his research group now hold positions in leading universities such as MIT, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of California at Berkeley. 

As an affiliate member of IDSS, Jaakkola has been instrumental in both the hiring and recruitment of statistics faculty as well as the creation of programs in statistics. He has served on the IDSS Statistics Faculty Search Committee from the start, and worked with the IDSS Statistics PhD Committee to develop a proposal for a dual PhD degree in statistics. He is also a participant in the Statistics and Data Science MicroMasters.

Categories: In the News