MIT pulls out of India's ambitious Media Lab Asia project

Friday, 09 May 2003, 19:30 IST
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The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has decided to pull out of Media Lab Asia in India, citing differences with the Indian government over the management of research projects aimed at bridging digital divide.

NEW DELHI: The Media Lab Asia, a joint venture between MIT and India's IT ministry, was set up in 2001 to conduct research jointly with companies and educational institutes to create technologies to benefit the Indian people. "MIT has decided to separate itself from active management of Media Lab Asia and now the project will be restructured and handled by government agencies," said a senior government official associated with the project. "The withdrawal of MIT from the project is basically a result of differences over the focus on research projects and management structure," the official who didn't want to be named told IANS. He refused to give further details. MIT has reportedly attributed its pullout to differences in styles of management with new Telecommunications and IT Minister Arun Shourie. The minister was not available for comments. Shourie's predecessor Pramod Mahajan had actively lobbied for setting up of Media Lab Asia in India, which was expected to the second outside the U.S. and the third in the world. MIT's Media Lab, since its inception in 1985, has 40 registered patents to its credit. Its contributions include advances in electronic paper, new forms of data hiding, wearable computers, musical jackets and quantum computing. Its annual budget is about $30-35 million. Media Lab Europe was opened in Dublin, Ireland, in 2000 with the Irish government pledging about $35 million over 10 years. IT industry observers had described the setting of Media Lab in India was a "major victory for the domestic IT industry" as a host of countries in Asia including China, South Korea, Japan and Singapore had also vied for it. China, which was looked at as the possible venue for Media Lab in Asia, had decided to join hands with India rather than setting up its own research centre for developing technologies. India, with a population of over one billion, has a yawning digital divide. There are fewer than five computers for every 1,000 people while fixed-line telephone lines have grown at a very slow pace to touch nearly 40 million now. Media Lab Asia, based on the outskirts of Indian financial capital Mumbai, was in the process of setting up a chain of regional laboratories, linked together to facilitate inventions that benefit the masses. The government had announced that it would provide for a fifth of the lab's financing, while the rest was expected to come from corporate sponsors, research institutes and MIT. IT ministry officials said the turnover of the management of Media Lab Asia to the government didn't represent an end to the project to conduct research for developing cutting edge technologies for general usages. The official said the project would now be run as a public-owned research and development unit. India was earlier forced to abandon a mammoth 10-billion IT networking project that came under a cloud after joint venture partner Carnegie Mellon University of the U.S. walked out of it in October 2001.
Source: IANS