12:32
TED2014

Joi Ito: Want to innovate? Become a "now-ist"

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“Remember before the internet?” asks Joi Ito. “Remember when people used to try to predict the future?” In this engaging talk, the head of the MIT Media Lab skips the future predictions and instead shares a new approach to creating in the moment: building quickly and improving constantly, without waiting for permission or for proof that you have the right idea. This kind of bottom-up innovation is seen in the most fascinating, futuristic projects emerging today, and it starts, he says, with being open and alert to what’s going on around you right now. Don’t be a futurist, he suggests: be a now-ist.

- Relentless mind
Joi Ito is the director of the MIT Media Lab. Full bio

On March 10, 2011,
00:12
I was in Cambridge at the MIT Media Lab
00:15
meeting with faculty, students and staff,
00:18
and we were trying to figure out whether
00:21
I should be the next director.
00:23
That night, at midnight,
00:25
a magnitude 9 earthquake
00:28
hit off of the Pacific coast of Japan.
00:29
My wife and family were in Japan,
00:32
and as the news started to come in,
00:34
I was panicking.
00:38
I was looking at the news streams
00:39
and listening to the press conferences
00:41
of the government officials
00:44
and the Tokyo Power Company,
00:46
and hearing about this explosion
00:47
at the nuclear reactors
00:50
and this cloud of fallout
00:51
that was headed towards our house
00:53
which was only about 200 kilometers away.
00:55
And the people on TV weren't telling us
00:58
anything that we wanted to hear.
01:00
I wanted to know what was going on with the reactor,
01:02
what was going on with the radiation,
01:04
whether my family was in danger.
01:06
So I did what instinctively felt like the right thing,
01:08
which was to go onto the Internet
01:11
and try to figure out
01:13
if I could take matters into my own hands.
01:14
On the Net, I found there were a lot of other people
01:17
like me trying to figure out what was going on,
01:19
and together we sort of loosely formed a group
01:21
and we called it Safecast,
01:23
and we decided we were going to try
01:25
to measure the radiation
01:26
and get the data out to everybody else,
01:28
because it was clear that the government
01:30
wasn't going to be doing this for us.
01:32
Three years later,
01:35
we have 16 million data points,
01:36
we have designed our own Geiger counters
01:39
that you can download the designs
01:42
and plug it into the network.
01:43
We have an app that shows you
01:44
most of the radiation in Japan
and other parts of the world.
01:46
We are arguably one of the most successful
01:49
citizen science projects in the world,
01:51
and we have created
01:53
the largest open dataset of radiation measurements.
01:56
And the interesting thing here
01:59
is how did — (Applause) — Thank you.
02:02
How did a bunch of amateurs
02:07
who really didn't know what we were doing
02:09
somehow come together
02:11
and do what NGOs and the government
02:13
were completely incapable of doing?
02:16
And I would suggest that this has something to do
02:18
with the Internet. It's not a fluke.
02:21
It wasn't luck, and it wasn't because it was us.
02:23
It helped that it was an event
02:25
that pulled everybody together,
02:27
but it was a new way of doing things
02:29
that was enabled by the Internet
02:30
and a lot of the other things that were going on,
02:32
and I want to talk a little bit about
02:34
what those new principles are.
02:36
So remember before the Internet? (Laughter)
02:39
I call this B.I. Okay?
02:43
So, in B.I., life was simple.
02:45
Things were Euclidian, Newtonian,
02:49
somewhat predictable.
02:52
People actually tried to predict the future,
02:53
even the economists.
02:55
And then the Internet happened,
02:57
and the world became extremely complex,
03:00
extremely low-cost, extremely fast,
03:02
and those Newtonian laws
03:05
that we so dearly cherished
03:07
turned out to be just local ordinances,
03:09
and what we found was that in this
03:11
completely unpredictable world
03:13
that most of the people who were surviving
03:16
were working with sort of a different set of principles,
03:18
and I want to talk a little bit about that.
03:21
Before the Internet, if you remember,
03:24
when we tried to create services,
03:25
what you would do is you'd create
03:27
the hardware layer and the
network layer and the software
03:28
and it would cost millions of dollars
03:30
to do anything that was substantial.
03:32
So when it costs millions of dollars
to do something substantial,
03:35
what you would do is you'd get an MBA
03:37
who would write a plan
03:39
and get the money
03:40
from V.C.s or big companies,
03:41
and then you'd hire the designers and the engineers,
03:43
and they'd build the thing.
03:45
This is the Before Internet, B.I., innovation model.
03:46
What happened after the Internet was
03:51
the cost of innovation went down so much
03:53
because the cost of collaboration,
the cost of distribution,
03:55
the cost of communication, and Moore's Law
03:57
made it so that the cost of trying a new thing
04:00
became nearly zero,
04:03
and so you would have Google, Facebook, Yahoo,
04:04
students that didn't have permission —
04:06
permissionless innovation —
04:08
didn't have permission, didn't have PowerPoints,
04:10
they just built the thing,
04:11
then they raised the money,
04:13
and then they sort of figured out a business plan
04:15
and maybe later on they hired some MBAs.
04:17
So the Internet caused innovation,
04:19
at least in software and services,
04:22
to go from an MBA-driven innovation model
04:23
to a designer-engineer-driven innovation model,
04:26
and it pushed innovation to the edges,
04:30
to the dorm rooms, to the startups,
04:32
away from the large institutions,
04:33
the stodgy old institutions that had the power
04:35
and the money and the authority.
04:37
And we all know this. We all know
this happened on the Internet.
04:39
It turns out it's happening in other things, too.
04:42
Let me give you some examples.
04:44
So at the Media Lab, we don't just do hardware.
04:48
We do all kinds of things.
04:50
We do biology, we do hardware,
04:51
and Nicholas Negroponte
famously said, "Demo or die,"
04:53
as opposed to "Publish or perish,"
04:57
which was the traditional academic way of thinking.
04:59
And he often said, the demo only has to work once,
05:01
because the primary mode of us impacting the world
05:04
was through large companies
05:07
being inspired by us
05:09
and creating products like
the Kindle or Lego Mindstorms.
05:10
But today, with the ability
05:14
to deploy things into the real world at such low cost,
05:16
I'm changing the motto now,
05:18
and this is the official public statement.
05:20
I'm officially saying, "Deploy or die."
05:22
You have to get the stuff into the real world
05:24
for it to really count,
05:27
and sometimes it will be large companies,
05:28
and Nicholas can talk about satellites.
05:30
(Applause)
05:32
Thank you.
05:33
But we should be getting out there ourselves
05:34
and not depending on large
institutions to do it for us.
05:36
So last year, we sent a bunch
of students to Shenzhen,
05:40
and they sat on the factory floors
05:42
with the innovators in Shenzhen, and it was amazing.
05:44
What was happening there
05:46
was you would have these manufacturing devices,
05:48
and they weren't making prototypes or PowerPoints.
05:50
They were fiddling with the manufacturing equipment
05:52
and innovating right on the
manufacturing equipment.
05:55
The factory was in the designer,
05:58
and the designer was literally in the factory.
06:00
And so what you would do is,
06:02
you'd go down to the stalls
06:04
and you would see these cell phones.
06:05
So instead of starting little websites
06:07
like the kids in Palo Alto do,
06:10
the kids in Shenzhen make new cell phones.
06:11
They make new cell phones like kids in Palo Alto
06:14
make websites,
06:17
and so there's a rainforest
06:18
of innovation going on in the cell phone.
06:20
What they do is, they make a cell phone,
06:22
go down to the stall, they sell some,
06:23
they look at the other kids' stuff, go up,
06:25
make a couple thousand more, go down.
06:28
Doesn't this sound like a software thing?
06:30
It sounds like agile software development,
06:32
A/B testing and iteration,
06:34
and what we thought you could only do with software
06:37
kids in Shenzhen are doing this in hardware.
06:39
My next fellow, I hope, is going to be
06:41
one of these innovators from Shenzhen.
06:43
And so what you see is
06:44
that is pushing innovation to the edges.
06:46
We talk about 3D printers and stuff like that,
06:48
and that's great, but this is Limor.
06:50
She is one of our favorite graduates,
06:52
and she is standing in front of a Samsung
06:54
Techwin Pick and Place Machine.
06:56
This thing can put 23,000 components per hour
06:58
onto an electronics board.
07:02
This is a factory in a box.
07:04
So what used to take a factory full of workers
07:06
working by hand
07:08
in this little box in New York,
07:09
she's able to have effectively —
07:11
She doesn't actually have to go to Shenzhen
07:12
to do this manufacturing.
07:14
She can buy this box and she can manufacture it.
07:15
So manufacturing, the cost of innovation,
07:17
the cost of prototyping, distribution,
manufacturing, hardware,
07:19
is getting so low
07:22
that innovation is being pushed to the edges
07:24
and students and startups are being able to build it.
07:26
This is a recent thing, but this will happen
07:28
and this will change
07:30
just like it did with software.
07:32
Sorona is a DuPont process
07:34
that uses a genetically engineered microbe
07:37
to turn corn sugar into polyester.
07:40
It's 30 percent more efficient
than the fossil fuel method,
07:44
and it's much better for the environment.
07:47
Genetic engineering and bioengineering
07:50
are creating a whole bunch
07:52
of great new opportunities
07:53
for chemistry, for computation, for memory.
07:55
We will probably be doing a lot,
obviously doing health things,
07:58
but we will probably be growing chairs
08:00
and buildings soon.
08:02
The problem is, Sorona costs
about 400 million dollars
08:03
and took seven years to build.
08:07
It kind of reminds you of the old mainframe days.
08:09
The thing is, the cost of innovation
08:12
in bioengineering is also going down.
08:14
This is desktop gene sequencer.
08:16
It used to cost millions and millions
of dollars to sequence genes.
08:18
Now you can do it on a desktop like this,
08:21
and kids can do this in dorm rooms.
08:23
This is Gen9 gene assembler,
08:25
and so right now when you try to print a gene,
08:28
what you do is somebody in a factory
08:30
with pipettes puts the thing together by hand,
08:31
you have one error per 100 base pairs,
08:33
and it takes a long time and costs a lot of money.
08:35
This new device
08:38
assembles genes on a chip,
08:39
and instead of one error per 100 base pairs,
08:41
it's one error per 10,000 base pairs.
08:43
In this lab, we will have the world's capacity
08:45
of gene printing within a year,
08:48
200 million base pairs a year.
08:50
This is kind of like when we went
08:53
from transistor radios wrapped by hand
08:55
to the Pentium.
08:58
This is going to become the
Pentium of bioengineering,
08:59
pushing bioengineering into the hands
09:01
of dorm rooms and startup companies.
09:03
So it's happening in software and in hardware
09:06
and bioengineering,
09:09
and so this is a fundamental new
way of thinking about innovation.
09:10
It's a bottom-up innovation, it's democratic,
09:13
it's chaotic, it's hard to control.
09:16
It's not bad, but it's very different,
09:18
and I think that the traditional rules that we have
09:20
for institutions don't work anymore,
09:22
and most of us here
09:24
operate with a different set of principles.
09:26
One of my favorite principles is the power of pull,
09:29
which is the idea of pulling resources
09:32
from the network as you need them
09:34
rather than stocking them in the center
09:36
and controlling everything.
09:38
So in the case of the Safecast story,
09:39
I didn't know anything when
the earthquake happened,
09:42
but I was able to find Sean
09:44
who was the hackerspace community organizer,
09:45
and Peter, the analog hardware hacker
09:48
who made our first Geiger counter,
09:49
and Dan, who built the Three Mile Island
09:51
monitoring system after the
Three Mile Island meltdown.
09:53
And these people I wouldn't have been able to find
09:57
beforehand and probably were better
09:59
that I found them just in time from the network.
10:01
I'm a three-time college dropout,
10:04
so learning over education
10:06
is very near and dear to my heart,
10:08
but to me, education is what people do to you
10:09
and learning is what you do to yourself.
10:12
(Applause)
10:15
And it feels like, and I'm biased,
10:19
it feels like they're trying to make you memorize
10:20
the whole encyclopedia before
they let you go out and play,
10:23
and to me, I've got Wikipedia on my cell phone,
10:26
and it feels like they assume
10:30
you're going to be on top of some mountain
10:32
all by yourself with a number 2 pencil
10:34
trying to figure out what to do
10:36
when in fact you're always going to be connected,
10:38
you're always going to have friends,
10:40
and you can pull Wikipedia
up whenever you need it,
10:42
and what you need to learn is how to learn.
10:44
In the case of Safecast, a bunch of amateurs
10:47
when we started three years ago,
10:50
I would argue that we probably as a group
10:51
know more than any other organization
10:54
about how to collect data and publish data
10:56
and do citizen science.
10:59
Compass over maps.
11:02
So this one, the idea is that the cost of writing a plan
11:03
or mapping something is getting so expensive
11:07
and it's not very accurate or useful.
11:10
So in the Safecast story, we
knew we needed to collect data,
11:13
we knew we wanted to publish the data,
11:16
and instead of trying to come up with the exact plan,
11:19
we first said, oh, let's get Geiger counters.
11:22
Oh, they've run out.
11:24
Let's build them. There aren't enough sensors.
11:26
Okay, then we can make a mobile Geiger counter.
11:28
We can drive around. We can get volunteers.
11:30
We don't have enough money. Let's Kickstarter it.
11:32
We could not have planned this whole thing,
11:34
but by having a very strong compass,
11:36
we eventually got to where we were going,
11:38
and to me it's very similar to
agile software development,
11:39
but this idea of compasses is very important.
11:42
So I think the good news is
11:45
that even though the world is extremely complex,
11:47
what you need to do is very simple.
11:50
I think it's about stopping this notion
11:53
that you need to plan everything,
11:56
you need to stock everything,
11:57
and you need to be so prepared,
11:58
and focus on being connected,
12:00
always learning,
12:03
fully aware,
12:04
and super present.
12:06
So I don't like the word "futurist."
12:08
I think we should be now-ists,
12:11
like we are right now.
12:17
Thank you.
12:19
(Applause)
12:21

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About the Speaker:

Joi Ito - Relentless mind
Joi Ito is the director of the MIT Media Lab.

Why you should listen

Joichi "Joi" Ito is one of those names threaded through the history of the Internet. From his days kickstarting Internet culture in Japan at Digital Garage, his restless curiosity led him to be an early-stage investor in Twitter, Six Apart, Wikia, Flickr, Last.fm, Kickstarter and other Internet companies, and to serve on countless boards and advisory committees around digital culture and Internet freedom.
 
He leads the legendary MIT Media Lab as it heads toward its third decade, and is working on a book with Jeff Howe about nine principles for navigating whatever the changing culture throws at us next. As he told Wired, "The amount of money and the amount of permission that you need to create an idea has decreased dramatically." So: aim for resilience, not strength; seek risk, not safety. The book is meant to be a compass for a world without maps.

More profile about the speaker
Joi Ito | Speaker | TED.com