Journalism Without Journalists

Date: Sat, 15 Jul 1995 10:14:34 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Biographical info.
X-UIDL: 805309723.000

Dear Troy,

I got involved in communications technology and computers by way of architecture. As a student in MIT's architecture program, I became interested in computer-aided design. I was convinced then (as I later wrote in The Architecture Machine) that "computer-aided design cannot occur without machine intelligence."

A design machine must have an artificial intelligence because any design procedure, set of rules, or truism is tenuous, if not subversive, when used out of context or regardless of the context. It follows that a mechanism must recognize and understand th e context before carrying out an operation. Therefore, a machine must be able to discern changes in meaning brought about by changes in context, hence, be intelligent. And to do this, it must have a sophisticated set of sensors, effectors, and processors to view the real world directly and indirectly. (Negroponte, 1970, p. 1)

This belief that a design machine must be able to perceive its environment and be able to work as an equal and intimate partner with its human operator led me to form the Architecture Machine Group at MIT in 1967. One direct result of the Architecture Machine Group's work is the computer-aided design systems architects use today.

The more work we did in the Architecture Machine Group, the less focused we became on architecture. The question of how to make computers more personable and interactive with their users -- making computers more accessible to the public at large -- became our chief concern. One project we worked in the late 1970s -- the Spatial Data Management System -- was where the computer screen desktop metaphor originated. As I am sure you are aware, the Macintosh operating system, OS/2 and Windows all currently employ this metaphor.

Toward the end of the 1970s, I began to believe that what we were doing at the Architecture Machine Group needed to have a full laboratory devoted to it. I foresaw that the different communications industries -- the broadcast and motion picture industry, the print and publishing industry and the computer industry were all converging. I predicted that by the year 2000, those industries would be nearly inseparable.

It is the role of the Media Lab to study this convergence. As Stewart Brand put it in The Media Lab:

The way to figure out what needs to be done (considering this convergence) is through exploring the human sensory and cognitive system and the ways that humans most naturally interact. Join this and you grasp the future. (Brand, 1987, p. 11).

That is what we do at the Media Lab and have since we opened in 1986.


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