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Join Boston Civic Media’s 3rd Annual Conference on June 3

Want to gain insights and approaches for collectively re-imagining public life in Boston?

Join Boston Civic Media’s third annual conference, Civic Imagination: Designing and Building a Better Future, taking place on June 3 from 9 a.m.  to  4 p.m. at District Hall.

Spearheaded by the Engagement Lab at Emerson College, Boston Civic Media is a faculty-led network that aims to advance the transdisciplinary domain of civic media research and pedagogy in the Greater Boston Area. Each year, Boston Civic Media convenes its growing network of faculty, students, activists, journalists, policymakers and nonprofits all invested in “civic media,” or media that creates social change through art, design and technology.

This year’s conference aims to explore the intersection of art, research and activism and is an opportunity to celebrate community-driven public work. From workshops on learning to engage across cultures, borders and divides to DIY biotechnology, expect an exciting lineup of presenters to share strategies, insights and approaches for collectively re-imagining public life in Boston.

The conference includes keynote presentations by Nettrice Gaskins, whose work examines how cultural art and technology made by under-represented groups for creative expression and STEAM learning can ignite our civic imagination, and Mariama White-Hammond, an ecological justice minister who will draw upon her former experiences of social-justice media making with youth to inspire new narratives.

This year, the conference will also tackle the wicked problem of climate adaptation and preparedness throughout the City of Boston with the release of the first ever inter-campus curriculum addressing climate change.

All are welcome to attend! This event is free, but registration is required.

Learn more about Civic Imagination: Designing and Building a Better Future and register here. Can’t attend? Follow along on Twitter using #BostonCivicMedia. 

#NERD10: Research Lab’s Interdisciplinary Approach Benefits from Region’s Intellectual Horsepower

2017 marks 10 years that Microsoft has hosted one of its Global Development Centers in Cambridge. The Microsoft New England Research & Development Center, fondly referred to as NERD, is celebrating its anniversary with stories and events year-round. Please join us in the celebration on the ground and online using #NERD10.

Jennifer Chayes, NERD Co-Founder

I’ve been here for most of the #NERD10 journey. Nine years ago, Christian Borgs and I co-founded Microsoft Research New England with the goal of establishing the lab as a leader in interdisciplinary research. To accomplish that goal, we’ve brought together computer scientists with researchers from the social sciences and facets of the biomedical sciences. Our work has included projects in areas such as economics, social media and health care, as well as more theoretical projects in areas such as cryptography, theoretical machine learning, mathematics and statistics.

When we established our lab, I knew Cambridge was one of the places in the world where this unique approach to interdisciplinary research could be most successful. The reason: Our lab’s proximity to so many world-class universities and access to such a large community of scientists.

But our ability to form tight bonds with the region’s academic and research institutions has exceeded even my initial, most optimistic expectations.

Through 2016, we’ve had more than 2,500 visitors to our lab here, including interns, and consulting and visiting researchers, with nearly 20 percent of these visitors coming from area colleges and universities.

From the very beginning, we wanted to establish economics as a key discipline within the lab, given that two of the top five schools for economics (Harvard and MIT) are in our backyard, along with the National Bureau of Economic Research. Since then, our economists have contributed to many strategic projects for Microsoft and the industry. A new project that I’m especially excited about is ALICE, a research project focused on incorporating artificial intelligence into economic decision making. This is a quintessential example of interdisciplinary research, as we’re bringing together economists and computer scientists specializing in artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve economic research while pushing the frontiers of AI development.

Christian Borgs, NERD Co-Founder

Another area where we’ve invested is our study of social media. We established the Social Media Collective in 2010 and it’s now expanded to our New York City lab as well. Locally, the team has expanded and now comprises such brilliant researchers as Mary Gray, Nancy Baym and Tarleton Gillespie, each of whom is doing fascinating work on how social media is affecting ethics, public discourse and the future of work. One reason for the team’s success: Our proximity to the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard.  The Social Media Collective started here with amazing work by danah boyd, who has gone on to found and be the executive director of the Data&Society Research Institute in New York City.

Still another area of pursuit has been biomedical sciences. One example is the amazing work by Jennifer Listgarten and Nicolo Fusi at the intersection of machine learning, computational biology and medicine. One high-profile project by these amazing researchers is the direct result of Jennifer and Nicolo becoming excited about working on the powerful gene editing tool CRISPR after attending a lecture given by John Doench, associate director of the Broad Institute at MIT and Harvard. Jennifer, Nicolo, John and collaborators developed a system called Azimuth that uses machine learning to predict which part of a gene to target when a scientist wants to knock out, or shut off, a gene. The research team, which includes collaborators from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Washington University School of Medicine, published their findings earlier this year in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

Machine learning is one of the hottest areas within the computing industry these days, and a focus within our lab as evidenced by our upcoming sixth annual New England Machine Learning Day that’s taking place on May 12 at NERD. The event brings together researchers and local academics, such as Tina Eliassi-Rad from Northeastern University, Roni Khardon from Tufts University and David Sontag from MIT, among others. This program is being chaired by Adam Kalai, whose work on biases in computer algorithms with colleagues at Boston University received popular press coverage within the past year from NPR, MIT Tech Review and other outlets. The day before our Machine Learning Day we’ll be holding the New England Machine Learning Hackathon: Hacking Bias in ML in partnership with colleagues from Harvard, MIT, Boston University and UMass Amherst.

More than 30 years ago, I did my post-doctoral work in mathematics and physics at Harvard, and came to appreciate just how intellectually exhilarating the Cambridge area can be. The work within our lab in recent years has only heightened my appreciation for the intellectual horsepower that exists here. It also has confirmed my belief that establishing a lab here focused on interdisciplinary basic research would benefit Microsoft, our industry and society more broadly. We’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what’s possible and I’m looking forward to the many great collaborations that will form in the decade ahead.

Jennifer Tour Chayes is Distinguished Scientist and Managing Director of Microsoft Research New England in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which she co-founded in 2008, and Microsoft Research New York City, which she co-founded in 2012. These two laboratories are widely renowned interdisciplinary centers, bringing together computer scientists, mathematicians, physicists, social scientists, and biologists, and helping to lay the foundations of data science.

Analyze Boston — New Open Data Hub Helps Citizens Visualize Their Lives


Boston’s new and improved open data hub, dubbed Analyze Boston, will go live April 6. Need to find facts, figures, or maps related to the area of Boston you live in? Analyze Boston is your newest civic tech tool for that and more. The City of Boston decided that its existing open data portal needed a major revamp. The new version was launched in beta in late February to spark conversation and get feedback before the site’s official release.

What’s the difference?

First and foremost, usability. The teams behind it, the Analytics Team & DoIT Boston, with the help of CKAN & OpenGov Open Data, put a major emphasis on user experience and user engagement as it relates to data. As a result, the data is easily searchable and paired with much needed descriptive information to make the datasets more intuitive.

“That’s the goal with this new platform — making sure it’s both used and user-friendly,” said Howard Lim, the product manager for Analyze Boston.

With plain language and vivid imagery, the city’s new online presence aims to engage a broad audience from all corners of Boston to understand the various ways government enhances lives and provides services.

“We’re purposely calling this Analyze Boston because we think those plain words might make data a little more interesting to a broader audience regardless of someone’s technology background,” Lim said.

The goal is to build knowledge around public data, he said. This time around, the datasets on the new portal will all be under a public domain license. That way, both residents and internal stakeholders can use the data how they see fit and perhaps bring critical solutions and civic tech tools to urban challenges. Application developers will be able to access and integrate datasets through robust APIs. Other users will be able to search the datasets through flexible search tools. And on the new mobile-friendly platform, users are met where they’re already at.

“Eighty percent of the world has a smart phone. Maybe people can search open data sets on the T, and say, “oh, I found something that’s interesting,” and then get back home to work and plug away at it,” Lim said.

The new data hub currently has about 115 data sets available, from CityScore, food establishment inspections, rainfall data, public safety data and more. Lim said more data sets are to come, and they’ll be constantly updated.

“Realistically, there will always be more data and knowledge to build, and we have to continue to be amenable to what the people want to see, so our work will continue,” he said. 

A map from Vision Zero, an example of what our users can do with open data

Why is access to open data important?

It’s worthwhile to be proactive in the sharing of information, Lim explained, and if cities like Boston can lead the way in transparency, other cities might be keen to follow. Boston residents will be able to see how city government works and that their tax dollars are being used in a respectful and responsible manner to better the spaces we live, work and play in.

As the growing digital catalog of information for the city’s institutions that publish data, Analyze Boston helps citizens visualize their lives.

“This digital catalog is very valuable because it allows people to see that information does indeed exist, all in one place, without having to comb through various web sources to find what they’re looking for,” Lim said.

Since the beginning of Mayor Marty Walsh’s administration, he, along with the city’s innovation team, the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, has emphasized the importance of open data. Last year, the city launched the Open Data to Open Knowledge initiative, and Mayor Walsh has encouraged city agencies to publish data online for public consumption. In May 2016, Boston appointed Andrew Therriault as its first Chief Data Officer.

“Our goal in creating the Analyze Boston platform is to better fulfill the promise of open data and open government, by seeing open data not just as a collection of datasets but as a platform for sharing knowledge,” Therriault said in a press release.

April 6 marks the start of a month-long Analyze Boston Open Data challenge. Interested candidates are encouraged to share analyses, visualizations, models and applications incorporating data from Analyze Boston. The challenge culminates with a showcase and prizes on May 6 at District Hall.

Impact of New Media on Civic Initiatives — #CivicTechBos, April 3, 2017

Social media and new approaches to journalism have had broad impact on how civic initiatives are organized and executed. Community and political movements have new tools to attract interested parties and launch campaigns. The last federal election cycle is just one of several examples where various parties worked with and around the traditional journalism channels to get their message out using these new media options. These approaches certainly impact how governments connect with their constituencies, nonprofits engage with their communities, neighborhood movements organize, and civic/political leaders communicate.

We’re hosting a conversation to discuss how new media impacts civic initiatives as part of our Conversations on Civic Innovation series, or #CivicTechBos. Join us for a conversation reviewing the fast-changing world of journalism and social media and how it impacts civic initiatives.

Speakers include:

Schedule:

5:30-6:00 PM – Registration and networking
6:00-7:oo PM – Panel Discussion
7:00-7:30 PM – Q&A
7:30 – 8:30 PM – Post-event networking

Join us Monday, April 3, from 5:30pm-8:30pm at District Hall. RSVP here. To join us online, follow @MSNewEngland, @VentureCafe and the hashtag #CivicTechBos.

Calling All Early-Stage Startups — Apply to 2017 MassChallenge Today!

Do you have a great startup idea?

Applications for Boston’s 2017 MassChallenge Accelerator, “the most friendly startup accelerator on the planet,” are open until March 28. MassChallenge is a not-for-profit committed to helping entrepreneurs succeed by providing them with the resources they need.

Since 2010, MassChallenge has had a proven-track record of taking startups to the next level. More than 1,200 MassChallenge alumni have raised over $1.8 billion in funding, generated over $700 million in revenue, and created more than 60,000 direct and indirect jobs.

Any early-stage startups across all industries are encouraged to apply. Selected startups will receive support form top mentors and experts, free co-working space, access to MassChallenge’s network of corporate partners, tailored workshops, and the opportunity to win a portion of more than $2 million in zero-equity funding globally.

2017 Timeline

February 8 — Applications open
March 28 — Applications close
March 30 – April 20 — Round 1 Judging (Online)
May 10 – May 17 — Round 2 Judging (In-Person)
May 24 — Finalist Notification
June 21 – November 1 — Boston Accelerator Program

Microsoft is a proud MassChallenge partner committed to supporting Boston’s entrepreneurial spirit. MassChallenge finalists seeking solutions for the world’s most critical problems, especially in civic innovation, are encouraged to apply for scholarship money from Microsoft. Last year’s winners of The Microsoft Civic Technology Scholarship were committed to helping public officials deliver improved services to private citizens.

Create your startup profile and apply to MassChallenge today to join the next class of startups solving the world’s biggest challenges! 

Microsoft New England Picks: Not-To-Miss Events, February 2017

It’s February, and love is in the air… A love for civic tech, that is! We’ve got heart-eyes for the many civic tech events New England has to offer.

Here are our top picks:

February 4

Women Engineers Code (WECode) Conference 2017

It’s the fourth iteration of Women Engineers Code: the largest student-run Women in Computer Science conference, held at Harvard University each February. Join in the effort to cultivate the next generation of technical leaders, foster a network and community among collegiate engineers, and promote more female representation in the technical industry.

February 7

Making Open Data Open for All

Join one of NYC’s leading open data advocates and learn how they disassemble an open data set! For this workshop, you will learn how to bite into the big apple and digest one of the world’s most valuable skills — navigating and arguing with open data.

Due to high demand, preference will be given to HKS Students.

February 7, 14, 21, 28

Code for Boston Weekly Hack Night

Code for Boston’s weekly Hack Nights are a time to meet in person to work on and discuss civic tech projects. Come by to say hi and hack!

February 8

Conversation in Civic Innovation: Broadband Equity

As we type, click, and swipe, it is easy to forget about the underlying infrastructure that supports our online activities. This critical infrastructure is complex and in order to provide equitable access to broadband, physical considerations like fiber infrastructure and broadband readiness of buildings are critical to how we expand access. Please join us for a discussion on Broadband Equity. Panelists will include:

Anne Schwieger, City of Boston
Damon Cox, The Boston Foundation
Chris Mitchell, Institute for Local Self Reliance
Theo Hanna, Tech Goes Home
Moderator: Sharon Gillett, Microsoft

CODE Documentary: Debugging the Gender Gap

Featuring the documentary movie CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap at the Boston CSS meetup. CODE examines the reasons why more girls and people of color are not seeking opportunities in computer science and explores how cultural mindsets, stereotypes, educational hurdles and sexism all play roles in this national crisis.

February 13

Patient Stories: The Reason We Care About Health

Digital Health is at the forefront of innovation and through all the fast-paced changes it is critical to remember why we do what we do: to help entrepreneurs win and to help patients win! Join PULSE@MassChallenge for the 2017 inaugural #PULSECHECK and circle back to the heart of the healthcare ecosystem featuring a panel of experts.

February 16

Code & Coffee

Code & Coffee is a monthly opportunity for you to practice your skills, meet new friends, and get help if you need it. Bring your laptop, your recent projects, and your programming problems! All are welcome regardless of gender or skill level, whether or not you’ve attended past Girl Develop It events.

Christi Kaes: Introduction to Hololens (BostonAR partner event)

Last year Microsoft released the Hololens developer editions. Some of the unique features of the Hololens are the spatial mapping and the spatial sound that it has. Christina, Senior Software Engineer at Vistaprint, will introduce the Hololens and show how to build a simple real world application with it that uses both the spatial mapping and sound features.

The Future of Transportation, a Boston View

Boston is growing! In the last four years it has added as many residents as it did in the previous 20. This growth has brought many opportunities but also highlights some challenges. None are more evident than in the area of transportation. Presentations and discussions will include a global view of mobility in cities, Boston’s challenges and next steps, North/South connected rail, shared modes of transportation and public/private partnerships, new transportation technology, and automated vehicles.  Come hear about the vision and future of transportation in and around the city.

February 18

2017 MIT Tech Conference

The MIT Tech Conference is an annual event hosted by the MIT Sloan Tech Club at the MIT Media Lab. Open to the general public, this conference features interactive expert panels, keynote speakers from the biggest names in tech and a showcase of the world’s most innovative technologies. This year’s conference will focus on the world’s most innovative Exponential technologies like Internet of Things, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and Synthetic Biology.

February 21

Boston Imaging & Vision Presents: Driverless Cars

Agenda:
6 – 6:30: Networking and pizza
6:30 – 7:30: Three speakers:

(1) Nutonomy

(2) Lex Fridman, MIT: Driveless cars and safety

(3) Ro Gupta, Carmera: 4D/HD Mapping

7:25 – 7:35: 1 min pitches from audience
7:35 on: More networking

February 22

Cybersecurity & Industry Vulnerabilities Tech Talk

Join Tech in Motion Boston for a tech talk on cybersecurity. Cybersecurity has been making headlines for quite some time. For this discussion, our expert panelists will provide an in depth look into this industry and its increasing importance.

February 24 – 25

2017 MassDiGI Game Challenge 

The MassDiGI Game Challenge is a one-of-a-kind pitch competition that helps aspiring game developers launch new games. The 2017 MassDIGI Game Challenge will be held at Microsoft New England. The MassDiGI Game Challenge features industry mentors, veteran judges panels and keynotes and great prizes – you don’t want to miss it!

February 28

Café Night at Roxbury Innovation Center

The monthly Café Nights @ RIC are energetic and dynamic events where innovators and entrepreneurs can find one another and collaborate to bring their dreams to reality. These regular gatherings provide a space for conversations and scheduled programs to inspire a wide range of attendees from different backgrounds and industries to connect, share ideas, and grow their ventures.