Bridg­ing gap be­tween art and sci­ence

Artis­tic flair helps boost dis­cov­er­ies, write Craig and Marc Kiel­burger.

Vancouver Sun - - YOU - Broth­ers Craig and Marc Kiel­burger founded the ed­u­ca­tional part­ner and in­ter­na­tional char­ity Free The Chil­dren and the youth em­pow­er­ment movement We Day at we.org.

Leonardo da Vinci sketched enig­matic smiles, and drew up blue­prints for tech­nolo­gies that were cen­turies ahead of his time. He saw no boundary be­tween art and sci­ence. What would the Re­nais­sance man think of the chasm we’ve since cre­ated?

Now, we force in­tense spe­cial­iza­tion, stream­ing stu­dents down one path or the other from a young age. By univer­sity, arts and STEM (sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math) are dis­tinct fac­ul­ties with lit­tle in­ter­ac­tion and some­times sig­nif­i­cant cam­pus ri­val­ries. This might be fine, aca­dem­i­cally speak­ing. Prac­ti­cally, it’s a prob­lem.

If we want the next gen­er­a­tion to re­al­ize their full po­ten­tial, to de­ploy ev­ery re­source against the world’s so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges, frankly, we want Re­nais­sance kids. Mean­ing ? We must re­unite art and sci­ence.

In a time when peo­ple in­creas­ingly dis­trust and doubt the sci­ence be­hind is­sues like cli­mate change, the arts can be vi­tal to help spe­cial­ists com­mu­ni­cate with the lay public. When sci­en­tist and broad­caster Jay In­gram gives speeches on space ex­plo­ration or cli­mate change, he brings a backup band to help de­liver the mes­sage. Song lyrics are linked to the sci­en­tific themes. Some­times he brings ac­tors or plays clips from old movies.

“The point is to frame the in­for­ma­tion in a different way, to add emo­tion,” In­gram says.

Who would have thought that ro­bots could be racist? Yet in re­cent years, le­gal soft­ware used by judges has been found to pre­scribe harsher sen­tences for black of­fend­ers.

Com­puter al­go­rithms use hu­man data to learn; they will pick up and per­pet­u­ate hu­man bias. Coun­ter­ing that ef­fect re­quires pro­gram­mers with emo­tional in­tel­li­gence.

The arts are a per­fect way for coders to flex their EI. A 2014 study at the Univer­sity of Arkansas found stu­dents who at­tended a live theatre per­for­mance tested far higher for tol­er­ance and em­pa­thy af­ter­ward.

When Google stud­ied its work­force in 2013, it was sur­prised to learn the most im­por­tant qual­i­ties of its top em­ploy­ees were not their cod­ing or de­bug­ging skills. Most valu­able were skills such as com­mu­ni­ca­tion and em­pa­thy. That’s why tech com­pa­nies like Google and Mi­crosoft now ac­tively re­cruit arts grads.

The arts can help sci­en­tists and en­gi­neers bet­ter un­der­stand po­ten­tial im­pli­ca­tions of their work. For stu­dents learn­ing ro­bot­ics, for ex­am­ple, a lit­er­ary study of Isaac Asi­mov’s I, Ro­bot would il­lus­trate the eth­i­cal ques­tions sur­round­ing the cre­ation of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence. The book also delves into how that tech­nol­ogy could in­ter­act with hu­man­ity.

A mar­riage of sci­ence and arts could even help us achieve the Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment Goals.

When non-profits wanted to im­prove the health of mothers and new­borns in Afghanistan, they adapted com­put­er­ized talk­ing books. Sto­ry­telling through a tech­ni­cal plat­form proved ef­fec­tive. Il­lit­er­ate Afghan women learned about healthy di­ets, hy­giene and breast­feed­ing tech­niques. Com­bined with other ini­tia­tives, the spe­cial books have helped re­duce in­fant mor­tal­ity in Afghanistan by 29 per cent.

We need to merge the hu­man­ity of the arts with in­no­va­tive tech­ni­cal so­lu­tions to help our kids solve the next great set of so­cial chal­lenges.

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