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Media Lab Considers Expansion to India

By Naveen Sunkavally


About a year after announcing a new center in Ireland, MIT’s Media Laboratory is planning another expansion this spring into India.

The Media Lab, which was approached by the Indian government, is considering a one-year exploratory agreement that is expected to be finalized near the end of spring, said Director of the Media Laboratory Walter R. Bender. In contrast to the Lab’s expansion into Ireland, which is centered in one location, the Lab’s expansion into India will not consist of a central facility but will instead be distributed among several field programs throughout the country.

“It won’t be one center in one location. We can’t reach a billion people with one center in one place. It’s a more distributed research program,” Bender said. Although details are not final, the Lab is also expected to participate in exchanging faculty and to cooperate with academia from Indian universities, Bender said.

Media Lab spokeswoman Alexandra Kahn said the focus of the research in India will be “innovative and non-traditional learning and education, preventive health care, e-commerce, and e-development.”

The Lab will tackle problems of poverty, education, and nutrition by “providing people with the tools for learning, communication, and organizing,” Bender said.

Expansion follows Dublin opening

Last August the Media Lab opened its Media Lab Europe center in Dublin, Ireland under a ten-year, $35 million deal with the Irish government.

According to the Irish Times, the deal has come under scrutiny in Ireland, where people fear that the government’s investment in the project may not be worth the return of building a reputation for becoming a leader in information technology.

In addition, critics of the deal have said that research at Media Lab Europe will not be subject to the peer review requirement, which applies to research done at Irish universities and acts as a check on the money granted by the government to universities there.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the Media Lab’s arrangement with India was valued at $1 billion over 10 years. However, Bender said the arrangement will only be over a year, and that it will be extended into the future based on progress over that year.

Competition with China may have been a factor in the Indian government’s decision to approach the Media Lab. According to background prepared last December by India’s Ministry of Information Technology, which is leading the negotiations, China was also being considered for a center, according to Business Wire.

Bender said that the Lab was interested in the expansion for a number of reasons, including the limited possibilities for building in Cambridge and the desire to gain new perspectives and tackle new problems.