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Empower the Future

By Jack Feuer

Published May 9, 2017 8:00 AM

Consider the interactions between privacy, people and technology at the upcoming FuturizeX forum.

Andres Cuervo, the director of FuturizeX, at a forum on the future of autonomous vehicles in Los Angeles.

In its first two years, FuturizeX — UCLA’s campuswide initiative to connect students and the greater Los Angeles community to the latest research and innovations being developed at UCLA and Silicon Beach — zeroed in on technology transforming society. The future of robotics, augmented reality, autonomous vehicles and medicine. But for its latest public forum this month, people took center stage. Or more precisely, “the relationship between people and technology in a time of eroding civil liberties and privacy,” says FuturizeX Director Andres Cuervo. Partnering with FuturizeX on its latest forum is the Institute on Inequality and Democracy, part of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

The May 10 forum features an all-star lineup of groups such as the ACLU of Southern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, as well as UCLA faculty including Professor of Urban Planning, Social Welfare and Geography Ananya Roy and Assistant Professor of Information Studies Sarah T. Roberts. The forum also includes a demonstration by UCLA Information Studies students on how the public can use technology to help navigate social media and secure online privacy, including the use of encryption via free apps like Signal. Also this month, FuturizeX will host a series of free campus screenings of the Oscar-nominated hit Hidden Figures for Bruin students and local high schools in partnership with UCLA Residential Life and UCLA Community Programs.

FuturizeX offers several annual programs. There’s a public forum series and a student competition challenging students to use technology to tackle problems in Los Angeles. (The latest one, last fall, drew 600 participants and named three winners, two of whom recently presented their ideas at TEDxUCLA.) The initiative also includes a blog highlighting technology-related news on campus. The program is an unprecedented effort to foster innovation on campus and inspire the next generation of Bruins in the STEAM disciplines—science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

The UCLA initiative attracts a notable list of private- and public-sector participants in various ways on and off campus, including Tesla, Google, the Goldhirsh Foundation and the City of Los Angeles. Already in 2017, FuturizeX partnered with the UCLA Anderson School of Graduate Management to launch NextFest, the first campuswide tech summit that drew the support and participation of companies such as Netflix, Waymo (Google’s self-driving car), Daqri and Virgin Galactic.

“When we started two years ago, it was really new for a university to engage the tech sector like this,” says Cuervo. “Our goal is to encourage a vibrant campus environment for transformative ideas and technologies. The more I speak to our students, the more I get the feeling that the next Andrea Ghez or Elon Musk will be a Bruin."