Mar 1, 2023 | Brave Conversations, Ethics, Governance, Literacy, Philosophy, Social Machine, Stewardship, Trust, Web Science
Only an enlightened society can be aware. (Aristotle)
In July of last year I had a call with Professor George Metakides, with whom I serve on the Web Science Trust Board.
I first discovered Web Science when Armin Haller, who was a founding member of our Meta-Brave Conversations community, suggested I check them out which I did by attending the 2012 Summer School in Leiden. There I met the inimitable Professor Dame Wendy Hall and, thanks to Wendy, I have been involved with the Web Science community ever since.
I started exploring the Web as a socio-technical system in the early 2000s through the development of the Printing Industries’ Action Agenda, Print21, which sought to understand the impact of digital information on the skillbase and supply chain of what was then the world’s third largest manufacturing industry. This led to my work with Fuji Xerox Australia and the Australian and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG) which included:
Throughout all of this my colleagues and I constantly struggled to explain to people what digital technologies really were; how they, and the broader digital ecosystem, were evolving, and what sort of world might emerge as ‘smart machines’ become a reality. It was frustrating that time and time again people told us how important the work we were doing was, but no one was prepared to support its further development or champion it beyond narrow academic circles. This was what inspired us to create Brave Conversations but it also led others to create similar organisations, one of which is the Digital Enlightenment Forum (DEF).
DEF was co-founded by George Metakides and others of like mind in 2012 working within the European Union who sought to understand
“how current and future digital technology can best be used to express our identities in the digital world, taking into account the core values we cherish, we can support the rights of the individual in society” (see DEF Mission).
I attended my first DEF event in 2015 where I was most impressed by the calibre of the people, the core premise and DEF’s aspirations with its broad reach in to education, research, policy, and the commercial sector.
The conversations and debates around digital interaction technologies have come a long way since 2015, and there is now a rising public awareness and interest, which means that people may be ready to listen (maybe!)
During our conversation George and I discussed the synergies between DEF and Brave Conversations which, of course, sent me down a few rabbit holes.
The first was to consider the two words digital and enlightenment.
The word digital seems fairly straightforward coming from:
- having digits (fingers and thumbs of which humans usually have 10) and using these to express discrete numbers (0 to 9) as values of a physical quantity;
- something being binary – either on or off (1 or 0).
The word digital is, however, becoming more complicated as we digitise information and digitalise societies. Something that is complicated is where components can be separated out and dealt with in a systematic and logical way based on a set of static rules or algorithms, which largely describes expert systems which make predictions or classifications based on input data (IBM 2020), i.e ‘artificial intelligence’.
The word enlightenment is far more nuanced and complex because it is culturally contextual and there are no rules, algorithms, or natural laws to define it.
One definition is of the
European intellectual movement of the late 17th and 18th centuries emphasizing reason and individualism rather than tradition. It was heavily influenced by 17th-century philosophers such as Descartes, Locke, and Newton, and its prominent figures included Kant, Goethe, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Adam Smith. (Wikipedia)
Enlightenment thinking included a range of ideas centred on the value of human happiness, the pursuit of knowledge obtained by means of reason and the evidence of the senses, and ideals such as natural law, liberty, progress, toleration, fraternity, constitutional government, and separation of church and state.
At the time such ideas were dangerously radical because European thinkers were just beginning to throw off the yoke of Church authority and create the mindset of the Scientific Revolution which stressed the reliance on common sense and the power of direct observation over the unquestioning acceptance of traditional (often religious) explanations and ways of understanding the natural world. As a corollary to this European colonisation revealed the richness of other cultures and how they thought about things – consider the Islamic Golden Age and the value of the Meso-American and Indigenous cultures, something it appears we are only just beginning to rediscover (see The Dawn of Everything).
Perhaps the biggest challenge for us as WEIRD (Western Educated Industrialised Rich and Democratic) thinkers now is to realise that whilst we have been largely responsible for inventing and building the technologies which have become embedded in the lives of humans around the globe, the majority of those who interacting online are neither Western nor European (see this video and Our World in Data statistics).
Thus the combination of the words digital and enlightenment becomes even more complex!
If we take just two additional perspectives of the word enlightenment:
- for Buddhists and Hindus enlightenment may be translated as either the Japanese word satori (derived from the verb satoru, “to know”) usually referring to an experience of insight into the true nature of reality; or the Sanskrit and Pali word Bodhi meaning “awakening”, but there is also reference to the middle way of living a balanced life.
- For the Aboriginal Australians (and probably for many indigenous cultures) there may be no word as the concept would be embedded in the land and landscape as crafted in the Songlines (see this article and consider The Memory Code).
The theme which consistently emerges is that of knowledge, understanding and illumination, the concept of and the challenge of illuminating the path created by those who have insights from the path combined with some foresight as to what is to come.
I think it’s fair to say that this is what the European Enlightenment thinkers were doing as they sought to understand changing mindsets and revolutionary technology. It is also at the core of what humanity needs now as we move on from the Industrial Age and fully embrace the Age of Information ( Nouriel Roubini).
Scientific method, hell! No wonder the Galaxy was going to pot! (The Foundation Series)
Whenever we run a Brave Conversations we always stress the need for participants to engage with Science Fiction, and especially Isaac Azimov’s Foundation Series telling the story of Hari Seldon and his hopes that Psychohistory would prevent the horrors of a predictable future. He fails not because of the complications of the data and information, but because of the complex unpredictability of life and living systems.
Humanity’s desire to divine the future is as old as humanity itself – we have consulted the Delphic Oracle, Runes, Fortune Tellers and Time Machines, and now we are worshipping our nascent artificial machines as we see them as portents of the future or ways to increase productivity and maximise profits. These machines and systems are merely reflections of ourselves and are limited by our own frames of reference, our language, our value systems and our perspectives of the world.
This is the true challenge of 21st Century Digital Enlightenment – to bring to light our own biases and blind spots, to become more inclusive in our conversations and to embrace the diversity of humanity as we build tools to serve all of humanity and the broader planet.
The purpose of my conversation with George was that he asked if I would be prepared to join the Board of the Digital Enlightenment Forum and help it navigate this next phase of its mission, which is something I wholeheartedly and enthusiastically accepted.
Thank you George and all the DEF Board for this opportunity to serve.
Oct 22, 2022 | Brave Conversations, Communications, Digital, Governance, Social Machine, Web Science
In November 2021 we finally realised our Future Worlds Challenge with the assistance of the MIT App Inventor Research team and a group of wonderful young people from around the globe.
In September 2022 we had the opportunity to further develop this thanks to the invitation of the Government of Sharjah to integrate both Future Worlds Challenge and Brave Conversations in to the 2022 International Government Communications Forum. The opportunity was created by Ibrahim El Badawi who has been supporting Leanne Fry and me with Brave Conversations since our first event in 2017 and has helped craft and present numerous Brave Conversations events for an Arabic speaking audience over the past few years.
From the outset both Leanne and I realised that Sharjah was going to be something a bit different. The events were to be integrated into a major conference within a completely different cultural context and, to be honest, we had no idea who was going to turn up or when! Uppermost in our minds was the need to be mindful of cultural values and English proficiency, let alone a familiarity with technology beyond just retail use. And, we had to keep our energy up for four full days with the two events overlapping on the third day. As a bonus we were thrilled that Professor Dame Wendy Hall agreed to join us in Sharjah to help us anchor our events within the broader context of the conference and also to link it to the very important work that she is doing around digital governance and Artificial Intelligence.
From the moment we arrived in to a very hot and humid Dubai we were greeted with superb Emiratee hospitality thanks to Ohood Al Aboodi and her team of the IGCC. In addition we had our own private tour guide with Ibrahim driving us around in his red Mustang. This gave us some valuable insights in to the Emirate particularly with a visit to University City and the very impressive House of Wisdom, one of the most beautiful learning centres in the world. To give some context Sharjah is the third largest city in the UAE and capital of the Emirate of Sharjah. It seeks to position itself as the centre for Islamic culture and knowledge within the UAE and the IGCC Forum is an event which focuses on government communication as central to this.
What became clear to us was that the IGCC Forum provided a perfect opportunity to explore some of the themes of Brave Conversations within this Arabic cultural context and specifically to engage with young people through Future Worlds Challenge. In this we were ably supported by some delightful young Emirate interpreters and facilitatators, but most of al the MIT App Inventor team of Claire Tan, Maura Kelleher and Nghi Nguyen who quite literally worked their tails off with us reorganising the programme and having to innovate on the fly when it came to teaching the code.
We arrived to the venue on Monday 26th September for Day One not really knowing what to expect. Gradually the room filled and over the four days we were joined by students from the local university, groups of school children aged between 15 to 17, a contingent from the UAE Military, and a number of Directors of Government Communications from the Government of Sharjah. Apart from the fact that we were never quite sure when people would arrive or how many of them there would be, everyone was fully engaged and enthusiastically threw themselves in to both the coding tasks, the Challenge and the conversations.
Both Brave Conversations and Future Worlds Challenge are designed to get participants to use their imagination and creative thinking and one way we seek to stimulate this is to highlight the importance of Science Fiction. When the Chinese wanted to find out why the West was so far ahead with their development of technology they discovered it was that the West has a deep history of Science Fiction. When we posed this question to our Arabic audience it was curious that there was so little Arabic work of this genre despite some encouraging early shoots (Larissa Sanour’s work in particular). This is one thing we encouraged our young audience to explore more particularly as it opens the mind to possibilities, the core of which is at the heart of Future Worlds Challenge.
The Challenge built on the work we had done in 2021 and asked one simple question – How do you build a Future World ten years hence (i.e. 2032) that you would actually want to live in that can sustain human life on this planet?
There are three aspects to the world that you propose based on:
- How do we think? What do we need to change about our values and expectations?
- How do we live? How do we live sustainably within the planetary ecosystem?
- What technologies can support this? Technology needs to serve not lead.
We divided the participants into seven groups of mixed ages and genders and each one chose to focus on one aspect of designing a better Future World. Each was given time to work on their presentations and then give a five minute presentation with five minutes of questions.
How did we judge these Future Worlds? We asked three judges – volunteers Prashathi Reddy and our facilitator Hussein plus Claire Tan, to consider the worlds based on these criteria:
- Does your world make sense?
- Is it realistic?
- How would Conversational AI support your World?
- Do you believe in it?
Following on from this first round three ‘winners’ were chosen who then presented to the IGCC Judges Panel at the end of the day and this lead to a final ‘winning team’ announced at the Closing Ceremony Dinner of the Forum.
The teams were:
- Ahlam – Your Sleeping Matters
- Bioare – Sustainability for Life
- Fast Move – Accessibility for Blind People
- FWPW – Future Without Plastic Waste
- HRPI – Healthcare, Renewable, Printing and Inequality
- MOCAP – Project Charity Becomes Human
- Sooma – Zakat Calculator
To be honest there was no winning team.
Despite the nerves and hours of waiting around each and every person who was with us worked hard, contributed ideas and energy and helped make the event a success, and it is a huge complement to them that we were able to push the boundaries of Future Worlds Challenge and develop the programme into something that is now fully formed and a complement to Brave Conversations, which at Sharjah, was merely the supporting act!
The most precious thing for us was in being able to give these young people insights in to the dual analogue-digital worlds that are emerging and in this we were truly blessed to have the inimitable Dame Wendy Hall. Wendy, as always, gave selflessly to our groups and they gained insights from her more intimate session with us that she then further expanded in the main conference.
There is so much talk at the minute about the Metaverse and Wendy explored some of the challenges of these metaverses (which is much more correct). She very cleverly explained the issues of privacy by focusing on digital clothes shopping and what we will be exposing as we shop online. Wendy always has this gift for bringing crucial messages home – within a largely male audience it was the women who were the most wide-eyed and concerned.
This was really brought home during our final session of Brave Conversations when I looked at one of the main stands in the exhibition hall where one company was encouraging people to ‘get scanned and create your digital twin’. How much did people think about this before they eagerly participated and what questions should they have been asking?
As is happening in so many aspects of our lives we have absolutely no protection from companies such as this who are encouraging us to give our data with no respect for privacy or accountability back to us. This is exactly the same as companies such as Ancestry.com taking peoples’ DNA which strikes me as not just fraudulent but downright exploitative.
As Mark Zuckerberg is finding out there is a risk to rushing in to these new frontiers and gradually governments are beginning to wake up to their naivety of the past two decades and finally grapple with these issues. Too slowly of course, but they are beginning. This is the message that I would have like to see at Sharjah and hopefully some of the attendees listened.
As all societies keenly embrace the world of digital and see it is as the key to the future it is events such as these where we can bring savvy young people together with the not so savvy elders to really question the future world that are crucial to having some semblance of control and we are hugely grateful to the Government of Sharjah for providing one such opportunity.
Our thanks to Ibrahim El Badawi for creating this opportunity, and especially to Ohood Al Aboodi for all the hard work she did in getting us to Sharjah and making us feel so welcome.
Oct 21, 2022 | Brave Conversations, Communications, Digital Gymnasia, Governance, Group Dynamics, Imagination, Leadership, Psychology, Social Machine, Stewardship, Web Science
The Solstrand programme contributes to the development of Norwegian businesses and the public sector by providing participants with a better understanding of organisational structure and greater insight into leadership processes.
Since 1953, Nordic leaders have come to The Solstrand programme to learn from and with one another supported by leaders and key actors in Norwegian society and international research who contribute their knowledge and experience.
There are two core aspects of the work that we do through Intersticia.
The first is our focus on Group Relations and the dynamics of human interactions in groups which underpin all aspects of leadership and stewardship.
The second is our focus on integrating digital literacy and digital fluency in the work that we do with our Fellows, with partner organisations and through all of our events, especially Brave Conversations.
This year saw me able to bring these together with two Brave Conversations events in September, the first of which was as a part of the 2022 Solstrand Leadership Programme.
I first learned about Solstrand when I met three Solstrand coaches at the 2018 Tavistock Institute Leicester Conference and subsequent to this two of my Leicester colleagues, Marianne Darre and Philip Hayton, have become members of the Intersticia community as Advisors.
In January 2020 I was invited to Solstrand and was privileged to observe this programme over two days through sitting in on one of the Small Groups, participating in the larger group and then witnessing the Artistic Programme held at the Oseana Art and Cultural Centre in Os.
The Solstrand Hotel began it’s life in 1896 built by Norway’s first Prime Minister Christian Michelsen. Michelsen wanted it to be a place where the tradesmen of Bergen (Norway’s second largest city) could gather strength for their big mission in the city.
Since then leaders from all walks of life have visited Solstrand and in post-WWII Europe it became a beacon of hope for the ravaged Norway with the first Solstrand Programme held at the hotel in 1952 as a partnership between the NFF (Norwegian School of Economics) and the AFF (Norway’s largest Leadership and Organisational Development Consultancy). From the outset the founders of Solstrand wanted to draw on the very latest and most innovative thinking in leadership development and the foundations of the programme are built on this philosophy and the crucial aspects of group relations which manifest in the Tavistock institute’s Leicester Conference.
Every year since 1953 some 48 participants from virtually all sectors of the Norwegian economy, of varying ages and stages in their careers come to Solstrand to participate in a 7 week programme split across two and one week blocks over a year and a half to learn about themselves, the groups they participate in and the organisational system as a whole. They are supported by highly trained coaches and a wide range of guest lectures and talks from speakers and thought leaders around the world.
When I first learned about Solstrand my immediate reaction was “no wonder Norway is doing so well!”. It is, in my opinion, the most effective and successful leadership development programme in the world and has provided an inspiration for how we are developing Intersticia, albeit on a much smaller scale. When I think of how it works it resonates deeply with the values that we at Intersticia espouse and integrate in what we do – those of authenticity, integrity, persistence, courage and grace. What I realised when I discovered Solstrand was that, quite simply,
our vision is for Intersticia to become a mini-global Solstrand, one person at a time.
This year I was hugely privileged to be invited to present a Brave Conversations to the incoming 2022 Solstrand cohort, the first fully face to face one since the start of the Covid pandemic and the first to be held totally within the context of the onging Russia-Ukraine War – the first major conflict in Europe since WWII. The week I attended was also the first week of mourning for the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
I always find going to Solstrand a transformative experience, not only because of the sheer beauty of the hotel sitting quietly on the Hardangerfjord, but in the energy of the work being done within the Solstrand programme itself. This time my experience was that of feeling the deep historical and cultural connections between Britain and Norway not just due to the Viking heritage (Lindesfarne and all that) but as two nations which both have Constitutional Monarchies, are both crucial to the defence of the values of Western Europe, are both blessed with energy independence (Norway now Europe’s main energy provider) but both are prepared to be brave in how they approach things and push the boundaries. There is something wonderfully familar about Norway that I have felt since I first visited (perhaps my own Viking roots) but there is also the courage that is displayed within the Solstrand Programme and it’s own ambitions to facilitate brave conversations.
From the outset of this event the group was responsive, curious and willing to embrace the challenge of asking difficult questions and seeking non-conventional answers. In their groups it was fascinating to observe how they responded to the Case Study based on The Nexus Trilogy which sought to highlight issues such as transhumanism, the ethics of AI and the emerging hive mind of connected humanity. As always it was the context of both the programme and the times which resulted in the most interesting conversations and, hopefully, the most effective learning.
I learned a huge amount about myself and the work we do from the experience and hope that the conversations started at Solstrand will continue to resonate for the participants in both their personal and professional lives and empower them to use their Solstrand learnings as much online as in their real-world interactions. As the metaverses evolve we are going to desperately need people who can be brave and not just follow others – we need those who will see beyond what is immediately apparent and have the courage to seek new paths. This is what Solstrand seeks to achieve.
I would like to thank Hans Morten Skivik, Marianne Darre and Gisken Holst for their very kind invitation and their always open and welcoming hospitality at Soltrand. I would also like to thank the Solstrand programme for the opportunity to introduce ideas around the Social Machine and Digital Enlightenment and to challenge them to leverage these brave conversations beyond Norway.
Jul 14, 2022 | Brave Conversations, Ethics, Governance, Web Science
Brave Conversations Barcelona 2022
A few weeks ago we held our 17th Brave Conversations event, which was our fourth as a part of an ACM Web Science Conference, this time in Barcelona.
We had nine flesh and blood live ‘human beings’ who bravely joined us (Covid free!) on a hot Barcelona afternoon at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra together with some thirty-five who logged on via Mr Zoom from all around the World.
We were thrilled with the balance and at being able to have a real-life conversation with those in the room, whilst doing our best to accommodate those in the virtual space, despite numerous challenges with the technology which somewhat undermined the event, at least for me as a facilitator.
Note to self – if there isn’t a ‘tech guru’ in the venue don’t do hybrid!
The concept of having “Brave Conversations” began in 2008 with our first ‘meta’ events which brought together people from all walks of life to spend time considering the brave new worlds we are co-creating as we collaboratively build the Global Social Machine – humans and smart technology systems symbiotically working together.
Yes! We were doing “meta” way before anyone else was!! Except the metadata people of course.
Since that time the conversations have changed – from being about the Semantic Web (which very few could really understand), to issues of identity and privacy, digital governance and the need for we humans to become ‘smarter’ as the machines continue to evolve.
We have worked in partnership with numerous organisations which have included the Web Science Trust and it’s network of Labs, Newspeak House, Founders and Coders, Gaza Sky Geeks, the Jamaican Broadcasting Commission, Philanthropy Australia and – quite frankly – anyone who could see the importance of having these conversations and would help provide us with a forum to do so.
The last two years has seen us predominantly operate online but 2022 brings the opportunity to re-engage in a new way, and to take the time to notice what has changed since we all buried ourselves inside to wait out the Pandemic.
There are a number of things that have stood out for me.
Firstly, it seems that the concept of personal privacy is no longer being taken quite so for granted and that it is no longer cool to be all over Instagram – for some (those with the skills and money to afford it) anonymity and privacy are making a comeback!
Secondly, companies such as Uber which have been arrogantly stamping all over governments and the public, are beginning to be revealed for the aggressive and unethical organisations they are. Whilst they took the lead in disrupting complacent and tired transport systems they have themselves become the pariahs, and there are numerous very good alternatives if people will take the time to seek them out.
Thirdly, last month I was walking down Long Acre in Covent Garden and spotted these ads in the Ray Ban store (Ray Ban Stories). We know that these technologies exist ever since Google Glass but the step change is that now Mr Ray Ban and Mr Facebook (I refused to call them Meta!) have come up with some very fashionable glasses which don’t look quite so clunky and which link to Mr Facebook’s technical back end. The fact that these devices are allowed to be sold astonishes me given the lack of facial-recognition legislation and the growing awareness of the need to regulate it.
But this is only just the beginning.
If you listen to what is percolating in both the mainstream media and Popular Science stories you will notice an increasing number of articles about human longevity and Ageing as a Disease In addition, people like Elon Musk are seeking to connect our brains to the virtual world, all of which is going to present far greater challenges than Mr Facebook’s Story Glasses.
With this in mind for this Brave Conversations we decided to take a step forward into the realm of biology and craft a Case Study inspired by Ramez Naam’s Nexus Trilogy (I invited Mr Naam to join us but he didn’t favour me with a reply sadly).
Let’s start from the premise that
We are the last generation of Homo Sapiens as we know ourselves. In the coming century we will learn to engineer bodies, brains and minds. (Yuval Noah Harari)
So what does that actually mean? Here are some questions just to get you thinking:
- What does it actually mean to be the last generation of Homo Sapiens?
- What sorts of changes are on the horizon and what options are actually real?
- What sort of humans do we actually want to become? Who is to make those decisions?
- What sorts of rules and regulations should be guiding these decisions? What ethical frameworks should inform them? Who should decide?
- What sorts of conversations should we be having before we let this go any further?
- Do we have any choice? Or it is too late already?
Life (itself) will become the clay of human creativity. (Baroness Susan Greenfield)
Once you start thinking in these terms it becomes obvious that the conversations we’ve been having about smart systems, computer technologies and Artificial Intelligence are already outdated and framed by the old mindset of industrial age thinking. The machines we are talking about now are biological systems and therefore we are now in the realm of the life sciences, human bio-engineering, health and medicine. Things need to take a different turn.
These are the conversations that we have now begun with our 2022 Brave Conversations and we will be exploring them further with every subsequent event.
As Alice says in Wonderland
I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then. (Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland)
We are all different people and we are all now down the proverbial rabbit hole!
As always a huge thanks to Leanne Fry, Ibrahim El Badawi and Abeer Abu Ghaith for their wonderful collaboration on yet another successful event and here’s to seeing where our next ones go!
May 30, 2022 | Brave Conversations, Covid19, Futures, Web Science
Our last Brave Conversations event was a little different. We did a challenge for young people which sought to explore the pressing issues of the 21st Century from the perspective of those between 14 to 17 years of age from around the world. Called Future Worlds Challenge it presented a space within which participants first learned to code an Amazon Alexa, and then worked in teams (from across the globe) using their Alexa and the internet to come up with three solutions to the challenges of how we think, how we live within our ecosystems and how we harness the smartness of our technologies to ensure the sustainability of human life on Earth.
One of our winners Lara commented that
It was one of the most amazing workshops that I have attended ever and I would 100% recommend it to anyone else looking to improve their coding and have thought provoking sessions about the Future!
So … the challenge for us is what to do next?
The Web Science community provides us with the opportunity to hold Brave Conversations as a part of their Annual Conference and so this year in June 2022 we are heading down to Barcelona – see Brave Conversations at the 2022 Web Science Conference.
As we all gradually crawl out of our Covid Caves the world around us has profoundly changed in a number of ways, and as we have discussed what we would like to address and how it struck us that we need to paint a vivid picture of what the human environment is becoming. Whilst we adapted during the past two years we have also changed some things permanently, and others will return but to a new normal.
Some things that I’ve observed:
- Covid has changed the nature and relationship of travel, work, entertainment, education, socialising, medicine
- Covid has impacted the mental health of people across the board with two years of people being told to isolate, stay 2m apart or avoid others
- Young people, in particular, have had massive disruption, particularly in poorer places
- Older people are retiring early
- There seems to be a workforce crisis almost everywhere
- New opportunities are popping up in places you’d least expect them
- Governments have had an unprecedented mandate to survey, restrict and control their populations
- With the rising use of platforms like Zoom the next step in to virtual worlds is relatively easy, once the technology is ready …
This is just the beginning … which is scary enough in itself!
We created Brave Conversations to be precisely that … an opportunity for people to be brave in a respectful and open space where nothing is right or wrong, everything needs to be considered and all ideas and opinions have the right to be heard.
We hope that this next event pushes all of us to rise to the challenge of how to co-create the world that is emerging and ensure that it is beneficial for us, our children and future generations.
Come and join us! The event will be held both in person (if you feel like a trip to Barcelona!) and online.
Here are a few thought starters around the conversation we will be having:
Dec 10, 2021 | Brave Conversations, Education, Futures, Web Science
I was thrilled to be able to participate in the Future Worlds Challenge. On the very first day, I was nervous and excited because I did not know what to expect, but the cheerful and helpful Teachers put me at ease immediately and I was able to follow the class easily and learn the code.
It was super interesting and I was so excited for the next class that I was not able to sleep that night! The next day, we were able to do group work! I was put together with 2 other students from the US (while I live in Singapore) with whom I was able to get along very easily. They were very co-operative and we were able to share ideas about the future with each other with ease.
Thinking about the future has also been really interesting, to be honest here, we should be thinking about the future much more that we do.
The Teachers would always be there for any questions that we would have that helped us a lot.
We collaboratively worked hard on the presentation and did well with it.
Key learnings that I can takeaway from this workshop are:
- teamwork helps greatly brainstorming of diverse ideas and facilitates finding solutions
- some solutions will not require technology but others will and coding using Alexa will be very helpful for those.
This workshop is a great beginning and I am looking forward to more interesting and amazing workshops and classes focusing on problem solving and finding solutions to make the world a better place for us and generations to come in the near future.
It was one of the most amazing workshops that I have attended ever and I would 100% recommend it to anyone else looking to improve their coding and have thought provoking sessions about the Future!
These are the words of Lara, one of the winners of our first Future Worlds Challenge held over the last two weekends of November, 2021.
After years of development and planning we finally launched this event which was conceived as a result of the first Brave Conversations and our commitment to work with young people to help them better develop a Web Science way of thinking about the technologies they use every day.
This first iteration of Future Worlds Challenge was framed around partnering with the Web Science Lab at MIT, specifically the MIT App Inventor team led by PhD Researcher Jessica Van Brummelen. From the outset we determined to work with young people from around the globe aged between 11 – 17 (together with their parents) and craft an experience which aimed at the maximum possible learning for the kids whilst also actively informing and contributing to the MIT Research.
One research paradigm which informed how we approached these events was based on the work of Dr Joseph Henrich and his categorisations of WEIRD (Western Educated Industrialised, Rich and Democratic) verses Non-WEIRD cultural mindsets. Whilst this is a fairly fluid definition as the world becomes increasingly globalised (for instance is Singapore WEIRD or Non-WEIRD?) it was useful for determining the best groupings for our events and also helped determine the time zone categories we used.
Through out networks and promoting through the MIT Research community we had 107 expressions of interest to participate from which we ended up having 45 child-parents ‘teams’ who actually attended. On average the kids were 16 years old with 20 girls and 25 boys coming from Indonesia, the USA, Singapore, Canada, New Zealand, India, Iran and Japan.
The event itself comprised two days:
Day One involved a fairly demanding session learning how to programme an Amazon Alexa as one example of a conversational agent.
Day Two was the Challenge itself where we grouped participants in child-parents in to teams of three to four. One of their tasks was to use their newly-minted Alexa programming skills to find out information as well as to work together as a group who had not previously met. This diversity was perfect for getting them all to reflect on the key questions underlying technology and it’s use, particularly those posed by MIT Professor Sherry Turkle.
Technology challenges us to assert our human values which means that first of all we have to know what they are.
The Challenge itself rested on the above model based around three key questions which we held in 30 minute rounds. We asked each team the following and then they had to work to gradually build a concept of their Future World to be presented in the final round.
Round One: How We Think
What are three important mindset changes we could make to ensure the Sustainability of Human Life on Earth? For example: Wealth and Inequality? Population? Lifespan?
Round Two: Our Ecosystem
What are three important environmental changes we could make to ensure the Sustainability of Human Life on Earth? For example: How we use energy? How we feed ourselves? Where we live?
Round Three: The Technologies
What are three important technological changes we could make to ensure the Sustainability of Human Life on Earth? For example: How we build our cities? How we manage information?
Final Round: Future Worlds
Each team had 5 minutes to present their World and we judged each of the presentations on the following:
- Does your world make sense?
- Is it realistic?
- How would Conversational AI support your World?
- Do you believe in it?
We were blown away by what these young people came up with in a very short space of time and some focused thinking. They worked together beautifully, shared ideas and the ability to contribute, and were considered, thoughtful and clear thinking in their approach.
If Lara’s words reflect the experience of other participants then we are thrilled with how this first Challenge inspired them to think and hopefully have ongoing conversations with family and friends.
Our huge thanks to all of our participants, and particularly to Jess Van Brummelen and all of her team at MIT App Inventor. One key researcher, Claire Tian was a real trooper joining Jess at 5 am in the morning and generously gave her time and support to everyone with their coding adventures.
Thanks also to Katrina Meggitt who stepped in as our Event Manager and juggled childcare, new jobs and torrential rain to help us get everyone organised!
We are now planning more Future Worlds Challenge events for 2022. Please spread the word and check out the Brave Conversations website for our next steps.