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Media Lab marks fifth anniversary

By Andrea Lamberti

The Media Laboratory celebrated its fifth anniversary on Monday and Tuesday, with an open house, lectures, new exhibits, and performances.

Although it is only five years old, the lab was "actually born in the 1970s, when the first thought was given to establishing a campus facility at MIT dedicated to the human computer interface, or, as the later phrase went, to inventing the future," according to the lab's anniversary booklet.

In an interview yesterday, Media Lab Director Nicholas P. Negroponte '66 described the intellectual development of the lab over the past decade.

Negroponte said the lab has basically taken three steps since 1980. Initially, the "basic idea was human [and] computer interaction."

At that time, computers were rather "sensory deprived," he said, and personal computers did not exist in a form even close to their present state.

By 1985, when the lab opened its doors, the vision of the Media Lab had "a lot to do with the intersection of television, computers, and publication." In fact, according to the anniversary booklet, the "worlds of publishing, cinema, and computers . . . have been called the Laboratory's `teething rings'."

And now, Negroponte said, "The transition will be toward content and image understanding, common sense, [and] semantic information processing in general."

"[The Media Lab's] charter is to invent and creatively exploit new media for human well-being and individual satisfaction without regard for present-day constraints," according to the booklet.

The lab is composed of 12 groups: epistemology and learning, music and cognition, vision and modeling, spatial imaging, interactive cinema, movies of the future, television of tomorrow, electronic publishing, graphics and design, computer graphics and animation, advanced human interface, and speech research.

Approximately 1800 people -- industrial sponsors of the Media Lab as well as members of the MIT community and other invitees -- flowed through the events on Sunday night, Monday and Tuesday, Negroponte said.

"There was a two-day symposium, on the future of communications and the future of media, and essentially on what it is the media lab does," said V. Michael Bove '83, assistant professor of media arts and sciences.

Events Monday consisted of lectures from Negroponte, as well as Associate Director of the Media Lab Andrew B. Lippman '71, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Marvin L. Minsky, Visiting Lecturer in Media Arts and Sciences Alan C. Kay, and several others.

In addition, a retrospective of the Media Lab's work in synthetic holography opened in the Wiesner Building on Monday.

"Monday was a little more visionary, and Tuesday was a little more practical," Bove said of the two days of celebration. Lectures on Tuesday became more technical as members of the different research groups gave detailed presentations, he explained.

Many of the lab's industrial sponsors were part of the 230 people who attended a black-tie dinner Sunday night, "including such interesting ones as PAWS [the company that owns Garfield], Lego [toys], Warner Brothers, and Nintendo," Negroponte said.

On Monday, people clustered in front of television monitors in Lobby 7, Lobby 10, and the Media Lab to watch the lectures taking place inside Kresge Auditorium, which was filled to capacity on both days.

It was "a really well-received, well-attended set of lectures," Bove said.