California

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Horyou had the chance to interview Eleanor Watson, engineer, entrepreneur, futurist and believer in the positive future of humanity. Eleanor Watson grew up in Northern Ireland as an only child of an engineer, a childhood in which books taught her at an early age the challenges in this world and the hope in defeating them. Today, her continued interest in the psychology of technology has led her to study, speak about and encourage the emergence of social trends. Mrs. Watson is within the Artificial Intelligence & Robotics Faculty at the Singularity University, a benefit corporation that helps individuals, businesses institutions, investors, NGOs and governments with educational programs, training them to understand new technologies and the positive impact potential of these technologies. In this interview she tells us about her work and experiences at the University. — by Amma Aburam

Have you always wanted to be an advocate for Technology in Social Good and Impact? How did it come about?

I grew up as the only child of an engineer in a house filled with serious science fiction. From an early age I also had a cherished copy of the Gaia Atlas of Planet Management, a book that details the whole world’s resources, and the greatest problems of our world society.

I also learned that lasting humanitarian successes, such as the eradication of smallpox, seemed like science fiction not so long ago.

I believe that the combination of these two influences seeded an understanding of the immense challenges facing so many in this world, along with a sense of optimism in being able to continue our shaping our world for the better.

The University impacts Education, Innovation and Community, how are these three elements intertwined to tackle world challenges?

SU teaches new models for understanding the world, based upon principles of harnessing the power of exponential technology curves, and a cultivated mentality of abundance (as opposed to one of scarcity).

This leads to a whole new way of looking at the world, and people sometimes switch the whole track of their lives once they acquire these new tools for understanding the complex systems in which we live.

Such methods also create a clarity about predicting the future of technology and society, which leads SU alumni to found new ventures that are ahead of the curve that the solutions created may have no precedent, or no existing market for them. Many of these solutions are able to generate massive social impact, as well as building powerful engines of wealth creation, enriching society at least as much as shareholders.

Furthermore, we lead an extended community of alumni that is able to continue to collaborate all through their careers. I continue to work on a range of socially beneficial projects with colleagues that I first met during SU, creating a lasting legacy of creative benefit.

What are your best/favorite success stories of local impact with technology through the strategies at Singularity University?

SU students and alumni have founded a wide range of inspiring ventures, with missions as daring as detecting cancer at the earliest stages, mining old electronics to recover valuable materials (mined originally often in places of intense conflict), or even drones that can replenish entire forests by firing seedlings like a machine gun.

What in your opinion are the three building blocks in reaching solutions for local community issues?

The most important success factor is having in-depth understanding of the situation within the local areas that the issue has the strongest particular impact.

Very often, NGOs and public officials attempt to intervene in a situation with the best of intentions, spend a lot of time and money, and still not fix the problem, because they did not spend enough time ‘on the ground’ asking local people about the real issues, and how they themselves suggest fixing them.

Worse still, sometimes even seemingly beneficial actions can lead to unintended consequences for other parties, or for the wider environment. No lasting and useful social solution can ever arise without an intense learning and deep understanding of the core problems, as experienced by people affected by them.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 to 10 years? Any ideals?

I’m not sure if there is a universal ‘meaning of life’, but we can certainly choose one for ourselves. I have chosen one overriding personal goal in my life, and that is to seed as much good in the world as I reasonably can. I even keep a mental score counter of my hit rate.

There are many possible means of amplifying the good that one does:

One may launch new ventures, creating a self-sustaining engine of happiness for the world. One may educate and inspire others where knowledge is most crucial, and most lacking. One may discover complementary qualities between people that can cause them to flourish once connected. Sometimes one may simply pinpoint better places to allocate resources using reason and evidence, the core idea behind the Effective Altruism movement.

What does our mantra Dream, Act and Inspire mean to you personally and professionally?

An inquisitive spirit to dream of a better future, a valiant will to take action towards those ends, and the inspiration to continue against daunting odds, because humanity needs you to succeed. These are the ingredients of all world-changing efforts!

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Horyou had the opportunity of sitting down with Nilou Safinya, VP of Customer Service at Xurus, a small family-run luxury wine business with a vineyard located in Lake County, CA. “My father [Kambiz Safinya] and uncle [Ali Namdar] started the company back in 1999 when they planted the first grape,” Safinya said. “Initially they sold grapes to other winemakers, then in 2007 they began to make their own wine.” According to Safinya, her father and her uncle had always wanted to work together, and wine is something they are both passionate about. So together, they decided to create Xurus.

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In Zoroastrian philosophy, the creator’s energy is represented by fire and the sun, both enduring, radiant and life-sustaining. The rooster, or xurus (pronounced ‘khoo-roos’), was the companion of the angel that guarded humankind at night. The xurus’ crowing signaled the transition from the evil of darkness to the goodness of daylight. As early as 3000 BCE, this time of day was celebrated with a morning cup of wine poured from a rooster-shaped pitcher.

The name and label of Xurus Wine celebrate centuries of elegance, art, culture and joie de vivre. The dual roosters in its logo signify the close relationship and collaboration of the two founders.

The vineyard is managed using sustainable practices to preserve the environment in which it is located. Native plant growth is controlled between the rows of grapes with a no-till practice and scheduled mowing. Fruit thinning occurs early in the growing season, leaving only the finest clusters to ripen through the summer. “The fermentation is based on the Bordeaux style of winemaking, which means the sulfites used are natural and not made in chemical factories,” Safinya said. “There is much attention to detail and quality, to the extent that each grape is hand selected.”

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The family has always endorsed social-good and displays a commitment to charity work. “My father is a businessman and a physicist. He is quite a unique person in that he also has artistic inclinations,” she said. “My uncle shares the same dual passion as a writer and a businessman. They are both appreciators of all arts and culture. As a family we are very socially conscious, always aware of social challenges and try do our part in supporting charities.” This past May, Xurus was a partner at the Horyou Foundation Gala during Horyou Village at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. “The idea of participating in a charity gala was something my father was very interested in,” Safinya stated. As Xurus grows, they hope to increase their ability to continue donating their products to charities and social-good causes, events and fundraisers.

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Horyou asked Safinya for her opinion on the importance of company commitment to social good. She explained: “In an ideal world, most companies would have a social-good component in their structure. How people and companies give can be different based on the industry, the commodity and the capacity. Whether it’s through financial giving, in-kind donations, socially-conscience business and hiring practices or active engagement with the broader global environment – I do think we each should do our part in being socially responsible for the greater good.”

By ToniMarie Illuzzi

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Written by Dearbhla Gavin

We are all familiar with the phrase “you never appreciate something until it’s gone.” So often, we get hung up on the incidentals – getting stuck in traffic, running out of hot water in the shower – things that at the time stir up huge anxiety but when compared with other trials life can throw at us, they pale in significance.

Last night I went to the screening of “Unbreakable: The Mark Pollock Story.” Pollock, a competitive rower on the cusp of graduating from university, lost his sight when he was 22. Faced with a situation in which many of us would have given in, he refused to let this misfortune derail the life he was so actively living. 10 marathons in 10 years, from the searing heat in the Sahara to the freezing wilds of Antarctica, he continued to defy both medicine and expectation.

Mark was adorned everywhere he went, and when people stood in awe at his achievements he remained meek. And if he as a blind man could break through “limits” drawn by popular opinion, every able person would thereon know they have the potential to reach even their farthest goals. When Mark set up a motivational speaking company, he astounded everyone with his ability to find opportunity in his misfortune and to use his story as an inspiration for people to reach for the best version of themselves and disregard impossibility.

Then the seemingly impossible happened and he was dealt another blow. Mark Pollock

One month before his wedding in 2010 he fell out of a three-story window and broke his back, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.

As he lay in intensive care, slipping between reality and a dream state, he mulled on the life that lay ahead for him. Like any other spinal injury patient, he saw a life with definite limits.

Refusing to live under a veil of utopia, he opted to accept his circumstances, which he always believed to be the first step to any sort of progression. “You must let go of blame and self pity, acknowledge your situation and immediately look forward,” he said.

Mark refused to spend his life committed to a wheelchair. Refusing the status quo was the first step before science and technology caught up; and since 2010 he has been exploring the frontiers of recovery through aggressive physical therapy and robotics.

Driven partly by the statistics that in Ireland 75% of spinal injury patients never work again, in comparison with 20% in Switzerland, he decided that limits were socially constructed, and he refused to give up.

He has spent the last two years on a California program called Project Walk that aims to excite the nervous system through neuromodulation.

Counting on continued training on reconnecting the brain to the paralyzed parts of the body, Mark is hopeful that he will someday not only walk but again run.

So what does the immediate future hold for Mark? He endeavours to not only walk or run again by himself, but to remove the constructs enforced by society that losing your sight or limbs is a life sentence.

He is aware that this entails pushing altogether intellectual, geographical and organizational boundaries. Yet with help from explorers, designers and financiers, added to unrelenting interdisciplinary support and promising science breakthroughs, he is hopeful of what can be achieved.

When I left last night, I was feeling inspired and re-energized about life and the ability to lead it to the fullest. Mark is an extraordinary and yet topical example of our ethos at Horyou: Dream, Inspire, Act.

Refusing to bend under the weight of prejudice toward what he couldn’t do, he is showing that dream, support and action can turn problems into possibilities.

A truly remarkable man.

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