#SABF2017 – Day 1

SABF 2017; Day 1; In case you blinked, here’s everything that went down.

Challenging our Identity

To kick off this year’s opening segment, Eric Vilain invites us to consider the different aspects of sexuality with regards to anatomy and identity. Contemplating the consequences of clinical labeling, he questions the need for exceptions and surmises what criteria this path would entail. Finally, he argues in favor of an evidence-based approach to the subject and quotes that “good ethics require good data”.

Next up is Agustin Fuentes, who manages a 10 minute recap of over 2 million years of human history. Looking at our similarities and differences to our genetic ancestors, he singles out our creativity as the defining factor of our human identity; our ability for cooperation and developing communities earns a special mention. He further touches on our growing inequality and stresses the importance of context in solving conflicts. Closing on a positive note he holds that if millions of years are anything to go by, we know how to work together.

Accompanying her captivating oratory with a measure of humor, Anna Kazumi Stahl speaks of her personal experience with seemingly exclusive elements of our official identities. She proposes that identity is essentially sameness relative to oneself and advocates for more complex descriptors as opposed to labels. With regards to different cultures, she welcomes an honest respectful society where “differences become a dialogue”.

What is home? In the closing debate, the three speakers contemplate the roles of language and imagination in what we perceive as ours. They discard the idea of a single such emotional domicile, and highlight our human capacity as “niche creators”. Following questions, Eric examines the notion of sexuality as a combination of hardware and software as well as the implications of being free to choose one’s gender; Agustin delves into institutionalized discrimination, and Anna suggests that in our search for our voice or “brand”, one might lose sight of one’s empathy.

Reality Gap:

“Slowly and then all at once”, Rick Dow explains the circumstances that lead to the inexplicable. What moves essentially good people to make bad choices? We examine the roles of a declining middle class, decreased empathy, and the power of big money in setting the stage for “politics of fear and hate”. However, in a characteristic moment of optimism, Rick protests the idea of a zero-sum world and incites us to take action; to “defend the truth vigorously” and be “actively empathic”. Success, he reminds us, is the sum of small choices.

Laura Zommer’s mission, as she puts it, is to “increase the cost of lying”, in a world that flaunts a growing disregard of facts and increasing data manipulation. She takes us through the 7 types of “fake news” and warns us of the slippery slope that is confirmation bias. Journalism, she asserts, needs to change; it needs to evolve based on what the people need from it. The first steps? – Method transparency and audience involvement.

Lastly, Joan Lucariello explains the dual nature of our preconceptions and underlines the importance of understanding and dealing with misconceptions in particular. These, she tells us, are intrinsically linked to our knowledge base in such a way that “what we already know shapes our learning”. Next, we look at possible courses of action with respect to teaching, as well as different tools and strategies to challenge misconceptions in general. The daunting task of conceptual change becomes substantially more attainable.

Together on stage, Rick, Laura, and Joan’s answers are definitive. “Politicians do not care about facts because people do not care about facts”, but it is the public’s responsibility to seek and demand truth.

 

Empathic Design:

Alexander Laszlo invites us to reconsider empathy. He touches on empathic intelligence, the empathic imperative as well as he differentiates between cognitive and emotional empathy. Love, as the coexistence of legitimate others, is identified as a key element of our creativity. He declares that human systems should be designed with others and not for others.

To the audience’s delight, Alejandro Nieponice’s opening rundown of technological advances in his field includes impressive live footage. Once he has caught their attention, he discusses the future of robotized surgery and stresses the need for doctors to rediscover their role in a changing medical landscape. Asked about AI, he states that robots will never match human empathy.

Diego Fernández shares his experience with the task of breaking the 85-year-long isolation of the 46-hectare “Barrio 31”. We’re reminded of the importance of humility and patience in approaching a problem, and that valid solutions must be obtained as a joint effort. Finally, Diego stresses how critical it is to obtain feedback and praises prototypes as an essential tool to learn from and adapt a project.

In this segment’s debate, the speakers look at technology as a social gap closer. They advocate for problem-based learning and criticize generalizations and stereotypes, urging us to “give hope to find hope”. We’re offered a new definition of technology as “crystallized culture” and are invited to seek consonance, coherence, and lasting connections.

Natasha Hooper and Amen Ra’s powerful rendition of “Islamophobia” leaves us speechless. They ask us, in perfect unison, if we see it, and without stopping to catch their breath, they make sure that we do. They show us what it looks like when we let fear, hate, and ignorance win out over our shared humanity, and urge us to look further.

Lastly, Diego Luzuriaga helps us integrate the day’s themes with a skillful recap; a touching video conveys that “an open world begins with an open mind”, and Diego offers his closing thoughts.

“What is the purpose of our differences?”

“What is our greatest common denominator?”

“Could it be that our vulnerabilities bind us together?”

“What are you going to do?”

 

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