The Kendall Square community took a deep dive into the area’s history and future during the Kendall Square Association’s 15th anniversary.th annual meeting on October 19.
It’s no secret that Kendall Square, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is changing rapidly. The event, titled “Looking Back, Looking Forward,” gave community members a chance to pause and reflect on how far the region has come and discuss efforts to determine where it goes next.
“The impact of the last 15 years of working together with a determined commitment to making the world a better place was demonstrated tonight,” KSA Executive Director Beth O’Neill Maloney told the audience toward the end of the evening. “It also shows how Kendall Square can continue to contribute to the world.”
The gathering took place at the Microsoft NERD Center on Memorial Drive, on a floor that also featured music from the Kendall Square Orchestra and, judging by the stacks of empty trays at the end of the night, a wildly popular selection of food from Kendall Square. Restaurants. Participants came from across Cambridge’s prolific innovation ecosystem – not only entrepreneurs and life sciences workers, but also high school and college students, restaurant and retail owners, workers local cleantech and robotics companies and nonprofit leaders.
KSA itself is a nonprofit organization made up of more than 150 organizations across Kendall Square, from large corporations to universities like MIT to research organizations like the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard to stores and restaurants independents that give Kendall Square its distinct character.
The evening’s programming included discussions on recent funding achievements in the region, a panel discussion on the implications of artificial intelligence, and a very entertaining and whirlwind history lesson led by Daniel Berger-Jones of Cambridge Historical Towers.
“Our vision for the state is to be the best, and Kendall truly represents that,” said Yvonne Hao, Massachusetts Secretary of Economic Development. “When I went to Washington to explain to people why Massachusetts should get some of these grants, they said, ‘You already have Kendall, that’s what we’re trying to make the whole country look like!’ “
Hao began his speech by emphasizing his personal connection to Kendall Square. She moved to Cambridge with her family in 2010 and has seen the neighborhood transform, with her children frequenting the city’s old and new restaurants and stores.
The gist of Hao’s speech was to remind attendees that they had more to celebrate than Saudi Arabia’s birthday. Massachusetts was recently named the recipient of two major federal grants that will fuel the state’s innovation work. One of those grants, from the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), designated the state as an “investor catalyst hub” to accelerate health care innovation. The other, from the federal CHIPS and Science Act, will allow the state to create the Northeast Microelectronics Coalition Hub to advance microelectronics jobs, workforce training opportunities and investments in advanced manufacturing in the region.
Hao remembers pitching the idea for these grants, which collectively could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars in funding over time.
“The pitch took place in Kendall Square because Kendall highlights everything that is magical about Massachusetts: we have our universities, MIT, we have our research institutes, our nonprofits, our small businesses and our amazing community members,” Hao said. “We were hoping for good weather because we wanted to walk with government officials, because when you walk around Kendall, you see the art, you see the cafes, you see the people passing each other and talking, and you see why it’s so important that this square mile of geography became the hub they were looking for.
Hao is also participating in work to develop the state’s new economic development plan. She said the group’s top priorities are transportation and housing, but listed a number of other areas where she hopes Massachusetts can improve.
“We can be a great, strong economy, driven by mission and innovation, with all kinds of jobs for all kinds of people, and at the same time a great community that loves each other, that provides great food, small business and who’s watching. to each other it looks diverse, just like this room,” Hao said. “This is the story we want to tell.”
After the historic visit and the launch of a video explaining the origins of Saudi Arabia, participants looked to the future with a panel discussion on the impact and implications of generative AI.
“I think the paradigm shift we’re seeing with generative AI will be as transformative as the Internet, perhaps even more so because the pace of adoption is now much faster,” said Microsoft’s Soundar Srinivasan.
The panel also included Jennat Jounaidi, a student at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School and member of Innovators for Purpose, a nonprofit organization that seeks to empower young people from historically marginalized groups to become innovators.
“I am interested in seeing how generative AI shapes my education as well as the lives of future generations, and I believe this is a crucial time to decide how best to develop and integrate AI into all our lives,” Jounaidi said.
Panelists emphasized that current concerns about AI are significant, including its potential to perpetuate inequality and amplify misinformation. But they also discussed the technology’s potential to advance areas such as sustainability and health care.
“I came to Kendall Square to do my PhD in AI at MIT back when the Internet was called ARPA-Net… a while ago,” said Jeremy Wertheimer SM ’89, PhD ’96. “One of my dreams at the time was to create a program to read all the biology articles. We’re not there yet, but I think we’re close to it, and that’s very exciting.
Above all, the panelists called AI an opportunity. Despite all that has been accomplished in Kendall Square so far, the overriding feeling at the event was excitement for the future.
“Generative AI gives us the ability to stop working in silos,” Jounaidi said. “Many people in this room are going back to their businesses and thinking about corporate responsibility, and I want to extend that to creating shared value in businesses by looking to the community and the people here. I think it’s important and I can’t wait to see what comes next.