I do both historical and contemporary research on architecture, design, information, communication, technology and communication. The same themes tend to emerge in my work, regardless of the time period or location.

historical research

artificial intelligence, design, and architecture

My book Architectural Intelligence: How Designers and Architects Created the Digital Landscape will be published Fall 2017 by MIT Press.  It is based on case studies on Christopher Alexander, Cedric Price, Richard Saul Wurman, and Nicholas Negroponte’s Architecture Machine Group at MIT (the predecessor to the MIT Media Lab), and how their work from the 1960s–80s applied architectural approaches to information systems, and similarly, how they applied informational structures and processes to architecture, such as computer-aided design, heuristics and artificial intelligence. It looks critically at how these figures and their collaborations put in place the foundations of interaction design.

postal services and pneumatic tube systems

It really is a series of tubes. In the late 19th century, major financial centers on all continents except Antarctica used subterranean pneumatic postal services to get telegrams and mail across the city quickly. After 1907, they brought these capabilities inside of buildings. Pneumatic tubes went where capital went (and vice-versa).

contemporary research

big data, place and personal identity

How do we develop a sense of place within our own data? Does data have a place? What does it mean to lead an increasingly algorithmed life, in which data mining predicts more about us before we even know ourselves, before we are born? 

mobile phones & social networking

  • Social networking websites and friendship: With ReD Associates in Copenhagen for Intel, we studied how social networking was changing the notion of friendship in China and the UK. I was a part of the Shanghai team.
  • Mobile technology and fluid time: in 2004, I conducted a study on how people coordinate as they get ready for events, noting what technologies and platforms they used leading up to the event.



  1. Hello Molly
    I viewed recently, just by chance, on YouTube, a very brief lecture about the history of ‘pneumatic tubes’. Although I found your presentation entertaining, and effervescent gesticulation always makes me smile, I felt it didn’t do justice to recounting the development and invention by British engineers without whom the system would not have flourished in Victorian/Edwardian times. No mention of Josiah Latimer Clarke ‘In 1854, he took out a patent “for conveying letters or parcels between places by the pressure of air and vacuum,” and later, in 1863, was concerned in the construction, by the London Pneumatic Despatch Company, of a tube between the London North-West District post office and Euston station, London’. Without my great-grandfather inventing the ‘double-sluice valve’ in 1870 the system would not have become successful. I hope you are well. Best regards
    Brian P. Willmot

  2. Hi Molly!

    I stumbled upon your work through Kathy Baxter’s ginormous list of AI/Ethics resources in the world. I watched your presentation at IXDA and was floored/relieved/excited and overwhelmed with the desire to reach out. I have an anthro background mixed with interwar Japanese history. I’ve existed in the digital health space, helping companies think through design, market position, communications. I’ve done work in design thinking/human centered research/ethnography and community-based co-design and have recently begun to pay closer to the conversation AI and ethics. I’ve seen the roll out of standards, terms, protocols and your question about what we REALLY mean by ethics? AND also – where do company’s liability for “ethical use of their products end struck a chord.

    If you haven’t, I HIGHLY recommend my professor, Orit Halpern’s book, Beautiful Data. And also, if you haven’t encountered Giorgia Lupi’s book Dear Data, I very much suggest checking her out. Giorgia just joined Pentagram Design as a partner, and also runs Acurat, a data design studio out of Milan and NYC. I worked with her on a project to visualize care ecosystems. Orit is just magical and has been thinking about the history of our methods of inquiry and reflection in terms of science and technology for some time. I can’t imagine she’s not paying attention to AI right now, as well.

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