| Shourie: Tech tiff
Bangalore, May 8: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has pulled out of Media Lab Asia, citing disagreements with Arun Shourie, Union minister for communication, information technology and disinvestment, over the focus and management of the organisation’s research projects.
Media Lab Asia was founded in 2001 as a collaboration between MIT and the ministry of information technology. It was originally aimed at incubating technologies to benefit the country.
MIT said the decision to turn over management of the programme to the government did not represent an end to the university’s interest in expanding the influence of Media Lab by building outposts in other countries.
But it may cause second thoughts about the strategy, according to Nicholas Negroponte, head of the broader MIT Media Laboratory and its roving ambassador to overseas operations like Media Lab Asia and Media Lab Europe.
“It will certainly make us think because 90 per cent of what happened was driven by the change of minister, very much outside of our control,” Negroponte said.
In addition to disagreements about the type of research Media Lab Asia was fostering, which included a focus on rural problems, the government was also unhappy that the lab’s salary structure did not track that of the country’s civil service, Negroponte said.
Shourie, was not available for comment.
The government takeover came after the extension on the original one-year $ 12-million pilot programme ran out this spring, and it will now operate as a public-owned research and development unit.
The Media Lab is known for innovative work in communications that is less structured than many forms of research and, according to some critics, short on specific goals.
As originally conceived, Media Lab Asia was to receive 20 per cent of its financing from the government and the rest was expected to come from corporate sponsors sought out by the government and from MIT. But the corporate money failed to materialise.
The MIT Media Laboratory had several seats on the board, on the management team and the technical advisory group. But the board was controlled by the government, which provided all the financing to date.
Shourie took over from Pramod Mahajan, who had actively pursued the Media Lab Asia project and placed its administrative headquarters in Mumbai, his hometown.
The project may continue to be called Media Lab Asia because MIT has never trademarked the “Media Lab” term.
Walter R. Bender, Media Lab’s executive director, said he expected the MIT collaboration to continue in a limited way, on a number of research initiatives. Currently, 10 graduate students are working on projects in India.
Technologies created by Media Lab Asia were aimed at bridging the digital divide.