PopTech Blog

Posts by Kiley Lambert

Three ideas whose time has come: Dr. Oscar Arias Sánchez on the future of world security

Increased investment in human development, a fundamental restructuring of the way international aid is distributed, and a comprehensive treaty to regulate the global trade in small arms are three ideas whose time has come, according to former president of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace Laureate Dr. Oscar Arias Sánchez.

President Arias presented these ideas during his keynote at last week’s Affordable World Security Conference (AWSC) presented by the EastWest Institute and the W.P. Carey Foundation at the Newseum in Washington D.C. PopTech was one of the conference's many partner organizations.

The AWSC was a two-day event that featured top thinkers and a distinguished guest list to discuss ways in which the United States and other countries must weigh competing priorities and find new ways to ensure comprehensive human security in an era of increasingly limited resources.

For President Arias, investments in education, public health, and poverty reduction are far more likely to increase security for all nations than unchecked investment in weapons of war.

“Imagine the impact on security by reducing poverty by half,” Dr. Arias said in his moving and matter-of-fact speech. “Imagine the impact on security of universal primary education. Imagine the impact on security in eliminating the digital divide. Imagine the impact on security in drastic reductions in hunger and sickness.  These changes would take power from terrorists and dictators in ways that weapons never could.”

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Climate Resilence Lab: A recap

Last week, PopTech brought together an amazing and diverse group of thinkers, stakeholders, and domain experts in Nairobi, Kenya for our Climate Resilience Lab.  The three-day event was our first major convening around the issue of building resilience to climate change effects at the community level with a particular focus on identifying the roles of and opportunities for girls and women.

PopTech Labs are part of our ongoing mission to bring together carefully curated networks around issues of vital importance to business, society and the planet.  The goal of every Lab is to map a particular space, identify opportunities for disruptive innovation and ideas, and to collaboratively design unconventional actions to propel such ideas forward.  Labs foster sustained conversations that last well beyond the initial gathering as network ties deepen and new questions and solutions emerge. Read more...

Climate Resilience Lab: PopTech goes to Nairobi

The effects of climate change are well documented. Climactic events such as floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, typhoons, and prolonged droughts are among the most visible results of recent dramatic changes in the earth’s atmospheric conditions. Less visible, perhaps, is the effect these events have on the world’s most vulnerable populations – girls and women in resource-poor communities.

It is a cruel fact that those with the least resources to combat the effects of adverse climate events are also the most vulnerable to those effects. A 2011 Plan UK study convincingly articulates the degree to which girls and women bear the brunt of climate disasters:

  • Women and girls are recorded as 90% of those killed by the 1991 cyclone in Bangladesh and up to 80% of the loss of lives in the 2004 Asian Tsunami. In 2007, an estimated 1.5 million people were left homeless due to rains and flooding in 18 African countries with women and children representing more than three quarters of those displaced by natural disasters.
  • A study by the London School of Economics (LSE) analyzed disasters in 141 countries and concluded that gender differences in loss of lives due to natural disasters are directly linked to women’s economic and social rights. The study also found that in societies where women and men enjoy equal rights, losses in lives due to natural disasters were more gender balanced.  
  • The LSE study found that boys are likely to receive preferential treatment in rescue efforts, and in the aftermath of disasters both women and girls suffer more from the shortages of food, and from the lack of privacy and safety of toilet and bathing facilities, and sleeping arrangements. In addition, in many countries, girls are discouraged from learning survival skills such as swimming or climbing.

When you add to this mix proscribed gender roles and cultural norms which place undue hardships on adolescent girls such as demanding household and family tasks and responsibilities, their lack of access to information and resources, lack of knowledge of their rights and of life-saving skills, and lack of power in decision-making, the problem makes itself manifestly clear.

Building resilience to climate change among at-risk communities is no easy task, but one thing is certain: girls and women must be active agents in the creation of any meaningful solutions. Strengthening the resilience of communities requires both a recognition of their place of the front lines of this battle and also must draw upon their unique skills, experiences, and knowledge.

This February 7-11, 2012, we will be hosting our Climate Resilience Lab in Nairobi, Kenya in collaboration with our partners from the Nike Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation in an attempt to address these very issues. The Lab will bring together a carefully chosen network of climate researchers, gender experts, social innovators, technologists, designers, and community champions, to explore new possibilities in this domain. Our goal is to move “beyond the white paper” to identify and collaborate on high-potential new approaches that can be tested, scaled, and implemented.

We will explore new ideas, interrogate existing models to see what’s working and what isn’t, and identify and build on the most effective methods as we move forward. We encourage you to visit the Lab's webpage, review the research, and meet our participants. We will be sending updates from the Lab itself as well as producing video, photographic, and written content that will tell the story of what the PopTech community is doing to address this timely and critically important issue.

PopTech at the movies

Next week at PopTech 2011, we are proud to present the PopTech Film Series—an evening of screenings and discussions to explore the power of film to tell stories and generate lasting social change.

Up first is a panel discussion with PopTech alumni Ian Lipkin (PopTech 2008) and Laurie Garrett (PopTech 2008), and award-winning screenwriter Scott Z. Burns as they take you behind the scenes of the blockbuster film Contagion to show the incredibly complex and frighteningly real science that went into creating this dystopian vision of a human world devastated by a killer virus. We will not be screening Contagion so be sure to see the film before joining us for this discussion.


Immediately following the panel discussion is a screening of the documentary Made in India presented by The Economist Film Project. A Q&A with filmmaker, Vaishali Sinha and The Economist business correspondent Lane Greene will take place after the screening. Made in India is a feature-length documentary film about the human experiences behind the phenomena of "outsourcing" surrogacy to mothers in India. From the personal struggle of an Indian woman working to support her family to that of an American couple yearning to have a child, this film reveals the legal and ethical implications of their choices, and presents the conflict between the personal and the political dilemmas of surrogacy.

The Economist Film Project is an initiative by The Economist, in partnership with PBS NewsHour, to share the work of independent, international documentary filmmakers with audiences who are passionate about uncovering the world's untold stories.

This event is free and open to the public. The PopTech Film Series will be on Friday October 21 at 7:30 pm at the Camden Opera House at 29 Elm Street.

Images: Contagion and The Economist Film Project

Anne-Marie Slaughter on the globalization of problems and solutions

Foreign Policy's latest issue is focused on the theme, What will the world look like in 2025? In Anne-Marie Slaughter's (PopTech 2011) response, Problems Will Be Global -- and Solutions Will Be Too, she sees a world dominated by multilateralism and sub-U.N. state organizations. The countries that will fare best are those that will be able to do more with less.  Global statecraft and grand strategy will be a thing of the past as smaller non-state actors will take advantage of an unprecedented ability to self-organize around issues of importance. 

As the full consequences of genuinely global interconnectedness continue to make themselves felt, the world of both states and the societies they represent will have no choice but to adapt.

Ultimately, the potential for tremendous catastrophe will continue to grow until something monumentally terrible happens.  A global calamity might not be good news for individual humans but will most likely be beneficial for humanity.

The World Rebalancing: A PopTech 2011 preview

What does “The World Rebalancing” look like today?  To us, it’s health care techniques borrowed from Iran and implemented in rural Mississippi; a look at how the international black market threatens state security; an American revisiting the India of his ancestors; the global effect of empowering women in traditionally patriarchal societies; a Ghanian-born, Brooklyn-based rapper returning to the land of his youth; and a singer-songwriter duo from Pakistan using music to bridge cultural divides.

These are but a few of the topics, personalities, and cultural touchstones that will be on stage and up for discussion at PopTech 2011.  Far from relying on the traditional sources to help us define what it means to be a global citizen in 2011, we have scoured the planet for the freshest voices and perspectives, amazed at every turn by the myriad ways in which this rebalancing world manifests itself.

Today, we’re excited to preview some of the names you’ll see on our stage this year:

  • Reuben Margolin creates large-scale kinetic sculptures that use pulleys and motors to create the complex movements and structures we see in nature.  He will present a new collaboration with Gideon Obarzanek at this year’s conference.
  • Gideon Obarzanek is an Australian choreographer whose modern dance company Chunky Move dazzles audiences with its use of interactive sound and light technologies to create genre-defying dance performances.  He will present a new collaboration with Reuben Margolin at this year’s conference.
  • Dr. Aaron Shirley is a physician who recently began adapting health care delivery techniques imported from Iran as part of his ongoing lifelong efforts to improve the quality of life for citizens of the rural Mississippi Delta.
  • Capt. Wayne Porter and Col. Mark Mykleby are the authors of the groundbreaking “Mr. Y” article entitled “A National Strategic Narrative” which proposes that the United States must refocus its foreign policy priorities and invest less in overt militarization and more in education, development aid, and sustainability infrastructure.
  • Thomas Thwaites, a designer whose work examines how technology interacts with beliefs to shape our society, built a toaster completely from scratch (even going so far as sourcing his own crude oil to create homemade plastic) in his acclaimed Toaster Project.
  • Jan Chipchase is the Executive Creative Director of Global Design at frog design and a global design anthropologist.
  • Unity Dow, a lawyer, human rights activist, and writer from Botswana, was the first female high court judge in Botswana’s history and is the author with Max Essex of Saturday is for Funerals, an examination of the AIDS epidemic in Botswana.
  • Stephanie Coontz teaches history and family studies at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and is the author of A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s.
  • Nils Gilman is an intellectual historian from the University of California, Berkeley and the author of Deviant Globalization, an anthology that explores how globalized black market economies are challenging traditional state authority.
  • Anand Giridharadas is an American-born writer whose first book, India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation’s Remaking, is a work of narrative nonfiction about his return to the India that his parents left.
  • Dr. Anne-Marie Slaughter is one of the world’s most respected thought leaders in international relations. A former director of policy planning for the State Department, she has long argued for a values-based approach to foreign policy.
  • Tony Orrico, sometimes described as the “Human Spirograph,” is a visual artist, performer, and choreographer whose Penwald Drawings are a series of bilateral drawings in which Tony explores the use of his body as a tool of measurement to inscribe geometries through movement and course.
  • The David Wax Museum fuses traditional Mexican folk with American roots and indie rock to create an utterly unique Mexo-Americana aesthetic.  Combining Latin rhythms, call-and-response hollering, and donkey jawbone rattling, they have electrified audiences across the country and are “kicking up a cloud of excitement with their high-energy border-crossing sensibility” (The New Yorker).
  • Blitz the Ambassador is a Ghanian-born, New York-based MC, composer, and producer who combines a lightning-fast mind, the political boldness of Chuck D, and the sixth groove sense of Fela Kuti to unleash psychedelic Afrobeat colors and triple-time rhymes on his album Native Sun (Embassy MVMT).
  • Zeb and Haniya are a singer-songwriter duo from Lahore, Pakistan whose debut album, Chup (Hush) broke to glowing reviews in Pakistan. Their music speaks to a shared base of human experience while evoking the rich and textured soundscapes of West Asia.

Stay tuned for more announcements as the conference draws closer. We hope you’ll join us October 19-22!

"We can do it faster." President Obama announces the Materials Genome Initiative



On Friday, President Barack Obama announced an ambitious new plan to double the speed with which new materials are discovered, developed, and manufactured. The Materials Genome Initiative for Global Competitiveness, launched as part of the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, will leverage existing Federal investments to foster greater cooperation among all stakeholders in the hope of increasing domestic manufacturing.

"The invention of silicon circuits and lithium-ion batteries made computers and iPods and iPads possible -- but it took years to get those technologies from the drawing board to the marketplace," the President said while visiting Carnegie Mellon University's National Robotics Engineering Center. "We can do it faster."

A press release from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy explained the inspiration for the project and its ultimate goals:

“In the same way that the Human Genome Project accelerated a range of biological sciences by identifying and deciphering the basic building blocks of the human genetic code, the Materials Genome Initiative will speed our understanding of the fundamentals of material science, providing a wealth of practical information that entrepreneurs and innovators will be able to use to develop new products and processes."

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Shoot now, focus later: the new Lytro camera

Ten-thumbed amateur photographers (and A/V geeks of all stripes) take heart!  Lytro has developed a new kind of camera that uses light field photography to create photographs that can be focused after you take the shot (click on the above photograph to see how it works). 

The light field is the amount of light traveling in every direction through every point in space – it’s all the light rays in a scene. Conventional cameras can not record the light field. The Lytro camera substitutes powerful software for many of the internal parts of regular cameras, and sophisticated algorithms transform the light field into what Lytro calls "living pictures."

The technology for light field photography has been around for a while, but the breakthrough is Lytro's light field sensor which essentially packs a multi-lens array into a portable, point-and-shoot body through the replacement of hardware with software that allows the user to manipulate the focus after the shot has been taken.

Lytro company founder Ren Ng, 31, developed the software for the new camera while a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford University.  He recently told PC Magazine:

"When a regular camera focuses physically, what the regular camera is doing is adjusting the lens relative to the sensor to bring different parts of the scene into focus. So if we have the whole light field, what we can do what that physical lens would normally have done, but in computation."

The Lytro is expected to hit store shelves later this year.

Images: Lytro

PdF 2011 Day One: What we learned at the revolution


Alaa Abd el Fattah; photo credit: Esty Stein

The first day of the Personal Democracy Forum took place yesterday at New York University's Skirball Center. Below are some key takeaways from the session Disruptive people, disruptive technologies: Learning from the Middle East, North Africa and beyond.

Tunisian blogger Riadh Guerfali on control: "It is not the Internet that accelerated history. It is that part of the uncontrolled Internet that accelerated history. If technology and communication tools are controlled, nothing happens."

Sahara Reporters founder Omoyele Sowore on what matters: "Internet is not revolution. There's nowhere Internet can replace putting feet on the ground to confront oppression.  It's not about slogans; it's about determination."

Egyptian activist and online organizer Alaa Abd el Fattah on reality: "What do you think is the technology I used the most while in Tahrir [Square]? Rocks. Rocks and clubs."

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World Science Festival 2011: Shifting the balance in the war on cancer

"Winning" the war on cancer might be impossible, but for the panelists at "Cancer's Last Stand? The Genome Solution" hosted by the World Science Festival Thursday night at the New York University Kimmel Center, cancer genomics could represent a radical shift in the balance of power between researchers and a disease that claims some 7 million lives annually.

Cancer genomics, the study of the human cancer genome, is, according to the National Cancer Institute at the National Institute of Health, "a search within 'cancer families' and patients for the full collection of genes and mutations - both inherited and sporadic - that contribute to the development of a cancer cell and its progression from a localized cancer to one that grows uncontrolled and metastasizes (spreads throughout the body)."

Modeled after the Human Genome Project, the 15-year long process to sequence all 3 billion base pairs in the human genome (a virtual blueprint for a human being) that ended in 2003, the Cancer Genome Atlas is a collective database as scientists and academics attempt to sequence the entire array of genetic mutations that cause every known type of cancer.

According to Eric Lander, one of the principal leaders of the Human Genome Project, the number of cancerous genetic mutations is finite because the number of base pairs in the human genome is finite.  "The key is finding the Achilles' heels for the mutations in these pathways."

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