The MIT Alumni Association is pleased to announce live web streaming of the annual MIT Technology Day program from Kresge Auditorium on Saturday, 6 June 2009, from 9:00 am to 12:45 pm EDT. Please note that there will be one 30 minute break from 10:35 to 11:05 am.
This year’s program, The Mind’s Eye, will include introductory remarks by President Susan Hockfield, and presentations by MIT Professors Rebecca Saxe PhD ’03 on how the brain invents the mind, Pawan Sinha ’92, PhD ’95 on learning to see, and Patrick Henry Winston ’65, SM ’67, PhD ’70 on computers with commonsense (see below for complete titles and abstracts).
This promises to be a very exciting program. If you cannot join us for the live web stream, it will be available at the link above beginning on Monday, 8 June 2009 at 3:00 pm (15:00) EDT.
Titles and Abstracts of the three faculty presentations:
How the Brain Invents the Mind
When we look at other people, the features visible on the outside are only a small part of what we see. We are much more interested in seeing, or inferring, what’s going on inside: other people’s thoughts, beliefs and desires. If a person checks her watch, is she uncertain about the time, late for an appointment, or bored with the conversation? If a person shoots his friend on a hunting trip, did he intend revenge or just mistake his friend for a partridge? One of the most amazing discoveries of recent human cognitive neuroscience is that humans use a specific group of brain regions for thinking about thoughts. These brain regions are intrinsically interesting, and also provide a case study in the deeper and broader question: how does the brain – an electrical and biological machine – construct abstract thoughts?
Rebecca Saxe PhD ’03
Assistant Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience Fred and Carole
Middleton Career Development Professorship
Learning to See
We open our eyes and see a world that makes sense. Parsing the complex visual array into meaningful objects comes so naturally to us that we often do not think of just how amazing an accomplishment this is. Indeed, no computer system even comes close to this level of proficiency. How do we acquire these impressive visual skills? In order to study this process experimentally, we have recently launched Project Prakash, a synergistic humanitarian and scientific initiative that helps provide sight to children suffering from treatable congenital blindness, and characterizes their subsequent visual development. The effort has begun providing insights into the early stages of learning to see, while directly improving the lives of many children who were otherwise doomed to a life of blindness.
Pawan Sinha ’92, PhD ’95
Associate Professor, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences MIT
Computers with Commonsense
About 50,000 years ago, something magical happened to the human species. We humans emerged from Africa, spread throughout the world, and, in the blink of an evolutionary eye, painted the caves at Lascaux in France and got to work on the pyramids in Egypt. What was that magical quality that makes us so different from chimpanzees?
About 50 years ago, students in artificial intelligence laboratories began to write programs exhibiting useful and impressive expert behavior, but from the perspective of commonsense, all computers remain as stupid as stones. Can we ever understand what happened in our own evolution well enough to build a truly intelligent machine?
Fortunately for the computationally oriented, the past decade or two of Brain and Cognitive Sciences research has generated copious clues and insights. Today, MIT students, staff, and faculty use those clues and insights to study how we use sentences to convey information about the world, how sentences link up into stories that determine cultural biases, why sentence-driven imagination is essential to human thinking, and, overall, what commonsense is all about.
Such studies not only promise a greater understanding of human thinking and world-changing applications, but also explanations for why computers in the classroom can do more harm than good and suggestions for how we can make ourselves smarter.
Patrick Henry Winston ’65, SM ’67, PhD ’70
Ford Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science, MIT