MIT Explores `Personalized' Journals

THE news of the future is also under investigation at the Media Lab of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. The Media Lab is engaged in several projects that include artificial intelligence - machines that observe their owners and then predict what they might want to read.

Principal research scientist Walter Bender has been working on the idea of a "personal" newspaper (a newspaper with a readership of one) for 12 years. He explains that a personalized newspaper might give you the weather report for the city you are traveling to, for example, or highlight your hobby interests.

Surveys show that people are not very interested in the world around them, Bender says. "So I guess what I'm trying to do is get news to be more relevant. If we can get news to be relevant to the individual, if we can get them hooked, once they see news is useful and relevant, maybe they will broaden their horizons a little bit and become more informed."

Bender acknowledges ethical problems with the new technology, but says they exist in any information business. "No matter what you are going to be conveying, you will be conveying only a subset of what's really happening and you will be conveying it from a particular point of view.... Technology is going to exacerbate the situation."

"There is a continuum between the Boston Globe and the Bender Bugle," Bender says. "I can position myself anywhere [along that continuum] I want. It's not a matter of one or the other: I want to have a mechanism whereby I can look at the news, based on my individual predilections, and also based on the communities in which I exist. And I want to have room for the traditional expert to lead me by the nose. So I want all three."

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