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MIT Media Lab Director Apologizes for Accepting Funding from Jeffrey Epstein

Above: Joi Ito.
Above: Joi Ito.

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—On August 15, MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito published a public apology for the Cambridge, Massachusetts–based organization’s business affiliations with Jeffrey Epstein, the late financier who was charged with sex trafficking last month and who was found dead in his Manhattan jail cell on August 10, at the age of sixty-eight.

“I met Epstein in 2013 at a conference through a trusted business friend,” Ito wrote on the Media Lab’s website. “I was never involved in, never heard him talk about, and never saw any evidence of the horrific acts that he was accused of.”

Epstein’s foundation, Epstein Interests, donated generously to numerous institutions including Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the Santa Fe Institute. In 2012, he donated $50,000 to MIT and also invested in Ito’s private technology startups.

In his apology, Ito promised to raise the equivalent amount of funds the Media Lab received from Epstein and to donate them to nonprofits supporting sex trafficking victims. He also stated his intent to return the money Epstein invested in Ito’s private investment funds.

However, a recently unsealed deposition revealed that Epstein’s ties to the lab go deeper. Marvin Minsky (1927–2016), one of the Media Lab’s founding members, was named as one of the people who trafficking victim Virginia Giuffre was forced to have sex with at Epstein’s US Virgin Islands compound.

Upon learning of the institution’s association with Epstein, Ethan Zuckerman, the director of the Media Lab’s Center for Civic Media, announced that he would part ways with the lab. In a post published on Medium yesterday, he cited the allegations against Minsky and “the scale of Joi’s involvement with Epstein” as the reasons behind his resignation. He plans to move out of the lab by the end of the academic year in May 2020.

“The work my group does focuses on social justice and on the inclusion of marginalized individuals and points of view,” he wrote. “It’s hard to do that work with a straight face in a place that violated its own values so clearly in working with Epstein and in disguising that relationship.”

August 22, 2019