Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Chris Anderson preparing to take my picture for his column.
Chris Anderson wrote about the Japan dinner in his column/blog on Slate. Chris is the editor of Wired Magazine. He attended the Japan dinner in New York last year where I was allowed to make a statement as well as this year's dinner where I was allowed to MC the session.

Coincidentally, the only song I can sing at karaoke is Anarchy in the UK by the Sex Pistols and Anarchy in the UK is the theme song I always play on my car stereo when I enter the National Police Agency building to park in the basement for study group meetings... or maybe it isn't coincidence...

Excerpt from Slate Dispatches from Davos by Chris Anderson

It started as a pretty formal-looking affair with a soporific agenda of greater understanding and friendship. But by night's end the event had turned into an anarchic generation war. A gang of Americanized upstarts, led by Joi Ito, a 30ish technology entrepreneur and power-blogger, dominated the discussion, blaming their risk-adverse establishment elders for Japan's slow-motion train wreck of an economy.

"The problem with 'destroy and rebuild' [the rhetoric then coming from the more radical reformers in the country] is that everyone immediately focuses on the rebuild part," Ito said. "What we need to do is just destroy." It was as if the Sex Pistols had crashed the party. Perhaps there was hope for Japan yet.

So, I was looking forward to this year's dinner and curious to see how it would compare. Surprise: Ito was now the official MC, with full license to shake things up after dinner. Either last year's intemperate outburst had been slightly less spontaneous than it had seemed, or the old guard had listened. Fireworks were on the menu.

Finally it was time for the Ito Show. Out came the acid candor, no less shocking coming in this ultra-establishment setting than it had been last year. He had been warned, he said: "Don't talk about complicated issues, the foreigners won't understand." Nevertheless, he railed. Reform plans read like "Zen riddles," and nothing ever comes of them. The bureaucracy is defined by its resistance to change; a system that "rewards people for their obedience" and leaves critics fearing retaliation. ("In fact," he half-joked, "fear of retaliation is what I'm feeling right now.") Japan had, if anything, fallen further since last year; Ito called again for revolution.

And so it went through the rest of the youth movement in the Japanese delegation; each speaker adding to the chant of national self-criticism. Japan needs a proper shock, not the slow leak of the past decade. Nothing else seems capable of toppling the entrenched establishment, the bureaucracy elite. It was grim message, made all the more so by the thought of what it must have taken for them to violate Japanese norms of public politeness.

I have had to remove two sets of comments from my blog since I've started. Both of them slandered the people who I wrote about and both were written from fake email addresses. Here is my policy on comments on my blog. Feel free to criticize governments, products, companies or me. Criticism about other people should be written from a verifiable email address and should contain logical arguments about policy, technical or other arguments and positions taken by the person being criticized. Slanderous comments intended to be hurtful rather than constructive will not be tolerated. If you want to post something that might appear slanderous or blow the whistle on something where you feel the fear of retribution, please email me directly. If you can convince me that it is important to get your message out, I will protect your identity and will post the item.

Thank you for your understanding. I was wondering when this was going to start happening...

Yesterday I attended a panel about Nanotechnology. Paul Saffo was the moderator and Howard C. Birndorf of Nanogen, Mildren S. Dresselhaus of MIT and John Gage of Sun were on the panel. You could tell from the beginning that it was going to be a really difficult panel for Paul to manage. The topic was difficult, there were PhD's, investors and mildly interested CEO's of big companies in the audience. It was also clear that everyone on the panel had their own opinion about what they wanted to say. Paul tried to structure the discussion from a discussion about scale (Gage went into a description of powers of ten) to a technology discussion. I think he wanted wrap up with a discussion about applications. It sort of worked.

The technology discussion was a bit difficult for lay people. One person later described the session this way: It was like Milly dropped a stun grenade and the rest of the PhD's in the room were like Navy Seals who came in and took care everyone out. I think the panel quickly left many of the people behind. On the other hand, I was pleased because the technology discussion was quite substantive. Milly explained that real progress was being made in carbon nanotubes and in nanowires. She said that one of the problems as well as one of the interesting properties of nanotubes is that they can be either metallic or semi-conducting. The difficulty was that you couldn't control which you were making. It seemed like she liked the nanowires better. She said that you could put antibodies on the nanowires which would react when the antibody came in contact with the matching antigen. Lots of different antibodies on the ends of nanowires could be used to create a nanodevice to detect the presence of a variety of difficult to detect antigens. She also talked about nanolasers and quantum dots that can help you see the state of devices.

Everyone agreed that one of the biggest problems was how to interface with the tiny devices. Quantum dots and optical seemed to be a good idea. The Dean of engineering for Berkeley was in the audience and he explained that light moved slower around quantum dots and that this could be used to "store light" and could have a huge impact on optical networks and computing.

Some of the applications that people got excited about were RNA detection, bacteria that would manufacture nanotech devices, displays, computing... There seemed to be a myriad of medical applications as well. Having said that, it seemed like everything was about 15 years away and that the equipment necessary for research was still prohibitively expensive. Someone mentioned that Japan was leading in R&D spending on nanotech. Someone also said that maybe it could save the nano-economic recession. Someone else mentioned that the recession wasn't a nano-issue.

Later I was able to catch Milly in the hall and ask her what she thought about carbon nanotubes and hydrogen storage. She said that it was still quite difficult and it would require a breakthrough.

Interesting article in the Economist entitled: "A pervasive web will increase demands for direct democracy"
Good article that points out a variety of ways the Net moves democracy to the next level.
first seen on JD's Blog

Minister Takenaka talked about the special regulatory zones in Japan to stimulate new business. The Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry created a special law to allow local governments together with companies to file for regulatory waivers to help promote new businesses. We filed for two. One was a waiver to allow us to use higher power 802.11 base stations to try to create community networks.

We also filed for a waiver to permit Segway's to be used on sidewalks in Makuhari, Disneyland area and Narita Airport. Everyone's pretty excited about this. We're talking to Segway, but nothing is decided yet. We're hoping to get them to come to Tokyo to meet Governor Domoto in March...