Innovation Hub



Innovation Hub looks at how to reinvent our world – from medicine to education, relationships to time management. Great thinkers and great ideas, designed to make your life better.

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679 episodes

The People Powering AI Decisions

The 1964 Supreme Court Case Jacobellis v. Ohio presented a highly subjective question to the justices: what is obscenity or pornography? How do you define it? Where do you draw the line? In response, Justice Potter Stewart gave us the iconic line, "I know it when I see it." His ambiguous answer works fine for humans who can make judgement calls on the fly, but the algorithms that rule our lives need rules that are much more concrete. Say you flag something as inappropriate on social media. How is artificial intelligence meant to answer a question that even the Supreme Court could not definitively pin down? That’s where humans come in. Mary Gray, an anthropologist and co-author of the book,“Ghost Work: How to Stop Silicon Valley From Building a New Global Underclass,” explores the work and lives of the real people behind online processes that internet users may assume are purely algorithmic. From analyzing medical tests, to flagging questionable social media posts, to identifying your rideshare driver, Gray argues that the human touch of “ghost work” is not only essential, but this hidden workforce will continue to keep growing.

Oct 08, 2021
The Lost Art of Listening

We have become accustomed to politicians shouting at each other, and confrontational TV talk show hosts who do anything but listen to their guests, but how good are any of us at truly focusing on the words of others in our conversations? Listening is a lost art, according to Kate Murphy the author of “You're Not Listening: What You're Missing and Why It Matters,” and the cost to our health, our relationships, and our society is steep, she says. Murphy explains how the modern world has shaken our capacity for deep listening and what we can do about it.

Oct 01, 2021
The Evolution of Play

Childhood today is radically different than it was just a few generations ago. Before the coronavirus pandemic, kids’ busy schedules included school, homework, chores, sports, music lessons and other activities. Those packed schedules often left out one key element that is crucial to growth and learning — play. That’s according to Dorsa Amir, a postdoctoral researcher and evolutionary anthropologist at Boston College. Amir has studied the Shuar people of Ecuador, a non-industrialized society, and observed startling differences in how Shuar children and American children spend their time. She tells us how childhood has changed drastically, and how that affects kids today.

Oct 01, 2021
When Romance Meets Ratios

In 2019, women hit a milestone in gender parity when they became the majority of the college-educated workforce. While it may be easy to see how this ​achievement will impact the economy, earnings, and job opportunities, it is probably a little bit harder to predict how it will shape, of all things, the dating market. Jon Birger, a business journalist and former senior writer at Fortune, has authored two books on the connection between ratios and relationships. Birger acknowledges that not everyone has a desire to engage in a heterosexual relationship or get married. But of those who do, college-educated women may have a particularly hard time finding a partner, he notes. Birger says this is because there are many fewer men enrolled in college - about 60% of college freshmen are now women. Men also drop out of college at higher rates, resulting in a dating market with a shortage of college-educated men. When this gender asymmetry is extended into broader society, Birger explains it can have significant consequences for people’s happiness, fertility rates, and the economy. And Andrew Cherlin, a professor of public policy at Johns Hopkins University, talks with us about his - related - new research on changing marriage rates for college and non-college educated Americans.

Sep 24, 2021
Why Exercise?

Exercise is a relatively recent phenomenon. After all, it’s difficult to imagine a caveman on a treadmill. And it’s safe to say that paleolithic humans never pumped iron. But something changed as we moved from the plow to the Peloton. Exercise - physical exertion for the purpose of improving health or fitness - became a huge part of modern life, and a nearly $100 billion global industry. But why do we spend so much time and money at the gym or on the track and does it actually help our well-being? And why is exercise, at least for some of us, such a miserable experience? Daniel Lieberman, professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University and author of the book “Exercised: Why Something We Never Evolved to Do Is Healthy and Rewarding,” has some fascinating answers.

Sep 17, 2021
How Gay Marriage Won

In the decades since Roe v. Wade, public sentiment about abortion has remained fairly steady. By contrast, in the mid-1990s, only around a quarter of the country supported gay marriage, and then, somehow, just 15 years later, those numbers had nearly doubled. Sasha Issenberg, author of “The Engagement: America’s Quarter-Century Struggle Over Same-Sex Marriage,” tracks the twists and turns that the fight for same-sex marriage in America took, from a power struggle over a parade in Hawaii, to shifts in elite opinion, which all brought gay marriage from a “quirky,” niche issue in the 90s to being federally accepted by 2015.

Sep 10, 2021
Will The Future of Work Leave Workers Behind?

The U.S. economy has come a long way since the darkest days of the pandemic, but the future remains uncertain for many, especially those hit the hardest: low-wage workers. Last April, David Autor, an MIT economist, predicted that a pandemic-induced recession would be an “automation forcing event,” with executives rapidly deploying non-human labor to replace workers, particularly in the service sector - and he was right. Autor and Betsey Stevenson, who served as chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor and is currently a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan, discuss COVID-19’s long-lasting impact on the ways employees will work, consume and manage family dynamics, for years to come.

Sep 03, 2021
How the West Dominated Our Brains

About 1500 years ago, the world was a very different place; Pope Gregory was spreading Catholicism far and wide, a plague was running rampant, and some dominoes were about to start falling. The end of that cascade would end up in a world where a certain group of people started to think quite differently from those who had come before them. Their brains began to change, the societies they built thrived and they grew so influential and culturally dominant that their way of thinking permeated our entire psychology. In other words, it created W.E.I.R.D. people — a Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and Democratic population that grew into a global powerhouse. That’s according to Joseph Henrich, chair of the department of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University, and author of “The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous.” He writes that people who learn to read, who are educated in a Western way – no matter where they live in the world – have brains that look and think unlike more traditional human brains.

Aug 27, 2021
FIXED: Walter Isaacson on How Gene Editing Will Change Life

Walter Isaacson has made a habit of profiling world-changers: innovators who, through their discoveries, upend the way we live. Recently, he’s been preoccupied with individuals who have unlocked what he calls “fundamental kernels of our existence” - first Albert Einstein and the atom, then Steve Jobs and the bit, and now, in his latest work, Jennifer Doudna and the gene. In The Code Breaker, Isaacson dives into the CRISPR revolution and how the booming field of gene editing is altering how we treat disease and think about what it means to be human. Jennifer Doudna, who shared the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her role in developing CRISPR, is Isaacson’s centerpiece as he guides readers through this new frontier, and the pressing moral questions that sophisticated, cutting-edge biological tools now pose. ** This episode has been reuploaded with the correct audio.

Aug 24, 2021
Sal Khan on Leveling the Playing Field, In and Out of the Classroom

Educators around the country were plunged into a massive experiment with virtual learning last year, when more than 50 million K-12 students were sent home at the start of the pandemic. Many were soon knocking on the door of the father of online education, Sal Khan, looking for help. The founder and CEO of the nonprofit Khan Academy, which provides free educational resources to anyone who wants them, says he was impressed with the “heroic efforts” of numerous school districts to close the digital divide, by providing device and internet access for all who needed it. Now Khan hopes school leaders “are going to be thinking long-term” and will seize the moment to create what he considers much needed system-wide change.

Aug 13, 2021
Pandemic Politics Hit the Classroom

All over the country, school districts are grappling with how to safely reopen classrooms in the midst of a resurgent pandemic. While many have already made decisions about in-person learning, state and local governments are clashing over mask mandates and vaccination requirements. Edward-Isaac Dovere, a staff writer for The Atlantic and author of “Battle for the Soul: Inside the Democrats' Campaigns to Defeat Trump,” discusses the political and practical implications of such divergent reopening policies.

Aug 13, 2021
Has Cleaning Gone Too Far?

It has been said that cleanliness is next to godliness, but the constant disinfecting and scrubbing of our homes, offices and public spaces during the coronavirus pandemic has taken these seemingly virtuous efforts to a whole new level. COVID-19 is now understood to spread primarily through close contact with infected people, rather than contaminated surfaces, but that hasn’t stopped consumers from snapping up cleaning products that promise to kill 99% of germs. Trying to eliminate all bacteria, including those that are beneficial to us, can lead to autoimmune disorders, warns Rob Dunn. The professor of Applied Ecology at North Carolina State University and author of: “Never Home Alone: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live,” explains how we can be more intentional about our interactions with the living world (indoors and outdoors) and better understand its influence on our well-being.

Aug 06, 2021
America's Sherlock

Imagine a crime scene, and what it might take to solve the case. Do you think about dusting for fingerprints? DNA collection? According to Kate Winkler Dawson, author of “American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI” and associate professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, the man we can thank for that approach is Edward Oscar Heinrich. In the early 20th century, Heinrich took the world of forensics from guesswork, confession, and coercion to a place of science and nuanced evidence. While some of his experiments have been discredited in recent years as “junk science,” Heinrich’s impact can still be seen in the way many crime scenes are evaluated today.

Aug 06, 2021
Can Capitalism Save Us from Capitalism?

Business won’t save the world, but — according to Harvard economist Rebecca Henderson — it can help fix it. Henderson, author of Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire, became preoccupied with economics after working for the consulting firm McKinsey & Company where her job was “shutting plants” down if they proved unable to adapt to market changes. Since then, Henderson has been animated by the question of how to build a more just and sustainable system.

Jul 30, 2021
How to Beat Burnout

In Japanese, the word “karoshi” translates to “death by overwork.” As reports of workplace burnout have skyrocketed since the pandemic, it’s a phrase that aptly encapsulates a feeling that thousands of workers have experienced over the past year. But the issue is neither temporary nor solely catalyzed by the pandemic; instead, we face a long-term health risk with rippling impacts. This is the argument put forth by Jennifer Moss, a journalist and author of the forthcoming book “The Burnout Epidemic: The Rise of Chronic Stress and How We Can Fix It.” Moss notes that while burnout has been experienced “since building the pyramids,” there is something distinct about the current wave of workplace stress plaguing our offices. Technology, a pandemic, and a productivity-oriented work culture have combined to create the perfect storm, she says. “Crisis exacerbates an existing problem. Then what happens is it explodes,” Moss explains. What’s more, she says, it is not something that can be addressed simply by “downstream” efforts like office yoga sessions or even a paid week off. Rather, Moss argues, it requires fundamental, institutional change that prioritizes stress prevention over management.

Jul 23, 2021
Climate Migration Is Already Here And It's Going To Get Worse

A migration crisis is already underway, and it's caused, at least in large part, by climate change, according to modeling by ProPublica and the New York Times Magazine. Their expert analysis shows that without the proper preparation and political will, it will worsen as soon as 2050. Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of Geosciences and International Affairs at Princeton University, explains how the increasingly deadly combination of heat and humidity is driving people from their homelands. He predicts greater migratory build-ups along the US-Mexico border, in Southeast Asia, and on North Africa’s Mediterranean coast. Even if we develop a strong response now, a “lack of foresight,” he argues, has brought us to our current reality: a certain level of climate change is already baked into the system for the next 30 years. Oppenheimer says governments must restructure their thinking around climate change to focus not just on emissions, but also extreme weather response. Plus, we hear from three local reporters at our affiliate stations about the environmental challenges facing their cities. Houston Public Media’s Katie Watkins, WJCT’s Brendan Rivers in Jacksonville and KJZZ’s Ron Dungan in Phoenix, join us to discuss droughts, flooding, land use, and more.

Jul 16, 2021
The Amazon Effect

July 2021 is a big month for Amazon’s Founder and former CEO, Jeff Bezos. Not only did he step down as CEO of the company he built into a $1.63 trillion empire, he will also fly into space on the first crewed flight of his New Shepard rocket ship. And yet, the space trip is just the most recent of Bezos’ boundary-breaking endeavors. Bezos and his company have revolutionized American business, extending their reach into nearly every industry— from retail, to media, to healthcare, and cloud computing. Brad Stone—the author, most recently, of Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire—explains that the e-commerce giant has often seemed “unbound from the laws of corporate gravity.” While most companies eventually plateau, Stone says that Amazon has defied these business norms by continuing to grow rapidly. Stone, a Senior Executive Editor at Bloomberg News with years of experience reporting on the company, examines Amazon’s various successes and Bezos’ sweeping influence. Specifically, he traces Bezos’ transformation from a frugal tech nerd to a buff billionaire whose high-profile divorce made headlines. But what exactly accounts for Amazon’s extraordinary rise? If there is one thing that drives Bezos, Stone points out, it’s his deep fear of stasis.

Jul 09, 2021
To Rethink the Constitution

The Constitution, first drafted in 1787, stands as the supreme law of the land in the U.S. But Mary Anne Franks — a law professor at the University of Miami who grew up attending a fundamentalist church in Arkansas — says that often “we read it not as a text but as Scripture,” much in the same way she was taught to read the Bible as a child. Franks, author of The Cult of the Constitution, argues that originalism — the judicial view that the Constitution should only be interpreted as its writers meant it to be when it became law — has been used to justify ahistorically broad interpretations of both the First and Second Amendments. Rather than claiming “transcendental access” to the founders’ legal intentions, she proposes we honor the Constitution communally by extending its rights and values to all, including the most vulnerable members of our society.

Jul 02, 2021
A Learning Revolution for a Post-Pandemic World

School is out for the summer, but many students, educators and parents are still reeling from an earthquake in K-12 education. It will take time to recover from learning loss, fractured relationships, stress and other problems caused or exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. Nevertheless, as we emerge from crisis mode, some see a chance to transform American education for the better. Paul Reville, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Pedro Noguera, dean of the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education, and Margaret Spellings, former U.S. Secretary of Education for President George W. Bush, dive into the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. While Sal Khan, founder and CEO of the online learning platform Khan Academy, and a handful of parents consider the possibilities that come with an educational landscape no longer bound by time and space.

Jun 25, 2021
The Death Grip of Email

Constantly checking your email might feel like textbook responsible work behavior but, according to Cal Newport — a professor of computer science at Georgetown University and author of A World Without Email — it can actually wreak havoc on productivity. Newport argues that our out-of-control inboxes are keeping us from being the thinkers, workers, and problem solvers we could be if email ran our lives less.

Jun 18, 2021
Inventing Latinos

On the 2020 U.S. census, Americans faced five options: White, Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander. These might have reflected a broad swath of the population, but for citizens from any of the dozens of countries south of the United States, there was a pretty obvious choice missing: Latino. Laura Gómez, a law professor at UCLA and the author of “Inventing Latinos: A New Story of American Racism,” argues that Latinos – both the word and the ethnic category – are pretty recent inventions. The government only officially recognized it in the 1980s, and acknowledging people from Central and South America as a distinct ethnic group was a paradigm shift with real social and political impact. The question of Latinos’ race has affected issues from marriage laws, to access to education, and beyond. Plus, Ana Navarro-Cárdenas, a political strategist and commentator, says that Latinos are not only changing as an identity, but also as a voting bloc. Latino is a term used to describe as many as 60 million people from dozens of places and a multitude of ways of becoming American. Some have been on U.S. soil for generations, some crossed the border, and some had the border cross them. Just as in any other large, diverse group, there is a full spectrum of political identities, so to court the so-called “Latino vote” is a big ask, she says.

Jun 11, 2021
What’s The Point of Exercise?

Exercise is a relatively recent phenomenon. After all, it’s difficult to imagine a caveman on a treadmill. And it’s safe to say that paleolithic humans never pumped iron. But something changed as we moved from the plow to the Peloton. Exercise - physical exertion for the purpose of improving health or fitness - became a huge part of modern life, and a nearly $100 billion global industry. But why do we spend so much time and money at the gym or on the track and does it actually help our well-being? And why is exercise, at least for some of us, such a miserable experience? Daniel Lieberman, professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University and author of the book “Exercised: Why Something We Never Evolved to Do Is Healthy and Rewarding,” has some fascinating answers.

Jun 04, 2021
To Crack the Code of Wall Street

Have you ever wanted to be rich? Really rich? Gregory Zuckerman, a special writer at The Wall Street Journal and author of “The Man Who Solved the Market: How Jim Simons Launched the Quant Revolution,” shares the story of the mathematicians who cracked Wall Street’s code. Starting from humble beginnings in a strip mall on Long Island, NY, the hedge fund company that Simons started (where about 300 people work today) now pulls in more money in a year than companies like Hasbro and Hyatt Hotels, which have tens of thousands of employees.

May 28, 2021
A Goodbye To Language As You Know It

It seems like every time a dictionary publishes a new update, people flock to social media to talk about it. Whether they’re responding to the addition of the word “fam” or the dad joke, They always return to the question of what consequences these additions will have. Do they really spell disaster for the English language? Turns out, the “updation” (new to the Oxford English Dictionary as of last year) of language isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And it’s been going on for as long as language has existed. Katherine Connor Martin, head of U.S. dictionaries at Oxford University Press, explains why the creation of new words is actually natural, and tells us how the ways we communicate have been speeding up the evolution of language.

May 28, 2021
The Man Behind 24-Hour News

It might be difficult to remember now, but there was a time when the news wasn’t 24/7. There were morning and evening editions of the paper; the nightly news was, well, nightly; radio offered updates from time to time. But there’s a whole lot of difference between that world and today’s never-stop cavalcade of heartbreak, tragedy, excitement, and despair. And one of the biggest dividing lines between those two realities was the creation of CNN. Journalist Lisa Napoli is the author of “Up All Night: Ted Turner, CNN, and the Birth of 24-Hour News,” and she argues that CNN didn’t just change television, or cable, or even news… it changed our entire world.

May 21, 2021
The Watch Named Arnold

It might be hard to believe, but there was a time when time wasn’t as exact as it is now. When people would come over on “Tuesday” rather than “Tuesday at exactly 2:30.” Ainissa Ramirez is a scientist and author of The Alchemy of Us How Humans and Matter Transformed One Another, and she tells the story of how Materials Science made time so important. Strangely enough, it involves a woman who sold time, using a watch named Arnold.

May 21, 2021
Why We Can’t Quit Cities

Many cities fell out of favor during the coronavirus pandemic, as those with means abandoned them for safer pastures – often to the annoyance of both the people left behind and residents of the places they fled to. However, British historian and writer Ben Wilson says our love-hate relationship with cities is an age-old story that has been repeated again and again for over 6,000 years. In his latest book, “Metropolis: A History of the City, Humankind’s Greatest Invention,” Wilson celebrates the good, the bad and the ugly of all things urban. His hope is that cities of the future will become more affordable, sociable and livable and also fun-filled places, brimming with culture. We need cities that, “we really, really want to be in,” he says, “not just for work but for all the good things that life brings us.”

May 14, 2021
The Future of Traffic

With the pandemic creating a wave of employees who have decided to work from home part-time, it might be reasonable to assume that traffic will get a lot better. After all, how can there be traffic when a big slice of workers are sitting in their home offices? Not so fast, says Michael Manville, a professor of urban planning at UCLA, who has spent his career studying traffic. Manville argues that our new lifestyles and rhythms won’t fix congested highways, but there is one way to help regulate traffic flow — a solution which will not only reduce our commute times; it will also improve the health of our communities.

May 14, 2021
Why It’s Hard to See that Less Is More

When figuring out how to tackle a problem, our instincts are almost always to add: we make to-do, not to-don’t lists after all. But just because humans have a harder time seeing subtraction — which can come in the form of tearing down buildings, dismantling barriers, and pruning old ideas — as a viable solution doesn’t make it any less useful of an approach. Leidy Klotz is a professor of architecture, engineering, and business at the University of Virginia and the author of “Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less.” The idea of studying subtraction crystalized for Klotz when he and his son were trying to level a Lego bridge. By the time Klotz grabbed an extra Lego to even things out, his son had already solved the problem by removing one. Klotz now studies why we overlook subtracting as a way to improve things, including the various biological and cultural forces that push us towards more even when less would serve us better.

May 07, 2021
How COVID Has Crushed Working Women

In 2019, women were doing exceptionally well in the workplace — hitting record-setting workforce participation numbers, holding more non-farm payroll jobs than men for only the second time in history (in 2009, they had also briefly outpaced men, as men lost jobs more quickly during the Great Recession). Then came COVID-19, which disproportionately affected women and particularly women with children. Over many months, the issue of child care has “slowly come to a boil” as working parents, and especially working mothers, have found themselves forced to simultaneously manage their careers and care for children stuck at home due to pandemic-driven school closures. Betsey Stevenson, the chief economist in the Labor Department under President Obama and a professor at the University of Michigan, has spent the past year monitoring how the pandemic has pulled the progress of women in the workforce back decades. Stevenson argues that the “insanity” of the U.S.’s lack of infrastructure, to support working parents, has forced women out of the labor force and will require bold political solutions post-pandemic.

May 07, 2021