Here and there


Dr. Frank Sulloway's new book, Born to Rebel, is causing a stir, with media features and interviews in the New Yorker, Newsweek, and last week, ABC Nightline with Ted Koppel. Dr. Sulloway, a science historian and visiting scholar in the Science Technology and Society Program, says his study of historical personalities over two decades shows that "the foremost engine of historical change" is family structure--first born children maintain the status quo, whereas later-born children rebel against it. It seems that primogeniture preserved the parental, conventional species, according to his research.
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Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming was recently the site of Robert Dell's latest geothermal sculpture installation. Mr. Dell, a research affiliate with the Center for Advanced Visual Studies, describes his project as an attempt not to promote development of the park's resources, but rather to "create another mode of experiencing its wonder and beauty."

His geothermal work, which was up for a few hours on October 7, documents environmental changes, making the natural power of thermal heat visible in the changing colors of a window-like pane set into a stainless steel pedestal and the glowing of lasers in a block of crystal. The sculpture is also affected by weather conditions, resulting in a "constantly changing perceptual experience that is accessible and reduced to elemental human terms."

After the Yellowstone showing, Mr. Dell dismantled the piece, but he hopes to display it elsewhere, including MIT, by substituting warm water and a small pump for the thermal features. This is Mr. Dell's second geothermal sculpture; the first is on permanent display in Reykjavik, Iceland.
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Nicholas Negroponte, director of the Media Lab, told CNN in August that the Internet will have 1 billion users by the turn of the century.

"Kids will drive this," he predicted on CNN's financial network program. "There's no 16-year-old that's not digital. When someone's kids go to college, parents sign up on America Online to send e-mail to them. You also get a pull from senior citizens. On a percentage basis, senior citizens are number two behind kids."

Professor Negroponte admitted that neither he nor many other technology proponents proved accurate in their early visions of Internet growth. "If you told me in 1980 that by 1995, roughly 40 percent of American homes would be online, I think I would have said it would be more like the year 2000," he said.

Predictions about interactive television have also not come to pass, he noted. "We thought the information appliance in the home would be the TV set, [but] it's hands-down the personal computer. The Internet is causing the [proliferation of the computer] to happen much faster than we expected."

Another question experts are mulling, Professor Negroponte said, is whether the next century will be digital or biological. In 60 or 70 years, "I think you're definitely going to see DNA computing and biological machines. Maybe our great grandchildren will increase the size of their computers by watering them," he said.

Ease of use will increase when computers move beyond the traditional graphical user interface to voice commands, he said. Voice communication "got delayed because people tried to work on a particular flavor of voice. Recognizing your voice is easier than having [a computer] recognize all speech. Companies are now getting the impetus to do it. You'll see it slide in for sure in a year or 18 months."

(A fuller version of the interview with Professor Negroponte can be found on CNNfn's Web site at http://cnnfn.com/fnonair/interview/9608/01/intv_negroponte/).

QUOTES:

"The attacks on our airlines are not against the passengers and not against Pan Am or TWA. Terrorists are making war on America. If we are to win that war, we must put in place the best available technology and we must constantly replace that technology when better systems become available." -Professor of Physics Lee Grodzins in recent testimony before the House Science Committee, which was gathering information on advanced X-ray imaging systems that protect government buildings and are being used at US international airports to screen incoming bags and cargo for drugs.

"We always want to imagine someplace beyond the ordinary, to believe in the possibility of there being more. [After the American West was conquered], suddenly we were confronted with a world we knew far too well. Then we had to transplant our dreams to other worlds."-Dr. Henry Jenkins, associate professor of literature, on the fascination with the possibility of extraterrestrial life (recently fueled by the discovery of possible ancient Mars fossils), in The Dallas Morning News.

"You couldn't imagine anything better. It's like someone giving you a blank check. It's also going to have a tremendous impact on kids and education in science."-Jessica Sunshine, visiting planetary scientist, also on the Mars discovery, in The Patriot Ledger (Quincy).

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 6, 1996.


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