The MIT Media Lab’s fourth director, Joichi “Joi” Ito, dropped out of college in the U.S.―twice―before becoming, variously, a successful DJ, an Internet entrepreneur, a venture capitalist, a digital activist, and a writer.
He might seem an odd choice as director of most academic institutions. At the Media Lab, however―home to many projects that combine art, design, and cutting-edge technology in creative and occasionally bizarre ways―he seems a perfect fit. The Media Lab’s unusually broad focus―it offers degrees in Media Arts and Sciences―has produced technologies including E-Ink, Guitar Hero, and One Laptop per Child’s $100 laptop.
Ito made early stage investments in Twitter, Flickr, Last.fm, Six Apart, and Technorati, and many other Internet companies. He is the chairman of Creative Commons and serves on the board of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Open Source Initiative and the Mozilla Foundation, as well as his own consultancy Digital Garage, and he is the CEO of venture firm Neoteny Labs. He has consistently helped explain, and influence, the development of Internet technology and culture.
Ito talked to Technology Review about his vision for the Lab during the EmTech conference, hosted at the Media Lab this week.
TR: The Media Lab has a reputation for coming up with cool ideas in lots of different areas. How do you plan to keep things fresh?
Ito: That’s a good question. Some of the stuff like LuminAR [a lamp that projects a computer interface onto any surface], was actually an idea from decades ago, they just couldn’t make it back then because computers weren’t small enough. So some of these ideas are also remembering old ideas and saying, “Oh, we can do that now.”
But, really, I think doing fresh things is in the DNA of the Media Lab. I don’t have to work very hard to have that happen. It happens very naturally in the group. Some of the ideas are crazy. But they’re unique.
What are the most exciting, and interesting, areas of research at the Media Lab right now?
All of them are exciting. We have lost a few arts faculty, and so we probably need to hire more faculty members in the arts area. But art is very broad―for us it could be food or dance or music or whatever. Or video games. We like to do things before everyone else is doing them, and if everyone else starts doing them, then we like to move on.