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Aspen Ideas Festival Inspires, Engages, Promotes Debate


Every summer, some of the most interesting thinkers, leaders and artists in the U.S. gather to share ideas in Aspen, Colorado.

It's called the Aspen Ideas Festival. It is an incubator of creativity which attracts the best and the brightest in many fields - from across the United States and around the world to the small western U.S. town of Aspen, known for its great natural beauty.

Xiao Xiao, pianist, technologist and doctoral candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, brought to Aspen her insights from piano-playing to human-computer interaction, designing experiences that bridge the digital and the physical.

"One day when I was practicing the piano I was looking at the really pretty reflection that's in front of the keyboard of my hands, and I had this thought of wouldn't it be really beautiful if instead of seeing my own hands there I could see somebody else's hands," Xiao Xiao said.

Dr. Joel Dudley is director of bioinformatics and assistant professor of genetics and genomic sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. He shared at Aspen the great strides made in health care, specifically in the field of personal genomics.

"A genome for a single individual, for example, will have six billion letters in it, so six billion with a "B" letters. It's a tremendous amount of information to interpret, and we now have the tools to make it cheap and easy, relatively easy, to interpret that, or at least measure that," he explained.

Patricia McLaughlin is associate vice president of communications at the Legacy Foundation, a leading public health organization working to drive down smoking rates. She is at Aspen to keep media and business leaders engaged with the issue.

"We have worked with three different artists who have all taken a position on some of the key issues that we are engaged in around tobacco use, and what they've done is through their art, they're illustrating the issue for us and helping drive the conversation with people," she said.

These are just a few of the many ideas presented at Aspen. For more than 60 years, the Aspen Institute has been a gathering place for leading writers, artists, scientists, public officials, business executives, scholars, economists and foreign policy experts.

Kitty Boone, vice president of public programs at the Aspen Institute and director of the Aspen Ideas Festival, said the conference gives attendees, who number as many as 4,000, a new appreciation of important topics.

"The goal of an organization like ours and of this type of event is to get people to think, and to understand an issue from multiple perspectives," Boone stated.

From early in the morning to late in the evening,meeting on footpaths and sidewalks, on the lawn or at coffee bars, with thinkers, artists, musicians and other leaders - in this remote part of the Rocky Mountains to the beautiful music of renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
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