Michael Hawley

Michael Hawley
Michael Hawley
Musician, Scientist, Educator

MICHAEL HAWLEY’S work and research have spanned the fields of psychology, music, cinema, human-computer interfaces, documentary photography, and more.

As a teenager he worked at Bell Labs (Murray Hill, New Jersey) in the linguistics department. He did his undergraduate work at Yale University in the areas of music and computer science; spent a year in Paris exploring early computer music research at IRCAM under Pierre Boulez; then did pioneering work in digital cinema at Lucasfilm in San Rafael, under George Lucas. The Computer Research Division at Lucasfilm gave birth to Pixar, among other things. He went on to do his doctoral work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) under Marvin Minsky. In the early 90's, while working closely with Steve Jobs at NeXT, he was key in the development of the world's first digital library, creating digital versions of Shakespeare and other classics. From 1993-2002, he  served on the faculty at MIT where he held the Alex W. Dreyfoos chair, and from there he became Director of Special Projects at MIT's Media Laboratory. Musical work from this period appeared on a CD, Music for Unix, distributed as an unusual supplement to the Usenix Journal of Computing Systems. (Where else would you hear a 9’6” Bösendorfer Imperial concert grand storming through Franz Liszt’s Totentanz (Dance of Death) accompanied by a symphony of a hundred digital synthesizers?)

Michael’s work at MIT included the co-founding and direction of several seminal research thrusts. Things That Think explored the manifold ways that digital elements (computation, sensing, communication) might be embedded in analog artifacts (tools, furniture, toys, etc). Toys of Tomorrow looked specifically at the brave new world of intelligence in playthings, and convened the world’s toy inventors, toy companies, and technology companies. A specific focus on domestic household infrastructure was launched with Counter Intelligence (which began as an exploration of new technology in the kitchen). Hawley and his students were among the first to build body-area networks, running marathons, instrumenting soldiers and divers to begin to devise the architecture of wearable health systems. And Michael led a series of more outward-facing expeditions, including major scientific expeditions on Everest, early digital photographic treks across Bhutan, plant biology research in Hawaii, glaciology in Greenland. All of these efforts involved the invention of systems for monitoring geological and ecological phenomena. In all, Hawley spent two decades at MIT and especially at the Media Lab.

Hawley is also a pianist and organist. He won first place, tying with Victoria Bragin, at the third International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs, hosted by the Van Cliburn Foundation in 2002. He has performed solo recitals, chamber concerts and appeared as soloist with major orchestras. Notably, his competition pieces included his own piano arrangement of Leonard Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from "West Side Story". He has also accompanied cellist Yo-Yo Ma in performances. He was prominently featured in the 2010 documentary Bach & Friends

For ten years, Hawley has directed "The Entertainment Gathering" conference (EG) in Monterey, California, a remarkable assemblage of makers and doers from every imaginable creative field of endeavor. His published work includes an unusual anomaly: BHUTAN: A VISUAL ODYSSEY ACROSS THE LAST HIMALAYAN KINGDOM measures 5x7 feet and weighs over 150 pounds. It is (according to Guinness) the world’s largest published book and blew the previous holder of that claim out of the water (John James Audubon’s Birds of America, about 2x3 feet).

Hawley has founded, advised and directed several startup companies, and also served on the board of a number of companies and philanthropic groups. He and his wife, Nina, and their two Bhutanese mastiffs live in a historic church in East Cambridge.