Professor Balakrishnan Rajagopal, in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning assumed the role of special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing — through an appointment by the United Nations Human Rights Council. He recently spoke on human rights in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic and how he plans to address other challenges in his new appointment.

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Photo credit: M.Iacobo

Q: What is the role of the UN special rapporteur? How does the UN address human rights challenges through mechanisms such as these?

A: Special rapporteurs are independent experts who are voted in to…

How to use data as a tool for empowerment rather than oppression

Like words on a page or paint on a canvas, a message that is shared through data represents the thoughts and ideas of the person who shares it. Data analytics and the resulting insights communicated through visualizations have done tremendous good in the world, from easing and stopping disease to exposing exploitation and human rights violations. At the same time data analytics and algorithms all too often exclude women, the poor, and ethnic groups. How do we reconcile the potential of data to marginalize people and reinforce racism…

By Ezra Haber Glenn

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This article was originally published by Experience Magazine, a publication of Northeastern University that tells stories at the intersection of humanity and technology. Follow @expmag

I am sitting in the dark, in a crowded room of strangers, watching black and white images of the city of Los Angeles, circa 1940, flicker past on a screen. The film has no traceable plot, and the city itself is the only character — other than the people in the audience, who, I come to realize, are the real performers.

As the movie unfolds and the room warms up, people…

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Photo credit: M. Iacobo

New ideas, better policies can help sustain good careers

Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office

The American workforce is at a crossroads. Digitization and automation have replaced millions of middle-class jobs, while wages have stagnated for many who remain employed. A lot of labor has become insecure, low-income freelance work.

Yet there is reason for optimism on behalf of workers, as scholars and business leaders outlined in an MIT conference on Wednesday. Automation and artificial intelligence do not just replace jobs; they also create them. And many labor, education, and safety-net policies could help workers greatly as well.

That was…

At MIT, a young architect finds the perfect platform for collaborative learning

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MIT graduate student Ous Abou Ras is focusing on the emergent field of computational architecture

AS A YOUNG CHILD, OUS ABOU RAS LOVED going to work with his father, an architect, and poring over building plans. Originally from Syria, Abou Ras grew up in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, and has always been drawn to building and design. “I used to love playing with LEGOs,” he recalls, “and initially I wanted to be an engineer.” …

New approach could spark an era of battery-free ocean exploration, with applications ranging from marine conservation to aquaculture.

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GPS isn’t waterproof. The navigation system depends on radio waves, which break down rapidly in liquids, including seawater. To track undersea objects like drones or whales, researchers rely on acoustic signaling. But devices that generate and send sound usually require batteries — bulky, short-lived batteries that need regular changing. Could we do without them?

MIT researchers think so. They’ve built a battery-free pinpointing system dubbed Underwater Backscatter Localization (UBL). Rather than emitting its own acoustic signals, UBL reflects modulated signals from its…

Researchers at MIT have designed a skin-like device that can measure small facial movements in patients who have lost the ability to speak.

By Anne Trafton/MIT News

People with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) suffer from a gradual decline in their ability to control their muscles. As a result, they often lose the ability to speak, making it difficult to communicate with others.

A team of MIT researchers has now designed a stretchable, skin-like device that can be attached to a patient’s face and can measure small movements such as a twitch or a smile. …

Reflections during critical moments

Now that I am close to graduating with a masters degree in City Planning, I’m reflecting on how I’ve grown in the past two years. It was a year before that, in the summer of 2017, when I decided to apply to grad school. By that time I had worked for five years at several architecture firms. I felt like I needed a career shift, but was also afraid of stepping away from a path I had carved for myself for more than a decade. The following letters are all written to myself in the summer of 2017 from myself…

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Let’s say, at the start of the video game, you opt to play as a circle.

Your character’s shape is important, but it’s not immediately clear why. Artist Ani Liu SM ’17 has designed it that way. You do know that your objective is to ascend the professional ladder from lowly intern to exalted CEO. But, as in life, some have it easier than others. You’ll see when you play.

Liu has imbued the video game — a work in progress called Shapes and Ladders: Battles of Bias and Bureaucracy —…

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Lacking a strong public transit system, residents of Nairobi, Kenya, often get around the city using “matatus” — group taxis following familiar routes. This informal method of transportation is essential to people’s lives: About 3.5 million people in Nairobi regularly use matatus.

Some years ago, around 2012, Sarah Williams became interested in mapping Nairobi’s matatus. Now an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP), she helped develop an app that collected data from the vehicles as they circulated around Nairobi, then collaborated with matatu owners and drivers to map the entire network…


The MIT School of Architecture + Planning: Design is the space between people and their environment. This is our territory.

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