The Sorcereres and Their Apprentices, by Frank Moss

2: Disappearing Disciplines

... in which people from wildly different backgrounds work together to solve big problems.

“Mixing apples and oranges” is a bad thing, right?   Not always, and certainly not at the Media Lab. 

The Lab purposely mixes up people from different disciplines – computer scientists, musicians, neuroscientists, electrical engineers, social scientists, visual artists - and puts them in an environment where there is no such thing as a failure or a dumb question.  The result is totally unconventional thinking and radical new solutions to “impossible” problems. 

Step inside this rarified world:

  • Come ride along with a hastily assembled team of researchers from five different fields as they figure out—in just four days—how to win a $40,000 international challenge. Other teams have spent months preparing.
  • Go heads-down as a computer scientist and a social anthropologist collaborate on creating a social network to tackle a rare disease—one that is slowly killing the latter.
  • See what happens when an eclectic bunch of researchers (none of whom have a background in car design) rethink the status quo in 20thcentury personal transportation—the automobile—to solve the 21st century problem of congested cities.

You’ll see how anything is possible when you let the problem dictate the approach.  Ideas rule. Pre-conceived notions of what constitutes a solution go out the window. Novel, what-if questions and often-crude “hacks” reveal startling new answers.

DARPA Director Regina Dugan announces the Red Balloon Challenge Watch
Media Lab researcher Riley Crane tells his story of the Red Balloon Challenge Watch
Amy Farber talks about her fight for her life against a deadly disease — and how she’s coping through action Watch
Hitch a ride in the CityCar with researcher Will Lark Watch
Riley Crane, postdoctoral fellow of the Human Dynamics group at the MIT Media Lab, explains how the Media Lab team won the $40,000 DARPA Red Balloon challenge. Using social networking coupled with an ingenious reward scheme, the team in less than 36 hours was able to assemble an army of balloon spotters across the US.  In less than nine hours, the MIT team located all 10 of the eight-foot red weather balloons that had been moored in undisclosed locations by DARPA.  (Photo credit: Kris Krüg) The MIT Media Labs new see-through building was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki. The design reduces the physical barriers between people and encourages the free flow of ideas.  (Photo: Andy Ryan Photography) The MIT Media Lab’s CityCar, created by an eclectic group of researchers, re-envisions the concept of the personal automobile for the 21st century and its congested cities.  (Courtesy Will Lark, Smart Cities Group) The third floor atrium is at the center of the MIT Media Lab’s new “see-through” building, which is as open and transparent as the Lab’s research.  (Photo :  Andy Ryan Photography)

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