Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Lawrence Lessig PhotologLawrence LessigSun, May 7, 10:38 UTC

On May 13, 2018, I innocently asked:

240 replies later, it is clear that blogs don't make it into the academic journalsphere and people cited two main reasons, the lack of longevity of links and the lack of peer review. I would like to point out that my blog URLs have been solid and permanent since I launched this version of my website in 2002 but it's a fairly valid point. There are a number of ideas about how to solve this, and several people pointed out that The Internet Archive does a pretty good job of keeping an archive of many sites.

There was quite a bit of discussion about peer review. Karim Lakhani posted a link about a study he did on peer review:

In the study, he says that, "we find that evaluators systematically give lower scores to research proposals that are closer to their own areas of expertise and to those that are highly novel."

Many people on Twitter mentioned pre-prints which is an emerging trend of publishing drafts before peer review since it can take so long. Many fields are skipping formal peer review and just focusing on pre-prints. In some fields ad hoc and informal peer groups are reviewing pre-prints and some journals are even referring to these informal review groups.

This sounds an awful lot like how we review each other's work on blogs. We cite, discuss and share links -- the best blog posts getting the most links. In the early days of Google, this would guarantee being on the first page of search results. Some great blog posts like Tim O'Reilly's "What Is Web 2.0" have ended up becoming canonical. So when people tell me that their professors don't want them to cite blogs in their academic papers, I'm not feelin' it.

It may be true that peer review is better than the alternatives, but it definitely could be improved. SCIgen, invented in 2005 by MIT researchers creates meaningless papers that have been successfully submitted to conferences. In 2014 Springer and IEEE removed more than 120 papers when a French researcher discovered that they were computer-generated fakes. Even peer review itself has been successfully imitated by machines.

At the Media Lab and MIT Press, we are working on trying to think about new ways to publish with experiments like PubPub. There are discussions about the future of peer review. People like Jess Polka at ASAPbio are working on these issues as well. Very excited about the progress, but a long way to go.

One thing we can do is make blogs more citation friendly. Some people on Twitter mentioned that it's more clear who did what in an academic paper than on a blog post. I started, at the urging of Jeremy Rubin, to put credits at the bottom of blog posts when I received a lot of help -- for example my post on the FinTech Bubble. Also, Boris just added a "cite" button at the bottom of each of my blog posts. Try it! I suppose the next thing is to consider DOI numbers for each post although it seems non-obvious how independent bloggers would get them without paying a bunch of money.

One annoying thing is that the citation format for blogs suck. When you Goggle, "cite blog post," you end up at... a blog post about "How to Cite a Blog Post in MLA, APA, or Chicago." According to that blog post, the APA citation for this post would be, "Ito, J. (2018, May). Citing Blogs. [Blog post]." That's annoying. Isn't the name of my blog relevant? If you look at the Citing Electronic Sources section of the MIT Academic Integrity website, they link to the Purdue OWL page. Purdue gives a slightly more cryptic example using a blog comment in the square brackets, but roughly similar. I don't see why the name of my blog is less important than some random journal so I'm going to put it in italics - APA guidelines be damned. Who do we lobby to change the APA guidelines to lift blog names out of the URL and into the body of the citation?


Boris Anthony, Travis Rich for the work on citations for this blog and the discussion about the citation format.

Amy Brand for the link to the Peer Review Transparency site and the introduction to Jess Polka.

I received a lot of excited feedback from people who saw the 60 Minutes segment on the Media Lab. I also got a few less congratulatory messages questioning the "gee-whiz-isn't-this-all-great" depiction of the Lab and asking why we seemed so relentlessly upbeat at a time when so many of the negative consequences of technology are coming to light. Juxtaposed with the first segment in the program about Aleksandr Kogan, the academic who created the Cambridge Analytica app that mined Facebook, the Media Lab segment appeared, to some, blithely upbeat. And perhaps it reinforced the sometimes unfair image of the Media Lab as a techno-Utopian hype machine.

Of course, the piece clocked in at about 12 minutes and focused on a small handful of projects; it's to be expected that it didn't represent the full range of research or the full spectrum of ideas and questions that this community brings to its endeavors. In my interview, most of my comments focused on how we need more reflection on where we have come in science and technology over the 30-plus years that the Media Lab has been around. I also stressed how at the Lab we're thinking a lot more about the impact technology is having on society, climate, and other systems. But in such a short piece--and one that was intended to showcase technological achievements, not to question the ethical rigor applied to those achievements--it's no surprise that not much of what I said made it into the final cut.

What was particularly interesting about the 60 Minutes segment was the producers' choice of "Future Factory" for the title. I got a letter from one Randall G. Nichols, of Missouri, pointing out that "No one in the segment seems to be studying the fact that technology is creating harmful conditions for the Earth, worse learning conditions for a substantial number of kids, decreasing judgment and attention in many of us, and so on." If we're manufacturing the future here, shouldn't we be at least a little concerned about the far-reaching and unforeseen impact of what we create here? I think most of us agree that, yes, absolutely, we should be! And what I'd say to Randall is, we are.

In fact, the lack of critical reflection in science and technology has been on my mind-I wrote about it in Resisting Reduction. Much of our work at the Lab helps us better understand and intervene responsibly in societal issues, including Deb Roy's Depolarization by Design class and almost all of the work in the Center for Civic Media. There's Kevin Esvelt's work that involves communities in deployment of the CRISPR gene drive and Danielle Wood's work generally and, more specifically, her interest in science and racial issues. And Pattie Maes is making her students watch Black Mirror to imagine how the work we do in the Lab might unintentionally go wrong. I'm also teaching a class on the ethics and governance of AI with Jonathan Zittrain from Harvard Law School, which aims to ensure that the generation now rising is more thoughtful about the societal impact of AI as it is deployed. I could go on.

It's not that I'm apologetic about the institutional optimism that the 60 Minutes piece captured. Optimism is a necessary part of our work at the Lab. Passion and optimism drive us to push the boundaries of science and technology. It's healthy to have a mix of viewpoints-critical, contemplative, and optimistic-in our ecosystem. Not all aspects of that can necessarily be captured in 12 minutes, though. I'm sure that our balance of caution and optimism isn't satisfactory for quite a few critical social scientists, but I think that a quick look at some of the projects I mention will show a more balanced approach than would appear to be the case from the 60 Minutes segment.

Having said that, I believe that we need to continue to integrate social sciences and reflection even more deeply into our science and technology work. While I have a big voice at the Lab, the Lab operates on a "permissionless innovation" model where I don't tell researchers what to do (and neither do our funders). On the other hand, we have safety and other codes that we have to follow--is there an equivalent ethical or social code that we or other institutions should have? Harrison Eiteljorg, II thinks so. He wrote, "I would like to encourage you to consider adding to your staff at least one scholar whose job is to examine projects for the ethical implications for the work and its potential final outcome." I wonder, what would such a process look like?

More socially integrated work in technology has continued to increase in both the rest of society and at the Lab. One of my questions is whether the Lab is changing fast enough, and whether the somewhat emergent way that the work is infusing itself in the Lab is the appropriate way. Doing my own work in ethical and critical work and having conversations is the easiest way to contribute, but I wonder if there is more that we as a Lab should be doing.

One of the main arcs of the 60 Minutes piece was showing how technology built in the Lab's early days--touch screens, voice command, things that were so far ahead of their time in the 80s and 90s as to seem magical--have gone out into the world and become part of the fabric of our everyday lives. The idea of highlighting the Lab as a "future factory" was to suggest that the loftiest and "craziest" ideas we're working on now might one day be just as commonplace. But I'd like to challenge myself, and everyone at the Media Lab, to demonstrate our evolution in thoughtful critique, as well.

On Friday, I spoke at the Elemental Excelerator Earth Day Energy Summit in Honolulu. The discussion was about the push for Hawaii to become 100% free of fossil fuels.

It reminded me of when my mother and I lived in Hawaii in the 80s and she was working with the late Senator Dick Matsuura and others to explore the idea. My mother and father worked for Energy Conversion Devices (ECD). (I got my first job working with computers as a 13-year-old at ECD. I would later join the board of directors from 1995 - 2000.) ECD was a pioneer in the field of solar power having created the first amorphous photovoltaic cells and the first roll-to-roll process for manufacturing them. ECD was founded by the late Stanford Ovshinsky who was a great mentor to me. I remembered how 30 years ago, solar in Hawaii seemed like an obvious idea, but a somewhat dreamy one.

It was truly exciting to see solar energy become a reality and the goal of a solar powered Hawaii within reach. Huge congrats to everyone who has gotten us so far.

Saturday, I participated in a board meeting of the Excelerator (as an advisor) which is doing an amazing job supporting renewable energy companies.

My mother loved Hawaii and when she died in 1995, we buried half of her ashes in our grave of 17 generations in Iwate at our family home. The other half of her ashes were released into the ocean off of Maui in a traditional Hawaiian ceremony. It was a full circle connection to my mother and her dreams of a solar powered Hawaii and my current role working on climate and energy issues with my friends at the Emerson Elemental.

My comments at the John Perry Barlow Memorial Symposium yesterday »

Yesterday, I participated in a memorial symposium John Perry Barlow's at the Internet Archive in San Francisco. It was amazing to see so many old friends that I realized I had missed so dearly. It really felt like Barlow was in the room - he was the energy that united us. It also reminded me of the roots of the Internet and how different the culture of many of the founders was from the Silicon Valley. It gave me hope that we still have a fire in our belly to continue the fight for freedom and liberty that John...

On Tea with Teachers »

One of the greatest things at MIT are the student run programs. One program is Tea with Teachers. It's a fun thing where they do short interviews with various "teacher" types at MIT and post them on YouTube. I got to do one with them in September last year and they just posted it last week. They also let me "highjack" their Instagram feed for a week too. And I'm sorry about the chicken....

PhDs, blogging and procrastination »

I'm in the middle of trying to write a PhD thesis to complete a PhD at Keio University. I was working on this when I got my current job at the Media Lab and Nicholas Negroponte told me that I should dump the idea of finishing a degree because my not having an earned degree was a badge of honor at this point. 7 years later, people call me "the academic" on panels and while some people are still "impressed" that I don't have a degree, just as many students wonder whether I really understand their point of view having...

Reducing Reduction Essay Competition »

Image by Nick Philip In November 2017, I wrote with the help of some colleagues, "Reducing Reduction: A Manifesto". We received a number of interesting responses so the Journal of Design and Science decided to use it to create an issue on the theme of Reducing Reduction. MIT Press announced an essay competition for a publication from MIT Press. Here are the details of the competition: The MIT Press and the MIT Media Lab announce a call for essays on the topic of resisting reduction, broadly defined, for the Journal of Design and Science. Essays should be in conversation...

Super-Presentation - It's a Wrap! »

Six years ago, NHK, the Japanese public broadcaster, approached me and asked me if I wanted to work on a TV show airing TED Talks that I would comment on. I'd do the comments with the camera on my laptop and just upload them from wherever I was. A few months later, NHK had cut a deal with TED, and I was sitting in front of five video cameras and a full crew in my office at the Media Lab, shooting a series called "Super-Presentation" for NHK's educational network. The show featured a TED talk (or two) and involved...

Resisting Reduction: A Manifesto »

Designing our Complex Future with Machines While I had long been planning to write a manifesto against the technological singularity and launch it into the conversational sphere for public reaction and comment, an invitation earlier this year from John Brockman to read and discuss The Human Use of Human Beings by Norbert Wiener with him and his illustrious group of thinkers as part of an ongoing collaborative book project contributed to the thoughts contained herein. The essay below is now phase 1 of an experimental, open publishing project in partnership with the MIT Press. In phase 2, a new version...

My email and task management protocol »

November 2010, before I "settled down" with a "real job." The last blog post I wrote was about how little time I have to do email and the difficulty in coping with it. Often when I meet new people, they quickly take a look at my blog and read the top post, which in this case is a whiny post about how busy I am - fine, but not exactly the most exciting place to start a conversation. The fact that I haven't written anything really interesting on this blog since then is a testament to the fact that...

Dealing with email and my partial attention problem during meetings »

I currently have to deal with five hours or so of email a day and each day is packed with meetings, many as short as 15 minutes and 1 hour meetings being booked only in extraordinary circumstances. I have a list of 100 or so names of people that I've promised to meet, many who are very angry because we haven't been able to even book a meeting on my calendar. I aggressively turn down all kinds of request and am aggressively resigning from boards and other obligations, but each day, I receive a steady flow of meeting requests...

Book Talk at The Harvard Book Store about Whiplash with Co-Author Jeff Howe »

The Harvard Book Store hosted a book talk for my co-author Jeff and me to talk about our new book Whiplash. Thanks! It was a great group of people at a great venue. Jeff read a bit from the introduction, we chatted about the process and told some stories about writing the book and then we had a nice conversation with the people who gathered. The audio is available on iTunes and SoundCloud....

WIRED Ideas »

June 4, 2018
What started as a dreamy movement of acid-tripping tie-dye wearers has become a mainstream lifestyle bet in Silicon Valley—and we must be responsible about how we wield this new reality.
May 9, 2018
Using algorithms to predict crimes has created a biased system: Better to use AI for looking inward.
Mar 29, 2018
Liberals and conservatives alike love—and fear—the idea of giving free money to everyone. But we have to try it anyway.
Mar 1, 2018
Academics, economists, and AI researchers often undervalue the role of intuition in science. Here's why they're wrong.
Feb 1, 2018
Many cryptocurrency speculators are banking on the theory that someone dumber than them will buy their tokens for more than they paid. That’s a pretty good bet … until it isn’t.
>41: Conversation with Kade Crockford
Oct 5, 2017
41: Conversation with Kade Crockford
>40: Conversation with Martha Minow
Sep 7, 2017
40: Conversation with Martha Minow
>39: Conversation with Gerald Holton
Jul 31, 2017
39: Conversation with Gerald Holton
>38: Conversation with Joseph Bolen
Jul 6, 2017
38: Conversation with Joseph Bolen
>37 : Conversation with Nadya Peek
Apr 23, 2017
37 : Conversation with Nadya Peek

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Whiplash by Joi Ito and Jeff Howe
Freesouls by Joi Ito

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