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Thread: The Epstein scandal at MIT shows the moral bankruptcy of techno-elites

  1. #1

    The Epstein scandal at MIT shows the moral bankruptcy of techno-elites

    7 Sep 2019

    The MIT-Epstein debacle shows ‘the prostitution of intellectual activity’. Time for a radical agenda: close the Media Lab, disband Ted Talks and refuse tech billionaires money

    Jeffrey Epstein in 2017: ‘In a world where books function as brand extensions and are never actually read, it’s quite easy for a charlatan of Epstein’s stature to fit in.’ Photograph: AP

    As the world wakes up to the power of big tech, we get to hear – belatedly – of all the damage wrought by the digital giants. Most of these debates, alas, don’t veer too far from the policy-oriented realms of economics or law. Now that the big technocracy wants to quash big tech, expect more such wonkery.

    What, however, about the ideas that feed big tech? For one, we are no longer in 2009: Mark Zuckerberg’s sophomoric musings on transparency or the global village impress very few.

    And yet, for all the growing skepticism about Silicon Valley, many still believe that the digital revolution has a serious intellectual dimension, hashed out at conferences like Ted, online salons like, publications like Wired, and institutions like the MIT Media Lab. The ideas of the digerati might be wrong, they might be overly utopian, but, at least, they are sincere.

    The Epstein scandal – including the latest revelation that Epstein might have channeled up to $8m (some of it, apparently, on behalf of Bill Gates) to the MIT Media Lab, while its executives were fully aware of his problematic background – has cast the digerati in a very different light. It has already led to the resignation of the lab’s director, Joi Ito.

    This, however, is not only a story of individuals gone rogue. The ugly collective picture of the techno-elites that emerges from the Epstein scandal reveals them as a bunch of morally bankrupt opportunists. To treat their ideas as genuine but wrong is too generous; the only genuine thing about them is their fakeness. Big tech and its apologists do produce the big thoughts – alas, mostly accidental byproducts of them chasing the big bucks.

    It wasn’t meant to be that way. Back in 1991, John Brockman – the world’s most successful digital impresario, and, until recently, my literary agent – was touting the emergence of the “third culture” that would finally replace the technophobic literary intellectuals with those coming from the world of science and technology. “The emergence of the third culture introduces new modes of intellectual discourse and reaffirms the pre-eminence of America in the realm of important ideas,” wrote Brockman in a much-discussed essay.

    Brockman, who would later connect Epstein to dozens of world-famous scientists, most of them his clients, made it seem as if it were people like him who built this “third culture” – out of their perceptive genius. The cardinal error of such analysis, however, lies in its tendency to mistake structural transformations of global capitalism for zeitgeisty trends in the history of ideas.

    Thus, Brockman’s “new modes of intellectual discourse” were mostly the result of technology companies moving away from large and soulless cold war military contracts and on to the world of funky personal computing. Apple, with Steve Jobs as its chief countercultural evangelist, needed the consumerist mysticism of “the third culture”; IBM and Hewlett-Packard, stuck in the 1950s mentality, did not. Likewise, the “pre-eminence of America in the realm of important ideas” was, above all, the outcome of its dominance in the economic and military realms, weakening the efforts of other countries to create their own vibrant alternatives to Hollywood or Silicon Valley.

    There was no better original exponent of the “third culture” than Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of the MIT Media Lab and a new kind of applied intellectual, full of big ideas on technical subjects. The lab was ahead of its time in understanding that the industry and the government alike needed cooler, more interactive technology that was not provided by the traditional cold war contractors.

    Everything else followed suit. Thus, Negroponte became a speaker at the very first Technology, Entertainment, Design conference (the famous Ted Talks) in 1984, which, a few decades later, emerged as the pre-eminent promoter of the “third culture”: no politics, no conflict, no ideology – just science, technology, and pragmatic problem-solving. Ideas as a service, neatly packaged in 18-minute intellectual snacks.


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  3. #2
    Good article.
    “Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.'' - JFK

    “I love agitation and investigation and glory in defending unpopular truth against popular error.” - James A. Garfield

  4. #3
    Bill Gates made donations to MIT through Jeffrey Epstein —here are all of the tech mogul's connections to the financier
    "He's talkin' to his gut like it's a person!!" -me
    "dumpster diving isn't professional." - angelatc

    "Each of us must choose which course of action we should take: education, conventional political action, or even peaceful civil disobedience to bring about necessary changes. But let it not be said that we did nothing." - Ron Paul

    "Paul said "the wave of the future" is a coalition of anti-authoritarian progressive Democrats and libertarian Republicans in Congress opposed to domestic surveillance, opposed to starting new wars and in favor of ending the so-called War on Drugs."

  5. #4
    "He's talkin' to his gut like it's a person!!" -me
    "dumpster diving isn't professional." - angelatc

    "Each of us must choose which course of action we should take: education, conventional political action, or even peaceful civil disobedience to bring about necessary changes. But let it not be said that we did nothing." - Ron Paul

    "Paul said "the wave of the future" is a coalition of anti-authoritarian progressive Democrats and libertarian Republicans in Congress opposed to domestic surveillance, opposed to starting new wars and in favor of ending the so-called War on Drugs."

  6. #5

    Bill Gates: I met with Jeffrey Epstein because ‘he knows a lot of rich people’

    SEP 10 2019

    Bill Gates, the billionaire founder of Microsoft, confirmed to The Wall Street Journal that he had meetings with convicted sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein because the enigmatic financier had connections to wealthy people.

    “I met him. I didn’t have any business relationship or friendship with him. I didn’t go to New Mexico or Florida or Palm Beach or any of that,” Gates told the newspaper in an interview published Tuesday. “There were people around him who were saying, hey, if you want to raise money for global health and get more philanthropy, he knows a lot of rich people.”

    Gates’ meetings with Epstein, who died of an apparent suicide last month while awaiting a trial on new sex crimes charges, were first reported by CNBC. Gates met with Epstein more than once, including in 2013 while he was the chairman of Microsoft, people with direct knowledge of the matter said.

    Epstein pleaded guilty in 2008 to soliciting an underage prostitute and was listed in the national sex offender registry. Before his death, federal prosecutors in New York accused him of overseeing sex trafficking networks of underage girls in Florida and New York.

    In 2013, Gates was worth an estimated $67 billion, according to Forbes, making him the second wealthiest person in the world. His wealth has increased to over $100 billion as of September, according to the magazine’s tally.

    In the interview with the Journal, Gates said he never had meetings with Epstein at which women were present.

    “Every meeting where I was with him were meetings with men,” Gates said. “I was never at any parties or anything like that. He never donated any money to anything that I know about.”

    Bill and his wife, Melinda, run the wealthiest charitable foundation in the world, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Its assets in 2018 were worth almost $48 billion, according to documents released by the charity. Its assets were worth more than $41 billion in 2013.

    Gates did not immediately respond to questions, submitted through a foundation representative, about why he would need Epstein’s help connecting with wealthy people and whether it is typical for his business meetings to include no women.

    Epstein’s meetings with Gates followed an extensive lobbying effort by Epstein, people close to Gates previously told CNBC.

    Following the 2013 meeting between the two men, Epstein arranged for a $2 million donation from Gates to the MIT Media Lab, according to a report in The New Yorker. A spokesperson for Gates said in a statement provided to the Journal that “any claim that Epstein directed any programmatic or personal grantmaking for Bill Gates is completely false.”

  7. #6

    LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman says he regrets interactions with Jeffrey Epstein

    September 13, 2019

    Reid Hoffman

    Billionaire LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman said he regretted meeting with Jeffrey Epstein following the late financier’s first conviction for soliciting an underage prostitute — but that he did so because he trusted the opinion of a former MIT official who had ties to the disgraced money manager.

    Hoffman had invited Epstein, along with former MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito, to an August 2015 dinner in Palo Alto, California, where Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and Peter Thiel were also in attendance, Axios reported.

    He told the outlet he’d only invited Epstein because Ito — also a New York Times board member — had vouched for the convicted criminal and noted that he had successfully cleared MIT’s vetting process.

    That dinner was Hoffman’s last interaction with Epstein, he said.

    “Still, by agreeing to participate in any fundraising activity where Epstein was present, I helped to repair his reputation and perpetuate injustice,” he wrote in a statement emailed to Axios on Thursday. “For this, I am deeply regretful.”

    Ito had previously claimed that MIT took only $800,000 from Epstein and his buddies over a 20-year period, when the number was really $7.5 million, according to The New Yorker.

    The school was said to have worked with Epstein to arrange a $2 million donation from Microsoft founder Bill Gates and more than $5 million from investor Leon Black.

    When that story emerged, MIT president Rafael Reif announced the university would conduct “an immediate, thorough and independent investigation.”

    “I support a thorough, independent investigation into Jeffrey Epstein’s connections and am hopeful that the investigation announced by President Rafael Reif exposes the flaws in the existing process and establishes new clear safeguards moving forward,” Hoffman wrote, according to Axios.

    “The abuse described by Jeffrey Epstein’s survivors is abhorrent, horrific, and disgusting,” he added. “I am hopeful survivors can attain justice and support, and the communities damaged by these events can begin healing.”

    Ito resigned from his post on Saturday.

  8. #7

    Harvard and MIT leaders acknowledge deeper ties to Jeffrey Epstein than previously known

    September 13

    Presidents of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology acknowledged in separate announcements this week that their connections to financier Jeffrey Epstein went deeper than previously revealed, further entangling the elite institutions with a donor who was a convicted sex offender.

    At MIT, senior officials knew of gifts from Epstein and sought to ensure those donations remained anonymous, the school’s president, L. Rafael Reif, wrote in a letter to campus. Reif also said an investigation had turned up a 2012 letter signed by Reif thanking Epstein for a donation.

    Harvard officials revealed that the university had accepted about $9 million in donations from Epstein between 1998 and 2007, and announced intentions to redirect some of the unspent money to organizations helping victims of trafficking and sexual assault.

    Epstein pleaded guilty in 2008 to two felony offenses, including procuring a person under 18 for prostitution. Epstein was arrested in July on new federal charges of sexually abusing dozens of girls in the early 2000s. In August, he was found dead while in federal custody.

    The revelations raised questions from faculty, students and the public about how some of the world’s most admired institutions raise money and whether the school’s leaders are appropriately transparent about relationships with major donors.

    In a letter to the campus Thursday, Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow said the school rejected a donation offered by Epstein after 2008, the year when Epstein was convicted on sex charges. Bacow wrote that a review has not found gifts accepted after Epstein’s conviction.

    “The issue of the gifts given to institutions by donors at Jeffrey Epstein’s suggestion, is also one that has emerged in recent days,” Bacow wrote, “and we are looking into this as part of our ongoing review.”

    Emails first published in the New Yorker and shared with The Washington Post by the nonprofit Whistleblower Aid suggested that employees of the MIT Media Lab sought to conceal gifts from Epstein years after his conviction and apparently accepted gifts from other donors who had been “directed” by Epstein to the Media Lab.

    “Jeffrey money, needs to be anonymous,” Peter Cohen, then the director of development and strategy for the MIT Media Lab, wrote in a 2014 email.

    Signe Swenson, who worked in development for the Media Lab at that time, said she and some of her colleagues were uncomfortable about the relationship, especially when Epstein visited the Media Lab. “It became so real to myself and everyone in the office what that relationship meant,” she said, “. . . and how distressing it was to have him there.”

    She left MIT and decided to disclose information after “watching MIT carefully avoid the truth,” she said.

    Cohen said he did not witness anything he believed to be illegal, did not solicit gifts from Epstein, had no personal relationship with him and had only a few limited personal interactions with Epstein.

    “I, like others, am disgusted and distraught by Jeffrey Epstein’s conduct,” Cohen said in a written statement. He said that when he joined MIT in 2014, there were gift-acceptance policies and practices for Epstein, “which I understood were authorized by, and implemented with the full knowledge of, MIT central administration. Notwithstanding my personal discomfort regarding Mr. Epstein and his involvement with MIT, I did not believe I was in a position to change MIT’s policies and practices.”

    Cohen was put on administrative leave this week from his job at Brown University, where he began working in October.

    “Brown has not in its history received any funds from Jeffrey Epstein,” university spokesman Brian Clark said in a written statement. “We are engaged in a review of available information regarding Mr. Cohen in the context of Brown University policies, core values and the University’s commitment to treat employees fairly.”

    After the allegations about concealment of Epstein’s role became public, Joi Ito, the Media Lab director, resigned and the school announced a law firm would investigate the extent of the connections between MIT and Epstein.

    Reif told the campus the investigation had turned up a 2012 letter signed by Reif thanking Epstein for a donation to Seth Lloyd, a mechanical engineering professor. The letter was a standard gift acknowledgment signed in the early weeks of his presidency and he does not remember it, Reif wrote.

    In 2013, when senior members of Reif’s team learned of the first gift to the Media Lab, Ito asked for permission to keep the donation, Reif wrote.

    “They knew in general terms about Epstein’s history — that he had been convicted and had served a sentence and that Joi believed that he had stopped his criminal behavior,” Reif wrote. “They accepted Joi’s assessment of the situation. Of course they did not know what we all know about Epstein now.”

    Ito sought the gifts for general research, Reif wrote: “Because the members of my team involved believed it was important that Epstein not use gifts to MIT for publicity or to enhance his own reputation, they asked Joi to agree to make clear to Epstein that he could not put his name on them publicly. These guidelines were provided to and apparently followed by the Media Lab.”

    Epstein’s gifts were discussed during at least one of MIT’s regular senior team meetings and Reif was present at the meeting, according to the update given to MIT leaders by Goodwin Procter, the law firm hired by MIT to investigate.

    Reif wrote that “we could and should have asked more questions” about Epstein. “We did not see through the limited facts we had, and we did not take time to understand the gravity of Epstein’s offenses or the harm to his young victims. I take responsibility for those errors.”

    At Harvard, Bacow noted the university’s decentralization makes a review of donations more complicated than it would be at some other institutions.

    Most of the gifts from Epstein were designated for current use on research and education and were spent years ago, Bacow wrote. The largest gift, $6.5 million, was given in 2003 for the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics and spent by 2007, according to the university.

    The ongoing review identified a current-use fund and a gift to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences with an unspent balance of $186,000, Bacow noted, and university officials have decided to donate that amount to funds benefiting victims of trafficking and sexual assault.

    “This is an unusual step for the University,” Bacow wrote, “but we have decided it is the proper course of action under the circumstances of Epstein’s egregiously repugnant crimes.”

    Bacow also noted that Stephen Kosslyn, a former faculty member who benefited from donations from Epstein, designated Epstein as a visiting fellow in the Department of Psychology in 2005, and that officials were working to learn more about that appointment.

    Kosslyn did not respond to a request for comment.

    “Epstein’s behavior, not just at Harvard, but elsewhere, raises significant questions about how institutions like ours review and vet donors,” Bacow wrote. He said he would convene a group at Harvard to consider how to prevent such situations, and expressed hope that peer institutions could collaborate on solutions.

    “Jeffrey Epstein’s crimes were repulsive and reprehensible. I profoundly regret Harvard’s past association with him. . . .

    “Harvard is not perfect, but you have my commitment as president that we will always strive to be better.”

  9. #8

    LinkedIn Co-Founder Who Started ‘Decency Pledge’ Ran Interference for MIT Over Epstein


    Reid Hoffman said tech companies should have a zero tolerance for sexual harassment. Then he defended the MIT Media Lab over fallout from its Epstein ties.

    Two years ago, when accusations of sexual harassment rocked the venture capital world, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman positioned himself as a moral authority on the issue.

    Hoffman—a former PayPal executive who is now partner at prominent Silicon Valley firm Greylock, proposed what he called a decency pledge to bring to light “bad behavior” in venture capital. The movement even floated its own hashtag: #decencypledge.

    “I think zero tolerance for sexual harassment, especially egregious sexual harassment, is a completely feasible goal,” Hoffman told MIT Technology Review in a 2017 interview touting his personal reform efforts.

    Now, with his name bubbling up in connection with recent revelations about Jeffrey Epstein’s ties to the tech world, Hoffman’s own words may come to haunt him.

    In July, Vanity Fair reported that Hoffman hosted a dinner a few years ago that brought together accused sex trafficker Epstein, Elon Musk, and Mark Zuckerberg at a dinner in Palo Alto organized to honor the MIT neuroscientist Ed Boyden. Musk and Zuckerberg distanced themselves from Epstein in comments after the story ran, but Hoffman did not.

    Then in late August, the LinkedIn cofounder sprang to the defense of Joi Ito, then the director of the MIT Media Lab, who reportedly concealed donations from the convicted multimillionaire sex offender.

    It happened in a testy email exchange that was revealed by the writer Anand Giridharadas, who served on the selection jury for an award given by the lab. Giridharadas, shaken by the revelations of Ito’s ties to Epstein and on the verge of resignation, wrote to Hoffman, Ito, and his fellow jurors requesting that Ito’s correspondence with Epstein be made public.

    Ito—who not only cultivated Epstein’s patronage of the Media Lab but also took more than a million dollars for his own personal investments—did not respond to Giridharadas. But Hoffman did: The entrepreneur accused Giridharadas of being dramatic, according to the author. “Your responses frankly make me concerned about your ability to serve on an awards committee,” Hoffman wrote.

    When Giridharadas said that he would step down if Ito didn’t, Hoffman reportedly accused the writer of making it “all about you.”

    That Hoffman was the one to respond surprised him. “What I later learned from Ronan Farrow’s reporting was that Joi Ito was more responsive on email to a child rapist like Jeffrey Epstein than to mere me,” Giridharadas told The Daily Beast. “Another of his plutocratic backers, Reid Hoffman, answered in his place.”

    In light of the responses, the writer stepped down from the jury. “It’s sad to me that anyone affiliated with Epstein will outlast me on [the jury]. And that you [Hoffman] found time in this thread to attack me before you’ve said one word critical of those who abetted a predatory felon of the worst variety by selling him reflected prestige,” Giridharadas tweeted.

    The exchange with Hoffman left a sour taste in Giridharadas’ mouth.

    “We don’t need Reid Hoffman to make the world a better place or fight sexual harassment. We just need him not to use his power and money to enable a plutocratic predator like Jeffrey Epstein by being the part of the legitimizing of him that occurred after his convictions,” he told The Daily Beast.

    Giridharadas declined to share the entire email chain. Hoffman, the MIT Media Lab, and Greylock did not respond to requests for comment on the exchange or on Hoffman’s public commitments against sexual predation.

    “I was asking questions about behavior that Joi apologized for. Why is some independent funder answering questions on his behalf?” Giridharadas told the Daily Beast. “The answer if part of what has grown out of this whole story. These donors are calling the shots over there.”

    By Tuesday, Giridharadas’ name had disappeared from the Disobedience Award’s selection committee website, but Ito’s remained.

    Ito, an influential figure with a deep Rolodex of contacts in academia and the technology industry, led the MIT Media Lab to global prominence and swelled its coffers with hefty private donations over his eight years as director. He resigned after a New Yorker story revealed Ito had accepted more money from Epstein than previously thought, and made coordinated efforts to conceal these contributions.

    A social-climbing money manager who registered as a sex offender after pleading guilty to a prostitution charge in 2008, Epstein killed himself in August in federal jail while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges. After his initial conviction and 13 months in jail, he attempted to launder his reputation by donating to and socializing with a wide array of prominent scientists and politicians

    Those associates and donation recipients—Hoffman among them—have come under fire in recent months as new allegations surfaced.

    Revisiting his “decency pledge” a year after his initial commitment, Hoffman expanded on his vision, encouraging venture capitalists to “refuse to do business” with sexual harassers. In a blog post, Hoffman rails against “Outrageous and immoral behavior”—a phrase he repeats three times for effect. Hoffman specifically condemns behavior that “ignores the power relationship” between two individuals, like a manager and an employee or a VC and a founder.

    News stories heralded Hoffman’s campaign as an idea poised to sow deeper change. “A plea for ‘decency’ in shaken Silicon Valley,” the BBC headline read. “Venture Capitalists, Tech Leaders Back ‘Decency Pledge,’” The Information wrote.

    Hoffman remains close to the MIT Media Lab and funded “a $250,000, no-strings-attached prize” known as the “Disobedience Award.” The principles that form selection criteria for the award are “non-violence, creativity, courage, and taking responsibility for one’s actions.”

    In 2017, the MIT Media Lab gave one of its honorary orbs, a replica of its “Disobedience Award,” to Jeffrey Epstein.

    Remarkably, a year later, the Lab gave the award to Tarana Burke, the creator of the hashtag #MeToo, and others who ignited conversations around sexual harassment and gender discrimination in academia.

    Ethan Zuckerman, a Media Lab faculty member who resigned over the Epstein revelations, was one of the driving forces behind the award, according to The Boston Globe. MIT told the Globe the orb given to Epstein was not a copy of the Disobedience Award but declined to say how it was different.

    The contradiction disgusted Giridharadas, who joined the jury in April and was not involved in selecting last year’s recipients.

    “Here you have people who are talking a good game giving award to #MeToo founders, but where they actually have power, which is to decide whether to help legitimize a child rapist who preyed upon young girls, instead of using it to shut him down, they use it to help him come back into society, which, for all we know, helped him continue his crimes,” Giridharadas told The Daily Beast.

    This story has been updated to reflect that Giridharadas was not on the jury that selected Burke for an MIT Media Lab award.

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  11. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by timosman View Post
    Reid Hoffman said tech companies should have a zero tolerance for sexual harassment. Then he defended the MIT Media Lab over fallout from its Epstein ties.
    Never trust a male feminist.
    Never attempt to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and annoys the pig.

    Robert Heinlein

    Give a man an inch and right away he thinks he's a ruler

    Groucho Marx

    I love mankind…it’s people I can’t stand.

    Linus, from the Peanuts comic

    You cannot have liberty without morality and morality without faith

    Alexis de Torqueville

    Those who fail to learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.
    Those who learn from the past are condemned to watch everybody else repeat it

    A Zero Hedge comment

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