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Joi Ito resigns as MIT Media Lab head in wake of Jeffrey Epstein reporting

Joichi Ito, the embattled director of the M.I.T. Media Lab, has stepped down according to a statement by MIT’s president, L. Rafael Reif. The news was first reported by The New York Times, which had received a copy of an email sent by Ito to university provost Martin A. Schmidt.

“After giving the matter a great deal of thought over the past several days and weeks,” the now-former director writes, “I think that it is best that I resign as director of the media lab and as a professor and employee of the Institute, effective immediately.”

In addition to resigning as director, Reif’s statement also confirmed that Ito resigned as a professor of the university.

The ‘matter’ to which the letter refers to is Ito’s reported connections to Jeffrey Epstein. The financier died in prison by hanging on August 10, following an arrest a month prior on federal charges of sex tracking minors.

Ito was among several high profile and powerful people whose alleged ties to the disgraced billionaire came into sharp focus following his arrest. In the immediate aftermath of that arrest, it came to light that the MIT Media Lab and Ito personally received funds from Epstein, to which Ito apologized in an August 15th letter.

The allegations against Ito intensified overnight following a report by Ronan Farrow in The New Yorker that Ito’s engagement of Epstein were far deeper than had been previously been acknowledged. According to emails and documents discovered by Farrow, Ito and MIT Media Lab’s head of development, Peter Cohen, worked in tandem to conceal Epstein’s contributions from MIT’s central fundraising office, such as by marking donations anonymous and keeping his name out of disclosure statements.

Ito has long stood firm that the facts of his relationship with Epstein have been misreported. In an email to the Times, Ito said that the New Yorker piece was “full of factual errors.”

In response to Farrow’s piece, M.I.T, president L. Rafael Reif in today’s statement said:

Because the accusations in the story are extremely serious, they demand an immediate, thorough and independent investigation. This morning, I asked MIT’s General Counsel to engage a prominent law firm to design and conduct this process. I expect the firm to conduct this review as swiftly as possible, and to report back to me and to the Executive Committee of the MIT Corporation, MIT’s governing board.

The MIT Media Lab is a storied research center with a long legacy of contributions to science, technology, and innovation. There are no indications yet on who might replace Ito.

In addition to the MIT Media Lab, Ito sits as a board director for The New York Times Company, where he sits on the company’s audit committee.

One can’t help but point out a perennial tweet that Ito wrote more than a decade ago about fundraising:

reminder to self: don’t invest with or take money from assholes

Joi Ito (@Joi) March 12, 2008

MIT researchers are working on AI-based knitting design software that will let anyone, even novices, make their own clothes

The growing popularity of 3D printing machines and companies like Thingiverse and Shapeways have given previously unimaginable powers to makers, enabling them to create everything from cosplay accessories to replacement parts. But even though 3D printing has created a new world of customized objects, most of us are still buying clothes off the rack. Now researchers at MIT are working on software that will allow anyone to customize or design their own knitwear, even if they have never picked up a ball of yarn.

A team of researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), led by computer scientist Alexandre Kaspar, released two new papers describing the software today. One is about a system called InverseKnit that automatically creates patterns from photos of knitted items. The other one introduces new design software, called CADKnit, that allows people with no knitting or design experience to quickly customize templates, adjusting the size, final shape and decorative details (like the gloves shown below).

The final patterns can be used with a knitting machine, which have been available to home knitters for years, but still require a fair amount of technical knowledge in order to design patterns for.

MIT knitting gloves2

Gloves made using CADknit

Both CADKnit and InverseKnit want to make designing and making machine-knitted garments as accessible as 3D printing is now. Once the software is commercialized, Kaspar envisions “knitting as a service” for consumers who want to order customized garments. It can also enable clothing designers to spend less time learning how to write knitwear patterns for machines and reduce waste in the prototyping and manufacturing process. Another target audience for the software are hand-knitters who want to try a new way of working with yarn.

“If you think about it like 3D printing, a lot of people have been using 3D printers or hacking 3D printers, so they are great potential users for our system, because they can do that with knitting,” says Kaspar.

One potential partner for CADKnit and InverseKnit is Kniterate, a company that makes a digital knitting machine for hobbyists, makerspaces and small businesses. Kaspar says he has been talking to Kniterate’s team about making knitwear customization more accessible.

To develop InverseKnit, researchers first created a dataset of knitting patterns with matching images that were used to train a deep neural network to generate machine knitting patterns. The team says that during InverseKnit’s testing, the system produced accurate instructions 94% of the time. There is still some work to do before InverseKnit can be commercialized. For example, the machine was tested using one specific type of acrylic yarn, so it needs to be trained to work with other fibers.

CADKnit, on the other hand, combines 2D images with CAD and photo-editing software to create customizable templates. It was tested with knitting newbies, who despite having little machine knitting experience were still able to create relatively complex garments like gloves and effects, including lace motifs and color patterns.

“3D printing took a while before people were comfortable enough to think they could do something with it,” says Kaspar. “It will be the same thing with what we do.”

MIT’s Daniela Rus is leading a robotics revolution

 Daniela Rus’s morning is packed. My arrival appears to come as a bit of a surprise. She considers the situation for a moment before inviting me in. Rus has allowed me to sit in for a packed morning of meetings. It’s a generous gesture, but more to the point, it’s the only way to manage some face time with the head of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence… Read More

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Crunch Report | Judge Rules CRISPR-Cas9 Belongs to Broad Institute

Verizon is reportedly getting a $250 million discount on its Yahoo deal, judge rules CRISPR-Cas9 belongs to the Broad Institute and not UC Berkeley, Pixar teaches the art of storytelling on Khan Academy and MakerBot cuts 30% of its workforce. All this on Crunch Report. Read More

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Crunch Report | Kickstarter Acquires Huzza

Kickstarter acquires video streaming company Huzza, Amazon is planning to build a $1.5 billion air cargo hub and MIT creates a robot with a soft touch. All this on Crunch Report. Read More

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Elon Musk's Hyperloop dream is closer to becoming a reality

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Three university teams have been the first to test drive their pods in SpaceX’s depressurized track as part of Elon Musk’s Hyperloop competition.

The Delft University Hyperloop team clinched the top price for their prototype pod in the first phase. The Technical University of Munich, Germany received a price for the fastest pod, while MIT were awarded best design. 

The next phase of the competition is scheduled for the summer.  Read more…

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