We caught Blitz the Ambassador and his crew practicing backstage before they performed at PopTech yesterday evening.
Science Fellow Adrien Treuille, a professor of computer science and robotics at Carnegie Mellon, is using gaming to advance scientific research. Through online video games, he’s harnessing the power of human logic and creativity to solve some of the most complex computational problems in biomedicine: protein folding and RNA synthesis.
Tens of thousands of people play his games, FoldIt and EteRNA - proof that heady scientific problems can be crowdsourced and that video games don’t have to be mindless fun. “We’ve crowdsourced the whole scientific method from hypothesis to experiment to results,” Treuille (pronounced “Troy”) told the audience yesterday at PopTech.
FoldIt, which can be downloaded from the Internet, launched in 2008. The challenge? Proteins are the key to life at the cellular level. But understanding how a string of amino acids, the fundamental units of a protein, fold into its final, three-dimensional structure, is an incredibly difficult problem that, until now, has taken significant time, money and computational power. FoldIt players compete to figure out which of the numerous possible protein structures possible in nature is actually the best one.
Social Innovation Fellow Michael Murphy is looking at ways design can help address social issues. His company MASS Design takes a holistic approach to building environments that are innovative, involve local investments and are well-designed.
As an example, Murphy discussed a recent hospital project in northern Rwanda. Knowing that many hospitals unwittingly spread infection to the very patients they're trying to heal, the team wondered how they could design a space that would help reduce rather than increase infection rates. One solution was to design the hospital with no hallways, where people (and germs) tend to congregate. They also took advantage of Rwanda's great airflow to create a design using natural ventilation.
The team took on another challenge: how to isolate and highlight the beauty of the local stone used to build the hospital as a way to showcase the resources of the community? They envisioned no visible mortar or cement, just the stone. By the time the local craftsman had built the wall, they had created a beautiful structure of which they were extremely proud. This told the team that they can affect the community in many significant ways.
Murphy asked the crowd: What happens if we don't think about issues of safety and design? "It's not the earthquake that killed people in Haiti," he cautioned,"it's the buildings that fell on people." What if we gave jobs to only the community around us? What economies could we create? Buildings that are currently making us sicker could actually make us better. Of his company's work, Murphy said, "These are the kinds of building that can make us heal."
Image: Kris Krug (photo) and Perrin Ireland, Alphachimp Studio (illustration)
Today's presenters examined the themes of rebalancing, reframing, restoring and researching. We heard from a family historian, a Nobel Prize winner, a space suit developer and a President. A PopTech iPad app launched, a funky band played, we met a slew of impressive young scientists and innovators, and we announced that we're planning a trip to Iceland!
It's hard to pick favorite moments from all this great content, but here is some of the stuff that lit up Twitter, caused heads to nod in agreement in the Opera House and had us tearing up or cheering backstage. Is your favorite moment missing? Add it to the mix!
Bhagwan Chowdry: With three billion people living in poverty, can financial citizenship begin at birth with a $100 savings deposit and a unique universal ID? With the ability to easily access this deposit through mobile branchless banking, the poor can begin to save. Through his organization, Financial Assistance at Birth (FAB), Chowdry makes the case for providing aid to registered children, as well as the incentive for banks to host these deposits. His organization is enlisting the support of international media and everyday people to make this dramatic vision into a reality.
I chose the democratic will of the people over the force of the market.
--Ólafur R. Grímsson, the first head of state to present at PopTech and the first standing ovation of the day!
Rajendra Pachauri: With greenhouse gas emissions increasing and endangering human health and the future of the planet, there is only a short window of opportunity in which to bring about rapid change. The enormous challenge that climate change represents requires an integrated risk management approach that takes into account the scientific information we have today. Innovative thinking and working together can help us face down this challenge.
Pictures have power. When you show a picture, it is believed.
-- Shahidul Alam on why he became a photojournalist.
It's not every day that a president comes to Maine. Ólafur Grímsson, Iceland's fifth and current president, gave a much-anticipated talk on Iceland's challenges since its economic collapse in October of 2008. Shortly thereafter, two consecutive volcano eruptions stalled international air traffic, spewed tons of ash into the air and generally wrought additional mayhem to an already belabored country. "Despite all our technological innovation," says Grímsson, "we learned we are not masters of our universe."
What Icelandic leaders also learned in the three years since the "financial tsunami" hit is a fascinating story of how implementing comprehensive political and social reform turned their economy around much faster than anyone anticipated. Grímsson was under enormous international political pressure to make the Icelandic people take financial responsibility for the actions of private banking institutions, which he strongly disagreed with. He was faced with serving the will of the people versus bending to the pressures of the market. To Grímsson, the choice was crystal clear. "I chose the democratic will of the people over the force of the market."
His talk at PopTech today explores the crucial linkage between democracy and the free market, explains the increasingly important role of social media in empowering people to challenge institutions, gives a shout-out to clean energy, and ultimately brings the PopTech crowd to its feet.
Note: PopTech's Emily Spivack had a chance to sit down with Grímsson for a one-on-one chat. We'll be posting this interview soon, so check back.
Thoughts of Maine are often accompanied by thoughts of fresh, delicious food. From locally-harvested seafood to sweet summer blueberries and of course a certain bi-clawed crustacean, Maine has carved a delicious niche in the foodie hall of fame.
What better way to welcome PopTech attendees to Maine than by inviting them to participate in a cooking class run by Salt Water Farm's chef/owner Annemarie Ahearn and farm director Ladleah Dunn? Just north of Camden at Salt Water Farm, they're all about local: growing their own herbs, keeping chickens and ducks, baking their own bread. It's all part of their mission of teaching others, hands-on, how to transform local, seasonal ingredients into healthy, sustainable food.
During Wednesday's afternoon session, a baker's dozen attendees heard how Ahearn hoped to bring back the "lost culinary skills of our grandparents"; skills like pickling, smoking and butchering. Participants broke into smaller groups to knead bread, separate cheese and mix marmalade. Director (and Maine native) Dunn explained that the purpose of the session was to view creating food as a metaphor: how small, everyday changes like making your own bread or growing your own vegetables can have a much larger impact.
Ahearn, who moved to Maine from New York and opened Salt Water Farms two years ago, says she fell in love with Maine "through its food and the people who produce it." She generously shared a recipe for marmalade that PopTech attendees made for themselves - a sweet start to the conference indeed. Read more...
We're excited to announce that the first meeting of the PopTech Climate Resilience network will convene February 7-11, 2012, in Nairobi, Kenya to explore new, collaborative opportunities to bolster the resilience and adaptive capacity of vulnerable populations. According to PopTech’s Executive Director, Andrew Zolli, “Our selection of Kenya as the setting for the Lab was intentional and will provide participants with a unique immersion into the immense humanitarian challenges being experienced in the Horn of Africa.”
A key goal of the Lab is the instigation of collaborative partnerships among Lab participants. Similar to PopTech’s previous Labs, the Climate Resilience Lab brings together carefully chosen, peer networks of scientific, technical and social innovators, community stakeholders, designers and thought-leaders to work together to uncover new, unconventional approaches to tackling some of the world’s most difficult challenges.
The outcomes growing out of the Climate Resilience Lab will be shared at various PopTech gatherings and published reports throughout 2012.
The program is made possible with the partnership of the Nike Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation.
Image: Hamish Wilson / Panos Pictures
Image: Thatcher Cook for PopTech
Yes, you heard it right. PopTech 2012: Toward Resilience is taking place from June 27-29, 2012 in Reykjavik, Iceland, a country known for its hot springs, volcanoes, geysers, and mountains – and probably lesser known for listing all its residents’ phone numbers by their first name.
PopTech will convene a gathering of researchers, practitioners and thought leaders – working in fields such as international development, global business, climate adaptation, social psychology, economics, systems ecology, public health, emerging technology, disaster relief and community activism - for a dialogue about the emerging field of resilience. This area of research is yielding powerful insights into how to build systems that anticipate disruption, heal themselves when breached and can reorganize themselves to maintain their core purpose.