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The Programmable Building

The MIT Media Lab’s Neil Gershenfeld tours the building of the future, where interchangeable power sockets, switches and appliances snap into the walls–then plug into the Internet.

Neil Gershenfeld thinks every light switch, power outlet, doorknob and thermostat should be on the Internet. That way, says the director of the MIT Media Lab’s new Center for Bits and Atoms, everything from climate control to security could be coordinated through a single Web-based interface. Such a system would simplify both construction and building management by doing away with the separate, incompatible control technologies currently needed to keep a large building comfortable and safe. What’s more, he says, embedding computing power in all a building’s systems and components could offer unprecedented flexibility and efficiency. Reconfiguring an office space, for example, would no longer mean an expensive and time-consuming rewiring job; switches, light fixtures and other components could be moved around on power tracks and reprogrammed at will. But there’s a catch. “The Internet, as we use it now, doesn’t work for every light switch and outlet,” Gershenfeld says. Standard networking technology is too expensive and complicated for such massive deployment. So Gershenfeld’s team is developing cheap, simple Internet devices able to network themselves with a minimum of human intervention. Technology Review senior editor Rebecca Zacks got a look at the technology in Gershenfeld’s lab, where he demonstrated a whole new way to turn on the lights.

Deep Dive

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Five poems about the mind

DREAM VENDING MACHINE I feed it coins and watch the spring coil back,the clunk of a vacuum-packed, foil-wrappeddream dropping into the tray. It dispenses all kinds of dreams—bad dreams, good dreams,short nightmares to stave off worse ones, recurring dreams with a teacake marshmallow center.Hardboiled caramel dreams to tuck in your cheek,a bag of orange dreams…

Work reinvented: Tech will drive the office evolution

As organizations navigate a new world of hybrid work, tech innovation will be crucial for employee connection and collaboration.

lucid dreaming concept
lucid dreaming concept

I taught myself to lucid dream. You can too.

We still don’t know much about the experience of being aware that you’re dreaming—but a few researchers think it could help us find out more about how the brain works.

panpsychism concept
panpsychism concept

Is everything in the world a little bit conscious?

The idea that consciousness is widespread is attractive to many for intellectual and, perhaps, also emotional
reasons. But can it be tested? Surprisingly, perhaps it can.

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Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

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