Defining the future: The talks of TED Salon: Dell Technologies

“The single biggest threat of climate change is the collapse of food systems,” says journalist Amanda Little, quoting USDA scientist Jerry Hatfield. “Addressing this challenge as much as any other is going to define our progress in the coming century.” She speaks at TED Salon: Dell Technologies on October 22, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

In a time that feels unsettled and uncertain, technology and those who create it will play a crucial role in what’s coming next. How do we define that future, as opposed to letting it define us? At a special TED Salon held as part of the Dell Technologies World conference and hosted by TED’s Simone Ross, four speakers shared ideas for building a future where tech and humanity are combined in a more active, deliberate and thoughtful way.

The talks in brief:

Genevieve Bell, ethical AI expert

Big idea: To create a sustainable, efficient and safe future for artificial intelligence systems, we need to ask questions that contextualize the history of technology and create possibilities for the next generation of critical thinkers to build upon it. 

How? Making a connection between AI and the built world is a hard story to tell, but that’s exactly what Genevieve Bell and her team at 3A Institute are doing: adding to the rich legacy of AI systems, while establishing a new branch of engineering that can sustainably bring cyber-physical systems and AI to scale going forward. “To build on that legacy and our sense of purpose, I think we need a clear framework for asking questions about the future, questions for which there aren’t ready or easy answers,” Bell says. She shares six nuanced questions that frame her approach: Is the system autonomous? Does the system have agency? How do we think about assurance (is it safe and functioning)? How do we interface with it? What will be the indicators that show it is working well? And finally, what is its intent? With these questions, we can broaden our understanding of the systems we create and how they will function in the years to come. 

Amanda Little, food journalist

Big ideaTo build a robust, resilient and diverse food future in the face of complex challenges, we need a “third way” forward — blending the best of traditional agriculture with cutting-edge new technologies.

How? COVID-19 has simultaneously paralyzed already vulnerable global food systems and ushered in food shortages — despite a surplus of technological advances. How will we continue to feed a growing population? Amanda Little has an idea: “Our challenge is to borrow from the wisdom of the ages and from our most advanced science to [a] third way: one that allows us to improve and scale our harvest while restoring, rather than degrading the underlying land of life.” Amid increasingly complex disruptions like climate change, this “third way” provides a roadmap to food security that marries old agricultural production with new, innovative farming practices — like using robots to deploy fertilizer on crop fields with sniper-like precision, eating lab-grown meats and building aeroponic farms. By nixing antiquated supply chains and producing food in a scalable, sustainable and adaptable way, Little shows just how bright our food future might be. Watch the full talk.

“Investing in data quality and accuracy is essential to making AI possible — not only for the few and privileged but for everyone in society,” says data scientist Mainak Mazumdar. He speaks at TED Salon: Dell Technologies on October 22, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

Mainak Mazumdar, data scientist

Big idea: When the pursuit of using AI to make fair and equitable decisions fails, blame the data — not the algorithms.

Why? The future economy won’t be built by factories and people, but by computers and algorithms — for better or for worse. To make AI possible for humanity and society, we need an urgent reset in three major areas: data infrastructure, data quality and data literacy. Together, they hold the key to ethical decision-making in the age of AI. Mazumdar lists how less-than-quality data in examples such as the 2020 US Census and marketing research could lead to poor results in trying to reach and help specific demographics. Right now, AI is only reinforcing and accelerating our bias at speed and scale, with societal implications in its wake. But it doesn’t need to be that way. Instead of racing to build new algorithms, our mission should be to build a better data infrastructure that makes ethical AI possible.

Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky, multimedia musician

Big idea: Modern computing is founded on patterns, so could you translate the patterns of code and data into music? If so, what would the internet sound like?

How? Cultural achievements throughout human history, like music and architecture, are based on pattern recognition, math and the need to organize information — and the internet is no different. Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky gives a tour of how the internet came to be, from the conception of software by Ada Lovelace in the early 1800s to the development of early computers catalyzed by World War II and the birth of the internet beginning in 1969. Today, millions of devices are plugged into the internet, sending data zooming around the world. By transforming the internet’s router connections and data sets into sounds, beats and tempos, Miller introduces “Quantopia,” a portrait of the internet in sound. A special auditory and visual experience, this internet soundscape reveals the patterns that connect us all.

from TED Blog

YouTuber Jeff Geerling reviews Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4

We love seeing how quickly our community of makers responds when we drop a new product, and one of the fastest off the starting block when we released the new Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4 on Monday was YouTuber Jeff Geerling.

Jeff Geerling

We made him keep it a secret until launch day after we snuck one to him early so we could see what one of YouTube’s chief advocates for our Compute Module line thought of our newest baby.

So how does our newest board compare to its predecessor, Compute Module 3+? In Jeff’s first video (above) he reviews some of Compute Module 4’s new features, and he has gone into tons more detail in this blog post.

Jeff also took to live stream for a Q&A (above) covering some of the most asked questions about Compute Module 4, and sharing some more features he missed in his initial review video.

His next video (above) is pretty cool. Jeff explains:

“Everyone knows you can overclock the Pi 4. But what happens when you overclock a Compute Module 4? The results surprised me!”

Jeff Geerling

And again, there’s tons more detail on temperature measurement, storage performance, and more on Jeff’s blog.

Top job, Jeff. We have our eyes on your channel for more videos on Compute Module 4, coming soon.

If you like what you see on his YouTube channel, you can also sponsor Jeff on GitHub, or support his work via Patreon.

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Digital making projects about protecting our planet

Explore our new free pathway of environmental digital making projects for young people! These new step-by-step projects teach learners Scratch coding and include real-world data — from data about the impact of deforestation on wildlife to sea turtle tracking information.

By following along with the digital making projects online, young people will discover how they can use technology to protect our planet, all while improving their computing skills.

Photo of a young woman holding an origami bird up to the camera
One of the new projects is an automatic creature counter based on colour recognition with Scratch

The projects help young people affect change

In the projects, learners are introduced to 5 of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with an environment focus:

  • Affordable and Clean Energy
  • Responsible Consumption and Production
  • Climate Action
  • Life Below Water
  • Life on Land
Screenshot of a Scratch project showing a panda and the Earth
The first project in the new pathway is an animation about the UN’s five SDGs focused on the environment.

Technology, science, maths, geography, and design all play a part in the projects. Following along with the digital making projects, young people learn coding and computing skills while drawing on a range of data from across the world. In this way they will discover how computing can be harnessed to collect environmental data, to explore causes of environmental degradation, to see how humans influence the environment, and ultimately to mitigate negative effects.

Where does the real-world data come from?

To help us develop these environmental digital making projects, we reached out to a number of organisations with green credentials:

Green Sea Turtle Alasdair Davies Raspberry Pi
A sea turtle is being tagged so its movements can be tracked

Inspiring young people about coding with real-world data

The digital making projects, created with 9- to 11-year-old learners in mind, support young people on a step-by-step pathway to develop their skills gradually. Using the block-based visual programming language Scratch, learners build on programming foundations such as sequencing, loops, variables, and selection. The project pathway is designed so that learners can apply what they learned in earlier projects when following along with later projects!

The final project in the pathway, ‘Turtle tracker’, uses real-world data of migrating sea turtles!

We’re really excited to help learners explore the relationship between technology and the environment with these new digital making projects. Connecting their learning to real-world scenarios not only allows young people to build their knowledge of computing, but also gives them the opportunity to affect change and make a difference to their world!

Discover the new digital making projects yourself!

With Green goals, learners create an animation to present the United Nations’ environment-focused Sustainable Development Goals.

Through Save the shark, young people explore sharks’ favourite food source (fish, not humans!), as well as the impact of plastic in the sea, which harms sharks in their natural ocean habitat.

Illustration of a shark with sunglasses

With the Tree life simulator project guide, learners create a project that shows the impact of land management and deforestation on trees, wildlife, and the environment.

Computers can be used to study wildlife in areas where it’s not practical to do so in person. In Count the creatures, learners create a wildlife camera using their computer’s camera and Scratch’s new video sensing extension!

Electricity is important. After all, it powers the computer that learners are using! In Electricity generation, learners input real data about the type and amount of natural resources countries across the world use to generate electricity, and they then compare the results using an animated data visualisation.

Understanding the movements of endangered turtles helps to protect these wonderful animals. In this new Turtle tracker project, learners use tracking data from real-life turtles to map their movements off the coast of West Africa.

Code along wherever you are!

All of our projects are free to access online at any time and include step-by-step instructions. They can be undertaken in a club, classroom, or at home. Young people can share the project they create with their peers, friends, family, and the wider Scratch community.

Visit the Protect our planet pathway to experience the projects yourself.

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