Over on the TED Ideas blog, TED Fellow Chris Woebken imagines the future in the shape of objects you might find in a 2050 pawn shop. Read an excerpt here, then follow the link below for more!
For most of us, trying to picture the future is a futile exercise that leads at best to some bad ideas that should likely never be shared out loud. For people like TED Fellow Chris Woebken, it’s why the present exists.
Along with Elliott Montgomery, Woebken runs The Extrapolation Factory, a studio devoted to imagining future scenarios. One recent project challenged visitors to the Museum for Arts and Design in New York to come up with products you might find in a pawn shop in 2050. Like all good science fiction, the results riff off things that are already shimmering in the real world. And like all good science fiction, some of them are more than a little bonkers. A nice twist? You can buy them all, with profits going toward researchers working in that particular area. Here, take a look at 16 objects that don’t exist yet … but might.
1. A robot frog to replace those wiped out by disease.
The artificial, bio-robotic “Anura-43″ frog replaces flesh-and-blood counterparts that had become extinct by 2050. Sadly, the loss isn’t entirely that unlikely: asThe Guardian has reported, a fungus epidemic first threatened frogs in Costa Rica in 1987 and it now threatens nearly 3,000 amphibian species.
2. A gizmo to design your children (and your children’s children)
Genetic engineering has provided the basis of much moral handwringing and discussion (see this interview with ethics professor Julian Savulescu). By 2050, concepts such as genetic terrorism and “sterility suicide bombers” will likely have become unnervingly familiar. The “Clean Gene Machine” allows people to visualize and understand all the genetic permutations that could result from their reproducing — and be rid of any unwanted glitches that might result in their children being infertile.
3. A robotic drone to bring you … yogurt.
Even by 2015, companies were excitedly trumpeting the potential of drones (or “unmanned aerial vehicles,” as their makers would rather you called them) to transform lives for the better or, at least, bring you stuff now. (See the TED playlist Will drones save us or destroy us?) By 2050, the “Dro-Yo” could do both through the drone-delivery of yogurt. Why yogurt? Because it might just be the healthiest thing out there. In 2013, Yovivo wanted to use synthetic biology to amp up yogurt’s naturally healthy properties and include clones of resveratrol, the molecule commonly found in red wine that lowers bad cholesterol and improves circulation.
Written by Helen Walters. To find out what Woebken’s 13 other objects are, visit the Ideas blog >>>
What if you could build a civilization from scratch, using tools that could also be built from scratch? In his talk “Open-sourced blueprints for civilization” at TED2011, Marcin Jakubowski introduced the Global Village Construction Set, open-source blueprints that would essentially allow anyone with a heap of scrap metal — and a few production tools — to make 50 machines covering all the needs of a basic civilization: agriculture, energy, transportation and production.
In the last two years, this TED Fellow has been working to make this radical idea a reality on Factor e Farm — a community based on 30 acres near Kansas City, Missouri. The TED Blog caught up with him to find out how the project is going, and to hear how his marriage to fellow Fellow (and open-source scholar) Catarina Mota (watch her talk, “Play with smart materials“) has brought domestic bliss into the construction equation.
It’s been a couple of years since you gave your talk on the Global Village Construction set. It generated a lot of excitement and about $1 million in funding. How has the project developed since then?
Machines that are ready for viral replication are the brick press, the hydraulic power unit and the soil pulverizer. The tractor needs some work. We’ve built a number of other prototypes — like the CNC torch table, a backhoe, an ironworker machine for cutting slabs of steel, a circuit mill and a trencher. We have an early prototype of a microcar and a 3D printer.
As we continue to prototype and develop more tools in the set, we are working to both develop a community and generate revenue, because our foundation funding has run out. To do this, we’ve experimented with a workshop model, where we teach interested people how to build the tools in a three-day immersion learning course. People paid a fee to take a weekend-long workshop, and we also sold the completed equipment. We’ve done a total of four microhouse workshops, one brick press workshop, one Power Cube workshop and one microcar workshop. Take the brick press, for example. It costs $5,000, we earned about $5,000 in tuition fees, and we sold the press for $10,000. It’s an education/production revenue model. The person who bought the brick press even came to the workshop and participated in the build. The general feedback was that people were really excited to build things that they didn’t think they could before the workshop.
A backhoe manufacture in progress at Factor E Farms. Photo: Open Source Ecology
How has your perspective on this project changed since your talk?
I’m seeing that this work takes a long time to develop, so it’s more like a two-decade project than the two-year project I initially imagined. So I’ve revised my timeline and am planning for the long haul. I’ve realized that to make the Global Village Construction Set tools feasible, we need to explore what’s known as extreme manufacturing, which means rapid parallel building of the technologies. That means we have to get full infrastructure for rapid development in place — rapid prototyping, collaborative design — and a massive parallel development effort. The key to this is producing excellent, comprehensive, open documentation that anyone can access, and thus join the project rapidly. The workshop/funding model is a part of this plan.’
We have shown that we can build a brick press in a single day, for example. Now we’re focusing on building multiple machines and structures at the same time with different groups of people. Recently, we got that to the level of housing. We built a house in five days using compressed blocks from our Compressed Earth Block Press, plus standard modular construction techniques. Our next goal is to build a 3,000-square-foot electronics workshop in two days with 100 people.
In essence, what we’ll attempt is parallel group builds via workshops happening simultaneously. We are creating a process that’s social, educational and productive all at once. We just need to scale it and make it highly replicable. If we can hire people to teach, we could have a number of these revenue-generating workshops going on all at once. Meanwhile, I could carry on developing machines.
The missing link is people. That’s the perennial issue. We are in real need of diversely-skilled people who are both organizers and builders. However, we’ve had a couple of workshop attendees that later became workshop leaders. They had enough skill that they could actually pull it off.
An engine module, for use with the Power Cube, which generates hydraulic power. Photo: Open Source Ecology
What kind of person is motivated to do this?
A maker, a creator, a DIY-type of person. People interested in self-sufficiency, regenerative development, as well as survivalists. A person who does it because it’s possible. Our goal is to bring the barriers way down to do this.
In fact, one new insight we’ve gained is that we’re able to lead unskilled teams of people through a process of a complex machine build. At the workshops, we had people who’d never welded before. And even myself — without prior experience in fabrication, I taught myself to do it. If you have the willingness, the technology is accessible. But you do need the open-source design blueprints and detailed instructions.
And then there are motivated entrepreneurs. One of our guys is now selling our Power Cubes, the hydraulic power units, as a business.
This week, the TED Ideas blog launched its new “Question Worth Asking”: “How weird will the future be?” The series of articles kicks off with weird and wonderful piece from poet and TED Fellow Ben Burke.
[Dear Helen- So sorry. Didn’t have time to write that poem. But my future self sent me one yesterday. So we’re good. Crazy, right? It’s totally legit and actually from the future, so no need to double-check, you’re probably too busy anyway. Also included is the typewritten note that was taped to the package. Happy New Year! – Ben Burke]
THE TRANSHUMANIST’S LAMENT
TOO MANY RIVERS, NOT ENOUGH LAKES
OH, FUTURE — YOU SO CRAZY
I arrived in the basket that was weaved here before me
And I stayed in any place with a roof that would store me
I have lots of belongings
But didn’t pack for the trip
I got here, they put pants on me
And then the world gave me the slip
I’ve lived as slowly as I could
Because there was no time to waste
But then things just got so weird
That I just had to grab your ear
And give the tongue inside your mind a little taste:
The wallpaper can see that you’re stressed,
So it turns a lovely shade of blue
The thermostat has thought things over
And is ready to have a word with you
And your closet picked out your outfit
for the party Friday night
Whilst the blender and the toaster
made vindaloo by candlelight
And Doctor mailman robot
Printed your pills in quite a hurry
Your vitamins were running low
Now there’s B12 in your curry
But your personality algorithm
was accidentally miswritten
You forgot your fingernails were all encoded
and you bit them
Now the discs of your thumbnails
are gangrene, corrupted
The chip that was slipped
twixt each digit erupted
Your sensors and servos
Implants and additions
All bent towards a personal program of precision
Your body’s expanded
Your spirit is failing
The row boat got a motor but wants to be sailing
Yes every Thing now is thinking
We are each our own king
But there’s no kingdom here to speak of
It’s a pot luck, but we’ve nothing to bring
For the air now is as thick as the sea
With every thing we created, each idea we have dreamed
Yes we screamed and filled the skies with drones and clones of drones
Now they’re crashing on our couches as they move into our homes
And taking in some old stray nanobots
Now the drones have a family
Now the drones have a dog
There’s so many drones, we all miss having cops
Yes life never stops, there’s no room to start over
Though we have deftly fashioned countless walls
Every thing that you want or you need or just hoped for
Is always round the corner, and just down the hall
We are tubes inside of tubes inside of tubes inside of more
We are a sinking ship that’s filled with valves, and pouches, switches, doors
A whirling servo for your heart-
It no longer beats, it hums
Every poem will be disposed of that once compared our hearts to drums
We are a hurricane that just built a fountain
A pile of rocks with an eye for the mountain
But keep your ears to the ground for the counting
For the number of hooves that are rumbling round it
Numb to the sound of the sirens surrounding
For we will stretch ourselves further
Than we ever have before
And one day, there’s no doubt, we will snap
With our nose to the grindstone
We’ll all make our way
to the top, then collapse
For though we’ve imagined where it is we’re all headed-
We do not yet know where we stand
The future can’t hold for us a promise, my friend
It’s a ghost with a pair of clouds for hands
Yes the future isn’t waiting there for us-
It is quietly being pulled through us
It’s an illustration of our secret ways
and yet we cannot say who drew us
For as soon as the word is pronounced
There’s a parade!
The new product arrives!
In your ear
On your finger
Up your nose
In your eyes
Yes we’ve figured out a way to make you all feel MORE alive
(side effects may include
shortness of breath
thoughts of suicide or death
but most likely just
You’ll be a walking coral reef
You’ll be the tide pools filled with teeth
You’ll be a mouth that’s always chewing
You’ll be a tongue that’s underneath it all
You’ll be the roof, the ceiling, and all the papered walls
You’ll be prefixed
As they watch you
And poke you
And cut you
And shoot ya
Let us mend every seam with some sutures
Let them sew up the holes in your life with the future
But who are we inside of this thing that we’ve built?
We’re a bowl full of milk that’s about to be spilt
For there is always a storm that is coming
The word on the tip of all tongues now is fear
We’d all love to cry out, but we’re too filled with doubt
That’s no diamond, my friend, it’s a tear
That’s no animal, in fact-
No we’ve all just learned
each of them is a sentient being
Why there’s so many facts
That are all in the past
It’s unbelievable- the things that we weren’t seeing
It turns out that Reiki is real
And meditation’s no longer a joke
We’ve all been such fools, but now we teach it in the schools
And yes the hippies are all pretty stoked
And the universe, it just so happens,
Is just the way Tesla found it-
It’s all about frequencies… and vibrations….. and things
We just had to wrap our little heads around it
Yes, we still don’t like the unknown
We need to have things defined
We want our world to make sense
We like it when nature rhymes
Even if only slightly
Even if we must bend
What we see and we hear to fit the means to our end
We all just spend our lives
Trying to overcome our births
Trying to get along with Death
And then untie ourselves from Earth
Now we vacation on the moon
And yes, we’ve flown beyond the stars
And can you guess where I just sent this from?
I’ll give you a hint- It’s Mars
Now we can grow your bones for you
And buildings build themselves, for free
But there’s still work for you to do:
You must remember how to be-
Just like the ocean when it’s thinking
Just be that storm that’s always brewing
You’re an idea
Just one idea
Of what one person on earth could be doing
And what animal doesn’t love
Going out to chase wonder?
Only to learn of the lightning
just before there is thunder?
Look above you- it’s raining
Look around- there’s a flood
Who can say when it started,
but now the ghost is in our blood
We can only move forward
Only turn back for a time
Now the only sacred space left
In the world
Is our mind
And it’s running away with itself and the others
Like the wind through the trees-
Phantom sisters and brothers
Have gone the way of the bees
And the birds and the lovers
Yes they’ve all been drawn and quartered
A million horses left the track
The future will take your mind off of itself-
So I suggest you start stealing it back
For our time here, like the twilight
Is precious and fading
And while there’s certainly nothing new under the sun-
Under the moon, there is waiting
Good day and good luck and good bye
Oh that’s right,
I nearly forgot-
Everyone in the future says Hi
A very unsexy-sounding piece of technology could mean that the police know where you go, with whom, and when: the automatic license plate reader. These cameras are innocuously placed all across small-town America to catch known criminals, but as lawyer and TED Fellow Catherine Crump shows, the data they collect in aggregate could have disastrous consequences for everyone the world over. Watch this talk and prepared to be shocked. And watch this space for a full-length interview with Crump, coming soon.
When Somi went to Lagos, Nigeria, for an 18-month creative sabbatical, the singer immersed herself in the life of the city, exploring its culture and people and writing about what she experienced – resulting in her major-label debut album The Lagos Music Salon. One of the ballads from this album, the haunting “Brown Round Things,” attempts to imagine and explore the humanity of the city’s prostitutes, who are so stigmatized in society that there is silence around not only their rights or well-being, but who they are. In her recently released video for the song, Somi inhabits the role herself, walking the streets in their shoes. In this Q&A, she tells us about the thoughts and experiences that led her to create the song and video.
What prompted you to write this song?
You see prostitution everywhere around the world, but for some reason, every time I saw these women on the road in Lagos, I realized it always shocked me a little more in the African context.
Why is that?
I think it’s just because of the conservative nature of African values. I am blessed to come from this massive, loving, always-in-your-business but beautiful family. And by that, I mean we’re always accountable to each other. Even when it’s uncomfortable, it’s coming from a place of love. Everybody wants the collective to be thriving, to be well, to be safe. So when I saw these women, my knee-jerk reaction was to judge them, to assume things about them. But then I realized that, like me, each of these women is somebody’s daughter. Each of their stories is the evolution of a girl-child.
I recognize now that within a traditional African values system, a lot of people harbor prejudice towards sex workers and their life choices, without at all understanding the context and the circumstances that brought them to that point.
How is this different from how you’ve seen prostitution treated in other parts of the world?
When I was in Paris last year, there was a sex workers union strike happening. And I just thought, there is no way that could happen in an African city, in an African country. Those women were on live television saying “We’ve chosen this path. We have rights.” And I was thinking, yes, rightly so. If this is the life that they have chosen, why shouldn’t they be protected? Why shouldn’t they have those rights?
But there is a certain kind of privilege that accompanies those perspectives. I am assuming, again, because of strict social stigma, that most African women who find themselves in prostitution are not making the decision out of the most comfortable life circumstances, or making that choice. I think you would be hard pressed to find an African woman that would choose that lightly. But at the moment, it’s not even something that is discussed in the public sphere, much less advocated for.
So the song is also kind of about instigating a conversation. If we can talk more openly about the humanity of those women and the circumstances that led them to prostitution — whether they be social, economical, or political — we might be able to empower women and girls to make safer life decisions. And hopefully we can include all of society in the conversation.
If a woman works as a prostitute in Lagos, is it possible to recover from the cultural stigma?
I can’t speak to that because, again, there isn’t enough of a discourse around it. But I can say that I usually see two types of prostitutes in African cities. There are those on the street, as you see in the video. And then there are the less conspicuous prostitutes that frequent high-end lounges or hotels, generally looking for foreign clients. Some of those women are then able to get into relationships with these men, and end up in a relationship with an older, western guy who is then able to provide a much more comfortable life.
There is a lyric in another song of mine, called, “Four African Women” — inspired by Nina Simone’s song “Four Women” — which talks about the struggles and strengths and difficulties of African women, not only in Nigeria but all over the continent. In one of the lines I sing, “I hope this European trick can get me a visa not get me sick.” A lot of the time, I think prostitution is used as a way to get out of difficult economic and social circumstances. I assume some of these women are looking to struggle less and take better care of their families.
Why did you decide to inhabit the role for the video?
Deciding to “be” the prostitute was about my own personal decision to find the humanity we have in common, about remembering that sameness between us. I was trying to reconcile my own prejudice against them by literally walking in their shoes.
We shot on a street in Victoria Island, a very nice part of Lagos. During the day, the street is a part of a normal unassuming business district near a law school. But at night, it becomes a red light district of sorts. So when I decided to do this video, I called some friends to accompany us because otherwise it was just going to be myself and the filmmaker, Mariona Lloreta, who is a Spanish woman and clearly a foreigner. Some of my friends were quite concerned and mostly came along to offer protection. “Somi are you crazy. You’re going to where and going to do what?”
During the shoot, there were moments of fear, when cars slowed way down and got close to me, for example.
Were the women upset you were there?
No. I had initially hoped some of them would participate, or talk to us, but of course they didn’t want to. They mostly didn’t want their faces to be seen in the video. But if they were upset, I wasn’t told so, or given that impression. With the camera rolling and my friends in tow, it was obvious that I wasn’t there to compete with them. I still think a lot about these women: where are their families, what are their circumstances? I can’t know what the story is, so I just decided to try to imagine and, for a moment, live it. It just seemed like there was no other way to tell the story.
Now that BRCK has launched, Ushahidi is turning its attention to where it will be best put to use — in schools. Photo: BRCK
BRCK is best described as a “backup generator for the internet.” When it was announced, the idea of a rugged, rechargeable, mobile wifi device captured imaginations as a good way to bring robust connectivity to people in places with spotty infrastructure – particularly in developing countries.
The device is the brainchild of Nairobi-based technology company Ushahidi, and was created partly out of simple frustration with dropped internet connections and power outages in the city. After a successful Kickstarter campaign last year, BRCK has now manufactured and shipped more than 1,000 units to 45 countries, many of them in emerging markets, and is catching up on the backlog of orders. So — what next?
Here, Juliana Rotich — a TED Fellow and founding member of Ushahidi — tells the TED Blog that BRCK is now looking for new ways the technology can be applied, and shifting focus from hardware to community action.
Tell us what’s new with BRCK.
Right now, we’re really excited about working with organizations in the education space and in the health space. We’re trying to figure out how to help people in these fields get resilient connectivity in support of their work.
To give an example, we’re working with Amaf school in Kawangware – which is an under-resourced area. The school has teachers and electricity — as well as Zuku, one of the most basic cable providers. The problem is that the internet connection here isn’t reliable, and if the power goes out, your internet goes out. So we’ve started to put BRCK in the school to provide a wifi hotspot and extend connectivity into the classroom.
How is this different from using a standard 3G connection?
BRCK is connected to 3G, but instead of only having the connection on one device, you can share it out among many devices. In the case of the school, it can handle 20 devices, so more students get access at one time. We’re also working closely with a company called eLimu that provides tablets with content as a learning tool for children.
In the case of health care, providers can — with BRCK — access software systems that can help gather patient information, helping to digitize patient data like health care records, ultrasound scans and educational content for community health care workers to make care provision more efficient. We’re about to deploy our first units into the Narok part of Kenya to five clinics to see how it works, with the help of the team at MedicMobile.
Basically, what we’re thinking about at BRCK is no longer the hardware itself. Now that the basic platform is done, what matters is constructive value.
Bosnian photojournalist Ziyah Gafić photographs the aftermath of conflict. (Watch his TED Talk, “Everyday objects, tragic histories.”) In his most recent book, Quest for Identity, he catalogs the belongings of Bosnia’s genocide victims, everyday objects like keys, books, combs and glasses that were exhumed from mass graves. The objects are still being used to identify the bodies from this two-decade-old conflict. Only 12 when the Bosnian War began, the Sarajevo native has spent the last 15 years turning his lens on conflicts around the world as a way of coming to terms with the tragedy of his homeland. Here, he tells the TED Blog about looking for patterns of violence, the relationship between detachment and empathy, and what it’s like to grow up with war.
Tell us about the overall focus of your work.
The stories I’m interested in are focused on countries that have followed a similar pattern of violence as my homeland, Bosnia. My book Troubled Islam: Short Stories from Troubled Societies covers my own journey starting with the aftermath of war in Bosnia, and then exploring the consequences of conflict in the northwestern province of Pakistan, Palestine and Israel to Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Chechnya and Lebanon. “Aftermath” is a key word: the aftermaths of conflicts in these countries follow a similar sequence to that of Bosnia: ethnic violence, fraternal war, ethnic cleansing and, ultimately, genocide.
My idea was to compare countries that are thousands of miles away, on different continents, yet following the same vicious patterns. These countries have certain things in common. One is ethnic wars, though “ethnic” is probably not the most fortunate choice of word. All these countries have significant Muslim communities, or have majority-Muslim populations. In the post-9/11 world, these elements became very relevant.
How is Quest for Identity related to Troubled Islam?
I worked on Quest for Identity in parallel to Troubled Islam, but Quest is totally different from everything I do, because my usual approach to photography is very subjective. I wanted to do something on the other side of the spectrum, something extremely objective—something neutral, something accurate. By coincidence, while doing other stories, around 10 years ago I stumbled upon these objects that are being used as forensic evidence in the ongoing process of identifying over 30,000 missing Bosnians.
This week, East African singer Somi releases her first major-label album, The Lagos Music Salon, in the United States. Already, it is #1 on the iTunes Jazz Chart, #1 on the Amazon Jazz Vocal Chart, and #1 on the Amazon Pop Vocal Chart. The TED Blog caught up with the jazz-soul vocalist and songwriter—who was was born in Illinois to Rwandan and Ugandan parents and traveled frequently to East Africa—to talk about taking risks, navigating creativity within a multicultural life, and the artistic promptings that led her to explore the city of Lagos.
Tell us about your new album, The Lagos Music Salon. Does it refer to a real salon?
It was inspired by a recent 18-month creative sabbatical I took in Lagos, Nigeria. I called it a “salon” for a number of reasons — including a regular performance series I began while collaborating with fellow artists I was meeting in Lagos. But it’s also about creating a space for reflective conversations I was having with myself and with the city itself.
The idea for the performance salons came out of what I thought was a lack of intimate cultural spaces in Lagos that allowed for real artist-to-audience engagement. Even though Nigeria has this huge culture and music and art scene, the performance spaces are limited — shockingly so. I found that the performance spaces were mostly either these tiny places where the performer served as background music, or these hyper-produced, overpriced spaces, most of which were hotel conference rooms. At the time, I couldn’t find anywhere that regularly allowed for and encouraged the fundamental conversation between artist and audience.
While creating this new music, I wanted to be able to have that kind of concert and conversation with the Nigerian audience. At the time, I was writing my experience of the city, and I wanted to get critical feedback from from Lagosian people to know whether I was appropriately representing the experiences of Lagos living. I wanted my work to be something that Lagosians could be proud of, too. So I began producing salons. The very first one was more of an atelier — a showcase of work in progress. A friend of mine owns an art gallery, the African Artists Foundation, in a neighborhood called Ikoyi. We set up 66 chairs, had some hors d’oeuvres, organized a reception, and I performed all of the new material with my newly formed Lagos band. We were surrounded by all this beautiful artwork. Afterwards, we had champagne and cupcakes.
What was the initial response?
The initial response was wonderful — many people in the audience told me they connected with the work and really appreciated it. That feedback was critical for me, as was the experience of hearing it myself in a live context—experiencing how the work lived in my own body. I decided to produce more salons. I invited local artists to participate, and it just grew into this thing that happened every few months. It was a wonderful space for me to work through the music before going into the studio to record it. It also was a wonderful way of engaging the local arts community and establishing relationships with fellow musicians who were there. It was also an incredible learning experience in terms of taking off my often overly-cerebral, New Yorker jazz head to experience and create music on a more visceral level. I got to work with African musicians who have a very different kind of creative process than the New York-trained or conservatory musician might.
Above: watch the album teaser for The Lagos Music Salon, Somi’s major label debut on Sony’s OKeh imprint, released this week.
Why Lagos, specifically, and not a city in Uganda or Rwanda, where your parents are from?
There are a number of reasons. One, I was always very curious about the cultural energy there. I had been before to visit and to perform, and I realized how many parallels there were between Lagos and New York, in terms of size, energy, pace. It’s actually bigger than New York — 20 million people — and it’s always been a cultural giant on the African continent in terms of music, literature, fashion and visual arts. They’ve got the third largest film industry in the world.
So I was curious: Why is there so much cultural production in Lagos? What is it about the place that makes it such a cultural force? I mean, it’s partly a numbers game, because one out of every four Africans is Nigerian, but there’s something really special about the place. It’s not just about this moment, when everybody — no matter what industry — is looking at Africa as this new, emerging market to invest in. It’s about generations of cultural export and leadership. In the ’70s, every major label was actually in Lagos. Everybody passed through there, whether you’re talking about a Miles Davis or a Miriam Makeba or Nina Simone or Hugh Masekela.
I also moved there because I was curious about how, as an African woman, being in an African city might affect my lyrical, musical narratives and impulses. I decided not to go to my home cities of Kigali or Kampala because I didn’t want my experience colored by familiarity. I also thought I might have felt pressured by cultural expectations and obligations. The discovery of Lagos afforded me the privilege, and maybe freedom, of being a foreigner, and with that came a number of opportunities. Basically, I wanted to go somewhere that gave me enough Africanisms to help me feel at home, but enough “foreignness” to keep my perspective totally fresh.
There are also substantial financial resources that the Nigerian government has committed to investing in the cultural sector. That was the first time I’d seen that in an African context. The World Bank came out with a report some years ago about how, in the global recession, creative economies in the developing world were the only place that they saw remarkable growth. The Nigerian film industry alone created about 100,000 jobs in 2011.
Did you have a residency there to start with?
Initially, I was invited to teach a residency at a university about five hours north of Lagos. I used that as a soft landing. After the first month I decided to stay for 15 months. While completing the residency, I found partnerships that gave me the support system necessary to set up there for the additional months. But I had no agenda when I moved. I just wanted to get out of New York, after having been there for a decade. I’d just lost my father, and I wanted to heal my heart. I also just walked away from my label, my management, my agent — all at once. I felt either I’d outgrown them, or we still just hadn’t gotten to this understanding of the larger story I’m trying to tell.
Artistically, I had so much more I wanted to say. As an African woman living in the United States, I have to negotiate my identity as an African and a Westerner, whereas on the continent, I am in a more transnational cultural space. I was curious how my work would shift once I was no longer culling over my cultural heritage through a diasporic lens. It’s a very romantic lens because you’re always sort of celebrating or privileging a longed-for place. Now, when I listen to Fela Kuti in Lagos, for example, I understand and hear it completely differently. That understanding could only have come from here. I loved his music from the perspective of an East African in New York. But now that I’ve experienced where the music is from, I realize there’s so much more that I had not heard or identified in the music before. So I think what I’m most proud of with this record is that there’s a keen sense of place that’s so fundamentally inside of it. I hope when people hear it, they feel as though they’ve traveled with me.
Theoretical physicist Shohini Ghose has two great passions: physics, and advocating for gender equity in the sciences. This week, her passions converge as she chairs the 5th IUPAP International Conference on Women in Physics at Wilfrid Laurier University, in Waterloo, Canada – the first time this prestigious conference will be held in North America. Why the focus on women? “There are still relatively few women in physics – and the higher up the ladder in academia or industry you go, the fewer women you find,” says Ghose. “Yet the laws of physics themselves are gender neutral, and the beauty of the universe is equally accessible to everyone. So why so few women, and how can we change that?”
For the next four days, delegates from over 50 countries – including astronomer and TED Prize winner Jill Tarter – will gather to showcase and celebrate scientific work in all areas of physics, and build a strong, diverse and inclusive worldwide physics community. To celebrate the conference launch today, we asked Ghose to share her favorite facts about women and their contribution to physics. “Women have made many important contributions in science, including physics, and have personally inspired me to become a physicist myself,” says Ghose. “Here are just a few.”
Only two women have ever won the Nobel Prize in physics. Marie Curie won in 1903 for her studies of radioactivity. She shared the prize with her husband Pierre Curie and with the other discoverer of radioactivity, Henri Bequerel. Originally, the Nobel prize committee had only selected Pierre Curie – but he refused to accept it without proper acknowledgement of Marie’s contribution. In 1911, Curie won the Nobel Prize in chemistry for her discovery and studies of radium and polonium. To this day, she remains the only person – male or female – to win Nobel Prizes in two different scientific disciplines.
Maria Goeppert Mayer won the Nobel Prize in 1963 for her model of the structure of the atomic nucleus. Goeppert Mayer faced a great deal of gender bias in her career: she had to work in unpaid positions at Columbia University and University of Chicago, where her husband was employed.
British astronomer and astrophysicist Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin – one of my all-time favorite physicists – established that the sun and other stars are all composed mostly of hydrogen. Payne-Gaposchkin later became the first woman to chair a department (astronomy) at Harvard.
Austrian physicist Lise Meitner first developed the theory explaining the process of nuclear fission, but she was overlooked by the Nobel Committee, who instead awarded Meitner’s colleague Otto Hahn the prize in 1944. Meitner came to be known as the “mother of the atom bomb,” although she refused to work on the Manhattan Project after fleeing Nazi Germany. Element 109 is called meitnerium in her honor.
Albert Einstein called German mathematician Emmy Noether – author of Noether’s Theorem, a fundamental idea on which much of modern physics is built – a creative mathematical genius. Her theorem, published in 1918, states that if an object has symmetry – i.e., if it looks the same regardless of changing locations or times – then this leads to conservation laws in nature. A simple example is a movie of the motion of a ball when you throw it. The motion looks the same if you run the movie backwards in time (time symmetry). This means that the total energy of the ball remains the same (conservation of energy) – the energy just gets converted into different forms as the ball moves. This is a simplified example, but the theorem is widely applicable and is a real workhorse of modern physics.
Eman Mohammed’s daughters Talia and Lateen, currently trapped in Gaza with their mother during Israeli bombing.
As Gaza’s only female photojournalist, Eman Mohammed is no stranger to the terrors of war. But it’s a whole different kind of fear when you’re a mother. Today, the TED Fellow writes as bombs fall around her and her two young daughters, aged 3 and 1, who — despite being American citizens — are currently trapped in Gaza. All borders are closed in the wake of the most recent conflict around the abduction and killing of three young Israeli settlers and the revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager. Here, Mohammed shares her experience of the conflict of motherhood in a war zone.
As a photojournalist, stepping into war isn’t a dilemma for me. It make sense to grab my cameras and run out to document the man-made misery, the horrors of war, each and every time hoping we’ll get the lesson. But nothing prepared me to understand how to raise children in a war zone — not even having been a child in one myself. Despite my best efforts to give my daughters a different life, I ironically find myself in the exact same situation my mother was, 16 years ago.
After covering two wars in Gaza, I’d shifted my whole life, moving with my American husband to the United States, trying to give my two daughters — Talia, who is 3, and Lateen, who’s 1 — the universal dream of peace. But as I drifted into a suburban life, I also longed for my sweet mother and my home. I longed to smell the roses while walking on the beach. So I took my daughters back to Gaza to visit their grandmother, and now I find myself again at ground zero, trapped again between airstrikes and the unknown.
Now, seeing my two daughters staring at me in shock, calling my name in fear, asking to come with me when I leave to go photograph the conflict — as my professional calling has me do — my heart refuses to believe I could have possibly risked the life of my two angels by bringing them here. They don’t understand why their little adventure to see gramma escalated so fast so dramatically, and or why they can’t get a hug from daddy but only get to see his face through the cold laptop screen.
The ones who write the rules of war are the ones who never experience it. If you haven’t tasted the pain of losing a loved one, the need to run away when all doors are closed, jumping out of bed to hold your kid and cover her ears in a blink of an eye because a war plane just offloaded its rockets around your house — you can’ imagine life in Gaza. In the field, I capture the moment a mother mourns over her 3-year-old girl. It strikes me so painfully — she’s the same age as my baby — but she lost her child and I’ll be able to go back home and hold mine.
As a photojournalist, it was one thing. Now, when I turn on the TV and see another mother in a different nation, same conflict, crying her heart out, I can only wonder, Whose war is this? I didn’t sign up for this. When things get darkest I wonder, Will I be next? Will I be the next crying mother over the dead body of her baby? My trust in humanity fades away, and I sink into tears of rage and weakness.
The fear for my own life isn’t same. But my daughters… they didn’t choose this. They deserve 10, 15, 20 more years of happiness, life and joy, exactly as I dreamt it would be carrying an unborn child covering the 2nd war — hoping it would be the last one, no pain no tears, just happiness and peace.
No one has the right to take an innocent life no matter what — young or old, Christian, Muslim or Jew, white, black or brown. I didn’t realize this as a mother or a war photojournalist. I did as a human.
Now I ask for help, not to leave Gaza — along with hundred of thousands of mothers here, I am now experiencing firsthand what it means to not have the option to secure the safety of my children. But someone please tell me: how do I explain to my three-year-old daughter that she will not get a cake on her birthday because the airstrikes won’t allow me to drive to the bakery?