Joi Ito on open, antidisciplinary universities

by Andreas Koller

In this interview with wired Joi Ito, the new director of the MIT Media Lab, explains why he sees the future of education and research in „open universities“. 27 years after its opening, Ito wants to open up the Media Lab into the „world’s leading ‚antidisciplinary‘ research lab“, where everybody, academically qualified or not, can take part. He sets out to create a movement based on disobedience and breaking the rules attempting to solve the world’s most persistent problems.

Instead of the traditional academic channel of writing papers, which doesn’t attract attention or funding any more, Ito says that relevance is measured by reaching out and expanding the network to everyone. By opening up and spreading the unique spirit of the the Media Lab into communities, Ito hopes to move closer towards his goal of „a world with seven billion teachers“.

„Openness is a survival trait.“ Joi Ito

The lab finally should become a movement with a strong political message, joining forces against capitalism, destructive and irresponsible behaviour:

„I want it to have a much stronger normative political message – a lot of the kids at the Media Lab today don’t want to make more money, don’t want to become immortal, they just want to figure out how to fix this unhealthy system we have. There are lots of kids who are not happy with this massive consumerism, this unsustainable growth, but who have really smart science and technology values. That’s a type of person we can draw into what I think will become a movement.“

Among the research goals of the lab would be to „capture serendipity“, not playing by the rules, allowing anyone to develop interest in anything they want, encouraging disobedience, and accepting failure as part of the process:

„Failure is another word for discovery.“ Joi Ito

The new key principles of the Media Lab are:

  • Encourage rebellion instead of compliance – no one ever won a Nobel prize by doing as they’re told
  • Practice instead of theory
  • Constant learning instead of education
  • Compass over map – know where you’re going but don’t plan too much, because your map might be wrong

Everything has changed, and innovation is not happening where the money is, but in dorm rooms using open-source software. „Suddenly, the world is out of control – the people innovating, disrupting, creating these tools, they’re not scholars. They’re antidisciplinary.“

The road Ito is leading the Media Lab reminds me in every detail of what is happening at the RCA and repeated over and over by Neville Brody. Their messages are the same, and listening to them it seems to me as we’re at a crucial point in history, where the democratisation and accessibility of knowledge and technology empowers people to rise against injustice and the most pertinent problems we face, as Nicholas Negroponte says: „The biggest is eliminating poverty. How do you have a world of infinite zero-cost energy, infinite zero-cost education, how do you make a creative society – all these seemingly unrealistic things? Whatever path you take, you know the answer is through technology. […] It is up to an organisation like the Media Lab to keep pushing that technological envelope.“

Read the whole interview on wired

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