What Starts Here Can Save the Arctic
A Year in Pursuit of a Grand Challenge
“Looking back over our year of collaboration and discovery, it can be a struggle to put the results of our work in concrete terms. But at this stage in the game, the process is the product.”
AI Is Tricky: An Interview with Tim Hwang
AI is not the Terminator. “It’s not going to climb out of your computer and destroy you.” Negligence and incompetence around the use of AI are the real threats.
Designing AI Technologies that Benefit Society
“Most of us are on autopilot, assuming the apps and technologies we use are benign. The truth is that they’re not benign — but the dangers they pose weren’t usually intended by their developers. Rather, those dangers arise because developers themselves are often on autopilot; they unquestioningly follow routines they learned. They see everyone else following those routines as well, which reinforces their habits and choices… Our goal as a grand challenge is to avoid the dangers of carelessly experimenting with new technology. As a famous (albeit fictional) University of Texas at Austin mathematician said about those responsible for Jurassic Park: ‘Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.'”
The Heart of the Matter: Why Relationships Belong in Research
“When I joined Whole Communities–Whole Health, I was intrigued by the idea of putting science to work in service to society. In order to accomplish this grand challenge, we have to think beyond individual research goals and easy-to-fund pet projects. In order to do work that matters in the lives of real people, we have to develop and sustain relationships with those who are in the best position to put new information to work.”
Field Notes: Something’s Happening to the Weather
Something’s up with the weather, but is it climate change or just the seasons shifting? It depends who you ask, and in Texas and much of the rural U.S., words matter.
Imagining Solutions-Driven Community Centers
What if there were a community storefront with a mission to connect residents with organizations and stakeholders that can assist them in co-creating solutions for the challenges they face? What if this storefront were led by the community and for the community, providing space for conversation and partnership?
Q/A: Fourth National Climate Assessment and Texas
Planet Texas 2050 researcher and report co-author Jay Banner explains what these newest predictions mean for our region.
Children Are Researchers, Too
Photovoice seeks understanding through photography. It is an engaging approach to data collection that encourages children’s participation in research and seeks to understand their perspectives.
Can We Leave it All Behind?
Not all past civilizations vanished died when the climate changed — they moved. But could we do the same, and where would we go?
Making Research Useful in Real-Time
We’re collaborating with communities to figure out what questions they have and what answers they need, right now.
Giving You the Whole Picture
Scientists struggle with how to share research findings in ways that help people make changes quickly. Figuring out how to do this is our grand challenge.
After Harvey, Texas Must Build Preparedness into Everything We Do — Together
Real hurricane preparedness — the kind that not only saves lives but also preserves livelihoods — is something that’s built into our cities, settlements, roads, and infrastructure.
Addressing the Interconnected Issues of Energy Sprawl
We live in an energy intensive society. Quality of life and quality of our communities depend on access to energy.
Extreme Summer: Speaking the Many Languages of Climate Change
The dominant languages of climate change have been scientific, technological and economic, but art and literature get to the root of the beliefs and values that shape human behavior.
Something’s in Our Air
Texas’s changing future means the air we breathe in our homes could change as well.
How Much Water Is in Texas?
June 17th is World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, but that could be most days in parts of Texas and the southwestern U.S.
Welcome to Planet Texas 2050
Today is the first day of hurricane season, which makes this the right time to launch six new projects that will tackle some of the biggest challenges facing Texas.
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning for Social Good Project Design Workshop
Mesoamerica LiDAR Workshop: 2020 Sibley Conference on the Ancient Americas
Hackathon for Resilient Communities: Transportation, Air Quality, Weather, and Health
Public Interest Technology University Network (PIT-UN) Conference on Undergraduate Informatics
This conference will explore how to prepare undergraduate students for careers in the public and non-profit sectors, serving the public interest, particularly in support of social justice. This 1.5-day conference will be held on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin on March 3rd and 4th. This will serve as a meeting place for educators across disciplines, uniting around a common goal and vision and will help to define what undergraduate education for public interest technology looks like. The March conference will also showcase how individuals affiliated with member institutions can best leverage their involvement in PIT-UN, as well as showcase the benefits of PIT-UN membership to individuals that are not yet one of the participating PIT-UN institutions. To learn more about best practices and pedagogies for undergraduate informatics education, to learn more about public interest technology, and to learn more about PIT-UN, we encourage you to attend this first meeting in a series of events sponsored by PIT-UN and what we hope will become a recurring conference.
Disinformation Network Meeting
Good Systems Network Meeting
Conference: The Ethics of AI
ML/AI algorithms promise many benefits but may amplify existing biases in society, create new biases, increase privacy and cybersecurity risks, and pose novel ethical dilemmas. This conference, co-sponsored by Good Systems and the McCombs School of Business, will explore how society and organizations can maximize benefits and minimize risks. Get more information and register.
Disinformation Network Meeting
As part of their Good Systems work, Talia Stroud, Director of the Center for Media Engagement, Mary Neuburger, Chair of the Department of Slavic and Eurasian Studies, and Sharon Strover, Director of the Technology and Information Policy Institute will host monthly “Disinformation Network” meetings to convene the diverse group of people on campus working on disinformation-related research. The purpose of these meetings is to share what we are working on, to explore findings and to broaden opportunities to use of our work. We would be delighted if you could join us.
Planet Texas 2050 Research Showcase
Good Systems Network Meeting
50th Anniversary Earth Day Celebration
Texas Resilience Summit
This conference will provide a platform for Texas communities and organizations to come together and share experiences, opportunities, tools, resources, and knowledge to build a more resilient Texas. Communities across Texas often confront the stresses of economic and social inequality, aging infrastructure, and a changing natural landscape. Challenges related to climate variability and change, including but not limited to sea level rise, extreme heat, wildfire, drought, and floods, exacerbate the existing stressors that communities face. Building resilience empowers Texans to invest in their communities in ways that allows them to emerge in a stronger position after tough times and live better in good times.
May 20 – 21, 2020
Capsule Hackathon for Climate Change
We can no longer wait when it comes to our planet. Hackathons hold tremendous value by bringing people together in an innovative format to raise awareness, elevate new ideas, and energize solutions. Capsule 2020 is a once-in-a-lifetime experience where organizers are planning to break a Guinness World Record. The goal is to stage the largest civi hackathon in the world focused on the climate crisis.
June 20 – 21, 2020
A Warmer Austin: The Future Is Here
Geosciences and Planet Texas 2050 researcher Jay Banner says that under the “business as usual” scenario in which we fail to take substantial action to curb climate changes’ effects, Austin summers could see as many as 70 more days of 100-degree heat, on average.
RFP: Year 2 Project Grant Opportunities Announced
The Good Systems grand challenge funds projects that help ensure AI technologies meet society’s needs and values. This year’s grant options are divided into three tiers based on activity type. Proposal deadline is 5 p.m., Friday, March 27, 2020.
Government’s AI Principles Overlook Two Important Issues
Fast Forward: Austin Metro Area Sees Two Decades of Explosive Growth
‘Border Land, Border Water’ Is a 150-Year History of Construction on the US-Mexico Border
The book looks at the history of the U.S.-Mexico border through the development of ports of entry, boundary markers, transportation networks, fences, barriers, surveillance infrastructure, dams and other river engineering projects. But some of these construction projects are complicated by the fact that in many places, the border is the Rio Grande River. “When people talk about the border, they’re not really talking about the places along the international divide,” Alvarez says. “They’re talking about immigration policy and immigration enforcement policy.”
Our Government and Public Institutions Must Protect us Against the Unvaccinated
“To be sure, we must protect our rights to make health-related decisions that impact our bodies. To violate our right to bodily autonomy for one type of health decision is to set a dangerous precedent for violating our right to bodily autonomy for other health decisions. But as much as Americans love the narrative of individual liberty and personal responsibility in all realms of life (including health), infectious diseases do not conform to these principles. They lay bare the cold hard reality that humans are interconnected social creatures whose decisions — and germs — impact others.”
Informatics Education 2020
The Public Interest Technology University Network (PIT-UN) Conference on Undergraduate Informatics Education will explore how to prepare undergraduate students for careers in the public and non-profit sectors, serving the public interest, particularly in support of social justice. This 1.5-day conference will be held on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin on March 3 and 4, 2020. This conference will serve as a meeting place for educators across disciplines, uniting around a common goal and vision. The conference will help to define what undergraduate education for public interest technology looks like. The conference will also showcase how individuals affiliated with member institutions can best leverage their involvement in PIT-UN, as well as showcase the benefits of PIT-UN membership to individuals that are not yet one of the participating PIT-UN institutions. To learn more about best practices and pedagogies for undergraduate informatics education, to learn more about public interest technology, and to learn more about PIT-UN, we encourage you to attend this first meeting in a series of events sponsored by PIT-UN and what we hope will become a recurring conference.
Roger Waters, Erin Lee Carr, Phoebe Robinson, The Bon Appetit Test Kitchen & More Join SXSW 2020
Introducing new additions to the Keynotes and Featured Speakers lineup for the 34th edition of the SXSW Conference:
Escaping Doom: Transforming Science into Experience (Design Track) – A conversation about how scientific research can be integrated into an engaging, entertaining, and educational storytelling experience, with Gensler principal David Kramer; University of Texas Assistant Dean, School of Design and Creative Technologies Doreen Lorenzo; Associate Professor in the Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering Department at the University of Texas Fernanda Leite; and General Manager of Unreal Engine at Epic Games Marc Petit.
Planet Texas 2050 Uses Ancient Civilizations to Prepare for the Future
“Thousands of years ago, on the western coast of the Black Sea, where the water flows through the mouth of Europe’s second-longest river, the Danube, hundreds of Grecian settlers built their homes. Histria, as it was known, quickly became a major urban center with a booming trade industry. But as centuries passed, the city became riddled with numerous problems: geopolitical clashes, violence, plagues, environmental changes. Inevitably, people abandoned the area, and Histria fell to ruin. More than 2,000 years later, UT Classics Professor Adam Rabinowitz and a group of UT researchers are looking to the once-thriving colony to teach us about today’s world—and specifically about Texas.”
The Reinvention of Casa Herrera: The Mesoamerica Center Turns a 17th Century Building in Guatemala into a UT Gem
“One of The Mesoamerica Center’s goals in working with Planet Texas 2050 is to establish a LIDAR (light detection and ranging) archive at UT. LIDAR, an advanced surveying method using pulses of light to measure variable distances, can essentially map a 3D image of ancient sites buried under thick vegetation. Several major sites have been surveyed with LIDAR, resulting in a wealth of valuable data sets, but ones that are spread across several institutions. Accessing the data from a single archive would be an invaluable tool and is a major goal for UT.”
Good Systems Team Hosts Fireside Chat to Celebrate Launch
“Ethics is about empowering people, so it’s critical that we design AI in ways that empower people and build a more equitable and just society.”
New Grant to Help Align Information Science Curriculum With Serving the Public Good
“The emphasis on public interest technology is further demonstrated by the Good Systems Grand UT Challenge Initiative, which seeks to ensure artificial intelligence is designed to benefit society. Good Systems brings together students and researchers from more than two dozen schools and units within the university to focus not only on what AI can do, but what it should do for the public good.”
Texas Students Join Global Climate Strike
“With climate change, one of the predictions of climate science is that areas that are prone to extremes in the hydrological cycles, that is droughts and floods, will be prone to even more extremes, so more intense storms and more intense droughts. We’ve been seeing that. We’ve been seeing that in the last several years.”
Newsletter: “AI is tricky.” Tim Hwang, Killer Robots, and Avoiding Autopilot
We know people and AI can be more successful together than apart, but we also know that AI can be used in ways that are harmful. How can we develop and evaluate intelligent systems and avoid dangerous unintended consequences? Can we use and regulate AI-based technologies with societal values and ethics at their core? What makes a system “good”?
We have less than a decade to find out. Please join us on this journey.
Vice President for Research Launches Good Systems Grand Challenge
“We’ve come to appreciate in society that technology in general, AI in particular, is a life and death matter. We don’t have very many ethical checks on IT development. If you want to release a new app on the app store, you just need Apple to approve it. It’s tremendously easy to release a new software product, but it could have very severe, potentially life-threatening consequences.”
Good Systems: Third UT Grand Challenge
President Fenves introduced Good Systems during the 2019 State of the University Address: “The third Bridging Barriers Grand Challenge will work to ensure that the needs and values of society drive the design of artificial intelligence technologies.”
UT Austin Professor Talks Impact of Amazon Rainforest Fires
The Amazon rainforest in Brazil is burning at a record rate. Brazil’s space research center said it has detected the highest number of fires in the region since it began tracking them in 2013. The entire world is now paying attention and there is increasing international pressure on the Brazilian government to take action. Professor Jay Banner from the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas at Austin explains the impact of these fires.
Learning from Histria
“Challenges of rapid population growth, increasing urbanization, climate change and the pressure these put on natural resources such as water, all are staring Texas in the face. Planet Texas 2050 is The University of Texas at Austin’s eight-year ‘sprint’ to better understand these forces, and as part of this project, Adam Rabinowitz, an associate professor of classics, is looking for lessons in settlements of the past, and one of the best regions to find those is around the Black Sea.”
UT Tackles Climate Change, Resource Management with Multidisciplinary Approach
“We are really aiming to understand how people have been resilient in the past and presently… So instead of imposing strategies for resilience before we get to know communities, (we are) actually going and learning about what people have been doing up until now.”
Ecology in Urban Planning: Expert Q/A with Katherine Lieberknecht
How can we create access to nature for everyone, not just people in communities with the resources to create and fund land trusts? Katherine Lieberknecht’s pursuit of this question ultimately led to a Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning from Cornell University. Today, Dr. Lieberknecht is assistant professor in the School of Architecture at The University of Texas at Austin, where she teaches courses and conducts research related to the planning of urban ecology, water resources, green infrastructure, agriculture, sustainable land use and resilience. She also serves as chair of Planet Texas 2050, UT’s first grand challenge research program, and is faculty lead for the Texas Metro Observatory, a Planet Texas 2050 research project.
Planet Texas 2050: For a Better Tomorrow
“I view UT Austin’s leadership and initial investment in this program as a critical spark plug to help our state figure out the future of Texas. Although our research is focused on one state, findings will be relevant to other areas experiencing an increase in extreme weather events, increasing urbanization and rapid population growth. Texas’ diversity, rate of population growth and vulnerability to changes in climate make it a useful test case to examine approaches for planning new climate futures.”
Finding Common Ground in Water
When pressed to summarize the path of his wide spanning career, Paul Adams offers one word, “discourse.” Adams, a professor at UT Austin’s Department of Geography and the Environment, is interested in how people discuss often contentious subjects and what makes these communications more or less successful.
Understanding Is Key to Trusting Robots
“Before trust in artificial intelligence can be established, soldiers must first feel they have ownership of their robots, and the technology must be transparent enough ‘to make sure that humans can understand and interpret why a machine is making the decision it’s making,’ Ken Fleischmann, associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Information, said recently at a Mad Scientist conference in Austin. Fleischmann pointed out that while the development of artificial intelligence has yielded brilliant outcomes with chess and other games, it’s quite another thing to have a robot that will ‘behave ethically on the battlefield.'”
UT, Microsoft Researchers Seek to Make Computers More Accessible to People Who Are Blind
“The whole purpose of Good Systems is to ensure that AI is making the world a better place and is helping people. That’s exactly what we’re doing in this project. We’re using AI to help people.”
We Need to Think More Holistically About the Healthcare Debate
“When we limit our thinking about the health of our nation to a conversation about health care, we are missing upwards of 80 percent of the factors that actually contribute to our health. According to the County Health Rankings, only about 20 percent of our health can be credited to access to health care, while 40 percent can be credited to social and economic factors (e.g., employment, income), 30 percent to health behaviors (e.g., sedentary lifestyles, drug and alcohol use), and 10 percent to environmental factors (e.g., safe and accessible sidewalks, air and water pollution),” says School of Nursing and Whole Communities–Whole Health researcher Karen Johnson.
The Next Austin Bust
“You’ll see ‘sprawl at Mad Max levels, while the upper 10% all drive around…in their electric vehicles.'” UT School of Architecture and Planet Texas 2050 researcher Michael Oden attempts to answer the Austin Chronicle’s questions: Will it be bad? Can we be ready? Or should we not care?
Can Trump’s New Initiative Make American AI Great Again?
“When developing policy guidelines and regulation, it is critically important to separate these various technologies and applications so as to deal with them individually. Any effort to consider all of AI as one unit when developing policies and initiatives would be very misguided.” — Peter Stone, Department of Computer Science professor and Good Systems founding researcher
Habits for a Highly Effective Disaster Recovery
Dell Medical School’s Lourdes Rodriguez talks about how her academic training and childhood in Puerto Rico give her a keen sense for what it means to prepare for — and recover from — natural and man-made disasters.
A Texas-Sized Solution
They say that what starts here in Texas changes the world, and that phrase has never rung truer than it does today. Extreme weather events and population numbers are on the rise, and Texas is experiencing its fair share of both.
How Climate Change Education Is Hurting the Environment
“Rather than focusing on a return to an idyllic nature and childhood relationship, what is urgently needed is climate change education for young children that is situated within the actual ecological contexts in which all children’s everyday lives are situated — not just the natures that privileged children can access in forest kindergarten and preschools. We need education that values the knowledges and experiences that young children have of the environmental challenges facing their particular contexts.”
Our World Is Changing. Our Water Infrastructure Should, Too.
We need a more nimble and nuanced approach to urban water management, and not only because of climate change and growing urban populations, but because many communities urgently need to address failing infrastructure systems.
Newsletter: Hacking Open Data to Improve Our Cities
In October, Good Systems team members hosted a Good Systems 311 Calls and 500 City Hackathon. UT students used A.I. and machine learning methods to analyze large scale data sets of 311 calls, which log resident complaints, concerns, and non-emergency problems. This is valuable information that, when examined on aggregate, can help inform local decision-makers and city planners.
Newsletter: Changing the Way Science Helps Society Thrive Is Our Grand Challenge
In September’s State of the University Address, President Gregory Fenves announced to faculty, staff, and students that Whole Communities–Whole Health has been selected as UT’s second Bridging Barriers grand challenge.
Vice President for Research Makes Grand Challenge Announcement to UT Community
Researchers from nearly two dozen disciplines have been working for more than a year to build a grand challenge project that produces a new way to study human communities while, at the same time, responding to a critically underserved group in Central Texas: children and families living with adversity.
Newsletter: We’re Uncovering the Past to Plan for the Future
In honor of International Archaeology Day this month, Planet Texas 2050 researcher Adam Rabinowitz takes us behind the scenes to the ancient city of Histria, in Rome, which was abandoned in the 7th century AD because of a changing climate.
Fenves Introduces New Grand Challenge in State of the University Address
Faculty members from across the university will work together to explore ways to foster the healthy development of children and families, struggling with adversity, by fundamentally rethinking how cohort studies are conducted on social, behavioral and health issues.
Sustainability Brings Grad Students Together
Planet Texas 2050 researcher Steven Richter, from the School of Architecture, joined graduate students from around campus in October for Sustainability Week. His work is part of the Texas Metro Observatory. “What does urbanization mean across Texas? We are looking at interdisciplinary questions, like how socio-economic patterns or changes in the built environment affect municipal water or energy use across the state.”
Newsletter: Good Systems Update and Hackathon
The Good Systems development year is off to a running start! Thank you to everyone who has made our first two events a success. You have shown drive an initiative in this new UT Grand Challenge from Bridging Barriers and we hope to keep that enthusiasm going throughout the year.
Newsletter: Thank you, Digital Resource Guide, and What’s Next
We at Planet Texas 2050 and Bridging Barriers are humbled by the success of yesterday’s Austin Family Reunion. A Texas-sized THANK YOU to everyone who braved the rain and the traffic to be with us. We hope you had great conversations, met some new friends, and enjoyed your time in the beautiful space provided by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
Newsletter: Making All Texas Communities More Resilient
We’re excited to share with you that Planet Texas 2050 is partnering with the Austin Community Design and Development Center (ACDDC) to create a solutions-driven community center. Our pilot project will be a place where knowledge and data meet understanding and implementation, where scientists and city planners stand alongside neighborhood advocates.
After Harvey, Texans Must Build Preparedness into Everything We Do
“Demographers expect Texas’s population to double by 2050. To accommodate that growth, existing cities will be forced to increase density in their urban cores, spread out, or a combination of both.”
Richard Corsi Named Engineering Dean at Portland State University
Planet Texas 2050 lead researcher has been named the next dean of Portland State University’s Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science. He will begin his appointment on Sept. 1, 2018.
Waller Creek Finds a Place in the Sun
“As Texas cities grow, natural watersheds will become urbanized. We can…. improve our understanding of the complex interactions among hydrologic systems, ecosystems, and human infrastructure systems.”
Commentary: Texas Must Be Better Prepared to Battle Extreme Weather
“I can tell you that real preparedness… is something that’s built into our cities, settlements, roads and infrastructure. And we are woefully unprepared for this year’s hurricane season…”
Newsletter: Hurricane Seasons Starts Today
This past January, our team of more than 100 researchers and faculty members launched Planet Texas 2050 — UT Austin’s first grand challenge.
Newsletter: Revolutionizing How We Learn and Share Knowledge
The CENTRAL organizing committee has been very active this year. Following acceptance of our development plan, we got right to work. People have met, gathered, conversed, and had a lot of fun sharing knowledge and ideas about how to make The University of Texas at Austin’s second grand challenge a reality.
Austin’s on the Wrong Side of the 100th Meridian
The invisible line that divides the arid western part of the country from the wetter eastern half is on the move, and that has important implications for the Texas capital. “[The 2011 drought], which was historic in terms of how intense it was, may just be a taste of things to come in the future.”
Nation’s Largest-Ever Indoor Air Quality Experiment Coming to ‘UTest House’
This summer, the country‘s largest indoor air quality and surface chemistry experiment brings leading experts to the university’s J.J. Pickle Research Campus to participate in an unprecedented initiative aimed at identifying the key causes of indoor air pollution.
More People, More Problems: UT Attempts to Address Texas’ Growing Population
“In our eyes, the only way to meet this challenge is an ‘all boots on the ground’ approach of integrating data and research questions from across the disciplines… Our goal is to get to 2050 with a Texas that is economically vibrant, safe, healthy, and has enough for all who live here.”
Hidden “Rock Moisture” Possible Key to Forest Response to Drought
UT geoscientist Daniella Rempe has helped identify a new way trees get water during severe droughts: by sending roots deep down into the bedrock.
Video: UT Austin Looks to Tackle Flood Response and Prevention in Texas
UT engineer Ben Hodges is finding ways to make roadways less likely to flood.
Cutting EPA Indoor Air Pollution Research Will Cost Money and Lives
The Trump administration’s 2019 budget proposal reduces EPA funding by 23 percent. Lost in the noise was an even deeper gutting of several individual research and management programs at the EPA, which, if successful, will have great negative impacts on human health and productivity. Planet Texas 2050 researcher and indoor air quality expert Richard Corsi, Ph.D., explains.
Ask Me Anything: Preventing Population-Related Disasters
Members of the Planet Texas 2050 research team kicked off the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) 2018 Annual Conference with their first Reddit AMA.
Planet Texas 2050 Launch
This past October, I wrote to tell you that UT’s first Bridging Barriers research grand challenge would be Planet Texas 2050.
New Bridging Barriers Themes in Development Announced
Vice President for Research Dan Jaffe introduces Planet Texas 2050 and new projects in development that could one day become grand challenges at The University of Texas at Austin.
Future of Texas Is Focus of New Research Challenge
Extreme weather events, population growth and aging infrastructure are common challenges Texas shares with the nation and world.
Discovery Across Disciplines
The Bridging Barriers initiative is challenging researchers from different disciplines to find intersecting goals and work together to solve the world’s most pressing problems.
‘Bridging Barriers’ Initiative Asks Researchers to Answer ‘Toughest Questions of our Generation’
“We’re not trying to solve as many problems as we can. We’re trying to solve one very big problem very well.”