Technology October 2011

The Idea Factory

What happens when you gather the world’s most imaginative minds under one roof?

Depending on where you look, you could easily mistake the famed Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for a robotics laboratory. Or an architecture firm. Or a computer-programming office. Or maybe a hospital. The truth is, the engineers, designers, scientists, and physicians who constitute the two dozen research groups housed there work in what may be the world’s most interesting, most hyper-interdisciplinary think tank.

Also see:

Slideshow: 9 MIT Media Lab Ideas That Are Changing Lives (or Will Soon)
Futuristic cars, musical video games, bionic legs. These are just a few of the cutting-edge innovations to come.

Over the past 26 years, the lab has spawned the technology behind the Kindle, Guitar Hero, and a host of other groundbreaking innovations. Today, researchers within the building are creating self-driving cars, genetically engineered neurons, and chatty robots—and the fact that they’re doing such disparate work in close proximity helps account for their success. Researchers end up pollinating other projects with insights and ideas, within a hive of serendipitous collaboration.

This fall, Joichi Ito—a tech entrepreneur who didn’t finish college—takes the reins as the lab’s new director. He’s looking for ways to encourage even more connecting, more spontaneous creativity. “We’re going to be thinking about how we innovate, how we work together, how the space is laid out,” he says. “I want to focus on how we can enhance positive serendipity even more, because I think we can.”

Ito’s new colleagues are, as always, running hundreds of projects poised to change how we live, work, and play. Here’s how a handful of the most audacious ideas overlap with some others down the hall.


Also see a conceptual map of the MIT Media Lab, from the Lifelong Kindergarten Group to the Mediated Matter Group.

Presented by

Gregory Mone is a contributing editor at Popular Science.

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