Good morn­ing, every­body. Thank you so much for being here. And just before I get into talk­ing about the con­fer­ence and the log­ic of today, just a lit­tle bit on ground rules. This con­fer­ence is entire­ly pub­lic. It’s entire­ly on the record. You are already as we speak under video sur­veil­lance by robot­ic cam­eras in all cor­ners, and this is so that we’re able to livestream this. But we absolute­ly encour­age you to blog, to tweet, to share in what­ev­er way you feel like shar­ing. I sus­pect there are Pokémon to cap­ture some­where in this build­ing, but if you do, make sure that you’re talk­ing about the for­bid­den nature of it at the same time. The hash­tag for the events is #for­bid­den­ml. And so we’d love it if you would jump on and use that tag. 

Joi men­tioned a lit­tle bit about how this event came about. For me, this event real­ly start­ed with a stu­dent mine Jeremy Rubin. And Jeremy, in late 2013, was part of a team that put togeth­er a new lit­tle tech­nol­o­gy called Tidbit. Tidbit was basi­cal­ly a sys­tem that instead of forc­ing you to look at an ad when you read a web page, grabbed your brows­er and had you mine bit­coins. And if you hap­pened to turn up any bit­coins, they went to the peo­ple who had cre­at­ed the con­tent.

And we thought this was sort of a clever idea, a proof of con­cept. But it turned out that the New Jersey Attorney General real­ly did not like this idea, and respond­ed to this idea with a sub­poe­na. And as a result, Jeremy found him­self not work­ing on inno­v­a­tive research but work­ing on a pret­ty inno­v­a­tive legal defense. And many many thanks to our friends at EFF who made that pos­si­ble.

But we found, look­ing at this, that this raised real ques­tions about what we as MIT, as an aca­d­e­m­ic insti­tu­tion, do when stu­dents and mem­bers of our com­mu­ni­ty find them­selves in trou­ble because of research that they’ve tak­en on. And this isn’t just about Jeremy Rubin. This is about Star Simpson. This is very much about Aaron Swartz. This is about peo­ple whose inno­va­tions find them­selves push­ing the lim­its and bump­ing up against legal issues, dif­fer­ent ways of pre­vent­ing peo­ple from answer­ing ques­tions that’re deeply impor­tant to ask.

And so we threw a con­fer­ence last fall called Freedom to Innovate. We were try­ing sort of an affir­ma­tive tack on this. How would we actu­al­ly go ahead and find ways to pro­tect this free­dom, this free­dom to take on nov­el new research, and to try to fig­ure out how to pro­tect our­selves from legal bar­ri­ers to it. But as we entered into that con­ver­sa­tion, we found our­selves real­iz­ing that it’s not just the legal side of things that has us bump­ing up against lim­its to for­bid­den research. In fact Karrie Karahalios, who’s going to be speak­ing lat­er today, brought up this amaz­ing top­ic, this idea that we need the abil­i­ty to be able to audit algo­rithms to find out whether they’re racial­ly biased. And it turns out that this bumps into all sorts of legal restric­tions, but also restric­tions about how we’re expect­ed to use web sites. How we think those sites are sup­posed to be used and not used.

And as we dug into this top­ic, we real­ized research gets for­bid­den for all sorts of rea­sons. We’re going to talk about top­ics today that are for­bid­den in some sense because they’re so big, they’re so con­se­quen­tial, that it’s extreme­ly dif­fi­cult for any­one to think about who should actu­al­ly have the right to make this deci­sion. We’re going to talk about some top­ics that end up being off the table, that end up being for­bid­den, because they’re kind of icky. They’re real­ly uncom­fort­able. And frankly, if you make it through this day with­out some­thing mak­ing you uncom­fort­able, we did some­thing wrong in plan­ning this event.

But it’s incred­i­bly impor­tant that we look at these for­bid­den top­ics. We’re at a par­tic­u­lar­ly dark moment in the United States. We’ve just seen an incred­i­ble wave of vio­lence, a wave of vio­lence against peo­ple of col­or at the hands of the police, a wave of vio­lence tar­get­ed at police. This is a real­ly ter­ri­fy­ing moment. It has a lot to do with gun cul­ture and gun vio­lence in the United States, which we can­not study as a pub­lic health issue because Congress in 1996 passed leg­is­la­tion that means that we can­not give mon­ey to the CDC to study gun vio­lence.

And we know that restric­tions on what we can study and what we can research are restric­tions on an open soci­ety, as we’re see­ing right now in Turkey where Erdoğan’s crack­down is focus­ing not only on the judi­cia­ry but is also focus­ing on peo­ple with­in uni­ver­si­ties, includ­ing uni­ver­si­ty deans. 

At a moment when research is for­bid­den, it is incred­i­bly impor­tant that we find ways to be cre­ative­ly and proso­cial­ly dis­obe­di­ent. And what we’re going to see here is an amaz­ing range of proso­cial­ly dis­obe­di­ent researchers on stage, talk­ing about the work that they’re doing and try­ing to fig­ure out how to brave these restric­tions, or think­ing about doing and think­ing about how to do care­ful­ly and eth­i­cal­ly.

So I’m incred­i­bly grate­ful for every­one who’s come here to take the stage today. I am par­tic­u­lar­ly grate­ful to our open­ing speak­er, who is a man who as a jour­nal­ist, as a blog­ger, par­tic­u­lar­ly as a sci-fi author, has explored this idea of protest, of activism, of proso­cial dis­obe­di­ence, bet­ter than almost any­one else I can think of. I’d like to wel­come the stage my friend Cory Doctorow.


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