IDEAS Boston Wows Audience of 450 at UMass Boston
November 01, 2011
Wireless electricity, surgery paired with music, and a device that allows humans to climb up and rappel down the sides of buildings at ten feet per second. These were just some of the subjects audience members heard about at this year's IDEAS Boston conference, held on October 20 at UMass Boston.
The conference brought more than 400 people to the university to hear the region's next big ideas from innovators like chef and restaurateur Jody Adams, legal scholar Lawrence Lessig, and UMass Boston professor and filmmaker Chico Colvard.
Since 2004, the conference has gathered some of the biggest innovators from Boston and the surrounding region—artists, surgeons, geochemists, economists, poets, inventors—and asked them to speak for 20 minutes about their next big idea. UMass Boston took ownership of the forum earlier this year.
"I came today because I think this is the best symposium of the year in terms of the variety of the speakers: from fashion law to financial aid," said audience member Smoki Bacon, host and producer of The Literati Scene. "It goes 360 degrees in covering everything."
Tom Ashbrook, host of NPR's On Point, emceed the IDEAS Boston conference. UMass Boston Chancellor J. Keith Motley and Mayor Thomas M. Menino kicked off the talks, with the mayor not only welcoming the crowd, but offering a challenge. He asked conference attendees to come up with a solution to the problem of growing income inequality in the United States.
“Extreme economic inequality may be as big a threat to our economy as climate change," Menino said. "To deniers of either trend, I don’t know what to say. But to you – to researchers and idea makers and entrepreneurs – I urge you to take up this question: What are the consequences of extreme economic inequality and how can they be addressed?”
Throughout the conference, attendees listened to 16 awe-inspiring presentations that took them from the shrinking ice caps in Greenland to the halls of the Museum of Fine Art’s new Art of the Americas wing; from South Africa, where the poorest populations are surviving on $2 a day, to a laboratory where scientists are studying the evolution of exercise.
Inventor Nathan Ball encouraged audience members to break down their "mental models," the unexamined ideas that we hold about our own capabilities or how things work. Evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman spoke of how humans' hunter-gatherer physique is mismatched with their idle twenty-first century lifestyle, creating an obesity problem. The Boston Typewriter Orchestra wowed the crowd as they used their typewriters as instruments in their rhythmic, satiric performance.
"I find the talks inspirational," said Lynn Osborn, director of education and convening at Mass General Hospital. "I like to hear things I hadn’t thought about before."
The next IDEAS Boston conference will be held Wednesday, October 24, 2012.
Ashbrook encouraged attendees to build on these ideas and dream up their own: “Hold that torch of ideas high. Never let it fall. Act on it.”
A special IDEAS Boston supplement will be published Sunday, November 6 in the Boston Globe. Presentations of the 2011 IDEAS Boston speakers will be available to watch on Comcast On Demand at that time as well. You can view the presentations on the UMass Boston YouTube channel next month.