Walter Bender's 



lot's of sand

My children, Daniel and Elise, at Crane's Beach with their sand castle, Puff's in Love (1997 version). 1994's sand castle was Puff's Back. 1993's sand castle was Puff's Retreat.

elise, dan, wanda

My wife Wanda instructs students in English-language learners (ELL) at the Bowen School in Newton, Massachusetts. One of my favorite stories from her classroom is about double negatives: she was trying to explain the concept of double negatives in English to students and she remarked that as in mathematics, "multiplying" two negatives makes a positive, but multiplying two positives does not make a negative; to which one of her students replied, "yeah, right." My daughter, who went from sand castles to MIT, put together a tribute to Arthur Mattuck. She went on to work with the late, great Judah Folkman. She is now in medical school at Univesity of Massachusetts, Worcester. My son studied political science and economics at Univesity of Massachusetts, Amherst. When he is not cooking or gardening, he is working with Prof. Roz Picard.

Melissa and Deana singing

We have an annual karaoke party at which my niece Deana (on the right) shows off her velvet voice. We use Taito's Lavca, an extraordinary machine designed by Barry Vercoe

Sugar Labs

$100 laptop prototype

I am currently on sabbatical from MIT, during which time I am helping to launch Sugar Labs, a non-profit foundation, that serves as a support base and gathering place for the community of educators and software developers who want to extend the Sugar platform and who have been creating Sugar-compatible applications. (Sugar is an educational software platform built with the python programming language and based on the principles of cognitive and social constructivism.) Previously, I had taken a two-year leave from MIT in order to join One Laptop per Child, a not-for-profit foundation, to help with their efforts to develop and deploy a technology that will revolutionize how the world's children engage in learning.

About the Media Lab

From September 2000 through Jaunary 2006 I was the executive director of the MIT Media Lab. As director, I made the occasional organizational diagram: lollipops; 7 circles; 5 circles; etc.

The thrust of the Media Lab has always revolved around "technology in support of learning and expression by people and machines." In its first decade the Media Lab was about "being digital"; we invented much of the technology that enabled the digital revolution of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Our focus also encompassed the application of the technology to the problems facing people: how they inform, entertain, and express themselves. The second decade saw a shift toward pervasive, ubiquitous computing. We pioneered such fields as wearable computing and tangible media, further enhancing individual and community expression.

The Lab's upcoming decade will turn in large part to an exploration of the technologies of human augmentation. We are striving to overcome limits of human resourcefulness and capability by inventing models and means of mind and expression. We are developing models of the mind that encompass cognition and affect as well as the means of enhancement: our memory, understanding, expressiveness, awareness, empathy, and physical performance. This research agenda is synergistic with work going on across campus: particularly in Brain and Cognitive Science, Bioengineering, Management, Mechanical Engineering, Computer Science/Artificial Intelligence, and Urban Planning.

Media Lab researchers have been exhorted to "demo or die." More recently, we have recast that charge with an iterative process: "imagine, realize, and critique." The Lab has organized itself around the rapid prototyping of ideas; the construction of working prototypes enables us to draw upon the tradition of the "studio design" critique: we have daily visits from our industry and academic collaborators with whom we engage in an authentic critical dialogue within a context that is broader than is typical of a university setting. This focus on learning through expression has characterized both the research side of the Lab and its academic program, Media Arts and Science (MAS), which derives its intellectual agenda from the research program. Our emphasis on the practice of learning-by-creating-often in an apprenticeship, atelier-style context-represents the deepest epistemological tie we have to our home at MIT in the School of Architecture and Planning.


The best thing about MIT is the students. Some of my current and former students are Nathan Abramson, Joey Berzowska, Erik Blankinship, Alan Blount, Bil  Burling, Pascal Chesnais, Hyemin Chung, LaShaun Collier, Enrico Costanza, Klee Dienes, Joan Morris DiMicco, Cris Dolan, Ingeborg Endter, Ian Eslick, Uri Feldman, Jeana Frost, Vadim Gerasimov, Carla Gomez-Monroy, Jose Gonzales Pinto, Dan Gruhl, Jill Kliger, Doug Koen, Mark Kortekaas, Håkon Lie, Paul Linhardt, Cameron Marlow, Mike Massey, Michelle McDonald, Mok Chee Kong, Robert Mollitor, Marco Monroy Fonseca, Bo Morgan, Luke Ouko, Jon Orwant, Dennis Quan, Ramesh Srinivasan, Daniel Stevenson, Alexandre Stouffs, Laura Teodosio, Marko Turpeinen, Sunil Vemuri, Scott Vercoe, Steve Waldman, Joel Wachman, and Larissa Welti-Santos.


My former research group, Electronic Publishing, was begun in 1978.
I used to teach MAS-A12, Puzzles, Games, and Other Things to Think With.
I occasionally taught MAS815, Issues of Color in Media Technology.
I also used to teach MAS963, News and Technology, with Jack Driscoll.


I like puzzlers: chimpanzee/monkey, M-Heart-Eight, 0,1,2,WHAT?!, tiling a square, 10 rows of 3, and magic number. Also, I've recoded a couple of puzzle games that Jon Orwant and I worked on together a few years back: deducto and color deducto. Phil Fleming challenged me with a Burr that is difficult because the pieces extend beyond the normal volume. You need a combination of slides to put the two hemispheres together. Joan DiMicco gave me a 5x5x5 burr.


I've designed a new puzzle recently, inspired by the perceptual psychologist, J. Hochberg.

hybrid burr

I designed a hybrid Burr puzzle with an unusual assortment of pieces.


I also like to eat pumpkin pie, sour cream coffee cake, spuds, and pickled herring. Coming soon: Meatloaf, lime pie, lime and apples, chocolate chocolate chip cookies, and chocolate mousse.


world series ticket world series ticket

Thanks to George Abrams, I was at Game 1 of the World Series at Fenway Park. Thanks to Ted Koplar, I was also able to attend Game 4 in St. Louis.


I have a Buddy Bike and bike buddies.

swings that think

For many years, I was co-captain of the Shadow Masks, the Media Lab softball team. (The 1997 t-shirt can be seen here: front and back)


meeting the pope

I met Pope John Paul II a few years ago at a conference on technology and spirituality My son Daniel met the Pope Benedict XVI at the top of the gondola on Mount Blanc.

Media Lab

Some of my previous research projects...
The BT Technical Journal 22, No. 4, 2004

And some older work...
The IBM Systems Journal 39, Nos. 3&4, 2000
The IBM Systems Journal 35, Nos. 3&4, 1996
An article in Estado de São Paulo; a link to a talk I gave at a Vanguard meeting in 1999 for which I was booed off the stage (not for the first or last time); a talk at CIESP; and the talk I gave at the first meeting of the News in the Future consortium in 1992.

seven secrets

Most things come in threes at the Media Lab, but here are some collections of seven:

The Seven Secrets of the Media Lab
1. Sun: A light shines into every corner of the Lab resulting in an unfettered exchange of ideas.
2. Moon: Innovation flows in a cyclical process: imagine and realize; critique and reflect; iterate.
3. Fire: Passion fuels the Lab; we invest in people, not projects.
4. Water: Change is the only constant of the Lab and innovation is fueled by change.
5. Wood: Design is not a surface attribute; it is integrated with engineer like wood grain.
6. Metal: Point of view is the lightning rod of innovation; we are international and interdisciplinary.
7. Earth: Academic research has no practical purpose unless it is grounded by industry interactions.

Seven challenges for the Open Source community:
1. Alignment of goals: Open≠free.
2. Normal culture: Broaden the base of participation.
3. Access: economic, political, and cultural barriers are formidable.
4. Keep it simple: Open Source is just as fat as proprietary offerings.
5. Better models of human affect and cognition leads to more expressivity.
6. Transform phone culture, which is service oriented rather than tool oriented.
7. Learning-centric design is better than trumps human-centric design.

Jack Driscoll's seven criteria for news:
1. Newness or timeliness
2. Importance (serious matter, affects many, etc.)
3. High general interest to reader
4. Relevance
5. Involves public's right to know
6. Involves public's need to know
7. Whether story informs, educates, guides or entertains reader

My seven news services for community:
1. Identifying, including contrasting and relating
2. Analyzing, including positioning and verifying
3. Localizing, including augmenting and remembering
4. Contextualizing, including connecting and relating
5. Expressing, including storytelling and transcoding
6. Learning, including interacting and constructing
7. Advertising, including observing and transacting

My fishwrap homepage...

The switches...

Some memes...

About me


walter picture casual

Walter Bender
MIT Media Laboratory 20 Ames Street, Cambridge, MA 02139
walter at media dot mit dot edu

Walter Bender is the founder of Sugar Labs, a non-profit foundation that serves as a support base for the community of educators and software developers who are extending the Sugar user interface. Sugar is designed to enhance the primary educational experience by emphasizing collaboration and expression. Prior to that, Bender was president for software and content of the One Laptop per Child association, where he developed and deployed technologies that are revolutionizing how the world's children engage in learning. Before taking a leave of absence from MIT, Bender was executive director of the MIT Media Laboratory. He was also holder of the Alexander W. Dreyfoos Chair.

Bender is currently on sabbatical from MIT, where he is a senior research scientist and director of the Electronic Publishing group. Bender directed the Gray Matters special interest group, which focuses on technology's impact on the aging population. In 1992, Bender founded the News in the Future consortium and has been a member of the Lab's Simplicity, Things That Think, and Digital Life consortia. He became Media Laboratory director in 2000. He received his BA from Harvard University in 1977. Bender joined the Architecture Machine Group at MIT in 1978. He received his MS at MIT in 1980.

A founding member of the Media Laboratory, throughout his career Bender has engaged in the study of new information technologies, particularly those that affect people directly. Much of the research addresses the idea of building upon the interactive styles associated with existing media and extending them into domains where a computer is incorporated into the interaction. He has participated in much of the pioneering research in the field of electronic publishing and personalized interactive multimedia. He has worked closely with pioneers in the field of technology and learning such as Seymour Papert, Marvin Minsky, and Alan Kay for more thirty years.

Mr. Bender is active in many national and international technical conferences and committees. He is on the advisory board of the Care Product Institute. He has been on the Advisory Board for the VTT Information Technology Research Center of Finland; he is a Visiting Professor at the University of Tampere, Finland; and a founder of Salient Stills, Inc. He was a member of the IBM Mobile Scientific Advisory Board; and a board member of Salient Stills, Inc. Mr. Bender is the author of numerous technical conference and journal articles, book chapters, and magazine articles about media technology. He has lectured nationally and internationally on the topics of electronic publishing, media technology, and computer graphics. Mr. Bender was the 1992–1993 Visiting Lecturer of The Society for Imaging Science and Technology. He has served as a consultant in the areas of graphic design, digital typography, digital color, and interactive video.

Thoughts on the future of news
(circa 1996)

The application of technology to the future of news is not only about the efficiency of professional production and distribution of news. It is also about providing the news consumer with tools that facilitate creation, access and use of news in both individual and communal contexts. While the adoption of digital communication technology by the news industry will enhance consumer access to information, it must also support news as a "community service." News as a service model is one in which the consumer of news is an active, engaged participant. This service model encourages two-way communication between the traditional news provider and the consumer, and communication within communities built upon common interests. The service model of news becomes a part of the social fabric within communities, a catalyst for creating communities of interest, and a means of facilitating community introspection.

Modern telecommunications is leading us inevitably to the smallest news product imaginable: the personalized newspaper, or Daily Me, whose content has been tailored to meet an individual's needs and interest. Computerized "butlers" or "agents" are acting on the reader's behalf, culling articles of interest from traditional and non-traditional news sources, before sending them down the wire to the reader's home. Luddites see the Daily Me engendering a fragmented world populated by self-interested myopes. They argue that editors should continue to publish articles that establish the point-of-view for the community. They want news pushed upon them. The Daily Me proponents want to pull news in.

There are alternative interpretations of the Daily Me. Regardless of whether one subscribes to the "push" or "pull" model of news, such systems can personalize articles for individuals and communities of readers, e.g., varying the degree of detail and background information provided in an article, or reflecting what the community already knows or does not know about the topic. Providing readers with the proper context is as important as providing the content itself.

News organizations must continue to provide news to individuals and encyclopedic knowledge about their communities. But they must also acknowledge the role of consumers as producers. The future of the industry is as much about construction as it is about consumption. The impact of "going digital" is the emergence of a new relationship between publishers and their public: making news more relevant by building linkages between news providers and consumers.

In memorium

my father Ralph Bender
my mentor Nat Jacobson
my colleague Steve Benton
my colleague Push Singh

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