domenica 18 marzo 2018

VHacks: hackers became ethicists


Alberto Carrara, Catholic priest, medical biotech-scientist and neuroethicist, member of the Pontifical Academy for Life (PAV). 

One week ago I was involved in a great experience: VHacks! Jakub Florkiewicz, from Harvard Business School, e-mailed me two months ago. He presented me the first Vatican hackathon ever, VHacks, a 36-hour collaborative event, that took place from March 8 till Sunday 11, 2018 at the Vatican City. Organized by OPTIC, students from Harvard and MIT, the Vatican, Microsoft, Google, Salesforce, and other institutions, VHacks targeted important global issues, including social inclusion, interfaith dialogue, and the migrant and refugee crisis, mixing together youth creativity and technological expertise. 

The mission of VHacks is to: leverage technology to address current global problems centered on hackathon themes; encourage value-based institutions to embrace technology to further their missions; promote collaboration among youth leaders across diverse academic, ethnic and religious backgrounds.

Jakub Florkiewicz is one of the Co-Chairman of this project. 
He wanted me in a panel focused on technology as a development accelerator together with Paolo Bergamo, SVP & GM of Field Service and Mobile at Salesforce; Carlo d’Asaro Biondo, President EMEA Strategic Relationships at Google; Giogio Sardo, Senior Director at Microsoft, and Wilson Tang, CEO at YumeBau.

R. M. Thomas, A. Carrara, W. Tang
I am really grateful to Jakob because I met people full of enthusiasm, moved by a strong and concrete desire to build a better society!

Friday 9th at dinner, I met two incredible men: Ryan M. Thomas, Director Of Operations at CNA/EWTN News, and Wilson Tang, CEO at YumeBau, ‘the people augmentation company’.

Saturday 10th very early in the morning I walked around the two big rooms of the Columbus Hotel in Via della Conciliazione in Rome, near the Vatican, where 120 young hackers from over the world were created new apps in order to try to solve concrete human problems through good science and technology. 

2018 Vatican Hackathon themes focused on 3 key issues:
1.     Social Inclusion: Encourage solidarity by restoring human-centric thinking and values in our increasingly digital world.
2.     Interfaith Dialogue: Support open communication between individuals and organizations representing differing faiths to create mutual understanding and constructive cooperation.
3.     Migrants & Refugees: Strengthen, support, and mobilize resources for migrants and refugees to assist them with relocation and integration.

In the afternoon, all those guys demonstrated to the world a great hope: it is possible to engage ethically technology and informatics in order to try to solve concretes human problems and foster an authentic human flourishing. All of them become techno-ethicists!

First panel
At the end of the event, two panels wraped up the event by allowing participants to reflect on the impact of the work they accomplished during the VHacks by listening to thought-provoking discussions led by experts in their fields.

The first panel dealt with technology shaping our values and was moderated by Ryan M. Thomas; while the second panel, moderated by Elise Harris, senior correspondent of Catholic News Agency, was focused on technology as a development accelerator. I spoke in this last one.

Nothing in this world is indifferent to us, says Pope Francis in His Encyclical Letter Laudato si’ (2015). VHacks was inspired by a recently Pope Francis talk on TEDx ‘The Future You’ (April 25, 2017).

Second panel
In my brief reflection, I summarized my personal experience of those three days in which I realized that the 120 young hackers had become ‘expert’ in social inclusion, ‘expert’ in finding new ways to solve human problems through technology and computation. In Silicon Valley the term “hacker” connotes high praise for someone particularly adept at finding clever new ways to accomplish difficult tasks and solve challenging problems. Instead of wasting time, those young guys humanized technology. Science and technology are ‘neutral’ in the sense that they are fruits of the same human creativity moved by our finitude and poorness.  

Technology is a constitutive and inseparable dimension of that integral human ecology that at the end is the authentic anthropology:  Since everything is closely interrelated, and today’s problems call for a vision capable of taking into account every aspect of the global crisis, I suggest that we now consider some elements of an integral ecology, one which clearly respects its human and social dimensions (Laudato si’, 137). Technology, informatics, robotics, and so on, are all aspects of that ‘everything that is closely interrelated’. Everything is connected! (Laudato si’, 117). ‘But one cannot prescind from humanity. There can be no renewal of our relationship with nature without a renewal of humanity itself. There can be no ecology without an adequate anthropology. (Laudato si’, 118). This ‘renewed man’, this HumanityPlus (H+) is not at all what Nick Bostrom’s Homo cyber meant, but the real man and woman, calling for a new synthesis (Laudato si’, 112.121).

The VHacks was a piece of this synthesis. I was thrilled to be part of such great experience: VHacks!

VHacks 2018 Official Winners were:

Social Inclusion
Winner: co.unity
Co-Unity builds stronger ties with the homeless in each community by creating a local crowdfunded job board to enrich vocational experiences and develop trust.
Alan Liu
Margaret Thomann
Marcin Wisniowski
Tiffany Chen
Adam Hirst

Runner-Up: Zelixa
Zelixa is a Microsoft Hololens app that helps dyslexic people train themselves to read better over time. It uses the technique of focus points, typefaces, and colors, to help those with dyslexia focus on the correct portions of words.
Pranav Gulati
Robert Ihnatisin
Lorenzo Bellucci
Carra Wu
Selynna Sun

Third Place: Xperience
Xperience brings together people who are often excluded from experiencing the world (due to some form of disability), and people who are willing to share their experiences.  Individuals who sign up as “guides” on the app provide real-time, live tours of their local locations via stream to those viewing through the app.
Myra Deng
Perttu Lähteenlahti
Johannes Bernhard Goslar
Vivian Shen
Elmar van Rijnswou

Interfaith Dialogue
Winner: Duo Collegare
Duo Collegare provides a platform to connect organizations and volunteers to inspire action, rather than just dialogue. From homelessness to natural disasters to mental health, we enable people to connect with one another, regardless of religious affiliation.
Francis Duahn
Alexander (Sasha) Ivanov
Sharon Wang
Arkady (Eric) Eidelberg
Raza Qazi
**Duo Collegare was also the winner of the La Croix Prize

Runner-Up: Faithstrings
Faithstrings is a web virtual reality application integrated with a moderated interfaith dialog community that allow people to enter and experience the world of various religions. The immersive experience provided by VR and extended dialogue will evoke fascinating empathy as well as encourage deeper understanding regardless of geographical distances and different faiths
Vy Bui
Emma Flanagan
LeQuan Clinton
Van Lam
Michael Monaghan
** Also the winner of the Best Use of Salesforce Technologies Award

Third Place: pluralize
Pluralize is a Chrome extension and accompanying analytics platform that helps people become aware of the religions most prevalent in their social vicinity and suggest ways to help them learn about other faiths.
Erica Yarmol-Matusiak
Miruna Tecusanu
William Long
Chak Man Andrew Yip
Nicole Valencia

Migrants & Refugees
Winner: Credit/Ability
Credit/Ability is a "credibility" scoring application that provides a refugee a way to collate their history and demonstrate their reliability in employment leasing to gain easier access to services like housing.
Jake Glass
Roisin McLaughlin
Yanchen Wang
Lucy Obus
Rushika Shekar

Runner-Up: Sajal
Sajal is a healthcare application that gives verified doctors the ability to scan unique QR codes generated for and connected to migrants and refugees in order to bring up patients' medical history and any chronic illnesses or allergies they are known to have.
Jessy Lin
Samuel Sungil Kim
Juliet Wanyiri
Neil Gokhlay
Claire Traweek

Third Place: Vinculum
Every year, tens of thousands of migrants and refugees lose one another in the process of relocation: Vinculum is a web-app that leverages machine learning to reunite loved ones through the upload of a single photo and advanced face-recognition technology.
Ethan Wright
Shiri Heffetz
John Franklin
Pranav Gokhale
Rachana Lingutla
Mustafa Jamal
* *Vinculum was also the winner of the Audience Choice Award

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