Summit Shows Off Annenberg Innovation Lab's Range
Posted April 9, 2012
By Jeremy Rosenberg
The USC Annenberg Innovation Lab – a growing powerhouse launched less than 17 months ago – hosted its second annual conference, and first Innovation Summit on March 30.
A standing-room only crowd with more viewing the proceedings online were treated to an all-day gathering of ignite talks, panels, music, technology demonstrations and networking that was as varied, vigorous and vibrant as the Innovation Lab itself.
Summit participants ranged from hip hop hero and globetrotting music-maker, writer and public intellectual, Paul Miller (a.k.a. DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid); to keynote speaker, USC Annenberg Innovator-in-Residence and executive producer for Zynga New York, Kati London; to Henry Jenkins, the USC Annenberg professor and a senior research fellow and chief advisor to the Innovation Lab.
"Today you are really in for a great treat," said USC Annenberg Dean Ernest J. Wilson III as part of his welcoming remarks. "During the Summit, you'll get a peek at some of the big ideas that our colleagues here at the University of Southern California have been working on."
Those colleagues included students and faculty haling from seven schools across the campus. That's in addition to the Lab's roster of cutting edge national and international corporate, public utility and non-profit partners. A list of those sponsors is here.
Early on during the Summit, Innovation Lab Director Jonathan Taplin explained the Lab's ethos. "We have taken ourselves to task," Taplin said, "to try and inculcate a culture of innovation."
Taplin also told those assembled who hadn't been inside the Lab about the signs posted there that read, "Fail Harder," "Move Fast and Break Things" and "What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid?"
The Innovation Lab's stated mission is, in part, to be "a leading innovator and advisor on transformational changes happening in our participatory culture." As such, Taplin said he and his colleagues are asked by corporations how they can teach innovation strategy? Taplin's reply? Something he and Wilson heard during a Silicon Valley visit to Apple headquarters: "Culture eats strategy for lunch, everyday."
The Innovation Lab sets out, then, as Wilson put it, "to create an environment where creativity can be created and sustained." The Dean also provided a recipe for innovation. (“I do believe there is a secret sauce,” he said.) Ingredients included maintaining multiple and interconnected networks and making certain to hire people who don’t fall into traditional silos. “You need to hire weird people,” the Dean said – a theme other Summit participants joyfully echoed throughout the day.
The Lab is particularly focused on finding and spreading intriguing uses for analytics--ingenious uses of data were presented throughout the Summit. For example, Innovation Lab senior research fellow and USC Annenberg communication and cinema professor Anne Balsamo facilitated a breakout session titled, "Rethinking Urban Settings."
"In some respects we are thinking about the city as a network of flows," Balsamo said by way of introducing the four Innovation Lab projects that followed. "The city not as built environment but as a set of flowing channels."
That thinking was clear in the "Video Traffic Analytics" project demonstrated by a team that included Cyrus Shahabi, Innovation Lab research fellow and a USC computer science and engineering professor. "Video" set out to meld traffic and weather data with route mapping.
By 2020, Shahabi said, access to improved location data such as this could save drivers more than $600 billion dollars per year, presumably by increasing work productivity while decreasing commute times.
Other "Urban Settings" projects included "ParTour," which blended social engagement with mobile media technology in order to better activate and understand civic spaces; "LOONG Table," a digital, interactive interface projection; and "CrisisConnection," a real-time communication tool designed for use during emergencies.
Gabriel Kahn – the Innovation Lab senior research fellow and USC Annenberg journalism professor who conceived of and leads CrisisConnection – presented a live, real-time interactive online video and social media demonstration of the project’s immediate and immense utility.
Students involved with the project took up positions around campus. The students then play-acted the discovery and community response to a mock possible gas leak. The students provided to one another and the web in general location-based and other information on the potential disaster. They offered and delivered help to one another when appropriate and ultimately gave a digital ‘all-clear’ signal.
In the Tutor Campus Center room next door to where "Urban Settings" was happening, Henry Jenkins was facilitating "Experiments in Participatory Cultures."
During this breakout session, attendees were encouraged to imagine a society whose people actively shape the way they experience news, learning and entertainment. Jenkins said the move towards such a participatory culture is ongoing but incomplete.
Four projects were then discussed as examples toward fulfilling that promise. These included the Lab's popular Twitter sentiment analysis work led by Francois Bar; Erin Reilly’s and Henry Jenkins’ signature "PLAY" (participatory learning and you) research; the Second Screen project, which studies the increase in the use of additional screens (i.e. iPad, iPhone) while watching television or a movie, changing a monolog into a dialog; and Flotsam Transmedia Play Experience, which examined experimental learning and 21st century storytelling as represented in the book by David Wiesner, and through partnering with The Alchemists is a good example of the private / public partnerships the lab seeks to ensure that ideas can move out of the lab and into the hands of audiences.
The Innovation Summit was packed with other stimulating sessions. One participatory plenary was titled, "Game Changing Ideas" and encouraged a fun, collaborative analysis of the day. Other highlights included Innovator-in-Residence Kati London's closing remarks; and an all-star panel discussion among representatives of the "quad" – private sector, government sector, university sector and non-profit sector – that Dean Wilson wrote about here.
Paul Bricault, co-founder and managing director of the start-up accelerator, Amplify, LA was joined on that panel by Taplin, Wilson, IBM general manager of global media and entertainment Steven L. Canepa, LACMA's associate VP of technology, web and digital media, Amy Heibel and James A. Ingraham, vice president, strategic planning at EPB.
The latter enterprise is the public energy utility in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The forward-thinking firm has installed one of the nation's fastest fiber optic networks. Ingraham shared with Summit attendees what that greater speed and bandwidth has meant to individual customers (shock followed by happiness) and to the southern city in general (increased economic opportunity).
Also announced during the Summit: the winners and runners-up of the CRUNCH Student Design Challenge. Participating students were encouraged to join together on teams that featured a "hustler," a "hacker" and a "designer" and work for society's good. First place went to Meryl Alper and Saranyaraj Rajendran for "Theia," a project to assist the visually impaired. The two students built a handheld e-reader that translates the written word into either audio or Braille. This team will further incubate their idea at the lab as Start-up in Residence during the 2012-13 school year.
Videos from the 2012 Innovation Summit are now online, and collected tweets from the event are gathered under the hashtag, #iSummit2012.Enter USC Annenberg News Archive »back to top