Here & There


HUMAN CLONING: NO

When Rudolf Jaenisch testified before Congress earlier this year against human cloning, his comments appeared in numerous media stories around the world.

The professor of biology and member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research was back in the news in July, thanks to research he and colleagues reported in the journal Science. They found the first evidence that even seemingly normal-looking clones may harbor serious abnormalities even though they look just fine.

"Our findings clearly argue against reproductive cloning," Jaenisch told Robert Lee Hotz of the Los Angeles Times in a July 6 story about the work. "Even apparently normal clones may not be normal. We have the hard evidence now."

TALKING LIGHTS

Steve Leeb's "talking lights" have also caught the attention of the press. The associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science has devised a way to turn ordinary light sockets into cost-effective information transmitters by modifying the rate at which fluorescent light flickers and encoding information in that altered blink. The headline of a story in the August 2001 Electrical Times (United Kingdom): "MIT Boffins Make Light Work of Sending Data."

THE REAL A.I.

Steven Spielberg's new movie "A.I. Artificial Intelligence" has thrown the spotlight on the field itself and many of its real-life researchers, including several at MIT.

In a July 1 San Francisco Chronicle piece, writer Keay Davidson noted that smart robots are not yet a reality, but "ready for duty only in the movies."

"Figuring out how to make intelligent creatures just turned out to be much harder than anybody expected," Professor Leslie Pack Kaelbling of the Artificial Intelligence Lab and Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science told him.

Early AI work, she said, "concentrated on certain kinds of 'intellectual' puzzles: solving calculus problems, playing chess, etc. At the time it seemed, I think, like those were the really hard problems ... But in fact, the everyday stuff has turned out to be much harder than the more abstract stuff."

Davidson later described Professor Rodney Brooks' effect on moving the field from a "brain in a box" approach, in which robots are isolated from the world, to machines that learn through interacting with others. Brooks, director of the AI Lab, was "the person most responsible for the paradigm shift from classical AI to behavior-based robotics," Alan Peters of Vanderbilt University told Davidson.

Assistant Professor Cynthia Breazeal of the Media Lab, another noted MIT robot scientist according to Davidson, is "enormously optimistic about the future of intelligent robots." However, she told the Chronicle, "It's very important to be careful not to oversell, to promise things we couldn't possibly deliver."

In an AI-related story in the June 29 San Antonio Express-News, writer Rene Guzman asked, "How close are we to giving machines a soul?" According to Kaelbling, "I think everyone in the lab would say it's not going to happen in our lifetime. We think it's possible in principle, but we don't really know how to do it yet."

CLIPS AND QUOTES

"Now is a good time to be starting a biotech company because the venture capitalists are looking for companies with real technology ... Now that the VCs have lost their love for the 'dot-bombs,' it has been easier to get biotech companies started during the past six months than anytime in the past several years."--Lita Nelsen, director of the Technology Licensing Office, in a July 9 article in The Scientist about life science companies.

"This is an astounding amount of progress in a single year in terms of diversity in the [MIT] leadership, particularly of science and engineering."--Professor of Biology Nancy Hopkins in an August 10 story in Science. The story, headlined "Women Wave," noted "a growing coterie of women in senior administrative positions" at MIT, marked most recently by the appointment of Susan Lindquist as director of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. In conjunction with that appointment, Lindquist will also become a professor in the Department of Biology.

"They're a great baseball story, but they're an even better story about Cambridge today. These kids come from every ZIP code, every kind of family situation."--Professor of Political Science Joshua Cohen in an August 23 Boston Globe story about an all-star Cambridge baseball team composed of 14- and 15-year-olds. The team recently competed in the 2001 Babe Ruth League World Series championship. Cohen is the father of the team's pitcher and cleanup hitter, Dan.

"It's so ubiquitous, and so wrong."--Professor of Physics Thomas Greytak on the conventional "image" of an atom depicting electrons orbiting around a nucleus. Greytak's remark was included in a July 8 Boston Globe story about "Image and Meaning," an MIT conference held earlier this summer.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on August 29, 2001.


Topics: Education, teaching, academics

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