Ito, 44, is recognized as one of the world’s leading thinkers and writers on innovation, global technology policy, and the role of the Internet in transforming society.
A vocal advocate of emergent democracy, privacy, and Internet freedom, Ito is board chair (and previously served as CEO) of Creative Commons, a non-profit organization focused on developing and supporting legal and technical tools to help everyone from artists to governments, encouraging legal sharing and reuse. He played a key role in expanding the funding and global reach of the organization, which now has affiliates in more than 70 countries. To date, over 500 million pieces of content have been published under Creative Commons licenses.
Ito also sits on the board of directors of the Mozilla Foundation, which promotes openness, innovation and participation on the Internet; WITNESS, an organization that empowers human rights defenders with the power of video; and Global Voices, a network of bloggers focusing on free speech and promoting the less-heard voices around the world. Through his blog he regularly shares his thoughts with the online community.
Ito was a pioneer in realizing the power and potential of the Internet, and in 1994, at the age of 28, founded Eccosys, which eventually became Digital Garage, one of the most actively traded public Japanese Internet companies. He also helped establish and later became CEO of PSINet Japan (formerly IIKK), the first commercial Internet service provider in Japan, and helped found Infoseek Japan, the first commercial search engine in that country. He was an early investor in more than 40 companies, including Flickr, Six Apart, Last.fm, Kongregate, Kickstarter, and Twitter. He was founder and CEO of the venture capital firm Neoteny Co., Ltd.; and general partner of Neoteny Labs Startup 1, an early-stage investment fund.
"The thing about world-changing innovation is that it’s totally unpredictable,” said Ito. “By abandoning traditional disciplinary divisions, encouraging risk-taking, and creating a research environment that embraces serendipity and ‘the Power of Pull,’ the Media Lab comes up with the type of hybrid innovations that address the complexity and speed of the current global challenges. I remember when my sister was about five years old and was asked what she was interested in, she said, ‘Everything!’ I think if you ask that same question around the Lab, you’d get the same answer from many. That’s the magic of the place, and that’s why I’m so enthusiastic about joining with the Lab’s faculty and students to become part of a uniquely empowered creative team that is changing the world in a substantial and positive way."
A native of Japan, Ito is very much a global citizen, and has worked and lived for extended periods in the United States, Japan, and the Middle East. He has received numerous honors, including TIME magazine’s "Cyber-Elite” listing in 1997 (at age 31), selection by the World Economic Forum in 2001 as one of the "Global Leaders for Tomorrow," and Newsweek’s "Leaders of The Pack" in 2005. BusinessWeek named him one of the “25 Most Influential People on the Web” in 2008.
A self-directed learner, Ito established himself as an early force in advancing Internet business and culture, though he never completed a college degree. Throughout his career, he has worked closely with academia to explore new approaches for learning and collaboration. In the United States, he is an affiliate of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and in Japan he is senior visiting researcher at Keio University SFC Research Institute and a part-time lecturer at Keo Graduate School of Media Design. For the past 10 years he has served as a juror for Prix Ars Electronica.
"Joi Ito demonstrates a rare energy coupled with a seemingly unending list of accomplishments,” said Adele Santos, who oversees the Media Lab as dean of MIT's School of Architecture and Planning. “He brings us the kind of creative thinking, entrepreneurial spirit, and societal concern that is so highly valued at MIT. We look forward to the exciting things he will accomplish as director of the Media Lab."
"Joi is the perfect director for the Media Lab going forward,” said Nicholas Negroponte, Media Lab co-founder and chairman emeritus. “In the past 25 years, the Lab helped to create a digital revolution — a revolution that is now over. We are a digital culture. Today, the ‘media’ in Media Lab include the widest range of innovations, from brain sciences to the arts. Their impact will be global, social, economic and political — Joi’s world."
Ito succeeds Frank Moss, who was director of the Media Lab for the past five years.