PopTech Blog

PopTech 2011 in images: Saturday highlights

Check out highlights from our last day of PopTech 2011. We hope to see you again next year!

Saturday round-up: Highlights, snapshots and quotable moments

eL Seed painting

Today we met an eleven-year old boy wonder, heard from Botswana's first female high court judge, listened to the Earth through its auroras and earthquakes, and got the lowdown from the White House's new head of the Office of Social Innovation. The "original Batman" taught the crowd echolocation, a man drew circles with his body and two Pakastani friends harmonized about their homeland.

Here’s what was most tweeted, what seemed awesome in the Opera House, and what had our staffers IMing each other from the rafters. Is your favorite moment missing? Add it to the mix!

"Art can help us explore and make tangible instincts we can't yet put into words."
— artist Daisy Ginsberg

Monetary expert Bernard Lietaer took 20 minutes to reframe the entire world economy for the audience at PopTech. He describes a possible flowering of complementary, business-to-business or inter-communal currencies that will create a more diverse, resilient economy. “Resilience requires more than one medium of exchange.”

The future is brown, the future is gendered, the future is fair.
-- Human rights activist Unity Dow

Co-founder of Ushahidi, and senior PopTech fellow Erik Hersman talked about the explosion of technology in Africa, where now a majority of people have traded and transferred bank funds using their mobile phones. “Five out of the world's top ten fastest growing economies are in Africa. If you’re an entrepreneur, why would you be anywhere else?”

With a good hand clap, I can hear a building from hundreds of yards away.
Daniel Kish, blind since infancy, who has perfected the art of human echolocation

Tony Orrico subjects himself to hours of endless repetition of gestures to produce beautiful drawings that trace the whole history of his efforts: “You can think of me as a print-making machine, but I keep the master copy.”

Molecular structure ain't nothing but a thang.
-- Reggie Watts

It's been quite a ride these past four days. We're just glad the pink monster managed to stay on his Vespa.

pink monster on a bike

Images by Kris Krug and Thatcher Cook for PopTech

Saturday talk of the Day: Daniel Kish on blindness and freedom

Daniel Kish is a self-described “real-life batman” who uses echolocation to navigate the physical world. Kish, who has been blind since he was an infant, depends on the click of his tongue to send sound waves out into the environment. Those waves bounce off his surroundings and return information to him through his sense of hearing. His ear is now so finely tuned that he can ride a bike through busy streets or go for a hike in the woods unaccompanied. In fact, neuroscientists have shown that his brain responds to acoustic signals as if they were visual stimuli.

But the most remarkable thing about Kish isn’t his sensory talent. It’s the way he has used it to empower sight-impaired individuals through his organization, World Access for the Blind. “We work with hundreds of thousands of students all over the world who cannot open their eyes. Yet the students we work with don't harken to the ideas of fear and limitation and restriction,” he told PopTech participants this morning. “We have found a way to help them open their eyes, to reclaim their freedom, to reestablish their own capacity to direct their lives in the manner of their own choosing.”


Interview: Vaishali Sinha and "Made in India"

Vashali Sinha

Vaishali Sinha's documentary film "Made in India" casts an unbiased eye toward a complex subject: that of Western couples' outsourcing surrogacy to Indian women.

PopTech: What inspired you make this film and to tell this story?
Vaishali Sinha: My co-director Rebecca Haimowitz came across an article in the LA Times in late 2006 about couples going to India to hire surrogate mothers, and she had been interested in surrogacy-related issues. I was also working on issues of personal choice and body politics. We met over a cup of coffee and found there were lots of intersections in our interests. So we decided to pick up the camera and find those who were involved in this process. We figured it had to be a documentary film because it was something that was happening right then.

How did you find the subjects of your film?
Back in 2007 when we started, it was hard to find couples who were speaking out about their experiences. Since then, things have drastically changed — there are blogs where couples connect and share. Back then, who we found to be most visible online was a marketing medical tourism company called Planet Hospital, which is featured in the film. Much like our American couple Lisa and Brian [the couple featured in the film], we found them online. They first connected us to Lisa and Brian and it pretty much happened chronologically as it happened in the film. 


Social Innovation Fellow spotlight: Jake Porway

Jake Porway

What if, instead of using data to figure out what movie to see, we used data to figure out what kind of world we wanted to see?

-- Social Innovation Fellow Jake Porway of Data Without Borders, which matches changemakers with numbers nerds to do good with data.

Image: Kris Krug

Interview: Alison Klayman on getting to know Ai Weiwei

Alison Klayman with Ai Weiwei

Alison Klayman is a freelance journalist and documentarian currently finishing a film about the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. Ai is one of China’s most well-known and controversial artists, and in recent years has produced a body of work that is often highly critical of the Chinese government. In April 2010, Ai Weiwei was detained by Chinese authorities and held for nearly three months with virtually no contact with the outside world — an event that spurred much international criticism directed at the Chinese government. Klayman’s documentary, titled Never Sorry, tracks Ai’s life and work during the period Klayman was in China between 2006-2010. Klayman plans to debut Never Sorry in 2012 on the international film festival circuit.

PopTech: When you began shooting Ai Weiwei, did you have a sense of how you wanted to tell his story?
Alison Klayman: I really wanted to do a good job of letting people get to know him as a person. Through him you get to know so much about where China’s been and where it’s going. For me, it was about how he was finding his ways to express himself and how other people in China were responding to it. So it was a story about the diversity of opinion in China. To take one person, get to know him on a human level, and through that, start to appreciate that China was not a monolithic place at all.

Can you describe some of the challenges you’ve encountered not only in conveying the obstacles that Ai Weiwei faced, but also portraying them as the story continues to evolve?
I was thinking: How do I convey to people who might not be familiar with the subtleties of how things work in China, what is subversive, what is dangerous? How do you show somebody at a computer and make it feel like — this is big, you know? Like he’s doing something intense.

At first, the Tate show was going to be my artificial end to the film because I thought that his story could go on forever. Then his studio was destroyed [by the Chinese government] and I thought the studio event is going to have to be this post-script.

Reuben Margolin & Gideon Obarzanek are Connected

Collaborators Reuben Margolin, a kinetic sculptor and Gideon Obarzanek, a choreographer, met at the 2009 PopTech conference. The two felt an instant kinship in what they were trying to achieve through their work.

Watch the making of their show "Connected"; the beautiful result when a sculpture is asked to dance.

Shorts: Dava Newman's streamlined flight suit

MIT aeronautics professor and engineer Dava Newman had a dream: that of a slimmed down astronaut. See the streamlined, mobility-enhancing "Bio-Suit" she created for protecting astronauts from atmospheres and healthcare workers from germs. Safer, sleeker and so fashionable it could make even Tim Gunn say "Bio-Suit, schmio suit -- I want it in tweed!"

Interview: Nobel Laureate Rajendra K. Pachauri

As chair of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Rajendra Pachauri oversees an organization that synthesizes the work of hundreds of scientists into reports that drive global policy, negotiates agreement from the world’s governments, and puts a public face on the most pressing environmental issues of our time. He also serves as director general of TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute) in his native India, and as director of the Yale Climate and Energy Institute. And if that’s not enough, he has had to contend with a rising tide of climate denialism that has sought to undermine the IPCC’s reputation and confuse the public and its leadership, all at a time when the world needs to be advancing, rather than retracting, solutions to climate change. 

In 2007, in his Nobel acceptance speech, Pachauri concluded with the question, “Will those responsible for decisions in the field of climate change at the global level listen to the voice of science and knowledge, which is now loud and clear?” In an interview this week with PopTech, he talked about why he’s still optimistic that we will rise to the challenge.

PopTech: You’ve been the head of the IPCC since 2002. Is the discourse around climate change different today than it was 10 years ago?
Rajendra Pachauri: I would say the level of awareness is much higher. And I think people realize that the stakes are much higher today. 

Climate change denialism is still a problem, particularly in the U.S. How is the IPCC working to combat climate skeptics and those with vested interests?
We have been rather deficient in our ability to communicate our scientific messages to the public in the past. We’re trying to repair that, to the extent possible, but I have to admit that there’s only so much that we can do. Ultimately, it’s up to other organizations that pick up the scientific findings that we bring out to disseminate them to the public -- and that certainly includes the media.  

In the end, I think scientific reality will dawn on the consciousness of people all over the world. It’s just a matter of time. After all, if you go back in history, there is no area of scientific discovery where there wasn’t very intense questioning -- and often opposition --to what new knowledge brought out. And therefore climate change, which has major public policy and economic implications, is not going to be accepted unopposed. That’s something that we should have expected, and I think we just have to do our best as a scientific body.


Interview: Shima'a Helmy and the future of revolution

Shima'a Hilmay

If the iconic image of protest in the 60's is a hippie slipping a flower into a gun barrel, the image for this generation's protest may be a Muslim woman wearing a Hijab and holding up a cell phone.

Shima'a Helmy is one of the young Egyptians who led that country's uprising in January of 2011. Using social media, street canvassing and her own steely determination to change her country for the better, 21-year old Helmy forewent her studies to help galvanize a revolution. The rest is quite literally history. 

Now a full-time human rights activist, Helmy joined filmmakers and friends Micah Garen and Marie-Helene Carleton onstage at PopTech to talk about their collaboration on an upcoming documentary film If. The film will explore what it's like being a young revolutionary through the eyes of four different Egyptian women (including Helmy), although as Garen states, their story is far from over. 

Helmy joined us for a talk in which she proves herself to be every bit as passionate as a clip from the upcoming film shows. 

PopTech: Can you speak to the dichotomy between being a devout Muslim and being an agent for change? How do these things influence each other, guide each other?
Shima'a Helmy: I think if you look deep inside the real essence of Islam, you'll see that it revolves around the fact that the Muslim is supposed to be a positive person in his or her society. They should help others, they should be cooperative, and they should try to be as positive as they can.

The situation in Egypt was against the real essence of Islam. You had corruption, you had social injustice, you had torture, you had everything against what a Muslim is supposed to be like and what the ideal of Islam is supposed to be. When I was growing up, I was trying to be a good Muslim at the same time as being a good citizen. You could say that being an active person is an essential part of being a Muslim. It’s the combination, and that following the guidelines of Islamic teachings is at the core of what people in the modern world are trying to do. All these concepts of democracy and human rights are actually found in Islam. It’s just that people don’t know. 

What did it feel like, that moment of decision for you, when you decided that you were going to get involved in the uprising?
I didn’t imagine something like this happening in Egypt. I didn’t believe in my country. I felt like I was just here for a particular period of time and then I was leaving forever. I was focusing on my studies, trying to study something very complex like biotechnology, only to distract myself from how terrible the situation in Egypt was. And then, when this whole thing started, I wasn’t sure if I was going to participate. But I went with my sister, and then when we saw people around, and we saw it’s not really that hard, as soon as you cross the line of fear it just happens.