An Insight, an Idea


Joi Ito, the director of the MIT media lab, attended the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos (Switzerland). In this interview, he elaborates on what he calls the “power of pull,” that is, the possibilities that arise from using technology to bring together people and ideas quickly and efficiently while outmaneuvering the constraints that come with hierarchies and authorities.

Drawing on comparisons with the history of the early internet and its effects on communication, Ito argues that Bitcoin - and, to a certain degree, cryptocurriencies in general - will continue to empower individuals by reducing society’s need for centralized services and governance.

  • Date of recording: Fri, 2017-01-20
  • Language(s) spoken:

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00:03 Introduction

David Kirkpatrick: Ok, well, thank you everyone for being here, I’m David Kirkpatrick, I have a company called Techonomy that curates conversations like this one as much as possible. I think we’re really going to have a great conversation here and I really am a believer in and a curator of conversations about technology transforming everything, because I really think it is happening, more than most leaders realize.

And I’m very pleased to be here with Joi Ito, who probably, as much as anyone, is making that case on a methodical basis globally right now. He is really an extraordinary person in terms of his influence thus far and his activities in the tech realm over decades. So, he started as an entrepreneur in Japan, and let me just… This is very incomplete, but I’m going to tell you some of the things he has done.

He helped start the first internet service provider in Japan, which is called PSI net Japan, he started… co-started Infoseek Japan, which was the first search engine in Japan, then he was very involved in a company called Six Apart in the US, which was a big, big key blogging software company in the earlier phases of the internet, and one of the first companies, probably, of any type that kind of made any type of institutional product commitment to giving individuals a voice on the global internet. So that was actually kind of a breakthrough company, he was very associated with that.

Then, as an investor, he has invested in Flickr, Twitter, Kickstarter, and a number of other very important companies. And then, on top of all that, he has become head of the Media Lab at MIT, which, I’m sure most of you know, is one of the great sources of innovative thinking in the world today. And it was especially noteworthy when he got that job of running a major research institution at one of the world’s leading academic centers, because he does not even have an undergraduate college degree, is that correct? Not to mention, he does not have a graduate degree, he does not even have an undergraduate degree.

So, anyway, he also has a new book out that he has co-written called Whiplash, which I’m just going to read a few thoughts out of it before I go and start asking him things. And some of these will result in questions later, possibly. But when I was reading it on audible, I was just scribbling away at some of the things that jump out and in the first few chapters of the book there’s a few phrases that are really memorable.

One is that he says, “Moore’s law plus the internet equals an explosive force in society.” Not a shocking idea, but well said. Then he talks a lot about this idea of emergence and pull as a guiding tool for how we are to advance society, and I’m going to ask about it. In fact, I’m going to write down the word “pull” so that you can find what that means. But a phrase that goes along with that is, “Emergence over authority.” He is not a believer in authority. He thinks people without college degrees should be able to run academic institutions.

And then the other stuff that is really fun that we will get into is he talks about the will, that admitting what we don’t know is one of the great assets of success in the modern economy and that a key function we have to learn is the willingness to be foolish and to look foolish, because otherwise we are never going to advance. So, Joi,…

Joichi Ito: Thank you, David.

DK: Thank you for giving me so much great stuff to say to introduce you. So, when you talk about pull, which is one of the key things you are interested in now and that the book really, I think, very emphatically and repeatedly tries to explain as a critical function of modern society, what do you mean and why is it so important?

03:35 Emergence and the power of pull in a networked society

JI: So, first, I want to credit John Hagel, John Seely Brown who had this great book called Power Pull, and that is where I got my inspiration. But the idea is to pull things as you need them rather then stocking and holding them. Actually, you can trace it back to the early Japanese manufacturing with its just-in-time inventory instead of stocking a bunch of stuff that you may run out of need. What you do is you get all the suppliers to give you the stuff just in time. But what happens on the internet and more and more in information systems is that the network allows you to pull ideas, pull resources as you need them.

And the problem is that if you learn a computer programming language that you don’t use for ten years, it’s likely to not be that programming language in ten years. There is innovation that happens on the edges where the company touches the consumer or where the media touches the user. And instead of having a central R&D that focuses on something for ten years and then sort of pushes it out to the edges, what you do is you pull the innovation from the edges, whether you are talking about Google’s 20 % time or you…

And it’s not a new idea. 3M’s famous masking tape story about a field engineer figuring it out and then having that save the company through the depression is also an example of the power of pull. So the power of pull is less command and control, and a lot more sort of pulling things from the edges.

DK: But another key component that is absolutely central to the idea that pull works is, and you are such a deep believer in this, that individuals have more power, more capability, more authority in the world we live in, and that is somewhat the structure of modern society, which you have been an apostle of for a long time. So let’s talk about that part.

JI: Yes, and I think this ties to the idea of emergence. The example that I often give is that after the earthquake in Japan, my family was in Japan near where the radioactive fallout was going, and there were a lot of people on the internet trying to figure out how to measure the radiation, how to talk about the radiation. And what we did was we found each other on the internet, on mailing lists, on web, and so we got the people mapping the stuff, we got the people making the Geiger counters, we got the volunteers in Japan, and very quickly…

Ray Ozzie just happened to be just retired from Microsoft and so he had a bunch of time and he wanted to work on it. So there were resources of famous people who have time, you have kids who know how to make the tubes for Geiger counters, and then, within months, we had a group with Geiger counters we designed in cars driving around Japan. And we have got over five million records now.

But at the same time, all of these government systems and these NGOs were prepared and all ready to go, none of them were successful in deploying these sorts of measurements. And we were just able to sort of pull a ragtag team together. But now what has happened is this group has become one of the best citizen science groups, it is called Safecast. And all the scientists that were sort of shaking their fingers that it was kind of like Wikipedia… well if you are so concerned about our data, come help us!  And so it turned into a global movement, and what’s neat is that it’s not, like, one person. That is one of the keys, it is individuals, it is an emergent system where when anybody wanted to work on it, we just sort of co-opted them together. And what is key is that we use the latest technology for everything, whether it is microcontrollers that we use, or wireless systems that we used for mesh networking. We use the latest technology, and we bring on people as we need them.

And the problem is, if you create a bureaucracy, and you are all planned, you will be into the third generation, you will be using old hardware, and people will be tired, you won’t have passion. And the neat thing is, we did not know anything about radiation or hardware after the earthquake. But we were able to ramp that up within months.

DK: And the bottom line is you built a system that was better at monitoring and identifying where the radiation risk existed than what the Japanese government was able to do using its traditional top-down methodology.

JI: That’s right.

07:36 Early experiences with internet precursors

DK: Let me ask you a related question then. Would you say that in some way your whole career has been devoted to sort of empowering the individual and perceiving the power transformation that the world… and accelerating the power transformation that the world is undergoing since the internet came along?

JI: Yes, I think so. And I think part of it is that I was just an odd… I think every kid learns in a different way. I learned in a peculiar way. I really did not like to study things that I was not interested in, but if I was interested in something I just learned. And when I was in high school in Japan, I was at the American school, we had just started getting network connectivity. This was sort of before the internet, this is X 25, and I found video games, I found communities, I found all kind of things on the network that were much more interesting than the classes I was taking.

I learned that I could get on to the MIT computer, even from high school, and say, “I’m a little Japanese kid and I just read your book, will you answer me?” Then, in 1983 and 84, if your professor got a letter, an email, from some high school kid in Japan, they would spend a long time writing you a very thorough response. Then I would go to my physics teacher and I would say, “Well, I just got an email from the physics professor at Berkeley,” and they said, “You’re wrong.” I was not a very popular kid, but I realized early on that this was an amazing tool, and then, quickly, I got into the community.

Back then, in the early days, Howard Rheingold wrote a great book called Virtual Communities. Even before the internet, there were these bulletin boards, and I started hanging out with professors and students all over the world. And that became my fascination. And then I realized, not only can you hang out in communities, these communities can generate things, like Wikipedia, or communities of creative learning.

So, my whole life has been on sort of understanding how communities develop, and how communities are self-managed, how culture affects them and what communities can do. And so, communities, again, at scale, are societies, and in small sizes, they are really teams.

09:34 Different layers and communities behind the internet

DK: Well, I don’t know how much this ties to what you just said and if you can connect them, I might be especially interested, but talk to this point I made introducing you on how it is impossible to know what is really going on and because of that, we have to be willing to look foolish as we explore it.

JI: So, first of all, the world is messy, and I think our brains try to make it feel like it’s not. And if you talk to neuroscientists, a lot of what we think of as consciousness is a way for our brain to give us a self-deception that we meant to do that, that it all sort of makes sense, but it is often a deception that we do afterwards. So that is one thing. And so, let’s take an example off the internet.

So, I worked on building many of the layers of the internet with other people, and we worked on ICAN. Linux, which is the core of most of the servers we use, is kind of a slightly ragtag team of open source and free software people who sort of make that. The domain name system, where you sort of… When you type in a URL and it gives you the number, the servers tell you what number is connected to what name. They are run by a bunch of volunteers. I mean, when I was on the ICAN board, somebody attacked the root servers, which is really the address book. And only one survived. This was the F root server, run by this guy named Paul Vixie…

DK: Ok, just quickly, ICAN is the body that governs the internet naming system, he used to be very involved in that. Root servers are the point where all of the traffic of the internet passes through…

JI: So, let’s think about it as a switchboard for the internet. It was attacked, and there is a whole bunch of redundancy, but the one that survived was run by a little non-profit in California run by this somewhat curmudgeonly guy Paul Vixie. And so, the government goes – I hope I am allowed to tell the story, because I was not before, but I think it has been a while ago. They said, “We are afraid that some non-profit is running the only one that survived. You have got to let us sort of figure out how to duplicate that. And he said, “You would never be able to figure out how to duplicate that.”

On every layer of the internet, there is some group of people who, if you met, you would think we are kind of weird, running critical infrastructure.

DK: People like Howard Rheingold who deliberately wears every item of clothing that doesn’t match, right?

JI: Yeah, and a lot of people are not doing it for the money, they are doing it for the passion, because they love the internet. And so a lot of what we depend on them… When you open up a web page for a bank, and you see this really shiny thing, like a picture of a vault. But, in fact, every layer of the internet is a community of people who are doing it because they love it. And, obviously, there are commercial layers in between. But so much of what we already think of as a very structured and critical path depends on a lot of people who are not doing it because they are afraid of authority, they are doing it because they want to. And that could be scary, if you really thought about it.

DK: But you also anticipate that more of that is inevitable.

JI: Yes, and I think that is one of the points I am trying to make in the book, that a lot of what we think of as rock solid is not, but it works. And it actually works better than if you tried to make them rock solid, that was sort of my resilience and strength. You sort of have to assume failure. The internet is designed… by design is a system that, when it fails, it recovers very quickly, which is a much better way to design a system than assuming they won’t fail.

12:46 On authority and group culture

DK: When you look at the systems of authority in the world which are certainly very evident here at Davos, you know, the leaders of the world tend to converge here, do you think they tend to think they know what is going on more than they actually do?

JI: Yes. There is a famous joke where they say, you know, everybody bullshits their boss by 10%. And then you go up, and up, and up, and by the time you get to the CEO it is mostly…

DK: That’s a great formula.

JI: But the more authority you have, the more opaque things are because people tend to not tell you the truth, right? As a director of the Media Lab, what I focus on – because I used to work in a night club, and this is where I learned. I was a DJ in a night club, and I learned that I can get people on the dance floor, off the dance floor, in the club, out of the club, by the music I play.

So I use that metaphor when I work at the Media Lab. I am trying to… all I have is the ability to tweak the culture. Sort of changing the music. Do we du Friday lunches, do we move the furniture around? And by tweaking the culture, you can get people to start to feel like they have permission to do things. And part of it is, this is also a night club thing, certain people you don’t let in, certain people you kick out, that is also pretty important. But the key is, how do you get the culture buzzing?

And one of the key things is the permission to question authority and think for yourself. So I often use the term “disobedience or bust.” Our faculty meeting, I think, is a faculty meeting where we can have vigorous disagreements. We have polar opposite beliefs. But somehow, we cherish the other. And so, when we did a faculty search, we had…

That’s one other thing: Nicholas Negroponte, the founder, was running it, and to be a professor you had to have two fields that were orthogonal that you were interested in. You could not do… If you could do your work anywhere else, in any other institution, don’t apply. And you had to be sort of different from anything we had. And we were looking at one of the candidates, “Oh, this person is awesome, it’s really neat how they…” And then Nicholas said, “That’s not other. That’s another.” And we said, “No way, right.”

So the idea is that most institutions are afraid of the other, but at the Media Lab, we embrace the other, and then we allow it. And this requires a pretty confident culture to be able to allow people to feel that they can express their disobedience and their questioning of authority. And that has to be built into the DNA. And I think good night clubs and punk rock is like that. So there are certain cultures that have it. Punk rock is really important.

15:18 The working mechanisms of blockchain technology

DK: I love punk rock. But I want to go to a specific – one of several specific technologies I hope we can explore in this conversation, and that is blockchain. And the reason is that in your book - and it is related to the points you have just been making, and again, I would like you to connect this thought - you say with your co-author that blockchain is likely to restructure the relationship between individuals and society, more or less, or individuals and governance, broadly.

Why is that likely, and what is blockchain, and why is it likely to do that, and how is it going to fit into this world you are describing?

JI: So, I am an internet guy, so maybe this metaphor works for me better than for others, but I think the best way to think about it is: It is like the internet. So, with the internet, you had email, which was a wonderful tool that crushed certain types of hierarchies, that allowed you to email the president, the company, or the president of a company or a country. And the email really pushed the dissemination of the internet protocol. And once the internet protocol had been disseminated, people started building the web, and eBay, and Amazon, and now Google and Facebook. But the killer app for getting the internet really out was, I think, email.

Similarly, Bitcoin is, I think, the killer app for pushing out the blockchain, and the blockchain is like the internet in that it is like the infrastructure that is built by Bitcoin, but it is also the thing that delivers Bitcoin.

DK: Maybe a little definition? Just explain in more detail what Bitcoin is, what blockchain is. I know, most people in here might have heard it, but it always bears more definition, because I always forget how to explain.

JI: Right, absolutely. So, the blockchain is – we call it a public ledger. So, it is like… If you imagine a sheet of paper, a ledger where you have lots of transactions. And what happens is that there are these things called miners. If you imagine that they are running a whole bunch of calculations and try to win a puzzle contest. And winning the puzzle contest has the side effect of cryptographically locking in that page of transactions so that it can’t be fiddled with, and it ties it to the previous page. And there are pages and pages of this ledger that are being created by these tons of servers that are all racing to try to win this contest. And occasionally, you win the contest and as a reward for winning the contest, you get some Bitcoin.

DK: But the history of the ledger cannot be altered.

JI: It cannot be altered, yes. And the biggest difference between the internet and blockchain is, the internet is just about sending information around and it is just a communication network. The blockchain is to try to create an immutable record of everything that happens that can never be changed. And right now, we do these sorts of things by having banks, and governments, and notaries, and trusted people handle these. Does this person own this title, how much money do you have in the bank, are you married to this person, and so on and so forth?

The blockchain is really interesting in that by using the calculations of these miners, it is able to generate a general public ledger without having to trust anyone. And in fact…

DK: But first, let me interrupt. The blockchain was invented along with Bitcoin as a methodology that was necessary for Bitcoin to operate?

JI: That’s right. So, Bitcoin is the currency that is used as a reward for creating this system, and then the reward itself, the Bitcoin, can be traded as currency. The neat thing: The ledger talks about who is transferring Bitcoin to who. So, the basic form is just a digital currency in a completely decentralized way which is generated by these miners so that other people can use it.

But the blockchain itself, just like the email network that was created using the internet, can now be used for other things. So, you can do changing of titles, the idea is that you could maybe put smart contracts on top of it.

DK: Record keeping of any kind?

JI: Record keeping of any kind, moving assets. And that is – the main problem with the internet is, I can send the same file to you, I can send it to Rebecca, and the whole point is that one person can send the same thing to millions of people and copy. The thing about the blockchain is that you cannot copy things. But the key thing is, on the internet it is hard to move assets around. This is why it was so difficult for copyright. And so, one of the applications now that people are thinking about for Bitcoin is keeping track of who’s copyright it is, who’s house it is, who’s car it is. This is very good for creating assets out of information.

19:40 How the blockchain might change society

JI: The same way that the internet has changed society – you have Aerospring, you have ISIS, you have good things, you have bad things. So, one of the things that I learned in the early days of the internet when we first met, I was pretty optimistic. I thought that the internet was designed in a way that would just democratize everything. And Rebecca is here, we did this thing called Global Voices, because if everyone could just talk, we would have peace. That turns out not to be true, right? It turns out bad things happen, good things happen.

So, now I am a little bit wiser at fifty years old and I feel that Bitcoin is really interesting because you don’t need central banks, although they might want to use it, too. But it takes the notion of fiat currency, of systems of exchange through the notary - all these things that required authority to sort of stamp the approval that this is the official ledger - and has decentralized that. So just in the same way that the internet has both created opportunities as well as destabilized authority, I think the blockchain will have a similar effect. It will have good things, but it will have bad things.

DK: But, to go to this point of restructuring the nature of the individual’s relationship to society, you are saying because it will allow individuals to authenticate all kinds of ownership, behavioral authentication of all kinds without the requirement of a government, it really allows for a certain kind of autonomy of the individual that has not been possible.

JI: So the super easy example would be: If you are a musician in – I’ll just use India because India is interested in this – and you make a song, you post it onto the internet, but what you do is you post it with some sort of tool that says, “If you want to pay me, here is my Bitcoin address.” And let’s say you download it on your browser and you use it in your YouTube song, you could say, “Oh, I want to pay that person.” So it could go from, if you are using, say, Brave, the Bitcoin wallet in your browser directly into the wallet of the woman who made the song and then she could go with her phone to the corner store and pay for her milk. And typically, you would have had governments and banks doing transfers, you would have had a music rights collection agency in between, but you can do all of this just in software, peer to peer.

So that is just on the money side, but you could do a similar thing for energy. So there is an idea one of our guys at the Media Lab, Michael Casey, has been working on, which is if you had a solar panel, and you pay Bitcoin to get energy from the battery of the solar panel, and the solar panel has a digital contract, so if someone wanted to make a whole array of solar panels, they could sell the rights to the solar panels online and you could buy a solar panel that was there. And then anybody who bought energy from the solar panel – you would get money directly. And then you could buy and sell the rights to the solar panel on the market. So you can imagine a capital flow directly to India without a whole bunch of layers of finance and other people in between that could be sort of moved around. And you can do this with derivatives and all these other things.

22:36 When and how to regulate Bitcoin?

JI: Now, obviously, there are regulatory issues. What happens with scammers? So there is a whole governance layer that we have not figured out yet, but similarly to the internet, I think… So the US was very successful when [unintelligible] and others sort of let the internet go without too much regulation at the beginnings. So you were allowed a lot of interesting ideas to pop up. And after the ideas popped up and we sort of saw what the lay of the land was, then the regulators came in and said, “Well, let’s do this, let’s think about net neutrality.”

I think we need to be careful with Bitcoin, because it has more to do with money, and there are more regulators that are interested in it. And, also because it has to do with money, there are tons of people investing in this. So, one sort of word of warning that I have is that I think Bitcoin is still very early. It is kind of like before we figured out the internet protocol. It is a very mushy set of standards. It is like 1998 on the internet. But people are investing as if it is 1997. So, I think there is kind of a bubble in this sort of fin-tech space right now, and I am a little bit concerned that we are not ready for it.

23:39 What about other cryptocurrencies?

DK: I know that you have some strong opinions about the relative importance of some of these derivative technologies like – what’s the one that we were discussing earlier?

JI: Ethereum?

DK: Ethereum, right. Sorry for not remembering that. And there is a number of sort of blockchain-like systems that have been proposed as commercial alternatives, because for various reasons they are said to be better. And you don’t really see too much promise in that.

JI: Well, I see. So what is really important about the internet is it has got this thing called ethernet which is the wires, we have got TCP/IP which is the protocol. Each of these layers were communities of experts, and they were not necessarily the best technology, but they were the ones that people decided to choose. I think that there is no other sort of Bitcoin-like cryptocurrency that has had the attention and has the community size that Bitcoin has. So even though it is hard to deal with, and it is slow, I think Bitcoin is likely to become the default.

But they are not moving very quickly, so a lot of the features that Ethereum has is a great place to experiment. But the key point here is that I think there are big fin-tech companies getting created, just like Time-Warner and the telephone companies made Minitel and these sort of monolithic media systems. You will get some great ideas there, but what is happening on Bitcoin is, we are building the layers one by one, like we are on the internet. And some companies, like AOL, if you remember, or even Compuserve, they used other technologies. But they eventually moved over to the internet.

I think that most of the things will eventually move over to Bitcoin, and I think Ethereum might survive as a thing, but I think that the majority of the people who are really, really well-versed in this are working on the Bitcoin core.

DK: But it is clear that you believe that for this world where empowerment at the bottom is so critical and pull is a managerial methodology we need to use, that Bitcoin and blockchain both are absolutely essential technologies we are going to use moving forward.

JI: I think so. I mean, I think that when you talk to central bankers, when you talk to other people, the technical people are looking at it very carefully. I think you can think about it like the internet, but you can also think of Bitcoin kind of like the Linux kernel. And the Linux kernel is made by a bunch of free, open source software people, but it is used in so many different things. So if you think about Bitcoin becoming the engine that a central bank could use to issue its own fiat currency, I think that is definitely a possibility.

26:02 Complex systems and the fourth industrial revolution

DK: Okay. So, I want to try to pull a whole bunch of ideas together here. We have only got relatively few minutes left, sadly. But, you know, I was at a session which I was talking to you about last night, which was for a bunch of the journalists here, where we were talking about genetic modification, and brain manipulation, the development of AI, the use of quantum systems to try to replicate brain function. And one of the things that came out for me, and I think it has come out at a lot of the fourth industrial revolution sessions here at Davos is that idea that we are kind of gaining, in various domains, what might be said to be kind of quasi-godlike powers as humans to do things, to manipulate systems that we could never before manipulate. And yet, the bottom line message to me was, yeah, we don’t have a clue how to use them.

How worried are you about that, and what do you think we should do about that sort of a landscape, and do you agree that is the landscape?

JI: So, I think that is the key message from the book. If you are going to take away one thing, it is that the more you know, the more you know that we know less. I mean, the more you know, the more you know that we don’t really understand where we are going, whether you talk about micro-biome or the relationship between quantum and bio and stuff like that. So, you have to become extremely humble.

And the problem is, even though we know less and less in a sense – we know that we know less – our ability to destroy the world is increasing because our power is increasing. We are using the term participant-designer. You have to imagine that you are fiddling with something that is part of a number of different complex systems you have no control over. You have to be responsible as a scientist or a policy maker about what you do, but you can’t control it. It’s like with AI. It’s like giving birth to a child. You are responsible for the child, not legally maybe in all cases, but it is your child and you better take care of it. And if you are a scientist, you should worry about how it will affect the microbiome, how it affects the climate, not just on that specific place where you think you are responsible. You should be responsible for everything.

And then, the idea that you have an objective view, like a scientist that is looking at something – no, no. The phrase that we use is, “You are not stuck in traffic, you are traffic.” So imagine what it feels like to be designing something where you are also a participant, and it is about you as much as about anybody else, and really focus on yourself. Try to get the thing.

So, on the internet, we used to say, David Weinberger said, “It’s small pieces, loosely joined.” And when I invested in Twitter, lots of people said, “That’s not a company, that’s just a feature. It’s not even a product.” But the great thing about the internet was that all of the great companies figured out how to connect to each other, being agile and nimble, being responsible for their own thing, but also connecting to the system. I think it is systems thinking, it is humility, it is the idea that you are responsible for everything.

And this is totally the topic of Davos this year, which is “responsible and responsive.” That is the way scientists have to be, product designers have to be. But you also have to throw in a big dose of humility.

DK: Okay, but another word that is thrown around in regard to this stuff is governance, and it is often said that we don’t have much if any. How do you think about that, how we move towards this idle governance of these really fast-moving technologies and social changes that result from them?

JI: Governance is an unfortunate word, because it invokes government, and governments are not very functional ways to deal with the complexity that we have today. I think there is a governance, but governance in the way that nature governs complex systems through feedback loops. And the self-adaptive in “Self-adaptive complex systems” is really important. When nature takes a hit, it will take different resources in the biodiversity to try and patch that problem that it has, and it is adaptive, right?

So, what we want to do, and this ties to the word “resilience,” is that we want to create systems that self-heal rather than some central agency that says, “Oh, we better go send FEMA now, we better send a bunch of aid because there is Ebola.” What we want is, we want the local systems to be resilient. And that is a very different approach than having some authority be in charge of everything.

DK: Okay. Unfortunately, we are very close to being finished here. And I would say, both Joi and I really believe in dialogue, and we would have loved to take questions, but this format does not really allow for it. But, is there anything that you wanted to talk about when coming in here that we have not gotten to yet?

30:18 AI and empowering people via technological literacy

JI: Well, this whole conference has been – well, a lot of it has been about AI – and so I don’t want to overstate this, but just like thirty years ago, when we were talking about the internet, and everybody was like, “Oh, what does that have to do with me?”, I think AI is going to affect everything in sort of a similar way but in an even more amplified way than the internet did. And AI seems like a computer science problem, it is not. The computer scientists have to make it accessible to us,  not as a solution – I don’t want you to sell me an AI system that solves my problem – I want the AI people to create tools, so that like Visicalc and spreadsheets allowed the accountants to become creative on the computer, AI computer science should allow all of us to take our expertise and express it directly using the tools and actually make our tools.

It’s about empowering people to understand AI, that literacy. Like if a CEO does not understand the internet, they don’t have an internet strategy. They can’t give it to the IT guys. It is the same thing with AI: You don’t just hire an AI guy.

DK: One of the things that a lot of your comments remind me of is another thing that has come up gratifyingly often this year at Davos, which is the idea that we don’t just need to teach people STEM, we also need to emphasize the liberal arts, because at all levels of society, and particularly those that are inventing it, and governing it, and leading it, a bigger picture view is required. And I love the way you articulate that, your book is a great way, a whiplash for people to follow this thought through further, but it was great to talk to you Joi and I just wish we would have more time, and thanks again.

JI: Thanks David.



Video source:

Joi Ito’s book Whiplash: How to Survive our Faster Future was co-authored by Jeff Howe and is available at along with a few other talks.

Published under Creative Commons Attribution license (reuse allowed)