IBM is expected to demonstrate a brace of social networking technologies at the nine-day Cambridge Science Festival, which gets under way Saturday.
The festival, which covers science from Darwin and Galileo to oceanography and biotechnology, draws tens of thousands of visitors to Cambridge, Mass., the home of MIT and Harvard, where so many computer innovations have been developed. One of the most popular social networking programs -- Facebook -- was created at Harvard.
While the festival is meant to appeal to people from all walks of life and all ages, the idea is to make science and technology interesting and fun.
"We're now talking about tens of thousands of people engaging with science and technology through the festival," said John Durant, director of the MIT museum, which has organized the festival. "It's about spreading curiosity."
An IBM spokesman said more than a dozen programs with social networking overtones will be demonstrated at IBM facilities in Cambridge. He noted that as popular social networking applications like Facebook and MySpace have swept into consumer markets, similar -- but more secure -- applications are moving into corporate IT environments.
"They start out as consumer applications," he said. "Then it takes just a few steps forward for them to become useful in the enterprise."
One application that has been gaining acceptance in businesses is IBM's Sametime 3D, which enables participants to move into virtual spaces from instant message chats. Once there, avatars can brainstorm and bat around ideas in a secure environment. Worthwhile documents can be stored for later retrieval.
Microsoft, which has new research facilities in Cambridge, is also participating in the festival. In one demo, visitors to the Microsoft facilities can control audio and video playback of objects falling. Speed and directions of falling objects are controlled by visitors' movements.
At another event, two MIT professors, Sherry Turkle and Cynthia Breazeal, will present their findings on "Sociable Robots" and discuss how robots can communicate. Their program announcement says it perfectly: "Basically, these women are the key to what you've all been waiting for -- a robot that loves you back."
The festival's activities are available online.
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