MIT's Media Lab Director Joi Ito Thinks Singularity's View Is Wrong

Friday, January 25, 2013

Joi Ito

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this week, the director of the MIT Media Lab, Joi Ito said the visions of computers and humans put forward by Ray Kurzweil and other proponents of the Singularity emphasizes the wrong priorities for development. According to Ito, technological progress should aim for resilience, not efficiency.
It may seem strange but Joichi Ito, the director of the MIT Media Lab, and a high tech investor does not support Ray Kurzweil's view of the Singularity.

According to Ito, who recently spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Kurzweil's vision of the Singularity-- when super intelligent artificial intelligence and nanotechnology make immortally possible and computer progress is so fast that the future becomes profoundly unknowable -- is a bad idea.

Active in the internet, Ito is the Chairman of Creative Commons. He is also currently on the board of Digital Garage, Culture Convenience Club (CCC), Tucows,, EPIC, Technorati, and WITNESS.

As a venture capitalist and angel investor Ito was an early stage investor in Kickstarter ,Twitter, Six Apart, Technorati, Flickr, SocialText, Dopplr,, Rupture, Kongregate, Etology Inc, Fotopedia and other Internet companies.

The author of Emergent Democracy, Ito has been head of the MIT Media Lab since September 2011, considered an "unusual choice" since Ito studied at two colleges, but did not finish his degrees.

At Davos, Ito said he believes the Singularity vision puts the wrong priorities first.

"I'm on the other side of the Singularity guys. I don't think immortality is a good thing," Ito said. People who think about maximizing efficiency "don't think about the ecological, social-network effects. In the future, every science invention we do should be at least neutral," and preferably positive.

Media Lab MIT

"When you introduce immortality, you have to think about what does it do to the system. At the Media Lab, our design principle is not to make the world more efficient, but making the system more resilient, more robust."

Ito sees the rise of robotics and AI as an impetus to change education.

"You're training kids to become obedient members of a mass-production society," he said. "But as there's more and more automation, you want people to be more and more creative," like kindergarten when children spend more time playing around, exploring, and teaching each other. Educational testing and evaluation today judges kids in a computer-free testing environment completely unrelated to what's in the real world.

Today, "you can look on the Internet, you can ask your friends," Ito said. "'Cheating' is actually a feature. Success as an adult is how resourceful you are at getting people to help you do things. Those are all unassessed things" in today's schools and tests.

Following these principles, the Ito-led MIT Media Lab favors a more unstructured environment. "Our students and faculty can explore whatever they want. We just let them go," Ito said. "If you're not asking permission and writing proposals, the cost of innovation is very low."

Students can talk about ideas in the morning and "by the afternoon they've built a prototype," he said, especially now that 3D printers make rapid prototyping a reality.

Ito had grand visions for how 3D printers will change manufacturing. "We're going to be manufacturing things everywhere instead of centrally. Every single person is going to become a designer," he predicted.

Ito thinks technology should help people rethink what's possible with cities, he also said.

He proposes people able should be able to do things like page buses on demand, and rentable commuter bicycles should be cheaper to use if people drop them off in high-demand areas.

"We're trying to look at the city from a software perspective and build the hardware around it," Ito said.

SOURCE  CNET, Top Image: Joi Ito

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