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Media Lab Holds Symposium

By Sarah Y. Keightley
Editor in Chief

The Media Laboratory hosted a symposium called "Digital Expression" yesterday that featured artists, including Peter Gabriel and Quincy Jones, scientists, including the founder of Atari, and business and government leaders.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy also made a surprise appearance at the conference's reception.

The purpose of the day-long event held mainly in Kresge Auditorium was "to explore the future of creative expression in the face of new technology," according to event organizers Professor of Media Arts and Sciences Neil A. Gershenfeld, Professor of Computer Science and Engineering Michael J. Hawley PhD '93, and Professor of Media Arts and Sciences Tod Machover.

"There is a very real possibility that we are witnessing the beginning of a technologically mediated arts renaissance, engaging everyone in the process of creation," the organizers said in a press release.

"The real question is not whether this will happen - because it will - but whether we can summon the technological, conceptual, and imaginative vision, along with the courage and stamina, to push this revolution far enough, to make it rich and substantial for all," the organizers said.

The day was divided into four sections: Active Meaning, Artistic Appliances, Infrastructure for Creativity, and Really Interactive.

Television correspondent John Hockenberry emceed the events.

Two themes which were emphasized throughout the day were that everyone should have access to the information superhighway and that artistic content is still separate from technology.

"We can't create a generation of information haves and have nots," Jones said.

The conference "started off kind of slow, but it got pretty interesting," said Pratip K. Banerji '96.

Several issues discussed

During the Active Meaning session, rock musician Peter Gabriel, theater, opera, and film director Peter Sellars, performance artist Laurie Anderson, and Machover spoke.

"Artistic Appliances" included presentations by founder of Atari Nolan Bushnell, Stanford University Professor of Music Max V. Mathews ScD '52, Vice Chairman of Imax Corporation Douglas Trumbull, and Gershenfeld.

Mathews, one of the founders of computer music, sees computers as "one of the futures of music." Though "I don't see this as a replacement for symphony orchestras," it allows people without a traditional music background to play, he said.

Quincy Jones gave the luncheon presentation. He talked about his experience with musical innovations, such as stereo-sound and synthesizers.

Jones also described a program run by Alan C. Shaw G, where 40 young adults in Dorchester, Mass. are provided with a computer network and have terminals in their own homes. "They use it to communicate and organize around community issues," he explained. This program helps promote access to the information superhighway, Jones said.

The discussion on Infrastructure for Creativity featured Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts Jane Alexander, President and CEO of Sony Corporation of America Michael Schulhof, Chairman and CEO of Bell Atlantic Raymond C. Smith '56, and Media Lab Director Nicholas P. Negroponte '66.

Sony is working to become "a seamless entertainment company," meaning we want to move toward combining hardware and software, Schulhof said. Software in this case is the actual entertainment, and in recent years Sony has acquired CBS Records and Columbia Pictures, he said.

Schulhof described some Sony products that will be released in the near future. These include the digital video disc, which "will do to home video what the Walkman did to music," the Personal Intelligence Computer for mobile professionals, and a direct broadcast satellite, which will be a satellite dish that is 18 inches in diameter. Some of these projects are done in collaboration with other corporations.

Alexander's speech considered the access to media technology and education for this technology. She also talked about how the artistic community's content will evolve. "Technology augments the experience but doesn't replace it," Alexander said.

Smith described Bell Atlantic's work on the information superhighway and showed two short videos.

The day ended with a presentation by multimedia artists Penn and Teller and a reception.

Kennedy makes appearance

At the reception Kennedy walked around and met people briefly. "I've been following this as an area, I've been interested in technology and funding," he said.

Kennedy then gave a short speech at the reception. He noted that the Patents and Trademarks subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee is interested in "areas of new technology and their impact on creative individuals." Accessibility and availability of this technology should be emphasized, Kennedy said. "Knowledge is power. Information is power."

Alexander called Kennedy "the major champion for media arts and studies" in the Senate today.