At the MIT Media Lab's new Fluid Interfaces Group, Pattie Maes researches the tools we use to work with information and connect with one another.
Pattie Maes was the key architect behind what was once called "collaborative filtering" and has become a key to Web 2.0: the immense engine of recommendations -- or "things like this" -- fueled by other users. In the 1990s, Maes' Software Agents program at MIT created Firefly, a technology (and then a startup) that let users choose songs they liked, and find similar songs they'd never heard of, by taking cues from others with similar taste. This brought a sea change in the way we interact with software, with culture and with one another.
Now Maes is working on a similarly boundary-breaking initiative. Her newly founded Fluid Interfaces Group, also part of the MIT Media Lab, aims to rethink the ways in which humans and computers interact, partially by redefining both human and computer. In Maes' world (and really, in all of ours), the computer is no longer a distinct object, but a source of intelligence that's embedded in our environment. By outfitting ourselves with digital accessories, we can continually learn from (and teach) our surroundings. The uses of this tech -- from healthcare to home furnishings, warfare to supermarkets -- are powerful and increasingly real.