MIT Better World (Southern California) San Diego Program

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen,
please welcome Gary Eigen. [APPLAUSE] GARY EIGEN: Good evening. Welcome to the MIT Campaign
for a Better World Event in San Diego. First, let me thank
our local alumni clubs for supporting tonight’s event. This includes the MIT Club
of Southern California, the MIT Club of San Diego, the
MIT Sloan Club of San Diego, Sloan 5 Los Angeles, the MIT
Enterprise Forum of San Diego, as well as MIT local
affinity groups. The turnout this evening
and the energy in this room is evidence of the active
engagement of our local MIT community and all of our
interest in learning more about the Campaign
for a Better World. Tonight’s topic is environment,
energy, and sustainability. Living here in
Southern California, we are at the forefront of
advancement in these areas. We have the natural
resources needed for economical implementation
of sustainable energy. We also have a highly educated
population with the expertise and the desire to improve. Our mission as a community
is to find solutions that are economically
and technologically beneficial for a
21st century world to truly make the world better. During my involvement
at MIT, and now, as an alum through the
MIT Club of San Diego, I’ve had the opportunity
to get to know many of the dedicated volunteers
and leaders of our institute. This evening, I’m
delighted to introduce one of those dedicated leaders,
Eric Grimson, MIT’s chancellor of academic advancement, who
will show us how MIT is leading the charge for a better world. [APPLAUSE] ERIC GRIMSON:
Well, good evening. Gary, thank you so much
for the kind introduction and for your dedication and
service to the MIT community. MIT’s mission statement– by
the way, most of our faculty don’t know we have
a mission statement. But MIT’s mission statement,
like that of any great research university, directs us to
educate students and create knowledge. When MIT faculty
pursue this mission, they launch disruptive
new industries, like the invention
of additive 3D printing by Michael
Cima and Emanuel Sachs. They win global recognition,
like the wonderful 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics,
awarded to Ray Weiss for the detection
of gravity waves. And they help to shape
support and educate the kind of astounding
students and graduates who grace this stage and
fill this audience tonight. It’s vital, this work that we do
to educate students and advance knowledge, yet MIT’s mission
demands much, much more from all of us. It demands that we use our
knowledge to tackle humanity’s greatest global challenges. And we embrace these
challenges because we know that the people of
MIT can deliver and make a better world. In May 2016, we launched
the MIT Campaign for a Better World,
a campaign focused on core priorities
aimed at bringing the most talented
faculty and students MIT and empowering them to
accomplish that mission. Many of you have told
us that your generosity to MIT through the campaign
has a simple inspiration. You have seen that a gift to MIT
is truly a gift to the world. What makes this true is
that to the people of MIT, humanity’s urgent challenges
are invitations to action. From our unwavering commitment
to fundamental science to our zest for innovation
and collaboration across disciplines, MIT is
turning promising theories into practical solutions. We’re focused on ensuring
that everyone in the world can benefit from clean
energy and clean water, from brilliant design and
breathtaking artistic works, from nourishing food
and nanotechnology, and from improved health
care and increased access to education. MIT is firmly focused
on the future, and we recognize that
our shared future hinges on the responsible
and ethical evolution of artificial intelligence
and computing technologies to address these and many
other global challenges. In this galvanizing
moment, MIT aspires to be the true north
of computing and AI. And that’s why we
recently announced the creation of the MIT
Steven A. Schwarzman College of Computing. Through the college, we will
integrate computing studies and research throughout all
five schools of the institute. We will shape the direction
of computing and AI through collaborations,
again across all five schools of the institute. We will add 50 new
faculty and design new majors which combine
computational thinking with traditional disciplines. And through these, we will
create the next generation of highly trained
thinkers and doers who will offer the world both
technological proficiency and the cultural, ethical,
and historical consciousness to use technology
for common good. Our objectives for
this new college and our Campaign for a Better
World are admittedly bold. They will take energy,
insight, and creativity from faculty and students. They will take the dedication,
participation, and support of MIT’s alumni and friends. Many of you here tonight have
joined in this work already. And behalf– sorry. And on behalf of MIT,
I want to thank you. So thank you all for helping. [APPLAUSE] As of today– actually,
as of about a month ago– the MIT community has come
together during this campaign to raise more than $5
billion through more than 100,000 individual
gifts, a remarkable number. [APPLAUSE] At the same time, as we prepare
to launch the Schwarzman College of Computing, we know
that fulfilling its vision will take significant
new resources. We’ve already encountered
strong interest in the college not only from MIT his
longtime supporters, but also from new friends, who
are attracted to its promise. And given this new
landscape, we have taken the important step,
as I’m sure you saw, of increasing the campaign
target by $1 billion to set a new goal of $6 billion. Now, I know the staff
are going to win, so I’m going off script just
for a second because I have to tell you a very quick story. I was speaking with an
alum in northern California a couple of weeks
ago, and I mentioned the new goal of $6 billion. And he said, you know, six
is such a boring number. There is an obvious MIT
target for this campaign, so I’m going to take
a little vote here. His suggestion is we go
for tau, $6.283 billion. What do you think? Do we go for tau? There you go, Julie. We’re going to have to
work a little harder. [APPLAUSE] It’s such an MIT number. This new goal reflects our
characteristic optimism, our uncommon instinct for
working across disciplines, and our unwavering belief that
the talented people of the MIT community can invent a
better future for everyone. To make a better
world, we need to focus on creating and
applying knowledge and on educating future leaders. And tonight, we’re going
to dive into a topic that intersects these areas, how
MIT is advancing the science and engineering of solutions
to environmental challenges, from climate change
to new energy sources to sustainable designs. You’ll hear from three MIT
scholars, who will then participate in a Q&A with you. In fact, in a
second, you’re going to see a little slide up here. We’re going to be collecting
your questions via the Poll Everywhere app. So please use your mobile
devices, which I know you all possess, to share your questions
at the URL on the screens that you see here. Our three speakers will
be Meghana Ranganathan, a graduate student in
the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and
Planetary Sciences, friendly known as EAPS, Dennis
Whyte, director of MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center,
head of the Institute’s Nuclear Science and Engineering
Program, and the Hitachi America professor of engineering,
and Hashim Sarkis, professor of architecture
and planning, who serves as the dean of MIT’s
School of Architecture and Planning. And now, it’s my great
pleasure to invite Meghana to the stage to kick off
this evening’s presentations. Meghana. [MUSIC PLAYING] The image next to me
is of the Greenland ice sheet, one of only two
ice sheets in the world. You can stand at the
edge of this ice sheet in front of one of its glaciers
that stands 100 meters high. My name is Meghana Ranganathan. I’m a PhD student in
climate science at MIT. And three years ago, I stood in
front of one of these glaciers. The scientists that
I was with told me that if you stand in
front of this glacier and you’re really
quiet, you can actually hear the ice creaking as
it flows, except I couldn’t because all I could hear was
meltwater, the sound of water rushing from the ice
sheet, through the town of Kangerlussuaq, Greenland,
and into the ocean. Flooding has gotten
significantly worse in the last 10 years for
this town of Kangerlussuaq, which has the only international
airport in Greenland, so much so that back in 2012, it
threatened to shut down the entire country. As we walked away
from this glacier, our guide, who is a native of
Kangerlussuaq, turned to us and held out his hand. He was holding a mosquito. Now, I didn’t think too
much of this at first. I’m from Texas, so those
things are everywhere. But in Greenland,
mosquitoes aren’t supposed to come out until
June, and this was mid-April. Finally, when we got the chance
to walk up onto the ice sheet, as seen in the
picture, we walked over mounds of sediment that run in
a ring around the ice sheet. This sediment marks
where the ice sheet used to be back in 1999. You can see how far
it’s receded since. That’s the power of being
in a place like Greenland, where everything– the
landscape, the biology, the society– are all impacted by climate
in such a profound way that you just don’t see
here on a day-to-day basis, at least not yet. And that’s why MIT’s approach to
earth science is so important. Because at MIT, the
earth science department is one department under which
geologists, meteorologists, climate scientists, and
glaciologists can all collaborate and
talk to each other about a problem that
is fundamentally at the intersection of every
aspect of earth and life sciences. And then, there’s
people like me. I study applied mathematics
and machine learning. And increasingly,
this is a problem that people like me
need to help solve. Because it’s not
just Kangerlussuaq, Greenland that’s seeing the
burden of these changes. Every area in the
world is seeing the fallout of climate change. But every area in the
world is seeing it in such vastly different
ways that it makes it a really difficult problem. And right now, we have a
very diminished capacity of understanding exactly
how local climates are going to change. And here’s why. The way that climate models
work now are on a grid. You overlay the entire
earth in a grid. And between each
grid box, you can represent the wind
moving from one grid box to the other, the radiation
going in and out of the grid boxes. But what you can’t
see and represent is anything that happens
within these grid boxes. So that means that the
quality of our models is very dependent on
the size of these boxes. And because of our
computing power right now, these boxes 100 kilometers
cubed, which is huge. And the problem is that so
many important phenomena happen at these really small
scales within these grid boxes that our models just can’t see. For example, clouds. Clouds form and shift at scales
smaller than our grid boxes, and that means that we have no
way of representing or modeling how clouds and cloud
cover will change in 50 years or 100 years. And that’s so important
because clouds set so much of global climate. Clouds set the radiation that
reaches Earth, the radiation that bounces back into space. Temperature, humidity, and
precipitation, and all of that is so important
for local climates. And yet, we have
really no good way of representing how that
will look like in 100 years. That’s where MIT and
machine learning come in. We’re trying to embed neural
networks into each grid box that will be
able to represent this fine scale, small scale
phenomena in a computationally efficient manner. And if that works, that
could change everything. If we have a way of representing
this fine scale phenomena, we are a huge step
closer to understanding exactly how San
Diego will change in 100 years or
Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, and that will enable us to
shift and change our solutions. Climate change is
a tough problem because it’s not really a
question about the world ending. The world will always survive. But our societies
have been impacted by climate shifts in the past,
and our present-day societies have been structured for a
climate that we no longer have. The work being done
at MIT is intended to advance our predictive
power so that we can shape our solutions. If we can understand how
local climates will change, we can tailor local,
individual solutions to places that will also inform
our broader global solutions. And that will be huge because
it’s really not a question of trying to save the world. It’s not even a question of
trying to save the ice sheets and the glaciers in Greenland. We’re working to save
ourselves to hopefully make a better world. Thank you. [MUSIC PLAYING] DENNIS WHYTE: That was great. So if you were
paying attention– and I know you were paying
attention because you all graduated from MIT, so you’re
used to sitting in lectures– we have a really amazing
problem in front of us, the challenge of actually
transforming the world into using carbon-free energy. And the climate
scientists in EAPS actually tell us that it
has to happen by 2050. It’s actually a challenge
probably only equaled by something like World War II. This took essentially
the mobilization of an entire set
of society actually to tackle that problem,
and it’s on a global scale. So my name is Dennis Whyte. I work on solving
that in one way, which is called bringing magnetic
fusion energy, a new energy source, to Earth. So what is fusion? So fusion is actually the
ultimate energy source. It’s the energy
source of the universe because it’s what powers stars. And it’s actually
not that complicated. You take big balls of
hydrogen. You heat them up to about 100 million degrees. And at that point, the
hydrogen turns into helium and produces copious
amounts of energy. This can power the world
forever and our society forever. OK, that sounds good. And you’re looking at me. 100 million degrees. Well, how do I know
that this can be done? Because we’ve done
it at MIT already. This is actually our
fusion experiment, which is a type of magnetic bottle. It’s about the size
of a coat closet. And where the student’s
belly button is was at 100 million degrees. We took the student out first. Yep. And we did that. And the science of this is
actually quite well in hand. The challenge is actually
delivering an engineered product that can provide fusion
energy in a practical way to meet our energy demands. So we’re meeting that
at MIT with a device that we call Spark. So you’ll see it come up here. It’s about the size
of a two car garage. It’s a version of the one that
you just saw in the picture before. And that can produce
carbon-free energy and about 100 million watts of fusion power. And very key– this will also
be the first demonstration of net energy from
fusion, essentially the Kitty Hawk moment
of fusion energy, the launch of a
new energy source. So exciting. So what are we doing? This is basically around
two coupled innovations. One is a new technology
of superconductors that allow us to make
these magnets so much more effective that we
can basically reduce the size by a factor
of about 70 compared to the present leading efforts. We also coupled this
with a new funding model, where we launched
a spin out company from MIT that actually captured
private sector investment and is now one of the largest
sponsors of private sector research, in fact,
at MIT at our lab. So right now, back at home,
in the lab at MIT– and yes, they do stay there
until these hours– we’re working on this
new magnet technology to deliver this by about 2025. So this is really exciting. But what actually
keeps– and I’m very confident this is
actually going to work, but this is just the beginning
because this is the launching point of an entire new
industry, an entire new energy source for mankind. And what keeps me up at
night is actually it’s still not fast enough,
that what we need is actually practical
energy sources by 2030, which are going towards– and actually provide
economically viable fusion energy to mankind. So what we really need
is about three things. And I’m actually
hopeful about this because what we need
are three things. One, we need the science, and
we need some technology breaks. And it looks really
good right now, and I’m very excited about that. Two, we need the people. It’s really easy. We need an entire new
generation of fusion scientists and technologists. We’re actually going to be
at the core of developing this new industry, and I want
the epicenter of that training to be at MIT. And three, we need MIT. This is a kind of a
problem where it just traverses all the disciplines. This is not a
particular discipline in engineering or science. We’re involving
people from Sloan. This takes everything. This is like an all hands
on deck kind of problem. And as one of our alumni, who’s
a massive supporter of this, stated, this is
the kind of problem why we need MIT in the world. So I’ll wrap up by
saying that this is– thank you to the alumni. This literally would not
have happened, actually, without alumni. You’re going to be an incredibly
important resource going forward with this. And I would point out this is a
campaign about a better world. It’s a better world
for now, but it’s also a better world for all
the generations to come. And I hope that we’re
inspired to do that as MIT. Thank you. [MUSIC PLAYING] HASHIM SARKIS: Good
evening, San Diego. My name is Hashim Sarkis. I’m the Dean of the School
of Architecture and Planning at MIT. And I’m here today to present
to you some of the ideas that are coming out of our
school in relation to questions of
energy, environment, and sustainability. This year, we are celebrating
the 150th anniversary of our school. This is the oldest and
continuously highest ranked school of architecture
in the United States. We also like to think of
ourselves as the most youthful. We’re youthful and constantly
so because we’re constantly looking for the future,
bringing in everything that’s new about MIT– new materials, new technologies,
new intelligences– to help better the future of the
built and natural environments. As you heard from
Meghana and from Dennis, that future looks grim. In developing countries, three
million people every week move into cities. Seeking fortunes, they find
chaos, congestion, and poverty. In more affluent
countries, we continue to produce, consume,
and then produce waste, as if we haven’t heard the news. That’s saying like it’s 1999. In the United States
alone, every one of us produces about 2,000 pounds of
waste every year, and only 1/4 of that gets recycled. Soon, we’ll be dancing
on a very large dump. The new faculty in our school
and most of the research that is coming out of
our school right now are very committed to
solving these problems. If I can have the next slide. At the self assembly lab,
Skylar Tibbits and his team are using intelligent materials
to design furniture, chairs, that assemble themselves and
then reassemble themselves by repurposing and
reprogramming the materials, saving on packaging,
assembly, and waste. He’s also working on 4D printing
to speed up the printing process and use intelligent
materials, as well, in printing. At the Civic Data Design Lab,
Sarah Williams and her team are designing and
inventing apps that they give to commuters on the
informal bus system in Nairobi, the matatus, in order to guide
them and help organize and make more efficient an informal
infrastructure system to support the congestion
in the city and improve it. And at the Urban Risk Club,
Miho Mazereeuw and her team are working with cities
like San Francisco to measure and predict
the rising water levels, but also to design
with civil engineers new construction systems that
can adapt to the rising water level. We’re not just doing research. We’re also teaching. Last year, the school launched
two new degree programs. One is a design
major, which brings this ethos of sustainability
to the design of products, to the design of information,
and to the design of environments. We also started a new program
jointly with computer science, and now, the college, which is
called urban science, again, bringing artificial
intelligence, machine learning,
big data to bet on the solution of the
messiest of urban problems. We also practice what we teach. These new programs,
these new research labs will soon be housed in the old
metropolitan storage warehouse right across the street
from the main group and in the shadow of the
nuclear reactor of Dennis. [LAUGHTER] It sends a very strong
message to the world that the most vanguard,
technologically-oriented school of architecture in the world is
moving into a historic building and adaptively using it and
repurposing it for the future. Thank you very much. [APPLAUSE] As moderator of
the panel, I would like to invite Meghana
and Dennis to join me in answering questions in this
question and answer session. I understand high
technologies are being used to harvest
questions and send them to me on the laptop. I will do my best to appear
as if I know what I’m doing. [LAUGHTER] DENNIS WHYTE: OK. HASHIM SARKIS: As Chancellor
Grimson explained, we’ll be using the
Poll Everywhere app to collect your questions. So please use your mobile
device to share your questions for me, Meghana, and Dennis
at pollev/betterworld. So while your questions
are coming in, I would like to ask
a question of my own. The issues around climate change
and finding sustainable energy can seem incredibly daunting. Dennis, you’ve started to talk
a bit about what gives you hope. Tell me a little
bit more about that. And then, Meghana, I’ll ask
the same question to you. What makes you hopeful? DENNIS WHYTE: Dilbert. So if anybody noticed– and I’m not kidding. On Sunday, as we were
flying here to California, a Dilbert cartoon on
Sunday had Dilbert talking about he
was looking forward to fusion in 15 years, which is
literally a quote that came out of the MIT press release. I can’t make this up. And his companion says,
well, I don’t believe it because these things
have never worked before. And Dilbert points
out Thomas Edison tried the light bulb
dozens of times, and then, it finally worked. Would he have wanted Thomas
Edison to have stopped? And the guy sort of says,
well, they’re polluting. He goes, and they’re– Dilbert goes, aha, there
was the inane answer that I was looking for. But to get serious
on this, actually, I think it is actually– it’s about a philosophy about
that a small, determined group of people have a completely
new idea about how to deliver something is
what changes the world. It’s sort of an aspect of what
Margaret Mead had talked about. And it’s persistence. We’ve been at this
for a while, but we’re going to keep persisting
until we actually make it. And to me, that’s a little
bit of stubbornness, but also tenacity, actually,
about solving the hard problems because they are hard and
because they need to be solved. That’s why I’m hopeful. And Dilbert. MEGHANA RANGANATHAN: There’s
a bunch of different reasons why one can be hopeful in
the face of climate changes. I think for me, one
of those profound ones is interest at the individual
level, the fact that there’s a roomful of people
right now interested in these sustainability
issues, the fact that on Friday, there was a
national and international school walkout for
high school students and college students about
climate issues, and the fact that young people in
the next generation are passionate
about these issues and trying to make change,
even at sort of the grassroots level. And you can kind of see
that grassroots activism sort of percolating upwards,
in a way, into our politicians. It’s, I think, very
profound and very exciting and provides a lot of hope. And I think the
second one is just being in a department
like EAPS at MIT. It’s pretty hard
not to be hopeful because you’re surrounded by
people who are working so hard and are so passionate about
fixing these problems. We have a professor in our
department, Susan Solomon, who was just one of the pioneers
of environmental issues. She was one of the people who
tackled the ozone issue back in the ’80s and helped bring
about The Montreal Protocol to fix the ozone hole. And so about a
year ago, she gave a talk called “Successes
of Environmentalism.” And I think you so often
hear about our failures and our struggles. We never stop to think about
all of the successes that have happened through
environmentalism. The ozone hole is a big success
in environmental history. And thinking back
to those successes and knowing that if
we’ve succeeded before, we can succeed again enables
you to be pretty hopeful. HASHIM SARKIS: Is that why
you chose to come to MIT? MEGHANA RANGANATHAN:
I think there’s a lot of different reasons. I think, yeah, the incredible
faculty is certainly one of them, and
the faculty that’s so engaged with not just
the scientific community, but the broader community. Susan Solomon is
a great example. Kerry Emanuel is one
of our other faculty, who pioneers and specializes
in hurricane research. And he also does so much
outreach and so much talking to the
broader community. And I think that’s so important. And it was so special to find a
department where people really feel that and feel
the need to talk about this outside of
the scientific community and make sure that this is
a broader issue that people are listening to. And I think just, as I mentioned
in my little talk, the fact that I can be in
a department where I can be in the same
building with geologists as an atmospheric scientist and
go and talk to them about how geological changes and
geological shifts have impacted climate– I think it’s pretty
important to be able to connect to lots of
different aspects of the earth science community
in this problem. And I found that MIT was
a really great example of a place that didn’t shut
themselves off in a way, but really opened themselves
up, to the broader community, both scientific
and sort of globally. DENNIS WHYTE: And
by the way, it’s students like this that
bring faculty, too. [LAUGHTER] HASHIM SARKIS: I know
that, while we’re at it, someone at MIT is
trying to solve the problem of Wi-Fi connection,
but this is not connecting. [LAUGHTER] So I have tried to reload, and
I’m not getting any questions. DENNIS WHYTE: There’s a joke
about how many PhDs in the room it takes to get
audiovisual to work. It’s an inverse
relationship, yeah. HASHIM SARKIS:
But if I could ask a question of my own, last week,
the design Triennale of Milano opened under the theme and
title of “Broken Nature.” And the curator,
Paola Antonelli, who is the curator of design
at the Museum of Modern Art, argued that all
we can do today is design ethical and beautiful
exit of the human race from the planet. Are we there yet? DENNIS WHYTE: Absolutely not. I refuse to accept
defeat like that. But at the same
time, we shouldn’t– what I feel is where’s
the sense of urgency? Sort of some of the comments
that you made, as well, too. And this is urgency across
the entire spectrum of us as individuals and us as
groups, us at a place like MIT. We’re still a small place, MIT. But I think we have
to come up with aspirational and
inspirational goals that actually get us there. And I would say, for my
own example of our project that we’re doing, the
fact that major energy companies in the world, people
like Bill Gates, people who understand the power
that technology can have in changing the
human race both for good and for bad– we have to apply this
to solve this problem. Accepting defeatism is
totally unacceptable to me. MEGHANA RANGANATHAN:
Oh, I absolutely agree. I think one of the
very profound things I’ve learned since
joining MIT and starting to do this work myself
is that there is often a disconnect between what we
see in the science and then what is presented in the media. So I feel like the media
goes one or two directions. They go, it’s the
end of the world, or they go the direction
of this is not a problem. And I think we’re definitely
somewhere in the middle from doing sort of the
scientific research myself in the sense of it’s certainly
an urgent problem that needs addressing, but I think
it would be certainly a mistake to think that we can give up
now because I think there’s a lot at stake that can be– that we can fix. And I think we need to work
with a sense of urgency and a sense of purpose, but not
necessarily a sense of defeat. HASHIM SARKIS: So the
questions have landed. For Dennis, do you have a
commercialization partner lined up for Spark? DENNIS WHYTE: Yes. Yes. So yes. Actually, so it was
one of the reasons– and great credit to
the MIT leadership in understanding the importance
of something like this and realizing that if we started
to look at this technology and actually produce a spin
out company whose goal is commercialization–
because in the end, it’s about translation. I mean, as scientists
and engineers, we love to work
on hard problems. But in the end, the impact
we have in the world is translating this
into a real product. So we actually– MIT collectively looked
forward at this and said, we should be evolving that
industry as soon as we can. And that’s, in fact,
what we’ve done. And my partners over at
Commonwealth Fusion Systems, who I said are filled
with MIT alumni– very appropriate for
MIT to do such a thing. HASHIM SARKIS: I guess
this is a question that comes to both of
you, which is, can we quantify the net increase
of energy being released into the atmosphere? We can. MEGHANA RANGANATHAN: Absolutely. To some margin of
uncertainty, of course. But I think a lot of
the climate models and a lot of the
work that’s being– I mean, the work that’s
being done at MIT right now is intending to
understand exactly where we are now so that we
can tailor solutions to get a sense of where we
could be with solutions. And I think, yeah, so getting
a sense of the net input of energy into our atmosphere
is certainly something that we can do. I think there’s obviously some
amount of uncertainty that comes from just not really
knowing the extent of what humanity is doing and
consequently for predicting the future and not knowing
the extent of what humanity will do in the future. But I think, yeah, absolutely. A lot of our current
models are working with pretty reliable
data and understanding exactly how much is going
through the atmosphere now. HASHIM SARKIS: Dennis,
can magnetic fusion ramp up and down to
vary output, or do they behave similarly to
conventional nuclear reactors? DENNIS WHYTE: Well,
that’s a great question. Actually, yes. So that’s one of the very
exciting opportunities that we’re pursuing
within our group. So the energy wick, so to
speak, can be turned up and down in a way which is not possible
in traditional nuclear. So one of our goals
is to actually have a power plant be
completely load following. So this means that
it can actually vary to meet the demand. So, for example, here in
California, those of you familiar with the
so-called duck curve, which is the enormous peak then
dip in price of electricity– and then, as demand
goes back up. And this is a really key
one because for us, we think that having not just a
new energy source, but one which is extremely synergistic
and fits actually with other renewable
energy sources, is actually the key
to getting there. Because it’s about having
a diversity of approaches that fit in well to each other. And we’re working
on that, actually. In fact, we have
some early stage work on that with some
graduate students who are looking at that. Yeah. HASHIM SARKIS: I
guess this question came from a graduate student. DENNIS WHYTE: Yeah. HASHIM SARKIS:
Meghana, could you tell us more about
how you’re applying machine learning to improve the
climate prediction modeling? MEGHANA RANGANATHAN: Absolutely. So this is a work
in progress that’s being tackled by people around
the world trying to figure out what the best way is of using
machine learning and combining machine learning
with climate models. Because I think the
goal is to figure out a way to create sort of a next
generation climate model that combines physics and data. Because obviously, we need data
to understand exactly where the faults lie in our physics
because we don’t know exactly what every aspect
of the physics is in the atmosphere and
the climate system. But we can’t just
work with the data, either, because
data is very noisy and we need some
understanding of physics, and we have a very reliable
understanding of physics. And so a lot of
people are grappling with this problem of
how you accurately and most computationally
efficiently combine physics and data
to get basically the best of both worlds. And so that’s a problem that’s
currently happening now, people are grappling with. I think the way people are
looking at right now is using algorithms, such as, for
the machine learning people, random forest algorithms
and embedding them within these grid boxes
and basically trying to give it data of really,
really high resolution models and see if it can predict– or giving it data of really
low resolution models, like our climate
models, and seeing if it can predict
very high resolution data from that coarse
resolution data– high resolution
data from whatever our models are giving it in
very, very coarse resolution. But it’s an interesting
problem because it’s a very general problem
trying to figure out how you can combine physics
and data in the best way. And so it’s a type
of problem that one can imagine being
applied anywhere, not just for climate models,
which makes it very exciting. But there’s a lot of
different algorithms that people are grappling
with to see how you can best combine physics
and data, and it’s all very interesting stuff. HASHIM SARKIS: This is
a question for Hashim. Hashim, as 3 million people move
into cities, how do we use– how do we house them
and keep it affordable? Two days ago, I met with
Joe Gebbia of Airbnb. And much of the
inspiration behind Airbnb started with the
idea that we have overbuilt housing in the wrong
places, and they remain vacant. And we need to make them
affordable and accessible to those who cannot afford it. In that sense, we
are creating a market for housing out of the
stock that already exists. I think those mechanisms should
be available in different ways around the world to
improve on accessibility to existing housing stock,
but perhaps to densify and reuse the existing housing
stock in a more inventive way. I think that’s one way
to provide housing. Clearly, that cannot absorb
3 million every week. Mexico City, Sao
Paulo have started through the different
governmental plans building public housing. They built housing enough
to accommodate the growing population, but they build
them in the wrong places. They build them on the
outskirts because they thought that’s where
the land was available. And what did that produce? Empty housing is one. It’s very important to
locate housing in areas where it’s closer to jobs. And we are failing to
do that because we’re building a lot of our land–
we’re building basically a lot of our placement
of housing and industry along old land use policy. We should clearly revise
our land use policies in order to locate housing
more strategically located to job locations. We face the same problem in
Cambridge, Massachusetts, by the way. Another way that housing
problems will be solved is in the way that the provision
of housing is changing. Thanks to the exponentially
rising cost of housing, we are revisiting the idea
of housing produced offsite– assembly, modular
housing, more efficient than compact housing
systems of construction. And even though right
now, we’re applying them for the most part for scale
and in more affluent settings, there’s every reason
to believe that this could be applied for more
affordable housing, as well. But perhaps the most important
answer to this question has to do with thinking of
housing not as a commodity, but thinking about it as a means
by which we build community, and to rethink the very
nature of the household itself along lines that are– along evidence that is coming
to us from society today. No matter how diversified
the nuclear family and forms of habitation have
become, we continue to produce and
reproduce housing based on the model of the
nuclear family in its very conservative, clear, 19th
century, perhaps, sense. If, I think, we create
housing that truly reflects the future of our
society, we will begin to solve many of
the problems of housing. There are more questions coming. I think it’s a question for
all of us, which asks us what each of us can
do as individuals, meaning as MIT alum, to help
the three of us reach our goals. DENNIS WHYTE: Well,
I’ve seen it already. The amount of– when you’re
trying to start an entire new industry, the collective
experience of the MIT alumni– it’s just sort of
countless interactions that I’ve had with alumni of
wonderful advice and guidance, sometimes direct involvement. I mean, direct involvement–
here’s a great one, actually. Somebody who, in fact,
came from your school was– he saw one of the
lectures we were doing. He looked at what we were doing. And he realized
you basically have an architecture
challenge because it’s about efficiently– sort of your adaptive models
and putting it together. So he sends me an email about
three pages long– good MIT email. Nerdy email. It was fantastic. And he says, I really
want to work on this. Is this going to be OK? And we looked at his credentials
and said, come on board. So he’s been a visiting
scientist at the Plasma Science and Fusion Center
as an architect who’s basically guiding our– because we’re good on
some of the things, but we’re not good on design– on efficient design. So it’s examples
like that, actually, that I feel– to keep tapping
that pool of expertise and, quite frankly, passion
that is out in the MIT alumni community. Very, very important. HASHIM SARKIS: The take
away message– architecture is going to save the world. [LAUGHTER] DENNIS WHYTE: He would agree. MEGHANA RANGANATHAN:
I’d like to echo that. I think having a network of
alumni who are passionate and who connect, especially
from the student level– I know so many students
from my department who have had an alumni
reach out to them and become mentors
and give advice. And I think from
the student level, that’s completely invaluable. And I think one of the great
assets of the MIT alumni community is there’s so many
people out there who understand what it is like to be a graduate
student, MIT graduate student, and MIT alum, and so have a
lot of really great advice and are very active and
interested in mentoring students. And so from the student
level, that’s all fantastic. I think from sort of the
climate science level, I think having people
just talk about the issue and disseminate work is
incredibly important. There’s so many especially
graduate students in our department who
are trying to engage in this sort of
science communication. Twitter is becoming an
increasingly big thing. I just started using Twitter
to talk about my work, and it’s been fun. But I think having these kind
of avenues where people can talk about the work that’s being done
is pretty unique, especially now that social
media is a thing. Because before, I think it was
a lot harder to reach people outside of publishing
scientific journals, which really only scientists read. So having an avenue where
you can reach a much broader audience is really great. And so having people get excited
to talk to scientists, to talk to the public, and just show a
passion for the work, I think, is always really great. HASHIM SARKIS: I have to
answer the question, too. If I have it my way,
I would eliminate the category of alumni. I think the way that
education is going today and the way that
knowledge is building up, it requires that we
constantly learn. And I imagine that as a student
who gets admitted to MIT, the passion that you
gain by coming to MIT is that you want to
learn constantly. And we have to turn that into
something more practical. How is it that we can
maintain continuity with alum? You can graduate, but
you can never leave. It’s almost like
Hotel California. [LAUGHTER] It’s like a stage. You go out in the world. You continue learning. And you bring that knowledge
back to our students. And as you’re coming back,
you learn what’s new. Maintain that, whether
through online education, through the networks
that we’re establishing, through other mechanisms. I think it’s now not
just a good thing to do, but a necessary thing to do. We need to learn a lot from you. And I’m feeling that directly
with the design accelerator that we started to help our
finishing students start new companies and launch
them in the world. And they’re getting a lot
of mentorship from alum. And lo and behold,
they themselves are becoming alum that will come
back and mentor the finishing students. It’s creating a very
beautiful community around our school that is a
broader network with the alum. And my hope is that that can
become much bigger and really formalized because the
future of education is that we learn every minute
and continue to do that. And we have to find an
institution in the shape that reflects that. We have three minutes
left, so I think I need to come to
the closing question. I have to choose the
closing question. DENNIS WHYTE: So
many good questions. HASHIM SARKIS: In the
context of climate change, is the most limiting factor
to game-changing progress a political, strategic,
cultural, or technological one? DENNIS WHYTE: Yes. [LAUGHTER] And I’m not joking. It is actually that. That’s actually why I made
the World War II analogy. To me, it can’t be just
a technology solution. It can’t be just
a cultural change. It is literally this– it’s a reimagining
of how we use energy. I focus on energy. Energy is the backbone of
what our way of life is, and energy gives us all of this. And either we have to come up
with a completely different paradigm about how we
use energy or come up with new energy sources. But I think it’s going to be
some broad combination of all those that just infiltrate
almost everything we do in our society. MEGHANA RANGANATHAN:
And I’d like to echo the very first
question about feeling hopeful because I think this is one of
the reasons I feel hopeful, is because it’s a problem
that transcends sort of every domain of the world. And I think that’s really
fascinating and kind of exciting because it has such
a potential to bring people together from sort of every
aspect of the technology sector, business, economics. Sort of everybody
has a role to play, and I think that’s really
fascinating and really exciting. Recently, in our
department, we had for the first time– most
of the visiting faculty are obviously
climate scientists, atmospheric scientists. Recently, we had a
political scientist come to give a talk about
sort of the political aspect of climate change
and sustainability from the context of how
do we speak about this to the public in such a way
that we garner much more political and public support. And it was completely
fascinating to hear about the issue that
all of us think about, but from a completely
different perspective. And I think that is the future,
is bringing everybody together to talk about this huge
sort of global problem. And I think that’s
sort of scary, but it’s also really
exciting because it really does have the potential to
sort of unite everybody. HASHIM SARKIS: To
that question, I believe that there’s
a deep connectivity among the different components. And just to reflect on
that and to act on that, I’ve invited Mary Robinson,
the former president of Ireland and now the head of a
foundation on climate change and human rights, to
give a talk May 1st at MIT called “Climate
Change and Human Rights.” So you’re all invited. [APPLAUSE] That’s all the time we have. Thank you for very
stimulating questions. And those that we did
not answer, please come and corner us
at the reception so that we can continue
the discussion. I invite you to join us at
the dessert reception, which is in the Coronado Room inside. And our staff will
help direct you there. Thank you, Meghana. Thank you, Dennis. Thank you all. [APPLAUSE]

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