PopTech Blog

Talk of the day: President Ólafur Grímsson on Iceland's path to recovery

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. 

Salt Water Farm sets a place for PopTech

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.

Bread & cheese making session at Salt Water FarmDuring 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...

PopTech announces its next major Lab initiative on climate resilience

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.

For more information on the PopTech Climate Resilience Lab, please visit poptech.org/climate_lab, or send an email to climatelab@poptech.org.

The program is made possible with the partnership of the Nike Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation.

Image: Hamish Wilson / Panos Pictures

Image-wise: eL Seed at work at PopTech 2011

Image: Thatcher Cook for PopTech

PopTech is heading to Iceland!

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.

Learn more about why we’re gathering in Iceland and what topics we’ll be discussing. Space for this event is limited; request a registration to attend today.

Video: Introducing PopTech's 2011 Science Fellows

The 2011 PopTech Science and Public Leadership Fellows are high-potential early- and mid-career scientists working in areas of critical importance to the nation and the planet.

Science Fellow spotlight: Katherine J. Kuchenbecker


This afternoon, Katherine J. Kuchenbecker, the first member of PopTech's sophomore class of Science and Public Leadership Fellows to present at this year's conference, talked about her efforts to make robotic systems more touchy feely. "If the sense of touch is so useful to humans, why are there so few human-computer interfaces that exploit it?" she asked the crowd, citing the numerous tricky manual feats we regularly complete, such as assembling a coffee table from IKEA.

At her laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania, Kuchenbecker is working to incorporate the sense of touch, known as haptics, into human-computer interfaces. "We seek to engineer new haptic technologies that take advantage of the richness of the sense of touch...to help people do things they haven't done before," she explained.

Kuchenbecker's work stands to transform the way surgeons operate, play computer games, drive a car -- and even the way we shop online. Here are a few examples she talked about:

  • A tablet computer that actually lets you feel the objects on the screen. Think a swatch of carpeting or a fur collar.
  • Robot-assisted surgical tools that allow surgeons to feel as they cut, probe or suture, improving the quality of care.
  • A robot agile enough to manipulate almost any object it encounters, from a bunch of bananas to the chicken drumsticks you may bring home from the grocery store.  

Kuchenbecker and her graduate students have also worked to give robots the ability to communicate via touch -- one of the most important ways that humans interact. Their chosen gestures? Not a kiss or a hug or a handshake. The next time you meet a robot, try greeting it with a high five or a fist bump.

Images: Perrin Ireland, Alphachimp Studio, and Kris Krug for PopTech

Video: Introducing PopTech's 2011 Social Innovation Fellows

Around the world, visionary change agents are hard at work incubating new approaches to the planet’s toughest challenges. Introducing the PopTech Social Innovation Fellows class of 2011.

Social Innovation Fellow spotlight: Krista Donaldson & Paul Needham

The Social Innovation Fellows have always been crowd favorites at PopTech. As Andrew Zolli said when introducing the program, it's impossible to be cynical around these people who are working so hard to better the world.

This morning we met two entrepreneurs who are both working to improve the lives of people living under $4 (and in some cases much less) a day. 

Jaiphur knee illustration

First to take the stage was Krista Donaldson, who is bringing high design to the base of the pyramid. Her company D-Rev identifies high-impact opportunities and builds products that address issues such as jaundice, amputeeism and disease-detection. The organization's extensive user research and post-implementation follow-up ensures its designs have a significant and measurable impact on the people served.

"There are three things we believe in," Donaldson says, "That these products can be world-class, that they can be affordable, and that they should be user-driven." She showed a quick video demonstrating the improved mobility of a leg amputee using one of D-Rev's products called JaiphurKnee. "Our hope is that these products will catalyze industries so that anyone anywhere can go to a hospital and get the best care possible."  

Solar device from Simpa Networks

Next up was Paul Needham, who's company Simpa Networks is working to make solar energy available to underserved consumers by using a pay-as-you go pricing model. Living without electricity, explains Needham, has enormous impact.

Yet most of the "unelectrified" tend to be the poorest, with irregular and uncertain income. His company models its payment structure similar to that of pay-as-you-go mobile phones: a low initial cost for the hardware required and purchasing credits. Once the cost of the hardware is paid back, the device becomes the consumers' and the electricity generated going forward is free. 

"This device provides clean, reliable energy that leads to ownership," says Needham. "Consider the power that gives people and imagine what they could do."

Images: Perrin Ireland, www.alphachimpstudio.com 

Announcing PopTech: The World Rebalancing - our first iPad app!

PopTech, along with our partners, has created an iPad app to explore new ways to visualize a world that’s in the midst of a global realignment.  Recognizing that data can tell rich stories, this app synthesizes varied types of data, allowing users to:

  • Navigate the intersection of news events and personal memory via The New York Times R&D Lab,  
  • Understand how regular people around the world are describing their everyday lives using their cell phones via The United Nations Global Pulse and JANA, a mobile platform that reaches over two billion people in emerging markets.
  • Tour the forces shaping the global business landscape via PwC, and
  • Learn how remarkable innovators are creating social change around the globe via PopTech.

Learn more about the app or download it for the full experience.

The World Rebalancing app is made possible by generous support from PwC and has been supported by JANA, the New York Times R&D Lab, and the UN Global Pulse. It was designed and built by Hot Studio.