Machine learning courses by Regina Barzilay, 2017 MacArthur Fellow

Photo of Regina Barzilay relaxing against a table in classroom, with students working in the background.

Photo: Lillie Paquette/MIT School of Engineering

Congratulations to MIT computer scientist Regina Barzilay, Delta Electronics professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a member of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).

This morning, the MacArthur Foundation announced that she’s a 2017 Fellow, awarded for her leading-edge work “[d]eveloping machine learning methods that enable computers to process and analyze vast amounts of human language data.”

In one of her most recent projects, Professor Barzilay aims to bring machine learning assistance to the complex and constantly-evolving field of oncology.

You can sample Professor Barzilay’s teaching in these two OCW courses:

Kerry Emanuel on climate change and hurricanes

A satellite measurement of Hurricane Harvey on Aug. 25 found that intense storms in the eastern side were dropping rain at a rate greater than 3.2 inches (82 mm) per hour.
Credits: NASA/JAXA, Hal Pierce.

“‘[With global warming, we could see] a 50-percent increase in the destructive potential” of the most powerful tropical storms,’ says meteorologist Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.”

For decades, MIT’s Kerry Emanuel has been a go-to researcher for those seeking insight into how climate change may affect catastrophic storms. The above quote is from 1992, in a Newsweek article “Was Andrew a Freak — Or a Preview of Things to Come?” — and has never been more timely.

Kerry is also an eloquent and forceful voice pushing leaders around the world to take the risks of climate change more seriously.

Now we’re once again deep into storm season around the world, and it’s not pretty. With events still unfolding in Texas with Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey, and weeks of escalating devastating monsoon floods in Bangladesh, India and Nepal, many people are asking: are these extreme storms the result of climate change?

The current thinking: it’s complicated. Foremost, we shouldn’t be seeking a direct causal link between climate change and any particular storm. As Professor Emanuel told The Washington Post’s Chris Mooney a few days ago:

“My feeling is, when there’s a hurricane, there’s an occasion to talk about the subject,” he said. “But attributing a particular [weather] event to anything, whether it’s climate change or anything else, is a badly posed question, really.”

Scientists are clear that climate change has “threat multiplier” effects on storms, increasing the likelihood and severity of some aspects. For instance: warmer waters and warmer air increase the moisture available and the energy in storms; disruptions in atmospheric circulation increase the likelihood of a storm “stalling out” over a region; and ocean storm surges are made more destructive when melting ice caps have raised the baseline sea level.

“The thing that keeps forecasters up at night is the prospect that a storm will rapidly gain strength just before it hits land,” Emanuel recently told Agence France-Presse, citing Harvey as an example. “Global warming can accentuate that sudden acceleration in intensity.”

Interestingly, it’s still uncertain whether global warming will lead to more or less frequent hurricanes. But in terms of catastrophic damage, storm frequency seems less important than the severity of storms, where climate change does have a clear footprint.

[Update, Sept. 26 2017: Kerry just gave an in-depth 1 hour talk at MIT, entitled “What Do Hurricanes Harvey and Irma Portend?” Watch the video, or read highlights in the news coverage.]

Kerry Emanuel has been a frequent contributor on OCW. Check out these two courses particularly connected to the storms + climate change issue.

  • 12.103 Science and Policy of Natural Hazards introduces the science of natural catastrophes such as earthquakes and hurricanes and explores the relationships between the science of and policy toward such hazards. It presents the causes and effects of these phenomena, discusses their predictability, and examines how this knowledge influences policy making.
  • 12.340 Global Warming Science provides a scientifically rigorous foundation to understand anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change, an introduction to climate models, the material impacts of climate change, and the science behind mitigation and adaptation proposals. [See also the archived MITx on edX version of this course.]

Want to get into a global conversation about climate change, its impacts and how we should respond? Check out the growing online community at MIT ClimateX.

Making Sense of Immigration

Photo of protesters gathered in a public square, featuring a sign reading "No Ban, No Wall."

Thousands gathered in Boston on January 29, 2017, to protest President Trump’s executive order banning immigration and travel from 7 predominantly Muslim countries. (Photo courtesy of John Hilliard on Flickr, License CC BY.)

The shockwaves emanating from Washington DC in recent weeks may seem unprecedented, at least in recent US politics. But look back in time, and consider the history of other countries and regions; you’ll find plenty of lessons to ground your understanding of, and responses to, these current events. Look to OCW for some facts and thoughtful perspectives.

Consider immigration: the January 27th US executive order banning travel and immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries, and plans to build a wall on the border with Mexico.

This handpicked selection of OCW courses on immigration reflects the teaching of many departments within MIT’s School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (Anthropology, Economics, History, Global Studies and Languages, Comparative Media Studies, Music, Political Science) and the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. Each of these OCW sites has an extensive reading list, with many items available online, plus a wide assortment of other materials.

Global Perspectives

21g-076f09-th21G.076 Globalization: the Good, the Bad, and the In-Between examines the paradoxes of contemporary globalization, and the cultural, linguistic, social and political impact of globalization across broad international borders and on specific language communities.

17-523f05-th17.523 Ethnicity and Race in World Politics seeks to answer fundamental questions about racial and ethnic politics. The course site includes complete lecture notes.

 

21a-442jf14-th21A.442 Violence, Human Rights, and Justice examines the problem of mass violence and oppression in the contemporary world (and a driver of immigration), and the concept of human rights as a defense against such abuse.

 

17-582s10-th17.582 Civil War surveys the origins, the variables that affect duration, and ways to settle this primary cause of refugees and mass migrations.

 

Middle Eastern History and Islam

21h-161f15-th21H.161 The Middle East in the 20th Century surveys the history of the Middle East from the end of the 19th century to the present. The OCW site features an extensive list of online readings and videos.

 

21m-289s15-th21M.289 Islam/Media is an introduction to Islam through the lens of media and sound studies. Several samples of student coursework complement a wide-ranging reading and film list.

 

21h-601f06-th21H.601 Islam, the Middle East, and the West offers a general overview of basic themes and issues in Middle Eastern history from the rise of Islam to the present.

 

In the United States

11-947s05-th11.947 Race, Immigration, and Planning is an introduction to the issues of immigrants, planning, and race, identifying the complexities and identities of immigrant populations emerging in the United States.

 

21h-221f06-th21H.221 The Places of Migration in United States History examines the history of the United States as a “nation of immigrants” within a broader global context, from the mid-19th century to the present. The course site includes selected lecture notes.

11-164f15-th11.164 Human Rights: At Home and Abroad includes a consideration of the historically contentious relationship between the West and the Rest in matters of sovereignty and human rights.

 

11-002jf14-th11.002J Making Public Policy treats politics as a struggle among competing advocates trying to persuade others to see the world as they do, structured primarily by institutions and cultural ideas. See the immigration readings for sessions #13-15.

 

21h-319f14-th21H.319 Race, Crime, and Citizenship in American Law examines how citizenship, nationhood, and race/ethnicity relate to US criminal justice, including national security policing and constitutional law at the intersection of ethnicity, religion, and counter-terrorism.

Bring it Home with a Game

cms-615f13-thFinally, a break from all the reading. Experience the challenging life of a refugee with Against All Odds, an online game developed by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. It’s one of the “Serious Games” listed on CMS.615 Games for Social Change.

Recent History Shows Its Relevance

A grey-haired gentleman wearing a fur hat and black overcoat, raises his hand in a wave.

On December 31, 1999, Russian President Boris Yeltsin resigned as head of state, leaving the presidency to then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. (Image by ITAR-TASS, from the website of the President of the Russian Federation.)

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Back in November, we told you about a novel history course in which MIT students built a printing press out of a single beam of wood following a 16th-century design. The idea was to get students involved in a hands-on project so they could have an insider’s view of a technology that revolutionized the world, while keeping in mind the ways digital technology is reshaping the world today.

21H.343J Making Books: The Renaissance and Today is but the latest of a string of OCW publications from MIT’s Department of History that have deep, one might even say, haunting relevance for the problems we confront today. A glance at any day’s news will make clear the value of setting current events in historical context.

Here is a sampler of recent OCW course sites from History, with brief descriptions from their syllabi. These courses all have detailed reading lists, and most have links to further help, including web resources, original documents, and films:

21H.108J Sexual and Gender Identities, as taught in Spring 2016 by Professor Caley Horan
wgs-110js16-thThis introduction to the history of gender, sex, and sexuality in the United States traces “the expanding and contracting nature of attempts to control, construct, and contain sexual and gender identities, as well as the efforts of those who worked to resist, reject, and reform institutionalized heterosexuality and mainstream configurations of gendered power.”

21H.211 The United States in the Nuclear Age, as taught in Spring 2016 by Professor Caley Horan
21h-211s16-th“The dawn of the nuclear age and the ensuing Cold War fundamentally altered American politics and social life. It also led to a flowering of technological experimentation and rapid innovation in the sciences. Over the course of the term, students will explore how Americans responded to these changes, and how those responses continue to shape life in the US today.”

21H.245J Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society, 1917 to the Present, as taught in Spring 2016 by Professor Elizabeth A. Wood
21h-245js16-th“As Russian President Vladimir Putin once said, ‘Whoever does not miss the Soviet Union has no heart. Whoever wants it back has no brain.’ But what was the Soviet Union? How did it develop out of Imperial Russia? What happened in the Russian Revolution? What were the various efforts at reform, sometimes moderate (the New Economic Policy), sometimes violent (the purges of the 1930s)? How did the country deal with WWI and WWII? How did it deal with nationalities? What led to the rapid transformation under Gorbachev and the breakup of the USSR in 1991? How has the country continued to evolve under Yeltsin and Putin?”

21H.381J Women and War in the 20th Century, as taught in Fall 2015 by Professor Lerna Ekmekcioglu
21h-381jf15-th“This seminar examines women’s experiences during and after war, revolution, and genocide. The focus of the course is mostly on the 20th century and on North America, Europe and the Middle East.” Topics include War as Daily Life, Perpetrators, Soldiers, Rape as a Weapon, Peace Activism, and 9/11’s Gendered Aftermath.

21H.382 Capitalism in the Age of Revolution, as taught in Fall 2016 by Professor Malick Ghachem
21h-382s16-th“The novel instruments of credit, debt, and investment fashioned during this period proved to be enduring sources of financial innovation, but they also generated a great deal of political conflict, particularly during the revolutionary era itself. We will examine the debates surrounding large-scale financial and trading corporations and consider the eighteenth century as a period of recurring financial crisis in which corporate power came into sustained and direct contact with emerging republican norms.”

You can change the world!

Submit your idea to MIT Solve

Maybe it’s an idea that’s been rattling around your head or maybe you’re about to have an epiphany that can dramatically improve the lives of hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people.

Now is your chance to make your idea become a reality.

Solve, an initiative of MIT, has launched three new challenges on its open innovation platform and is seeking submissions which could be pitched at the United Nations on March 7th.

Aimed at developing and implementing solutions to major global issues, the current Solve challenges seek innovative solutions that address: 

  • Refugee Education: How can we improve learning outcomes for refugee and displaced young people under 24? Click here to view the challenge.
  • Carbon Contributions: How can individuals and corporations manage and reduce their carbon contributions? Click here to view the challenge.
  • Chronic Diseases: How can we help people prevent, detect and manage chronic diseases, especially in resources-limited settings? Click here to view the challenge.

Challenges are active and open for applications until January 20, 2017. Anyone with innovative ideas and a passion for finding affordable, far-reaching, and implementable solutions is encouraged to apply.

You can find out more information about MIT Solve at http://solve.mit.edu/

William Bowen, Mellon Foundation president who led initial OCW funding, dies at 83

Photo of man standing at a Princeton University lectern, giving a speech.

Photo of William Bowen by Brian Wilson, Office of Communications, Princeton University.

MIT OpenCourseWare joins with our colleagues across higher education to mourn the passing of William Bowen. As president of the Mellon Foundation, he played a central role in the creation of OpenCourseWare.

More on the OCW story below. But first, those who didn’t know Bowen can get a glimpse of his life and reach in Brian Rosenberg’s eloquent rememberance in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

To Bill Bowen, the important things always mattered, regardless of his age or his title. He cared in 2016 as passionately about the entrenched inequities in higher education as he did when he assumed the presidency of Princeton, at age 38. He cared as much about issues of academic freedom and free speech as he did in 1973, when he defended the right of William Shockley, a physics professor who believed blacks were genetically inferior, to say things that Bowen himself found deeply offensive. He argued as forcefully for the importance of the arts and humanities in our culture as he did when he assumed the presidency of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, in 1988.

He never stopped caring, and he never stopped being the most thoughtful and articulate voice on these and a host of other issues central to our educational system and our civic life…

Outside the circles of academe, his name is not nearly as well known as those of innumerable politicians and business people. But whether they know his name or not, many people who have attended a college whose doors would have been closed to them previously, or who received financial aid that created a world of new possibilities, are better off because Bill Bowen cared about their lives.

How did Bill Bowen come into the OCW fold? In 2000, MIT President Charles Vest had just received the revolutionary recommendation that would lead to OpenCourseWare. An Institute committee of faculty, staff and alumni felt that MIT should respond to the rapid growth of the Internet by giving all of its basic teaching materials away on the web for free.

President Vest quickly saw the wisdom and the enormous potential of the proposal, and set out to make it real. One of the first big questions: how to fund it? His first stop was none other than Bill Bowen. Vest describes their initial meeting:

I had breakfast in New York with Bill Bowen, the distinguished former president of Princeton University and current president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Bill is that rare combination, a deep thinker and an effective leader.

Over eggs, I said, “Bill, I want to tell you how MIT is thinking about using the Internet for education. Then I’ll have three questions. Do you think it’s a good idea? If you think it is a good idea, do you think foundations might fund it? And, if so, might The Mellon Foundation be interested?”

Normally when one approaches a foundation for support, the answer, if not “No,” is a request to send a letter. Then one might be asked to do a draft proposal with an approximate budget. Finally, one might be asked for a full-blown proposal, to which the ultimate response seems most likely to be rejection. In this case, Bill looked at me and said, “Don’t take this idea anywhere else. Let’s go to work to figure out how to fund it.”

Vest tells an expanded version of this story, with more recollections of Bill Bowen, in the following video from a 2011 panel discussion (clip starts at 13:20).

Obama to Leave the White House a Nerdier Place Than He Found It (NY Times)

Photo of woman pointing out aspects of aparatus on a lab bench, with President standing beside her looking on.

Professor Paula Hammond discusses her research with President Barack Obama during his 2009 visit to the MIT campus.

President Barack Obama has evolved in many ways during his eight years in office, both personally and politically. Add now to that list, becoming a self-professed science nerd?  We caught an early glimpse of this leaning when he visited the MIT campus in October 2009, touring several labs, showing “keen interest, quick understanding and warm appreciation,” and giving an address on clean energy.

A recent piece by Gardiner Harris in the New York Times highlights the arc of President Obama’s enthusiastic embrace of science.

President Obama has started initiatives to study the brain and gene-based diseases. He has led attacks on the Ebola virus and antibiotic resistance. Last month, he wrote an academic article in a prominent medical journal.

But the science event many in the White House remember most powerfully was the kid with the marshmallow cannon.

“So would it, like, hit the wall up there?” Mr. Obama asked during the 2012 White House Science Fair when he came upon Joey Hudy, 14, standing before his homemade Extreme Marshmallow Cannon.

“Yeah,” Joey answered.

“Would it stick?”

“I don’t know.”

“Let’s try it,” Mr. Obama said with glee.

And so, for what may have been the first time since the British burned the house down in 1814, a fast-moving projectile hit the State Dining Room wall. The marshmallow did not stick.

He began an annual tradition of science fairs, arguing that if he celebrates the nation’s top athletes at the White House, he should do the same for the best young scientific talent. He often mentions the students he has met at the fairs, including Elana Simon, who at age 12 survived a rare form of liver cancer and before graduating high school helped discover its genetic cause.

Mr. Obama’s presidential science advisory committee has been the most active in history, starting 34 studies of subjects as varied as advanced manufacturing and cybersecurity. Scientists on the committee said they worked so hard because Mr. Obama was deeply engaged in their work.

We took particular note of this statement:

In a recent interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, Mr. Obama listed science as one of the few subjects he intended to pursue after the presidency.

So, President Obama: perhaps OCW can help you out here?

Our resources in science and beyond are perfect for self-paced learning, and well-suited to a busy lifestyle (which you’re certain to maintain). Most of the professors whose labs you visited in 2009 have classes on OCW. Whether you’re pursuing new curiosities in retirement, exploring a career transition, or even supplementing a current course of study in school, OCW is ready with a wealth of learning resources.