According to a witty saying usually attributed to Albert Einstein, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
And when engineers try to solve a problem, says MIT’s Joi Ito, they often veer over that line.
“Tech people tend to want to just solve the problem,” Ito said on the latest episode of Recode Decode with Kara Swisher. “But the problem with the problem is it’s not like previous problems, where you just solve it. You actually have to keep asking the question, ‘Is this even the right question?’ And this is why it’s much more difficult.”
Ito has presided over MIT’s famous “antidisciplinary” research laboratory, the Media Lab, for the last eight years. Originally founded in an era of techno-utopianism, the MIT Media Lab now finds itself responding to the ways technology and engineering culture are accelerating and creating problems like climate change, inequality, and obesity.
“You know that little girl in The Exorcist? That’s what the internet feels like to me,” Ito said. “You have this little girl and you think she’s going to become this wonderful kid and then she gets possessed and starts becoming this demon. And we have to exorcize her and we have to kind of bring her back.”
Although some in the tech world may believe we’re living in a simulation, Ito told Swisher, that’s only because they’re looking at the world as an equation to be optimized and not the messy place that it is.
“A lot of decisions that we make about how we feel about civil rights or gay marriage, whatever it is, those aren’t decisions that are optimizations,” he said. “Those are these cultural transformations that occur in society. And I think what’s missing right now in the conversation in AI is that that’s kind of the point of life, in my own personal opinion.”
Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited full transcript of Kara’s conversation with Joi.