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Teams get $13M in IT grants

MIT researchers won five grants totalling nearly $13 million in the National Science Foundation's (NSF) new $90 million information technology initiative. A total of 210 awards, selected from more than 1,400 proposals, were announced September 13.

"These projects represent major innovations in information technology, rather than routine applications of existing technology," said NSF Director Rita Colwell. "Our strategy to support long-term, high-risk research responds to a challenge from the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee, which called for increased federal investment to maintain the US lead in this important sector of the global economy."

Monies for the grants will be distributed over three to five years. The MIT grants are:


Social and Economic Implications of Information Technology: What Is Really Happening? $5,189,824

��������� Wanda J. Orlikowski, Eaton Peabody Associate Professor of Communication Sciences, Sloan School of Management

��������� JoAnne Yates, Sloan Distinguished Professor of Management, Sloan School

��������� Thomas W. Malone, Patrick J. McGovern Professor of Information Systems, Sloan School

��������� Associate Professor of Management Erik Brynjolfsson, Sloan School

��������� Senior Research Scientist Peter Weill, director, Center for Information Systems Research, Sloan School

The world of business and organizations is entering a period of dramatic and rapid technology-based transformations that many people believe will be as significant as those that characterized the Industrial Revolution.

Professor Orlikowski and colleagues will investigate the profound socioeconomic changes likely to be associated with such transformations. Using multiple theoretical and methodological approaches, a panel of strategically selected firms in established, as well as entrepreneurial and emergent, businesses will be tracked over time.

A comprehensive set of systematic and grounded empirical data in these organizations will be collected and analyzed over five years to generate deep insights and general theories about what is really happening as organizations use information technology to transform how they work and interact with the market over time.


Design Conformant Software, $3,700,000

��������� Associate Professor Daniel Jackson, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS)

��������� Associate Professor Martin C. Rinard, EECS

��������� Professor R. John Hansman, Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (aero/astro)

Professor Jackson and colleagues will investigate new software engineering techniques and tools that improve the reliability, safety and predictability of infrastructural software. The key idea is to use abstract design models to drive new analyses that check that the software correctly implements its design (and if not, identify the source of the problem).

To ensure that they address the important issues developers face in the field, the engineers will conduct their research in the context of the development of an air traffic control system component. To that end, they will be collaborating with air traffic control system developers at NASA Ames, and with Professor David Schmidt at Kansas State University.


From Bits to Information: Statistical Learning Technologies for Digital Information Management and Search, $2,039,989

��������� Tomaso Poggio, Uncas and Helen Whitaker Professor, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)

��������� Eric L. Grimson, Bernard M. Gordon Professor of Medical Engineering, EECS

��������� Assistant Professor Pawan Sinha, BCS

��������� Sebastian Seung, Robert A. Swanson Career Development Assistant Professor in the Life Sciences, BCS

��������� Professor Thomas Diettrich (Oregon State University)

��������� Professor Dan Roth (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

��������� Professor Thomas Hoffman (Brown University)

Automatic techniques to route, organize and search information are needed to help individuals and organizations exploit the sea of data that the computer networks are creating.

The goal of this project is to develop a new technology for the management, organization and search of multimedia digital information by exploiting and extending new statistical learning theories and algorithms. In the process Professor Poggio and colleagues expect to prototype key system components and develop scientific insights.

The success of projects like this will accelerate the evolution of the Internet.


A Center for Safety-Critical Embedded Software, $1,500,000

��������� Professor Nancy G. Leveson, aero/astro

The problems associated with building complex systems composed of computer, human and electromechanical components are starting to overwhelm system and software engineers, resulting in failed projects and accidents related to software behavior. As the complexity of the systems grows, so does the difficulty of ensuring safety.

Professor Leves���on will study approaches to building and analyzing complex systems based on common models and specification languages understandable and reviewable by all the engineers on the project, as well as by those who must interact with and use the automation.

To ground the research, the new approaches will be applied experimentally to create a methodology for assuring safety in the advanced air traffic control systems being developed and validated by Eurocontrol (the European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation).


Multimodal Learning for Assistive Aids, $449,987

��������� Assistant Professor Deb K. Roy, Program in Media Arts and Sciences

��������� Dr. Rupal Patel, Research Laboratory of Electronics and Program in Media Arts and Sciences

Multimodal technologies and machine learning have the potential to open doors for individuals with disabilities by providing interfaces that allow people to express themselves in ways that suit their capabilities. But individual differences among users make it difficult to design a single interface that works for everyone.

Drs. Roy and Patel believe that an interface can be trained to respond to an individual's unique expressive behaviors (speech and gestures) and translate them into appropriate machine actions. In this project, they will implement two assistive communication aids to test this. The first prototype will learn to translate unintelligible spoken phrases into clear synthetic speech. The second will dynamically adjust the display of a communication aid by predicting words and symbols that the user would most likely select.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 20, 2000.

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