Defiance: speaker bios


MIT Student Activism Poster Collection, 1968-1973. Courtesy MIT Museum

Courtesy MIT Museum

Joi Ito is the director of the MIT Media Lab, Professor of the Practice at MIT and the author, with Jeff Howe, of Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future (Grand Central Publishing, 2016). He is chairman of the board of PureTech Health and serves on several other boards, including The New York Times Company, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Knight Foundation. He also serves as a strategic advisor to the Sony Corporation. He is the former chairman and CEO of Creative Commons, and a former board member of ICANN, The Open Source Initiative, and The Mozilla Foundation. 

A serial entrepreneur, Ito helped start and run numerous companies including one of the first web companies in Japan, Digital Garage, and the first commercial Internet service provider in Japan, PSINet Japan/IIKK. He has been an early-stage investor in many companies, including Formlabs, Flickr, Kickstarter, littleBits, and Twitter. Ito’s awards include the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oxford Internet Institute, the Golden Plate Award from the Academy of Achievement, the SXSW Interactive Festival Hall of Fame, and the IRL Medal. He has been awarded honorary doctorates from The New School and Tufts University, and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Ito will be a visiting professor of practice at the Harvard Law School from July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2020.

Ethan Zuckerman is director of the Center for Civic Media and associate professor of the practice, MIT Media Lab. Prior to MIT, Zuckerman was a co-founder of citizen media community Global Voices, and also worked with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University on projects focused on civic media, freedom of speech online, and understanding media ecosystems. At MIT, Zuckerman has led a team focused on Media Cloud, a project that builds an archive of news stories and blog posts in order to apply language processing and present ways to analyze and visualize the resulting data. Zuckerman also founded Geekcorp, a non-profit technology volunteer corps that has done work in over a dozen countries, and helped to found Tripod, an early participatory media company. 

Esra'a Al Shafei is a Bahraini human rights activist, an outspoken defender of free speech, and founder of, a network of online platforms that amplify under-reported and marginalized voices. Together with her team, they build web projects that creatively facilitate the struggle for social justice in the region. Al Shafei currently serves on the Global Future Council on the Future of Human Rights at the World Economic Forum and is a director’s fellow at the MIT Media Lab. Previously, she was a Senior TED Fellow, Echoing Green Fellow, and Shuttleworth Foundation Fellow. She is the 2015 recipient of the "Most Courageous Media" award from Free Press Unlimited. 

Adam J. Foss is a former Assistant District Attorney in the Juvenile Division of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office (SCDAO) in Boston, MA, and a fierce advocate for criminal justice reform and the importance of the role of the prosecutor in ending mass incarceration. Foss believes that the profession of prosecution is ripe for reinvention requiring better incentives and more measurable metrics for success beyond, simply, “cases won” leading him to co-found Prosecutor Impact–a nonprofit that develops training and curricula for prosecutors to reframe their role in the criminal justice system. In 2017, the Mandela Foundation recognized Foss as the Nelson Mandela Changemaker of the Year and Fast Company named him one of the Most Creative People in Business, and The Root named him one of the 100 most influential black Americans of 2016. He was named Graduate of the Last Decade by his alma mater, Suffolk University Law School, and is a visiting senior fellow at Harvard Law School. He also is a fellow at the Open Society Foundation Leadership in Government initiative and a Director’s Fellow at the MIT Media Lab. His February 2016 TED talk has over 1.6 million views. In 2015, he was voted one of the country’s 40 most up-and-coming lawyers by National Law Journal and in 2013, the Massachusetts Bar Association voted him Prosecutor of the Year. In both his professional and personal capacities, Foss volunteers much of his time to the communities in which he works.

Masha Gessen is a journalist and the author of many books, including Perfect Rigor; Blood Matters; Ester and Ruzya; Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot; The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy; Where the Jews Aren’t: The Sad and Absurd Story of Birobidzhan, Russia’s Jewish Autonomous Region, and the forthcoming The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia. As a journalist living in Moscow, Gessen experienced the rise of Vladimir Putin firsthand. In her 2012 bestselling book The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin, she gave the chilling account of how a low-level KGB operative ascended to the Russian presidency.

Jamila Raqib is the executive director of the Albert Einstein Institution, which promotes the study and strategic use of nonviolent action worldwide. Since 2002, she has worked closely with Dr. Gene Sharp, the world’s foremost scholar on strategic nonviolent action. Together, they developed a curriculum, Self-Liberation: A Guide to Strategic Planning for Action to End a Dictatorship or Other Oppression, which is intended to provide in-depth guidance for planning a nonviolent struggle. She represents the Institution at a number of domestic and international forums such as the Oslo Freedom Forum and the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations. Her work centers on presenting a pragmatic approach to nonviolent action to activists, human rights organizations, academics, and governments, and to individuals and groups seeking to achieve diverse goals such as opposing dictatorship, combatting corruption, attaining political rights, economic justice, environmental protection, and women’s empowerment. She holds a BA in management from Simmons College, and is a director’s fellow at the MIT Media Lab , where she is exploring how innovations in technology and education, among other fields, can contribute to greater effectiveness in nonviolent struggle. 

Julia Reda represents the European Pirate Party, a movement to defend freedoms online and to ensure that all people benefit from the fruits of technological progress. In 2014, at the age of 27, Reda was elected to the European Parliament, the transnational body that directly represents citizens in the European Union law-making process. She has made copyright reform the main focus of her work. She holds an MA in political science and communications science from Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany.

Father Eric Salobir is a Roman Catholic priest and a member of the Order of Preachers (known as Dominicans). As part of the General curia (government) of this religious order, he is in charge of media and technology. He is also the founder of the OPTIC network aimed to promote researches and innovation in the field of digital humanities. Fr. Salobir is a member of the board of the Fondazione per l’evangelizzazione attraverso i media and of the Aleteia media company (a company of the Media Participation group). He is a consultor for the Pontifical Council for communication, as well as an expert for the delegation of the Holy See at UNESCO. He teaches digital communication at the Catholic University of Paris. A graduate of the ISC Paris business school, Fr. Salobir worked at the French Embassy in Prague (economy and trade section), and for Credit Lyonnais bank (now LCL) in the merchant bank department, in Paris. He joined the Order of Preachers in the year 2000 and graduated in theology and philosophy. He was the chief editor of ROC FM radio and a member of the board of the Federation of French Radio Stations. He was also in charge of Catholic digital media production for the French TV channel France 2. 

Jose Antonio Vargas is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, filmmaker, and media entrepreneur. He is founder and CEO of Define American, a leading nonprofit media advocacy organization that uses storytelling to humanize the conversation around immigration, citizenship, and identity in a changing America. He also established #EmergingUS, the for-profit media production arm of Define American, the first media property known to have been owned by an undocumented immigrant. As a creator and curator of stories, Vargas produces the annual Define American Film Festival, a traveling event that showcases films and panels focused on America’s changing demographics. Vargas is the author of the groundbreaking New York Times Magazine essay “My Life As An Undocumented Immigrant,” and a TIME cover story, “Not Legal Not Leaving.” He is also the producer and director of Documented, which was nominated for the 2015 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Documentary, and White People, an Emmy-nominated television special for MTV’s “Look Different” campaign. The media’s evolution and the rise of the digital era has guided his career. His awards include a Public Service Award from the National Council of La Raza, the country’s largest Latino advocacy organization; the Salem Award from the Salem Award Foundation, which draws upon the lessons of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692; and the Freedom to Write Award from PEN Center USA. 

Edward You is a Supervisory Special Agent in the FBI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate, Biological Countermeasures Unit. You is responsible for creating programs and activities to coordinate and improve FBI and interagency efforts to identify, assess, and respond to biological threats or incidents. These efforts include expanding FBI outreach to the life sciences community to address biosecurity. Before being promoted to the Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate, You was a member of the FBI Los Angeles Field Office Joint Terrorism Task Force and served on the FBI Hazardous Evidence Response Team. You has also been directly involved in policy-making efforts with a focus on biosecurity. He is a former Working Group member of the National Security Council Interagency Policy Committee on Countering Biological Threats and is the current FBI ex officio member of the NIH National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity. He also serves on two committees for the National Academies of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine’s Forum on Microbial Threats and the Committee on Science, Technology, and Law’s Forum on Synthetic Biology. Prior to joining the FBI, You spent six years in graduate research focused on retrovirology and human gene therapy at the University of Southern California, Keck School of Medicine. He subsequently worked for three years at the biotechnology firm AMGEN Inc. in cancer research.

G. (“Gregg”) Pascal Zachary is a professor of practice in the School for the Future of Innovation and Society at Arizona State University. He is the author of a biography of Vannevar Bush, Endless Frontier. Since joining ASU in 2010, Zachary has received a National Science Foundation grant to study the emergence of an academic computer science community in East Africa and a Templeton Foundation grant to study ethical issues arising from the pursuit of digital means of achieving enhanced cognition. Zachary is the general editor of ASU’s Rightful Place of Science book series and, for the 2017-18 academic year, a fellow at the university’s Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics. Prior to joining ASU, Zachary lectured at Stanford University, consulted on African development for the Gates Foundation, wrote the "Ping" column on innovation for The New York Times, and (from 1987 to 1995) reported on Silicon Valley for The Wall Street Journal and San Jose Mercury News.

Jonathan L. Zittrain is the George Bemis Professor of International Law at Harvard Law School and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, professor of computer science at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, director of the Harvard Law School Library, and faculty director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society. His research interests include battles for control of digital property and content, cryptography, electronic privacy, the roles of intermediaries within Internet architecture, human computing, and the useful and unobtrusive deployment of technology in education. He performed the first large-scale tests of Internet filtering in China and Saudi Arabia, and as part of the OpenNet Initiative co-edited a series of studies of Internet filtering by national governments: Access Denied: The Practice and Policy of Global Internet Filtering; Access Controlled: The Shaping of Power, Rights, and Rule in Cyberspace; and Access Contested: Security, Identity, and Resistance in Asian Cyberspace. Zittrain is a member of the board of directors of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the board of advisors for Scientific American. He has served as a trustee of the Internet Society; as a Forum Fellow of the World Economic Forum, which named him a Young Global Leader; and as Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence at the Federal Communications Commission, where he previously chaired the Open Internet Advisory Committee. His book The Future of the Internet—And How to Stop It is available from Yale University Press and Penguin UK, and under a Creative Commons license.

Maria T. Zuber is Vice President for Research and E. A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics at MIT, where she has responsibility for research administration and policy, overseeing MIT Lincoln Laboratory and over 60 research laboratories and centers at the Institute. She is responsible for integrity and compliance, as well as technology licensing and intellectual property, and plays a central role in research relationships with the federal government. Zuber’s research bridges planetary geophysics and the technology of space‐based laser and radio systems. Since 1990, she has held leadership roles associated with scientific experiments or instrumentation on nine NASA missions, most notably serving as principal investigator of the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission. Zuber has won numerous awards including the MIT James R. Killian Jr. Faculty Achievement Award, the highest honor the MIT faculty bestows to one of its own. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Geological Society, and the American Geophysical Union. In 2015, she was elected to the Johns Hopkins Society of Scholars. Zuber is the first woman to lead a science department at MIT and the first to lead a NASA planetary mission. In 2013, President Obama appointed Zuber to the National Science Board, and in May 2016, Zuber was elected as chair of the NSB.

Graffiti Artist
Yazan Halwani is a street artist whose work focuses on exploring cultural identity through public art projects. He is best known for his use of Arabic calligraphy in novel forms, and his focus on expressing meaning through the shape of a letter, rather than through the meaning of the words. His work can be found in Lebanon, Jordan, the UAE, Tunisia, France, Singapore, and Germany. Yazan was initially motivated to paint by the urban destruction from Beirut’s Civil War, which ended before his birth, and the associated lack of a clear cultural identity in Lebanon and the Arab World. Accordingly, he started to paint on the walls to create a public memory for cultural elements in the midst of sectarian acculturation. He sometimes says that initially his work was a form of city diary to preserve some trace of once-vivid events and people that are erased from memory as the city changes. His street work purposely opposes the conception of graffiti as vandalism; indeed, he considers the Civil War led by Lebanon’s current politicians as one of the most destructive acts of vandalism. By contrast, Halwani favors a more constructive approach to street art that centers around understanding the city. His murals are typically made up of Arabic letters that form intricate, modern and stylized compositions. Such compositions can push Arabic calligraphy to become pixels for a portrait, which challenges the traditional abstraction at the core of traditional Arabic calligraphy. Other compositions transform Arabic calligraphy into a tool for musical notation, where the letters sit on musical scores. Halwani studied computer and communication engineering and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the American University of Beirut in 2015.

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