Esri UC Speaker Will.i.am Champions Technology as a Way out of the Hood

Many casual hip-hop fans in the early 2000s enjoyed the Black Eyed Peas’ music, but those in attendance at Will.i.am’s keynote address the opening afternoon of the 2013 Esri User Conference arguably gained a significantly deeper appreciation for the musician, producer, and philanthropist. Although technically Sam Pitroda (the current adviser to the Prime Minister of India on Public Information Infrastructure & Innovation) gave the keynote address on India’s modern rise in technological power and job creation, Will.i.am’s discussion was more entertaining. Furthermore, the audience in the San Diego Convention Center plenary particularly enjoyed the one-on-one interview component with Jack Dangermond, who was able to steer the conversation to an Esri-centric advancement of technology.  Each speaker spoke with quite inspirational overtones.

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Getting Students Interested in Spatial Information

Four juniors from Roosevelt High School in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of East Los Angeles, Will.i.am’s stomping grounds, worked with the i.am.angel foundation (launched by Will.i.am to transform lives through education, inspiration, and opportunity) and Esri to discover more spatial information about their community. One promising scholar revealed that the size of the one graveyard in Boyle Heights was greater than all other green space combined, an indicator of economic disparity in connectivity to their location.

Encouraging Computer Science

Discussing society on the precipice of change (the decline of the middle class and suburbs) and the reinvention of the American dream, Will.i.am provided a unique prospective as both a local ten-year-old boy that would wait in line for a handout and a multi-platinum recording artist. He now gives back meaningfully in terms of his money and time, and will enroll in the computer science program at MIT later this fall. He urged the kids to become interested in science, and drew parallels between learning to read and write code and the privileged readers and writers of Latin in the Middle Ages.

Jack Dangermond takes you serious, I take you serious, society might not take you serious…

In addition to comparing competition for turf to that of intellectual property, Will.i.am. asserted that the gangs are like a business that recruits much earlier than companies, summarizing the mentality of the youth that see athletes and musicians as role models, not technology superstars.

I wanna be like Michael Jordan, I don’t wanna be like Michael Dell, I don’t even know what Michael Dell looks like.

It will be interesting to see if the Esri UC continues trending toward global entertainer keynote speakers, as this year’s event was bigger than GIS and pop culture, and consequently highlighted relatively unknown achievements within a dynamic urban neighborhood.

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