The third edition of The Boston Globe’s “Globe Summit” series took place last week with an impressive lineup of conversations around the theme of “Today’s Innovators. Tomorrow’s Leaders.” The annual event is chockful of insightful discussions around some of the most pressing topics facing the region, the nation, and society at large. Here’s a look at some of the highlights from three sessions that caught our attention.
AI and Media: Preserving Democracy Amid Fake News
Vanity Fair’s Brian Stelter led the discussion, which also featured Boston University researcher and assistant professor Joan Donovan and MIT Press Director and Publisher Amy Brand.
During the conversation, Joan Donovan highlighted a critical recent development where social media has emerged as the primary source of news for many individuals. A major challenge associated with this trend is the disparity in standards for the veracity of information on social media relative to a legacy media outlet. In the case of the latter, there are protocols for assessing and confirming the accuracy of information before it is shared. Those protocols confer confidence in the reporting and there are likewise systems in place for when the reporting falls short of expectations.
That is not the case when it comes to social media. If inaccurate information is published and circulated, blame is assigned to the person or organization that posted it, rather than the platform. As a result, misinformation can spread like wildfire and is accepted as truth to those who accept its validity out of hand. With the rise of AI, this situation gets more difficult to manage. Flimsy analysis and quote doctoring can be deceptive on its own, but add in AI-generated photos or video footage and even the most farfetched scenario could have supporting evidence. It’s a truly frightening proposition.
The solution, according to the panel discussion, is to reign in AI via regulation. In the same way that AI can be trained to replicate the work of a human, it can be programmed to identify and filter out misinformation to reduce its spread. Putting guardrails on AI is bound to elicit strong opinions, especially from self-identified free speech advocates, but with the lines blurring between real and (deep)fake, there is a strong need to get ahead of the technology before it creates havoc.
The State of Real Estate: Revitalizing Downtown Boston
Restauranteur Nia Grace, Colliers International EVP Kristin Blount, and Downtown Boston BID President Michael Nichols joined The Globe’s Catherine Carlock to cover what the future holds for the core of the city as it rebounds from the pandemic-driven shifts in real estate.
One of the most pressing questions covered in this session was how to inspire people to go places, whether that be a restaurant, a retail district, or to an office. There has been a massive push to enliven commercial and entertainment spaces over the last few years, with mixed results. Nichols pointed out some encouraging signs locally – steadily increasing foot traffic over the last 2.5 years, a 20 percent decrease in retail vacancies from 2022, and more restaurants than could be found in 2019.
The last item epitomizes points made by Blount and Grace on desirability. The former, speaking to the office market, noted that Class A space, complemented by attractive amenities, is performing above the overall trends, indicating that the appeal of quality persists. Grace, meanwhile, noted that patrons are gravitating toward experiential dining where a restaurant can offer art and culture on top of a great meal. While we tend to think of innovation in STEM, Grace applied that Bostonian hallmark to the restaurant scene and praised the outside-the-box thinking that is breathing new life into the city.
This Is the Moment: Maintaining Boston’s Competitiveness
Secretary of Economic Development Yvonne Hao sat down with Globe reporter Jon Chesto to discuss how to keep the Commonwealth top of mind for businesses. It’s a topic that’s been covered extensively, especially after the passage of the Millionaires Tax/Fair Share Amendment and outward migration during the pandemic (Hao noted that 1,100 people left the state per week in 2022), and the Healey administration has made it a signature issue.
The conversation was largely aspirational, with Hao stating how the Commonwealth would like to present itself to businesses and workers. We want to be leaders in the emerging fields, like climate tech, and strengthen established fields such as biotech and robotics. Similarly, there is a desire for industries to flourish beyond Boston’s borders and around the Commonwealth. Ultimately, there’s broad interest in making Massachusetts an attractive place for businesses to form and to grow. They want to make a similar case to the local workforce – both those born here and those who’ve come to Mass. for education – that they should call the Bay State home.
To achieve these aspirations, Massachusetts will have to get serious about improving the state of housing and transportation. Hao did mention these two challenges in the conversation, but it’s worth homing in on them further in light of the above goals. Economic growth is vital to ensure that jobs are plentiful and governments take in sufficient revenue to provide a growing list of services to constituents. But housing and transportation are key quality of life issues that can undermine that ED planning. If workers cannot afford to buy a house or rent an apartment, if they cannot reliably get to where they need to go, they will find another place to live that can offer these things. It’s a challenging puzzle to solve, but the answers need to reflect holistic thinking when it comes to competitiveness.
A special shout out to IMG interns Maya Steele, Emily Costello, and Cassandra “CJ” Kuechler, all of whom were instrumental in putting this blog post together.