Essential reading on the MIT Media Lab

The revelation in the last week or so that convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein had financial connections with MIT’s Media Lab has led to the lab director, Joi Ito, to resign. The Media Lab is certainly not the only connection between Epstein and academia: his links with, and funding of, various top scientists have been known for a while, and are quite extensive.

I should note in passing that the one person who comes out of the Media Lab/Epstein scandal with his honour left completely intact is Ethan Zuckerman.

The focus on Epstein’s funding of science links more broadly to a critique of philanthropy that can be seen in the protests by artists like Nan Goldin that led to various art museums including the Met in New York and London’s National Portrait Gallery refusing donations from the Sackler Foundation, because of the links between the Sackler family to Purdue Pharmaceuticals, manufacturer of OxyContin, one of the drugs responsible for kicking off America’s opioid crisis. The recent book by Anand Giridharadas also fits into this trend of re-evaluating the values of philanthropy culture.

The critical light cast on the Media Lab by the Epstein revelations has been an excellent time to read up on it more generally…

  • Evgeny Morozov’s piece for The Guardian is, well, precisely what you’d expect from Morozov.
  • Lori Emerson published an interesting history of the Media Lab showing the emergence of the Media Lab from the military-industrial complex funding of science during the Cold War.
  • Will Boisvert’s fantastic piece for The Baffler, “Future Shock” is a superb takedown of the Media Lab’s bizarre techno-futurist worldview, and the glorious contrast between the high-minded idealism of some of the ideas expressed by MediaLabsters, and the utterly disposable and forgettable plastic crap generated in pursuit of those ideas.
  • Adi Robertson published a piece for The Verge discussing the many failures of Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child project

Now the shine on institutions like the Media Lab has been stripped away, it’ll be interesting to see if more critical appraisal of its work, its ideology and its practies starts coming to the fore.