Do cognitive skills always peak early and then decline? Not according to a new study by MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital researchers. By catapulting the research project into the universe of online games, they were able to get information from a vastly larger pool of people than previous studies. And their findings shook up conventional views.

Crowdsourcing reseeach through online games.

Crowdsourcing research through online games produces more diverse data. Illustration: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT

Fluid intelligence, the ability to think quickly and recall information, was thought to peak around age 20, says coauthor Joshua Hartshorne, a postdoc in MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. However, being able to tap some three million test subjects online led Hartshorne and coauthor Laura Germine, a MGH postdoc, to make several surprising discoveries—including that fluid intelligence may peak as late as the 40s. The data also showed that crystallized intelligence, the accumulation of facts and knowledge, may peak in the 60s or the early 70s.

Having a larger pool of subjects produced better data.

Josh Hartshorne

Josh Hartshorne is a post-doc in MIT’s  computational cognitive science group.

“Most of what we know about the human mind comes from studying children under five years old, college students, and retirees … because those are the people who have time to take out of their day to come into the laboratory,” says Harthorne. “This really limits how much of the human experience we understand. Even worse, for the most part, we are mostly able to study people who are part of a university community—again, because those are the people who are nearby the laboratory.”

“By switching to using the Internet, we can get a much more diverse population, and so we are in a better position to understand what generalizes and what does not. Otherwise, we are in the dangerous situation of trying to extrapolate from MIT undergraduates to the entire human race.”

All that data also allowed them to use a statistical technique called bootstrapping.

“The basic problem is in our actual data, it may be that people who are 33 years old did the best. But that could be due to random chance. How do you know that the people who are 33-years-old really are doing reliably better than people at other ages? What you’d like to do is run the experiment many times and see if you usually find the 33-year-olds doing the best. In bootstrapping, you use the data you collected to simulate those additional experiments.”

What are some other intelligence timestamps?

  • Raw speed in processing information appears to peak around age 18 or 19.
  • Short-term memory improves until around age 25, holds steady for a decade, then begins to drop off.
  • The ability to evaluate the emotional states of other people peaks in the 40s or 50s.

Now you can play

You can compare your responses in a series of quick games and quizzes to others of your age and education range on these research web sites: gameswithwords.org and testmybrain.org.

Read the MIT News article, the “Rise and Fall of Cognitive Skills,” to learn more. Or check out Hartshorne’s other writing on topics on such as brain games and the role of citizen scientists.

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An artist's illustration of the European Space Agency's comet-chasing Rosetta spacecraft. Image: space.com

An artist’s illustration of the European Space Agency’s comet-chasing Rosetta spacecraft. Image: space.com

After more than 10 years in space, the Rosetta spacecraft’s lander touched down on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on November 12, 2014, making the Rosetta mission the first to successfully land a spacecraft on a comet’s surface. For the European Space Agency’s Philippe Kletzkine SM ’83, who served as the lander’s manager, it was a career highlight—the culmination of an ambitious 15-year project that covered more than six billion kilometers and required great patience.

When he joined the Rosetta team in 2000, the challenges were formidable. “Remember, all this was done with 1990s technology and a limited budget,” Kletzkine says. “The greatest difficulty was to design to an unknown environment. How do you specify the elements of a landing gear when you don’t know whether you will land on compact hard rock, porous terrain, or fluffy regolith? We did not even know what the gravity field of the comet would be like.”

The journey included a 31-month spacecraft hibernation designed to conserve energy and a tense moment during landing when the two harpoons on the lander, known as Philae, could not anchor in the surface and the lander settled under a cliff. That will make it more difficult to recharge the secondary battery using solar panels when the primary is empty.

Philippe Kletzkine SM ’83

Philippe Kletzkine SM ’83

Philae is likely to have settled down quite far from the original touchdown but still in good health and attitude,” Kletzkine says. “The drawback is that Philae has now settled in a much less sunny area.”

Kletzkine moved on to other ESA projects during Rosetta’s journey and is now project manager for the Solar Orbiter, a satellite that aims to travel closer to the sun than any satellite has ever gone before.

“We’re now right in the middle of the development,” he says. “Our goal is to launch in 2017 or 2018.”

Over his career, Kletzkine has spent nearly 30 years at ESA, including a three-year stint in French Guiana, where he worked on satellite and commercial launches. Between graduating from MIT and joining the ESA, he served in the French Air Force, where he worked on space-related programs.

Kletzkine is thankful for his MIT experience, with only one exception. “My MIT education gave me added insights into other engineering cultures, and this came in very handy in my later career,” he says. “The only thing I could never really get accustomed to was nonmetric units—it’s archaic and inelegant, and also risky.”

Kletzkine currently works at the ESA center in the Netherlands, where he lives with his wife, Wilma. They have three children, Daniella, Stephanie, and Jonathan, and one granddaughter, Yaela.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2015 edition of MIT Technology Review magazine.

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Can’t attend SXSW Interactive this week? By our count, more than a hundred alumni are presenting at this year’s conference, and four alumni joined us for last week’s #MITAlum SXSW Preview Twitter chat, co-sponsored by MIT’s Comparative Media Studies/Writing Department.

Sam Ford SM ’07 tweeted about the paid editing conundrum on Wikipedia, and Geoffrey Long SM ’07 tweeted his predictions on how virtual reality will impact storytelling. Denise Cheng SM ’14 and Matt Stempeck SM ’13 discussed how reputation management and online rating systems are changing the market and free speech. Check out the conversation recapped in tweets below.

Keepin’ It Real
At their March 13th talk “The Real Risks of “Keepin’ It Real” Cheng and Stempeck addressed how the share economy is bringing issues of credibility to the forefront. They previewed key points with us on Twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Storytelling of the Future Geoffrey Long SM ’07 gave his predictions for the future of storytelling. His talk “Storytelling with the New Screens” was held on Sunday, March 15.

 

 

Wikipedia
Sam Ford SM ’07 discussed the conflict-of-interest policies that Wikipedia has in place and how they are thawing the once icy relationship between PR executives and Wikipedians. His “Getting Past ‘Gotcha’” talk was on March 13.

 

Free Speech and Anonymity
We also explored how reputation management brings up questions of free speech.


And connections were made…

Follow MIT Alumni’s Twitter channel all week for additional on-the-ground updates from SXSW. Check out the MIT CMS/W complete Storify of the chat. 

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Happy Super Pi Day! In honor of an event that happens only once a century, we bring you our take on this special day. Please note publication time of 3.14.15 at 9:26 a.m. ET. Please enjoy and share!

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03.13.15_Pi_Day_crop

Tomorrow is Pi day and MIT offers infinite ways to celebrate. This day, observed on March 14, 2015, is actually Super Pi Day because the numeral date format represents the first five digits of the mathematical constant—3.1415.

For students applying for the Class of 2019, it is a momentous day. Some 850 will be very happy indeed with their acceptance news. Tomorrow morning at 9:26 a.m.—to continue with the next few digits of Pi—they will be able to check the results of their applications online. They also will get the news earlier than previous classes.

In recent years, MIT posted admission decisions online at 6:28 p.m., which is called Tau Time, to equally honor the rival numbers Pi and Tau. Not quite sure about the debate between Pi and Tau? Here’s the answer in a short video, Tau vs Pi Smackdown. If you are a glutton for Pi, you can peruse Numberphile’s list of Pi day videos.

In anticipation of the acceptance decisions, the Admissions Office created a fabulous video that shows a swarm of drones taking off from the Great Dome and delivering MIT acceptance tubes worldwide. In reality, though, drones were not involved. At least not this year.

If you’re looking for ways to honor this special day, here are some on-campus options:

Pi Day celebration at Ashdown House last year

The Pi Day celebration at Ashdown House last year. Photo credit: Aarthy Kannan Adityan, Ashdown House.

Students can party at the seventh-annual Pi Day event put on by the Ashdown House. This year’s event, a collaboration with Sidney-Pacific, will be held from 6:00–8:00 p.m. in the Hulsizer room and will include pie-throwing contests and a Pi recital competition.

Also Saturday night, the MIT Alumni Arts Exchange is hosting a special arts and music event for Super Pi Day from 6:00–10:00 p.m. in the Media Lab. Students will enjoy savory and sweet pies, a delicious way to celebrate the mathematical constant. Click here to register for the event.

Further afield, you can celebrate Pi Day virtually:

Pi-card-03-13-15

Pi Day e-cards

Click here to learn more about Pi Day in years past at  MIT.

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Professor Munther Dahleh

Professor Munther Dahleh

At the next Faculty Forum online on March 19, you can find out what 21st century statistics means and how this new approach can shape global problem solving. Plus you can ask your own questions either now via email or during the 45-minute live webcast.

The speaker is Munther Dahleh, an expert in areas from networked systems to the future of the electric grid. Dahleh, the William A. Coolidge Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, will lead a new center at MIT aimed at applying 21st century statistics to diverse problems from systems behavior to social networks.

Dahleh is already working with complex problems. He is the acting director of the Engineering Systems Division, founded in 1998 to undertake interdisciplinary, systems approaches to challenges such as making healthcare affordable and accessible and managing global manufacturing and supply chains. He led the Laboratory for Information and Decisions Systems, an interdepartmental research center engaged in the analytical information and decision sciences. Both ESD and LIDS will become part of the new, as yet unnamed, entity, which will also include a significant new initiative in statistics.

During the Faculty Forum Online, Dahleh will share his hopes for this new undertaking and take questions from the worldwide MIT community via interactive chat.

Register today to participate in the Thursday, March 19, webcast from noon-12:45 p.m. EDT. A link to the webcast will be sent upon registration. A reminder email will be sent on the morning of the event. Email questions for the speaker ahead of time or ask them live or via Twitter using #mitfaculty.

About Munther Dahleh

Munther Dahleh’s research interests include networked systems, social networks, the future electric grid, transportation systems, and systemic risk. He is a three-time winner of the prestigious George Axelby Outstanding Paper Award from IEEE, winner of the Eckman Award for the best control engineer under 35, and a fellow of IEEE. At MIT, he has received the Graduate Student Council’s best teaching award. He is currently the housemaster at MacGregor House and the chair of the Committee on Discipline.

In the Press

The Connector,” MIT News
Dahleh appointed leader in LIDS,” MIT News
Gaming the System,” Technology Review

About Faculty Forum Online

Up to eight times per season, the Faculty Forum Online presents compelling interviews with faculty on timely and relevant topics, including nuclear weapons, neuroscience, digital privacy, and climate policy and research. Viewers watch and participate in live 30-minute interviews via interactive chat. Since its inception in 2011, archival editions of these programs have been viewed more than 75,000 times.

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Jose Cisneros

José Cisneros ’78

In February 2014, President Barack Obama named José Cisneros ’78 to the new President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans. In large part, this was an acknowledgement of Cisneros’s work to help lower-income residents in San Francisco enter the financial mainstream. Appointed city treasurer in 2004 and elected to three terms since, Cisneros has spearheaded innovative financial programs for adults as well as kids.

Cisneros launched his Office of Financial Empowerment because he believes that all San Franciscans are responsible for safeguarding the city’s money. “When people use fewer resources, maintain current resources, and contribute new resources through taxes, San Francisco stays strong,” he says.

Perhaps his most well-known program is Kindergarten to College, credited with helping thousands of children from low-income families start saving and planning for higher education.

The program works this way: each fall, as some 4,500 new kindergartners begin public school in the city, they receive an initial deposit of $50 in a savings account. In the years between kindergarten and college, a student’s family can add to the account and receive bonuses and matching funds in the process. Families can withdraw from the account only to pay for tuition and other expenses for the child’s postsecondary education.

“We all know $50 is not going to pay for college,” Cisneros told one interviewer. “[But] just the existence of the account builds aspiration in the child’s mind.” And this assertion is backed up by research: a 2010 Washington University study reported that children with savings accounts are up to seven times more likely to attend college than those without an account.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in management at MIT, Cisneros worked in both finance and management at Bank of Boston, Lotus Development, and IBM. That, followed by two years at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority, gave him the skills he’s used to tackle such
ambitious projects.

Cisneros’s dream of financially empowering low-income families now extends beyond San Francisco. More than 100 cities and communities have replicated his office’s Bank On program, which helps families find and enroll in fee-free checking accounts. In 2008, in partnership with New York City, Cisneros founded the Cities for Financial Empowerment Coalition. The coalition now works to advance financial empowerment opportunities in 14 major cities across the United States. More than 21 million American households have access to its programs.

Last year was an exciting one for Cisneros personally as well. A longtime advocate of rights for same-sex couples in California, he married his partner of 24 years in August.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2015 edition of MIT Technology Review magazine.

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MIT2_crop

The U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings on America’s best colleges and graduate schools were first released in 1983. In that time, the rankings and comprehensive guidebooks have become an integral part of the college application process and MIT has placed high in nearly every applicable category.

The magazine’s 2016 graduate rankings were officially released on March 10 and the Institute ranked first in more than 20 categories and sub-categories, including the best engineering graduate program for the 27th consecutive year.

The first-place School of Engineering’s top-ranked graduate programs include aerospace/aeronautical/astronautical engineering, chemical engineering, computer engineering (tied), electrical/electronic/communications engineering (tied), materials engineering, and mechanical engineering.

MIT’s other top-ranked graduate programs and departments include:

Biological Sciences
Economics
Chemistry
Computer Science
Discrete Mathematics and Combinatorics
Econometrics
Information Systems
Inorganic Chemistry
Materials Engineering
Math
Mechanical Engineering
Physics
Production/Operations
Supply Chain/Logistics

The MIT Sloan School of Management was ranked the fifth best graduate program for business and Sloan’s graduate program in entrepreneurship ranking third. Overall, more than 60 MIT programs and departments ranked in the top 10. View all of U.S. NewsMIT rankings.

In determining rank, U.S. News weighs factors such as reputation, research activity, quality of faculty, research, and students, and student selectivity to rank the top graduate engineering schools.

U.S. News released its most-recent undergraduate ranking in September 2014. MIT was ranked seventh overall among national universities and had the top-ranked undergraduate engineering program for the 25th consecutive year.

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Click the image to see the full list of MIT-connected SXSW Interactive presenters.

Click the image to see the full list of MIT-connected SXSW Interactive presenters.

The annual South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive festival is the world’s largest incubator for emerging technologies, new ideas, and inspired innovations. So it’s no surprise that the MIT community has a huge presence throughout the conference.

Alumni Association research indicates that more than 100 MITers will present their research during the five-day festival, which begins on Friday, March 13. (The other SXSW festivals, film and music, take place March 13–21 and March 17–22, respectively.)

The MIT contingent includes mix of faculty, alumni, and researchers on a number of eclectic topics, including the end of disability (Associate Professor Hugh Herr SM ’93); creating innovation (2015 MIT Commencement speaker Megan Smith ’86, SM ’88); the future of connected objects (Jennifer Dunnam MArch ’12); and how robots are changing the way we prepare food (Jacquelyn Martino PhD ’06).

See the Alumni Association still-growing list on MIT-connected presenters.

For more information on MIT’s role at the festival, join the #MITAlum SXSW Preview Twitter chat on Tuesday, March 10, at noon EDT. The chat will feature four alumni SXSW presenters who will answer questions and discuss their upcoming SXSW presentations. (Bio info via SXSW Interactive.)

Denise Cheng SM ’14, “The Real Risks of ‘Keepin’ It Real’

cheng “Denise has spoken, written, and been quoted widely by NPR, Harvard Business Review, NextCity, the New Museum, and others about the sharing economy. In the past, she co-founded and structured a citizen journalism outlet that became a national model for hyperlocal and citizen journalism.

Sam Ford SM ’07, “Paid Editing of Wikipedia: Getting Past ‘Gotcha’

ford“Sam Ford is director of audience engagement with Peppercomm. Sam was named 2014 Digital Communicator of the Year and a Social Media MVP by PR News and 2011 Social Media Innovator of the Year by Bulldog Reporter.”


Geoffrey Long SM ’07
, “Storytelling with the New Screens

long“Having previously been the Lead Narrative Producer for Microsoft Studios, in a think tank under Microsoft’s Chief Experience Officer and Chief Software Architect, a researcher and Communications Director for the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab, a magazine editor and a film producer, he serves as the Technical Director and a Research Fellow for USC’s Annenberg Innovation Lab.”

Matt Stempeck SM ’13, “The Real Risks of ‘Keepin’ It Real’

stempeck“Matt’s a civic technologist. He’s studied and built creative technologies in advocacy, politics, startups, news media, and peer-to-peer humanitarian aid. He became a Master of Science at the MIT Media Lab’s Center for Civic Media, and is now serving as Director of Civic Technology for Microsoft in New York City.”

The Twitter chat is co-sponsored by the MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing department. Tweet your questions and follow along with the hashtag #MITAlum beginning at noon EDT.

Are you attending SXSW? Let us know on social media. Tweet your photos to @MIT_alumni and post to the Alumni Association Facebook page.

 

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Teenager painting a wall, Oaxaca, Mexico (© Owen Franken)

Teenager painting a wall, Oaxaca, Mexico (© Owen Franken)

Curious about Owen Franken? View more of his work via the Franken Photo of the Week category, learn more in this profile, read a What Matters opinion column he wrote called “Life in Brownian Motion,” or visit his Web site.

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