Dean Kamen (inventor) and Marc Hodosh (co-founder of TEDMED) told me it was time for me to start a conference. For two years I refused because the last thing the world needs is another conference, right? There were ones on the environment, about food and sustainability, criminal justice reform, psychology and emotional wellbeing, and conferences about transportation and infrastructure.
Many of these conferences are good — great even — but they all lacked something fundamental: An integrated and cohesive approach to solving the world’s most pressing problems.
Sustainability and environmental health are two of the most critical issues facing today’s world, but we can’t discuss them without thinking about technology and health, which we can’t talk about without considering the economy and business sectors, which can’t be understood without understanding politics and regulations, which can’t be — you get the idea.
So what exactly is Near Future? It’s a thoughtfully-curated gathering of brilliant, conscious minds, that have a unique opportunity over the course of three days to create partnerships, leading to world positive changes. These partnerships underscore the fact that the best solutions come from unexpected combinations of stakeholders, not the traditional melding of likeminded allies.
Immediately after opening the Summit last year, Arianna Huffington and Ev. Fair.com scored an investor. MotherDirt met a fan in TheWhat. UCSD discovered LindaAvey’s (co-founder of 23andMe) new company and now they are forging a partnership, to name a few. It’s these types of relationships that support the main hypothesis behind Near Future: That we can only solve today’s problems by addressing them as parts of a larger whole, removed from traditional silos and unencumbered by stagnant intellectual boundaries.
It’s all about systems, and they’re all connected.
There is a logic to these systems, and the Near Future Summit is organized in a way that helps you make sense of it all. It all begins with the micro, the smallest systems in our bodies that keep us alive and vital. Once we understand cellular systems, we can begin understanding progressively larger ones until we are armed to tackle the world’s most ambitious problems.
The first step is getting the right information. We are bombarded with information every single day, from the moment we wake up, to the podcasts we listen to on our commutes, to the barrage of stories on our social feeds, to the newscasts we watch on television in the evenings. With the national conversation focused on fake news and misinformation, it’s never been more important to ensure the inputs we ingest are accurate, helpful, and solution-oriented. If we are getting misinformation — particularly about issues relating to science, the environment, the economy, and human health — then we’ll never know how to target and articulate the right problems to begin with.
The Near Future Summit begins with a session on Real News. Guided by Jessi Hempel, who heads editorial operations for Backchannel, in conversation with iconic Norman Lear and former White House correspondent Jessica Yellin, we will discuss how to secure a world where information can once again be trusted and used to make widespread positive change.
We then focus on today’s technological advancements, allowing us to understand our bodies and the systems that drive them in the most personalized and differentiated ways. From gene editing and cell-derived bone growth, to personalized medicine, today’s advancements remove the veil and clear up centuries-old misconceptions about our bodies. Health 3.0, headed by Pam Taub, will help us understand how new technologies are allowing us to cure rare diseases and learn about our bodies in innovative and interdisciplinary ways.
It has always struck me that choosing organic food and being aware of animal husbandry practices is a gateway drug to being a more responsible and sustainably-minded citizen of the world. Christiana Wyly will guide us through a session on universal nourishment that she calls “Flourish.” Bioneers from across the world will share their regenerative solutions for growing food systems that benefits our bodies and the life of our planet.
Zooming out, we see an abundance of stranded resources — water, carbon, minerals, energy. They are unevenly and ineffectively distributed. William McDonough calls for a “new language of carbon.” In the soil and as a physical building block, carbon is good. In the air, it is not. This phenomenon is what we’re calling “asset alchemy.” Thomas Ermacora of Recoded City will help us understand how we can convert misplaced resources to be productive. Like the alchemists of the early Renaissance who transformed lead into gold, we, too, can transform detrimental resources into ones that lead to positive change.
The phenomena we see in asset alchemy can also be observed in humans, who are our most valuable resource. For example, laid off auto workers from Detroit had nowhere to invest the power of their skills after the recession that shook the great car-making city to its core. Then Shinola came along and retrained these former auto workers to sew some of the highest quality leather bands. Catalyzer Georgia Dienst will lead a discussion about how people can work, create, and play in the most effective ways, while concentrating their resources to complement the demands of the modern and rapidly changing world.
Our world is comprised of cycles big and small, from the circadian rhythms that govern our waking and sleeping hours to the cosmic cycles that control our seasons and determine the alignment of planets and stars. Understanding these cycles and the way they behave will allow us to better predict and prepare for phenomena to come. On the Brain Trust of TED and omni-advisor, Linda Stone guides us through this next session which culminates in the largest scale systems of all.
Having traveled from the molecular systems in our bodies, to the humans that power our world, to the cosmic cycles beyond our control, we attempt to better understand and optimize our most important organ — the brain. Mental health advocate and investor Khaliya Ermacora will moderate a discussion about the impossibly complex and infinitely powerful engines inside our heads. She will open our minds to drugs — how to best use them or to undo them, how to reframe the conversation about brain health and how to optimize it.
Because all opportunities are not distributed equally, we will examine how we can improve criminal and social justice with the leadership of Obama’s top advisor, Valerie Jarrett. This capsule of true heroes will blow your mind and help us see justice with a new set of tools.
Finally, we will take to the highway, skies, waterways and beyond to examine the future of transportation. SideCar co-founder, Sunil Paul, will take us on a journey from how we will right-size our vehicle ownership to electrified mobility. Every presentation will get us miles closer to a more sensible system.
Stopgaps Are Not Solutions
The power of the Near Future Summit lays in the integration of seemingly disparate systems and the significant ways they put pressure on other systems. Scientists, creatives, justice warriors, and environmental activists will share with each other, and will cross academic and intellectual boundaries to collaborate. When people open their minds to new and often unfamiliar modes of thinking, they prime the pump for success. It’s this sort of intellectual generosity that leads to solutions — not in a philosophically esoteric way, but in a tangible and concrete way that’s beneficial to business. We must also remember that stopgaps are not solutions. Instead, we advocate for massive shifts in our thinking and approaches. After all, the future is certain, but the way we live in it, isn’t.