More than 400 academics, technologists and industry executives came together on July 24 and 25 for a two-day symposium in Dublin that officially launched the opening of MediaLab Europe. Amid a wave of research demonstrations, the opening ceremony was held at the Guinness Hopstore, a spacious, high-ceilinged and light-filled former brewery building where the new Lab will be located.
Ireland's Prime Minister, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who attended the ceremony, said, "I believe that the opening of MediaLabEurope here proves that Ireland is at the leading edge of the information revolution."
Mr. Ahern noted that MediaLabEurope would serve as an independent, university-level research and education center whose mission is to "reinvent the future."
The collaboration to establish MediaLabEurope was announced in December 1999. This is the first time the MIT Media Lab has set up an independent center to reproduce its atelier-style, precompetitive research culture away from its home base.
Professor Nicholas Negroponte, acting CEO of MediaLabEurope and director of the MIT Media Lab, commented, "We are delighted to situate MediaLabEurope here in Dublin because we believe 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."
MIT personnel will help MediaLabEurope 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. Primary among the MIT Media Lab faculty members who will be spending time in Ireland are Professor Tod Machover and Principal Research Scientist Glorianna Davenport, both of whom will be building research groups at the new Dublin-based lab. In the near-term, MediaLabEurope will develop a co-operative program for conferring degrees with several Irish universities. Over time it will develop and implement its own Master of Science and doctoral degree programs.
MediaLabEurope's mission will be to prepare future generations of young researchers, inventors and artists -- both from Ireland and elsewhere in Europe -- to become international entrepreneurs and leaders in communications, multimedia and the learning arts and sciences. Many of those who attend MediaLabEurope from around the world may remain in Ireland and build new, technology-based enterprises, just as many graduates of MIT have remained in Massachusetts to create start-up companies and job growth here.
When the MediaLabEurope collaboration was announced, MIT President Charles M. Vest commented in a statement, "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."
THE TRAVELLING ATELIER
The opening ceremony for MediaLabEurope was enlivened by seminars and interactive demonstrations of current and ongoing research being developed at the MIT Media Lab. Among those were:
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ "In-Place Performers," new technology developed by the Machine Listening group that combines directional audio beams and directional video beams in such a way that a listener has only to walk among the beams to synthesize a unique, individualized sound.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ "Sheep/dog: trial by Eire," a new demonstration by the Synthetic Characters group. The project seeks to develop a virtual dog whose behavior rivals that of a real dog, with learning and training at the core of the system. The group "owns" a virtual terrier named Duncan.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Drawing on work from several groups, another new demonstration called "Responsive Portraits" enables a person's movements to elicit dynamic responses from the portrait's own set of autonomous behaviors -- simulating an encounter between two people. The system integrates digital photographs, holographic 3D images, sound, recorded voice and computer vision to create a dynamic presentation.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Also shown was the "Emonator," one of the first of a new generation of media-instruments. Designed as a multipurpose device for interactive control of music and video, the Emonator invites users to create aesthetic experiences using emotionally expressive gestures.
FUNDING AND GOVERNANCE
A board of directors appointed by the Irish government and MIT will govern MediaLabEurope. Professor Negroponte will serve as the first chairman of the board, and will oversee the search for a permanent chief executive.
The Irish government is providing ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½28 million in initial funding, as well as providing permanent premises for MediaLabEurope at the Guinness Hopstore site in downtown Dublin. MediaLabEurope will raise substantial additional revenue through research contracts, sponsorships and private contributions. Initial private support has been provided by Denis O'Brien, chairman of Esat Telecom. A number of corporate donors and sponsors have already come on board, including eircom, 360Networks, Hewlett Packard and Compaq.
Earlier this year, eircom announced a major sponsorship arrangement with both MediaLabEurope and the MIT MediaLab, involving a total of $5 million over three years.
Hewlett Packard and Compaq have each provided substantial donations of state-of-the-art computer equipment to assist the lab in its early phase.
360Networks has agreed to provide site-to-site broadband connectivity between the two laboratories, as part of its plan to put a transatlantic broadband cable in place over the coming months.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on August 9, 2000.