By Zannah Marsh | Jan. 13, 2020 | Mozilla Festival
In 2019, we gathered in London to celebrate our 10th Anniversary MozFest — and our last in this city, as the Festival will be moving to a new location in 2020.
The week started off strong, with nearly 50 events at MozFest House. Voice Magazine’s youth-focused training about Artificial Intelligence drew a huge crowd. The BBC-sponsored BBC Fireside chat on Machine Automated Learning was a sell-out. And MozHouse was host to a supercharged iteration of LifeSciHack, the global traveling hackathon bridging the fields of software engineering and life science. Participants hacked on a range of innovative projects, including a novel AI-based chatbot for early stage mental health conditions and a web app to help scientists save money designing research studies using machine learning.
On Friday night, we mixed and mingled at the Science Fair at MozFest House, which featured projects from across the festival’s ten year history.
Our blow-out Anniversary Festival Weekend at Ravensbourne opened early Saturday, with all the necessary fanfare: a brass band revved up the crowd at opening circle. Artist and technologist Alia ElKattan was among the speakers welcoming our wildly diverse crowd of activists, designers, coders, scientists, students, policymakers and more.
There’s lots of ways to measure a MozFest experience — by the number of new insights sparked, connections made, coffees consumed, floors ascended, stickers collected. But for many of us it’s the opportunities for collaboration and friendship that make a truly great MozFest.
Through Dialogue and Debate program features like “The Algorithmic Gaze” and “On AI and Ethics” to a curated program of art installations and talks to sessions and workshops like “AI Games Jam” and “Health Data: sharing is caring” (an exploration of the implications of AI in healthcare), participants dove deep into our theme of “Healthy AI,” with a spirit of collaboration and connection.
In the Youth Zone, using a mounted camera, projector and computer vision software, the installation Human Patterns had users crawling around on the floor in order to contort themselves to match shapes projected on the screen. So much fun, and a great workout to boot! Youth-led sessions were extremely popular: in one such session, Rise of Chatbots, our young facilitator taught an all-adult audience, leading participants up to 4 times his age in an in-depth discussion of chatbots and ethics. In the Youth Zone’s makerspace, some of our young creators built a giant cardboard robot sporting sliver pants. It was left in the space at the close of the weekend, and we’ve heard that Ravensbourne students plan to use it in a short film.
In the Decentralisation space, many participants collaborated on the gorgeous coloring of the giant world map. There was so much interest in the Decentralisation program this year — featuring sessions such as “Openly Licensed Storyworlds and Collective Authorship” and “Building the Internet Health Movement“ — that it was standing room only for many sessions. In true MozFest spirit, when one facilitator didn’t show for their session, the waiting crowd of about 30–40 people stepped up and collaborated to run the session themselves!
New this year, the Neurodiversity space included the Babbling Brook, where participants could lie back on a beanbag, listen to the soothing silvery stream sounds and chirping of birds, a welcome respite from the busy Festival for many. The space also featured an amazing range sessions on topics as varied as technology and the superpowers of the ADHD mind and how to materialise mental health.
The campfire in Digital Inclusion space was another chill-out zone for quiet reflection, listening to music, and even a quick nap! Also in Digital inclusion, participants heard from women in LATAM working at the intersection of human rights and digital literacy to re-create how communities understand and use the Internet, and to promote local content production. Another popular session explored how games can bridge the digital divide in under-deserved communities in Africa.
The Openness space featured the AI Black Box, a giant cube draped in gauzy fabric. Inside participants played a series of games exploring how algorithms work, how they affect our daily lives, and how they might support a healthier internet. In sessions in the Openness space, participants discovered concrete steps to encourage better contributions to open source projects, learned how open source makes non-profits stronger, and brainstormed ways to prevent the political persecution of open advocates, using the story of imprisoned privacy advocate and software engineer Ola Bini as a case study.
Cross-space collaborations were in evidence this year: for example, a session in Openness resulted in a rainbow-colored installation that popped up in the Queering Space. Inspired by Dia de los Muertos, the session and collaboratively created altar, An Ofrenda to Tech Ghosts, explored how we consider and commemorate dead and dying tech projects.
Also in Queering, participants in the session Queer Censorship: LBGTQ Information Controls, led by Citizen Lab, learned how to combat threats to the Internet freedoms of LGBTQ2+ populations. And participants discussed approaches to making AI more diverse and inclusive in An Approach to Queer-Inclusive AI.
In the Web Literacy space, the session “Data Visualization: Dead or Alive” attracted lots of participants eager to explore design thinking techniques for solving data visualization challenges. And in AI for Everyone participants explored how an escape-the-room style game can be used for teaching and learning about AI. The seasonally-appropriate theme in the Web Literacy space was “Trick or Treat,” a prompt to participants carefully consider both what treats the internet offers, and what tricks makers and sellers of apps, platforms, and devices might have in store for us, and our data.
Over in the MoZone, a space curated by Mozilla, dozens upon dozens of great ideas were generated in the session Firefox Eco-Mode Brainstorming: How can the internet tackle the climate emergency. In a session led by the Fairwork Foundation, participants learned about the Five Fairwork Principles and how they apply to online labor and the gig economy. In another session, Mozilla’s Responsible Computer Science Challenge awardees discussed integrating ethics into computer science education and careers.
In addition to the amazing activity happening in spaces across the Festival, partners who led events at MozFest House also brought their energy and ideas to the Festival: in an emergent session led by Whose Knowledge, participants explored how to decolonize the internet’s languages, with the aim of creating a mulit-lingual, multi knowledge, equitable internet. Conversations about public interest tech ecosystems, jump-started with BetaNYC at MozFest House, continued to spark ideas and insights over the weekend.
Buzzing with collaborative energy, MozFest 2019 was truly one for the books. In fact, our 10th Anniversary book debuted on the Festival weekend! A collection of insights, interviews, memories, the book serves as both a document of festivals past and a how-to guide for creating collaborative community events. And its binder format encourages readers to expand and remix it by adding their own content, in true MozFest form! To find out how to get your very own copy of the book, sign up for our newsletter for updates.
Thank you to everyone for an amazing weekend! Together, let’s take these insights and inspirations forward into 2020, and beyond. Follow up on those connections, grow those collaborations, take a risk on that crazy idea, bring a little MozFest love and energy back to your community and your work. And stay involved! keep an eye on our website, our Twitter Feed (@MozillaFestival), and, as mentioned, subscribe to our newsletter.
Thanks a million! We’ll see you all very soon.