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

On March 10, 2011,I was in Cambridge at the MIT Media Labmeeting with faculty, students and staff,and we were trying to figure out whetherI should be the next director.

That night, at midnight,a magnitude 9 earthquakehit off of the Pacific coast of Japan.My wife and family were in Japan,and as the news started to come in,I was panicking.I was looking at the news streamsand listening to the press conferencesof the government officialsand the Tokyo Power Company,and hearing about this explosionat the nuclear reactorsand this cloud of falloutthat was headed towards our housewhich was only about 200 kilometers away.And the people on TV weren't telling usanything that we wanted to hear.I wanted to know what was going on with the reactor,what was going on with the radiation,whether my family was in danger.

So I did what instinctively felt like the right thing,which was to go onto the Internetand try to figure outif I could take matters into my own hands.On the Net, I found there were a lot of other peoplelike me trying to figure out what was going on,and together we sort of loosely formed a groupand we called it Safecast,and we decided we were going to tryto measure the radiationand get the data out to everybody else,because it was clear that the governmentwasn't going to be doing this for us.

Three years later,we have 16 million data points,we have designed our own Geiger countersthat you can download the designsand plug it into the network.We have an app that shows youmost of the radiation in Japanand other parts of the world.We are arguably one of the most successfulcitizen science projects in the world,and we have createdthe largest open dataset of radiation measurements.

And the interesting thing hereis how did — (Applause) — Thank you.How did a bunch of amateurswho really didn't know what we were doingsomehow come togetherand do what NGOs and the governmentwere completely incapable of doing?And I would suggest that this has something to dowith the Internet. It's not a fluke.It wasn't luck, and it wasn't because it was us.It helped that it was an eventthat pulled everybody together,but it was a new way of doing thingsthat was enabled by the Internetand a lot of the other things that were going on,and I want to talk a little bit aboutwhat those new principles are.

So remember before the Internet? (Laughter)I call this B.I. Okay?So, in B.I., life was simple.Things were Euclidian, Newtonian,somewhat predictable.People actually tried to predict the future,even the economists.And then the Internet happened,and the world became extremely complex,extremely low-cost, extremely fast,and those Newtonian lawsthat we so dearly cherishedturned out to be just local ordinances,and what we found was that in thiscompletely uNPRedictable worldthat most of the people who were survivingwere working with sort of a different set of principles,and I want to talk a little bit about that.

Before the Internet, if you remember,when we tried to create services,what you would do is you'd createthe hardware layer and thenetwork layer and the softwareand it would cost millions of dollarsto do anything that was substantial.So when it costs millions of dollarsto do something substantial,what you would do is you'd get an MBAwho would write a planand get the moneyfrom V.C.s or big companies,and then you'd hire the designers and the engineers,and they'd build the thing.This is the Before Internet, B.I., innovation model.What happened after the Internet wasthe cost of innovation went down so muchbecause the cost of collaboration,the cost of distribution,the cost of communication, and Moore's Lawmade it so that the cost of trying a new thingbecame nearly zero,and so you would have Google, Facebook, Yahoo,students that didn't have permission —permissionless innovation —didn't have permission, didn't have PowerPoints,they just built the thing,then they raised the money,and then they sort of figured out a business planand maybe later on they hired some MBAs.So the Internet caused innovation,at least in software and services,to go from an MBA-driven innovation modelto a designer-engineer-driven innovation model,and it pushed innovation to the edges,to the dorm rooms, to the startups,away from the large institutions,the stodgy old institutions that had the powerand the money and the authority.And we all know this. We all knowthis happened on the Internet.It turns out it's happening in other things, too.Let me give you some examples.

So at the Media Lab, we don't just do hardware.We do all kinds of things.We do biology, we do hardware,and Nicholas Negropontefamously said, "Demo or die,"as opposed to "Publish or perish,"which was the traditional academic way of thinking.And he often said, the demo only has to work once,because the primary mode of us impacting the worldwas through large companiesbeing inspired by usand creating products likethe Kindle or Lego Mindstorms.But today, with the abilityto deploy things into the real world at such low cost,I'm changing the motto now,and this is the official public statement.I'm officially saying, "Deploy or die."You have to get the stuff into the real worldfor it to really count,and sometimes it will be large companies,and Nicholas can talk about satellites.(Applause)Thank you.But we should be getting out there ourselvesand not depending on largeinstitutions to do it for us.

So last year, we sent a bunchof students to Shenzhen,and they sat on the factory floorswith the innovators in Shenzhen, and it was amazing.What was happening therewas you would have these manufacturing devices,and they weren't making prototypes or PowerPoints.They were fiddling with the manufacturing equipmentand innovating right on themanufacturing equipment.The factory was in the designer,and the designer was literally in the factory.And so what you would do is,you'd go down to the stallsand you would see these cell phones.So instead of starting little websiteslike the kids in Palo Alto do,the kids in Shenzhen make new cell phones.They make new cell phones like kids in Palo Altomake websites,and so there's a rainforestof innovation going on in the cell phone.What they do is, they make a cell phone,go down to the stall, they sell some,they look at the other kids' stuff, go up,make a couple thousand more, go down.Doesn't this sound like a software thing?It sounds like agile software development,A/B testing and iteration,and what we thought you could only do with softwarekids in Shenzhen are doing this in hardware.My next fellow, I hope, is going to beone of these innovators from Shenzhen.

And so what you see isthat is pushing innovation to the edges.We talk about 3D printers and stuff like that,and that's great, but this is Limor.She is one of our favorite graduates,and she is standing in front of a SamsungTechwin Pick and Place Machine.This thing can put 23,000 components per houronto an electronics board.This is a factory in a box.So what used to take a factory full of workersworking by handin this little box in New York,she's able to have effectively —She doesn't actually have to go to Shenzhento do this manufacturing.She can buy this box and she can manufacture it.So manufacturing, the cost of innovation,the cost of prototyping, distribution,manufacturing, hardware,is getting so lowthat innovation is being pushed to the edgesand students and startups are being able to build it.This is a recent thing, but this will happenand this will changejust like it did with software.

Sorona is a DuPont processthat uses a genetically engineered microbeto turn corn sugar into polyester.It's 30 percent more efficientthan the fossil fuel method,and it's much better for the environment.Genetic engineering and bioengineeringare creating a whole bunchof great new opportunitiesfor chemistry, for computation, for memory.We will probably be doing a lot,obviously doing health things,but we will probably be growing chairsand buildings soon.The problem is, Sorona costsabout 400 million dollarsand took seven years to build.It kind of reminds you of the old mainframe days.The thing is, the cost of innovationin bioengineering is also going down.This is desktop gene sequencer.It used to cost millions and millionsof dollars to sequence genes.Now you can do it on a desktop like this,and kids can do this in dorm rooms.This is Gen9 gene assembler,and so right now when you try to print a gene,what you do is somebody in a factorywith pipettes puts the thing together by hand,you have one error per 100 base pairs,and it takes a long time and costs a lot of money.This new deviceassembles genes on a chip,and instead of one error per 100 base pairs,it's one error per 10,000 base pairs.In this lab, we will have the world's capacityof gene printing within a year,200 million base pairs a year.This is kind of like when we wentfrom transistor radios wrapped by handto the Pentium.This is going to become thePentium of bioengineering,pushing bioengineering into the handsof dorm rooms and startup companies.

So it's happening in software and in hardwareand bioengineering,and so this is a fundamental newway of thinking about innovation.It's a bottom-up innovation, it's democratic,it's chaotic, it's hard to control.It's not bad, but it's very different,and I think that the traditional rules that we havefor institutions don't work anymore,and most of us hereoperate with a different set of principles.One of my favorite principles is the power of pull,which is the idea of pulling resourcesfrom the network as you need themrather than stocking them in the centerand controlling everything.

So in the case of the Safecast story,I didn't know anything whenthe earthquake happened,but I was able to find Seanwho was the hackerspace community organizer,and Peter, the analog hardware hackerwho made our first Geiger counter,and Dan, who built the Three Mile Islandmonitoring system after theThree Mile Island meltdown.And these people I wouldn't have been able to findbeforehand and probably were betterthat I found them just in time from the network.

I'm a three-time college dropout,so learning over educationis very near and dear to my heart,but to me, education is what people do to youand learning is what you do to yourself.


And it feels like, and I'm biased,it feels like they're trying to make you memorizethe whole encyclopedia beforethey let you go out and play,and to me, I've got Wikipedia on my cell phone,and it feels like they assumeyou're going to be on top of some mountainall by yourself with a number 2 penciltrying to figure out what to dowhen in fact you're always going to be connected,you're always going to have friends,and you can pull Wikipediaup whenever you need it,and what you need to learn is how to learn.In the case of Safecast, a bunch of amateurswhen we started three years ago,I would argue that we probably as a groupknow more than any other organizationabout how to collect data and publish dataand do citizen science.

Compass over maps.So this one, the idea is that the cost of writing a planor mapping something is getting so expensiveand it's not very accurate or useful.So in the Safecast story, weknew we needed to collect data,we knew we wanted to publish the data,and instead of trying to come up with the exact plan,we first said, oh, let's get Geiger counters.Oh, they've run out.Let's build them. There aren't enough sensors.Okay, then we can make a mobile Geiger counter.We can drive around. We can get volunteers.We don't have enough money. Let's Kickstarter it.We could not have planned this whole thing,but by having a very strong compass,we eventually got to where we were going,and to me it's very similar toagile software development,but this idea of compasses is very important.

So I think the good news isthat even though the world is extremely complex,what you need to do is very simple.I think it's about stopping this notionthat you need to plan everything,you need to stock everything,and you need to be so prepared,and focus on being connected,always learning,fully aware,and super present.

So I don't like the word "futurist."I think we should be now-ists,like we are right now.

Thank you.


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