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LCS Announces New Building, Project

By Jennifer Chung and May K. Tse

The MIT Laboratory for Computer Science celebrated its 35th anniversary this week in a three-day celebration that culminated Tuesday with the announcements of a $20 million donation and a major new project.

Microsoft CEO Bill Gates presented the donation on behalf of himself and his wife Melinda for the William H. Gates III Foundation. The donation will be used to create a new “home of LCS”, to be named the William H. Gates building and to be part of the Stata Center for Computer, Information and Intelligence Sciences.

With the research project, dubbed Oxygen, LCS plans to create and use the support of existing research to better tackle such issues as speech recognition and better worldwide communication, enabling technology to truly become more user-friendly.

Other events during the festivities included the sealing of the LCS Time Capsule of Innovations and keynote speeches by Gates and Principal Research Scientist Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web.

The time capsule, designed by Frank O. Gehry, architect for the Stata Center, will be opened in time for the 70th anniversary of LCS in 2033 -- unless the cryptographic puzzle associated with it and designed by Associate LCS Director Ronald L. Rivest is solved in less than the 35 years the solution is designed to take. The capsule contains reference to such innovations as Project Athena, RSA Public-Key Cryptography, X-Windows, and Zork, the earliest interactive PC game.

New Gates building

The Gates Building will be situated where Building 20 used to stand, “in the middle of campus, where LCS belongs,” said President Charles M. Vest.

“MIT is entering the greatest change since the post-World War II era,” Vest said. “LCS is at the heart of all of this.”

As with the rest of the Stata complex, architect Gehry is designing the Gates Building. The internal layout of the building has not yet been determined.

“I feel very privileged to be able to contribute in this way,” Gates said. “It’s great to be here... I hope the facility gets done as soon as possible.”

Gates said that he decided to donate to LCS because the laboratory has demonstrated in the past that it is a center of important research.

The gift “is one I’m particularly proud of because I know the group here will be one of the very few groups that has the power to make these breakthroughs, and so [the gift is] just very fitting based on the track record and the things to come,” Gates explained.

“The horizons ahead of us are really the most interesting ones of all,” Gates said. “The synergy between the educational environment... and the commercial sector is part of reason why great progress has been made,” he said.

“I feel privileged to have the chance to contribute to this next phase,” Gates said. LCS will “have a wonderful facility where some fantastic breakthroughs are going to be made which are going to have a very positive impact.”

“We’re absolutely delighted,” said LCS Director Michael L. Dertouzos PhD ’64.

In honor of Gates’ visit on Tuesday, several students set up a table near the presentations in Kresge Auditorium selling slices of “open source pie” from “Krotus Baking Co., Ltd.” for $.98 until they were asked to move. The reference was to a Belgium incident last year, when pranksters hit Gates in the face with three pies. In addition to pie, customers were given copies of “pie code” written in Scheme. All proceeds are going to the Free Software Foundation, which is known for its open source philosophy, making the source code for programs freely available. At other organizations, such as Microsoft, such source code would be considered closely-guarded secrets.

LCS unveils Oxygen

In conjunction with looking back over the past 35 years, LCS also used the occasion to announce the launch of Oxygen, a five-year, $40 million research project.

The project is sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and will be in collaboration with the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the sister lab of LCS.

“This is my vision for the 21st century,” Dertouzos said. “People should be able to do more by doing less.”

There are three goals to Oxygen. “First, we should bring the technology of information into our lives... We’re not going to leave our lives and go into cyberspace,” Dertouzos said. “When the industrial revolution came, we didn’t go into ‘Motorspace.’ They came into our lives and absorbed themselves into our lives... to serve our ancient needs.”

A second goal is to have increased human productivity and increased ease of use. Making an analogy to the model of “shoveling” to get things done, Dertouzos commented, “We’re still shoveling but it’s not painful because our shovels are stamped ‘high-tech.’” He said that technology still needs to be improved in this respect. “Every time I hear the words ‘ease of use’ I get physically violent... It should be truly easy to use regardless of graphics, text, etc.”

The third goal of Oxygen is to increase connections among the world’s entire population. “When we say ‘we,’ we should mean the people of the world. We of the industrially wealthy world are largely connected; that’s only 1.5 to 2 percent of the world’s population that is interconnected,” Dertouzos said.

The Oxygen research project will be broken down into four core technologies and four user technologies. The four core technologies include the Handy21, a portable universal device, as well as its space analog, the Enviro21.

The user-centered Handy21 will combine the functionality of a cellular phone with other devices such as the beeper and handheld computer. The Enviro21 will be space-centered and will be connected to sensors and actuators to control things in a specific room, for example, the room temperature.

The other two core technologies include N21, the network that Oxygen devices will run on, and a spoken-dialog software that will allow users to interface without a keyboard to the devices.

The four user technologies encompass knowledge-access, automation, collaboration, and customization technologies.