Diversity@ML http://excedrin.media.mit.edu/diversity All things diversity at the MIT Media Lab Mon, 18 Nov 2013 17:49:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Kimberly Bryant and Black Girls Code http://diversity.media.mit.edu/2013/11/18/271/ Mon, 18 Nov 2013 17:26:42 +0000 http://diversity.media.mit.edu/?p=271

About Kimberly Bryant

Kimberly Bryant is a Biotechnology/Engineering professional who has spent a decade in the Biotechnology, Pharmaceutical, and Manufacturing industry. She founded Black Girls Code in April 2011 as a way to close the digital divide for girls of color. The organization’s mission is “to introduce programming and technology to a new generation of coders, coders who will become the builders of technological innovation and of their own futures.” The program focuses on introducing girls between the ages of 7 and 17 to robotics, video game design, app development, and computer programming.

Bryant was awarded the White House Champions of Change for Tech Inclusion award in July of 2013. The award is given to celebrate people in the U.S. “who are doing extraordinary things to expand technology opportunities for young learners—especially minorities, women and girls, and others from communities historically underserved or underrepresented in tech fields.”

Champika introduces Kimberly. Kimberly notes that they use the work done at the Media Lab a lot in their organization. She starts by showing us a clip from their summer camp in Oakland, CA. It was a mobile entrepreneurship camp where they used AppInventor.

What is Black Girls Code?

BGC is about giving girls tools and experience to code and make a change. Kimberly shows a recent cover of Wired magazine that asks whether the next Steve Jobs could be a girl of color. Kimberly says she is trying to change the image of what it means to be a “techie”. The field could be open and diverse. She shows a picture of young African American women and says that this is the future that they try to promote.

Kimberly describes how two years ago her 12-year-old was a heavy heavy gamer. Kimberly was annoyed from purchasing $60-70 games for her and her daughter would look at all the cheat codes and then she’d have to go buy more games. Kimberly sought some computer programming opportunities for her summer school. After a one-week summer camp at Stanford in 2011 her daughter’s whole perspective changed. But she reported back that she was one of three girls and the only girl of color at camp.

Kimberly describes that at the same time she was going through her own career transition. She worked as an engineer in the manufacturing, biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. She was looking to do a healthcare start-up and started going to meetups in the Bay area. She would find that she was the only woman and only woman of color in the room. There are less women engineers than there were 20 years ago.

And yet there are so many tech opportunities especially in the Bay area. “If you can code you will never go hungry out there,” says Kimberly. Instead of starting her own firm, Kimberly decided to make the change that she wanted to see in the world. She figured she had about ten years to make a difference for her daughter to make her road a little bit easier.

Black Girls Code started in April 2011 focusing on girls ages 7-17. They held their first class in a small community of color in San Francisco. They ended up with twelve girls. They looked at everything and talked to everyone. They looked at robotics, Ruby, and many other things until they found Scratch. They originally thought they would focus on middle school girls. This is the age range where girls tend to opt out of STEM fields. But many parents brought their younger siblings to the informational meetings and asked if they could attend the class as well. What was interesting about the classes is that they 6-8-year-olds would blow past the older girls and really get into it. They are at an age where they are really open. That’s how we ended up serving the age range that we do.

Their mission is to work with girls to embrace the current tech marketplace as builders and creators by introducing them to skills in computer programming and technology. They want to grow to train 1 million girls by 2050 and become the “girl scouts” of technology.

Kimberly shows slides of important women from computing history: Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, the women that programmed ENIAC. In the 1960s women represented about 15% of the degrees in computer science. She shows a chart showing the number of women graduating with technical degress. Computer science is the only field where women graduates have decreased since the 1980s. She then shows how women comprise a good amount of the AP test takers in high school, however women of color comprise only 1%.

She notes that in some countries like India the numbers are better. She has traveled to London, Ireland and Malaysia and many places have a hard time getting women into computer science.

But why does coding matter? Kimberly says, “If all software’s created by men then we miss out on the perspective of 50% of the population. Computing jobs are some of the fastest growing sector in the country.” Women and minorities are consistently early adopters of technologies including social media and gaming. But they are consistently absent from the actual creation of these technologies.

At BGC they see this time and again with the apps the girls create. The girls’ always outpace their mentors for the ideas that they have for what they can create. There is a high capacity for using this as a creative tool for these girls.

The BGC Solution

The BGC way is to deliver technology-centered workshops and classes for girls from underrepresented communities. They develop culturally-rich curriculum. This means they take a tool like Scratch and integrate it into their communities and their lives. They integrate entrepreneurship as well in the sense that they create a project rather than just learning how to use a tool. They additionally provide access to female role models. They consider themselves part of the larger learn to code movement which includes CoderDojo, girls learning code, CODE, and Codecademy.

The BGC Model

BGC is a chapter model so there are chapters in multiple cities. Currently they have chapters in eight cities around the country. They have one international chapter in Johannesburg. Overall they have reached about 2000 girls in two years. They are hoping to double that in the next two years by adding chapters in the US and in Africa.

Their program model includes culturally rich environment, foundational CS curriculum infused with culturally sensitive elements (she calls this their secret  sauce), a strong mentorship focus, and parental education. On the latter, she describes how the parents would attend the workshops and wouldn’t leave because they would want to learn the curriculum as well. BGC decided to run parallel workshops for parents in conjunction with the student workshops. These include technical talks and even teaching them how to code. This year they used GameMaker to teach them how to make a game. The parental workshops are one of the most touching aspects of the program. They get very emotional about getting their kids involved. Finally, corporate partnerships are very important to their model.

Kimberly describes the challenges of reaching kids at high school age and the lack of CS curriculum in high schools. She took her daughter around the Bay area and found that most schools didn’t teach computer programming. They ended up at the single high school that teaches robotics and had a computer science AP program. They can only do so much in the after-school setting. CS should be counted as a science and teachers should teach CS in the schools. Their goal for next year is to use what they have learned in the afterschool setting and then apply that at the high school level.

She shows slides of what they do: Build a Webpage in a Day, National STEM Video Game Challenge, iPad Film School, Game Design, Mobile App Development, Ruby, Python and Web Design Workshops. In the workshop they do “pair programming” and team projects. They have found that a ratio of 2:1 or 3:1 of students to teachers is important for students to get personal attention.

She shows how they teach programming. They make analogies with human language. They show examples of how code translates into visual interfaces. She shows the class they have recently been teaching using AppInventor which they start with kids as young as 7. They also use Scratch and have found that it works best with kids 10 and up. They think it’s a great entry-level language for their students.

She shows some of the BGC success stories. A girl named Aita was well-recognized in her first class even though she initially didn’t think she knew much about technology. Two years after her first class she was hired to teach web design and mobile app development to other middle school girls at her school. She says that this is typical – after two years they are seeing amazing growth by the girls.

Kimberly ends with the proverb:

“When you teach a woman, you teach a nation.”

– African proverb

Q & A

Q: Can you give me examples of the culturally sensitive elements since you said that was your secret sauce?

Kimberly: The easiest example is driving the curriculum around a purpose. We don’t just create a web page to create a web page. We focus narrowly on building something that focuses on our community. Some of our team building exercises we do as well. We train our teachers to interface and interact with our girls. We want to make sure how to talk to the kids and engage the kids in class. One of the things we are hoping to do next year is to create some research around this culturally sensitive

Q: What does it take for a group to become a chapter?

Kimberly: Right now we have 50-60 cities that are interested. We are working on making specific guidelines. We are looking at ways of sustaining chapters and making it easily replicable. Boston is on our list but probably won’t start till summer of next year.

Q: Have you thought about or do you have ambitions to change the larger tech culture since, in many cases, it’s still very male?

Kimberly: We are thinking about how to approach traditional tech culture. We want to expose them to it so that they see what it is and what it’s about. I feel like it probably won’t change significantly until women are there. We are looking at some of the things they are doing at Carnegie Mellon as well around recruiting more female students.

Q: How do you encourage students to continue coding especially in low resource environments?

Kimberly: We give them kits that have Scratch. Another thing we are looking at is having online modules as well.

Q: How many staff members do you have?

Kimberly: We have two full time staff members and then teams of volunteers in every city.

Q: How do you celebrate the successes of the girls?

Kimberly: We are looking at creating a badge system so that we can track it. We want the girls to celebrate their success and build a history and portfolio of work.

Live-blogged by Catherine D’Ignazio.

Sharing Immigrant Stories at the #11milliondreams Storython, Boston http://diversity.media.mit.edu/2013/10/15/sharing-immigrant-stories-at-the-11milliondreams-storython-boston/ Wed, 16 Oct 2013 01:55:03 +0000 http://diversity.media.mit.edu/?p=265


The #11milliondreams Storython, held on October 5th and 6th in both Los Angeles and Boston, was a collaborative effort of skill sharing and hands-on building to strengthen media practice in immigrant communities. Drawing inspiration from social movements such as Occupy, which harnessed media and tech skills from participants in order to create tools and platforms that could better serve their efforts, the Undocutech project tapped into the preexisting resourcefulness and ingenuity of immigrant communities and channeled them into a creative space for tech and media. Since the project began, our role as the Undocutech team has been that of supporting organizer and facilitator, with the goal of amplifying the work conducted by immigrant communities.

The Storython

The Storython aims to create a space that is welcoming to all ages and skill sets, and is centered on the idea of creating and sharing compelling personal narratives. We intentionally did not frame the event as a hackathon, because we became aware of limitations of using the model with immigrant communities. From our experience, many people either did not know what “hacking” meant or they associated it with advanced technical skill. However, projects like Migrahack are quickly building bridges between tech communities and immigrant communities, especially through hackathon-style events. On the other hand, stories have been a powerful influence for social change among immigrant communities, and we wanted our event to center around storytelling with media.

Hanging Out

On Saturday October 5th, we came together as organizers to set up and touch base with the Los Angeles team via Google hangout. This provided an opportunity for teams to meet, offer support, and share the experience. A memorable moment was when Vozmob blogger, Ranferi Ahiezer, communicated in Spanish (with the help of Lead Coordinator Maegan Ortiz’s translation) his desire to connect with us through Twitter. Ranferi mentioned having visited the East Coast in the past and expressed how happy he was to meet new people in Boston.

Found Objects

Urban planner and designer James Rojas shared with us the Found Objects workshop idea and materials, in which participants use a variety of objects to reimagine everything from neighborhoods to personal histories. We began with Found Objects as a way to set the tone for the weekend as a whole. It is accessible to all ages and skill levels, requires little facilitation, and is hands-on in the most literal sense. By combining play and building, the activity affords participants the imaginative freedom to interpret objects in a variety of ways – to convey feelings, share moments, navigate space, or reenact a journey. In an unfamiliar (and potentially intimidating) setting, it inspires a sense of confidence and creates a safe space to share personal stories. Beyond that, Found Objects places the contributions of participants at the forefront.

A Boston youth creates her story using a variety of objects during the Found Objects workshop. On the left is her native Guatemala, where she lived her whole life up until three years ago. The blue line represents a geographical border, and the pink arrow is her journey north to the United States. The Statue of Liberty can be seen on the right.

Mobile Storytelling

The Mobile Storytelling workshop began with a brief history of the Vozmob project, and how it directly led to the development of the Vojo platform. We explored notable examples of stories, groups, and campaigns created using both Vozmob and Vojo. The first task in our workshop was to create a new account by calling the #11milliondreams Vojo group and recording an audio story. One youth participant told the story of his parent’s immigration to Boston, while another told her own experience of meeting a fellow immigrant from her home country in school. The second task involved creating picture stories and sharing them with the Vojo group via MMS. One story pictures a youth standing in front of a world map holding a sign that says his family is attending an immigration march, and another depicts a Found Objects story.

Digital Video Stories

The Digital Video Stories workshop, conducted by Center for Civic Media Research Assistant and videographer Heather Craig, covered the basics of creating stories using a variety of video devices and emphasized common techniques and best practices. First, participants viewed and analyzed videos. Heather then showcased devices and equipment including DSLR’s, camcorders, shotgun microphones, and tripods. Participants had the opportunity to handle professional equipment (for the first time, in some cases), although most preferred to shoot on their own devices, especially cell phones, when it came time to interview each other. The storytellers were encouraged to explore the Media Lab and conduct interviews in different spaces. Because of the personal nature of the stories, there were varying comfort levels with uploading content.

Do Now

The Do Now activity, which kicked off Sunday’s event, enabled participants to learn more about one another. In collaboration with Boston youth worker and educator Molly Jones, organizers set up the Do Now on a white board and urged participants to post: 1) something to LEARN from the group, 2) something to SHARE with others, and 3) our most influential STORY or storyteller. Everyone wrote responses independently on sticky notes, posted them to the white board, and came together as a group to share aloud. It gave us a better sense of what brought each individual to the event, both in terms of skill sharing around media and personal connection. We heard stories of inspirational parents, grandparents, spoken word artists, and authors who shaped our understanding of the world.

Special thanks to our volunteers Mine Gencel Bek, Thalita Dias, Adrienne Debigare, Alexandre Gonçalves, and Becky Hurwitz, our partners United We Dream and Migrahack for making the Boston event a success, and to all the participants and those of you following our work online. We are working to upload and share all content created during the #11millinodreams Storython both in Boston and Los Angeles. More about our work can be seen at the #11milliondreams Storython website created by Heather Craig, and in a recent article by The Nation.

Cross-posted with the Center for Civic Media.

Value-Driven Design, a workshop! http://diversity.media.mit.edu/2013/10/14/value-driven-design-a-workshop/ Tue, 15 Oct 2013 00:49:19 +0000 http://diversity.media.mit.edu/?p=260 Co-written with Willow Brugh; graphic by Willow!
link to the hackpad version of this post; cross-posted on codesign.mit.edu

When you are designing a project for social justice, where do you start?

In this workshop, we practice value-based design, a method that helps us to design for large scale social impact and to relate this directly to how we plan and implement projects. We envision the impacts we’d like to contribute to in the world and the values we bring with us into our work as the first steps in this design process. As individuals, this method helps us to express our connection to our projects on a personal level and to prevent burnout as we are able to identify work that resonates with our values and to set aside work that doesn’t. As a team, this method helps us to identify shared values and to make design decisions based on our shared vision instead of personal preferences.

At the last Codesign Studio (codesign.mit.edu), Bex and Willow took the class through an hour-long workshop to identify our individual values and to design our projects and approach around shared values. Read the class write-up and see some of the work from this exercise: http://codesign.mit.edu/2013/10/week-4-in-codesign-studio-project-updates-and-values/

A student from the Zumix team in Codesign studio participates in a values-driven brainstorm workshop.

This workshop is inspired by Monica Sharma’s work in transformational leadership for large scale system shift. In this article, she describes the framework of the methods she shares for this kind of work. Connecting with our personal values and designing based on values is a key component. [Sharma, Monica. “Contemporary Leaders of Courage and Compassion: Competencies and Inner Capacities.” Kosmos Summer 2012.]

Individual Values

Uncovering our core values gives us better understanding of our own purpose and desire in the world. Doing this exercise with teammates is a great way to connect to each other’s inspiration.

(3 min) Select one person in the room to work these questions with:

Share something you’ve worked on that you had some role in designing.

Ask the following questions:

  • What did you envision as success for that project? Often people will dissemble, and say it wasn’t a success. People will also commonly talk about the activities of the project, things they did, instead of what the vision was of the project. So:
  • Ask them to imagine that it WAS a success. What is happening in the world then? How are people living? What is the quality of life?
  • Drill to one word. That’s the value you were working from. The value you represent. The word should not be an action or process (manifestation, collaboration, interaction, etc), but what people feel like if they can act or work in that way (joy, justice, inclusion, health, etc).

(12 min) Now, break into pairs. If there are project teams in the room, ask people to work with someone in the same team and ask each other the questions above.

(at 6 min) Remind people to switch

Have each person say their value when you reconvene. If you can, write these somewhere that will be visible for your team as you continue to work together.

Value-Based Design

Designing a project with the larger purpose in mind helps to think big and understand that your actions connect to your visions of social justice. It also helps your team to recognize shared values, a great starting place for connecting when you have to make difficult design decisions.

Overview (5 minutes)
In this method, we design with our teams first by developing shared understanding of the impacts we want to see as a result of the work we do together. These will be large-scale and will likely relate to values we identified in the Individual Values exercise. In this exercise, Impacts, longterm sustained state change.

Because we can’t implement impacts directly, we continue to design our work into pieces of work that we can implement. We divide these pieces into three categories: Inputs, Outputs, and Outcomes.

Share the above graphic.

Go through an example, here is an example of how we might have used this methodology in developing Codesign:

Ask what desired impacts of Codesign are:

  • Impacts – sustained state change. – What do you think the intended impacts of codesign as a method are? Empowered and equal engagement.

Ask what some inputs, outputs and outcomes are of Codesign:

  • Outputs – collaborative workshops
  • Inputs – YOU! Partners, us, this room, MOUs, etc
  • Outcomes – A change, but requires continued effort to maintain – Such as social relationships, people try it and don’t keep it up

We tend to fill these three categories with information in a nonlinear way — recognizing an Output may surface desired Outcomes and Inputs. Broadly, we design right to left and implement left to right.

Project Design (25 min)
Now practice the value-based design methodology with project with your team. If you are at an early stage in your work together and you haven’t yet identified or selected a project you will work on, you can begin by taking the various partner’s organizational values into consideration. Broadly, what are the impacts that your team’s members envision?

Before completing the exercise, have each group fill in at least 2 points under each section.

Wrap It Up
Reportback (15 min)
Ask people to share their process. Try using the Green/Yellow/Red method and ask each group to share one Green – a thing that was easy or clear; Yellow – one thing that was challenging or that they learned something from; and Red – something that was difficult or a block.

If the teams went to different parts of the room, have everyone tour around. Document the work of each group.

GWAMIT and Media Lab – Creating Community http://diversity.media.mit.edu/2013/09/06/gwamit-and-media-lab-creating-community/ Fri, 06 Sep 2013 19:27:31 +0000 http://diversity.media.mit.edu/?p=231 GWAMIT-ML GWAMIT-ML

Graduate Women at MIT is a student-led MIT organization that promotes personal and professional development for women within the MIT graduate community. As a woman at Media Lab, I am interested in contributing to initiatives that help promote community for women at MIT and at Media Lab in particular. The GWAMIT department representative role for Media Lab serves as a bridge between Media Lab and the resources offered by GWAMIT, so I decided to take on the position and initiate a kickoff event for ML Women.

In spring semester 2013, GWAMIT (Graduate Women at MIT) provided a small amount of funding for department reps to hold events. I decided to use the funding to host a small informal gathering for Media Lab women – over desserts and petit fours, we had insightful discussions about diversity within Media Lab, communication, outreach, and a desire for building a stronger and closer community amongst women at the lab. It was a great event to begin these types of discussions and bring together women from many different research groups. Our discussions primarily focused on:

  • Organizing more casual/informal social events
  • Communication & recruitment
  • Support and resources for families
  • Mentorship
  • Creating avenues of discussion for women’s/diversity issues

Going forward, I hope that Diversity@ML will serve as a platform for organizing more events and cultivating the women’s community at Media Lab and beyond.


Conversation with Stanley Yang, CEO of NeuroSky http://diversity.media.mit.edu/2013/09/06/conversation-with-stanley-yang-ceo-of-neurosky/ Fri, 06 Sep 2013 18:27:17 +0000 http://diversity.media.mit.edu/?p=234 DSC02505

Stanley Yang in conversation with Roz Picard.

This event kicks off the MIT Media Lab Diversity Committee’s monthly lecture series. To learn more go to: http://diversity.media.mit.edu. Live-blogging contributed by Catherine D’Ignazio, Heather Craig, Jude Mwenda, Hiromi Onishi, Yu Wang and Muhammad Ali Hashmi .


About Stanley Yang

As Chief Executive Officer of NeuroSky, Inc. (http://neurosky.com), Stanley Yang leads the bio-sensor company that has become the global leader in mass market Brain-Computer Interface technology. NeuroSky has developed a non-invasive neural communication sensor that converts brainwaves and other bio-signals into digital electronic signals. This “ThinkGear” technology can control electronic devices, enable machines to adapt to people, and further enhance education and research on creative applications powered by the brain. NeuroSky has forged successful partnerships with a broad range of companies from Fortune 500 industry leaders to innovative independent developers. Furthermore, NeuroSky leverages collaboration with a number of top domestic and international academic institutions to move technology out of the lab and into the marketplace.

Pattie Maes welcomes everyone to the Diversity Speaker Series. She introduces Stanley as the CEO of NeuroSky, a company that is exploring markets in brain interfaces in entertainment, health and other fields. Pattie describes the format of the event which will be a conversation with Roz Picard, a professor at the MIT Media Lab who runs the Affective Computing group. Following the discussion will be an open Q & A with students and staff.

About NeuroSky

Stanley introduces himself and describes how he’ll speak about diversity and his company. He asks why “smartphones” are “smart”? They don’t recognize you and they are not that smart. In fact, Stanley’s dog is smarter than the smartphone. Machines in general don’t recognize human beings unless we do something to them. We conform to the machines rather than vice versa.

At NeuroSky, the mantra is to have machines conform to humans. They want technology conforming to people. Stanley tells us that “consumers are very very lazy”. Consumer products should be easy and intuitive to use. Otherwise we blame our failings on our machines and platforms. Using biosensors, NeuroSky hopes to make smarter machines.

In 2006, they got their first funding to build a sensor and create interfaces to the brain and body. They didn’t want to simply make a science fair project because they had to make money. He was previously in two start-up companies – he already understood the shareholder demands. Having the tech is one thing but knowing how to disseminate it is another.

Stanley repeats that consumers are lazy and don’t want to learn. He describes how he never reads any manual that comes with the equipment and machines in his life. So if you have a brand new technology that you want to introduce – where should you go? No one knows how to use it yet.

Stanley shows a video of a kid using the Jedi force to control his environment. He decided to try to show his technology to George Lucas at Skywalker Ranch. The whole world knows about Star Wars and about the force. He thought if he could affiliate with the force then people would understand the technology intuitively.

Stanley shows a video of a kid going on Ellen to show off his Star Wars jedi Force Trainer. The kid gives the Jedi Force Trainer a “10”! This cameo of the kid demo-ing happened at Christmas and then the parents could buy the kit.

Stanley describes how the technology had to be simple enough that someone could open the box and do something with it in 10 seconds or less. Building the technology is one thing. But bringing it to market, making it work consistently is a whole other project.

The Star Wars Jedi Trainer was the first product they made and they put everything into it to ensure it would work. They found that going with a brand-name affiliation gave them an advantage in appealing to wide consumer bases.

The trainer was actually only using about 5% of the tech that NeuroSky had available. The next product was called MindFlex and published through Mattel. Time Magazine voted it top 100 most influential toys from 1923 until the present.

Games are only a small percent of the revenue. NeuroSky makes a number of educational devices such as the Cloud based Interactive Textbook for many countries’ educational systems (though not the US because of fragmentation in the market).

He goes on to show the Necomimi product. It was selling 3000 units per hour when they first released it (which was a problem because they could only manufacture 2000 per week). The product exceeded Stanley’s expectations entirely. The engineer had wanted to build “brainwave cat ear technology” and Stanley did not take this seriously at all. He now admits that he was wrong. They spent about 3 million dollars and it sold a great deal internationally. He shows the Necomimi video.

The videos went viral and the gadget was picked up by a number of TV personalities internationally. In China and Taiwan they created a music video with a famous pop star wearing the ears.

Though these projects are fun, most of the revenue actually gets generated by other products. They have ECG (Electrocardiograph) sensor technology that they have built into many items. For example, the Aerowatch and cell phones:

Stanley shows a phone with two sensors on the back that keep track of your health and fitness. He describes how the sensors have been integrated into smartphones, watches, tablets, and sports/fitness gear.

NeuroSky is working with Stanford Hospital and deploying the phones to cardio patients to monitor them 24-7.

Stanley describes that the sensors can go on your head or on your wrist. They are currently talking with many different wearable tech companies to devise new applications for their sensors. He says that there is a lot of amazing work going on in this field right now.

Q & A with Roz Picard


Stanley Yang and Roz Picard (far right) taking questions from the audience.

Roz: The students wanted me to ask you a little bit about your background. You grew up in Taiwan?

Stanley: I was born in Taiwan. My dad was in the Navy and my parents met there. I traveled a lot with my father. I also spent time in Hong Kong and Vietnam where I was actually during the war. The experience of living through that taught me about many different cultures. I also spent time in Japan and I learned that every culture is worthy. I love to assimilate myself into different cultures wherever I am. After I moved to the US I did my best to understand the country. While in Hong Kong, I thought their English was English until I came here. My first day of junior high here was shocking. I noticed students were sitting on tables – In Asia you have to sit at your desk. People were sitting on tables talking freely and talking back to the teacher – WHOA! What’s up with that. I was quickly voted teacher’s aide because I was the most submissive student. The first day I had to find the restroom and I asked where the wash closet was. This kid went “What?” I had to actually say “Where do you go pee?” That was an experience of culture shock.

Roz: Another question from the students – what inspired you to pursue engineering?

Stanley: That was easy. In 1979, the very first movie I went to in the U.S. was Star Wars. And I thought all the technology was real and was dismayed to learn it was fake. I guess that’s why I decided to go into engineering because I had to make it real.

Roz: And then you studying engineering at Berkeley. And what inspired you to study business?

Stanley: I quickly learned I wasn’t the best student. I was even sort of lazy. I started as an engineer but two years later I went to another company (?? NAME?) that went public in the 1990s. My boss called me and told me at 24 years old I was going to manage the engineering team. Because I wasn’t really doing my engineering work. So that’s how I became a manager.

Roz: what made you start the EEG? just because of the force?

Stanley describes how the CEO gave him a million bucks to go start his own enterprise. Stanley thought it was a joke and framed the check. Then two weeks later the CEO called him up and told him he was fired if he didn’t actually go use the check. He and his team fundraised more and founded Tricent (sp?) and then sold it in 2004. Stanley was thinking of retiring at that point (in his thirties) but all his golf buddies were working still. He watched a lot of daytime TV but decided he didn’t like Oprah. Then he realized that he didn’t want to be retired yet. But he had to figure out what to work on.

His friend called him up and talked about a professor working on brainwave technology and invited him to take a look. Stanley declined. Finally another friend convinced him to go talk to the professor. He saw a huge helmet with a bunch of sensors which was driving the radio controlled car. He thought it was great but that nobody would wear a helmet. The professor called him up later and asked what he suggested to transform the technology into something viable for the market. Stanley replied that the technology has to be simple and easy to use. Great technology is great technology but what people will purchase is a different issue. He suggested reducing the sensors down to just one and simplifying the overall design.

Roz: How much money did you start out with?

S: 1.2 million dollars. I put a lot of that in myself because you have to prove to the investors that you are serious. Not everyone can do that. I wanted to test the theory very quickly. I encourage those who don’t have the funds to not give up.

Roz: Your technology is bought by consumers for fun and games and also by researchers wanting to do science – how do you strike that balance?

S: We are growing fast but not as fast as the developer community which is now in the thousands. We have to strike a balance between these people. 80% of the people who want to work with us – we have a screening committee – because there are so many. We ask they use our standard devices to work with us. For example, the Star Wars Force Trainer was a custom device because they were worried about it looking “star wars”.

Roz: What do you see as the future of NeuroSky and of wearables?

Stanley: I think the future is very bright and not just because I’m the CEO. Everyone is seeing wearable technologies coming on very strongly. We went from laptops to mobile devices and now we are in the wearable age. We are now doing a project integrated into baby onesies to investigate SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). The onesie can measure if their heart is beating or not and then make a sound to wake them up so they don’t stop breathing. There are many opportunities if you make the technology right, cheap, and easy to use.

Roz asks a question about future developments.

Stanley: I can’t leak information ahead of my customer’s announcement. A lot of things are going on your wrist and on your face.

Roz: What has surprised you most on your journey with NeuroSky?

Stanley: I get surprised every day. I would say the necomimi ear carriers?

R: And that’s what you were a naysayer on originally?

S: Yes. I went to my daughter’s school BBQ and everyone called me the Neocomimi guy.

Audience question: Where is the limit on brainwave sensing?

S: You can actually sense a lot of things, but to product-ize the technology it has to work 100%. In the videos posted on the Youtube, they can achieve 70% percentage, but there is still 25% wrong. it depends on the purpose. If you want to develop a product for the consumer area, there are more limitations.

Audience question: Audience member asks question about Neocomimi ears and how they work.

S: When they fall down it means you’re bored. When they go back and forth it means you are highly engaged When the ears flips for 3 times, that means there’s a space

Audience question:  Audience member asks about technology.

S: The technology sorts out the noise from the signal. In order to save power, filtering systems are built in before the signal comes in. Analogous to the noise cancelling earphones you wear on an airplane.

Audience question: Audience member asks about business model.

S: Primarily a B2B company, Neocomimi is the only product they sell directly to the consumer.

Audience question:  what kind of frequency do you operate your chips??

S: For EEG and ECG devices, continue to improve them and add features that may or may not be relevant to all users. They have to keep up with mobile platforms so release new technology frequently.

Audience question:  Do you foresee catering to the more DIY community?

S: Treat every customer and product the same way. If you are registered and have the SDK you can call us up for support. Try to limit the number of developers, though, because must offer optimal service to each customer. We add customer numbers very carefully to provide support. It takes lots of time to support a single person, so have to limit developers to some extent.

Audience member asks question about big data collection

S: The devices can collect data for government, for depression studies, for cardiovascular disease, etc. Governments can act on this data.

Audience asked about social psychological issues?

S: We get anonymous messages from people all over the world about how we are ethically wrong. There are two things we don’t do. One: Anything dealing with life-threatening situations. One example is that a hospital has published a paper without their permission about using their product to control the balance of 3 life sustaining medicals, and we ask them to stop.

Turned down the onesie project because it deals with life and death. They also don’t deal with the adult porn industry.

Audience member asks question about technology and consumerization.

S: Some consumers wear the Necomimi device every day. Although it’s fairly low tech, it’s high tech in terms of industrial and mechanical technology. It has to survive user’s everyday use, like bending the ear over.

Audience member asks question about how much of their work is talent driven.

S: Must strike a balance between talent and experience. A good design never beats a solid design.  you need it to work consistently. Talent is very important. The last thing you want is to make a recall because it is very expensive

Audience member asks question about limitations due to power supply.

S: Yes, battery power is always a consideration for mobile products. For example, a respirator should be last for 7 days,  a smartwatch shouldn’t have to be charged for months. That’s why smartwatches are a bit bigger. It’s hard to utilize a product that has to be charged every day or two. Ideally a product doesn’t demand that people change their behavior.  Research user behavior before deciding how much energy you should provide.

OpenIR and the Need for Diverse “Inventors” http://diversity.media.mit.edu/2013/08/28/openir-and-the-need-for-diverse-inventors/ Wed, 28 Aug 2013 12:35:30 +0000 http://diversity.media.mit.edu/?p=193

OpenIR, AMAN (Alliance of Indigenous Peoples of the Indonesian Archipelago), and Sekber REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) add IR mapping to their citizen journalism system.

Much of the diversity-related work at the MIT Media Lab takes place beyond the boundaries of the Media Lab (ML), MIT, and even beyond the borders of Massachusetts and the United States.

My name is Arlene Ducao, and when I came to the ML in 2011 to study in the Information Ecology group, I hoped to introduce a stronger social consciousness and global element to my research. Having previously worked with scientists and technologists for years, I’d come to believe that social and global consciousness is necessary for research to have relevance in the long term. MIT, and particularly ML, seemed like a great place to connect with others researching creative technology.

OpenIR (Open Infrared, http://openir.media.mit.edu), my Master’s thesis project, is a set of tools that make infrared satellite data more accessible and useful for crowdmapping applications. Its initial study area was Indonesia, namely the flood-prone city of Jakarta, deforested regions of West and Central Kalimantan (Borneo), and the volcanic city of Yogyakarta. Because Indonesia lies at the intersection of economic development and many kinds of ecological vulnerability, it is the home of several organizations that supported OpenIR when we traveled to the country to conduct usability studies: UN Global Pulse, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, Ruai TV, AMAN (Indigenous Peoples of the Indonesian Archipelago), and many more. Indonesia is also in Southeast Asia, my ancestral home, so the project also involved a level of personal exploration for me. My weekly photojournals, fieldwork report, and personal reflections are documented on the OpenIR site. OpenIR was supported in large part by the MIT Public Service Center, one of the institute’s best resources for supporting international development work. OpenIR was also the major effort of team members Ilias Koen, Juhee Bae, Barry Beagen, several undergraduate CS students, as well as Indonesia-based community partner Harry Sujadi, and advisers Henry Holtzman, Lela Prashad, and Steve Chan. I consider all of these people, and many more in the U.S., Indonesia, and Africa, to be “inventors” on the OpenIR project.

Since Stuart Brand’s 1988 book about the Media Lab, “Inventing the Future” is a catchphrase commonly associated with the Lab. But who is inventing the future? Who should be inventing the future? Is it a small group of Western-educated people with elite backgrounds and resources, creating products that the rest of the world is meant to passively receive? While few people today would admit that they believe this to be the case, this kind of thinking is still prevalent in the research and practice of many technologists. I’m not immune to this; I struggle to resist notions of elitist, hierarchical thinking that are highly disassociated with my own minority, immigrant, working class ancestry. I find that the most effective way to work through these notions is to think of myself, my research, and my work groups, even groups as large and influential at the Media Lab, as tiny parts of a vast global tapestry. Every person in that tapestry is inventing something that is well worth learning. Perhaps this tapestry-like connectedness is related to what ML Director Joi Ito means when he discusses ML as a “platform, not a container.” A search for new kinds of connectedness, with inventors too often ignored or at least underrepresented, is major part of what fuels OpenIR, my field work to Indonesia, and my involvement with ML’s Diversity initiatives.

Collateral Benefits: Focus Groups as Social Support Groups http://diversity.media.mit.edu/2013/08/27/parents/ Tue, 27 Aug 2013 15:32:07 +0000 http://diversity.media.mit.edu/?p=169 This post was originally posted in the Ethnography Matters blog on July 15, 2013, by Ricarose Roque, a PhD student in Lifelong Kindergarten.

In designing our research projects, we weigh which methods can contribute (or not contribute) into our research questions, but how might these methods benefit the people we study?

I found a surprising outcome in a recent series of focus groups I conducted to understand parents’ perceptions of computing in their lives and their children’s lives. Parents play an important role in their children’s learning ecology, from encouraging their children at home to brokering relevant relationships and resources for children beyond the home. As technology proliferates to every part of our lives from how we connect with one another to how we can learn, I’ve been interested in how parents are negotiating technology use with their children, especially among parents who do not have a history or background in computing and engineering. (I use parents loosely here to mean any adult caretaker.) I used focus groups to interview multiple parents in a familiar setting (their local community center) and to leverage the dynamics of groups to gather shared perceptions or contentious points.

In the hour and a half we shared together, I would discuss with 3 to 5 parents their personal and children’s use of technology and its influence on their lives. And at the end of each one, I noticed that parents seemed to enjoy the experience. They thanked me for putting this together. And then they thanked each other. Some suggested doing “this” again. Parents exchanged contact information. There was a feeling that we went through something special. And I only made sense of what that was through iterative readings of the transcripts.


I found that parents connected over their sometimes overwhelming anxiety around computing and how it influenced how they saw themselves, their children, and their relationships to their children. For example, they agreed that there were benefits to using computers and mobile devices in their lives, but at the same time, they shared questions about what was being lost or given up with their use. With cell phones, they could get in touch with their children immediately and at any time. With Facebook, they could keep in touch with relatives still living in the countries they left behind. But when someone grows up with communication done through text-based mediums and interactions mediated through devices, how do they connect with people emotionally and deeply in real life? How do they develop their sense of what is right and wrong? One mother asked about technology: “How — not even how does it benefit him — how does it benefit other people? How does what you do [with technology] help someone else?”

For every question I asked, parents illuminated their responses with stories. One dad shared his disappointment with how technology has complicated reading with his son, and even replaced him as his son’s reading partner.

You hit on a word [on an iPad reading app] and it says the word for you. I was a little offended, I thought I would be a great reader for them, but they preferred to have the, whatever the person who had been paid by the company to read to them, which I’m still bitter about.

Other parents would hear these stories and add their own, sometimes validating their shared experiences by saying they experienced the same thing. “I know how you feel.” Another parent shared a story of how homework time has changed in her household.

We were taught that you come home, you sit at the table, your parents —  somebody did their homework with you.  So you’ve got that physical doing it, not computer actually teaching you, or sitting in front of a television, just being raised by the television or the computer.

Parents tried to make sense of their stories together. For example, after noticing how much his son played with Garage Band on his iPad, one dad offered to take him to a class offered at a local community center. However, to his surprise, his son resisted.

I was surprised when I said let’s go to a Garage Band class at the tech center, he was like, “I don’t really like Garage Band.” And I was like, “What are you talking about?” And he was like, “I like Garage Band on my iPad.” And I think it’s because there’s not much reading involved [in the Garage Band iPad app].

This father believed that his son preferred using Garage Band on the iPad over a personal computer because there would be less reading involved in the iPad app’s user interface. Earlier in the focus group, he shared that he’s been trying to help develop his son’s reading abilities. However, another mother in the group offered an alternative perspective on his son’s reasoning:

I just think being where everyone is speaking English – like you said he can’t read – that’s intimidating. . . . he’s more comfortable with the iPad. It can’t talk back. I mean it can talk back, but you know what I mean? It’s not so intense. It’s not a human with eyes, expecting a response that’s correct or incorrect.

In this exchange, another mother in the focus group was able to extend a father’s explanation to include social factors — generating new understandings of his son’s reaction.

The focus group became a place to share stories, gain validation about their experiences, and connect with each other at personal and emotional levels. In the time that we shared together, the focus group transformed into support group. This was an unexpected outcome. I dug into focus group research literature to better understand the history of the format. Through their focus groups with Hurricane Katrina survivors and second-generation Muslim-Americans after 9/11, Peek and Fothergill (2009) found ways in which the focus group format can serve as a form of social support or empowerment for people who have been marginalized or victimized. Feminist researchers like Sue Wilkinson (1998) argue that the focus group format can shift the power from the researcher to the participants, can produce richer, interactive data, and provide opportunities for participants to co-construct meaning.

In my research, I found that parents were feeling displaced and isolated in traditionally family-supported activities. They found other parents who validated their experiences, empathized with their anxieties, and supported one another.

In Alone Together, Sherry Turkle writes:

Technology presents itself as a one-way street; we are likely to dismiss discontents about its direction because we read them as growing out of nostalgia or a Luddite impulse or as simply in vain. But when we ask what we “miss,” we may discover what we care about, what we believe to be worth protecting. We prepare ourselves not necessarily to reject technology but to shape it in ways that we honor what we hold dear.

Together these parents were surfacing what they held dear and what they wanted for their children and their relationships with them. The group began by telling what they saw as isolated, personal stories and ended up seeing the connections across their lives, transforming the personal to collective questions and issues.


This was my first time using the focus group format. I had concerns about some parents dominating the conversation and the more reticent parents not being heard. I worried about the authenticity of what parents said, wondering if it was influenced by what someone else had said before. However, when I was considering the format, these concerns were outweighed by being able to test recruitment methods and potential questions and gathering multiple and shared perspectives.

And after conducting these focus groups, I did see some of these concerns realized. Some parents talked more than others and there was almost too much agreement among them. I responded to such instances by speaking directly to more reticent parents when others spoke too much and encouraging parents to share alternative viewpoints whenever one viewpoint began to dominate.

What emerged from these focus groups was surprising to me and powerful for the parents who attended. In hearing some parents talk about their anxieties and share their vulnerabilities, other parents felt more comfortable sharing their own experiences. And in doing so, they found a sense of validation and connection among the other parents over their experiences with technology — connections they were not experiencing with their children, whose tech-savviness often left their parents feeling awe-struck and less competent.

When deciding on our research methods, we, as researchers, often wonder what works and what doesn’t. We also consider what risks could arise among the people we study, but it is also valuable to consider what collateral benefits our methods can have. And as participants experience these benefits, how do such experiences contribute back to the research? In your research projects, what collateral benefits have you found? And what, if anything, grew out of these benefits for participants? I came into the focus group wanting to understand parents perceptions of computing’s relevance in their lives and their children’s lives. Surprisingly, parents used the focus group as a support group to make sense of their own relevance in their children’s lives, as computing devices permeated their family activities.

Works Cited

Peek, L., & Fothergill, A. (2009). Using focus groups: lessons from studying daycare centers, 9/11, and Hurricane Katrina. Qualitative Research, 9(1), 31–59.

Turkle, S. (2011). Alone together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other. New York: Basic Books.

Wilkinson, S. (1998). Focus groups in feminist research: Power, interaction, and the co-construction of meaning. Women’s Studies International Forum, 21(1), 111–125.

Mapping the News and Engineering Serendipity http://diversity.media.mit.edu/2013/08/25/serendipity/ Sun, 25 Aug 2013 10:59:29 +0000 http://diversity.media.mit.edu/?p=161 mattapan

I’m a second year master’s student at the Center for Civic Media where we do a lot of thinking about how technology can foster strong and engaged communities. Since a democratic society is predicated on an informed citizenry, much of our work centers around analyzing news media. How does a story unfold in the new media ecosystem of blogs, broadcast, print and mobile? Whose stories get told? Whose stories get read? How do we translate information into action?

I spent last year building tools for creating a critical geography of the news media. I started by working with an experimental API by GlobeLab (the Boston Globe’s R&D wing) and created Mapping the Globe. This interactive tool maps two years of Boston Globe articles into MA towns and Boston neighborhoods and associates keywords with each geography to show us not just differences in quantity of attention but also differences in how news media talk about different geographies. Click on Foxboro vs Mattapan to get a stark illustration of this framing. After creating this tool, I went on to build technologies that can automatically extract geographic locations from news articles so that we can start mapping very large data sets of news articles from MediaCloud.

While I’ll continue to work on mapping the news this year, I’m going to focus my thesis research on “Engineering Serendipity”. Too many spaces are engineered around the principles of “homophily” – our tendency to congregate with others like us. This goes for physical spaces (gated communities) and online spaces (social networks). So how can we build systems, websites and apps that make us encounter people who are not like us and worlds that are not like ours? How can we translate those encounters with difference into increased openness to new information, empathy and civic engagement? These are some of the questions I’ll be experimenting with this year. By the end of the year and after a couple of wacky experiments, I’m hoping to create a set of design guidelines titled “How to Engineer Serendipity”.

I’m psyched to participate in the diversity committee because they(we) are fulfilling an important role at the Media Lab to engineer a little serendipity into our lab environment and demonstrate that the field of creative technology is wide enough to accommodate all of us.

Director’s Fellows Retreat http://diversity.media.mit.edu/2013/07/14/directors-fellows/ Sun, 14 Jul 2013 18:02:34 +0000 http://diversity.media.mit.edu/?p=58 Screen Shot 2013-07-24 at 1.04.54 PM

The first cohort of Media Lab Director’s Fellows came together at ML in July for an informal retreat of brainstorming, workshops, demos, fun, and community. Kids from the Boston chapter of the Intel Computer Clubhouse were added to this mix; they took tours of ML and participated in some of the Director’s Fellows workshops:

  • Fashion design 101: Christopher Bevans, award-winning designer best known for his work with the Billionaire Boys Club, Nike, and Adidas, will be hosting a workshop teaching the basics of apparel design techniques and sharing industry tips.
  • Make your own speaker: Learn all about how sound systems work and make your own speakers with Jeff Sturges, founder of the Mt. Elliott Makerspace in Detroit, Michigan.
  • Learn chess from a grandmaster: Learn basic chess strategy, tactics, and how to think differently from the first African-American chess grandmaster, Maurice Ashley.
  • Storytelling: Author and activist Shaka Senghor uses the power of the written word to keep kids out of prison in Detroit. Comedian Baratunde Thurston was the Director of Digital at The Onion and is the author of How To Be Black. Join both of them as they coach us through a workshop on storytelling as a tool for change.

The Director’s Fellows, and their coordinator Lisa Katayama, have blogged about some of their own experiences at http://dfellows.media.mit.edu/

Diversity Speaker Series, May Edition: Martin Jakobsen http://diversity.media.mit.edu/2013/07/14/diversity-speaker-series-may-edition-martin-jakobsen/ Sun, 14 Jul 2013 17:47:29 +0000 http://diversity.media.mit.edu/?p=55
On May 6, 2013, the Diversity Committee hosted Martin Jakobsen, Founder and Director of Turning Tables (http://turningtables.org), an organization that trains vulnerable youths with urban music skills. He told his story of how his crush on a girl launched his journey combining music, youth, and social responsibility through several continents.

Martin Jakobsen has been running Turning Tables since 2009, establishing permanent DJ and rap schools and conducting workshops for refugee youth and internally displaced persons in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. He has also been organizing and supporting rap and hip hop concerts in the Middle East.

Martin has been a professional DJ and producer for more than a decade and holds a Master in International Relations from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.We were introduced to Martin by Rodrigo Davies, a Master’s student (and DJ himself) in the MIT Comparative Media department.