Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

AC Retreat Nov. 2016 PhotologAC Retreat Nov. 2016Fri, Nov 11, 17:59 UTC

John Brockman's EDGE asks a tough question every year. For 2007 the question was "What scientific term or concept ought to be more widely know?" My answer was:

Neurodiversity

Humans have diversity in neurological conditions. While some, such as autism are considered disabilities, many argue that they are the result of normal variations in the human genome. The neurodiversity movement is an international civil rights movement that argues that autism shouldn't be "cured" and that it is an authentic form of human diversity that should be protected.

In the early 1900s eugenics and the sterilization of people considered genetically inferior were scientifically sanctioned ideas, with outspoken advocates like Theodore Roosevelt, Margaret Sanger, Winston Churchill and US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. The horror of the Holocaust, inspired by the eugenics movement, demonstrated the danger and devastation these programs can exact when put into practice.

Temple Grandin, an outspoken spokesperson for autism and neurodiversity argues that Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Mozart and Nikola Tesla would have been diagnosed on the "autistic spectrum" if they had been alive today. She also believes that autism has long contributed to human development and that "without autism traits we might still be living in caves." Today, non-neurotypical children often suffer through a remedial programs in the traditional educational system only to be discovered to be geniuses later. Many of these kids end up at MIT and other research institutes.

With the discovery of CRISPR the possibility of editing the human genome at scale has suddenly become feasible. The initial applications that are being developed involve the "fixing" of genetic mutations that cause debilitating diseases, but they are also taking us down a path with the potential to eliminate not only autism but much of the diversity that makes human society flourish. Our understanding of the human genome is rudimentary enough that it will be some time before we are able to enact complex changes that involve things like intelligence or personality, but it's a slippery slope. I saw a business plan a few years ago that argued that autism was just "errors" in the genome that could be identified and "corrected" in the manner of "de-noising" a grainy photograph or audio recording.

Clearly some children born with autism are in states that require intervention and have debilitating issues. However, our attempts to "cure" autism, either through remediation or eventually through genetic engineering, could result in the eradication of a neurological diversity that drives scholarship, innovation, arts and many of the essential elements of a healthy society.

We know that diversity is essential for healthy ecosystems. We see how agricultural monocultures have created fragile and unsustainable systems.

My concern is that even if we figure out and understand that neurological diversity is essential for our society, I worry that we will develop the tools for designing away any risky traits that deviate from the norm, and that given a choice, people will tend to opt for a neuro-typical child.

As we march down the path of genetic engineering to eliminate disabilities and disease, it's important to be aware that this path, while more scientifically sophisticated, has been followed before with unintended and possibly irreversible consequences and side-effects.

See the answers from everyone else on Edge.

Andre and Karthik were both took the Principles in Awareness class that Tenzin Priyadarshi and I taught twice over the last few years. They both independently became interested in connecting the idea of non-duality and artificial intelligence. We'd been Slacking and chatting and thinking about the topic so I invited Andre over for lunch the other day and Skyped Karthik in from India and did a Facebook Live about the topic.

The audio is available on iTunes and SoundCloud.

The next step is to write up a short post about the idea. :-)

Virginia-Heffernan-Joi-Ito-3.png

I first met Virginia in 2015 when she and I were on a panel with Fareed Zarkaria at the Connecticut Forum. Late last year, she and Panio from Heleo reached out to see if I'd join Virginia in a conversation over Skype. Heleo "curates compelling, candid conversations between writers and thinkers about their work, research, and interests." You can see their great summary of the conversation on their website.

After the conversation, I asked if I could repackage the audio as a Podcast which you can find on iTunes and SoundCloud.

Virginia and I had recently gotten each other's books and a wide ranging but super-fun conversation ensued. It definitely left me excited to talk to Virginia again and expanded the perspective - thinking about the Internet in the context of art and design - that she covers in her book. We talk about the media, the Internet (yes, I still capitalize "Internet"), design, art, culture and many other things.

Also, as I explore various modes of publishing conversations online, I find it fascinating running into others exploring this space too.

If you've finished reading Whiplash, definitely pick up MAGIC AND LOSS: The Internet as Art if you haven't already. It's great.

Conversation with Shaka Senghor »

I recently had a Facebook Live conversation with Shaka Senghor, a Media Lab Director's Fellow and author. Shaka spent 19 years in prison for second-degree murder. In prison Shaka found a path to redemption initially through reading and then writing. I met him just after he had come out of prison. You can read more about this in the foreword to his book that I wrote. Shaka's an amazing leader, writer, inspiration and an important voice behind the fight against the systematic mass incarceration in the US. We talk about prison, his book, Writing My Wrongs and a bit...

Conversation with Ocean Explorer Katy Croff Bell »

Conversation with National Geographic Explorer and MIT Media Lab Director's Fellow, Katy Croff Bell about oceans, deep sea exploration and Nautilus Live. Audio available on iTunes and SoundCloud....

Conversation with Christopher M. Schroeder »

Conversation with Christopher M. Schroeder about Whiplash The Book, entrepreneurship, the Middle East, media and many other things. Audio available on iTunes and SoundCloud....

Conversation with Michael Harren of Mikeypod talking about Whiplash »

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Conversation with Stephen Downs from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation about Technology and Health »

Conversation with Stephen Downs, Chief Technology and Strategy officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation talking about health, technology, RWJF and the MIT Media Lab. Audio available on iTunes and SoundCloud....

Conversation at Chicago Metro with Joe Shanahan, Jeff Pazen and Aldona Urbutis »

In the late 80's, I was attending the University of Chicago, trying for the second time to complete my undergraduate degree. I was studying Physics and East Asian Studies. I started hanging out on the North Side of Chicago at the Cabaret Metro and Smart Bar where I discovered an amazing community. As someone exploring online communities at the time, I found myself learning more about what I wanted to learn - communities, culture, compassion, punk rock - than I was learning in school so I dropped out to become a regular DJ at Limelight and a occasional DJ...

Conversation with Kathy Matsui, Chief Japan Strategist for Goldman Sachs »

I've known Kathy for years from when I was an entrepreneur in Japan and later when I was a "business executive" and a member of things like Keizai Doyukai (Japanese Association of Corporate Executives). We were sometimes on panels together and would run into each other a lot at various meetings. Kathy, as the Chief Japan strategist for Goldman Sachs would often be about the important trends that were affecting Japan. I caught up with her recently to learn about women's role in Japanese business, business culture and a bit about Kathy's background and path. Audio on iTunes and...

Conversation with Kevin Esvelt about CRISPR Gene Drive and Whiplash »

Talking to Media Lab faculty member, Kevin Esvelt who runs the Sculpting Evolution group about his work in developing safe and ethical ways to deploy technologies like CRISPR gene drive. He is currently working in Nantucket with communities there to have a conversation about how to move research and deployment forward to try to eradicate Lyme disease. We talk about his work and how it connects with Whiplash. Audio available on iTunes and SoundCloud....

Safecast Conversation with Sean and Pieter from Safecast about Whiplash »

Conversation with my Safecast co-founders, Sean Bonner and Pieter Frank about Whiplash and citizen science. Safecast is an international, volunteer-centered organization devoted to open citizen science for the environment. After the devastating earthquake and tsunami which struck eastern Japan on March 11, 2011, and the subsequent meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, accurate and trustworthy radiation information was publicly unavailable. Safecast was formed in response, and quickly began monitoring, collecting, and openly sharing information on environmental radiation and other pollutants, growing quickly in size, scope, and geographical reach. Our mission is to provide citizens worldwide with the...
Whiplash by Joi Ito and Jeff Howe

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