An MIT Alumni Association Publication

Rewarding (Robust) Disobedience

  • Nancy DuVergne Smith
  • 5

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Media Lab Director Joi Ito.
Media Lab Director Joi Ito had a crazy idea.

Last summer, MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito announced his admiration for creative scofflaws and aberrant innovators in a blog post titled “Rewarding Disobedience.” No, he is not interested in civil discord. He is interested in off-the-walls activities that may dent contemporary norms as they set inspirational heights—for MIT and the world.

“I like to think of the Media Lab as ‘disobedience robust,’" Ito noted. “The robustness of the model of the lab is in part due to the way disobedience and disagreement exist and are manifested in a healthy, creative, and respectful way. I believe that being ‘disobedience robust’ is an essential element of any healthy democracy and of any open society that continues to self correct and innovate.”

Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn co-founder, is funding the Disobedience Prize.

To encourage this foment, he announced an MIT Media Lab Disobedience Award that seeks to highlight effective, responsible, ethical disobedience across disciplines. The announcement came appropriately enough at last summer’s Forbidden Research conference. The reward is hefty—$250,000, which is funded by Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn co-founder and member of the Media Lab’s advisory council.

“A prize for good, solid useful disobedience is a really important signal that we would like to send,” Ito noted in an online conference video.

Who are the innovators who might have earned such as award in the past? Individuals like Nicolaus Copernicus or Sojourner Truth might have been in the running. Or consider groups like those who created the Arab Spring or Black Lives Matter movements.

Nominate a person or group by May 1.
Nominate a person or group by May 1.

Nominees may be individuals or a group living anywhere in the world, and they can be nominated by anyone (other than themselves). They may work in a scientific realm, in civil or human rights, arts, or other fields and should demonstrate “extraordinary disobedience for the benefit of society.”

Deadline for submissions is May 1. Award recipients will be announced at a Media Lab event on July 21, 2017. Questions? Email

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David Brahm

Fri, 04/21/2017 10:27am

@Alan: When you say "the sun is moving", you have to say with respect to what. The galactic center? The Virgo supercluster? It's true that the Earth's motion is complicated in those frames, but Einstein taught us that we can work in any inertial frame, and the frame centered on the sun ("heliocentric") is the easiest. You have your terms wrong - you are the one thinking outside the heliocentric framework.

In reply to by Alan Friot

Jonas Paulo Ne…

Mon, 04/24/2017 4:48am

Convocation affixed at the Anarchist Party Headquarters.

"We call on all members to appear at this headquarters at 7:00 pm next Friday.

Anyone who attends will be expelled from the Party.

Alan Friot

Fri, 03/31/2017 11:29pm

Go to "Alan's Discovery" on yo tube and see what no one in astronomy or astrophysics can accept as true. They are handicapped by their limited perspective ie: they can only see and think in a Geocentric world. When I practice disobedience when I thing in a heliocentric world. Opening a closed mind can be quite difficult.

Alan Friot

Sun, 04/23/2017 8:25pm

@ David:
The astronomers and astrophysicists have said the sun is moving and i took them at their word. As I recall the velocity of the sun was about 40,000 miles an hour. I would agree that if the sun is not moving things are quite different.

In reply to by David Brahm

Mark Johnson

Thu, 04/20/2017 9:59pm

Aaron Schwartz?

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