Eight questions for Nicholas Negroponte

Nicholas Negroponte has been at the forefront of the digital revolution since the beginning. He is a pioneer in the field of computer-aided design and is the Co-founder of the MIT Media Lab. Nicholas has been an active investor and board member for companies that range from Wired Magazine to Motorola. He gave the first ever TED Talk in 1984 and founded the nonprofit One Laptop per Child, which deployed $1 billion worth of laptops for primary education in the developing world. As an investor in Collaborative Fund, we caught up with Nicholas and got some answers about how it began, his relationship with Steve Jobs, and whether he owns a drone.

What inspired you to start the Media Lab?

The idea emerged over the period 1975-1980, with a decision to do it in 1980. Thereafter it took five years to fund and to build as a concept and a building. I was running a small 30-person lab called the Architecture Machine Group (founded in 1970) and I was also the academic head at MIT for film/video, photography, computer animation, environmental art, computer music and man-machine interface (rightly or wrongly, we called it that then, not human computer interface). To make a long story short: the theory was that advances in computer science, going forward, would come from the creative users not the hard core science and technology. Simple, incredulous and eventually right.

Steve Jobs was an early investor/donor in the Media Lab correct? Tell us how that happened?

Indeed he was, when he could ill afford it, he gave us $500,000. I remember him handing me the check. At the time, circa 1980, the President of MIT, Jerry Wiesner, and I visited him through a recent alum named Johanna Hoffman. One thing led to the next. We introduced Steve to Ed Land. Steve and I became good friends.

Who else invested early in the Media Lab?

About 50 people and companies, all listed on the wall of our old building. A disproportionate number of Japanese, companies and people. A great many media companies, including Hollywood (MCA, Paramount, Fox). As well as a few anonymous.

You were the first investor in Wired Magazine. What inspired that?

Friendship with Louis and Jane. I had been interviewed for their magazine in Holland, called “Electric Word.” We closed the deal at TED2, as I recall.

What do you make of Bitcoin and blockchain technology?

I used to be Chairman of Digicash (1990’s), sort of by mistake, as the company was sinking. I learned a great deal at the time from the founder David Chaum. I was a great fan of the concept and now it has returned, in part, in the form of Bitcoin. Frankly, I have not looked at the details.

Do you own a drone?

I gave one to my grandson so, I guess I did own one.

What apps are on your home screen?

It depends which home screen: iPad, iPhone or Air. I use Flipboard a great deal.

Which is your favorite Collaborative portfolio company?