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Alejandro Vago

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#SABF2017 – Day 3

SABF Games

100 participants, 10 teams. Each one of them was lead by a member of the organizing team, but only one was crowned winner. The SABF Games put to the test some of the ideas discussed on the previous days of the conference. Having fun and working together, we begun the last day of the SABF.

Sam Potolicchio

“What can we do so that people want to get behind our convictions?” From the get go, Sam Potolicchio’s seemingly casual choice of words has us reassessing why we seek to lead. He moves on; “so much of effective leadership is being able to see the world”, he says; a leader must not only look open to ideas coming “from outside one’s brain” but also try to incorporate different approaches and outlooks.

Trouble is we have a knack for trying to hold on to what we know best. We’ve got a “tiny kingdom in our heads” that says we know how, and it can be hard to “get outside of our own thought bubble”. To remedy this, we have to become aware of the “weaknesses of our cognitive structure”, and so Sam’s self-proclaimed purpose is to make us feel “cognitively silly”; an objective he meets more times than we’d like to admit.

Referring to our suspicion of the outside and our “lazy cognition” as essential features of our “tribal brain”, Sam judges them a “toxic combination” and exemplifies the Halo effect. What we see first influences our interpretation of what comes next, bringing confirmation bias to a cognitive level. So how conscious are we of what we do see first? How can we better understand the full extent of our prejudices and our “lazy” brain’s tendency to segregate and classify? How do each of our circles and affiliations limit our perception?

We have to get off autopilot, Sam advices us, and train ourselves to be outside of ourselves. How? The same way we train for anything: methodically. Try to spend time “feeling as if you’re completely out of balance”, Sam suggests; ask yourself, “where can I go to feel uncomfortable?” because “if you’re comfortable, you’re not growing […]”.

P.S. “Be lucky”.

Rob Britton


“I’m back”, proclaims Rob Briton as he adjusts his coat, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. From the beginning, the contagious enthusiasm of his voice has been a fundamental component of the SABF experience; of “dancing around our idea”. It is an experience made possible by the year-long efforts of a team he is quick to thank; “there’s no such thing as too much gratitude, so thank you”, he says, and reminds us that in cases such as this, “[we] can’t pay it back, [we] can only pay it forward”.

Looking at some of this edition’s recurring themes, he recalls some of his fellow speakers’; key ideas. “We are at once extremely the same and extremely different”, he quotes, and “[must] stand up to false realities”. Prejudices, he adds, can only hold us back.

However, it’s not the formal sessions Rob wants to focus on.”Every session, every day, the number of hands raised exceeded the time”, and the ensuing 1 on 1 dialogues and small group discussions were especially valuable. They exemplify a seamless dialogue between people from all over the world, and paint a future where “poco a poco, we will work together”. On that note, Rob wants to hear from the participants. “What are your objectives in life? What will you do differently? How will you stay in touch?” Hand to his brow, he gazes over the crowd; “ok, who’s first?”.

Participants are happy to comply, also taking the opportunity to look back on the conference and share their feelings. With what voice they have left they thank the team and praise their fellow participants; they speak of a home many miles away from home and genuine acceptance. As emotions rise to the surface, Rob reminds us “never [to] apologize for tears”.

He closes the session with some”little piece[s] of advice”, delivered in his usual humble manner. He encourages us to read more, and fiction in particular. On choosing our path, he reassures us that “it’s ok not to know right away” and “to take a while”, advising us not to “stress over it”. As an “airline guy”, he urges us not to”take our wings for granted”.

#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?”