The Company You Keep

Note: This is a version of a previous post that has been updated with additional commentary.

It is increasingly clear to me that our institutions of higher learning are addicted to money, and they are more desperate for it than they are concerned about raising capital from those whose values don’t align. For example, MIT took funds from dubious Saudi Arabian donors despite persistent opposition from within the institution. “MIT’s continued collaboration with the Saudi government sends the message that human rights violations can be overlooked in favor of financial considerations,” a group of students wrote in a letter to the university.

Of course, it would be unfair to focus only on one school. Tufts University, for instance, has had a hand-in-pocket relationship with the Sacklers, the family behind Purdue Pharma, the largest opioids maker. And it’s not just universities — whether it is museums, hospitals, or tech startups: many organizations are happy to overlook the provenance of the money that supports them. Continue reading “The Company You Keep”

Passion, Optimism and Techno-Utopianism

MIT Media Lab chief Joi Ito has been receiving criticism for promoting techno-utopianism in a 60 Minutes segment about technology and the impact of technologies developed in the media lab on modern society. Many argue that given the times we live in it is time for ethics and impact of science should become a critical part of the discussion. And I certainly agree with that point of view.

However, as Joi rightfully pointed out that he and his colleagues are aware of today’s reality, but a 12-minute TV segment isn’t going to delve into a thoughtful discussion, despite the fact it was on 60 Minutes, known for their journalism. One thing which stood out for me was this one line in Joi’s blog post:

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.

I often worry, that just as pro-technology narrative got carried away from 2010 through 2017, we are seeing the pendulum swing to the opposite extreme and taking away some of the magic from technology. Something to think about, while you are reading Joi’s piece, and the comments in response to his blog post.

Read article on Joi Ito Blog