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To The Moon And Back: Taking the Leap Towards Solving Big Problems26:09 with Julia Elman
President John F. Kennedy was a visionary. In 1962, he proposed the seemingly impossible challenge of walking on the Moon. On July 20, 1969, that challenge became a reality. It was a moment in our history that propelled us into moving beyond our self-imposed limitations of what we, as human beings, are capable of doing. Today, we see how this vision of space travel has affected our love and work on technology. Our multiple devices and subscriptions guide us through our daily lives, which has changed the way we see our world. But how does this love for technology propel us forward to solve the most difficult problems we face as a society: ever growing issues, such as hunger, poverty, climate change, social inequality and injustice? This talk reflects upon where we are as technologists, where we have been and how we can start focusing again on solving hard problems. We’ll go over ways attendees can contribute their talents, gifts and ideas to varying initiatives around the globe which are taking on these challenging issues.
[MUSIC] 0:02 [SOUND] [INAUDIBLE] 11, ten, nine. 0:04 Ignition sequence set up. 0:10 Five, four, three. 0:11 Two, one, zero off the ground. 0:19 We have liftoff. 0:24 [NOISE] 0:27 [INAUDIBLE] 0:31 [NOISE] 0:39 [CROSSTALK] 0:43 [INAUDIBLE] 0:51 [MUSIC] [INAUDIBLE] That's one small step for 0:58 man, one giant leap for mankind. 1:01 [INAUDIBLE] 1:04 [MUSIC] 1:06 [SOUND] 1:12 [INAUDIBLE] 1:16 [MUSIC] 1:23 [INAUDIBLE] 1:37 [SOUND] 1:57 [MUSIC] 2:09 Anyone alive during this time remembers the sense of amazement and 2:20 wonder and hope of what far-stretching goals we could and 2:25 had accomplished in just a few simple steps. 2:30 This age became the dawn of a new era. 2:36 We gained a whole new perspective of the earth and our surroundings. 2:40 This image is actually from the Apollo 8 mission. 2:44 It's called Earth Rising. 2:49 Before then, the Earth's depiction had never been 2:52 considered of having an atmosphere, or clouds. 2:55 You can see our newfound awareness in the years following the Apollo missions. 3:02 So in 1962, 3:09 we heard the famous moon speech from John F Kennedy at Rice University. 3:10 And then in 1969, we accomplished that goal. 3:15 And it's interesting to see what happens in the couple years following. 3:17 In 1970, the EPA was founded. 3:23 The Comprehensive Clean Air Act was signed. 3:26 Earth Day was founded. 3:32 In 1971, Doctors Without Borders was created. 3:33 Now where do you think they got the without borders part? 3:36 Could it be our newfound awareness for 3:40 the atmosphere that we had just discovered in the clouds. 3:43 [BLANK_AUDIO] 3:48 In 1972, the comprehensive clear air water act was signed, and 3:49 DDT was completely banned. 3:52 Think of how much innovation that happened in just such a short amount of time, 3:55 in the human race. 4:00 Advancements in policy, technology. 4:03 And the motivation to move the human forward with endless possibilities. 4:07 [BLANK_AUDIO] 4:11 This world, this, the world started to have a new energy and hope for the future. 4:16 You can see these in the events following the moon landing and 4:21 how it shaped the years to come. 4:26 So let's fast forward to the present now to 2014. 4:28 So technology has taken over most of our daily lives and 4:32 what most of us in this room make a living at. 4:35 So where are we at as professional technologists in advancing the human 4:39 race and making strides, such as, the 1960s? 4:43 Now I'm going to show you an article that struck me and 4:48 motivated for me to write and get this talk. 4:51 So this is the November/December issue of 2012 of the MIT Technology Review. 4:56 Does anyone know who this is? 5:02 >> Buzz Aldrin. 5:03 >> That's right, that's Buzz Aldrin, 5:05 one of the three men to be on the Apollo 11 mission. 5:06 And his face says it all. 5:08 Utter disappointment. 5:11 So what happened? 5:15 What happened to make Buzz so sad? 5:17 I'm gonna run through a couple of 5:18 scenarios in the article that kind of speak to this a little bit. 5:23 And one of the things that is outlined to begin with is can we blame Silicon Valley? 5:28 Can we look at Silicon Valley as the issue of why we're not solving big 5:34 problems here? 5:38 Now people say there's a real lax sense of real innovation that 5:40 makes a global impact. 5:43 Instead, they worry that technologists have diverted themselves with 5:46 trivial gadgets and toys. 5:50 And let's think about that. 5:53 The driver of Silicon Valley is venture capitalism, right? 5:54 So venture capitalism investments help fund these kinds of new technologies and 6:00 the 1990s focused more on the personal computer revolution. 6:06 Now, to combat this issue, the Founders Fund was created in 2005. 6:10 It's founded by Peter Thiel, Sean Parker, Kent Hari, Luke Nosek and Brian Singerman. 6:15 Some of you may recognize these names as the founders of PayPal and Napster. 6:22 By 2011, it raised more than $1 billion in aggregate capital, and 6:29 has funded things like causes, Votizen and SpaceX. 6:35 So, is Silicon Valley really the issue here? 6:40 Little bit skeptical. 6:45 I'm not so sure it's the issue here, because venture capitalism has 6:46 really struggled to invest in solving big problems in general. 6:50 Because a risk, 6:53 there's a risk investing in tech that doesn't have immediate economic value. 6:54 Right? 7:00 For example biotech and energy. 7:01 There's a big payment up front with no certain time lapse and 7:03 it's risky without immediate economic value which generally equals no funding. 7:07 So let's put Silicon Valley behind us. 7:16 And the personal computer revolution and all that. 7:19 We solved big problems once and 7:22 took on fairly large challenges, so what really happened? 7:23 Let's run through a few more ideas. 7:29 One of the reasons we failed to solve big problems is because our 7:33 institutions failed us. 7:36 For example in 2010 less than two percent of the world's energy 7:40 consumption was derived from sources such as wind, solar, and biofuels. 7:45 The reason, economic. 7:51 Coal and natural gas are cheaper than solar and wind. 7:55 Petroleum is cheaper than biofuels. 7:59 And we need renewable energy technologies that can compete with the price of 8:03 coal and natural gas and petroleum. 8:07 And at the moment, it doesn't really exist. 8:11 Another reason why we fail to solve big problems is cuz we 8:16 overengineer the solution when there's really a simple answer to 8:18 solving the problem. 8:23 So malaria is a very real and serious issue in this example. 8:27 According to the World Health Organization, in 2012, 8:32 Malaria killed an estimated 483,000 children. 8:36 That's almost 1,300 children every day. 8:39 Or one child almost every minute, primarily in Africa. 8:43 So knowing about this problem, friend Bill Gates and 8:46 his buddy Nathan Myhrvold got together and decided to do something about it. 8:52 They promoted and funded research to help fight the battle against malaria 8:57 which created better vaccines. 9:02 Genetically modified mosquitoes, and this next thing is real. 9:04 Mosquito zapping lasers. 9:10 You can actually, there's a YouTube video. 9:13 You can check this out and how it works. 9:15 What they found is that the most effective cures are much more simpler than that. 9:19 Eliminate standing water, drain swaps, drain swamps, provide mosquito nets, 9:23 and most of all, increase prosperity throughout the land. 9:29 Combined, these simple methods are more effective than any other solution in 9:34 combating this disease. 9:38 It's much more simple than that. 9:39 Another reasons that we don't really understand what 9:43 the problem is we don't get it. 9:46 We don't really understand quite what it is. 9:48 In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared the war on cancer and 9:52 signed the National Cancer Act and 9:55 thereafter we realize that there are many different kinds of cancer. 9:59 That are fiendishly resistant to treatment. 10:04 And it's only been in the last decade that I've come to 10:06 realize that targeted therapies are actually the most 10:10 effective things in fighting these different kinds of cancer. 10:14 Hard problems are hard. 10:20 Yet we were able to fly humans to the moon, they worked on it and came back. 10:23 Now why was that successful? 10:31 Why was that successful? 10:32 Based on historical evidence, 10:36 we can solve big problems if these three things are in line. 10:37 Number one, our institutions actually support the solution. 10:42 Large organizations investing time, energy and 10:48 funds to creating a solution to the problem. 10:50 For example, investing in new and sustainable technologies. 10:54 Number two. 11:00 We actually understand what the problem really is. 11:01 Doing broader research, scientific and 11:04 computational evaluation of the problem, and 11:06 targeted solutions to problems we've tried to understand to the best of our ability. 11:09 And number three, the one that I think is most important, is actil, 11:16 active political leaders making statements of change. 11:20 Right? 11:23 Creating policies that coincide with that change. 11:24 And actively engaging the public towards collectively solving the problem. 11:28 [BLANK_AUDIO] 11:32 The list of hard problems is ever growing. 11:35 Rapid climate change, poverty, access to clean water, disease and 11:39 epidemic, human rights violations. 11:43 And access to quality education. 11:45 [SOUND] So how can we help? 11:47 What can we do as technologists? 11:54 And who the heck am I to tell you all any of this? 11:57 Well what I can talk about is something I've been working on in my 12:01 local community and care a lot about. 12:03 Let's talk about education. 12:07 So, I don't know if that's hard to see. 12:12 Can anyone tell me what this is, what this looks like? 12:14 Is anyone familiar? 12:17 >> Logo? >> Logo, yes. 12:18 It's the first programming language that I learned when I 12:19 was seven years old in a little, little school in Topeka, Kansas. 12:23 And you could do stuff, like this. 12:28 You could draw boxes and flowers and 12:31 crazy psychedelic trees that you're really excited about and wanna show your friends. 12:33 And I'm a creative person by nature, so 12:39 it was really cool to see like something being created from this, 12:41 these, these commands I was actually typing in to the Apple IIE in front of me. 12:45 And it really started my interest in computers and 12:49 lowered the barrier of entry for me to, to want to get involved with technology. 12:52 It also introduced me to something called computational thinking. 12:57 So what is computational thinking? 13:02 Computational thinking is a set of problem solving techniques that we 13:07 as technologists use to solve big problems, right? 13:11 And it's broken down to several different things. 13:15 Versus decomposition where you take a large problem and 13:18 break it down into smaller more manageable chunks. 13:22 Another one is pattern recognition which helps 13:26 identify similarities between objects. 13:31 And lastly algorithmic design. 13:35 Which is step by step instructions for actually solving the problem at hand. 13:38 So why is computational thinking important? 13:44 Like why why would that be important to, to education? 13:48 Think about it today's politicians civil servants police officers teachers. 13:51 Journalists, CEOs are being created today. 13:56 We need to teach this new generation of computational thinkers, and equip them 14:00 to solve big problems in the technological age that they're being brought up in, 14:06 that they're living in. 14:11 But therein lies another big problem. 14:15 And this great state of North Carolina considers computer 14:18 science an actual elective for graduation from high school. 14:22 This is good. This is a very good thing. 14:26 It's considered a math or a science. 14:29 The problem is that we also rank as the 46th 14:33 state lowest in the nation, for teacher's pay. 14:37 And last year alone, 13% of all North Carolina teachers have left their jobs. 14:41 It's reached a five year high, with the lack of job security, 14:49 making it more difficult to retain quality teachers in this state. 14:53 It also doesn't help with trying to create diverse programs to do 14:59 things like teaching computer science and computational thinking. 15:03 So, a few years back a group called Refresh the Triangle got together and 15:09 started something called the Teen Tech Camp. 15:14 Came out of the need in a way to want to give back to the community in 15:17 the Triangle area, in the Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill area. 15:21 And I was on the list and I saw that they needed people to help teach so 15:24 I went and just taught a basic HTML CSS class. 15:30 And the day was amazing. 15:34 The kids came ready and eager to learn. 15:37 And while we didn't have a lot of resources available at the time, 15:41 the library that kindly hosted us, 15:44 the Southwestern Regional Library that hosted us. 15:46 Had a few computers that we could use, and 15:49 some of the teachers that also attended brought their own computers and 15:51 did some Pear programming with the students that were there. 15:55 Now, one of the computers that one of the people brought was a Raspberry Pie, 16:00 as well as a book on Python. 16:04 The students are really interested in learning more about this technology in 16:06 this tiny little microcomputer, but that the time we 16:10 didn't really have the resources or anything available to be teaching them. 16:13 [BLANK_AUDIO] 16:17 The following year at 16:20 PyCon there was something called the Young Coders Tutorial. 16:21 It was the first year that it happened, and 16:24 in that tutorial students from all around the country came to this conference, 16:26 this national conference, to learn about Python on a Raspberry Pi. 16:32 The day was broken up. 16:38 The, the actual tutorial was broken up into two different days based off of 16:39 age group. 16:44 So, the first day was 9-12, and then the second day was 13-18. 16:45 And seeing this, and I was quitely involved with it too. 16:49 It's like, this is perfect, put 2 and 16:53 2 together, let's bring it back to the triangle. 16:56 So I came back and got together with a couple of leadership in the community. 17:00 Librarians and developers and also Sarah Conn there who's on 17:05 the very right who helped run the team tech camp from the year before, and 17:09 decided to do the team tech camp again in 2013 but in the young coder's fashion. 17:13 With Raspberry Pis and Pi Time. 17:19 We gain sponsorships, outreach for equipment donations, and did 17:21 regular weekly Google Hangouts in order to stay in touch as we organize the event. 17:26 We also wrote a grant to the Python Software Foundation, 17:31 in which helped fund us to get Raspberry Pis and 17:34 books and other things to give to the students when they left. 17:38 We contacted the trianglery recyclery to get monitors, keyboards, mice, 17:42 ethernet cables that we could also give to the students when they left the program. 17:46 [BLANK_AUDIO] 17:50 It is an incredible amazing time, and 17:53 there were definitely time where I thought we couldn't pull it off. 17:55 But it was really a community effort. 17:59 It is a way which the community as a whole came together and created a vision 18:04 in which we wanted to do something to give back and help solve this big problem. 18:09 Volunteers came from all around the triangle which is a fairly large area for 18:14 those that you are familiar, if you're not familiar with it. 18:18 And came and donated their time. 18:23 [BLANK_AUDIO] 18:23 It was incredible effort. 18:26 And this is a picture from the night before. 18:28 All the little raspberry pis sleeping before the day the next day. 18:30 And it was very exciting to see this all come together. 18:34 So the day of the event, the kids walked in. 18:40 Wanted to be there and were engaged with their newfound classmates in teaching. 18:43 Taught them the basics of Python programming, 18:51 what the raspberry pie actually was, how to put it together, how to take it apart. 18:53 And really learning about creating very basic, very simple things, 18:59 so variables, loops, and writing functions. 19:03 And the end of the day looks something like this. 19:08 So, I don't expect these kids to leave this event 19:13 being experts in Python and programming or microcomputers or anything. 19:19 I just want to engage them, get them excited and interested and 19:25 wanting to learn more. 19:29 Because the best thing I think that you can do for 19:32 kids in education is teaching them the love of learning. 19:34 Because of the end result is when one of your students sends a video of 19:40 something that they created when they got home. 19:44 And it looks something like this. 19:47 >> So, basically, 19:49 I hooked up this ultrasonic sensor right here to my raspberry pi, and then it 19:50 has a program on it that will measure the distance with a ultrasonic sensor. 19:55 And, if the distance is less than 30 centimeters, this green LED turns on. 20:00 If it's in between 30 and 50 centimeters the blue LED turns on and 20:06 if it's greater than 50 centimeters the red LED lights up. 20:11 So, it 20:16 works like 20:21 [INAUDIBLE] 20:28 [SOUND]. 20:35 And then the program ends after it loops through that 200 times. 20:41 >> This is what I think our key missions is as technologists. 20:48 This is our moon landing. 20:53 I feel a sort of sense of responsibility to be teaching kids computer science. 20:56 So, you in the audience, how can you contribute? 21:03 Let's say you're interested in education but you don't know where to start. 21:06 Now you don't need to run a teen tyke camp or 21:11 a young coders' tutorial, but I'm happy to talk with you, 21:13 though, with those of you afterwards if you are interested in that. 21:16 But, you are interested in teaching. 21:19 I'm gonna outline a few places to help, to teach and 21:21 help educate, with your talents and resources. 21:24 [NOISE] So let's start with code.org. 21:26 Some of you may heave heard of. 21:32 It was launched in 2013 and is a non profit dedicated to 21:33 making computer science courses available in more classrooms, 21:37 increasing participation of women and under represented students of color. 21:40 Now they do an hour of code, in which the goal is to teach computer science at 21:47 least for one hour in a classroom setting. 21:50 There's a wealth of materials that are on the website right there, Code.org. 21:54 And they have things like Introduction to Computer Science, as well as curriculum in 21:58 which you can not have a computer and still be teaching some basic principals. 22:03 Another one is Citizen Schools which partners with public middle schools in 22:10 low-income communities, and is dedicated to helping all children discover and 22:14 achieve their dreams. 22:18 You can volunteer to teach in a, the local miniscule, middle school, and 22:20 Charlotte and Raleigh actually have schools that they're partnered with, 22:25 and the North Carolina main organization office is actually located here 22:31 in Charlotte, so I highly recommend checking that out. 22:36 Another one that I'm involved with is Girl Develop It. 22:40 Which exists to avide, provide affordable and accessible programs to women who 22:43 want to learn software development through membership and hands-on instruction. 22:48 So there is a local Charlotte chapter. 22:53 Crystal Starks is one of the, is the leader for the Charlotte chapter. 22:55 And she will be here tomorrow if you're interested in learning more about that. 23:00 And I am one of the co-leaders for the Raleigh, Durham chapter. 23:02 So if you're interested in learning more about Girl Develop It, you can come and 23:06 talk to me about that, too. 23:11 So let's say, you know, teaching's not your thing, 23:13 you're more interested in coding, more interested in contributing your code and 23:15 your talents in that, that way. 23:18 Here are some places to check out to get you started on the right path. 23:20 So, Code Montage, which empowers coders to improve their impact on the world, and 23:26 connects them with specific organizations and 23:31 runs events in order to get them started. 23:33 They partner with organizations such as Busha ID, Digital Democracy, and 23:37 the Sunlight Foundation. 23:42 They did a coder day of service on January 8, 23:43 2014 of this year which did 24 hours of coding and amplified 50 projects. 23:47 Now code for America, which those of you were in the keynote, if you weren't in 23:55 the keynote this morning, you missed out on this very interesting keynote. 23:59 for, especially for me bringing together local government and 24:03 technologists to make better cities for everyone. 24:07 So there is a code for Charlotte brigade table located right out 24:10 there where you can learn more about what's going on in Charlotte. 24:15 I know one of the brigade captains over in Durham so 24:18 if you're interested in that as well. 24:21 But, what's really cool is there's a hackathon happening tomorrow for 24:23 code for America like right across the street. 24:29 So if you're interested in maybe going to that. 24:31 Maybe taking some time and going to that and 24:34 checking out what you can do to contribute. 24:36 It's over at the Charlotte Convention Center and starts at 9 a.m. 24:38 Tomorrow. 24:40 Just saying. 24:41 >> The prize is two grand. 24:42 >> Hm? 24:44 >> The prize is two grand. 24:45 >> Mm. 24:46 So, Hack for Change, which is a national day of civic hacking which 24:47 brings together technologists, entrepreneurs, developers, and 24:51 other citizens to improve our communities and governments. 24:55 They do an annual event. 25:00 It's like a week long event. 25:02 And they have about 123 that happened this year, in about 103 cities. 25:04 They did 38 challenges, and had over 100 plus projects that came out of it. 25:07 And it's pretty cool, when you go to the website and 25:15 you see the projects that came out of that, that they have listed. 25:17 It's, it's, it's pretty interesting what comes out of those things. 25:19 So those are a couple of places that you an check out 25:24 to contribute your coding resources. 25:28 So start simple, right? 25:33 But start. 25:35 Start with something that you're passionate about and 25:37 pick something that's meaningful to you. 25:40 But start. 25:43 Your talents and gifts are incredibly valuable to the global community and 25:45 helps open up the dreams and opportunities that we can have for our future. 25:52 So let's build tomorrow together. 25:59 Thank you. 26:01 [APPLAUSE] 26:05
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