Corporate executives have flocked by the hundreds to Nicholas Negroponte's Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Thousands, perhaps millions more people have caught up to his futuristic visions by reading his 1995 best-seller, "Being Digital," or his monthly columns in Wired magazine.

Mr. Negroponte travels the world to advise companies and governments on ideas pioneered at the laboratory he founded in 1984: digital television, intelligent agents, robotics, thinking machines. The gist of his message is that it is far easier to work with computer bits, which can be transported effortlessly and without regard to distance from one machine to another, than with cumbersome matter.

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