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MIT Media Lab founder defends accepting Jeffrey Epstein’s money in explosive report

In a meeting at the Media Lab, founder Nicholas Negroponte reportedly said that “If you wind back the clock, I would still say, ‘Take [the money].'”

MIT Media Lab founder defends accepting Jeffrey Epstein’s money in explosive report
[Photo: David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe/Getty Images]

The MIT Media Lab incited fury when news emerged that the lab’s director, Joi Ito, had accepted money from convicted sex offender and billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, who committed suicide in August 2019 after he had been charged with sex trafficking.

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In a meeting yesterday that aimed to address the community’s questions, the lab’s founder, Nicholas Negroponte, reportedly stood up and said, “If you wind back the clock, I would still say, ‘Take [the money],'” according to the MIT Tech Review. He reportedly boasted about knowing 80% of the world’s billionaires.

Per the Tech Review:

The comments clearly stunned some of his listeners. A woman in the front row began crying. Kate Darling, a research scientist at the MIT Media Lab, shouted, “Nicholas, shut up!” Negroponte responded that he would not shut up and that he had founded the Lab, to which Darling said, “We’ve been cleaning up your messes for the past eight years.”

It’s the latest revelation in a scandal over monetary ties between Epstein and the Media Lab. Two MIT Media Lab researchers, Ethan Zuckerman and J. Nathan Matias, have already quit in response to Ito’s decision to accept money from Epstein, even after Epstein had been accused of molesting young girls and served time in prison for prostitution charges. Epstein also patronized many other prominent scientists.

Negroponte told the Boston Globe after the meeting that he would advise Ito to take Epstein’s money again, “based on what we knew at the time.” However, Negroponte says that “we are embarrassed and regret taking his money,” even if his comments in the Media Lab meeting as reported by the Tech Review imply that he would support Ito accepting Epstein’s money again.

When the ties between the Media Lab and Epstein came to light, Ito apologized and pledged to raise an equivalent amount of money to donate to nonprofits dedicated to helping sex trafficking survivors. During the meeting this week, Ito disclosed that he had accepted $525,000 from Epstein, which had been distributed throughout the lab.

The Media Lab did not respond to request for comment by press time.

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About the author

Katharine Schwab is an associate editor based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture. Email her at kschwab@fastcompany.com and follow her on Twitter @kschwabable

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