Meet the president: Stephen Baker ’84, MArch ’88
A longtime volunteer, Baker is a 2017 recipient of the Bronze Beaver, the highest award bestowed by the MIT Alumni Association for service to the Institute and the Association. He also received a Lobdell Distinguished Service Award in 2013. He served on the Alumni Association’s board of directors from 2013 to 2017 and was later a member of the Association’s Corporation Nominating Committee. From 2009 to 2017, Baker served as a member of the MIT Corporation’s Visiting Committee for the Division of Student Life, which provided advice to the Institute’s senior leadership on matters including student counseling, extracurricular activities, residence life, and fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups. Baker has served on the board of his fraternity, Theta Xi, since 1984 and was a board member of the Association of Independent Living Groups, which he chaired for many years. He also helped found the Graduate Alumni Council in 2016.
You’ve maintained a strong connection with MIT over the years, particularly as a volunteer. What inspires you to stay involved?
Partly what inspires me is just a desire to give back. To step out of our own individual roles and do something that helps a larger community is valuable and rewarding in its own right. Also, I benefited greatly from interacting with alumni both as an undergraduate (working with alumni volunteers at my fraternity) and as a graduate student (when alumni came back for visiting reviews and critiques in the Department of Architecture). I wanted to do the same.
“It’s incredibly valuable to work with people who are not exactly like you, but with whom you have shared values.”
Stephen D. Baker
I also remain connected to the Institute for the people. The people at MIT are really remarkable—the alumni, students, faculty, and staff. It’s incredibly valuable to work with people who are not exactly like you, but with whom you have shared values. Although we come from many diverse backgrounds and experiences, and have diverse views, as alumni we have this common thread of having been students at MIT. It’s rewarding to work with people who have that shared experience.
As you start your term, we are more than two years into a pandemic. How does this affect the way you approach this role?
We’re still in the midst of recovering from a really unprecedented period of disruption, not just as an MIT community but as a global community. I would like to try to understand the way the pandemic has changed how we engage as an alumni community and how we relate to one another. We have had some positive takeaways from this experience, in that we’ve discovered that not everything has to be face to face and that there are strengths sometimes in meeting virtually, especially for alumni who live far from campus and can’t easily return.
There are also some challenges coming out of this time, one being for recent MIT alumni and soon-to-be alumni who have had very different experiences as undergraduates and graduate students during this time and therefore may not be feeling as connected leaving the Institute. I’d like to try to understand as a community what kinds of challenges those factors impose and how the pandemic has changed us and changed our community.
What are your priorities in your role as MITAA president?
Inside the conference where researchers are solving the clean-energy puzzle
The Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) funds high-risk, high-reward energy research projects, and each year the agency hosts a summit where funding recipients and other researchers and companies in energy can gather to talk about what’s new in the field.
As I listened to presentations, met with researchers, and—especially—wandered around the showcase, I often had a vague feeling of whiplash. Standing at one booth trying to wrap my head around how we might measure carbon stored by plants, I would look over and see another group focused on making nuclear fusion a more practical way to power the world.
There are plenty of tried-and-true solutions that can begin to address climate change right now: wind and solar power are being deployed at massive scales, electric vehicles are coming to the mainstream, and new technologies are helping companies make even fossil-fuel production less polluting. But as we knock out the easy wins, we’ll also need to get creative to tackle harder-to-solve sectors and reach net-zero emissions. Here are a few intriguing projects from the ARPA-E showcase that caught my eye.
“I heard you have rocks here!” I exclaimed as I approached the Quaise Energy station.
Quaise’s booth featured a screen flashing through some fast facts and demonstration videos. And sure enough, laid out on the table were two slabs of rock. They looked a bit worse for wear, each sporting a hole about the size of a quarter in the middle, singed around the edges.
These rocks earned their scorch marks in service of a big goal: making geothermal power possible anywhere. Today, the high temperatures needed to generate electricity using heat from the Earth are only accessible close to the surface in certain places on the planet, like Iceland or the western US.
Geothermal power could in theory be deployed anywhere, if we could drill deep enough. Getting there won’t be easy, though, and could require drilling 20 kilometers (12 miles) beneath the surface. That’s deeper than any oil and gas drilling done today.
Rather than grinding through layers of granite with conventional drilling technology, Quaise plans to get through the more obstinate parts of the Earth’s crust by using high-powered millimeter waves to vaporize rock. (It’s sort of like lasers, but not quite.)
The emergent industrial metaverse
Annika Hauptvogel, head of technology and innovation management at Siemens, describes the industrial metaverse as “immersive, making users feel as if they’re in a real environment; collaborative in real time; open enough for different applications to seamlessly interact; and trusted by the individuals and businesses that participate”—far more than simply a digital world.
The industrial metaverse will revolutionize the way work is done, but it will also unlock significant new value for business and societies. By allowing businesses to model, prototype, and test dozens, hundreds, or millions of design iterations in real time and in an immersive, physics-based environment before committing physical and human resources to a project, industrial metaverse tools will usher in a new era of solving real-world problems digitally.
“The real world is very messy, noisy, and sometimes hard to really understand,” says Danny Lange, senior vice president of artificial intelligence at Unity Technologies, a leading platform for creating and growing real-time 3-D content. “The idea of the industrial metaverse is to create a cleaner connection between the real world and the virtual world, because the virtual world is so much easier and cheaper to work with.”
While real-life applications of the consumer metaverse are still developing, industrial metaverse use cases are purpose-driven, well aligned with real-world problems and business imperatives. The resource efficiencies enabled by industrial metaverse solutions may increase business competitiveness while also continually driving progress toward the sustainability, resilience, decarbonization, and dematerialization goals that are essential to human flourishing.
This report explores what it will take to create the industrial metaverse, its potential impacts on business and society, the challenges ahead, and innovative use cases that will shape the future. Its key findings are as follows:
• The industrial metaverse will bring together the digital and real worlds. It will enable a constant exchange of information, data, and decisions and empower industries to solve extraordinarily complex real-world problems digitally, changing how organizations operate and unlocking significant societal benefits.
• The digital twin is a core metaverse building block. These virtual models simulate real-world objects in detail. The next generation of digital twins will be photorealistic, physics-based, AI-enabled, and linked in metaverse ecosystems.
• The industrial metaverse will transform every industry. Currently existing digital twins illustrate the power and potential of the industrial metaverse to revolutionize design and engineering, testing, operations, and training.
The Download: China’s retro AI photos, and experts’ AI fears
Across social media, a number of creators are generating nostalgic photographs of China with the help of AI. Even though these images get some details wrong, they are realistic enough to trick and impress many of their followers.
The pictures look sophisticated in terms of definition, sharpness, saturation, and color tone. Their realism is partly down to a recent major update of image-making artificial-intelligence program Midjourney that was released in mid-March, which is better not only at generating human hands but also at simulating various photography styles.
It’s still relatively easy, even for untrained eyes, to tell that the photos are generated by an AI. But for some creators, their experiments are more about trying to recall a specific era in time than trying to trick their audience. Read the full story.
Zeyi’s story is from China Report, his weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on tech in China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.
Read more of our reporting on AI-generated images:
+ These new tools let you see for yourself how biased AI image models are. Bias and stereotyping are still huge problems for systems like DALL-E 2 and Stable Diffusion, despite companies’ attempts to fix it. Read the full story.