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Dava Newman

Interview

As a former NASA Deputy Administrator, Dava Newman has extensive expertise in aerospace biomedical engineering, particularly in areas such as human performance in different gravity environments, spacesuit design, and navigation aids for astronauts during spacewalks. These days, as director of the MIT Media Lab, she finds herself in an entirely different domain: a melting-pot with a multi-inter-transdisciplinary approach towards innovation, as she calls it, with one goal: to have an IMPACT.

Newman’s work at the MIT Media Lab revolves around her passion for what she calls “transformative technology” at large. The excitement in her voice is contagious, as she shares her thoughts on how we can harness and integrate the power of general artificial intelligence to enhance the human experience.

Highlights:

1. Enhancing the human experience

Dava shares with us the numerous ways in which the intention to uncover how we can use AI and technology to enhance the human experience remains central to all the work done at the MIT Media Lab is. She argues how the quality of life we experience must remain central to the conversation of how to create responsible and trusted AI, and how shaping human behavior in using these tools is as critical as shaping the algorithms we create.

2. Current challenges of humanity

In sharing the current research themes focused on by the MIT Media Lab, Dava expands on the most pressing and urgent questions of our time. She expands on how the Lab centralizes their research around the following five themes, detailed in the podcast: Future Worlds (notice the plural there), Life with AI, Decentralized Societies, Cultivating Creativity, calling for a global revolution in creative thinking; and Connected Mind and Body–from bionic people to digital central nervous systems!

3. Societal implications of AI

While we’ve been talking for decades about the future of both computer-human interfaces and computer-brain interfaces, “the future is finally here,” says Dava. So now what? She discusses the role of beneficial uses of AI in the fields of medicine and disease treatment, as well as our responsibility in how we implement and use these tools to enhance the human experience in all ways possible. Educating the public at large is a necessary step that cannot be overlooked, something the Lab seeks to do in their annual Day of AI.

4. Regulation: a need for guardrails

“Policy making is slow, and technology has outpaced government policies” says Dava, sharing more on why she is pro regulation of these technologies. She details her hope for positive collaboration between Europe and the United States of America, working hand-in-hand to develop a system of standards and guardrails in protecting our shared future.

5. Encouragement for entrepreneurs, innovators, and collaboration

Dava offers words of encouragement to young entrepreneurs and innovators, urging them to believe in themselves and their dreams. She’s a firm believer in the value of persistence, even in the face of failure, and reminds us all that setbacks are part of the process on the path to success. She also discusses the importance of partnerships with industry members, ranging from small and medium-sized companies to large enterprises, in driving the work of the MIT Media Lab. Collaboration between academia and industry is crucial for advancing research and technological development. She addresses the use of space data and its relevance in understanding life here and on earth.

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Cover photo © Andy Ryan

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