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2015 Speaker Spotlight: Jenay Beer

2015 Speaker Spotlight: Jenay Beer

Jenay Beer

“It’s not just what technology can do or not do. The human must be considered in the equation,” says engineering psychologist Jenay Beer.

Beer understands human capabilities and limitations and her goal is to apply this psychological understanding to inform technology design. “We can’t lose sight of the human factors,” she says.

In her current work as an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina, Beer directs the Assistive Robotics and Technology Lab (ART Lab). There she leads her students in focusing on the interactions between humans and robots and smart home technology.

Beer never envisioned herself working with robots. Originally wanting to be a psychologist, she also loved technology and wanted to somehow combine the two. Deciding to pursue graduate work, she discovered the emerging field of Engineering Psychology and learned that Georgia Tech offered the best program.

So the Ohio native ended up in Atlanta (the Georgia Aquarium, Piedmont Park, and Highland Bakery are a few of her favorite hangouts) and earned both masters and doctorate degrees at Tech. It was there that she realized specifically what she wanted to do with her all knowledge and training.

“The lab I worked in focused on the aging. I fell in love with this population and began studying how robots could help them maintain their independence, improve their quality of life and allow them to remain at home and grow old. “

Beer’s robots can do a variety of things from household chores (cleaning, vacuuming, making the bed) to handing medication to a person. The robots don’t think for themselves, just take direction. For example, a robot cannot decide which medication a person needs to take…it simply brings what the person asks for.

She and her students test their robots at local continuing care retirement communities, where they’re welcomed with open arms.

“Through my years in research I found older adults weren’t afraid of technology, like you’d think they would. If it’s easy to use and meets their needs, they will adopt it. They often have a social connection with the robots and want to name them.”

Despite her success with robots, it’s her students that Beer is most proud of.

“When I’m teaching and hear them grasp the concepts, use the right terminology and ask the right questions, it is thrilling. It really is like a ripple: a ripple of me teaching my students and them rippling it forward and having an impact on our world.”


Rosemary Taylor is a writer and digital content strategist;

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2015 Speaker Spotlight: Dr. Brian Magerko

2015 Speaker Spotlight: Dr. Brian Magerko

Brian Magerko

“Without creativity we wouldn’t have anything. It’s what moves us forward as a species and makes us a better one,” says Dr. Brian Magerko.

As an Associate Professor of Digital Media and head of the Adaptive Digital Media (ADAM) Lab at Georgia Institute of Technology, Magerko works with his students in the inter-disciplines of human creativity, cognition and computing.

“We are treating creativity as a formal process – trying to de-mystify it, de-magic it – and understanding how this formal process helps design technologies that can support creativity or even make something creative themselves through artificial intelligence,” the Michigan native explains.

According to Dr. Magerko, human creativity is simply somebody creating something new that has some kind of personal or societal value. And the one characteristic all creative people share is that they’re very knowledgeable and really informed about their fields. Expertise is the most important thing.

Even as STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) studies become more popular, it’s actually STEAM (STEM + Art & Design) studies that Dr. Magerko says will really educate successful, prosperous students who can transform our economy in the 21st century.

“By integrating science and technology with the arts we can learn more about the world than without that integration. Putting them together in a meaningful manner opens up an array of studies for students, particularly for engaging the underrepresented ones who view STEM topics as being uncool or daunting.”

Though Dr. Magerko was always interested in computers, it wasn’t his first love. Music and improvisation were. He played trombone in his high school marching band, and at Carnegie Mellon University he DJ’d at the school’s radio station and acted in a local improv group.

And he never forgot his love of music and the aesthetics even while he was taking computing and psychology classes. It all came together his senior year at college when he studied with Herbert Simon, a pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence.

“I got this idea that I would do a cognitive study on jazz improvisation. Simultaneously, I took a mobile robot planning class, where I focused on building an improve robot comedy troop. Both projects worked in parallel to give me a formal understanding of creativity from a cognition point of view and a computing point of view.”

Today, Dr. Magerko is exactly where he wants to be: at the crossroads of learning, computing and aesthetics. His creation (in collaboration with Georgia Tech colleague Dr. Jason Freeman) of EarSketch, an integrated approach to teaching computer science through computational music remixing, is used by thousands of high school students annually in the U.S.

And he’s still occasionally performing, most recently with The Imperial Opa Circus house band as the resident accordionist and trombonist.

But if he decides one day to chuck academics, he’d love to be a Disney Imagineer. “It’s an interesting combination of technology, arts and entertainment. What a supercool and fun job that would be.”


Rosemary Taylor, writer and digital content strategist at

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2015 Speaker Spotlight: Glenn Bolton

2015 Speaker Spotlight: Glenn Bolton

It was a chance meeting with a member of a gangsta rap crew from Long Island that changed Glenn Bolton’s name…and his life.

“I was going by the name of “Doctor On,” and this guy said, ‘that name is crap. You’re going to call yourself “Daddy-O” and he immediately when into this rhyme I still remember.”

D to the A, double D-Y-O

I go by the name of MC Daddy-O

And this is something that you must be told

You couldn’t touch me with a sureshot pole

Daddy-O, rhymes galore

MC Daddy-O came back for more y’all

The rapper also told Bolton something important he needed to hear at that time of his life.

“He told me I had talent. He didn’t want me to end up on the street corner selling drugs. That’s the thing about the hood. There are a lot of knuckleheads but if one of us has potential, they’re going to help us anyway they can. That’s what that guy did for me. He gave me confidence.”

Growing up in Brooklyn, Bolton got straight A’s in school but never considered any career other than music. His house was filled with it. Mostly jazz, urban and soul records, but also pop and rock. Local bands played every weekend and his older sister dragged him along to listen. He loved every minute of it.

Hip-Hop started in the late 1970s in the Bronx, and its culture spread quickly to all parts of New York City. “Daddy-O” became a member of the pioneer hip-hop group “Stetsasonic.” After they disbanded in 1991, he continued as a rapper, and also became a hip-hop record producer.

Always evolving and wanting to know more about the business, he became an A&R (Artists and Repertoire) executive for MCA Records and then Motown Records, working with artists like Mary J. Blige, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Queen Latifah, among others.

“I’m still an A&R person at heart. I’m a sucker for a great song and a great singer. I can look and know quickly whether there’s something there, whether it can be developed or whether you should just quit and become an attorney.”

His genuine desire to discover talent has stayed with him and pushed him in new directions.

“I caught the digital bug over a decade ago and I still apply my A&R skills to working with new talent, whether it’s a programmer or a graphic artist. I never look at young people as a threat. I want to learn from them. I listen to them and I hope they learn from me the lessons of hip-hop: tenacity, passion and family.”

“Daddy-O” says that he had a light bulb moment when he read the book “Blue Ocean Strategy,” which describes how companies should create “blue oceans” of uncontested market space.

“I came up as a rapper. There was nothing like it before we came along. We saw a space and moved into it. That’s the trick – and the challenge – for the future. Finding the space that is not there.”

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Rosemary Taylor is a member of the awesome TEDxPeachtree content team. She is a professional writer and digital content strategist. 



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2015 Speaker Spotlight: Richard Wright

2015 Speaker Spotlight: Richard Wright

All of us have the capacity to commit a crime,” says Richard Wright, criminologist and TEDxPeachtree 2015 presenter.

“Imagine restraint as a cup. When overwhelming pressures and needs intersect with opportunity the cup overflows. The size of your cup, what fills it and what you carry around in your brain everyday determines your actions.”

This belief has propelled Wright to study urban street crime in the U.S. and England for the last 25 years. As a sociologist, he finds understanding the minds of burglars, armed robbers and drug dealers a continuously fascinating subject.

“How do criminals move from a non-motivated state to a motivated one? Why does a person walk past a jewelry store ten times and then one day all of a sudden breaks the window and steals a bracelet? I want to know why.”

A California native, Wright’s interest in crime began as a sophomore studying history at the University of California at Irvine. As serendipity would have it, one day he strikes up a conversation with a professor while they were both standing in line to handle paperwork. That professor turned out to be renowned criminologist Gilbert Geis. Wright thought he was so interesting he decided to take one of his classes. Before he knew it he was changing majors, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Richard Wright

He pursued graduate studies at Cambridge University, which ultimately led to his current position as Professor and Chair of the Criminal Justice and Criminology Department in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University.

All the while, Wright continued his research into the behaviors of street criminals, doing hundreds of interviews and visiting scenes of crimes with the perpetrators. For ethical reasons he’s never witnessed crimes actually being committed, but he’s often infiltrated crime rings in his pursuit of understanding why they do what they do.

“If you want to study the hunting strategies of lions you don’t go to a zoo. People are animals like any other animals and you want to study them in their natural setting. I’m interested in how people think and act in real life circumstances.”

Crime is obviously an interesting topic for the rest of us, as well. Just turn on your TV. Of all of the crime shows, however, only two British productions make Wright’s favorites list: “Prime Suspect” and “Criminal Justice.”

Asked what he would do if he wasn’t a criminologist, Wright says he’d be a hairdresser. “Hair salons are fascinating places. People say things they wouldn’t anyplace else. They reveal themselves, what they aspire and what kind of person they want to be.”

What better place for someone fascinated with people’s behavior?


Rosemary Taylor is a freelance writer and content strategist at PR Focus.





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