Exploring the Rebalancing World at PopTech 2011

I recently attended the annual PopTech Conference, where, along with more than 700 other attendees, I experienced a wide variety of new technologies, social innovations, and all-around creative ideas. PopTech takes place each Fall in the small town of Camden, Maine, and is one of the more unusual “science” conferences that I have attended. In fact, it’s not a science conference per se—rather, it’s a venue for cross-disciplinary innovation, bringing together an eclectic mix of scientists, technologists, corporate and civic leaders, as well as representatives of the arts and humanities, all coalescing around the goal of creating a global network of innovators.

This year’s conference was organized around the theme, “The World Rebalancing”—the idea that a new global era is arising out of the “connected and converging revolutions in technology, economics, ecology, energy, geopolitics, and culture,” unleashing new opportunities and a new geography of innovation. Can anyone doubt this is true? Not if you think about the advances being made in China and India—or the novel collaborative possibilities brought about by the digital revolution. What’s great about PopTech is the sense that all these changes are—or at least can be—positives. Where reactionary folks want to freeze the world in its 20th-century patterns, the optimistic folks behind PopTech see endless potential for innovation and advancement in the rebalancing world. This year’s PopTech videos have now gone online and they are a wonderful collection of high-quality talks—see  http://poptech.org/world_rebalancing_videos.

Nowhere is the optimism of the PopTech team more obvious than among the new PopTech Fellows. As you might expect, given its determined multidisciplinary stance, PopTech supports two fellowship programs:  Social Innovation Fellows and  Science and Public Leadership Fellows. Microsoft Research  is one of the sponsors of the latter program, along with National Geographic, the National Science Foundation, the Doris Duke Foundation, and the Rita Allen Foundation. Fellows from the Class of 2011 will profit from year-long training and skills development in communications, public engagement, and leadership. The program helps Fellows develop world-class communication skills and provides them with significant opportunities to raise public awareness of their work through a variety of media. For me, the most exciting talks at this year’s PopTech were the short talks given by the new Science Fellows. Without exception, they all gave wonderfully stimulating presentations on their specific science topics and fully justified their selection. So, welcome, new Fellows. Brimming with optimism from Pop Tech, I’m anxious to see where you and this rebalancing act lead us.

—Tony Hey

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