To date, MIT alumni have founded more than 30,000 companies employing 4.6 million people and producing annual revenues of $1.9 trillion. That makes the Institute roughly equivalent to the world’s 10th largest economy. And those stats are ticking up daily. Seventeen of the young entrepreneurs that Forbes magazine recently named to its “30 Under 30” list for 2017 are MIT students and alumni. Their buzz-worthy startups are widely diverse, ranging from a malaria detection device to all-natural cosmetics. Here’s the line-up:
Augmented reality (AR)—a cousin to virtual technology—is quickly making itself indispensable in fields like medicine, architecture, industrial design, and entertainment, especially gaming. For those interested in leveraging the possibilities of AR, MIT’s annual Augmented Reality Summit is the center of the known universe.
AR in Action takes place at the MIT Media Lab January 17 and 18, 2017. The summit convenes the top minds in the augmented reality ecosystem, a diverse group of renowned thought leaders, visionaries, Fortune 100 executives, futurists, technologists, and AR practitioners, including Ethernet inventor Bob Metcalf and personal computer pioneer Alan Kay. Together, they will explore the challenges and opportunities that face inventors, integrators, investors, and other innovators working to bring the benefits of AR to the world.
“From the air traffic control system to 3-D printers, from the software that companies use to manage their supply chains to the simulations nations use to understand climate change, the world in which we live today was made possible by Jay’s work.” MIT Sloan Professor John Sterman is talking about legendary system dynamics pioneer Jay Forrester, who died November 16 at the age of 98. [Read the full tribute in MIT News.]
A mid-century invention, system dynamics (SD) is the analysis and redesign of any interdependent social, managerial, economic, or ecological system. SD has gained legions of adherents over the decades, and Forrester worked to develop new iterations almost up to the time of his death.
The dynamic Midwesterner arrived at MIT in 1939 with a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Nebraska and quickly grew to become a key actor in the development of digital computing and the national air defense system. He also led Project Whirlwind, a pivotal digital computing project, which led him to invent magnetic core memory, an early form of RAM. Forrester joined MIT Sloan in 1956 with the goal of applying his background in science and engineering to the essential issues that determine the success or failure of organizations.
“To me, Jay was MIT,” MIT Sloan Professor Nelson Repenning observed in a recent MIT Sloan tribute to Forrester. “He showed up to work on gunsights and radar mounts for the U.S. military, ended up playing a pioneering role in digital computing, and suddenly became a social scientist. I can’t imagine that happening anywhere else. It was the perfect match of a unique person [and institution].”
Forrester’s initial SD investigations were calculated by hand. He assembled a team of graduate students to interview employees in a company about how they made decisions at their individual operating points. “By tapping the wealth of information people possessed in their heads,” Forrester said, “we were able to build a model that revealed overall organization behaviors that resulted from the interconnected actions of many local decision-making individuals.”
In the late 50s and early 60s, Forrester and his students began building their simulation models with computers. By translating the policies, information flows, and interconnections of a company into computer instructions, they were able to create a model that could act out individual roles at each decision point. The computer would then feed the results of those actions into other connected decision points, allowing the model to generate the basis for its next round of simulated decision-making. The technology enabled the team to create a laboratory replica of a company that could be used to observe the behavioral consequences of company policies. “What we showed,” explained Forrester, “was that the policies believed to be the solution to the company’s problems were, instead, the cause of those problems.”
The working models that made sense for post-World War II employees do not necessarily work for the employees of today, and MIT Sloan Professor Thomas A. Kochan believes it’s about time those models were updated to fit a dramatically altered world. In his latest book, Shaping the Future of Work, Kochan outlines the steps that business, government, and academic leaders must take so that workers can perform their best work and prosper. These steps, he contends, are necessary for companies to realize positive outcomes and national economies to thrive.
Kochan’s goal is to inspire the creation of more productive businesses that provide good jobs and successful careers, resulting in a more inclusive economy and more broadly shared prosperity. But to revamp the system, he says, workers must acquire new sources of bargaining power and business, labor, government, and educational leaders must work together to meet the challenges and opportunities facing the next generation workforce.
In a recent interview with MIT Sloan News, Kochan raised the example of the Market Basket grocery store chain, where workers staged a successful walkout two years ago after the pro-worker CEO was fired. “It’s going to require a massive effort on the part of the public to do what we saw at Market Basket—to say, ‘This is the kind of company we expect to have competing here in the United States.’”
The MIT Glass Lab and the MIT Media Lab have developed a new high-temperature system to create transparent yet robust glass structures from computerized designs. The key to their success, just published in the Journal of 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing, is high temperature. Previous efforts working with glass have met with mixed results because the viscosity of glass changes dramatically with the degree of heat. Using a special high temperature process, however, researchers at the Glass Lab have found a way to design and print glass components of variable depth and complexity. The project began in an MIT additive manufacturing class.
The inability to adapt to a rapidly changing competitive landscape has doomed many seemingly unstoppable business giants, observes Eric Jones, SF ’05, executive assistant to the Coast Guard’s Deputy Commandant for Operations Vice Admiral Charles Michel.
“Sustaining the effectiveness and agility of a large enterprise is a continuous challenge in any realm,” Jones says, “but a large government organization like the U.S. Coast Guard faces additional hurdles.” While most mariners hope they never need the help of the Coast Guard, he notes, “We must be prepared to perform to our full capabilities at any time of day and every day of the year in unpredictable, and often perilous, conditions.” And that’s before taking into account the continual external forces at play, like terrorism, transnational organized crime networks, climate change, the fossil fuel renaissance, and the need for greater maritime governance because of an expansion in global trade.