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MIT, Ireland create MediaLabEurope

The Republic of Ireland and MIT announced on December 3 a long-term collaboration to establish MediaLabEurope, an independent, university-level research and education center, designed "to invent the future" and replicate the innovative and entrepreneurial environment of the world-renowned MIT Media Lab.

Building on Ireland's strengths and traditions, MediaLabEurope will initially focus on new approaches to Internet-related technologies and applications, including e-commerce, and on interactive and multimedia applications. The new center is expected to help Ireland become an exciting training ground for the technological and artistic entrepreneurs of the 21st century.

Ireland's Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern commented, "We are delighted to work in partnership with MIT to develop a new research and development institute, modeled on and inspired by the MIT Media Lab. The fusion of MIT's proven expertise with the youth, energy and creative talent in Ireland will create a world-class institute. And by locating Media-LabEurope at the heart of an exciting new multimedia village in Dublin, we will reinforce our message that as a small country Ireland can nonetheless make giant progress on the world economic stage."

Mr. Ahern noted that Ireland is the second-largest software exporter in the world. He added that the government will commit ���1 million a year to promote collaborative work between the MLE and Irish colleges and universities.

The leading newspaper in Dublin, the Irish Times, said in its news article, "In terms of attracting technology companies to the State, the project's approval on Tuesday morning ranks in importance with the re-gearing of the educational system decades ago and the introduction of the low corporate tax rate."

The collaboration represents the first time that the MIT Media Lab -- known worldwide for its visionary approach to the digital age and for its pioneering brand of hands-on, interdisciplinary collaboration between industry and academia -- has established an independent center to reproduce its atelier-style, precompetitive research culture away from its Cambridge home base.

Nicholas Negroponte, director of the Media Lab, has agreed to serve as acting director of MediaLabEurope in its early developmental stage.

Announcing the establishment of the new laboratory, Professor Negroponte said, "I am extremely impressed with the Irish government's clear understanding of the need to develop a flexible, far-sighted program to attract tomorrow's digital entrepreneurs. The MIT Media Lab's decision to work with Ireland to establish MediaLabEurope reflects our view that Ireland provides the kind of intellectual, economic and governmental environment ideally suited for this ambitious international effort to transform ways of thinking and creating."


MediaLabEurope will get off to a running start with an inflow of intellectual know-how from faculty, research and student exchange programs with the MIT Media Lab. Both laboratories will have access to intellectual property developed at the Media Lab and at MediaLabEurope during the initial 10-year period of the relationship. Over time, MediaLabEurope will produce its own portfolio of basic research, digital applications and computational methods, which are expected to attract continuing financial support from a broad range of industries.

MediaLabEurope's mission will be to prepare future generations of young researchers, inventors and artists -- primarily from Ireland, but also from elsewhere in Europe -- to become international entrepreneurs and leaders in communications, multimedia and the learning arts and sciences. Judging by MIT's experience, in which its graduates often remain in Massachusetts and create startup companies, many of those who come to MediaLabEurope from around the world may remain in Ireland and build new, technology-based enterprises.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for MIT to play a leadership role in helping to establish a highly innovative research and teaching center that will surely play a major role in the economic future of Ireland and Europe," said President Charles M. Vest. "Our expectation is that this unique collaboration will help to foster an open and flexible approach that will challenge traditional notions of academic disciplines, just as the Media Lab does within MIT. It will provide an innovative example of entrepreneurship and third-level (graduate and post-graduate) education in Europe."

The Media Lab is, if not unique, unusual in that more than 90 percent of its funding comes from private industry. The laboratory, which currently receives support from 170 corporations worldwide, will assist MediaLab-Europe in attracting research sponsors and developing linkages with the European business community. The goal is to make MediaLabEurope self-sustaining by the end of the fifth year of collaboration.

In the early years, the Media Lab will provide critical assistance in establishing the research, academic and financial structure of the new entity. A team of Media Lab personnel, whose expertise includes research, program development, administration and operations, will spend considerable time and effort both in Ireland and the United States to launch MediaLabEurope. A major Media Lab faculty and research convocation is scheduled for Dublin in July 2000 to focus international attention on the importance of this undertaking.

MediaLabEurope will recruit the first faculty members, researchers and students in the spring of 2000; two-way student and faculty exchange programs with the Media Lab will begin as these early personnel come on board. Throughout the entire period of collaboration, it is expected that Media Lab faculty members and researchers, teamed with MediaLabEurope personnel, will collaborate with educational institutions throughout Ireland on common research initiatives and programs. MIT personnel will help Media-LabEurope faculty members and researchers build a strong mentoring program for MediaLabEurope students and will play a significant role in shaping the early phases of research at the new laboratory.


Total costs of running MediaLab-Europe for the first 10 years are forecast to be approximately Irish ���130 million ($166 million or Euro 165 million). The government will provide Irish ���28 million as seed capital and a suitable downtown Dublin location; the remainder will be raised by Media-LabEurope with the advice and assistance of the MIT Media Lab, from research contracts, sponsorships and private contributions.

The Irish government's contribution of Irish ���28 million includes Irish ���8.4 million ($10.75 million) to MIT for the Media Lab's assistance in emulating its unconventional and interdisciplinary approach to research at MediaLabEurope. The cost of faculty, research staff and student exchanges, including the establishment of MediaLabEurope fellowships at MIT, will average ���800,000 ($1,024,000) per year.

MediaLabEurope will be governed initially by a board of directors designated by the Irish government and MIT. Professor Negroponte will serve as acting executive director of Media-LabEurope as well as the first chairman of the board, and will oversee the search for a permanent executive director. Glorianna Davenport, a specialist in multimedia and film at the Media Lab, and Robert Greene, the Media Lab's former chief operating officer, will direct the provision of Media Lab support and assistance in the first year of MediaLabEurope's existence.

Within its first 10 years of operation, MediaLabEurope is projected to grow to approximately 250, including faculty members, research staff and students: 20 full-time faculty members from Ireland and abroad, 15 full-time research staff, 20 part-time faculty members from universities across Ireland, more than 100 postgraduate students (at least half from Ireland) and 100 undergraduate students. The independent MediaLabEurope is initially expected to develop a cooperative program for conferring joint degrees with several Irish universities, but over time, it is expected to develop and implement its own master of science and doctoral degree programs.

Since opening its doors in 1985, the MIT Media Laboratory has redefined the interaction of people, electronic "bits" and everyday "things" in a digital world, pioneering such research areas as electronic paper, wearable computing and intelligent agents for the Internet. Its current budget is approximately $30 million per year. It is in the process of doubling its laboratory space in Cambridge, and recently received a $27 million gift for a new building from Isao Okawa, a Japanese businessman interested in funding creative learning programs for children.

Professor Negroponte is a noted lecturer and writer. His best-selling book Being Digital, hailed as "visionary" and "essential reading," has been translated into more than 40 languages.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 8, 1999.

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