Pattie Maes

Interview Paetti Maes

Dieses Video hat uns elektrisiert: Pattie Maes, Professorin am MIT Media Lab, stellt darin ein Mensch-Computer-Interface vor, das uns irgendwie sehr an den Arbeitsplatz von Tom Cruise im Science-Fiction-Thriller „Minority Report“ erinnert hat. Wir wollten Pattie Maes unbedingt kennen lernen und hatten vor ein paar Wochen die Gelegenheit, uns mit der gebürtigen Belgierin zu treffen. Es war ein sehr interessantes Gespräch über ihre Arbeit am MIT Media Lab, dem führenden universitären Hightech-Thinktank in den USA, über Brainiacs, Architektur und anderes mehr.

Eine faszinierende Frau und eine Forscherin, von der wir ganz sicher noch viel hören werden. So verwundert es nicht, dass das amerikanische Newsweek Magazine die Belgierin zu einer der “100 Americans to watch for” wählte 😉

Pattie, the MIT Media Lab is a well known academic institution. Rumors have it that the Media Lab looks for a new breed of student who is one part engineer, two parts futurist and three parts tech-savvy brainiac. So, what is it really like to be working at the Media Lab?

Pattie Maes: Well, actually there is a lot of truth in that. We get a lot of applicants, usually about 700 per year for graduate student positions and we accept only 50. So, only one out of fourteen gets into the program. Especially in my team we always look for people who are passionate and have visions they want to realize. Often they already come with specific dreams that they have. They are engineers and they want to build stuff. They are very competent hacker types with degrees in electrical engineering and computer science. We also look for people who have some sort of expertise or degree in industrial design or arts. Because if you only work with engineers they design stuff that nobody wants to use. So we try to find people that are a good combination of all of those things. People who have the vision, as well as the skills to implement something. They need to have both the design skills for the human side of things as well as the engineering skills for doing the complicated technical part of it.

MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte says that “In the future, there will be almost as few humans browsing the Net as there are people using libraries today. Agents will be doing that for most of us.” Do you agree with this prediction?

Pattie Maes: Well, I think our computers today are actually dumb and they don’t take the initiative. They are more like a tool, a hammer for instance. So, when you need some information you use the tool and then you tell the tool what to do. I think we will move more towards a model, where the computer is more like an active entity that is always on and it monitors what the user is doing, what they are trying to do, who they are with, where they are, etc. So this device will know a lot about the user. And it will proactively suggest things and help the user with whatever they are doing. We will move more towards this symbiotic collaborative relationship rather than the one were the computer is a passive tool as it is today.

What do you see in the marketplace that intrigues you, in terms of technology and how information is used?

Pattie Maes: There are tons of things. I like Apples spoken language interface, Siri. It is the first commercial step into the area of smarter computers. I think we will start seeing other companies doing similar things. Computers and software will become more intelligent and will be more aware of a person’s habits and preferences. This is definitely a direction in which we are moving. Computers will start playing a larger role in looking for information on our behalf. Maybe by just talking to our friends or by asking our friend’s agents. It is not always going to be the computer itself that has the intelligence to predict what you would like. Maybe it is just smart in terms of asking the right people for recommendations or advice.

You are living and working in Cambridge. What’s your favorite place in the city – besides the MIT?

Pattie Maes: To be honest, the Media Lab is my favorite place to hang out besides my home. We have a fabulous new building. The first Media Lab was designed by I.M. Pei, the great Chinese architect. The new extension was designed by the famous Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki and it is just incredible. The entire building is transparent. Actually, Fumihiko Maki came to hang out at the Media Lab trying to find out how we bring together different people from different disciplines, how we are being creative, how we communicate and collaborate. It has become a wonderful place because it is filled with creativity and energy and you can really see and feel it.

Do you have a motto that describes you or how you live?

Pattie Maes: I am just being playful. I like working hard and having fun. It is really my hobby rather than work. In our team it is all about staying playful, open-minded and silly. It’s about taking risks and trying to never grow up. We just have fun.

Thanks Pattie. We definitely had fun talking with you.
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