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India to Manage Media Lab Asia

By Jenny Zhang


MIT has decided to discontinue its involvement in the management of Media Lab Asia, said Walter R. Bender SM ’80, Media Lab executive director and senior research scientist.

“Professor [Alex Paul] Pentland and I went to India to meet the new minister” this week and decided “not to continue our involvement,” wrote Professor Nicholas P. Negroponte ’66, chairman of MIT Media Lab, by e-mail.

Earlier this week, Arun Shourie replaced Pramad Mahajan as the Indian government’s communications and information technology minister, according to the Media Lab Asia Web site.

MIT will still be involved in research for Media Lab Asia, Bender said. “We have graduate and undergraduate students working over there,” he said.

Minister takes different approach

The new minister is making changes in the way research is being conducted by Media Lab Asia. “Changes are already being made as we speak,” Bender said.

“The new minister does not believe in rural development through ICT [information and communications technology] and is even less interested in basic innovation. He wants a very directed, project oriented research with step-by-step deliverables,” Negroponte wrote.

Media Lab ICT projects included rural wireless networks and speech interfaces designed to make information accessible to illiterate people.

MIT is no longer involved with Media Lab Asia management because of this change, Bender said.

Bender believes that the most important thing for Media Lab Asia to do is to assemble the right people to work on research.

Rural technology research

The goal of Media Lab Asia is to “focus on technologies that respond to the needs of the millions who require them most in Asia, Africa, and Latin America,” according to its Web site.

“A lot of good work was being done and [the] previously-isolated India Institute of Technology labs started to collaborate,” Negroponte wrote.

“There is some interesting work in rural [wireless networking], wireless power, and desktop manufacturing,” he wrote.

Bender said that the work has “primarily been in rural areas,” but not entirely. For example, a computer clubhouse was established in Dehli.

Negroponte thinks that some of this “will continue through traditional research contracts.”

Bender thinks that even with the change in leadership, the work will continue.

“My expectation is that most of the research is going to continue,” Bender said.

MIT first became involved with Media Lab Asia began when it “entered a one year agreement to explore the long-term establishment of a Media-Lab-like entity in India’’ Negroponte wrote.

“This was funded 100% by the Indian government as a non-profit entity, whose board they always controlled,” he wrote. The “Ministerial change happened just before the time MIT was to make its decision” regarding what was to happen after the agreement’s term was up.