This October, Boston will celebrate its technology, art, and culture at HUBweek, an eight-day festival showcasing what is best about this city.
A collaboration of MIT, The Boston Globe, Harvard University, and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), this ambitious event will feature interactive exhibitions on city streets; forums at MIT, MGH, Harvard, and even Fenway Park; open laboratories and research centers; a startup showcase; and more. The festival runs from Oct. 3 to 10.
MIT will anchor its HUBweek offering with Solve, a cross-disciplinary program that convenes on campus the people and organizations addressing the world’s most pressing challenges in health care, education, energy and environment, infrastructure, and the economy. More than 500 people are expected to attend the program, sponsored by the Office of the President of MIT and produced by MIT Technology Review.
“At MIT, we have seen over and over that when people from different countries and cultures work together to solve a global problem, not only come to respect each other, they often come up with solutions that have global consequences,” MIT President L. Rafael Reif says. “That’s what we are trying to do with Solve.”
“Solve doesn’t pretend that MIT has all the solutions to the world’s most pressing problems,” says Jason Pontin, editor-in-chief and publisher of MIT Technology Review. “But MIT can convene on its campus some of the smartest people working on those problems. We can help participants see what they share, eliminate frictions where that is possible, and, perhaps, spur breakthroughs with new approaches.”
A global forum for global solutions
The launch of the Solve program takes place on the MIT campus from Oct. 5 to 8. The event includes a series of forums open to the public as well as closed, working sessions for more than 350 invited participants aimed at determining how best to take action on a series of 16 global-scale problems.
“Solve’s participants are passionate people — technologists, philanthropists, business leaders, scientists, and policymakers. They have diverse backgrounds and come from many places,” Pontin says. “But what they all have in common is a fierce optimism and a belief that global-scale problems can be solved by men and women of good conscience using some combination of breakthroughs in technology, innovations in business, and smart policies.”
Just getting these passionate and talented people in the same room is one of Solve’s goals.
“It’s a very MIT approach,” Pontin says. “What happens when you ask people from very different disciplines to collaborate to solve problems such as securing the global food supply, responding to climate change, providing quality education to all people willing to learn, addressing income inequality, and reducing morbidity and mortality from cancer? These are big intellectual problems that most people alive on the planet probably have some stake in.”
Solve is structured around four key “pillars” — Learn, Cure, Fuel, and Make — that comprise, respectively, challenges in education; health care; food, water, and energy; and infrastructure and economic opportunity. Invited attendees will take part in collaborative sessions where they will discuss potential solutions and how those ideas can be implemented. Roundtable sessions for each pillar will be open to members of the MIT community and the public who register through the Solve or HUBweek websites.
The “Cure” pillar is led by Phillip Sharp, Institute Professor at MIT and an affiliate of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. Discussions will focus on using technology to increase productivity; decreasing morbidity and mortality in cancer; accelerating advances in mental health and brain disorders; and mitigating the spread of infectious diseases. A roundtable on “Challenges for the Future of Healthcare” during Solve’s opening convocation on Monday, Oct. 5, will be moderated by Susan Hockfield, who served as president of MIT from 2004 to 2012.
“Technology alone won’t solve problems,” Sharp says. “Technology when coupled with leadership and the engagement of citizens — that can solve problems. And it’s changed the way we treat disease.”
The “Make” pillar focuses on manufacturing, global infrastructure, and economic opportunity for the world’s growing population. Rodney Brooks, a professor emeritus of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT and founder of Rethink Robotics, leads the effort. Monday’s opening convocation will include a roundtable discussion titled “Internet Access for All: A Civic Responsibility or a Corporate Opportunity?”
“With Solve, we’re trying to figure out how to make the world for 9 to 10 billion people,” Brooks says. “How do we make it so that everyone in the world has access to information? How do we build the cities that are going to house all the people moving from the country along with the few billion extra that are going to be born? What tools can we give them?”
Discussions around the “Fuel” pillar will focus on providing secure food and water supplies; distribution and storage of energy; and scalable, safe nuclear power — all while mitigating the impacts of climate change. The pillar is led by Angela Belcher, the W.M. Keck Professor of Energy at MIT, and Robert Armstrong, director of the MIT Energy Initiative and Chevron Professor of Chemical Engineering. A roundtable discussion on Tuesday evening will focus on “Energy for the Developing World.”
“When you put atoms and molecules together in new ways and controlled structures, you get new properties. Can these new properties have an impact on global problems?” Belcher asks. “We want to be a gathering place of great people and great ideas, who are all here with the idea of trying to solve a problem and trying to make the world a better place.”
The central question explored by the “Learn” pillar is: How can we transform learning and teaching so that everyone who wants a quality education can get it? The pillar is curated by Anant Agarwal, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT and CEO of edX, and Eric Klopfer, an MIT professor of urban studies and planning, whose research focuses on using technology in education. Solve’s final roundtable session, on Wednesday evening, will focus on “Re-Imagining the American High School Experience,” a conversation with Laurene Powell Jobs, founder of the Emerson Collective.
“We have to rethink our entire system of education to get Internet connectivity and low-cost devices to all people who have the will to learn,” Agarwal says.
The problems are large and can be daunting — but Solve embodies enthusiasm about the future opportunities, the organizers say. “We shouldn’t find these challenges dreary or depressing,” Pontin says. “Each solution would expand human possibilities.”
“A place where creative people can thrive”
Collaboration and inspiration are the hallmarks of not only Solve, but of the larger HUBweek celebration, according to Linda Pizzuti Henry ’05, managing editor of The Boston Globe, and the founding chairwoman of HUBweek.
“Solve embodies everything about HUBweek,” Henry says. “It’s focused on convening some of the global influencers, giving them the latest information that’s available, and inviting them to really solve a problem. The idea is that they are not just sitting and talking about things, but that real change happens because of this convening.”
“The digital revolution has disrupted how we work, live, play, and communicate,” Henry adds. “The next stage is not just what technology can do, but how art, science, and technology come together. And we as a region are uniquely positioned to be a leader globally. The story of this region as a place where creative people can thrive is important. We have to actively talk about, promote, and enhance the great work here.”
HUBweek’s marquee event is the Fenway Forum, a large, open-air civic discussion in Fenway Park led by Harvard professor and political philosopher Michael Sandel. The forum, to be held Sunday, Oct. 4, from 4 to 6 p.m., will center on ethical questions around evolving technological capabilities: “Should we try to live forever? Make machines that can outthink us? Create perfect kids? Trade our privacy for convenience? Buy our way to the head of the line?”
A stage along the first-base line will provide the platform for the panel, which includes MIT professors Andrew McAfee and Sherry Turkle, Huffington Post editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, comedian Whitney Cummings, and writer Alexis Wilkinson. “It’s an eclectic, intelligent panel,” Henry says. “We need to have these frank discussions; this is the ‘Athens of America.’”
Throughout the week, The Boston Globe will be hosting a documentary film festival; MGH will hold forums on issues in medicine; and Harvard will host discussions on education, leadership, and health. “Each one of the partners is bringing its own particular emphasis to HUBweek,” Pontin says.
In addition to Solve, groups at MIT will be hosting a variety of events throughout the week: Climate CoLab’s annual Crowds and Climate Conference; System Design and Management's conference on Systems Thinking for Contemporary Challenges: A Whole Systems Approach to Product Design and Development; the Public Service Center’s IDEAS Global Challenge generator dinner; and the MIT Enterprise Forum’s “Beantown Throwdown” startup competition, among others.
The Institute will also partner with its Kendall Square neighbors in creating an exciting and open community event, “Inside Kendall Square,” on Thursday, Oct. 8, showcasing the energy, innovation, business, and network of people who work and live in the area. Visitors to MIT’s campus will see hands-on demonstrations of technologies and ideas in the lobbies of the Stata Center, the Koch Institute, and the Media Lab.
But whether attendees are interested in new technologies, ethics, visual art, or all of the above, chances are they can find it at HUBweek. With over 80 events being offered, “There’s a little something for everyone,” Henry says.