Young Explorers Chart a Brighter Future for the Planet
Adults don’t often ask children how to prepare for the future of the planet. But that’s exactly what happened when Grade 8 Branksome students, Juliette and Cayden, were invited to participate in an international conference in Sagamihara, Japan.
The World Space Summit for Young Explorers takes place every year in Sagamihara, Toronto’s sister city. In honour of their 30th anniversary, hosts The Galactic Federation, with the cooperation of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), invited international students to participate for the first time. Juliette and Cayden were chosen from 30 Branksome applicants for their curiosity about space and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
Fifty students between the ages of 10 and 15 came from the Ukraine, French Guyana, China and Japan, with each participant researching a topic about the future of the planet. Juliette looked at how the earth could adapt when the world population exceeds 10 billion. Cayden researched the future of Artificial Intelligence. At the conference, they shared their work in groups and came up with a proposal on how to create a brighter future, which they presented on the last day to a packed auditorium.
“I asked ‘What will the world be like with super-advanced AI technology?’” says Cayden. “It’s hard enough for women to get jobs now; will we have to compete with robots? Will we get to a point where we will no longer be able to manage robots as they program themselves?”
Her group thought through these questions. “We can’t stop technology from developing but nor can we let it control our lives. Humans have strengths robots don’t, such as ethics,” she says.
What should we humans do in the future? “We’re going to have to work together with AI or decide only to develop it to a certain point,” Cayden continues thoughtfully. “What surprised me was that we did not reach a final answer.”
Juliette was surprised by how people’s answers to the question of how the planet will cope with a population exceeding 10 billion was influenced by their age. “One girl noted the benefits, like ‘more friends’ and ‘more brilliant minds!’ But I think we’ll need more biodegradable plastic,” says Juliette. We’re going to have to find a way to create a sustainable cycle so that half our planet isn’t full of pollution.”
A highlight of the trip was meeting Japanese astronaut Naoku Yamayaki, the second Japanese woman to fly into space. Naoku was the guest of honour at the final presentation.
“She was an extreme role model,” offers Juliettte. “Even after she achieved her goal of going to space, she never felt that her journeys or dreams were over. She continued to build on her accomplishments and do more.”
“When she was in space for fifteen days, she had to adapt to a new culture and environment to survive,” adds Cayden. The girls gave Ms Yamayaki a gift of maple syrup.
Our intrepid Branksome explorers learned about Japanese culture, often communicating with their Japanese hosts with the help of hand gestures. Their new experiences included sleeping on bamboo mats with rice pillows, visiting the JAXA Space Museum and a Cat Café in Tokyo, and ordering ramen noodles from a vending machine. “We barely knew each other before,” says Cayden. “Now we’re bonded for life.”