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MIT’s Joi Ito Calls for a ‘Supporting’ Role for Governments as Community Awaits BitLicense Release

Op-ed - MIT’s Joi Ito Calls for a ‘Supporting’ Role for Governments as Community Awaits BitLicense Release

As the Bitcoin community awaits New York State’s BitLicense regulations, expected to be released today, the debate about regulating digital currencies is in full swing.Director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab Joi Ito recently commented on the need to regulate in an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit saying:

“If we want Bitcoin to be widely adopted by people around the world, we need to make governments comfortable so that they don't overregulate. Otherwise, it will become a sort of underground thing that is useful for only those people savvy or intent enough to use it…”

Recognizing the inevitability of some form of government regulation, Ito said, “I think the key is that the regulators shouldn't be running the show and should take a supporting stance. If you look at ICAAN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), for example, there is a 'Government Advisory Committee' as one of the groups that advise the board, but the board is independent and the government doesn't control ICANN …”

“What would be bad is if each state and government came up with lots of regulations that contradicted each other or were slightly different so that every Bitcoin company or idea had to get permission in each state and country and had to be slightly different in each region.”

Recently, MIT Digital Currency Initiative lead Brian Forde issued detailed criticisms of the proposed BitLicense program and urged regulators to take a more balanced approach, protecting both consumers and digital currencies innovators.

MIT Media Lab hosts an open forum to debate increasing the blocksize

Although asked about his personal view on increasing the blocksize for Bitcoin, Ito says the most important thing for him is that the community of developers, entrepreneurs, miners and users openly debate and collaborate on this issue until a consensus is reached.

To assist with this process, the Media Lab has set up an online open public forum to debate whether an increase in blocksize to increase the number of Bitcoin transactions per second, is a needed step forward.Ito says the Media Lab is “happy to support the community in this way” and hopes that the current discussions can serve as a model for resolving future issues.

Is bitcoin the first or the last digital currency?

About bitcoin, Ito says: “It probably took me more time than I would like to admit for me to 'come around.' Also, I've come around to feeling it's super-important, but as Reid Hoffman likes to say, I'm still not sure if bitcoin is the first or the last digital currency. In other words, whether bitcoin itself evolves to be the final winner or whether something else inspired by bitcoin eventually takes off is still a question, I think.”

Lightning Network

On Lightning: “It’s a great idea. I’ve been thinking of bitcoin as a layer on the Internet stack, like TCP/IP. Protocols like lightning are like HTTP, making it easier and more accessible for the world. … the key is balancing the needs of people in a huge variety of environments.”


On ZeroCash: “I’m excited about the potential for technology like ZeroCash to revolutionize this space. The tricky part of any global protocol or network is that anything we do in one country ripples across the world and has unintended consequences.”


On holography: “The Object-Based Media group at the Lab is working on holography, and their various projects are on their group site. There’s a hologram of me that is still a surprise when I come around the corner and end up face-to-face with it.” Joi Ito was an early pioneer in the development of the Internet, helping start the first commercial Internet service provider in Japan. 

A former CEO of Creative Commons, Ito also has been an investor in a number of startups, including Twitter, Flickr, Kickstarter, littleBits and Formlabs, and has served on the boards of the Open Source Initiative, ICANN, The Mozilla Foundation, Public Knowledge and the Electronic Privacy Information Center.Ito believes that MIT can provide a neutral and respected academic home for the development of blockchain standards, technologies and best practices, independent of the powerful commercial and regulatory interests that are forming around the emerging digital economy.