HUBweek’s opening event at 4 p.m. Sunday will at Faneuil Hall, moving from its original location at Fenway Park due to predictions of bad weather.
Innovative thinkers of all stripes have long found their niches in Boston, and next month game changers in art, science, and technology will harness that collective energy for HUBweek, a new citywide ideas festival.
As one of the four founders — joining MIT, The Boston Globe, and Massachusetts General Hospital — Harvard has organized 18 of the week’s 80-plus events. Eight Harvard Schools, three centers, and two museums are hosting or co-hosting discussions, panels, demonstrations, presentations, and other gatherings in Cambridge, Longwood, and Allston to bring their big ideas from labs and classrooms to the public.
“Boston has long been home to big questions and big breakthroughs, and Harvard has thrived in the rich intellectual ecosystem of Boston and Cambridge,” said President Drew Faust. “HUBweek promises to marshal new ideas and solutions in spheres ranging from climate change to innovative government to brain science, and we are excited to be a part of it.”
Renowned Harvard Professor Michael Sandel will lead thousands of area residents, many of them students from local universities, in exploring ethical inquiries on the meaning of citizenship at the marquee opening event on Sunday, Oct. 4, at Faneuil Hall (originally at Fenway).
Much like his massive “Justice” classes conducted around the world, attracting thousands of participants in locales as far-flung as the Sydney Opera House and St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, Sandel will create an opportunity for the gathered audience, along with a celebrity panel featuring Yo-Yo Ma ’76, Arianna Huffington, Alexis Wilkinson ’15, and others, to engage in accessible discussion and debate around provocative questions that often go unaddressed in public discourse.
“At a time when science and technology are transforming the way we live, it’s important to have a public discussion of the values that should guide these transformations,” explained Sandel. “At a time when political discourse consists of sound bites and partisan shouting matches, there is a great hunger — among students and citizens generally — to reason together about big moral and civic questions.”
One potentially transformative technology up for discussion during HUBweek is precision medicine. This latest focus in medical science, which as a practice area garnered presidential notice and federal funding earlier this year, enables doctors to use data points to better compare patients with other patients who share the same environment or genetics — instead of just a patient who shares the same symptoms — in order to more accurately pinpoint problems and solutions.
“It’s still countercultural to talk about widespread sharing of data to advance in science,” said Isaac Kohane, head of Harvard Medical School’s (HMS) newest division, the Department of Biomedical Informatics. “Data is all-too-often quarantined by researchers; you can’t see the big picture. Only by making the data much more shareable can you move things forward.”
Despite that, precision medicine is finding fertile ground in Boston, with its preponderance of academic and professional medical weight. Kohane will join in debate with George Church, HMS professor of genetics and Wyss Institute synthetic biology platform lead, to champion and question the “Power and Promise of Precision Medicine.”
“Are we going to be able to use these various data types — everything from the social web to environmental monitoring down to clinical records and molecular characterization? Can we use that to better diagnose, prognosticate, and treat?” Kohane asked. “I think we have a critical mass of both expertise and data [in Boston] across researchers and citizen scientists and patients to be able to answer those questions faster than most.”
The week will also feature some cross-disciplinary pairings. Scientists will team up with businesspeople in “Engineering + Entrepreneurship: Making Robotics Fly” to demystify cutting-edge robotics through demonstration of seven robotic innovations.
As terrestrial robots line up at the Harvard Stadium, and unmanned aerial vehicles — drones, in common parlance — bob and weave faster than a quarterback on the run, experts will narrate the potential real-life applications of the technologies, touching on the policy, regulatory, and societal challenges that may arise in the wake of their introduction to a widespread market. Search and rescue and agriculture are just two everyday activities that could be dramatically transformed in the near future by the use of robotics. But the sky is the limit, perhaps literally.
A down-to-earth look at the potential and pitfalls of technology will come during a candid conversation between Harvard alumnus and Sony CEO Michael Lynton and Harvard Business Review Editor-in-Chief Adi Ignatius in “Sony After the Hack: Lessons in Leadership,” an exploration into the topic of cybersecurity and its role in the workplace.
“[Lynton] and others contend that Sony had as good protection as you could get,” said Ignatius. “I want to press him on that; I think every company should press itself on that. Is it possible to be impregnable, and, if not, what do you do? We’re all pretty concerned about our systems and whether they’re adequate, and this is a way to get into that.”
Harvard will host programming for curious learners, including those of smaller stature. During one of five events in Allston, the Harvard Ed Portal will be transformed into a pop-up ideas laboratory for kids when educators and researchers from the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), MIT Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten Group, the Cambridge Public Schools, and the Lesley University Makerspace put on a “no holds barred” experimental makerspace. (A “makerspace” is a location where people can gather to share resources and knowledge to create, invent, tinker, explore, and discover, using a variety of tools and materials.)
“The idea is really seeing the entire world around you as something you can ‘make’ with,” explained HGSE Assistant Professor Karen Brennan, who spearheaded the effort behind the makerspace. Pairing playful imaginations with technologies such as Makey Makey, littleBits, and Circuit Stickers along with everyday materials such as Legos, learners of all ages can delve or dabble according to their desires, mirroring the idea and design of HUBweek as a whole.
“For me, Boston is such a passion-driven city, and the best learning takes place when it’s passion-driven. So I think to have a week that’s dedicated to that and really celebrates it, and really celebrates the diversity of people’s passions and interests. I can’t imagine a better place, in many ways,” said Brennan, although she admitted, “I’m a little biased, I love Boston.”
For more information, check out a digest of Harvard activities for the week here, or register to attend events at HUBweek.org.