Take Risks to Spark Innovation, Create Jobs: MIT Media Lab

Just when you thought you'd tried every diet trick in the book, along comes a robot.


Measuring only 15 inches high, the oddly named "Autom" promises to revolutionize our nation's approach to health and nutrition from the comfort of your kitchen counter.

This next-generation weight loss coach is one of the latest inventions spawned by the MIT Media Lab, a place whose name might not sound familiar but whose ideas likely fueled your holiday wish list.

Research at the Cambridge, Mass.-based brain oasis has crafted the technology behind the Amazon Kindle, Guitar Hero and LEGO Mindstorms, to name a few.

Frank Moss, Professor of the Practice at the MIT Media Lab and author of "The Sorcerers and Their Apprentices," visited CNBC's "Squawk Box" to explain how the institution's multi-disciplinary students, ranging from musicians to computer scientists and everything in between, combine old-fashioned smarts with cutting edge technological savvy to drum up tomorrow's great ideas.

Wired Business Conference 2011 - A CNBC Special Report
Wired Business Conference 2011 - A CNBC Special Report

With an annual operating budget of $35 million, innovation certainly does not come cheap. The lab is sponsored by more than 60 outside companies, many of which are household names, like Best Buy , Samsung , and Procter & Gamble .

These companies pay the bills on a subscription basis and, in turn, receive non-exclusive rights to the properties developed. The 139 graduate students enrolled in the university's program retain their own rights for the intellectual property they develop, and many use the fruits of their research to launch entrepreneurial ventures after graduating.

Cory Kidd, the founder and CEO of Innovative Automata, earned a PhD in human-robot interaction from the MIT Media Lab before inventing the Autom. According to Kidd, the transition from academia to the business world was seamless. "We've gone from the conceptual version of [the Autom] I built and tested at the Media Lab to what you see in front of you—a product that's actually coming out on the market," he said.

On the heels of last month's employment report, it's no secret that job creation is a major weakness in today's economy, especially in light of increased market competition around the globe. The Labor Department says employers posted a three million job openings in May, down from 3.1 million in April, a number that could undoubtedly use a boost from new products and services.

Yet, Moss says innovation in America is in big trouble. "Kids are programmed from the age of 3 to not take risk," Moss lamented, and by the time they finish college, most "have had the ability to take risk beaten out of them."

Though clearly not satisfied with the status quo, Moss is far from discouraged about our nation's creative future. "I'm on a crusade to use the MIT Media Lab to get innovation back in the system," Moss said.

And while even the brainiest of MIT's researchers likely won't solve our nation's long-term economic problems, tackling unemployment a few pounds lighter probably couldn't hurt, could it?