The head of the world’s coolest innovation lab wants to focus on…publi

In 2019, nonetheless, the MIT Media Lab’s director Joi Ito stepped down after the public realized he’d courted funding from Jeffrey Epstein. After an almost 14-month search, Dava Newman was named his successor and began the position in July of this 12 months.

Newman is a 28-year veteran of MIT herself, an Apollo Program Professor of Astronautics with over 300 publications to her identify, who served as NASA Deputy Administrator from 2015–2017. She has been a principal investigator on 4 house missions, designed her personal house swimsuit, and is presently working with a mix of knowledge visualization and AI to assist regenerate the world’s oceans.

In a single of her first public interviews since taking the position, Newman energetically outlines her up to date imaginative and prescient for the MIT Media Lab—a uncommon innovation hub that she wants to see tackling harder issues head on, and getting extra concerned with alternatives outdoors of the lab itself.

[Photo: Andy Ryan]

Quick Firm: Why did you need this position? A lot of your background is particularly in house exploration!


Dava Newman: I’ve been a long-term MIT school member from tech and science. However the Media Lab has at all times been the most artistic side at MIT for my entire profession. Which is a very long time! The Media Lab has been right here for 35 years, and I’ve been right here 28 years.

Stuff you may not know is that I educate Engineering Design [to many Media Lab students]. However I’ve been actually personally fascinated with holistic design, is what I’d name it, from artwork to science, to engineering and design.

In scholarship, the synergies of science and artwork have been very well-studied. However I’ve a speculation that the engineer and design synergy axes are a lot much less well-studied. And I’m at all times fascinated in moon pictures!

But when we have been at our greatest, we’d be working throughout, amongst, and between artwork, science, engineering, and design. It’s at all times been a fascination of mine. So why the Media Lab? I can’t think about a greater place in the world to discover and be immersed on this trans-disciplinary pondering.

FC: So that you’ve at all times been concerned, not directly, by instructing Media Lab college students.

DM: Precisely, I’ve at all times been a buddy and colleague [to the Lab]. And I’ve at all times been making an attempt to get design [taught] throughout MIT.


FC: The place is there room for the Lab to develop? The place would you like to take it now?

DM: I’ve loads to say on this one. What’s the magic in the Media Lab, and the way will we improve it? Let me provide you with a number of ideas. What’s the Media Lab going to be . . . I got here up with 4 Ps.

It’s about the folks. That’s the magic, the genius, meaning our total group. Everybody does convey a sparkle, one thing distinctive we are able to all study from.

It’s going to be about parity . . . we are able to focus on every type of superb issues. However of these applied sciences and experiences we’re inventing, what could have the largest influence for society?

Then we get to play. This can be a playful place. And it wants to be. Play brings out some of the finest in us in phrases of taking dangers, making an attempt this, making an attempt that. It’s not linear pondering. You might have to give your self time to assume and be artistic.

After which the future state is “potentialities.” This can be a lab of potentialities. Now we have to know what we would like to be in the future. And what issues we would like to remedy as properly.

FC:  For certain, a lot of the Media Lab is crammed with whimsy. However how do you stability this concept of play whenever you additionally need to focus on bigger, real-world issues, like the atmosphere?

DM: I come to it as an everlasting optimist. This has to be a spot the place you stroll by the entrance door, and for all 500 of us, that is the most superior palace in the world. Then I do know I succeeded. You’re taking that first step in the door and it’s like, “Wow.” We want to exude that.

FC: Discuss to me about the way you’re shifting the focus of the Lab itself.

DM: We’re asking, what are the onerous questions?

[We’re focusing on] studying and schooling, it’s actually digital studying and immersion, well being and wellness. . . . from the thoughts, physique, and even growing older. And cities, local weather, and sustainability are so essential. Digital arts and design. And perhaps governance and resilience.


This [other idea] is effervescent up: Coverage, perhaps? As [we develop] applied sciences and experiences for humanity, we have now to take into consideration, What are the future of governances round them? One instance is our digital foreign money initiative. It’s superb, however in case you are going to have influence, it’s like you might have to develop coverage with tech.

We’re figuring out, What are the powerful challenges right here? We’ll play in that house. If we get it proper, we are able to hopefully have the most influence for society.

FC: It looks as if the bigger focus on the atmosphere, fairness, and coverage are in all probability new for the Lab?

DM: I feel that’s a good evaluation. Management issues, and that’s half of my management [focus]. So we’re going to put them at the forefront. I feel that’s how we’re going to be what we aspire to be.

We’re going to be a various and equitable place, we have now to have everybody at the desk. We do have these particular skills. We will see options in envisioning issues which might be additional out. We’re constructed on literal media and knowledge, so we don’t shrink back from any technical challenges.

[I have] an AI platform engine curating petabytes of local weather knowledge I get each day from satellites . . . however what in case you are immersed in that knowledge, interacting with it? What if it’s schooling, but it surely’s tangible? And [what if] we’re not simply doing this on this stunning constructing, but it surely’s altering human conduct?

Now we have to be out in our group. We don’t have the solutions. That’s the very first thing we find out about ourselves. We want to have a dialogue and be cocreating. We’re a smallish group in the scope of issues, so how are we going to share that with the world?

FC: You stepped in after Joi Ito stepped down amid loads of controversy. What are your priorities to get the Media Lab on observe and restore the status?

DM: Before everything, I would like to give credit score. There’s been nice management in the final two years. The Media Lab was run by three senior school from the Media Lab. That onerous, difficult work is properly underway. It’s not completed, however they have been engaged on tradition and local weather, on college students, on funding and vetting funding. All that work nobody is aware of about—it’s inside work. MIT [is following suit], however the Lab was first. I’ve the pleasure to proceed that nice work.

Then when it comes to exterior communication and visions, that’s the place I’m placing collectively a group, bringing in another senior of us when it comes to communications and a director of folks.

FC:Will you continue to get your arms soiled in analysis? Or are you shifting to a supervisor position?

DM: I get to do each. I’ve to work out what the proper stability is. Management, administration—and fundraising does take up loads of time. I’ll be measuring and monitoring it. I used to be in a lab for an hour final night time, and of course I adore it. Right here’s the latest laser machine!

I’ve a big analysis portfolio myself. That’s transitioning to make it extra modest. [But] you don’t get kicked out of your lab! Getting folks to Mars, I’m going to preserve engaged on that!