Our brilliant Content Intern, Maria Letizia (Tizia) von Bibra looks back at the process of building our CogX Agenda through the tumultuous months of 2020.  Plus, she shares the talks that have stuck with her in the months since the festival.

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For the past 6 months, I’ve been working behind the scenes (and screens) to help put together CogX 2020. As an intern with the content team, I supported efforts across the festival, particularly working alongside the inspirational women leading its editorial curation: Tabitha, Eleanor, Georgia and Eve.

But, in true 2020 fashion, everything did not go quite as planned. By April, the world was in the midst of a global pandemic and we faced the challenge of shifting our festival to a virtual format.

Covid-19 fundamentally altered the curatorial lens of our content. This year has acted as a mirror to society, and each month seems to have brought different, interlocking social issues to the forefront. But how could we give these vast topics the depth and attention they each deserve?

Before the pandemic struck, Greta Thunberg and her global movement had put climate change on the top of everyone’s agenda. From March to May, Covid-19 took its place. In June, following the death of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, protests against police violence exposed the systemic risks faced by Black communities in the US and beyond.

 

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Looking at these social movements through the lens of power in technology is essential. As an incoming International Relations student, I’ve learnt that technology is at the core of not only our scientific innovation, but also our political and social processes.

While tech can be part of the problem (we’ve seen its negative impacts on our climate, healthcare systems, and social inequality), through CogX I’ve learnt that it can equally be applied to fight these injustices; AI enables us to track our carbon emissions in real time, computer simulations let governments assess their current SDG progress, and NLP models help expose racial profiling in police transcripts.

CogX embraced these opposing impacts of technology by hosting dialogues on how we can strike a balance between tech’s powerful potential and our human judgement. A quote from Jane Goodall’s talk on the Global Leadership stage perfectly captured this harmony: “We must link the clever brain to the human heart.”

Below I’ve compiled a list of the most memorable themes I took from the festival and a few of my favourite videos relating to these topics:

Climate

John Kerry, 68th US Secretary of State, and Mary Robinson, Former President of Ireland

World War Zero. Turning Up the Heat: John Kerry, 68th US Secretary of State, and Mary Robinson, Former President of Ireland, deliver a fascinating talk about the economic upside of addressing climate change, the growing voice of scientists and indigenous communities, the intersection of feminism and climate justice, and our urgent need for responsible leadership Watch Here

Protecting our Oceans: In Conversation with Sylvia Earle and Cyrill Gutsch: This inspiring conversation features Sylvia Earle and Cyrill Gutsch, two global changemakers fighting for the survival of our oceans, as they share their views on how to sustain the natural world for future generations. Watch Here

Social Justice

Racial JusticeNavigating change for the Black community, in a broken society: Cephas Williams, Founder of 56 Black Men, and Patrick Campbell, CEO of PATCAM, explore how harmful rhetoric against the Black community has solidified itself across society. Cephas’ photographic campaign, showcased all over London, takes back the narrative that traditionally connects Black men in a hoodies to violence, shedding light on our underlying preconceptions. Watch Here

Accessibility – AI-based mobility for the visually impaired: IBM fellow Chieko Asakawa shares her work on an AI suitcase that will help visually impaired people navigate easily through airports and other public spaces. Her collaboration with Hideki Yoshimoto and Kris Kitani aims to create accessible technology that can improve the quality of lives for people with visual disabilities through AI and robotics. Watch Here

Indigenous Rights – On Ecologies and Sacred Data: Jonnie Penn, Jasmine McNealy and Michael Running Wolf discuss an ecological approach to data governance and the notion of sacred data. Watch Here

Democracy

The Next Crisis: John Kerry in discussion with Anne Applebaum: One of the most-watched sessions on our Global Leadership stage features John Kerry, 68th US Secretary of State, and historian Anne Applebaum, discussing how the pandemic has fundamentally altered the current state of politics. Watch Here.

Jim Messina in discussion with Vanessa Neumann: With just over 50 days out from the US Presidential Election, hear about the interactions of technology and politics by Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign manager, Jim Messina, and Venezuelan diplomat, Vanessa Neumann. Watch Here. 

What connects these sessions is their ambition to keep humans at the heart of tech. The discussions I followed at CogX cut through the maelstrom of misinformation and sensationalism we all know too well, and focused instead on the issues that impact people’s daily lives, and the human insight that should inform our interaction with technology.

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