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A blog about creativity, technology, & humor.

O hai, this is Baratunde writing things BTW.

“Hey. We’re doing this thing in Detroit. You should come.”

At 8:35pm on July 30th of last year, that message popped up in my Google Chat window. The “We” was the MIT Media Lab. The “thing” was a weekend of applied brainstorming and innovation with IDEO and Detroit community leaders focused on solving some of that city’s problems. The sender of the IM was MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito. I was in.

Pictured above: A slide from one of the IG Detroit teams.

The weekend I spent in Detroit gave me a great taste of what the Media Lab is up to: expanding beyond it’s walls, creating networks, considering problems of innovation on the ground in places that could really use them. So when Joi and the Lab invited me to be a “Director’s Fellow,” I was also in. The idea of working with The Lab in any way was exciting (I first visited as a college senior considering grad school and later returned with a TV crew to tape segments for my 2009 show on Discovery Science Channel, “Popular Science’s Future Of.”). Any excuse to hang around the lab and sound smart was worth it. The other fellows are ballers (people like JJ Abrams, Shaka Senghor, and Christover Bevans) but I was especially excited about connecting Cultivated Wit to the lab’s work.

We’re all about exploring the intersection of comedy, creativity, and technology, so it was that on Friday January 10, 2013, I and my co-founders Brian and Craig visited the Media Lab in Cambridge to talk about our work; to learn what current students were working on; and to avoid staring too long into the eyes of creepy shit like this potentially artificially intelligent being.

Pictured above: weird MIT shit.

This writeup by Media Lab student Matt Stempeck covers a lot of the public conversation Joi and I had, and this video is the actual conversation (because who doesn’t have a spare 90-minutes to watch a web video!?) But if you’re afraid to leave this page because you don’t trust yourself to find a way back, the most interesting parts of the chat for me were:

  • Comedy as a “user interface for getting your head around difficult topics.”
  • Can humor help people care about issues or places they might normally avoid?
  • Are people funnier now because of the Internet?
  • Is there a future in machine-based or machine-driven comedy, and what effect does that have on traditional human standup and other forms of comedy? (think of Damn You, Autocorrect)

As we roamed around the lab we also got a chance to spend time with the Civic Media team which is doing things like analyzing the role of women in our media; visit with the folks helping young children learn to code; and getting a demo of a piano that lets you play piano with an older version of yourself playing piano. After this last demo I suffered a mild nose bleed due to the breaking of various laws of space-time.

Pictured above: Xiao Xiao teaches and learns from Xiao Xiao.

Also, we ate Fish Assholes at Joi’s house. I’m not going to explain that any further.

In terms of future collaboration, the possibilities are endless but one thing we’ve confirmed is that we’ll be bringing Comedy Hack Day to the lab in the future. Joke-telling robots? Who knows.

– Baratunde