Lightsabers at the ready! Fellows at TEDGlobal 2014

Usman Riaz is not one to sit still. Between stage appearances at Monday’s Fellows talks, Tuesday’s late night performances, and the TEDGlobal main stage on Friday, filmmaker, composer and multi-instrumentalist Usman Riaz put together this little slideshow of Fellows (as well as TED Fellows director Tom Rielly and TED director Chris Anderson) on stage — revealing them as the Jedi masters they are. Farewell from Rio!

Fellows at TEDGlobal 2014: TED Fellows create data-rich, interactive maps of eye care in rural India (and Peru!)

At TED2014 in Vancouver, TED Senior Fellows Eric Berlow, David Gurman and Kaustuv De Biswas debuted MAPPR – a cloud-based tool that lets anyone create and publish shareable, interactive network visualizations on the web. (See “How data constellations tell a story: MAPPing the TED Fellows network and the conflict in Syria“) Since then, the company has embarked on a variety of projects, applying MAPPR to understand everything from creative traits among high performers in the United States to marine ecosystems off the coast of Chile and healthcare delivery systems in India.

Here at TEDGlobal, Senior Fellows Kaustuv De Biswas and Anthony Vipin Das, consultant ophthalmologist at the LV Prasad Eye Institute, India, sat down and created a MAPP for the Eye Institute’s 127 clinics spread across the four states of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Karnataka, in India (see video above). The MAPP helps visualize the infrastructure and referral interactions in eye-care delivery services in real time. We asked them to tell us more.

First of all, what does the LV Prasad Eye Institute do?

Vipin: LV Prasad Eye Institute is a WHO Collaborating Center for Prevention of Blindness, a not-for-profit organization based in Hyderabad, India, that has served over 18 million patients in the past 27 years. Currently, we have 127 eye care centers across four states in India, with a unique innovative Eye Health Pyramid Model in which vision centers in remote rural villages feed into more centralized secondary centers called the Village Vision Complex — which are in turn connected to tertiary centers in cities. This referral pattern helps deliver eye care services more efficiently to the under-served in rural India.

How will MAPPR help your work?

Vipin: Using MAPPR, we were able to quickly develop a prototype MAPP of our network to visualize connectivity between the different centers, patient movement, referrals, and a host of other factors relating to how these centers interact. In the future, we will be able to integrate this with our existing electronic medical record system — EyeSmart EMR — for real-time analysis. Another exciting possibility would be to overlay performance metrics on top of these networks, which will let us design optimal solutions for eye care delivery.

Kaustuv, how else are you using MAPPR to help Fellows with health care projects?

Kaustuv: We’ve built a prototype for UK-based ophthalmologist Andrew Bastawrous [see his TED Talk: "Get your next eye exam on a smartphone"], who’s researching efficient healthcare delivery networks in Lima, Peru. It maps clinics, nursing homes, and hospitals as a large dynamic referral network. When a patient visits a clinic, they’re either serviced there or referred to another location based on the severity of the case and availability of trained staff. MAPPR immediately enables the visualization of these referral networks. Right now, we’re working on algorithms and interfaces to identify possible bottlenecks in the system, to help balance resources in real time. Along with Vipin, we’re also exploring opportunities with the Healthcare Innovation Cell, Ministry of Health, Government of Telangana, to apply modern data science approaches to healthcare delivery in India.

Below: see a MAPPR prototype of the Lima Network with Andrew Bastawrous.

Fellows at TEDGlobal 2014: Bassam Tariq’s short film tackles the polio problem in Pakistan

Bassam Tariq’s creativity knows no bounds. He broke his Ramadan fast and blogged about it at 30 Mosques in 30 States, filmed an award-winning documentary feature These Birds Walk in Pakistan about a runaway boy and an ambulance driver — then became a Halal butcher in the East Village. In his hugely popular talk on the Fellows stage at TEDGlobal 2014, Tariq explained that while these projects may seem bewilderingly disparate, what drives his work is a desire for an authentic representation of the humanity of the Muslim community.

Recently Tariq, who has a background in advertising, produced this moving short film (see above) as a public service announcement aimed at Pakistani migrant workers living in the United Arab Emirates, encouraging them to get their children vaccinated. The film is currently being shown in cinemas and migrant camps in the UAE, on in-flight entertainment on flights between the UAE and Pakistan, and on Pakistani television. He tells the Fellows blog about Pakistan’s polio crisis and how he approached this delicate yet important subject.

Why did you make this film? 

Polio in Pakistan is an escalating health crisis because people are reluctant to vaccinate their kids. Their mistrust stems from the discovery that the CIA had been pretending to vaccinate while gathering swab samples to find out where bin Laden and other Taliban leaders were. Because of that, the Taliban is now killing health workers.

After the success of These Birds Walk on the festival circuit, I was approached by the Gates Foundation and Image Nation, an Abu Dhabi film group behind Flight and big Hollywood movies, and was commissioned to do a piece that would speak to Pakistani men working abroad, as well as within Pakistan, about polio. Pakistani migrants are predominantly men, are usually marginalized and spoken down to when it comes to media messaging. So for us, it was important to be authentic and empathetic, and be a voice from home, when speaking about something as serious and urgent as polio.

A still from A Leap of Faith, Bassam Tariq's short film encouraging Pakistani fathers to vaccinate their children against polio.

A still from A Leap of Faith, Bassam Tariq’s short film encouraging Pakistani fathers to vaccinate their children against polio.

Fellows at TEDGlobal 2014: 5 things Patricia Medici wants you to know about tapirs

Baby tapirs are born with stripes and spots – "like a watermelon," says tapir conservationist Patricia Medici. Sadly, they lose these markings as adults. Photo: Liana John

How can anyone not love that face? Baby tapirs are born with stripes and spots – “like a watermelon,” says tapir conservationist Patricia Medici. Sadly, they lose these markings as adults. Photo: Liana John

On Monday, at the TEDGlobal 2014 Fellows stage, Brazilian tapir conservationist Patricia Medici called for the protection of the elusive yet ecologically essential South American lowland tapir. Curious, we asked her to share more about this species and the dangers they face. She gives us a few facts to remember about these fascinating animals.

1. Tapirs are considered living fossils. They’ve been around since the Eocene, having survived several waves of extinction. It’s pretty amazing they’re still around, especially as they reproduce very slowly — with a gestation period of 14 months — and only one offspring is born at a time. If a certain population’s numbers decline due to deforestation, disease, hunting, roadkill, and so on, it’s very hard for the population to recover. In fact, it reaches a certain point where there are no populations to speak of, only individuals lost in the landscape. They can be persistent and adaptable in isolation, which is why they’ve managed to survive for so long, but their genetics get compromised.

2. Tapirs are called “gardeners of the forest.” Tapirs move great distances between various kinds of habitats as they travel from forest to forest, providing a functional link between them. They eat fruit in one place, swallow the seeds, walk long distances, and defecate on the way — creating a genetic flow between habitats. Many other animals play this role, but because tapirs eat enormous amounts of fruit, they distribute an enormous quantity of seeds. Forest structures and diversity would be very different without the presence of tapirs.

3. Even though South American lowland tapirs are threatened, it can be hard to convince people that this is the case. These tapirs live in four different biomes: in the Atlantic forest, in the Pantanal, in the Amazon, and in the Cerrado. Their wide distribution makes people think that tapirs are plentiful, but in reality, the biomes are not connected — there’s only 7% of the Atlantic forest left, and the Cerrado is going pretty much the same direction. The edges of the Amazon are being cleared as we speak. So really, we have only small, isolated populations of tapirs in South America. Still, every year conservationists must fight to keep the lowland tapir on the IUCN list.

4. Tapirs, which happen to be South America’s largest land mammals, are hunted for their meat, demolishing populations within the Amazon. A recent study of indigenous hunting practices in the Amazon revealed that the areas immediately surrounding a particular tribe were devoid of mammals. There are huge gaps with no tapirs, peccaries, agouti, everything — in a place where deforestation hasn’t even started yet.

5. If you want to call someone a jackass in Brazil, you call them a tapir, or “anta” in Portuguese  misjudging the animal as stupid and not worthy of saving. I prefer to compare tapirs with jaguars – powerful and majestic – but unfortunately people in Brazil don’t care about tapirs. That’s something I am working hard to change.


Fellows at TEDGlobal 2014: Susie Ibarra plays Rhythm Cycles

Here’s a treat for you. Above, watch TED Senior Fellow Susie Ibarra work a drum solo like you’ve never heard. Last night, Ibarra played two richly melodic, complex, and passionate pieces (of which this is a snippet) as part of the all-Fellows late-night lineup at TEDGlobal 2014, including appearances by Usman Riaz and Bill “Blinky Bill” Sellanga. Curious about the composer and percussionist’s striking style, we asked her to tell us more about this work, and about her creative process.

Tell us about the drum solo pieces you played last night. They seemed like complete compositions in their own right, unusual for solo drum.

The short pieces I played last night are from a new solo program, Rhythm Cycles, that I’m currently composing and performing. I hear and see them as small cells of structured rhythmic and melodic compositions for drum set. For live performance, I also memorize and break open to improvise in sections. Constructing rhythms for these pieces, I’m practicing polyrhythms that ask my body to feel and deliver layers of narrative simultaneously. Time, melody, texture, harmony and space inform these cycles of rhythm. More specifically, I’m drawing from historical and cultural references in drum culture, choosing certain melodies and rhythms derived from various world traditions. It’s not necessary for the listener to know the details of these traditions, but I’ve placed their intentions in each cycle, each narrative piece, so that the listener can experience the rhythms cycling through the compositions.

Your work sounds both improvised and composed, but it’s very hard to tell with percussion!

Yes, I’m both a composer and improviser. But what determines how I work depends on who the musicians are, what instruments they play, what purpose, musical environment or ensemble I’m creating music for. My background is in both oral music traditions of jazz and Philippine Indigenous percussion as well as Western classical music. This influences my performative and notation practices, too. In composition, there’s time to return to refine the development of the piece until it is decidedly final. Even this can happen in stages of formation. In improvisation, I have time to improve my performance vocabulary in practice on my instruments — but my musical performance on stage is ever-changing, influenced by my experience and the environment of that specific moment. 

To read more about Ibarra and her work, visit the TED Blog >>>

Mazda names four TED Fellows “Rebels with a Cause.” Psst: One of their new projects will get funded based on your vote

Andrew Bastawrous dreams of a bakery in Nakuru, Kenya, that will not only make delicious treats but raise money for subsidized vision care. Robert Simpson envisions First Responders, a program to make satellite data available to citizen scientists in crisis situations, to guide aid efforts from afar. Cesar Harada wants to create larger prototypes of his highly maneuverable sailing robots, designed to collect ocean data and clean up oil spills. Ryan Holladay imagines a series of artistic pit stops along California’s Highway 1.

At the end of October, Mazda will offer a grant to fund one of these four projects. Which one will it be? That is up to you. The grant will go to whichever project gets the most popular support online. Mazda is looking to celebrate — and fund — people who are challenging conventions to make things better.

Which project should you vote for? Read more about these four iconoclasts and their big ideas below.


Get to know: Eye surgeon Andrew Bastawrous
The Cliffs notes: Andrew Bastawrous is a TED2014 Fellow who created a smartphone eye exam app, PEEK, to reach people in Kenya who otherwise wouldn’t visit a doctor.
Inspiring quote: “In Kenya, 4 out of every 5 people who are blind don’t need to be.”
His new project: The Ujima Bakery, a social enterprise bakery that will employ locals in Nakuru, Kenya. It will offer up healthy foods, and proceeds help support free eye care in Nakuru.
What winning this grant would mean for his project: “This grant would help us accelerate the growth of the Ujima Bakery, which will generate profits to subsidize eye care to those in the area who cannot afford it. The grant will also be used to support St. Mary’s Hospital, where so many of our patients have received excellent care. This support may be in the form of a vehicle to enable more patients to be picked up, or funding towards their ongoing program until the bakery is generating sufficient funds for long-term sustainability. The grant would also enable us to start getting PEEK out there to those who need it most.”
Watch his TED TalkGet your next eye exam on a smartphone


Get to know: Science crowdsourcer Robert Simpson
The Cliffs notes: Robert is a TED2014 Fellow who has created a way for everyday folks to contribute to science through the online platform Zooniverse. So far, users have discovered a galaxy and contributed to breast cancer research.
Inspiring quote: “The excitement that I feel as an astronomer when I discover something — I get to convey that to people who discovered for it for themselves.”
His new project: First Responders, which would make aerial photography data available to citizen scientists during disasters in real-time, so they can offer from-the-air help to first responders.
What winning this grant would mean for his project: “At the Zooniverse, we want to get into the humanitarian space and try to put our crowdsourcing platform to use to more directly help people. Imagine if, as well as donating money, people could give their time and brain power to help spot people in trouble, find access routes, or map other data crucial for the people on the ground. We’d love to make that happen, and the grant would kickstart those efforts.”
Read his TED profileYou found a planet!: Accelerating discovery at Zooniverse


Get to know: Environmental inventor Cesar Harada
The Cliffs notes: Cesar is a TED Senior Fellow who created Protei, a sailing robot with open-source technology designed for efficient cleanup of oil and plastics from the sea. He looks for ways to use natural ocean phenomenon, like currents and wind, to curb disasters.
Inspiring quote: “The crazy person to me is the person who doesn’t take risks, who denies their own capacity to influence change in the world.”
His new project: So far, Protei prototypes have been small, autonomous vehicles about a meter long. Harada would like to make larger versions, to make the technology big enough for the open ocean and to see what happens when sailors and surfers are able to control its movement.
What winning this grant would mean for his project: “This grant would change everything for us. We would be able to build and operate a two-person boat and create larger autonomous sailing robots. It would also allow us to do more mapping around Fukushima, where the power plant exploded in 2011 about 100 kilometers away from my family. This is not a Japanese problem—it is a global problem. There will be more nuclear accidents in the future, and we need to be ready. For me, this is emotional because Mazda has its headquarters in Hiroshima. It’s a company built on the ashes of the nuclear bomb, a symbol of Japanese courage and vitality. Japan is now in a similar situation. To have Mazda support our work in healing the ocean, in helping the Tohoku region, in contributing to Japan rising from its ashes again—that would be a tremendous honor.”
Watch his TED TalkA novel idea for cleaning up oil spills


Get to know: Musical artist Ryan Holladay
The Cliffs notes: Ryan Holladay is a TED2013 Fellow who creates site-specific sound installations. With his partner Hays Holladay, he’s composed pieces activated by the National Mall in Washington, DC, and by Central Park in New York City.
Inspiring quote: “Think of this as a choose-your-own-adventure of an album.”
His new project: Holladay would like to create his largest location-aware album to date, one that spans the entirety of Highway 1 on the Pacific coast of the US. By teaming up with painters and designers, he wants to create a series of artistic pit stops along this famous road.
What winning this grant would mean for his project: “This grant would give us the ability to go further with our technology than we have in the past. Our projects have been a labor of love, and we’ve released all of them for free. Having no revenue from the apps posed a problem for us, as we weren’t able to update them as frequently as we would have liked. It has limited our ability to make the audio engine as robust as we know it could be. We’ve been so inspired by this beautiful stretch of highway along the Pacific coast, and we would love the opportunity to execute this concept of location-specific audio on a larger scale than we’ve done before and recruit other artists that we’ve always wanted to work with to help.”
Watch his TED TalkTo hear this music, you have to be there. Literally.

This story has been cross-posted from the TED Blog >>>

From a floating peepshow to a jaw-dropping medical demo: A recap of Fellows Session 2 at TEDGlobal 2014

Bill Selenga performing at the TED Fellows talks, Session 2, TEDGlobal 2014, South, October 5-10, 2014, Copacabana Palace Hotel, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo: Ryan Lash/TED

In Session 2 of TEDGlobal 2014 Fellows Talks: a waterborne peep show in San Francisco, a triage app that saves lives, the architecture of death, and more!

The session starts with Bill “Blinky” Sellanga performing “Usinibore” solo on acoustic guitar. “It was a song I wrote in 2008 in response to the post-election violence,” he says, “when I was feeling very helpless.” The lyrics: “Don’t tell me what I can or can’t do. I can change the world.” This Kenyan producer and DJ fronts the musical collective Just-A-Band, which mixes genres like hip-hop, electronica and funk to make music for popular radio that give a voice to Kenyan youth. (Watch a video of Just-A-Band’s version of this song.)

Computational biologist Marcela Uliano da Silva is sequencing the invasive golden mussel’s genome to find the animals’ weaknesses and strengths. This mussel arrived in South America in the 1990s, choking river systems and causing millions in damages as it clogged power plants and water treatment facilities. At the same time, this mussel alters the transparency of water, allowing sunlight to penetrate and leading to toxic blooms, oxygen deprivation and massive fish deaths, homogenizing ecosystems over time. Uliano da Silva hopes to develop a genetic therapy that would prevent the mussels from being able to attach to substrates. This would target the mussel without the need for substances like chlorine, which don’t work well and harm the surrounding biodiversity in their own way. But the clock is ticking. At the moment, the golden mussel is only 150 km from the first river in the Amazon River basin, says Uliano da Silva. If the golden mussel gets there, it would spell disaster for the Amazon, which is also critically linked to the health of the rest of the planet.

Landscape architect Bradley Cantrell introduces a brand-new concept: engineered environments using computational landscaping. Current environmental construction is, like a prosthetic, functionally limited. It looks like nature, he explains, but it’s limited in function and can’t feel or respond to stimuli. In contrast, computational landscape architecture uses environmental sensing, computation and robotics, along with models, animations and illustrations built from data to gain a deeper understanding about how ecosystem dynamics work — to allow construction of landscapes that act as a natural extension of nature. He offers an example: a prototype of a Mississippi River spillway that can essentially “print” land, somewhat like an inkjet printer. The prototype opens and closes the spillway gates to divert water and re-shape and stabilize land forms. It keeps in mind support for plants and animals, while protecting cities from severe weather.

Chilean-American queer artist Constance Hockaday is interested in water as an undefinable space of unfettered liberty. It upholds the idea that living beings have the right to own the space that their physical bodies occupy, and the right to freedom of movement. “The social order of land has forgotten these basic rights,” says Hockaday. Last summer, she explored these ideas in a floating peep show. She latched four 30-foot sailboats together, using their hulls as performance spaces. Here, she gathered exotic dancers and drag queens from two radical and celebrated San Francisco establishments that had closed within six months of each other: the worker-owned peepshow Lusty Lady, and the Latino gay bar Esta Noche. More than 600 audience members were ferried by sailors to see this floating show, many of whom had never been on the water, never been on a boat or never been to a peep show. To Hockaday, the event represented a tear in social order, and a gathering of people successfully conversing with the urban and natural environment on their own terms.

To read the full post, visit the TED Blog >>>


Save the whales (and the humans too): A recap of TED Fellows Session 1 at TEDGlobal 2014

Patricia Medici speaks about the South American lowland tapir, an animal about half the size of a horse that deserves your deepest respect. Photo: Ryan Lash

It’s time for TED Fellows Talks, the Rio edition! Twenty TED Fellows and Senior Fellows opened the conference in the stunning Golden Room of the Copacabana Palace Hotel. In Session 1, learn more about a grassroots marine conservation movement in Madagascar, a vending machine that dispenses food staples in Chile and a new database of African genetics. Plus much, much more.

Pakistani composer Usman Riaz opens the Fellows session with his new piano piece, “The Creation of the Universe.” It starts out quiet and dreamy, opening out into a dramatic second movement. The multitalented Riaz is also a filmmaker and visual artist, and a sophomore at the Berklee College of Music.

Kuwaiti-born Palestinian photographer Laura Boushnak faced many barriers on her way to becoming a photographer. This inspired her to turn her lens on women in the Arab world who are also motivated to improve their lives through education, while confronting cultural and social barriers. In her project “I Read, I Write,” Boushnak addresses such topics as female illiteracy — which is quite high in the region — as well as educational reforms and political activism among university students. Often, her subjects — who hail from a wide range of social and economic situations — are reluctant to be photographed, but agree once Boushnak reassures them that they will serve as role models in their communities. Sometimes, Boushnak asks women to write their thoughts on prints of their portraits. She shares some of their words. “I sought education in order to be independent and not count on men for everything,” writes Aisha, a teacher from Yemen. And, from a Tunisian activist: “Question your convictions, be who you want to be, not who they want you to be; don’t accept their enslavement, for your mother birthed you free.”

Marine ecologist Alasdair Harris has a new metaphor for fish conservation: investment banking. When a few fish are allowed to reproduce in reserves, their fertility explodes. The bigger they grow, the more they produce, eventually swimming out of the reserve to replenish nearby oceans where people fish for food. With the simple and effective idea of marine reserves, says Harris, humanity could rebuild the world’s fish stocks — if we could manage to put a third of our oceans in reserve. This is a problem because, at the moment, only a small single-digit percentage of our oceans are protected, and it’s also hard to persuade people whose livelihoods depend on fishing to stop, especially where stocks are already low. Working with octopus fishers in Madagascan villages, Harris convinced one community to stop fishing in a portion of reef to allow local octopi to recover. People saw their long-depleted stocks come back, and watched the octopi grow to ten times their normal size. With this, villagers saw that they could rebuild their fisheries themselves, and the idea went viral. Now Madagascan fishing villages have created 63 permanent reserves in eight years — a fast-growing, locally driven conservation solution working for a quarter of a million Madagascans.

“Our world has many supherheroes,” says Brazilian graffiti artist and activist Mundano, “but they have the worst of all superpowers: invisibility.” He’s referring to catadores, Brazil’s waste pickers, who do the essential work of collecting recyclable materials for a living, pushing carts called carroças to haul materials away. In Brazil, catadores collect 90% of the waste that is recycledTo celebrate these unsung heroes, Mudano began decorating carroças with graffiti art, using color and humor to increase their visibility and stature in the streets, society and culture. He then created Pimp My Carroça, a crowdfunded event that invites everyone from physicians, podiatrists, hairstylists and massage therapists to offer services to catadores, while artists paint their carts with vivid graffiti and outfit them with reflective tape, horns and mirrors. The demand for this event grew to other cities, even outside Brazil, spawning an offshoot independent event, Pimpex — DIY events inspired by TEDx. To date, Mundano has painted more than 200 carroças, and has visited wastepicking cultures in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, South Africa, Turkey, the US and Japan. There are over 20 million catadores worldwide, Mudnano notes, and he challenges us to see them as a vital part of our society.

To read the full post, visit the TED Blog >>>



Fellows at TEDGlobal 2014: Julie Freeman launches new online artwork, We Need Us

Above, watch a sample of Julie Freeman’s new data-driven artwork, We Need Us.

Artist Julie Freeman creates kinetic sculptures, objects, images, compositions and animations from nature-generated data – such as the motion of fish swimming. Today, Freeman announced a new piece of work from the TED Fellows stage at TEDGlobal 2014. We Need Us — an online, data-driven artwork that explores the nature of metadata — has just gone live on The Space, a new website for digital art funded by the BBC and Arts Council England. Here, she tells us about what we can learn from experiencing data, rather than simply drawing information from it.

You are known make art using data from natural sources. Where is the data for We Need Us drawn from, and how is it different?

This metadata comes from a citizen science website called the Zooniverse, which allows people to classify large data sets from all the over the world. Volunteers from all walks of life come together to do this in a very altruistic manner, helping scientists complete extremely labor-intensive tasks, freeing them up for other research and analysis.

Essentially, I use data as an art material. I take the metadata looking at Zooniverse user activity, and how they’re interacting with the site. I manipulate and process the data, and then that’s used to control the animations and sound compositions, which are made of field recordings.

What did you record?

All sorts of stuff – underwater sounds, recordings of the environment, of birds, insects, buildings, machines. Anything.

How is this different from straight-ahead data visualization?

Traditional data visualization is about how we understand data and the information it contains. What I’m doing is a lateral way of looking at data. How can we experience it? How can we feel it, and what does it mean to think about the life of data — how it lives, and what the dynamics within it are?

What is the structure of this piece?

The work is made up of 10 different scenes, if you like, and each scene relates to a project on the Zooniverse website. There’s one called Snapshot: Serengeti, for example, where volunteers look at photographs taken by motion-triggered cameras in the Serengeti, to help classify the animals appearing in the photograph — say a bison or antelope. But I’m not so much interested in the animals as taking the data of the people classifying the data. What do they click on? When do they click on it? Where are they from? Using that data, I animate an abstract illustration drawn from references to the Serengeti. The sounds are things like flies buzzing, grasses in the wind, bison making weird noises.

What was the impetus for collaborating with Robert Simpson and Zooniverse?

Robert and I met at TED2014 in Vancouver, and when he told me about Zooniverse, I thought, “I’ve got a great idea!” At the time, The Space — where We Need Us is hosted and which is a new online platform for data-based artwork — had approached me as a curator. I said, “Actually, I’m an artist that works with digital technologies and would like to make a work with Zooniverse data.” They loved it, so they, along with the Open Data Institute, commissioned the piece.

And as a scientist, what does Robert think about what you’re doing?

He thinks it’s brilliant. Interestingly, a group of scientists are working with exactly the same data that powers my artwork, but they are looking at how communities come together to collaborate, to solve problems. But I’m using the data for art, and they’re using it for proper social science reasons. It’s nice to know that this pot of data is being used by different people for different outcomes. Basically both projects are about the humanity in technology, exposing the altruism of how people use the web, and what we can learn from that.

To view We Need Us, which goes live on Monday at 2pm UK time, visit And to learn more about Robert Simpson and the Zooniverse, read “You found a planet!: Robert Simpson crowdsources scientific research and accelerates discovery at Zooniverse“.


Drones for good

Image from Superflux

Image from Superflux

Imagine a world where unmanned aircraft – drones – move among us, delivering pizzas or acting as a first responder to major natural disasters. It turns out we may not be that from this kind of technology becoming the norm.

According to Virgin Unite’s recent article, “How will we live with drones?” drone technology will soon be massively integrated into civilian and commercial life. The article describes a world only previously recognizable as science fiction, bringing with it many complex implications.This is where TED Fellow Anab Jain’s company Superflux comes in. Superflux is an interdisciplinary design-tech organization, working at the crux of emerging technologies. Under Jain’s direction, Superflux is making efforts to safeguard the positive potential of drone use, in hopes that drones might gain a wider acceptance as tools to better connect and stimulate our communities.

Whether or not this is a feasible goal for the near future is difficult to say, since opinions about these technological developments can be polarizing. It’s safe to say, however, that people are certainly engaging in conversation. Richard Branson, a big-time drone investor, showed his support by retweeting Virgin’s article on September 21, 2014 with the hashtag “drones4good.” While not everyone shares Branson’s enthusiasm, Superflux is working to bridge that gap is by encouraging people to experience their specialized drones firsthand.

From this came “Drone Aviary,” an installation originally scheduled to debut at the London Design Festival. The idea behind the installation was to provide an interactive space to familiarize people with specialized drones, ultimately creating a connection between humans and these technological newcomers. Superflux operates under the vision of humans and drones interacting in a responsible, sustainable fashion, with an unlimited potential to improve the safety and efficiency of a wide variety of activities—ranging anywhere from education, to 3-D mapping, or agriculture.

It seems clear that drone usage is no longer a question of “if,” but “when, and in what capacity?” The more pertinent question now seems to be how to mindfully go about that adaptation. As a frontrunner in the technological movement, Jain’s multidisciplinary scope of experience is sure to give a uniquely relevant perspective and understanding to the ever-growing conversation about drone technology.

By Lauren Bugg