MIT Media Lab Launched Disobedience Award, Funded By Reid Hoffman

from the this-is-cool dept

Last week, Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab (and a very sharp thinker on a variety of topics related to innovation) announced a really cool new award that the lab was putting together: a Rewarding Disobedience award, for $250,000, funded by LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman:

This prize is a one-time experiment that, if successful, we will consider repeating in the future. It will go to a person or group engaged in what we believe is excellent disobedience for the benefit of society. The disobedience that we would like to call out is the kind that seeks to change society in a positive way, and is consistent with a set of key principles. The principles include non-violence, creativity, courage, and taking responsibility for one?s actions. The disobedience can be in???but is not limited to???the fields of scientific research, civil rights, freedom of speech, human rights, and the freedom to innovate.

That’s a pretty cool idea for a prize. And I particularly like Michael Petricone’s suggestion that the award should be named after Aaron Swartz, who of course was engaged in a great number of civil disobedience projects. And, unfortunately, one of them involved MIT turning on him, leading him to getting arrested and charged with a variety of ridiculous charges. Since then, there has been a struggle among many at MIT to figure out how that happened and what the university should do to prevent similar things in the future. Naming this kind of award after him would be a great start.

We recently wrote about the book The Idealist, about Swartz and the world of free culture (and had the author, Justin Peters, appear on our podcast for an excellent two-part discussion about the book). One things that becomes clear from the book was the absolute disbelief by Swartz and his family of the fact that MIT refused to support Swartz after his arrest. The university basically turned its back on him completely. It’s something that the university still ought to do something about, and naming this award after Swartz would be a step in the right direction.

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Comments on “MIT Media Lab Launched Disobedience Award, Funded By Reid Hoffman”

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Daydream says:

The Irony:

It occurs to me, when a whistleblower blows the whistle, they are exercising a lawful right, and upholding their responsibilities as a citizen, to expose illegal or immoral activity.

And yet whistleblowing is probably going to be one of the activities recognized by this Disobedience Award, owing to the typical extralegal harassment and prosecution of whistleblowers that’s trendy today.

Anonymous Coward says:

As much as I appreciate the idea of rewarding justified lawbreakers, and as much as I sympathize with Swartz and his family, there’s no record of his actual intentions for the material he was downloading from JSTOR, whether what he was doing was an act of protest, and whether he would have ever taken responsibility even if he hadn’t been captured. Many consider his efforts to evade capture as disqualifying his actions as civil disobedience. Also, since his trial wasn’t completed, it is uncertain whether his actions constituted any crimes, a.k.a. “disobedience”, at all.

Given the above, it seems MIT would never have given this award to Swartz, so it would be inappropriate to name it for him, unless perhaps they append the word Memorial to his name.

Tin-Foil-Hat says:

Protecting 1%

The US legal system exists to protect the wealthy and sustain itself. Prosecutors have too much power and no accountability. All but the well connected will be held to account for even the pettiest of crimes and punished for the rest of their lives. Prosecutors are have full immunity. Misconduct is rarely punished and it’s rarely documented to protect their privacy. It is a recipe for tyranny. The only mitigating factor is a trial by jury which the majority of people charged with a crime will never have.

Techdirt Fan says:

Re: Protecting 1%

The only mitigating factor is a trial by jury which the majority of people charged with a crime will never have.

Given that judges commonly intimidate juries as to how they should ONLY view the evidence in light of the law, and very few will now dissent from a badly written law, juries are pretty much neutered.

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