People Should Find A Safe Storm Shelter During Thunderstorm

Storm Shelters in OKC

Tuesday June 5, 2001 marked the start of an extremely fascinating time in the annals of my cherished Houston. Tropical storm Allison, that early summer daytime came to see. The thunderstorm went rapidly, although there was Tuesday. Friday, afterward arrived, and Allison returned. This time going slowly, this time in the north. The thunderstorm became still. Thousands of people driven from their houses. Only when they might be desired most, several leading hospitals shut. Dozens of important surface roads, and every important highway covered in water that was high.

Yet even prior to the rain stopped, service to others, and narratives of Christian compassion started to be composed. For a couples class, about 75 people had assembled at Lakewood Church among the greatest nondenominational churches in The United States. From time they got ready to depart the waters had climbed so high they were stranded. The facility of Lakewood stayed dry and high at the center of among the hardest hit parts of town. Refugees in the powerful thunderstorm started arriving at their doorstep. Without no advance preparation, and demand of official sanction, those 75 classmates started a calamity shelter that grew to hold over 3,000 customers. The greatest of over 30 refuges that could be established in the height of the thunderstorm.

Where help was doled out to those who’d suffered losses after Lakewood functioned as a Red Cross Service Center. When it became clear that FEMA aid, and Red Cross wouldn’t bring aid enough, Lakewood and Second Baptist joined -Houston to produce an adopt a family plan to greatly help get folks on their feet quicker. In the occasions that followed militaries of Christians arrived in both churches. From all over town, people of economical standing, race, and each and every denomination collected. Wet rotted carpeting were pulled up, sheet stone removed. Piles of clothes donated food and bed clothes were doled out. Elbow grease and cleaning equipment were used to start eliminating traces of the damage.

It would have been an excellent example of practical ministry in a period of disaster, in the event the story stopped here, but it continues. A great many other churches functioned as shelters as well as in the occasions that followed Red Cross Service Centers. Tons of new volunteers, a lot of them Christians put to work, and were put through accelerated training. That Saturday, I used to be trapped in my own, personal subdivision. Particular that my family was safe because I worked in Storm Shelters OKC that was near where I used to live. What they wouldn’t permit the storm to do, is take their demand to give their religion, or their self respect. I saw so a lot of people as they brought gifts of food, clothes and bedclothes, praising the Lord. I saw young kids coming making use of their parents to not give new, rarely used toys to kids who had none.

Leaning On God Through Hard Times

Unity Church of Christianity from a location across town impacted by the storm sent a sizable way to obtain bedding as well as other supplies. A tiny troupe of musicians and Christian clowns requested to be permitted to amuse the kids in the shelter where I served and arrived. We of course promptly taken their offer. The kids were collected by them in a sizable empty space of flooring. They sang, they told stories, balloon animals were made by them. The kids, frightened, at least briefly displaced laughed.

When not occupied elsewhere I did lots of listening. I listened to survivors that were disappointed, and frustrated relief workers. I listened to kids make an effort to take advantage of a scenario they could not comprehend. All these are only the stories I have heard or seen. I am aware that spiritual groups, Churches, and lots of other individual Christians functioned admirably. I do need to thank them for the attempts in disaster. I thank The Lord for supplying them to serve.

I didn’t write its individuals, or this which means you’d feel sorry for Houston. As this disaster unfolded yet what I saw encouraged my beliefs the Lord will provide through our brothers and sisters in religion for us. Regardless how awful your community hits, you the individual Christian can be a part of the remedy. Those blankets you can probably never use, and have stored away mean much to people who have none. You are able to help in the event that you can drive. You are able to help if you’re able to create a cot. It is possible to help in the event that you can scrub a wall. It is possible to help if all you are able to do is sit and listen. Large catastrophes like Allison get lots of focus. However a disaster can come in virtually any size. That is a serious disaster to your family that called it home in case a single household burns. It is going to be generations prior to the folks here forget Allison.

United States Oil and Gas Exploration Opportunities

Firms investing in this sector can research, develop and create, as well as appreciate the edges of a global gas and oil portfolio with no political and economical disadvantages. Allowing regime and the US financial conditions is rated amongst the world and the petroleum made in US is sold at costs that were international. The firms will likely gain as US also has a national market that is booming. Where 500 exploration wells are drilled most of the petroleum exploration in US continues to be concentrated around the Taranaki Basin. On the other hand, the US sedimentary basins still remain unexplored and many show existence of petroleum seeps and arrangements were also unveiled by the investigation data with high hydrocarbon potential. There have already been onshore gas discoveries before including Great south river basins, East Coast Basin and offshore Canterbury.

As interest in petroleum is expected to grow strongly during this interval but this doesn’t automatically dim the bright future expectations in this sector. The interest in petroleum is anticipated to reach 338 PJ per annum. The US government is eager to augment the gas and oil supply. As new discoveries in this sector are required to carry through the national demand at the same time as raise the amount of self reliance and minimize the cost on imports of petroleum the Gas and Oil exploration sector is thought to be among the dawn sectors. The US government has invented a distinctive approach to reach its petroleum and gas exploration targets. It’s developed a “Benefit For Attempt” model for Petroleum and Gas exploration tasks in US.

The “Benefit For Attempt” in today’s analytic thinking is defined as oil reserves found per kilometer drilled. It will help in deriving the estimate of reservations drilled for dollar and each kilometer spent for each investigation. The authorities of US has revealed considerable signs that it’ll bring positive effects of change which will favor investigation of new oil reserves since the price of investigation has adverse effects on investigation task. The Authorities of US has made the information accessible about the oil potential in its study report. Foil of advice in royalty and allocation regimes, and simplicity of processes have enhanced the attractiveness of Petroleum and Natural Gas Sector in the United States.

Petroleum was the third biggest export earner in 2008 for US and the chance to to keep up the growth of the sector is broadly accessible by manners of investigation endeavors that are new. The government is poised to keep the impetus in this sector. Now many firms are active with new exploration jobs in the Challenger Plateau of the United States, Northland East Slope Basin region, outer Taranaki Basin, and Bellona Trough region. The 89 Energy oil and gas sector guarantees foreign investors as government to high increase has declared a five year continuance of an exemption for offshore petroleum and gas exploration in its 2009 budget. The authorities provide nonresident rig operators with tax breaks.

Modern Robot Duct Cleaning Uses

AC systems, and heat, venting collect pollutants and contaminants like mold, debris, dust and bacteria that can have an adverse impact on indoor air quality. Most folks are at present aware that indoor air pollution could be a health concern and increased visibility has been thus gained by the area. Studies have also suggested cleaning their efficacy enhances and is contributory to a longer operating life, along with maintenance and energy cost savings. The cleaning of the parts of forced air systems of heat, venting and cooling system is what’s called duct cleaning. Robots are an advantageous tool raising the price and efficacy facets of the procedure. Therefore, using modern robot duct isn’t any longer a new practice.

A cleaner, healthier indoor environment is created by a clean air duct system which lowers energy prices and increases efficiency. As we spend more hours inside air duct cleaning has become an important variable in the cleaning sector. Indoor pollutant levels can increase. Health effects can show years or up immediately after repeated or long exposure. These effects range from some respiratory diseases, cardiovascular disease, and cancer that can be deadly or debilitating. Therefore, it’s wise to ensure indoor air quality isn’t endangered inside buildings. Dangerous pollutants that can found in inside can transcend outdoor air pollutants in accordance with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Duct cleaning from Air Duct Cleaning Edmond professionals removes microbial contaminants, that might not be visible to the naked eye together with both observable contaminants. Indoor air quality cans impact and present a health hazard. Air ducts can be host to a number of health hazard microbial agents. Legionnaires Disease is one malaise that’s got public notice as our modern surroundings supports the development of the bacteria that has the potential to cause outbreaks and causes the affliction. Typical disorder-causing surroundings contain wetness producing gear such as those in air conditioned buildings with cooling towers that are badly maintained. In summary, in building and designing systems to control our surroundings, we’ve created conditions that were perfect . Those systems must be correctly tracked and preserved. That’s the secret to controlling this disorder.

Robots allow for the occupation while saving workers from exposure to be done faster. Signs of the technological progress in the duct cleaning business is apparent in the variety of gear now available for example, array of robotic gear, to be used in air duct cleaning. Robots are priceless in hard to reach places. Robots used to see states inside the duct, now may be used for spraying, cleaning and sampling procedures. The remote controlled robotic gear can be fitted with practical and fastener characteristics to reach many different use functions.

Video recorders and a closed circuit television camera system can be attached to the robotic gear to view states and operations and for documentation purposes. Inside ducts are inspected by review apparatus in the robot. Robots traveling to particular sections of the system and can move around barriers. Some join functions that empower cleaning operation and instruction manual and fit into little ducts. An useful view range can be delivered by them with models delivering disinfection, cleaning, review, coating and sealing abilities economically.

The remote controlled robotic gear comes in various sizes and shapes for different uses. Of robotic video cameras the first use was in the 80s to record states inside the duct. Robotic cleaning systems have a lot more uses. These devices provide improved accessibility for better cleaning and reduce labor costs. Lately, functions have been expanded by areas for the use of small mobile robots in the service industries, including uses for review and duct cleaning.

More improvements are being considered to make a tool that was productive even more effective. If you determine to have your ventilation, heat and cooling system cleaned, it’s important to make sure all parts of the system clean and is qualified to achieve this. Failure to clean one part of a contaminated system can lead to re-contamination of the entire system.

When To Call A DWI Attorney

Charges or fees against a DWI offender need a legal Sugar Land criminal defense attorney that is qualified dismiss or so that you can reduce charges or the fees. So, undoubtedly a DWI attorney is needed by everyone. Even if it’s a first-time violation the penalties can be severe being represented by a DWI attorney that is qualified is vitally significant. If you’re facing following charges for DWI subsequently the punishments can contain felony charges and be severe. Locating an excellent attorney is thus a job you should approach when possible.

So you must bear in mind that you just should hire a DWI attorney who practices within the state where the violation occurred every state within America will make its laws and legislation regarding DWI violations. It is because they are going to have the knowledge and expertise of state law that is relevant to sufficiently defend you and will be knowledgeable about the processes and evaluations performed to establish your guilt.

As your attorney they are going to look to the evaluations that have been completed at the time of your arrest and the authorities evidence that is accompanying to assess whether or not these evaluations were accurately performed, carried out by competent staff and if the right processes where followed. It isn’t often that a police testimony is asserted against, although authorities testimony also can be challenged in court.

You should attempt to locate someone who specializes in these kind of cases when you start trying to find a DWI attorney. Whilst many attorneys may be willing to consider on your case, a lawyer who specializes in these cases is required by the skilled knowledge needed to interpret the scientific and medical evaluations ran when you had been detained. The first consultation is free and provides you with the chance to to inquire further about their experience in fees and these cases.

Many attorneys will work according into a fee that is hourly or on a set fee basis determined by the kind of case. You may find how they have been paid to satisfy your financial situation and you will have the capacity to negotiate the conditions of their fee. If you are unable to afford to hire an attorney that is private you then can request a court-appointed attorney paid for by the state. Before you hire a DWI attorney you should make sure when you might be expected to appear in court and you understand the precise charges imposed against you.

How Credit Card Works

The credit card is making your life more easy, supplying an amazing set of options. The credit card is a retail trade settlement; a credit system worked through the little plastic card which bears its name. Regulated by ISO 7810 defines credit cards the actual card itself consistently chooses the same structure, size and contour. A strip of a special stuff on the card (the substance resembles the floppy disk or a magnetic group) is saving all the necessary data. This magnetic strip enables the credit card’s validation. The layout has become an important variable; an enticing credit card layout is essential in ensuring advice and its dependability keeping properties.

A credit card is supplied to the user just after a bank approves an account, estimating a varied variety of variables to ascertain fiscal dependability. This bank is the credit supplier. When a purchase is being made by an individual, he must sign a receipt to verify the trade. There are the card details, and the amount of cash to be paid. You can find many shops that take electronic authority for the credit cards and use cloud tokenization for authorization. Nearly all verification are made using a digital verification system; it enables assessing the card is not invalid. If the customer has enough cash to insure the purchase he could be attempting to make staying on his credit limit any retailer may also check.

As the credit supplier, it is as much as the banks to keep the user informed of his statement. They typically send monthly statements detailing each trade procedures through the outstanding fees, the card and the sums owed. This enables the cardholder to ensure all the payments are right, and to discover mistakes or fraudulent action to dispute. Interest is typically charging and establishes a minimal repayment amount by the end of the following billing cycle.

The precise way the interest is charged is normally set within an initial understanding. On the rear of the credit card statement these elements are specified by the supplier. Generally, the credit card is an easy type of revolving credit from one month to another. It can also be a classy financial instrument, having many balance sections to afford a greater extent for credit management. Interest rates may also be not the same as one card to another. The credit card promotion services are using some appealing incentives find some new ones along the way and to keep their customers.

Why Get Help From A Property Management?

One solution while removing much of the anxiety, to have the revenue of your rental home would be to engage and contact property management in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. If you wish to know more and are considering the product please browse the remainder of the post. Leasing out your bit of real property may be real cash-cow as many landlords understand, but that cash flow usually includes a tremendous concern. Night phones from tenants that have the trouble of marketing the house if you own an emptiness just take out lots of the pleasure of earning money off of leases, overdue lease payments which you must chase down, as well as over-flowing lavatories. One solution while removing much of the anxiety, to have the earnings would be to engage a property management organization.

These businesses perform as the go between for the tenant as well as you. The tenant will not actually need to understand who you’re when you hire a property management company. The company manages the day to day while you still possess the ability to help make the final judgements in regards to the home relationships using the tenant. The company may manage the marketing for you personally, for those who are in possession of a unit that is vacant. Since the company is going to have more connections in a bigger market than you’ve got along with the industry than you are doing, you’ll discover your device gets stuffed a whole lot more quickly making use of their aid. In addition, the property management company may care for testing prospective tenants. With regards to the arrangement you’ve got, you might nevertheless not be unable to get the last say regarding if a tenant is qualified for the the system, but of locating a suitable tenant, the day-to-day difficulty is not any longer your problem. They’ll also manage the before-move-in the reviews as well as reviews required following a tenant moves away.

It is possible to step back watching the profits, after the the system is stuffed. Communicating will be handled by the company with all the tenant if you have an issue. You won’t be telephoned if this pipe explosions at the center of the night time. Your consultant is called by the tenant in the company, who then makes the preparations that are required to get the issue repaired with a care supplier. You get a phone call a day later or may not know there was an issue before you register using the business. The property management organization may also make your leasing obligations to to get. The company will do what’s required to accumulate if your tenant is making a payment. In certain arrangements, the organization is going to also take-over paying taxation, insurance, and the mortgage on the portion of property. You actually need to do-nothing but appreciate after after all the the invoices are paid, the revenue which is sent your way.

With all the advantages, you’re probably questioning exactly what to employing a property management organization, the downside should be. From hiring one the primary variable that stops some landlords is the price. All these providers will be paid for by you. The price must be weighed by you from the time frame you’ll save time that you may subsequently use to follow additional revenue-producing efforts or just take pleasure in the fruits of your expense work.

Benifits From An Orthodontic Care

Orthodontics is the specialty of dentistry centered on the identification and treatment of dental and related facial problems. The outcomes of Norman Orthodontist OKC treatment could be dramatic — an advanced quality of life for a lot of individuals of ages and lovely grins, improved oral health health, aesthetics and increased cosmetic tranquility. Whether into a look dentistry attention is needed or not is an individual’s own choice. Situations are tolerated by most folks like totally various kinds of bite issues or over bites and don’t get treated. Nevertheless, a number people sense guaranteed with teeth that are correctly aligned, appealing and simpler. Dentistry attention may enhance construct and appearance power. It jointly might work with you consult with clearness or to gnaw on greater.

Orthodontic attention isn’t only decorative in character. It might also gain long term oral health health. Right, correctly aligned teeth is not more difficult to floss and clean. This may ease and decrease the risk of rot. It may also quit periodontists irritation that problems gums. Periodontists might finish in disease, that occurs once micro-organism bunch round your house where the teeth and the gums meet. Periodontists can be ended in by untreated periodontists. Such an unhealthiness result in enamel reduction and may ruin bone that surrounds the teeth. Less may be chewed by people who have stings that are harmful with efficacy. A few of us using a serious bite down side might have difficulties obtaining enough nutrients. Once the teeth aren’t aimed correctly, this somewhat might happen. Morsel issues that are repairing may allow it to be more easy to chew and digest meals.

One may also have language problems, when the top and lower front teeth do not arrange right. All these are fixed through therapy, occasionally combined with medical help. Eventually, remedy may ease to avoid early use of rear areas. Your teeth grow to an unlikely quantity of pressure, as you chew down. In case your top teeth do not match it’ll trigger your teeth that are back to degrade. The most frequently encountered type of therapy is the braces (or retainer) and head-gear. But, a lot people complain about suffering with this technique that, unfortunately, is also unavoidable. Sport braces damages, as well as additional individuals have problem in talking. Dental practitioners, though, state several days can be normally disappeared throughout by the hurting. Occasionally annoyance is caused by them. In the event that you’d like to to quit more unpleasant senses, fresh, soft and tedious food must be avoided by you. In addition, tend not to take your braces away unless the medical professional claims so.

It is advised which you just observe your medical professional often for medical examinations to prevent choice possible problems that may appear while getting therapy. You are going to be approved using a specific dental hygiene, if necessary. Dental specialist may look-out of managing and id malocclusion now. Orthodontia – the main specialization of medication – mainly targets repairing chin problems and teeth, your grin as well as thus your sting. Dentist, however, won’t only do chin remedies and crisis teeth. They also handle tender to severe dental circumstances which may grow to states that are risky. You actually have not got to quantify throughout a predicament your life all. See dental specialist San – Direction Posts, and you’ll notice only but of stunning your smile plenty will soon be.

MIT Black History Project launches new website

The MIT Black History Project has launched a new website that documents evidence of the role and experience of the black community at MIT since the Institute opened its doors in 1865.

“Look at this project to get a better sense of what happens when you ignore human potential … based on appearance, which has been much of our country’s history,” says Melissa Nobles, professor of political science and Kenan Sahin Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS) at MIT.

The MIT Black History Project was founded and is directed by Clarence G. Williams, adjunct professor emeritus and former special assistant to the president. The project is an ongoing collaborative research effort sponsored by the MIT Office of the Provost.

Since 1995, the project has worked to archive over 150 years of the black experience at MIT and identified six key historical periods along the way: Roots and Exponents (1861-1920), Order of Operations (1921-1945), Potential Output (1946-1954), Critical Mass (1955-1968), Integration and Differentiation (1969-1994), and Rising Voices (1995-present).

At present, the website offers more than 500 illustrations, photographs, and other archival material available for community members, scholars, journalists, and other interested individuals to search. An additional 2,500 items already collected by the project will be included in the future. A major call to action is on the site’s Giving page, where people are invited to share their own pieces of MIT black history.

Williams’ objective has been to place the black experience at MIT in its full and appropriate context by researching and disseminating materials that expose communities both inside and outside MIT to this rich, historically significant legacy.

This effort includes lending research support to other Institute-affiliated entities such as the MIT and Slavery course taught by historian Craig Steven Wilder and archivist Nora Murphy, the MIT MLK Visiting Professor and Scholars Program website, and various Black Alumni/ae of MIT (BAMIT) endeavors.

Via the materials disseminated by the MIT Black History Project, Williams hopes that “future generations may relate to our hopes and disappointments [at MIT], to our struggles and achievements.”

Williams joined the MIT administration in 1972 as assistant dean of the graduate school. Throughout an MIT career spanning over three decades, he served as special assistant to the president and chancellor for minority affairs, acting director of the Office of Minority Education, assistant equal opportunity officer, ombudsperson, and adjunct professor in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning.

Williams is the author of “Reflections of the Dream, 1975-1994: Twenty-One Years Celebrating the Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology” (MIT Press, 1996) and “Technology and the Dream: Reflections on the Black Experience at MIT, 1941-1999” (MIT Press, 2003).

A valuable new resource

Website content includes the first visual evidence of the MIT black experience, dating back to 1875, at the early campus in downtown Boston: Jones’ Lunch is a small cafeteria owned and operated out of a gymnasium by a black caterer named Jones.

By 1892, the Institute sees its first black graduate, Robert R. Taylor. He goes on to become the first known African-American architect to be accredited in the United States. Taylor also designs most of the pre-1930s buildings at Tuskegee Institute, which models its own curriculum after MIT’s.

The first black woman student to attend MIT is Marie C. Turner. She enrolls in 1905, along with her brother Henry Charles Turner, Jr. They are the second case of black siblings to attend MIT since Charles S. Dixon, Class of 1898, and John B. Dixon, Class of 1899.

It isn’t until 1955 that MIT hires its first black faculty member, linguist Joseph R. Applegate — the same year that both Applegate and Noam Chomsky earn their PhDs from the University of Pennsylvania.

About the project team

The web content team is led by writer and MIT alumna Nelly Rosario and digital humanities producer Robert L. Dunbar. Serving as project consultants is a diverse group of current and retired MIT administrators and staff. Web development, content strategy, and design services were provided by MIT Information Systems and Technology (IS&T), MIT Communications Initiatives, and the MacPhee Design Group, a web design and development firm from the Boston area.

The project has received support from MIT President L. Rafael Reif, MIT Provost Martin A. Schmidt, and two previous presidents in memoriam, Charles M. Vest and Paul E. Gray. Alumni have also contributed to this effort, notably philanthropist Reginald Van Lee and RPI president Shirley Ann Jackson, both of whom serve as the project’s senior advisors.

The MIT Black History Project website launch coincides with Black History Month and with the MIT Black Students’ Union 50th Anniversary year.

3Q: T.L. Taylor on diversity in e-sports

Imagine a sports arena full of cheering fans. Are you picturing basketball, or perhaps hockey? Actually, that image also applies to high-level e-sports (short for electronic sports), the competitions where fans watch people playing popular video games. E-sports have experienced a surge in growth in recent years, and boast their own professional teams as well as partnerships with major team sports. But how diverse are e-sports? A little over two years ago, an initiative called “AnyKey,” co-directed by MIT’s T.L Taylor, began examining that question. The group has released a series of research papers and worked to establish codes of conduct for e-sports. Taylor, a professor in MIT Comparative Media Studies|Writing, recently talked to MIT News about the challenges in the field.

Q: What is “AnyKey”?

A: AnyKey was started as a project supported by Intel and the Electronic Sports League, and our mission is to foster more inclusion and diversity in e-sports. Lots of people are playing e-sports competitively, and some of them are playing for money. AnyKey is trying to foster fairness and inclusivity in that space.

The way I often talk about it is: Imagine how traditional sports were pre-Title IX, [in terms of] trying to get women on the playing field. AnyKey is tackling that with digital sports. Women actually play a lot of computer games. … But we still do have the hurdle of women feeling that they cannot be competitors and play on a professional level. We also think about how to support people of color, how to support LGBTQ players as well, and we put out guidelines recently about how to help tournament organizers create trans-inclusive spaces.

Q: What have you found in the project’s two years of study?

A: One thing that’s clear to us is not only do women want to be participating in competitive e-sports, they have been doing it for a very long time, but often in spite of the culture present. Things like harrassment or other barriers to access pose tremendous challenges to bringing women into the space and keeping them there. This affects not only women who want to be pros, but those who just want to play or spectate in e-sports games. So we’ve been active in trying to help organizations and communities think about practices, cultural shifts they can make to open that space.

That means everything from putting in codes of conduct to supporting communities that are trying to build healthy cultures. We have an affiliate program where we amplify the work of communities that are providing spaces for people to come into these games. We highlight role models to help people see the range of ways they can be involved. We do research to provide data to help better inform people working in the space. There are a lot of people in e-sports who want things to be better, even tournament organizers who want it to be better, but they often either don’t know how, or are crunched with just trying to keep the ship afloat. So we provide information and prefab solutions people can use, and support the good work that’s already being done.

Q: Where do you go from here?

A: We’re in the next round of finding sponsoring partners for AnyKey. We’ve created tremendous momentum we want to keep building on. For example, back in October we ran what we thought was going to be a very modest initiative where we said to people, come sign our code of conduct, the “Good Luck Have Fun” pledge, to show your support for the values of inclusion and open participation in gaming and e-sports. We were blown away when we got a quarter of a million signatures! This is encouraging and shows a lot of people want things to be better. But there’s more work to be done.

We’d love to help launch something like a co-ed tournament to support more men and women playing together, like mixed doubles, and we have some fantastic partners we’d like to keep supporting. We’re at a really important point, because e-sports is getting commercialized very quickly and getting the attention of traditional sports entities who now own e-sports teams (including the Boston Celtics). There’s tremendous potential, but it would also be easy to close down possibilities or slot e-sports in narrow models about who wants to compete. We want to keep people thinking expansively about what participation and inclusion in these new digital playing fields can, and should, be.

Political Methodology Lab to dig deep into new kinds of data

Political scientists with a quantitative bent have long relied on time-tested tools such as in-person and telephone surveys and official government statistics. But the rapid ascendance of digital technology and the emergence of new channels for communication and information pose a challenge for data-based social science.

“Technology has completely changed how we get political news and form opinions, with people interacting almost entirely through social media like Facebook and Twitter,” says Teppei Yamamoto, the Alfred Henry and Jean Morrison Hayes Career Development Associate Professor of Political Science. “Today scientists seeking to understand what shapes political beliefs and behavior must focus on online activities, which means contending with massive amounts of new kinds of data.”

In order to cope with this situation, says Yamamoto, “researchers need new tools for asking questions and analyzing responses.”

To help accomplish just that, Yamamoto has launched the Political Methodology Lab. A research initiative sponsored by the Department of Political Science and the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, the lab will advance new computational and analytical research by department faculty, host a speaker series and workshops on advanced quantitative methods, and fund innovative data science projects by students, with the help of its own new, high-performance computing cluster.

Behind the methodology

Powering the lab’s mission are its core members, researchers who “are at the forefront of innovating statistical and computational approaches to important problems,” says Yamamoto.

Among this group is F. Daniel Hidalgo, the Cecil and Ida Green Associate Professor of Political Science, who is examining electoral behavior and political representation in developing countries, as well as government transparency in the United States. Hidalgo’s work involves new statistical models and the application of machine-learning techniques.

Another core colleague, Assistant Professor In Song Kim, is developing a database of lobbying activities in Washington, D.C. Using a novel algorithm, this database, in the form of a publicly available portal, LobbyView, permits users to “follow the money” from interest groups on specific legislative issues.

Yamamoto’s own lab research concerns a troubling trend in American democracy. “There is such a polarization of opinions that Democrats and Republicans think about the world in completely different ways, so they can’t talk to each other much less understand each other,” says Yamamoto. “I want to know why people are getting stuck in these informational silos.”

Yamamoto is investigating one explanation for this increased public partisanship: the tendency of individuals to engage exclusively in social media that matches their pre-existing ideologies.

“In the past, people watched or read the national news and received information that might challenge their beliefs,” says Yamamoto. “Today, it seems people choose information environments where they receive reinforcement for their opinions, making it much less likely for them to be receptive to alternative views.”

But testing this hypothesis in a real-world way requires a fresh approach. Past research has involved showing subjects different types of media content and querying them later about the potential impact of their media consumption. Yamamoto and lab affiliate Adam Berinsky, the Mitsui Professor of Political Science, are devising new experimental designs to get a better grasp on the polarizing effects of media.

One study works with online survey respondents in an effort to determine whether their political persuasions confine them to similar sorts of media streams and news articles. In a related experiment, lab researchers are analyzing a data set tracking the media consumption of thousands of people with known political ideologies to see whether exposure to different media treatments of political information alters the media they pursue.

Yamamoto hopes that the results of these different experiments will reveal in a quantifiable way whether consuming politically tinged social media contributes to trapping people inside ideological silos and reinforcing their pre-existing opinions.

Another major question the lab hopes to pursue is whether the algorithms embedded in some of today’s most popular communications platforms, such as YouTube, channel users into these silos, closing them off from alternative political perspectives.

The age of information technology

The overarching goal of Political Methodology Lab research, suggests Yamamoto, is to reveal the rapidly evolving machinery of political discourse, participation, and governance, with the hope of identifying threats to these institutions. “All over the world democracy is in trouble,” says Yamamoto. “The thing is, the societal changes brought about by information technology create both crises and new ways to analyze what is happening.”

While he once imagined becoming a diplomat, Yamamoto, whose father served as a Japanese prefecture official, has long been devoted to using scientific methods to understand and buttress democratic institutions. While working toward his undergraduate degree at the University of Tokyo, where he studied the voting behavior of European parliament members, he went to Oxford University to research the formation of the European Union.

“I was intrigued by this great idea of a super government formed through the union of nation states,” recalls Yamamoto. “I wanted to study the mechanisms behind it empirically, using statistics.” At Princeton University, where he earned his doctoral degree, Yamamoto developed new approaches for analyzing and modeling voting behavior, just as the digital revolution was bringing about a sea change in political communication and unleashing a flood of public opinion data.

Today, with the European Union on shaky footing, and American democracy in peril, Yamamoto feels optimistic that the Political Methodology Lab will be able to take advantage of new technology and data “to potentially solve crises,” says Yamamoto. “Once our projects find the causal mechanism behind a problem, we will be in a good position to make policy recommendations.” But actually implementing the fix will be a matter of politics — “and that’s outside the realm of science,” says Yamamoto.

MIT class reveals, explores Institute’s connections to slavery

MIT’s first president, William Barton Rogers, possessed enslaved persons in his Virginia household until the early 1850s, roughly a decade before he founded the Institute, according to new research from an MIT history class scholars and administrators designed to examine the legacy of slavery in relationship to the university.

While Massachusetts outlawed slavery in the early 1780s, Rogers lived in Virginia, where slavery was still legal, from 1819 until 1853, mostly on the campuses of the College of William and Mary and the University of Virginia. Documents from the time indicate that in those settings, Rogers had enslaved persons in his household in both 1840 and 1850.

MIT was founded in 1861 and began offering classes in 1865, just as the U.S. Civil War was ending the era of legal slavery in the South. But even as the Institute emerged in a new historical period, it bore marks of that older era as well.

“Our founder was a slave owner,” says Craig Steven Wilder, the Barton L. Weller Professor of History at MIT and a leading expert on the links between universities and slavery. Given how often such institutions drew personnel and material support from wealthy families that had profited from slavery, “people shouldn’t be surprised that MIT has these connections,” Wilder notes.

“I think that by looking at MIT’s ties to slavery, what you start to see is the centrality of slavery to the rise of the United States and its institutions,” Wilder adds.

The discovery comes from an archival research class for undergraduates that was set in motion by MIT’s president, L. Rafael Reif, and held in the fall of 2017 under the guidance of Wilder and Nora Murphy, an archivist in the MIT Libraries.

While the students in the class researched a variety of topics using primary sources from the 19th century, Murphy herself discovered that Rogers had six slaves in his household in 1850, and two slaves in his household in 1840. The findings come from Murphy’s close examination of household census data.

“We need to ask all kinds of questions, and it’s important to keep an open mind because sometimes the findings are unexpected,” says Murphy, who is MIT’s archivist for researcher services. Once the project was under way, she adds, it was “easy to just begin to look at the censuses and see who was living in the household.”

President Reif says the new finding is an important step toward a better understanding of MIT’s history, and will lead to a productive dialogue about the Institute’s relationship to society, past and present.

“At MIT, we believe in looking at the facts, even when they’re painful. So I am deeply grateful to Professor Wilder for giving us a mechanism for finding and sharing the truth,” Reif says. “The next challenge is up to all of us: embracing this opportunity to take a new look at our past, and exploring together how to tell a more complete version of our history.”

A charge to investigate

The class emerged in part from discussions about MIT’s possible historical links to slavery, held among leaders in MIT’s Office of Minority Education and MIT’s central administration. With Reif seeking ways of examining the subject with a sharper historical lens, the Institute turned to Wilder, a scholar who has established himself as the leading expert on the historical connections between slavery and American universities, and asked him to propose a path forward.

“One of the things that MIT owes all of us, itself, its constituencies, its alumni, its students, its faculty, and the broader public is to be brutually honest about its past,” Wilder says.

Wilder’s award-winning 2013 book, “Ebony and Ivy,” documents how slavery shaped U.S. colleges and universities from the 1600s onward. Such institutions were often founded or run by men who were slaveholders and slave traders, who received financial support from slave-based businesses, or who recruited students from families who had grown wealthy from such forms of commerce.

Few of the oldest universities in the U.S. had examined the issue until recently. But in 2006 Brown University released a report detailing its manifold links to slavery, and since then Columbia University, Georgetown University, Harvard University, and Princeton University, among others, have published their own findings. Columbia University president Lee Bollinger has noted that reading “Ebony and Ivy” helped persuade him to initiate his university’s own study of the issue.

Given that MIT was founded more recently than those other institutions, it might seem a less obvious candidate for historical scrutiny in this regard. But the pervasive entanglement of slavery in the U.S. made the possibility of connections to the Institute worth examining more closely. 

“The MIT way is to confront challenges and not to shrink from them, and so that was the impetus for the class,” says Melissa Nobles, dean of MIT’s School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.

Wilder and Murphy proposed the class, which became 21H.S01 (MIT and Slavery), to Nobles and Reif, among others in MIT’s administration. They received approval and will continue offering the class in the future.

“It has been wonderful to have President Reif’s support and his willingness to be as transparent as possible about the class, and what the class is looking into, and what the results of the class are,” Murphy says.

Students in the archives

“MIT and Slavery” is designed to have undergraduates do original archival research. While virtually all history courses assign substantial secondary reading, and many ask students to read primary-source documents or visit archives to an extent, 21H.S01 had students performing archival work from the first weeks of the semester onward.

“It was a very different sort of way of teaching and doing a class, working so closely with the archives,” Murphy says.

Primary-source archives, Wilder adds, are where historians “spend much of our creative time, and some of the most important intellectual experiences that we have are actually in the archives. So bringing students into that space … was really, in fact, this intense research experience for them … right in the laboratory of history.”

Each student then settled on a research topic. One examined racial imagery in early MIT student publications; another studied student debate of a mural on campus that reproduced J.M.W. Turner’s 1840 painting, “Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying,” and found that the discussion focused on the history of technology and not the question of slavery itself.

A third student found that in its early years, MIT held a popular class in moral philosophy that discussed slavery, but it dropped the course by the 1880s. A fourth research project examined how MIT drew students from Louisville, Kentucky, and then sent graduates back to the South during the Reconstruction period.

Understanding MIT’s involvement in Reconstruction is bound to be a major topic for the class’ students in the future, Wilder observes.

“The rise of MIT is in many ways a story of the transformation from a slave economy to a post-slavery industrial economy, with lots of racial legacies and lots of unresolved conflicts that continue to play out in the United States today, including the really quite critical question of the position of black people and black labor in American society, and how we will ultimately define freedom for people who aren’t white,” Wilder says. 

An additional concept for all students to wrestle with, Wilder notes, is that technology itself, and the institutions developing it, do not stand apart from society, but are always entangled in it.

“What we have to understand is that technology, engineering, and science are, in fact, human endeavors that are driven by the economic, the commercial, and the political interests of nations,” Wilder says.

Further steps for MIT

Even as further iterations of the class continue, MIT intends the new findings about Rogers and the other topics to form the basis of a community dialogue about the Institute and the legacy of slavery. On Feb. 16, MIT will host an event that features a conversation involving Reif, Wilder, and Murphy, and includes presentations by the students who participated in the class, who will speak about their research projects.

“History burdens all of us, and part of what it means to be in a community is that we share each other’s burden,” Nobles says. “So my expectation and my hope is, given the nature of the MIT community and our commitment to each other, that we will see this as a shared responsibility and we will all participate … to help each of us understand what it means to us as individuals, and what it means for the institution as a whole.”

Beyond campus, Wilder is also working to develop an ongoing research project involving MIT and other prominent technical universities founded in the 19th century, in which all the institutions have a chance to explore the legacies of slavery in science, engineering, and technical education during the 1800s.

“MIT is part of a larger exploration of the ties between American universities and slavery, but we are not just participating, we are also leading a part of it,” Wilder says. “We are leading the research about the relationship of technology and science to the institution of slavery — not only to better understand our own history, but to fulfill our role as an elite university and to help build our role for the 21st century.”

Programming drones to fly in the face of uncertainty

Companies like Amazon have big ideas for drones that can deliver packages right to your door. But even putting aside the policy issues, programming drones to fly through cluttered spaces like cities is difficult. Being able to avoid obstacles while traveling at high speeds is computationally complex, especially for small drones that are limited in how much they can carry onboard for real-time processing.

Many existing approaches rely on intricate maps that aim to tell drones exactly where they are relative to obstacles, which isn’t particularly practical in real-world settings with unpredictable objects. If their estimated location is off by even just a small margin, they can easily crash.

With that in mind, a team from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) has developed NanoMap, a system that allows drones to consistently fly 20 miles per hour through dense environments such as forests and warehouses.

One of NanoMap’s key insights is a surprisingly simple one: The system considers the drone’s position in the world over time to be uncertain, and actually models and accounts for that uncertainty.

“Overly confident maps won’t help you if you want drones that can operate at higher speeds in human environments,” says graduate student Pete Florence, lead author on a new related paper. “An approach that is better aware of uncertainty gets us a much higher level of reliability in terms of being able to fly in close quarters and avoid obstacles.”

Specifically, NanoMap uses a depth-sensing system to stitch together a series of measurements about the drone’s immediate surroundings. This allows it to not only make motion plans for its current field of view, but also anticipate how it should move around in the hidden fields of view that it has already seen.

“It’s kind of like saving all of the images you’ve seen of the world as a big tape in your head,” says Florence. “For the drone to plan motions, it essentially goes back into time to think individually of all the different places that it was in.”

The team’s tests demonstrate the impact of uncertainty. For example, if NanoMap wasn’t modeling uncertainty and the drone drifted just 5 percent away from where it was expected to be, the drone would crash more than once every four flights. Meanwhile, when it accounted for uncertainty, the crash rate reduced to 2 percent.

The paper was co-written by Florence and MIT Professor Russ Tedrake alongside research software engineers John Carter and Jake Ware. It was recently accepted to the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation, which takes place in May in Brisbane, Australia.

For years computer scientists have worked on algorithms that allow drones to know where they are, what’s around them, and how to get from one point to another. Common approaches such as simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) take raw data of the world and convert them into mapped representations.

But the output of SLAM methods aren’t typically used to plan motions. That’s where researchers often use methods like “occupancy grids,” in which many measurements are incorporated into one specific representation of the 3-D world.

The problem is that such data can be both unreliable and hard to gather quickly. At high speeds, computer-vision algorithms can’t make much of their surroundings, forcing drones to rely on inexact data from the inertial measurement unit (IMU) sensor, which measures things like the drone’s acceleration and rate of rotation.

The way NanoMap handles this is that it essentially doesn’t sweat the minor details. It operates under the assumption that, to avoid an obstacle, you don’t have to take 100 different measurements and find the average to figure out its exact location in space; instead, you can simply gather enough information to know that the object is in a general area.

“The key difference to previous work is that the researchers created a map consisting of a set of images with their position uncertainty rather than just a set of images and their positions and orientation,” says Sebastian Scherer, a systems scientist at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute. “Keeping track of the uncertainty has the advantage of allowing the use of previous images even if the robot doesn’t know exactly where it is and allows in improved planning.”

Florence describes NanoMap as the first system that enables drone flight with 3-D data that is aware of “pose uncertainty,” meaning that the drone takes into consideration that it doesn’t perfectly know its position and orientation as it moves through the world. Future iterations might also incorporate other pieces of information, such as the uncertainty in the drone’s individual depth-sensing measurements.

NanoMap is particularly effective for smaller drones moving through smaller spaces, and works well in tandem with a second system that is focused on more long-horizon planning. (The researchers tested NanoMap last year in a program tied to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.)

The team says that the system could be used in fields ranging from search and rescue and defense to package delivery and entertainment. It can also be applied to self-driving cars and other forms of autonomous navigation.

“The researchers demonstrated impressive results avoiding obstacles and this work enables robots to quickly check for collisions,” says Scherer. “Fast flight among obstacles is a key capability that will allow better filming of action sequences, more efficient information gathering and other advances in the future.”

This work was supported in part by DARPA’s Fast Lightweight Autonomy program.

Study finds gender and skin-type bias in commercial artificial-intelligence systems

Three commercially released facial-analysis programs from major technology companies demonstrate both skin-type and gender biases, according to a new paper researchers from MIT and Stanford University will present later this month at the Conference on Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency.

In the researchers’ experiments, the three programs’ error rates in determining the gender of light-skinned men were never worse than 0.8 percent. For darker-skinned women, however, the error rates ballooned — to more than 20 percent in one case and more than 34 percent in the other two.

The findings raise questions about how today’s neural networks, which learn to perform computational tasks by looking for patterns in huge data sets, are trained and evaluated. For instance, according to the paper, researchers at a major U.S. technology company claimed an accuracy rate of more than 97 percent for a face-recognition system they’d designed. But the data set used to assess its performance was more than 77 percent male and more than 83 percent white.

“What’s really important here is the method and how that method applies to other applications,” says Joy Buolamwini, a researcher in the MIT Media Lab’s Civic Media group and first author on the new paper. “The same data-centric techniques that can be used to try to determine somebody’s gender are also used to identify a person when you’re looking for a criminal suspect or to unlock your phone. And it’s not just about computer vision. I’m really hopeful that this will spur more work into looking at [other] disparities.”

Buolamwini is joined on the paper by Timnit Gebru, who was a graduate student at Stanford when the work was done and is now a postdoc at Microsoft Research.

Chance discoveries

The three programs that Buolamwini and Gebru investigated were general-purpose facial-analysis systems, which could be used to match faces in different photos as well as to assess characteristics such as gender, age, and mood. All three systems treated gender classification as a binary decision — male or female — which made their performance on that task particularly easy to assess statistically. But the same types of bias probably afflict the programs’ performance on other tasks, too.

Indeed, it was the chance discovery of apparent bias in face-tracking by one of the programs that prompted Buolamwini’s investigation in the first place.

Several years ago, as a graduate student at the Media Lab, Buolamwini was working on a system she called Upbeat Walls, an interactive, multimedia art installation that allowed users to control colorful patterns projected on a reflective surface by moving their heads. To track the user’s movements, the system used a commercial facial-analysis program.

The team that Buolamwini assembled to work on the project was ethnically diverse, but the researchers found that, when it came time to present the device in public, they had to rely on one of the lighter-skinned team members to demonstrate it. The system just didn’t seem to work reliably with darker-skinned users.

Curious, Buolamwini, who is black, began submitting photos of herself to commercial facial-recognition programs. In several cases, the programs failed to recognize the photos as featuring a human face at all. When they did, they consistently misclassified Buolamwini’s gender.

Quantitative standards

To begin investigating the programs’ biases systematically, Buolamwini first assembled a set of images in which women and people with dark skin are much better-represented than they are in the data sets typically used to evaluate face-analysis systems. The final set contained more than 1,200 images.

Next, she worked with a dermatologic surgeon to code the images according to the Fitzpatrick scale of skin tones, a six-point scale, from light to dark, originally developed by dermatologists as a means of assessing risk of sunburn.

Then she applied three commercial facial-analysis systems from major technology companies to her newly constructed data set. Across all three, the error rates for gender classification were consistently higher for females than they were for males, and for darker-skinned subjects than for lighter-skinned subjects.

For darker-skinned women — those assigned scores of IV, V, or VI on the Fitzpatrick scale — the error rates were 20.8 percent, 34.5 percent, and 34.7. But with two of the systems, the error rates for the darkest-skinned women in the data set — those assigned a score of VI — were worse still: 46.5 percent and 46.8 percent. Essentially, for those women, the system might as well have been guessing gender at random.

“To fail on one in three, in a commercial system, on something that’s been reduced to a binary classification task, you have to ask, would that have been permitted if those failure rates were in a different subgroup?” Buolamwini says. “The other big lesson … is that our benchmarks, the standards by which we measure success, themselves can give us a false sense of progress.”

“This is an area where the data sets have a large influence on what happens to the model,” says Ruchir Puri, chief architect of IBM’s Watson artificial-intelligence system. “We have a new model now that we brought out that is much more balanced in terms of accuracy across the benchmark that Joy was looking at. It has a half a million images with balanced types, and we have a different underlying neural network that is much more robust.”

“It takes time for us to do these things,” he adds. “We’ve been working on this roughly eight to nine months. The model isn’t specifically a response to her paper, but we took it upon ourselves to address the questions she had raised directly, including her benchmark. She was bringing up some very important points, and we should look at how our new work stands up to them.”

Jennifer Rupp: Engineering practical ceramics

Ensuring that her research contributes to society’s well-being is a major driving force for Jennifer Rupp.

“Even if my work is fundamental, I want to think about how it can be useful for society,” says Rupp, the Thomas Lord Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) at MIT.

Since joining the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in February 2017, she has been focusing not only on the basics of ceramics processing techniques but also on how to further develop those techniques to design new practical devices as well as materials with novel structures. Her current research applications range from battery-based storage for renewable energy, to energy-harvesting systems, to devices used to store data during computation.

Rupp first became intrigued with ceramics during her doctoral studies at ETH Zurich.

“I got particularly interested in how they can influence structures to gain certain functionalities and properties,” she says. During this time, she also became fascinated with how ceramics can contribute to the conversion and storage of energy. The need to transition to a low-carbon energy future motivates much of her work at MIT. “Climate change is happening,” she says. “Even though not everybody may agree on that, it’s a fact.”

One way to tackle the climate change problem is by capitalizing on solar energy. Sunshine falling on the Earth delivers roughly 170,000 terawatts per year — about 10,000 times the energy consumed annually worldwide. “So we have a lot of solar energy,” says Rupp. “The question is, how do we profit the most from it?”

To help convert that solar energy into a renewable fuel, her team is designing a ceramic material that can be used in a solar reactor in which incoming sunlight is controlled to create a heat cycle. During the temperature shifts, the ceramic material incorporates and releases oxygen. At the higher temperature, it loses oxygen; at the lower temperature, it regains the oxygen. When carbon dioxide and water are flushed into the solar reactor during this oxidation process, a split reaction occurs, yielding a combination of carbon monoxide and hydrogen known as syngas, which can be converted catalytically into ethanol, methanol, or other liquid fuels.

While the challenges are many, Rupp says she feels bolstered by the humanitarian ethos at MIT. “At MIT, there are scientists and engineers who care about social issues and try to contribute with science and their problem-solving skills to do more,” she says. “I think this is quite important. MIT gives you strong support to try out even very risky things.”

In addition to continuing her work on new materials, Rupp looks forward to exploring new concepts with her students. During the fall of 2017, she taught two recitation sections of 3.091 (Introduction to Solid State Chemistry), a class that has given thousands of MIT undergraduates a foundation in chemistry from an engineering perspective. This spring, she will begin teaching a new elective for graduate students on ceramics processing and engineering that will delve into making ceramic materials not only on the conventional large-scale level but also as nanofabricated structures and small-system structures for devices that can store and convert energy, compute information, or sense carbon dioxide or various environmental pollutants.

To further engage with students, Rupp has proposed an extracurricular club for them to develop materials science comic strips. The first iteration is available on Instagram (@materialcomics) and it depicts three heroes who jump into various structures to investigate their composition and, naturally, to have adventures. Rupp sees the comics as an exciting avenue to engage the nonscientific community as a whole and to illustrate the structures and compositions of various everyday materials.

“I think it is important to create interest in the topic of materials science across various ages and simply to enjoy the fun in it,” she says. 

Rupp says MIT is proving to be a stimulating environment. “Everybody is really committed and open to being creative,” she says. “I think a scientist is not only a teacher or a student; a scientist is someone of any age, of any rank, someone who simply enjoys unlocking creativity to design new materials and devices.”

This article appears in the Autumn 2017 issue of Energy Futures, the magazine of the MIT Energy Initiative.

Alumni call on MIT to champion artificial intelligence education

In the weeks before the launch of the MIT Intelligence Quest, an initiative that will advance the science and engineering of human and machine intelligence, School of Engineering graduates were asked: “What positive role can MIT play in the AI revolution?”

Alumni urged MIT to energize the artificial intelligence community, including people in industry, academia, and the government, around a thoughtful strategy for the future. They wrote directly to Anantha P. Chandrakasan, dean of engineering and the Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, who posed the question in a monthly newsletter, The Infinite.

“The AI community is struggling to ensure that AI-inspired transformations end up benefiting science and society,” says Auroop Ganguly PhD ’02, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northeastern University. “A clear lack of leadership is becoming apparent, particularly in this country, across not just government agencies and labs, but also in academia and private-public sectors. This is an area where MIT, with its enormous resources and reputation, can help jump-start innovations.”

AI-inspired technologies hold great promise, wrote alumni. Smart vehicles may save lives worldwide and smart buildings save energy and reduce carbon emissions. The latest advances are inspiring progress in health care, education, energy, and the environment.

But decisive leadership is essential to guarantee that development of AI technologies includes consideration of societal and ethical questions alongside the technical, say alumni.

“Recent developments ranging from autonomous cars and infrastructural resilience to weather prediction and remote sensing suggest the possibilities that AI can bring to bear in these areas,” says Ganguly. “Private industry may be willing to invest once academia, led by MIT, moves in this direction, as may be evident from signals coming out of technology companies,” he says, noting Microsoft’s AI for Earth initiative and Google’s stated desire to use AI to address humanity’s greatest challenges.

MIT alumnus Tom Wylonis SM ’68 who is board chairman of Evaxion Biotech, which is using AI to seek solutions to global challenges to human health, wrote: “Since industry investments tend to be short-term due to risk aversion, MIT should also lead the way with fundamental research that lays the foundation for longer-term benefits from AI.”

Wylonis, an active mentor to MIT students and funding board member of Sandbox, an Institute-wide program that supports student-initiated ideas, suggests MIT has another leadership role to play.

“I believe that MIT should do all it can to increase the number and quality of MIT graduates with AI specialization,” says Wylonis, citing a rise in AI investment in nearly all industrial sectors. “Along with this, encourage other educational and research institutes to follow suit since we are likely to encounter a massive future shortage of AI talent.”

Alumni repeatedly circled back to the issue of ethical deployment of AI technologies. “MIT can amplify the positive impact of AI by actively encouraging a dialogue between technologists and social scientists on where AI can and should impact society,” wrote Don Shobrys ’75, an engineer and consultant who has volunteered extensively at MIT, including stints serving on the Corporation, as president of the Alumni Association, and as co-director of the Venture Mentoring Service.

Yu Chen ’00, a technical program manager at Google, advised: “MIT will be one of the technology leaders defining the future, so I want us to be mindful about designing a future that works for everyone, not just those who have more access to money or resources or information.”

Many alumni also suggested MIT must help set the agenda for public debate and convene conversations about important issues. Offering people clarity about the role and workings of AI is crucial, they say.

Ray Stata ’57, SM ’58 a longtime MIT volunteer and benefactor, wrote: “MIT is already well-along in AI education and research. But for the alumni it would be great to offer an online course which describes the basics of neural networks and how deep learning is applied to solve problems in new ways.”

Joanna Bryson ScD ’01 an associate professor focused on AI ethics at the University of Bath, declared: “MIT needs to take a strong stand on fact-based assessment of AI.” She added: “MIT needs to claim the high ground and maintain a human-centered perspective on AI.”

Cornel West advocates the “examined life” on campus

How can universities be a force for social good in turbulent times? At an MIT talk on Wednesday evening, the prominent philosopher Cornel West had a clear answer: painful self-reflection.

More precisely, West suggested, the individuals who populate institutions of higher education should rigorously reexamine the consensus beliefs they encounter and, ideally, develop an “aversion to conformity” that will help bring vitality and diversity to academic life.

“The unexamined life is not worth living,” West said, alluding to the ideas of Socrates. “The examined life is painful.”

Higher education, West added, should be about not “information,” but “transformation” — a process of questioning assumptions and refining habits of critical thinking that can be applied to any issue.

“I don’t fetishize smartness,” West said, observing that the lessons of one discipline do not necessarily translate into other realms — and that we should be wary of overestimating people based on their apparent sharpness in one sphere of life. At leading universities, West suggested, there is greater danger in overestimating people than in being humble about our capabilities.

“We recognize we will be wrong as well as right,” West said.

West’s talk, titled “Speaking Truth to Power! A Discussion on Institutional Provincialism,” took place before a packed auditorium in MIT’s Room 10-250. West was joined by five MIT scholars who made their own remarks after his talk and engaged with an extensive round of questions from the audience.

West is a professor of the practice of public philosophy at Harvard Divinity School and holds a joint appointment with Harvard’s Department of African and African-American Studies. He is author of, among other books, “Race Matters” and “Democracy Matters.” He has appeared in over two dozen documentaries about social issues and released three spoken-word albums.

West was introduced by Ty Austin, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Architecture, who outlined the issue West discussed: Institutions benefit by developing stable identities, but too much conformity, or too narrow an institutional identity, can limit an university’s ability to influence an ever-changing world.

“We bring a sort of identity [and] mindset into this vast metropolis of higher learning,” Austin said. And yet, he observed, if a university’s inhabitants adhere to “the same identity and like-mindedness,” it is quite possible that “the very institutions that are said to broaden horizons and advance technology and society” would exist for “the benefit of the few, by marginalizing the many.”

“A test of who we are”

West did not offer a detailed critique of the Institute: “I’m not here to pontificate. I don’t know that much about the internal dynamics of MIT,” he said. Instead, he offered reflections about the practice of self-examination, as well as the larger, pressing problems in the world today.  

We are facing, among other hazards, “economic catastrophe” in the form of inequality, West said. He noted that the three richest Americans have wealth equivalent to the bottom half of the population.

“Salute their smartness, their intelligence, [but] we’re talking about structures, we’re talking about institutions in place, we’re talking about policies that generate massive redistribution of wealth from poorer working people to the well-to-do,” West contended.

The changing climate, West said, was an environmental “catastrophe” in the making for all of society. He also decried the increase of racially charged politics and immigration issues in the U.S. in recent years.

“We live in one of the bleakest moments in the history of the empire,” West said, adding: “It’s a test of who we are.”

West’s talk occurred during Black History Month, which he called “sacred ground” in American life, and he decried the use of sanitizing euphemisms for political discord in the U.S., such as the term “race problem” as a description of civic conflict. Instead, West said, there have been a “series of catastrophes visited upon blacks” in the U.S.

While talking about the need for self-critique on campuses, West also sounded upbeat notes about the possibilities for social rejuvenation that come with intellectual freedom.

“Social movements need some MIT folks — who do their homework,” West said.

“That’s a challenge to all my brothers and sisters here of all colors at MIT,” he added. “How do you not just talk about it, but enact a sensitivity to the problem, in your curriculum, in your own praxis, in your organizational affiliation.”

The event was sponsored by all five of MIT’s schools — the School of Engineering, the School of Science, the School of Architecture and Planning, the Sloan School of Management, and the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences — as well as the Media Lab, the Program in Media Arts and Sciences, the Office of Graduate Education, the Institute Community and Equity Office, and the Committee on Race and Diversity.

The view from the panel

The event also featured a panel of MIT students and faculty who spoke about how they work to help bring alternate ideas to the Institute.

Joy Buolamwini, a PhD student at the MIT Media Lab, founded the Algorithmic Justice League to push back against ethnic biases in machine learning, such as in facial recognition programs.

“I’m coming up against something I call ‘the coded gaze,’” Buolamwini said, referring to the decisions and assumptions in such programs, which, she noted, reflect “the priorities and preferences of what those who have power choose to focus on, who’s visible, who’s rendered invisible.”

Sasha Costanza-Chock, the Mitsui Career Development Associate Professor in Contemporary Technology, suggested that preventing intellectual provincialism at MIT means avoiding “the technological solutionist ideology” of attempting to solve hard problems from the lab without sufficient on-the-ground knowledge of social realities.

“In this process of problem-solving,” said Costanza-Chock, it is important “to think about how do we say, ‘Well, I may be a brilliant person, and I may have a certain set of skills and knowledge in one domain, but how do I really work in partnership with, or even in service to [people who] are experiencing the lived reality of intersectional oppression?”

Jennifer Light, chair of MIT’s Program in Science, Technology, and Society, observed that knowledge of the past can make clear that science and technology should always be understood in relationship to civic life — and have been used to exacerbate harmful social goals. For instance, Light noted, professors at elite U.S. universities in the 1920s favored eugenics programs.

“Smart people have lots of bad ideas,” said Light. “And history can be a tool to understand that, and take to your own present.”

Finding joy in social activism

The event’s concluding remarks were delivered by Duane Lee, an astronomer who is a postdoc at Vanderbilt University and an MLK Visiting Scholar at MIT. Lee discussed the need to challenge conventional wisdom as a way of increasing diversity in academia.

“At times we delude ourselves that we are immune to biases,” said Lee, relating multiple instances in which professional colleagues have asserted to him that increased diversity in his field would lead to a lowering of overall academic standards.

On the contrary, Lee suggested, if the discipline had been tapping into a talent pool consisting of everyone in society, not just the narrower cross-section of society it has traditionally employed, then the standards of the field, along with the rate of progress, would likely be higher than they currently are.

West praised the contributions of the other panelists and, along with them, fielded audience questions, telling one undergraduate that social engagement can also be a source of energy and enjoyment.

“There’s got to be some joy in it,” West said about the practice of social activism. “If it’s just done out of joylessness, then you’re not going to be a long-distance runner.”

For that matter, West noted earlier in the event, persistence and determination are key components of enacting civic change in the face of setbacks or just intermittent public indifference. 

“All of us fall short,” West said. “Samuel Beckett is right: Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Cities of the future may be built with locally available volcanic ash

MIT engineers working with scientists in Kuwait have found that volcanic rocks, when pulverized into a fine ash, can be used as a sustainable additive in concrete structures.

In a paper published online in the Journal of Cleaner Production, the researchers report that, by replacing a certain percentage of traditional cement with volcanic ash, they can reduce a concrete structure’s “embodied energy,” or the total energy that goes into making concrete. According to their calculations, it takes 16 percent less energy to construct a pilot neighborhood with 26 concrete buildings made with 50 percent volcanic ash, compared with the energy it takes to make the same structures entirely of traditional Portland cement.

When they ground volcanic ash down to increasingly small particle sizes, the researchers found that a mixture of the finer powder and Portland cement produced stronger concrete structures, compared with those made from cement alone. However, the process of grinding volcanic ash down to such fine particles requires energy, which in turn increases the resulting structure’s embodied energy. There is, then, a tradeoff between a concrete structure’s strength and its embodied energy, when volcanic ash is used.

Based on experiments with various concrete and volcanic ash mixtures, and calculations of the resulting structure’s embodied energy, the researchers have mapped out the relationship between strength and embodied energy. They say engineers can use this relationship as a blueprint of sorts to help them choose, for instance, the percent of cement they would want to replace with volcanic ash to produce a given structure.

“You can customize this,” says Oral Buyukozturk, a professor in MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE). “If it is for a traffic block, for example, where you may not need as much strength as, say, for a high-rise building. So you could produce those things with much less energy. That is huge if you think of the amount of concrete that’s used over the world.”

Buyukozturk is joined on a  paper by an interdisciplinary team of researchers, including research scientist Kunal Kupwade-Patil and undergraduate Stephanie Chin of CEE, former doctoral student Catherine De Wolf and Professor John Ochsendorf of MIT’s Department of Architecture, Ali Hajiah of the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research, and Adil Al-Mumin of Kuwait University.

A natural additive

Concrete is the most abundantly used material in the world, second only to water. The manufacturing of concrete involves first blasting rocks such as limestone out from quarries, then transporting the rocks to mills, where they are further crushed and treated under high temperature through various processes resulting in the production of cement.

Such energy-intensive processes create a significant environmental footprint; the production of traditional Portland cement accounts for about 5 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. To cut down on these emissions, Buyukozturk and others have been looking for sustainable additives and alternatives to cement.

Volcanic ash has several sustainable advantages as an additive in manufacturing concrete: The rocky material, which lies in ample supply around active and inactive volcanoes around the world, is naturally available; it is typically considered a waste material, as people typically do not use it for any widespread purpose; some volcanic ashes have intrinsic, “pozzolonic” properties, meaning that, in powder form, the ash with a reduced amount of cement can naturally bind with water and other materials to form cement-like pastes.

“Cement production takes a lot of energy because there are high temperatures involved, and it’s a multistage process,” says Chin, who with Kupwade-Patil led much of the group’s experimental work as a student in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) with Buyukozturk. “That’s the main motivation for trying to find an alternative. Volcanic ash forms under high heat and high pressure, and nature kind of does all those chemical reactions for us.”

The team looked first at how much energy it would take to make concrete from a mixture of cement and volcanic ash, versus cement alone. To do this, the researchers consulted several databases in which others had calculated the embodied energy associated with various industrial processes, such as the energy that goes into crushing rock or curing cement. The researchers picked through the databases to assemble the individual processes associated with producing traditional cement and cement containing 10 to 50 percent volcanic ash.

They then went into the lab, where they manufactured small samples of concrete with various percentages of volcanic ash, as well as samples made only of Portland cement. Chin and her colleagues subjected each sample to standard tests of strength, such as compressing the structures until they began to crack. Then they mapped out each sample’s strength against its calculated embodied energy.

According to their results, replacing 50 percent of traditional cement with volcanic ash with an average particle size of 17 micrometers can bring down concrete’s embodied energy by 16 percent. However, at this particle size, volcanic ash can compromise concrete’s overall strength. Grinding the ash down to a particle size of about 6 micrometers significantly increases concrete’s strength, as smaller particles provide more surface area with which water and cement can chemically bind.

Cities of ash

The team extrapolated its results to see how structures made partly with volcanic ash would affect concrete’s embodied energy at the scale of entire buildings and neighborhoods.

The researchers focused on a neighborhood in Kuwait with 13 residential and 13 commercial buildings, all made with traditional Portland cement, mostly imported from Europe. With the help of their collaborators in Kuwait, they flew a drone over the neighborhood to collect images and measurements. They also consulted local authorities, who provided them with additional information on each building system.

Using all this information, the team calculated the neighborhood’s existing embodied energy, and then calculated how that embodied energy would change if buildings were made with concrete composed of various percentages of volcanic ash, which is in ample supply in the Middle East.

As with their experiments in the lab, they found that a neighborhood’s infrastructure can be made with considerably less energy if the same buildings are built with concrete made from a cement mixture that is 30 percent volcanic ash.

“What we’ve found out is that concrete can be manufactured with natural additives with desired properties, and reduced embodied energy, which can be translated into significant energy savings when you are creating a neighborhood or a city,” Buyukozturk says.

This research was supported in part by the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences. The project was conducted as part of the Kuwait-MIT signature project on sustainability of Kuwait’s built environment for which Buyukozturk was the principal investigator.

Undergraduates share authorship

In a second paper, which will soon appear in the ASCE Journal of Materials in Civil Engineering, co-authors Chin and Maranda L. Johnston, also a former UROP student, explore the binding mechanism involved when Portland cement is replaced with finely ground volcanic ash. The team used various techniques including synchrotron X-Ray diffraction at Argonne National Laboratory to examine the microstructure of hardened cement pastes.

They found the finer-sized volcanic ash particles produced nanometer-scale products within the cement paste as it hardened, which helped to densify the matrix as it cured. “Our work provides a basis for the engineers to optimize their mixes with natural additives according to their specified requirements,” Kupwade-Patil says.

“It has become in a way a tradition in my laboratory to involve freshman and other UROP students in high-level multidisciplinary research leading to journal publications,” Buyukozturk says. “This learning experience is an important part of our educational system.”

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