By Joi Ito, Director, MIT Media Lab
It’s been a turbulent 2017 here at the Media Lab and in the world beyond. Our lives, professional and personal, have all been affected by world-changing events and issues—the policies and priorities of US President Donald Trump; the escalation of North Korea’s nuclear program; terrorist and cyber attacks here and abroad; hurricanes and wildfires in the United States, and the historic famine in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, and Nigeria.
People took to the streets in marches across the US and in more than 160 other countries to make their voices heard. Yes, we’re lucky to live in a democracy where we can protest. But we also need to do something.
Doing something to improve society is at the heart of the Lab’s Disobedience Award, which we launched this year and announced at our summer event, Defiance. When I put out the call for nominations in March, I said that “questioning authority and thinking for yourself is an essential component of science, of civil rights, of society.” Out of 7,800 nominations from around the world, the winners were Michigan pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha and Virginia Tech engineering professor Marc Edwards. Their investigations into the lead-tainted water in Flint, Michigan, as well as their courage and leadership in exposing official misconduct in the crisis, personify the award’s goal of recognizing those who take risks to help humanity.