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A report by the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution of Arlington, VA, seeking to quantify the contributions of immigrants to the "industrial cutting edge" of the United States, focused on patents and the creation of jobs. Among those cited for singular achievement: Adjunct Professor Ernesto E. Blanco of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, who came to this country from Cuba.

The study randomly selected and examined 250 recently issued US patents and found that more than 19 percent (48 patents) "were issued to immigrants alone or to immigrants collaborating with US-born co-inventors." That figure, the report notes, is more than twice the proportion of immigrants in the US population-8.7 percent.

The report provides brief biographies of several of the inventors and has this to say about Professor Blanco:

"Ernesto Blanco immigrated from Cuba in 1960 and teaches engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He holds 13 patents. Discussing the propensity of immigrants to work hard in scientific and technological research, he said: `It's the environment here and the way we immigrants think about the United States as a land where great inventions are being made. Immigrants feel the way to break the economic barrier is to invent something that will be of use to large numbers of Americans. We become worthy by using our brains.'"

The report caught the attention of the Wall Street Journal, which mentioned it in a Review & Outlook article on March 18. The newspaper noted that Professor Blanco, "who fled Havana in 1960 on a visa provided through a special accelerated program to rescue Cubans from Castro," numbers among his patents "a flexible arm that makes endoscopic surgery easier."

An MIT doctoral candidate in computer science has developed an artificial intelligence-based system to automatically detect the cyberspace phenomena called "flames"-verbal attacks spread by computer-mediated communications.

Ellen Spertus's work has been reported in the May issue of Wired magazine in an article by Simson L. Garfinkel.

As described by Mr. Garfinkel, flames are an "environmental hazard of cyberspace" that "sneak up on you, drop into your mailbox and-wham! -burst across your screen in an irritating profusion of venom and bile."

According to the article, Ms. Spertus created her aptly named Smokey program-to detect flames "before they explode in your face"-while working at Microsoft Research last summer.

"The system, which uses an experimental natural-language parser, a decision-tree, and a bunch of Lisp code, can actually separate flames from ordinary e-mail messages," Mr. Garfinkle writes. "This makes it easy to file them away for reading later-or never at all."

Because Ms. Spertus realized that one Internet site's flame is another site's fan mail-when one is politically to the left and the other to the right, for example-"she developed a set of linguistic rules for detecting flames and a set of site-specific plug-ins for villains and heroes," the articles states.

"Spertus also learned that even though flamers target different enemies, they often share a common grammar," it continues. "They tend to use noun phrases as appositions-for example, `you bozos,' `you flamers,' and `you people.' Likewise these irate mailers often use the word get followed (within 10 characters) by the words life, lost, real, clue, with it or used to it. Fifty of these such rules, fired in rapid succession, allow Smokey to distinguish good from bad mail."

Ms. Spertus believes Smokey demonstrates that automated, intelligent e-mail filtering is possible, according to the article.

And it quotes her as saying that other applications could benefit from her research.

"When mail comes into a company, a program like Smokey could direct it to the right department. That way, big companies such as IBM wouldn't have to hire dozens or even hundreds of people to read incoming messages from some address."

Ms. Spertus received the SB from MIT in 1990 and the SM in 1992.

The newly elected president of Johns Hopkins University, Dr. William R. Brody, is an MIT alumnus.

Dr. Brody, 52, a physician and electrical engineer and a former Hopkins professor, had been provost of the University of Minnesota Academic Health Center.

Dr. Brody received the SB in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT in 1965 and the SM a year later. He received his medical degree from Stanford University in 1970 and PhD in electrical engineering from Stanford in 1972.

His research has been focused on cardiovascular imaging and minimally invasive therapy and on noninvasive imaging methods such as computerized imaging and MRI.


"The experience of reading where you go back and look at another page, or compare a passage from one page to another-that activity cannot be done on a screen. It's just too hard, too cumbersome."-Dr. Ruth Perry, professor of literature and women's studies, on whether computer texts threaten to make books an endangered species, in The Chicago Tribune.

"To believe there is something in the statistical law of averages that makes risk cancel out over many years is just wrong."-Dr. Paul A. Samuelson, Nobel laureate, Institute Professor Emeritus of economics, in a USA Today story examining the widely-held theory that long-term investments provide virtual guaranteed protection against stock market risk.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 22, 1996.

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