Media Laboratory Colloquium Series 2000-2001

Speakers and Information


Mary Lou Maher

Designing Virtual Architecture Using Software Agents

June 6, 2001


The design and implementation of virtual worlds has used a spatial metaphor and objects that look like the physical world of architecture. This approach has been used primarily in games but is becoming popular in virtual communities and professional and educational organizations. We are devleoping an approach to the design of virtual architecture that takes some of the ideas of physical architecture to provide functional virtual places to support human activity. A major point of departure for this new kind of architecture is the use of software and object models as the materials for constructing a place environment. The use of software agents as an integral part of the objects in a place leads to interactive, reactive and proactive worlds. Two approaches to the development of design elements will be presented: the place centric approach common in most games and the person centric that allows for the dynamic creation of space as needed.


Mary Lou Maher is the Professor of Design Computing in the Key Centre of Design Computing and Cognition at the University of Sydney. She received her PhD at Carnegie Mellon University and was part of the EDRC at CMU before joining the Key Centre in Sydney. Her research in virtual architecture has been used to develop a virtual campus at the University of Sydney and as the focus for research into the fundamental elements of virtual world design and virtual environments in the construction industry. She is the program leader for a collaborative research centre on construction innovation where these virtual environments will be developed to support collaborative design and provide a virtual community place that parallels the physical facilities.

Dr. Teresa M. Amabile

How the Work Environment Influences Creativity

June 20, 2001


Creativity, long thought to depend solely on personality, expertise, and cognitive style, can also be strongly influenced by the social environment. In this talk, after briefly describing a theoretical model of individual and team creativity, I will present research addressing three basic questions: How does the work environment influence creativity? How does the work environment for creativity change during drastic organizational transitions? How might events in the everyday work environment influence creativity?


Teresa Amabile holds the MBA Class of 1954 Chair as Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. In addition, she currently serves as Senior Associate Dean, Director of Research, at Harvard Business School. Originally educated and employed as a chemist, Dr. Amabile received her PhD. in psychology from Stanford University in 1977. Originally focusing on individual creativity, Dr. Amabile's research has expanded to encompass team creativity and organizational innovation. This 25-year program of research on how the work environment can influence creativity and motivation has yielded a theory of creativity and innovation; methods for assessing creativity, motivation, and the work environment; and a set of prescriptions for maintaining and stimulating innovation. Dr. Amabile has held several research grants, including Creativity and Motivation, from the National Institute of Mental Health, and Downsizing Industrial Creativity Division of the National Association for Gifted Children in 1998.

Dr. Amabile has presented her theory, her research results, and her methods for stimulating innovation to various groups in business, government, and education, including Lucent Technologies, Procter & Gamble Company, and Siemens AG. In addition to participating in various executive programs, her main teaching assignment at Harvard Business School is an MBA course, Entrepreneurship, Creativity, and Organization. She currently serves as a Director of Seaman Corporation. Dr. Amabile is the author of Creativity in Context and Growing Up Creative, as well as over 100 scholarly papers, chapters, and presentations. She serves on the editorial boards of Academy of Management Journal, Creativity Research Journal, Creativity and Innovation Management and Journal of Creative Behavior. Her recent papers include: Motivational Synergy: Toward New Conceptualizations of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation in the Workplace (Human Resource Management Review); Assessing the Work Environment for Creativity (Academy of Management Journal); and Changes in the Work Environment for Creativity during Downsizing (Academy of Management Journal).

Chris Crawford

A History of Thinking

July 11, 2001


This talk will present a slapdash view of the history of thinking, combining evolutionary biology with a dash of neurophysiology, some digital electronics, a tad of linguistics, and some basic history to arrive at some startling conclusions regarding the role of narrative in thinking. The central idea is the contrast between the original parallel organization of nervous systems and the kluged system for serial thinking introduced perhaps 200 million years ago, with narrative representing a means of expressing parallel-thinking concepts through the serial medium of language. In other words, narrative is a gigantic circumlocution.


Chris Crawford holds an MS in physics. His sagging keyboard and worn-out mouse have yielded 13 published computer games and four books. He founded and wrote most of The Journal of Computer Game Design. He founded and ran for many years the Computer Game Developers' Conference. He has lectured in Germany, France, Britain, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Berkeley, and some other places as well. For the last ten years he has been developing technology for interactive storytelling, for which he holds a patent. He recently co-authored a paper on the Leonid meteor shower, having participated in a NASA airborne mission to study its 1999 outburst. He even got to keep his blue NASA flightsuit! He is preparing a paper on the Adages of Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam. All this is made possible by virtue of being unable to secure gainful employment.

Kal Spelletich

Interactive Machine Art

July 18, 2001


This talk will describe and demonstrate participative robotic art.

The audiences at these performances volunteer to operate and interact with my work. It is a thin line between scaring them off and winning them over. They become the hero/star of the show for they are the ones who conquer their fears and perform acts of superhuman endurance and fearlessness in front of a live audience. This puts us in touch with rituals and events that validate and affirm existence using technology, fear and the realization that there is something more important than this fear. I attempt this in a fun conceptual way. The barrier between passive audience and art(ist) is shattered.

This is a project to explore new forms of interpersonal communication through touch and interaction (Force-feedback technology), Intimacy and social interaction via technology. So far I have conducted over a thousand such experiences with willing volunteers.


Born and raised in Davenport Iowa, recently named "America's Worst Place to Live." Started working at father's construction company once I could hold a hammer all day. Ran away from home age 15 and started squatting abandoned buildings and living on the streets. Worked as a dishwasher, cook, carpenter, auto mechanic, day laborer, street scammer, plumber, factory, grocery store, salesman, teacher, carpenter, stagehand, fix it guy. At age 18 worked in United Auto Workers Union at International Harvester factory with 4,000 workers. Discovered art through a camera.

Jonathan Zittrain

August 1, 2001


The conventional political and social wisdom of the Net appears essentially libertarian -- with the threat to the freedoms the Net enables viewed as coming from Government(s) -- those weary giants of flesh and steel, as Barlow put it so lyrically in his now-venerable Declaration of Independence for Cyberspace.

The conventional technical wisdom of the Net has held that "disintermediation" is the wave of the future and the name of the game.

I will argue that both are overrated as either descriptive or normative principles, and that threats to freedom come not from Big Brother but from Middle Siblings, a panoply of "private sheriffs," whether motivated by ideology or greed, who are increasingly in a position to govern our online behavior. I believe the question is not so much whether or how to maintain the much-revered anarchy of the Net, but what form the coming order will take.


Jonathan Zittrain is the Jack N. and Lillian R. Berkman Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies at Harvard Law School and Faculty Co-Director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society. His research includes digital property, privacy, and speech, and the role played by private "middlepeople" in Internet architecture. He currently teaches "Internet & Society: The Technologies and Politics of Control," and has a strong interest in creative, useful, and unobtrusive ways to deploy technology in the classroom. He holds a J.D. from Harvard Law, an M.P.A. from the J.F.K. School of Government, and a B.S. in Cognitive Science and Artificial Intelligence from Yale. He is also a 15-year veteran sysop of CompuServe's online forums.

Roberta Klatzky

Navigation in the Absence of Vision: Basic and Applied Research

August 22, 2001


For the past 15 years, my collaborators and I have been studying people's ability to learn about space through sound and movement, and to update their position and orientation without sight. We have studied blind and sighted people in a variety of spatial tasks, including learning layouts and routes through locomotion; taking novel short cuts after learning; and spatial updating through locomotion, imagination, and virtual reality. We have also investigated people's ability to represent spatial layout through audition -- including real and virtual sounds and spatial language. This basic work has been applied to developing a navigation aid for the blind, which makes use of GPS technology, geographical information systems, and spatialized sound. I will review our basic work and its application.


Roberta Klatzky is Professor and Head of the Department of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, where she is also on the faculty of the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition and the Human-Computer Interaction Institute. She received a B.S. in mathematics from the University of Michigan and a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from Stanford University. Before coming to Carnegie Mellon, she was a member of the faculty at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Klatzky's research interests are in human perception and cognition, with special emphasis on haptic perception and spatial cognition. She has done extensive research on haptic and visual object recognition, human navigation under visual and nonvisual guidance, and motor planning. Her work has application to haptic interfaces, navigation aids for the blind, exploratory robotics, teleoperation, and virtual environments. She also has interests in medical decision making.

Professor Klatzky is the author of over 150 articles and chapters, and she has authored or edited 4 books.

Professional Service: Professor Klatzky has been a member of the National Research Council's Committee on Human Factors and Committee on Techniques for Enhancing Human Performance, as well as other working groups of the NRC. She has chaired the governing board of the Psychonomics Society and the Psychology Section of AAAS, and she has served on research review panels for the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. She is a member of several editorial boards and a past associate editor of the journal Memory and Cognition.

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