5 cutting-edge ideas and attractions from HUBweek

The Green Dome, right, and the HUB Lounge at HUBweek on City Hall Plaza on Oct. 12, 2017.


HUBweek, a six-day innovation festival highlighting the intersection of art, science, and technology (and co-sponsored by The Boston Globe, which shares ownership with, kicked off at City Hall Plaza on Tuesday. Since then, the city — and in particular, the festival’s headquarters on City Hall Plaza — has buzzed with panels, film screenings, art installations, and more.

Here are just five of the awesome ideas being shared and attractions on display at HUBweek.

Artificial Intelligence is the real deal

Throughout the day Thursday and Friday, HUBweek attendees could move from dome to dome in City Hall Plaza for blow-your-mind forums on everything from robots to genetics.


Catherine Havasi, a research scientist at the MIT media lab specializing in artificial intelligence (AI), spoke on a Thursday panel about the topic. She works on pragmatic AI, or “something that’s really good at one thing — forwarding customer service calls to the right person, for example.”

Havasi said trying to teach something more complex to AI isn’t feasible — yet.

“To get into the scary areas of AI like Skynet or Blade Runner, we would need to invest in that area,” she said. “And that’s not happening right now.”

Speakers are tackling societal problems

Thursday’s “Global Challenges, Local Solutions” discussion addressed how Boston’s business, civic, and philanthropic communities support innovation when facing social issues. Jonathan Palumbo, City Year’s managing director of external affairs and government partnerships, who participated in the forum, told that City Year owes success to “really tapping into the tremendous enthusiasm and energy of young people,” which has “unlocked a whole bunch of interest from the corporate community.”

Researchers are talking about helping people make stronger decisions

“It’s a little bit like Spotify for flavor,” said Beth Altringer of some of the work she does running Harvard’s Desirability Lab.

Similar to how Spotify suggests music for its users, what she’s developing aims to help people discover what flavors they enjoy. Altringer gave a Thursday talk on technology that helps us understand ourselves better, which she thinks could “turn us into more confident and independent decision makers.”  


A 60′ x 18′ animated mural, known as “GIF-iti,” by featured artist INSA, is being painted on a container during HUBweek on City Hall Plaza on Oct. 12, 2017. Once complete, INSA’s GIF-iti app will allow viewers to use their smartphones to bring the mural to life.

Transformative artwork is everywhere you look

If you pass the shipping container housing the WidowMaker Collective’s Styrofoam work for POLLINATE during daylight hours, you’ll see a large hunk of carved white Styrofoam. Stop by at night, though, and you can watch multicolored animation dance over it. The patterns and designs were created and “cross-pollinated,” as Jason Hoelscher of Umwelt Operations, which conceived the project and brought it to HUBweek, puts it, by the WidowMaker Collective’s three artists: Will Penny, Michael Porten, and Britt Spencer.

The massive shipping container-side work by British graffiti artist INSA also has a secret: Once he finishes it and you view it in his app, it will become “GIF-iti,” a combination of graffiti and GIFs, those moving graphics people love to share on social media.

Experts are envisioning urban transportation in 2050

Emily Reichert, CEO of Somerville’s Greentown Labs, sat on a Friday panel about improving both transportation and the environment in the next 30 years.


“There are really a lot of different technologies that are going to go into the future of urban mobility and urban transportation,” she said. “What we’re all about at Greentown Labs is making sure that ideas that can help us move to a future state can really become a product.”

Reichert highlighted two companies Greentown currently works with: Battrion, which is creating a new lithium ion battery to enable cars to charge faster, and Ivys Energy Solutions, which is developing a fueling station for hydrogen cars.

Additional reporting by Kevin Slane