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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 Hardcover – Jun 7 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Business (June 7 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307589102
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307589101
  • Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 3 x 24.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 635 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #408,044 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"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

About 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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Format: Hardcover
Note: The title of my review is taken from one of the observations made by Frank Moss in the Preface: "I am convinced now that [begin italics] individuals [end italics], empowered with radically new technologies that you will read about in the pages ahead, can succeed in transforming society" from the bottom up where our [begin italics] institutions [end italics] have dismally failed. This has greatly increased my sense of optimism for the future, and I hope it will do the same for you."

As Moss's background clearly indicates, he is eminently well-qualified to discuss these and other issues. Currently, he is managing partner of Strategic Software Ventures, LLC, and a part-time professor of the practice at the MIT Media Lab, where he heads the New Media Medicine group. He has spent his career developing innovative technologies and bringing them to market. He was director of the MIT Media Lab from 2006-2011, where he held the Jerome Wiesner Professorship of Media Technology, and before that he had a 30-year career as an entrepreneur in the software and computer industries. Moss holds a BSE from Princeton University in Aerospace and Mechanical Sciences and a PhD from MIT in Aeronautics and Astronautics. He serves on Princeton University's board of trustees.

I agree with Oliver Sacks: "We must humanize technology before it dehumanizes us." I also agree with Pogo: "We have met the enemy and he is us." That is to say, technology will dehumanize us only if we allow it to. Hence the delicious as well as daunting relevance of this book's title, one that can be traced back at least to one of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's poems, Der Zauberlehrling, written in 1797.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0xa9aa02b8) out of 5 stars 52 reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa9be330c) out of 5 stars The Future is Being Created at MIT Media Lab June 12 2011
By Bookworm9765 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
In The Sorcerers and Their Apprentices, David Moss offers a first hand tour of the legendary MIT Media Lab, a place where remarkable innovations occur almost continuously. The book is a bit of a jumble rather than a single coherent narrative, but that is appropriate since the Media Lab is all about bringing brilliant people from different disciplines together and letting ideas collide randomly in a "boundary-less" environment.

Moss, who served as the Media Lab's director starting in 2006, focuses on the researchers in the Lab and how they collaborate on a variety of projects, ranging from new ways to interact with computers, technologies to assist the disabled and the elderly, new forms of transportation and ,especially, robotics.

On thing that really comes through is the Media Labs leading-edge research into artificial intelligence and robotics. The social robots under development are able to interact and learn from people, and can even respond to specific human attitudes and emotions based on facial expressions and other hints. Moss is extremely bullish about the future of robotics, writing that he expects "truly capable robots that can be sold at prices on the order of notebook computers," and that by the end of this decade there may be "more than a billion robots" deployed world-wide.

While Moss talks about robots and AI being primarily deployed in the the home or in health care settings, there is little doubt that these technologies are going to have a huge impact in workplaces, on the job market and on the overall economy and society. Very few people seem to be tuned into the coming wave of innovation. The technologies under development at the Media Lab have the potential to be truly transformative, and the impact will be felt by all of us.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa9be3714) out of 5 stars A Remarkable Book About A Remarkable Source of Innovation, Design & Prototypes June 1 2011
By Ira Laefsky - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Dr. Frank Moss, the Director of MIT's Media Lab between 2006 and 2011 presents a remarkable, yet human view of one of the nation's treasure laboratories.
The Media Lab is a Special Projects Laboratory and Educational Division within the MIT School of Architecture and Planning that focuses on Technology, Design and New Media. It's amazing projects and demonstrations have resulted in such products as E-Ink (the paper-like display which make E-Readers like the Kindle
readable), the One Laptop per Child XO laptop, and the Guitar Hero gaming platform.

Frank Moss describes and humanizes the research and demonstration process of this remarkable academic laboratory where the motto is "Demo or Die" rather
than "Publish or Perish". He describes the technologies, designs and human problems which continue to lead their innovation. Most importantly he profiles in human depth the talented Professors, Graduate Students, Researchers and Corporate Partners who make this innovation possible. A remarkable book about a remarkable place.

--Ira Laefsky
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa9be3e28) out of 5 stars I have to wonder why this book was written; who for? Sept. 28 2011
By E.Swope - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I have spent upwards of a month slogging through this book, a book which by all rights ought to be an immensely enjoyable read for me as it hits on a number of passionate interests of mine, yet...it was not. In his preface Moss comments that this is the third book on the media lab, the first 2 having been written by Stwert Brand and Nicholas Negroponte. I strongly suspect I would have enjoyed those more, and may eventually pick one or both of them up). I am less familiar with Moss than I am with either of the other men, having read many of Brand's works and followed Negroponte's activities for a while impressed by his vision and compassion. Moss I know mostly from the introduction to this book. That, however, was not what put me off. I felt like a good deal of time was spent pumping himself, the school, the lab, and finally the book, It is clear that Moss is excited to be at the media lab (despite early quandries), its approach and the success of its students and graduates. To some extent that comes with the territory. They are among the brightest and hardest working, most highly selected students in the country. They would likely be successful wherever they went. Put those students in an environment with others of similar talent and passion, and things will happen. While I was an undergraduate at Brown, the NY Times wrote an article disparaging the education received at Ivy league schools (focusing on Harvard in particular). It made sufficient impression that my dad drove up to spend a day attending classes with me (else I likely would not have noticed the article). I recall a response someone sent in saying that he learned more in the hallway than he had anywhere else in his life. Exactly.

In the first 4 chapters, Moss describes (more via adjective than verb or noun, the approach of the lab; Passion, disappearing discipline, hard fun, serendipity by design. Again, I get the enthusiasm, but not the mechanics of their approach. Some of it is described anecdotaly in subsequent chapters, but it is not really fleshed out. What I do get is that MIT is employing an approach which many corporations use, creativity consultants teach, and which overlaps strategies used by other schools since before the media lab existed. (I know this because I graduated from Brown a few years before the media lab came into being, and a foundation of Brown's approach is cultivating an interdisciplainary environment where students can cross boundaries and explore without being penalized for same. (I wonder if MIT allows students to opt out of grades for any/ all of their classes? As far as I know, no one has written a book on Brown's "new curriculum" but several other universities have adopted similar programs. After reading this book I am not sure I know what sets the media lab apart other than corporate involvement and a focus on engineering. It may be that I feel that I did not learn much as I already know a fair amount about the school having friends and family who have attended, but, more than anything it was the tone which put me off. I kept thinking of Stephen Hawking's book On The Shoulders Of Giants and reminiscing on some far ranging conversations on a creativity listserv on the genesis of ideas (are they solitary acts of genius or evolutionary). While MIT's media lab may be unique in some regards, it has been built on the ideas and successes of many other institutions..

A concrete example of what bothered me about this book is provided in his description of having discovered, with surprising incredulity, that a team from MIT had won DARPA's red balloon contest". In brief, DARPA had announced a prize of $40,000 for the person or team who was first to report the locations of 10 weather balloons which had been hidden across the continental US. The winning team had used a "temporary recursive incentive scheme" in which they offered to share the reward with who ever found a balloon, as well as the person who referred that person, and the one who had invited that person, providing incentives to gather as many helpers as possible. He notes that on the first day over 5,000 people had registered on the web site which the team set up and which had accumulated 100,000 page views. Describing that this was about the power of networking and new communications media, he goes on to say "If this is what can be accomplished by a few geeks and a computer in an office in Cambridge, Massachusetts..." A few geeks in an office? what about the other 5,000 + people? (and the scientists who discovered and defined recursive incentive schemes?)

All in all I am not sure who this book is written for. is it to encourage applications from students who have heard that MIT is a "nose to the grindstone" kind of school where they will be steeped in numbers...or to introduce the partnerships to potential corporate sponsors? Maybe it's for those interested in technology, or creativity? Though I know that people who study and teach creativity are aware of many similar environments, and suspect that most technophiles will have read about quit a few of these inventions/ ideas (obviously he can not discuss things which are under development out of fairness to the students, professors...). Whether or not you will enjoy reading this will have something to do with your background and how much reading you have done in the area and the type of writing style you like. Myself, I felt like much of the book was more about selling the school than describing it in any useful way. It may well have been a matter of style, but I did not personally find this an especially enlightening or enjoyable read.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa9be3ca8) out of 5 stars This Team Is Improving Everybody's Life June 22 2011
By Bob Richey - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This book really could be accurately described using the old cliché "Stranger than fiction". It reminds me of several other books that I have read along the same line (e.g. The Cuckoo's Egg and Nerds, A Brief History of the Internet).

There are a number of stories in this book about the amazing developments wrought by the assorted members of the MIT Media Lab. They are not all engineers as one might think, but an amazing cross section of talents and education backgrounds. Together these people have developed a number of things that has and probably will continue to make life much better for many in the population. Their work in the area of helping disabled people to follow their dreams even though their disabilities would normally have denied them that opportunity is amazing.

The stories of the developments of these inventors is so varied, I can only suggest that you read this wonderful book. It is about a team of very driven, enthusiastic and imaginative individuals who give their diverse talents to the team effort to invent products and processes that possibly would not happen in a non-team environment.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa9be37b0) out of 5 stars A Director's Tour of the Fantasy Factory June 8 2011
By Mark P. McDonald - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Moss has written an engaging and illustrative tour of the recent innovations coming out of the MIT Media lab. This book is a director's tour as each chapter highlights a project and specific lab. From robots to emotion recognition systems to foldable cars, to advanced prosthetic devices, this book covers the next wave of innovation that will shape our future.

The tour of tomorrow provided by Moss alone earns a recommendation for anyone interested science and technology fact, which is often stranger and more exciting than science fiction. Moss works hard to describe the inventions, how they work and the backstory of the people involved in their creation. This gives you a feeling for what it might be like to work in a dynamic environment where the problems are central to the human experience and the borders for a solution simply do not exist.

This is a book about the promise of technology that is refreshing given all the news of cyber attacks; identify theft and the elimination of privacy. The reason Moss can be so hopeful is that each of these technologies combines software with hardware to produce innovation that is tactile, tangible and easy to visualize. This is the world of applied technology rather than indirect software solutions. There is little hype of theses technologies and no lecturing about the moral virtue of science.

While the technologies are tactile and Moss does his best to describe then, the inventions really needs pictures to do them justice as each is unique and provides a particular solution.

You can read the book as a detailed proposal or storyboard for a multi-part series on PBS, Discovery or the Science channels as video may be the best way to appreciate the work of the sorcerers and their apprentices.

This may be one case where the book is good, but the movie would be much better.

Moss is justifiably proud of the ethos, practices and approaches the Media Lab takes to solving problems. He also has much to be proud of as an individual inventory and leader. Both of these come out throughout the book, making it a little repetitive.

The book's title Sorcerers and their Apprentices sets an expectation that the book will focus on the people working in the Lab, their backgrounds, their experiences and such. While the book does provide some backstory, it's dominant focus on the inventions more than the inventors. This does not detract from the value of the book; it's just an observation.

Overall Moss does a great job of making the future come alive not only in terms we can all understand but also in a way that we can see the impact new technologies will have on our future.

Recommended for anyone interested in the future and learning more about some of the creative people behind the things that will change our lives for the next thirty years.