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The Sorcerers and Their Apprentices: How the Digital Magicians of the MIT Media Lab Are Creating the Innovative Technologies That Will Transform Our Lives

The Sorcerers and Their Apprentices: How the Digital Magicians of the MIT Media Lab Are Creating the Innovative Technologies That Will Transform Our Lives

by Frank Moss

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If you've ever read a book on an e-reader, unleashed your inner rock star playing Guitar Hero, built a robot with LEGO Mindstorms, or ridden in a vehicle with child-safe air bags, then you've experienced first hand just a few of the astounding innovations that have come out of the Media Lab over the past 25 years. But that’s old hat for today’s researchers


If you've ever read a book on an e-reader, unleashed your inner rock star playing Guitar Hero, built a robot with LEGO Mindstorms, or ridden in a vehicle with child-safe air bags, then you've experienced first hand just a few of the astounding innovations that have come out of the Media Lab over the past 25 years. But that’s old hat for today’s researchers, who are creating technologies that will have a much deeper impact on the quality of people’s lives over the next quarter century. 
In this exhilarating tour of the Media Lab's inner sanctums, we'll meet the professors and their students - the Sorcerers and their Apprentices - and witness first hand the creative magic behind inventions such as:
* Nexi, a mobile humanoid robot with such sophisticated social skills she can serve as a helpful and understanding companion for the sick and elderly.
* CityCar, a foldable, stackable, electric vehicle of the future that will redefine personal transportation in cities and revolutionize urban life.
* Sixth Sense, a compact wearable device that transforms any surface – wall, tabletop or even your hand - into a touch screen computer.
* PowerFoot, a lifelike robotic prosthesis that enables amputees to walk as naturally as if it were a real biological limb.
Through inspiring stories of people who are using Media Lab innovations to confront personal challenges - like a man with cerebral palsy who is unable to hum a tune or pick up an instrument yet is using an ingenious music composition system to unleash his “inner Mozart”, and a woman with a rare life-threatening condition who co-invented a revolutionary web service that enables patients to participate in the search for their own cures - we’ll see how the Media Lab is empowering us all with the tools to take control of our health, wealth, and happiness. 
Along the way, Moss reveals the highly unorthodox approach to creativity and invention that makes all this possible, explaining how the Media Lab cultivates an open and boundary-less environment where researchers from a broad array of disciplines – from musicians to neuroscientists to visual artists to computer engineers - have the freedom to follow their passions and take bold risks unthinkable elsewhere.
The Sorcerers and Their Apprentices can serve as a blueprint for how to fix our broken innovation ecosystem and bring about the kind of radical change required to meet the challenges of the 21st century.  It is a must-read for anyone striving to be more innovative as an individual, as a businessperson, or as a member of society. 

Also includes 16 pages of color photos highlighting some of the lab's most visually stunning inventions - and the people who make them possible.

Editorial Reviews

Pens that let you draw music; humanoid robots with social skills; a wearable device that allows you to turn any surface into a usable touch screen computer: Over the past quarter century, the MIT Media Lab has created technologies that transport us to the future. Few of us have experienced the multitudinous inventions of this ultimate think tank. Frank Moss' The Sorcerers and Their Apprentices takes us inside the "lifelong kindergarten" of the Media Lab's wondrous concoctions.

Publishers Weekly
In this boosterish but underwhelming prospectus, the director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's storied Media Lab extols the avant-garde digital technologies erupting from his institution. Some of the projects he profiles, like better prosthetic limbs, are very worthwhile. Others, like a fork that warns you when you're eating too fast, seem trivial and annoying. And some, like digital instruments that let people with "a complete lack of any ‘natural musical talent'... experience the sheer joy of making music," are clear public nuisances. (Guitar Hero was a Lab spinoff, the author boasts.) Moss celebrates Lab denizens' "incredible passion" and insists, unconvincingly, that participatory corporate sponsorships (industry employees "collaborate" with the academics) never nudge their "total creative freedom" toward marketable gimmicks. In the background hovers his vision of a posthuman future that's half digital nanny-state, half nouveau-riche daydream for the techno-elite ("A chef in Beijing could work with a robotic partner in Boston to prepare a ten-course banquet in my kitchen"). Moss's hackneyed cheerleading doesn't dispel the impression that the Lab mainly generates overhyped mediocrity. Photos. (June 7)
From the Publisher
"Out of the creative chaos at the MIT Media Lab have come fantastical inventions that have changed how we work, play, and live. Frank Moss’ stories of the ‘digital magicians’ behind these experiments and discoveries are inspiring and engaging."
—Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman, Google 

"MIT Media Lab has been inventing the future for more than 25 years.  Frank Moss explains how - and the lessons can help you be more creative -  and your organization be more innovative." 
 - Steve Case, Co-founder of AOL, Chairman of the Startup America Partnership, and co-chair of the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship
"This book will be a delight for anyone who cares about innovation. For more than twenty-five years, the MIT Media Lab has been inventing the future and humanizing technology. Weaving fascinating tales with insightful concepts, Frank Moss tells us how. He shows the way to harness passion and break down the walls between disciplines in order to unleash creativity in fields ranging from robotics to music to the making of mechanical limbs."
—Walter Isaacson, CEO and president, The Aspen Institute, former chairman and CEO of CNN, and bestselling author of Einstein: His Life and Universe
"Anyone who wants to succeed - be it in technology art, or business - needs to follow the unique multi-disciplinary approach described in this book. Our future depends on innovation. This book provides the inspiration and motivation we need to change the world, one page at a time."
—Chad Hurley, Co-Founder & former CEO, YouTube.
"As a CIO, I understand the challenges of managing brilliant and creative people.   Frank Moss' insightful case studies from the Media Lab provide a roadmap for leaders who want to accelerate innovation.   There is no better example of a culture that inspires and enables invention."
—Dr. John Halamka, Chief Information Officer, Harvard Medical School and The Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
“The stories begin about the gadgets for which the MIT Media Lab is well known, but then they turn human, as Frank Moss introduces us to the professors and students flourishing in the Lab's unique innovation ecology. SORCERERS ends too soon, leaving you curious, excited, and determined to know more about the MIT Media Lab's unique approach to inventing and innovation.  This book is timely for America, right now looking to innovate on innovation, to winning the future.”
—Bob Metcalfe, Ethernet Inventor, formulator of Metcalfe's Law, and  Professor of Innovation at UTexas Austin.

“Our world is changing at an exponential rate.  Billion dollar industries are folding overnight and Billion dollar start-ups are seemingly coming out of no-where.  Small teams empowered by technology can now do what was once only possible by large corporations and governments.  Frank Moss’ book shares countless examples of inspired creativity and fearless innovation.  This is a must-read book for anyone who wants to change their company, industry or the world.”
-Peter H. Diamandis, MD, MS, Chairman/CEO, X PRIZE Foundation, Chairman/Vice-Chancellor, Singularity University

"On every page, this essential book underlines the importance of the human - both in the individuals who make the Lab tick, and the people who are directly affected by the creative brilliance of the Lab's minds and the practical outcome of their work.  Moss expertly threads the multiple strands of the Media Lab story - it's innovative past, present and most importantly it's future - and demonstrates how it has continued to be one of the most unorthodox and influential brain trusts in the world."
- Alex McDowell, Royal Designer for Industry, production designer of Minority Report and Fight Club

"‘The Sorcerers and Their Apprentices’ is in essence a tour through the Media Lab... and the reader can almost hear Mr. Moss leading the visitor through the glass-walled building with an infectious enthusiasm for the stories of its occupants and contents, much of which exists in the form of the models and prototypes for which the lab is famous"
-The Wall Street Journal

Library Journal
The MIT Media Lab is an extraordinary, collaborative, multidisciplinary development environment, cultivated by MIT faculty and students to foster creative invention across diverse disciplines such as epistemology, neuroscience, visual arts and design, mechanical and electrical engineering, computer science, music, and the physical sciences. It is a distinctive academic milieu developed partially through relationships with industries that provide funding but do not have exclusive rights to the intellectual property created. The innovation fostered by this approach has led to amazing technological developments, including a robotic prosthetic foot and ankle now used by wounded Iraqi and Afghanistan U.S. veterans; the CityCar, an electric, foldable, efficient car; a gesture-controlled device, the SixthSense, which can transform any surface into a touch screen for computing; and robots that complement human abilities. Moss directed the Media Lab at MIT from 2006 to 2011 and is now the head of the New Media Medicine group at the Media Lab. VERDICT While the book can be repetitive if read cover to cover, it provides an energetic, dynamic description of the lab's groundbreaking process of research and invention. Recommended for science and technology buffs.—Candice Kail, Columbia Univ. Libs., New York

Product Details

Crown Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)


Meet the Author

FRANK MOSS served as director of the MIT Media Lab from 2006-2011, and is currently Professor of the Practice and head of the New Media Medicine group there. After earning a BSE from Princeton and PhD in aeronautics and astronautics from MIT, he held positions at IBM, Apollo Computer, Lotus Development and was CEO and chairman of Tivoli Systems, which he took public in 1995 and merged with IBM a year later. He is a co-founder of many companies, including Stellar Computer, Bowstreet, Infinity Pharmaceuticals and his latest startup venture, Bluefin Labs.

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