TEDx brings global vision to Storrs
Published: Monday, September 23, 2013
Updated: Sunday, September 29, 2013 23:09
Invited students, speakers and performers gathered in Laurel Hall Saturday for UConn’s first ever TEDx event.
The all-day conference featured talks on technological, global and social trends from renowned professionals in Connecticut, New York and Illinois.
President and creator of the TEDxUConn Club, David Ritter called it “a testament of university that we only had to fly one person in.”
“We have a lot of talent here,” he said.
The day’s theme was “future in focus.” Wendell Wallach, chair of the Technology and Ethics Group at Yale University and ‘friendly skeptic’, started off the tech talks separating the hype from the reality of the innovations that drive our lives. He predicted the invention of a car that would send a text message while driving itself; he argued that that same car would still require a human driver to intervene and prevent an accident. Wallach thinks that society has trusted the developments in technology so much, he named this “techno-immortality.” It comes with social consequences that he referred to as robots taking more and more jobs.
“Jobs created by technology cannot keep up with the jobs technology is destroying,” he said.
Wallach then raised some environmental questions about the exaggerated dangers of fuels and the growing support of nuclear power. Relating the two, he proved that not all questions are answered; he invited the audience to wait and see the results.
Mark Ritter, senior manager in the Physical Sciences department at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center, introduced a crossroads in computation: the power of the brain versus the power of the computer. He cited speech recognition in cell phones, as an example; and how it is not quite as good as a human’s ability to understand language. Ritter said he believed in the need for cognitive technology to sort through the vast knowledge available to us, but stressed a difference between man and machine.
“We aren’t trying to create a human brain, we are trying to create a machine with cognitive abilities that are useful to us.”
Also contributing a tech perspective was David McQueeney, Vice President of Technical Strategy & Worldwide Operations at IBM Research. McQueeney addressed cloud computing and how sharing devices has made collaboration possible and completing tasks more efficient. He cited this to the digital revolution taking place in the physical world, with changes in pattern analysis, analytics and other things.
“The world’s data is growing exponentially, but the ability to understand it as humans is linear– there’s a gap here,” he said.
Cognitive computing is one way McQueeney thinks to adapt to the rapid changing digital world. He pushed that we should render this “big data” into a form that is understandable to humans and force our devices to interact with humans the way we do with each other. This way, humans would not have to work to understand a program or software. It would understand us.
“It’s not about programming anymore,” he said, “It’s assembling it and giving it to us as humans, seeing data sources that we never could have amassed on our own.”
Adding to the noise was Anish Bhimani, Managing Director and Chief Information Risk Officer of JP Morgan Chase. His concern was the cyberthreat of privacy. Hackers are now targeting people – because they can. All the data is in once place, migrating to the smartphone. He tackled how individuals can control the data that is currently out of their control.
“We talk about the mobile device being a security problem…why not harness it for security,” he said.
Bhimani predicted that using a mobile phone as authentication is where society is headed, a challenge to both security and privacy. That is, using a device that already stores such private information (personal, consumer, etc) and harnessing that into advanced functions, such as recognition–i.e. not using a PIN at the bank because that device is in your pocket.
Cato Laurencin, Director of the Institute for Regenerative Engineering at UConn, discovered a breakthrough in medicine by creating his own field: regenerative engineering. With the growing popularity of musculoskeletal injuries in the United States, Laurencin realized that polymer fibers could be used to mimic (and eventually achieve) cell growth to repair tissue. Cells were found to attach to the engineered fibers and grow in their direction, covering the damaged area. Engineered ligaments were implanted in man for the first time this past July.
Connectedness within the community is what Ben Berkowitz had in mind when he and a group of his friends created SeeClickFix. The website is a platform that allows citizens to document small issues around town and raise the attention of local government.
“We realized this could solve big problems,” he said.
The New Haven-based site highlighted ‘watch areas’ (or problem spots) and town officials received alerts.
“Potholes are the gateway drug to civic engagement,” he said.
SeeClickFix quickly grew in popularity and expanded into other neighborhoods. Berkowitz realized that this web tool built trust between the government and its citizens and vice versa.
“I do think you should as what your government can do for you,” he said, “but you will never know what your government can’t do without you.”
Susan Randolph, Associate Professor in the Department of Economics at UConn, describes herself as an economist that believes “wealth is not the food we are seeking.” She proposed that ranking the wellbeing of countries by human rights provided, instead of per capita income would improve people’s lives. Randolph cited the Social and Economic Rights Fulfillment Index (SERF Index), which rates countries by comparing level of rights they have achieved, based on what is feasible for each of them. The goal is to ultimately translate the country’s resources into the six basic human rights – the right to food, health, education, housing, work and social security.