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Media Lab celebrates 30th anniversary with star-studded symposium

The MIT Media Lab convened Nobel prize laureates, celebrities, and renowned academics for its 30th anniversary celebration last Friday.

Former United Nations Secretary General and Nobel Peace Prize winner Kofi Annan SM ’72, White House chief technology officer Megan Smith ’86, Harvard psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker, Media Lab co-founder Nicholas Negroponte, Media Lab director Joi Ito, and President L. Rafael Reif all spoke at the symposium held in Kresge Auditorium.

Magicians Penn and Teller and radio host Tom Ashbrook co-hosted the event. Surprise guest Martha Stewart participated in a magic show on stage.

Attendance was by invitation only.

Professor emeritus Marvin Minsky, who has worked to endow machines with commonsense reasoning, received a Lifetime achievement award and was presented with a 3D printed glass trophy. The Media Lab recently developed the first 3D printer to print glass.

A tweet from the Media Lab revealed that upon receiving the award, Minsky said: “What a beautiful thing! What does it do?”

Kofi Annan emphasized the importance of responsibility, saying that “technology does not free us from leadership.”

Smith’s speech discussed contributions women have made to scientific fields, and asked the audience how many of them had heard of the Seneca Falls Declaration. Fewer than a third of the attendees raised their hands.

“I would have never predicted the impact of the Media lab,” Negroponte said. He told the audience to “do the outrageous without justification.” He also identified a brain drain “to start-ups from big problems” and encouraged more people to go into civil service to solve hard problems.

The Media Lab is home to 24 research groups which explore everything from democratizing app development to finding new modes of cooperation for human society.

—Anshuman Pandey