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Berkeley Center for New Media Announces Endowment

Photo by Craig Newmark. CONE sutro forest project.

Last year Craigslist founder Craig Newmark placed a camera that allowed thousands of people, collaboratively controlling it online, to capture images of birds from the deck of his home on the edge of the Sutro Forest in San Francisco. It was project developed by Ken Goldberg, now the Director of the Berkeley Center for New Media and Texas A & M University. It's a project that's a metaphor for all of his double-edged art/science projects, the tools are only valuable when it's possible to observe and understand how people use them in their natural habitats. The Berkeley Center for New Media has just announced an endowment of $1.6million from Craigslist, matched by $1.5 million from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for a total of $3.1 million. It will support research, symposia and lectures. Craigslist and the Center for New Media share "...interests in research areas such as privacy, reputation, trust, access and new ways to encourage socially constructive actions," said Goldberg. The Berkeley Alumni magazine said "The Center for New Media is less concerned with whiz-bang technologies than with old values—truth, depth, reliablitity, authenticity, aesthetics, and public service."

Goldberg's telerobotic art projects created around his research with the Industrial Engineering and Operations Research School at Berkeley were in the realm of what he termed "telepistemology", the study of ways of knowing, and the validity of what we know, if that knowledge is gained at a distance, through the internet. He encourages what he calls "the resumption of disbelief," being skeptical of what we find on the internet. His Dislocation of Intimacy project wondered if all that we discover about the world through the internet, which seems like everything, might be nothing more than the shadows on the walls seen by the prisoners in Plato's cave parable. He combined this with wondering about a place for genuine mystery and wonder in this world, with a mechanism that was a telerobotic version of Duchamp's hidden noise in ball of twine project. Whether to dismantle something to find out how it works or accept the mystery is a crucial question in today's world.

All of the telerobotic projects were available to anyone, anywhere online, and the opening up of university research to the world is part of an going mission. There's a Los Angeles Times article posted on the Berkeley Center for New Media's website that looks at the phenomenon of university lectures delivered through i-Tunes as free podcasts.

By making hundreds of lectures from elite academic institutions available online for free, Apple is reinvigorating the minds of people who have been estranged from the world of ideas.

For several years universities have posted recorded lectures on their internal websites, giving students a chance to brush up on their classes or catch ones they missed.

But 28 colleges and universities, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford and Yale, now post select courses without charge at iTunes.

The universities want to promote themselves to parents and prospective students, as well as strengthen ties with alumni. Some also see their mission as sharing the ivory tower's intellectual riches with the rest of the world.

"It was something we couldn't easily do before the digital age," UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said.

Michelle Quinn. LA Times. November 24, 2007

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