Heather Knight '06, SM '08, at Ignite LA.

Heather Knight '06, SM '08, at Ignite LA.

Think of it as stand-up for geeks. Ignite, a mesmerizing event series, creates a  stage for the technology-minded to present ideas fast—five minutes of microphone time with 20 slides clicking forward every 15 seconds.

Naturally, some MIT folks have hit the stage. Heather Knight ’06, SM ’08 of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab described how to make robots more social on a YouTube video filmed at Ignite LA on July 21. Her talk, “Turning AI Gurus into Comets: The Rise of the Charismatic Machine” describes an interactive installation she and a JPL team created for an artificial intelligence conference: they transformed participants’ cell phone signals into comet visualizations whizzing in space. She acknowledged her friendly robot bias, having worked in MIT’s Personal Robots Group and for the French firm Aldebaran Robotics, the first European humanoid robot manufacturer.

Inventor Saul Griffith SM ’01, PhD ’04, a 2007 MacArthur genius fellow, presented an Ignite talk on his cartoon book Howtoons. The title? “Subverting science education: HOWTOONS seeks to put joy, story, adventure, free-spirit, fun & ridiculousness, back into informal science education.”

Ignite was started by Brady Forrest, technology evangelist for O’Reilly Media, and Bre Pettis of Etsy.com, and inspired by Pecha Kucha Nights, where creatives got six minutes and 20 slides to share ideas. The first Ignite was held in Seattle in 2006 and the events have spread across the across the U.S. and worldwide. Check out the How-To section of the Ignite site to plan your own local geekathon.