Catalyzing transformative conversations about the future ... with pizza?
There's something inspiring about talking with undergraduates about the future — especially when there's pizza involved.
This past semester, we’ve been running an experiment in the ASU Future of Being Human initiative. It’s an experiment that’s involved undergrads, mind-blowing conversations, and a lot of pizza!
Back in January, we launched a weekly meetup for undergraduates at ASU. The idea was to create a space where they could get together and talk about what’s happening in the world of transformative technology innovation — and especially how it potentially impacts the future.
The aim was to create a welcoming space for the types of conversations that are often hard to have — not because they are contentious, but because everyone’s so busy these days that it’s sometimes hard to find time to slow down and actually think.
It also turns out that, if you’re a student, it’s surprisingly challenging to find others who are willing to take a deep dive into topics like the AI apocalypse for instance, or whether advanced tech might make telepathy possible in the future.
One of the pillars of the Future of Being Human initiative is the idea that it’s important to create spaces for conversations that transform how people think about the future — and to ensure that these spaces are as inclusive and supportive as possible.
The sort of “yes and” spaces where you can be yourself and know everyone else has your back.
These types of conversations are more necessary than ever as we grapple with navigating an increasingly complex tech-enabled future. Especially for upcoming generations of technology developers and influencers.
And as we note on the Future of Being Human website, “there is a growing need for bold ideas and visionary insights that transcend the constraints of conventionality and empower a new wave of thought leaders to be part of building a vibrant future that benefits all of humanity.”
I must confess that I also had a selfish reason for pulling a group of students together each week — I love having wide ranging conversations about tech and the future with undergraduates! Their ideas and perspectives are often fresh, creative, and challenging — and not bogged down by the weight of “understanding” that sometimes seems to plague academia.
Just as importantly though, I find that these conversations energize me and fuel my own creative thinking.
But of course students are the real focus here. As an undergraduate, it’s incredibly easy to become buried and lost in a sea of seemingly bright and successful people who don’t seem to be interested in talking about what you are interested in — especially if you’re a first generation student or a bit of a loner, or are really struggling to find your “community.”
It’s also surprising how many students are actually interested in exploring mind-bending ideas about the future given half a chance, but haven’t stumbled across an appropriate opportunity.
So, given all of this, we launched our weekly “Pizza and a Slice of Future” meetups in January. The “slice of future” should be obvious — these are meetups where we explore “slices” of possibility at the intersection between tech, people and the future.
And the pizza? As anyone who’s worked with students and academic knows, food is always the key to getting people together. And, as it turns out, pizza is still the food that works the best! I actually asked one of my classes, and the received wisdom was that it has to be pizza, and cheese or pepperoni at that — some things never change it seems!
Over the past few months we’ve had a blast. Conversations have ranged everywhere from AI and ChatGPT (of course) to brain machine interfaces, smart pills, robot companions, the nanotech apocalypse, and much more.
It’s been very clear to me as we’ve run the experiment that we have students who are hungry for a community of like minded others where they can feel comfortable as they discuss and explore interesting ideas — and where they can feel that they are heard and validated, no matter what their backgrounds or perspective.
The hangouts have been relatively small so far. But they’ve still been pretty amazing. So much so that we’ll be expanding things out come the Fall.
I’m excited to see where this goes — especially as we’ll be giving students the option to earn credit for the meetups if they want next time round. I’m pretty sure this will be the first ASU class where you quite literally get credit for eating pizza — and talking about cool ideas of course.
And yes, the class will be called “Pizza and a Slice of Future.”
In the meantime, just to wrap up a successful semester of pizza and conversation, here’s a quick group selfie from the last of our meetups.
And yes, the person in front is not me (I was talking the photo) but the Canadian comedian and actor Jay Baruchel (remember How To Train Your Dragon?) — he was here to film season 2 of “We’re All Going To Die (even Jay Baruchel)”
These meetups are nothing if not full of surprises!