TEDxASU event looked ahead to the future
If you missed the fourth annual TEDxASU event earlier this spring, you’re in luck — the presentations are now available to view online.
The March 25, student-organized event showcased nine speakers with expertise ranging from cancer diagnosis and plastic pollution to space governance and the nexus of art and technology.
“It’s important to us to place a variety of people on stage — students, faculty, community and industry leaders from different backgrounds and perspectives,” says Ammar Tanveer, founder and executive director of TEDxASU.
Organizing around the theme “NextGen,” speakers cast their minds to the 22nd century to imagine what waits on the horizon in their respective fields.
“We settled on NextGen for a couple reasons,” says Tanveer, a doctoral candidate in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “We wanted to convey that TEDxASU was taking a step forward as an organization, but also to focus on the future broadly, and incorporate talks from different viewpoints and disciplines.”
More than 1,600 people attended the event at Gammage Auditorium, an increase from the attendance at the previous events which were held at Tempe Center for the Arts and the Marston Exploration Theater.
Read on to learn more about each of the ASU speakers, their topics and view their TEDxASU talks.
Joshua LaBaer, executive director of the ASU Biodesign Institute, focused on his optimism for the future of early cancer diagnosis. LaBaer, who also heads the Biodesign Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics, spoke about looking beyond just cells to diagnose the disease. Instead, LaBaer and his colleagues developed a method to identify the proteins within cells that may signal cancer.
“We had the idea to look for an abundance of antibodies against a cancer protein, that might be a sign that person had cancer,” said LaBaer. “The presence of those antibodies tells us that person might have cancer.”
Timiebi Aganaba-Jeanty, an assistant professor in the ASU School for the Future of Innovation in Society, spoke about the future of space governance and the need to emphasize that space belongs to all of humanity, not powerful nations or corporations.
Citing the rise of the European Space Agency and recently established African Space Agency, as well as private enterprises like SpaceX and Blue Origin, Aganaba-Jeanty stated that even now space exploration is evolving into a diverse, multi-stakeholder environment.
Aganaba-Jeanty, who’s worked on space governance research in four different countries, called for closer collaboration and communication among space agencies and enterprises to stave off misunderstanding and conflict over resources and territory, as well as a greater focus on inclusion and education in space research.
“We have to get better at how we communicate and articulate the benefits and value of space to the general public,” she said. “This is important, because as long as the general public believes that space is the purview of Star Trek fans, they won’t understand that this affects our everyday lives.”
Stephen Lockhart, an ASU undergraduate student studying computer science in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, discussed the challenges people with disabilities face, despite living in a world of increasingly sophisticated technology.
Lockhart was part of a team that developed a robotic guide dog, which went on to win first prize at the Intel Cup Undergraduate Electronic Design Contest in Shanghai, China. He said he was inspired by Stephen Hawking and his accomplishments, enabled in part by technology.
He urged people to look at ways to make technology more accessible for all.
Speaking about the robotic guide dog, Lockhart said, “It’s part of that foundation that proves what we can do with even existing technology to help people that are disabled, and in addition to that, develop newer technologies expressly designed for people who are disabled.”
In her talk, “Giving AI a Sporting Chance,” Victoria Gilchrist challenged the notion that video surveillance only leads to abuse and invasions of privacy.
The recent ASU graduate, who earned her master’s degree in sustainability leadership, argued that AI-powered video survellience can be employed to curb abuse, specifically that of sex trafficking victims.
Gilchrist cited a ASU study that found a marked increase in sex advertisements online during the 2014 and 2015 Superbowls. Her solution? Utilize the already-prevalent video surveillance at sporting and concert venues to identify and aid victims of sex trafficking.
While she acknowledged the controversial nature of her proposal, she noted that this technology is already used in everyday applications — such as unlocking phones — as well as police departments from San Diego to New Delhi.
“Using artifical intelligence facial recognition technology to help rescue victims from sex trafficking is the next step in the continuum,” said Gilchrist.
Katrina Michael, a professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering, explored the possibility of widespread brain implants and the dangers inherent in such a technology.
She imagined a future in which humans become so thoroughly integrated with the digital world that bodies became secondary and in some cases, obsolete altogether. Michael examined the benefits of a purely digital existence before calling into question the effects, some of which we’re grappling with already.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are becoming entangled in the wires and cables,” said Michael. “We lust for high tech but have no overload switch and are short circuiting as a result.”
Director of the School of Arts, Media and Engineering Xin Wei Sha traced the evolution of human-centered technology and imagined where it might be headed.
With the aid of demonstrations on stage, he explored how we could shift our interactions with information, one another and technology in general from the screen to the physical world to create richer, fuller experiences.
Sha spoke about displaying information interactively to bridge differences and build understanding.
“Bring people together using both the poetic and scientific to steer complex systems, so people can learn to navigate together and decide what we should do,” he said.
Professor Rolf Halden, director of the Biodesign Center for Environmental Health Engineering, and Charlie Rolsky, graduate student and teaching assistant in biology, presented a sobering but humorous examination of our society’s addiction to plastic.
The pair highlighted the shortcomings of plastic recycling — including the fact that only one in four plastic bottles placed in a recycling bin is actually recycled. The others end up in a landfill or the environment as pollution. Though often out of sight and out of mind, that pollution impacts us, making its way back to us through water and food — causing health issues in addition to contaminating the environment overall.
But the entire talk wasn’t doom and gloom — Halden and Rolsky gave the audience some tips on how they can help alleviate the impacts of our reliance on plastic. They pointed out alternatives to plastic packaging to look for while shopping, as well as changes to daily habits that would benefit us all.
“We come to events like this to get inspired and gain knowledge. I’ve sat in that seat and listened to someone on stage discussing a complicated problem,” said Rolsky to the audience. “All I remember is yearning for a solution, something external, something you can tell me. But in reality, Rolf and I were looking at the solution.”
Halden chimed in, reminding everyone that we’re all part of the solution. He urged the audience to retrain their brains to see plastics as the failed material they are — and find alternatives.
Banner image: Joshua LaBaer, executive director of the ASU Biodesign Institute, speaks about the future of cancer diagnosis during TEDxASU: NextGen on March 25. Photo courtesy of TEDxASU