The SXSW Interactive Featured Session Feature: Joi Ito of the MIT Media Lab

Written by Hugh Forrest | February 3, 2014

Joi Ito speaks at SXSW Interactive on Friday, March 7

Featured Sessions at the 2014 SXSW Interactive Festival showcase some of the world’s most innovative thinkers. Today’s installment of the Featured Session Feature focuses on Joi Ito of the MIT Media Lab. At SXSW, he will be part of the “Future of Making” session on Friday afternoon, March 7 at 5:00 pm — also speaking on this session is Tim Brown of IDEO. In addition to the March 7 session, Ito has been selected as the 2014 SXSW Hall of Fame inductee. His induction occurs on Tuesday evening, March 11 as part of the SXSW Interactive Awards.

Very few people are as passionate about the internet as Joi Ito. The venture capitalist, entrepreneur, and Director of the MIT Media Lab, he spends much of his spare time advocating for emergent democracy and Internet freedom. His forward-thinking nature, inspiring views, and impressive career history have earned him numerous honors and awards throughout his career.

Ito’s interest in science and technology was cultivated from an early age. The son of a research scientist and a staff member at Energy Conversion Devices, Inc., he spent much of his childhood learning about technology and its role in society. His interest in these subjects sparked in him an early interest in the internet and new media communication. He began discovering and exploring some of the most primitive versions of online connectivity in the mid-1980s.

Eventually, Ito’s passion for technology led him to enroll as a computer science student at Tufts University. But his tenure there was short-lived, as he preferred a more experiential approach to learning. He later became a student in the University of Chicago’s Physics program, but the program didn’t meet his expectations and he ended up leaving.

After a brief stint as a DJ on the nightclub scene in the US and Japan, Ito founded his first company, Digital Garage with his friend and colleague, Kaoru Hayashi. The business was up and running by 1995 and focused on bringing the online world to Japan. Digital Garage is responsible for launching the first homepage in Japan and bringing the first commercial internet option to the country. Over the years, they’ve developed various programs related to online connectivity, open source communication, e-commerce, and mobile technology. Digital Garage is largely responsible for integrating the World Wide Web into Japanese culture.

His success with his internet business led him into the world of angel investing. In 2000, he founded the venture capital company Neoteny, which he used as a vehicle for investment in forward-thinking internet companies. Today, Ito has a stake in some of the world’s most prolific internet businesses including Twitter, Kickstarter, Technorati, Flickr, and Last.fm.

In addition to his career as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist, Ito is also an appointed board member for numerous businesses. He is currently an advisor at the Sony Corporation, Creative Commons, the Knight Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The New York Times Company, Mozilla Foundation, WITNESS, and Global Voices.

Most recently, he was appointed as Director of the MIT Media Lab, a position which he entered in the fall of 2011. The Lab, which is dedicated to open learning and research, focuses on how technology can be used creatively to improve people’s lives. The Media Lab prides itself on surpassing known boundaries and areas of learning to develop new ideas and inventions. An in-depth look into his background reveals that he’s the perfect person for the job.

To learn more about Ito’s work, you can find him online on Twitter @Joi or via joi.ito.com

Register now to be part of the 2014 SXSW Interactive Festival and to attend the “Future of Making” session on Friday afternoon, March 7 at 5:00 pm. For the full picture of all sessions and evening events at the 2014 SXSW Interactive Festival, visit the day-by-day schedule. Also, learn more about the best of the best programming for the 2014 SXSW Interactive Festival by visiting the new Recommendations page.