Innovation Insights from Megan Smith at Harvard i-lab

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Innovation Insights from Megan Smith at Harvard i-lab

Megan Smith's Background and Career in STEM

  • Megan Smith, former CTO of the United States, discusses her background and experiences that led her to a career in STEM.
  • She emphasizes the importance of curiosity and hands-on learning in fostering interest in STEM subjects among young people.
  • Smith highlights the role of teachers and mentors in encouraging students to pursue STEM careers.

Shift 7 and Environmental Issues

  • Smith describes her work at Shift 7, a small company that focuses on solution-making through inclusion and collaboration.
  • Smith explains how Shift 7 tackles environmental issues, such as the impact of nuclear fallout, using data science and storytelling.

Community Organizing and Innovation

  • Megan Smith discusses the importance of community organizing for innovation and how it was underdescribed.
  • Eleanor Ostrom coined the term "public entrepreneurship" in her 1965 PhD thesis about community organizing around groundwater in California.
  • President Obama brought Megan Smith into the White House to bring this sensibility to his innovation work.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Policy

  • Smith produced a memo for President Obama on AI, stating that generalized AI was a couple of decades away.
  • Obama responded by saying "let's get started" and Smith organized a series of town halls and engagements to crowdsource perspectives on AI.
  • The National Science and Technology Council was created to pull together science and technology interested federal employees and teammates to work on AI research and policy agendas.
  • Smith emphasizes the importance of kindness and empathy in AI and suggests that an AI that is more inclusive, unbiased, and less of a thief would be ideal.

Recognizing Women and Minorities in STEM

  • The speaker highlights the importance of recognizing and celebrating the contributions of women and minorities in STEM fields, such as Ada Lovelace, the Wright sisters, and their mother, as well as Ida B. Wells and Mary McLeod Bethune.
  • A letter from Amelia Earhart to Beatrice Puglisi offers valuable advice to young women interested in STEM careers, including practical suggestions and insights into the opportunities presented by new technologies.
  • The speaker emphasizes the need to address the erasure of women's and minority histories and to ensure that their contributions are accurately represented and acknowledged.

Interdisciplinary Learning and Practical Skills

  • The speaker stresses the importance of following one's passion when choosing courses and majors, as it leads to greater interest and better performance.
  • Given the potential for a long lifespan, individuals should acquire a diverse set of tools and skills, including writing, coding, crafting, and artistic pursuits.
  • The speaker emphasizes the importance of cross-pollination of skills and encourages individuals to explore various fields without limiting themselves.
  • She highlights the need for universities to foster interdisciplinary learning and provide students with practical skills and tools to navigate the modern world.

Community, Neighborliness, and Empathy

  • The speaker emphasizes the significance of community, neighborliness, and empathy as the foundation of science and industry, drawing inspiration from historical figures like Jefferson, Washington, and Franklin.
  • The speaker discusses the history of the penny and the phrase "Liberty is the parent of Science and Industry," emphasizing the importance of technology and innovation for freedom and liberty.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Societal Impact

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) has both positive and negative aspects, and it's important to address potential harms and mitigate problems proactively.
  • Computer science education should incorporate problem sets that focus on mitigating AI risks and challenges.
  • Encouraging technologists to work on social safety nets, environmental justice, and other areas where there is a lack of technological expertise is essential.

Government Service and Collaboration

  • Participating in government service and collaborating with government agencies can help improve their effectiveness and address complex problems.
  • Exploring regenerative agriculture and placemaking can contribute to a more harmonious relationship between humans and the planet.
  • Megan Smith believes that the government is the only entity that shows up to address significant societal issues.

The "Glue Layer" in Tech

  • The speaker suggests that the "glue layer" is the most underfunded area in tech.
  • The "glue layer" refers to the mechanisms or ecosystem support that helps surface and connect innovative projects and ideas from talented individuals around the world.
  • Examples of successful "glue layer" initiatives include Mapmaker and identifying real-world problem-solving initiatives from around the globe.
  • The speaker emphasizes the importance of cross-pollinating and connecting diverse innovators and initiatives to foster collective problem-solving.

Expanding Disciplines and Empowering Individuals

  • The speaker suggests a shift in focus from solely data science and tech to include a broader range of disciplines, such as arts, to address environmental and social problems.
  • Wastewater epidemiology, exemplified by Biobot Analytics, demonstrates the potential of using data from wastewater to monitor public health.
  • The speaker emphasizes the importance of empowering individuals to contribute their talents, regardless of their comfort level with public visibility, and highlights the value of introverts' contributions.

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