New MIT Media Lab head roots for grassroots

Frank Moss, former software and biotech entrepreneur, says consumers are increasingly setting the direction of inventions.

Technology innovations are more likely to come from someone's living room than from the corporate boardroom or even an entrepreneur's garage, says Frank Moss, the newly named director of the MIT Media Lab.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced Wednesday that Moss is heading its Media Lab. He joins the high-profile lab after starting several companies, including software maker Tivoli Systems, Web services firm Bowstreet and, most recently, cancer drug company Infinity Pharmaceuticals.

Frank Moss

But in his mind, technology users are increasingly setting the direction of inventions, rather than corporate research labs or venture capital-funded start-ups.

"I think a lot of innovation will come from a different place. It will trickle down further so that innovation will come from the consumer, whereas in the past they were the recipient" of new technologies, Moss said Wednesday.

As examples, he points to the development of file-sharing in universities and of open-source software. He also cited the creation of online communities with a common interest, such as a Boston-area senior network of older people.

"Today with the convergence of media and technology, the digital lifestyle is really mainstream," he said. "This will change the dynamics of how ideas come to market."

The MIT Media Lab will continue doing research in a number of areas, as it already does. But Moss said that he would like to have participants take their ideas beyond the "demo," or demonstration, phases.

Instead, Moss thinks that the Media Lab should be involved in making prototypes, which will help the lab make a broader impact.

The Media Lab has already spun off some of its work.

Last month, Nicholas Negroponte, the Media Lab's co-founder whose resignation was also announced Wednesday, created a nonprofit foundation focused on creating and distributing $100 laptop computers to children in developing countries. It's an idea that originated at the lab.

"It used to be 'demo or die' here," Moss said. "Now maybe we'll say 'prototype or perish.'"

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