Outgoing MIT Media Lab Head: Invest In Pure Research

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The Media Lab at MIT has turned out scores of inventions since it was founded in 1985. But, perhaps most notably, the lab invented a way of funding research that has given it incredible creative freedom. Corporate sponsors turn over cash, usually without any particular project or goal in mind, and MIT students and faculty go wild. Whatever comes out the other end, sponsors get to use in their products.

The system worked liked gangbusters through the 1990s. It nurtured the seeds of ideas ranging from Google Street View to Guitar Hero. But the dot-com bust threatened to bring it all down. Companies wanted a more immediate return on their investment, while Media Lab researchers felt that their freewheeling, blue sky style was essential to their success.

Enter Frank Moss. The former IBM executive and high-tech entrepreneur took over as head of the Media Lab in 2006. He is now widely credited with reinvigorating the lab, both with money and creative spark. He recently announced he is stepping down down next year to re-join the private sector.

Moss joins us to talk about the future of innovation and the secret to his Media Lab success.

This program aired on September 8, 2010.


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