The organizers of HubWeek could not have known the country would be in the grip of an impeachment inquiry when they chose “The Pursuit” as the theme of Boston’s annual ideas festival. But as the event began Tuesday, the congressional investigation into President Trump took center stage.
US Representative Katherine Clark, who as vice chair of the Democratic caucus is the sixth-highest ranking member of the House, took part in the opening panel of the three-day gathering to discuss the pursuit of new solutions and groundbreaking ideas related to social issues.
But the conversation in the Seaport District event quickly turned to Trump’s efforts to get Ukrainian officials to investigate Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden’s family.
“A sitting president put his political gain over our national security interests,” Clark said. “He risked the integrity of our elections . . . and he betrayed his oath of office.”
During the panel discussion, Clark told Globe managing director Linda Henry, a HubWeek cofounder, that she thinks the latest scandal will be easier for voters to understand than previous political problems Trump has faced, such as Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russian election interference.
“This isn’t a 400-page report after two years of investigations giving all these reasons why someone might not meet all of the evidentiary standards,” she said. “This is clear. This is a whistle-blower who felt compelled to come forward, and a president who admitted, ‘Yes, this is what I said to a foreign leader.’ ”
Trump has said he did nothing wrong in his interaction with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine.
Clark said after she left the stage that she believes the House inquiry will hew to the incidents outlined in the whistle-blower complaint and a White House document memorializing Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president.
But she said she is keeping an eye on other issues that continue to emerge — including revelations that Trump and Attorney General William Barr have asked foreign leaders to help them trace the origins of the Mueller investigation.
“These revelations that are coming in a fast and furious way — of course they’re going to be of interest — but our focus remains on the whistle-blower complaint, and the abuse of power that is outlined in that complaint,” she said.
Her comments came as part of a wider conversation about ways participants at HubWeek could pursue progress on social problems that are facing Boston and beyond. The festival, now in its fifth year, chose an intentionally broad theme as a way to frame a variety of issues as part of a single discussion.
At the opening event, Clark and Henry followed a conversation with Gerald Chertavian, founder of the nonprofit Year Up.
Chertavian, whose organization helps people acquire the technical and professional skills they need to compete in the job market, challenged the audience to work for change in a very different respect.
Hiring managers, he said, could help applicants with nontraditional qualifications by doing away with requirements for four-year degrees — which are often unnecessary, Chertavian said, and hard for people from lower-income backgrounds to afford.
“When you’re in any position of power, you are in position to set the agenda,” he said. “Learning isn’t enough. Being more ‘woke’ isn’t enough. You have to take action.”
In a later discussion with the Globe’s Henry, conservationist and former Patagonia chief executive Kristine Tompkins encouraged HubWeek participants to take action immediately if they want to do something about climate change. “The loudest voice of all is silence,” Tompkins said. “A civil society requires so much more from us than we have been giving in the last several decades.”
HubWeek was founded by The Boston Globe, Harvard University, Massachusetts General Hospital, and MIT. The festival runs through Thursday at the intersection of Seaport Boulevard and Fan Pier Boulevard.
Outside of the village of tents and modified shipping containers that make up the festival, there’s a variety of artistic, immersive experiences designed to help visitors shift their thinking in other ways.
An art installation called “Leavings/Belongings” displayed a multicolored selection of parcels bearing the written stories of refugees from around the world, who described their journeys in pursuit of a better, safer life. “I traveled only at night, at first during the new moon. It was so dark I could barely see my hands,” read one that was written by a person who came to Taiwan from mainland China.
At another session, on the Open Doors stage, philosophers from Paris and Boston discussed the drawbacks of a world engrossed by tech and artificial intelligence.
The talk, entitled “The Role of New Technologies and AI in Our Society,” was a collaboration between the French consulate and HubWeek producers. Also present: a holographic “girlfriend” named Azuma Hikari created by the Japanese company Vinclu.
Vanessa Nurack, a professor at Paris 8 University, said the anime companion shows how artificial intelligence can reinforce and exacerbate misogyny. Ever wonder why ubiquitous AI assistants, Alexa and Siri, both have feminine voices? Nurack believes that’s because AI devices are often created within a patriarchal paradigm that sees women as subservient.
Boston University professor James Katz took a less pessimistic view, saying how otherwise lonely people can develop meaningful relationships with advanced artificial intelligence. For Katz, virtual companions have the potential to be more like WALL-E, the bubbly Pixar creation, than Hal, the murderous, sentient star of “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Nonetheless, all panelists agreed we must proceed with caution as AI develops and becomes more accessible for fear of it further hindering relationships. Then the doors of the auditorium swung open to reveal a room full of people glued to laptops and iPhones inside District Hall’s communal working space. Hardly anyone looked up.
Original story here.