The Sorcereres and Their Apprentices, by Frank Moss

5: The New Normal

... in which researchers strive to create better human beings and, as a result, a better society.

“Creating better humans.” It conjures up a mental picture of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster. And we all know how that turned out.

The reality is far from this at the MIT Media Lab today. With human augmentation technologies, MIT Media Lab researchers are making incredible strides in tackling big challenges of those traditionally called “disabled,” such as amputees and people with autism. However, the Lab’s advancements may eventually help all of us to be better versions of ourselves. And live longer, more productive and more fulfilling lives.

  • Learn why legendary Professor Seymour Papert famously declared that there are no “disabled people”—we’re all disabled, just at different levels.
  • Hear how Professor Rosalind Picard and her team are using computer technology to help people with autism participate more fully in society.
  • Join Professor Ed Boyden as he shows how computer technologies can zero-in on broken connections – and even “broken” cells – in the body’s computer, the brain. This work has promise for correcting genetic conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa. And possibly for Alzheimer’s and other diseases.

  • Learn how Professor Hugh Herr’s vastly improved prosthetics technology for amputees might eventually help prevent the elderly from falling or improve athletes’ running performance
Rosalind Picard discusses Affective Computing Watch (MIT Media Lab LabCAST)
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Early protoype of PowerFoot Watch (Credit: MIT Media Lab Biomechatronics group)
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Ed Boyden on Repairing Brain Circuits with Light Watch (TED Talk)
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The legendary Professor Seymour Papert is considered the world’s foremost expert in using technology to create new ways to learn – throughout our lives. Professor Papert invented Logo, the first programming language for children and the first tool to engage children in the world of computing as active participants rather than as only passive users. “Hard Fun” – the process of playful invention – is one of the four principles of the MIT Media Lab’s approach to innovation. (Photo: Courtesy Suzanne Massie) The Human 2.0 Conference of the MIT Media Lab explored how the coming convergence of humans and machines will enable us to “upgrade” our minds, our bodies, and even our identities – beginning with those considered traditionally “disabled” but eventually extending to everyone in society. Here (from left to right) author Michael Chorost, model/athlete/activist Aimee Mullins, Professor Hugh Herr, and journalist/author John Hockenberry discuss the future of prosthetics.  (Photo credit: Webb Chappell) Ed Boyden, head of the Synthetic Neurobiology group, has created a computer model of the human brain and non-invasive brain interfaces that eventually may let physicians “rewire” or route around bad connections in the brain.  (Photo:  Webb Chappell) The PowerFoot BiOM, an advanced robotic prosthesis based on a design originally created at the MIT Media Lab, is now being commercially manufactured by iWalk, a start-up company founded by Professor Hugh Herr. The PowerFoot BiOM will enable amputees around the world to walk more naturally – and even run, climb and ski. (Photo: copyright iWalk 2011)

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