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Junior Summit at MIT lets kids speak out on technology

There are nearly one billion children between the ages of 10 and 16 worldwide. They're the first digital generation, they're growing up in a whole new way, and they each have something to say.

They'll have their chance to make their voices heard at the MIT Media Lab's Junior Summit '98, occurring in two segments this fall. The summit has been designed to include children from all countries--the digitally rich as well as the digitally poor -- with the promise to bring their deliberations to world leaders and to support their proposals with local action. The event is being made possible with major sponsorship from Citibank, LEGO and Swatch.

Proposals from the children are as diverse as their backgrounds: an eighth-grade boy in China envisions shoes for the blind--shoes whose soles emit music to indicate when the wearer approaches a barrier. A sixth-grader from Finland sees the Internet as a teaching space to foster family values. An 11-year-old from Washington, DC, imagines latchkey children using a computer-based system allowing them to enter their homes safely.

"Kids around the world will be connected in ways never before possible. Their charter is to discuss a shared vision of the digital future," said Annette Tonti, executive producer of Junior Summit '98.

There are three elements of the Junior Summit. The first, now completed, began almost a year ago with the Media Lab's global invitation to children to describe their current world and to suggest ways technology might be used to improve that world.

Next, an on-line forum, now underway, brings together nearly 3,000 children from 139 countries around the world. Thanks to innovative new translation technology, they will be engaged with one another, listening and learning in their native tongues across geographic and cultural barriers.

The third element of Junior Summit '98 is a six-day meeting to be held at MIT from November 15-21, when 100 of these children will travel to Cambridge to represent the 3,000 participants as "ambassadors" and discuss topics arising from the global on-line forum.

The summit will involve children as designers, critics and politicians as they present their views to an audience of global media, Nobel laureates and world leaders.

In addition to major sponsors, many businesses are partnering with Junior Summit '98: Africa Online, providing assistance in connecting African participants; Chat Space, a chat client provider; Lyris, an e-mail discussion interface provider; Transparent Language, a machine translation provider, and WorldPoint, a human translation provider. Additional supporters include Acced, Philips, RealNetworks and Sybase.

For more information, call x3-1598 or see the Junior Summit web site.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 16, 1998.

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