Sunday, October 30, 2011

Perfect for Halloween: Sorcerors and Apprentices

We commend to you The Sorcerers and Their Apprentices: How the Digital Magicians of the MIT Media Lab Are Creating the Innovative Technologies That Will Transform Our Lives, by Frank Moss.

Moss is the recent former director of the MIT Media Lab, and the book is an informal tour of the Lab's discovery process, which has brought us such things as digital books (where I read this one).

The MIT Media Lab is an agglomeration of scientists, engineers, artists and other experts into what Moss calls "anti-disciplinary" fields such as Kindergarten for Life, Opera of the Future and New Media Medicine. To say that the Lab is doing "cutting edge" work in science and technology would be an understatement--the folks in the lab are, in many areas, re-inventing the way things are done, from city driving to doctor's office visits.

It's a short read, less than 240 pages, and a fun one. Learning how the Lab's denizens in the City of the Future group, for example, have created a foldable car that can be stacked like luggage carts at an airport is fascinating. The technologists in the lab don't just dream up great--but perhaps impractical--ideas. They implement them by creating working prototypes and then giving the technology away to their many corporate sponsors.

While the gadgets and systems created at the Lab are mind-boggling, Moss's bigger point is the process of creation at the Lab--the antidisciplinary approach. The new "city car," for example, was created by a team that included only one automotive engineer, which gave them the freedom not only to think outside the box, but to discard the box altogether.

Some of the Lab's projects are almost magical in nature. The book highlights the roles of many of the quirky people involved in this process of creation. These are not boring people, and the book is a fun read that makes one optimistic for the futue.

The only negative is Moss's occasional myopic tendency to imply that no one else in the world is doing similar work. We doubt that's the case, but surely labs like MIT's are still pretty rare, and the approach used there could be more widely adopted in academic and corporate settings.

Who knows, maybe they'll even figure out a way to make Blogger's buttons work in Explorer 9!

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