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4 TED Talks to build a better society

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How do you push past tension and animosity to reach novel solutions to big problems? Is our increasing reliance on technology to make everyday decisions actually reinforcing unconscious biases? A simple toilet can help remedy deplorable living conditions in urban slums and invigorate the local economy, and a new app aims to make the hiring process more equitable.

In this series of recent TED Talks, faculty and alumni from MIT Sloan described their solutions to some of the world’s most vexing problems. 

Breaking through gridlock

With scores of pressing issues facing modern society, how do we break through the gridlock of polarization and intolerance of other ideas? Jason Jay, the director of the MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative, says the key lies in breaking through each other’s fears to see new possibilities.

In a TEDx talk at Hofstra University, Jay offers a blueprint for engaging in uncomfortable conversations about important problems with the people you care about, transforming high-voltage tension into energy for innovation.

“Acknowledge their fears. Let them know you’re not there to trade off their values with yours,” Jay said. “You are there to embrace the tension.”

 

Talking shit

With their omnipresent access to electricity, clean water, transportation, and sanitation, it’s easy to take cities for granted. But what happens when one of those networks gets knocked offline, or the whole system is altogether absent? The impacts to health, education, and the economy can be devastating.

MIT Sloan alumnus Lindsay Stradley, ’11, lived it in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, and she put the experience to work with her company Sanergy, designing systems to help manage human waste in the sewer-less urban neighborhoods of Nairobi, Kenya. In a talk at TEDWomen 2017, she describes how the company’s low-cost waterless toilets are franchised out to local residents, landowners, and tenants, and how the waste is later used to fuel local agriculture, fostering hygiene, economic growth, and food security.

Transcending the lottery of birth 

People who are born poor are more likely to stay that way than at any other time in American history — and the effect is most acute for women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community.In a TEDx talk at San Francisco State University, Stephanie Lampkin, MBA ’12, describes how she harnessed her computer science background to solve that problem, launching Blendoor, a recruiting application that strips a job candidate’s name, photo, and other information from their resume to reduce unconscious bias in hiring. 

Making the unconscious conscious 

With the power of the internet in our pockets and applications like Waze putting our decision-making skills on autopilot, we’re increasingly outsourcing our own minds to new technologies. Most of us assume that is improving those choices, but is that really the case?Not necessarily, said Renée Richardson Gosline, a senior lecturer and principal research scientist at MIT Sloan, during her TEDx talk at Suffolk University.

“Technology is amazing and can improve our decision making in all of our journeys, whether it be how you spend your money, how you take care of your health, or maybe how you get here from your home,” Gosline said. “But what we need to be careful of is to challenge our assumptions about how technology improves our decision making, reduces our irrational thinking, and that we consciously make a decision between our own brains and our outsourced brains.”

She described a series of experiments that she and her team conducted to gauge just how much unconscious bias is seeping into new technology and, consequently, how much it is influencing its users, for better or worse.

All done? Watch more here: TED and TedX talks from MIT Sloan faculty members and alumni.

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