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Ireland counts the cost of MIT Media Lab fiasco

$40m down the bog

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The Irish government invested $40m of taxpayers' money in MIT's Media's Lab Europe - and has bugger all to show for it.

A report by the Republic's public auditor-general also reveals that Media Lab executives awarded themselves large severance pay-offs when the money was running out, and refused to refund public money as the original agreement had specified.

Eire's comptroller called the output of the Media Lab over five years "dismal". The Lab netted only €7m in sponsorship and saw just 24 scientific papers published. In addition, 12 patents filed by the Lab are worthless. The Lab added nothing to Ireland's education drive while it went its merry way, and after liquidation will leave the Republic with just €300,000 in assets.

The European Media Lab was launched at the height of the tech bubble but closed its doors in January this year. Its output may disappoint the Irish government, but it won't surprise anyone familiar with the original MIT Media Lab.

The institution was founded in the 1980s by Nicholas Negroponte as a way of relieving gullible corporations of their money. The haphazard and often whimsical "research" was scorned by real computer scientists, but succeeding in its goal of attracting attention from a gadget-happy mass media. Negroponte even funded his own tech porn publication: Wired magazine, to promote the utopian adventure.

And they're still at it. This year we featured the Labs' Clocky - a shagpile-covered alarm clock that runs away from you.

The only difference with MIT Media Lab Eire is that the taxpayer, rather than, private donors, were invited to sponsor the playpen.

We can't improve on the Sunday Times description of the scandal, written by John Burns, which begins thus:

"One of its biggest research projects was a sensor to read people’s minds. But MediaLab Europe (MLE), a project that cost the Irish taxpayer almost €40m, must have thought the Irish government was already telepathic. It refused to tell ministers how many people it employed, what they were paid, or to provide audited accounts."

Ouch.®

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