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Aspen Ideas to Go


Aspen Ideas to Go is a show about big ideas that will open your mind. Featuring compelling conversations with the world’s top thinkers and doers from a diverse range of disciplines, Aspen Ideas to Go gives you front-row access to the Aspen Ideas Festival and other events presented by the Aspen Institute.


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Aspen Ideas to Go is a show about big ideas that will open your mind. Featuring compelling conversations with the world’s top thinkers and doers from a diverse range of disciplines, Aspen Ideas to Go gives you front-row access to the Aspen Ideas Festival and other events presented by the Aspen Institute.




Investing in Shared American Prosperity

Even when the economy is booming and unemployment is low, millions of Americans still face economic hardship. And in the last few years the United States has dealt with supply chain challenges, inflation and financial instability. The economic tools we have to identify, address and talk about those problems aren’t always up to the task, and sometimes the picture we get is hard to match with reality. Gene Ludwig is a longtime financial advisor to Wall Street, and founder of the Ludwig Institute for Shared Economic Prosperity. His organization aims to help middle and low-income families achieve prosperity, in part by developing new headline statistics for economic data that bring us closer to truly understanding Americans’ experiences. Ludwig joins Heather Boushey from Biden’s Council of Economic Advisors on stage at the Aspen Institute, for a conversation about how to truly invest in American industry from the ground up. What principles and policies will help achieve national security and a strong economy that supports workers? Gillian Tett, U.S. editor-at-large of Financial Times, moderates the conversation.


Where Ancient Faiths Meet Modern Lives

The United States is a more secular society than many, and the percentage of people who don’t identify with organized religion is rising. Some of the impacts from that shift might be obvious, such as declining membership in congregations or decreased support for religious organizations and institutions. But some of the consequences are less obvious. How do we change as people when we don’t practice religious ritual? When we aren’t part of a community? Three scholars and leaders from different religious traditions come together on stage at the Aspen Ideas Festival to grapple with these questions. They point out how ancient faiths permeate our modern lives even where we don’t notice, and speak about the spiritual gaps religion fills for people and society. Kate Bowler is a podcast host and history professor at Duke Divinity School. Haroon Moghul is an imam and director of The Concordia Forum, a network of Muslim leaders. And Shira Stutman is interim rabbi at the Aspen Jewish Congregation, and the founder of Sixth & I Synagogue in Washington, DC. The executive director of the Religion and Society Program at the Aspen Institute, Simran Jeet Singh, moderates the conversation.


Balancing Work and Life with Mary Louise Kelly

About two decades ago, NPR host Mary Louise Kelly had her first child and went down the extremely common yet commonly daunting life path of balancing a demanding career with a family. As a national security correspondent on assignment war zones, she missed family events and emergency phone calls from her kids’ school. As the daily weekday co-host of “All Things Considered,” she missed almost all of her sons’ soccer games. She’s tried working full time, working part time, working from home and working far away from home, and in each, there’s been something missing. Every year, she said she would figure it out next year. But as she writes in her latest book, the memoir “It. Goes. So. Fast.: The Year of No Do-Overs,” next year came quickly. Her sons were about to leave for college, and she had to make the most of the time they had left. Kelly talks with podcast and TV host Kelly Corrigan, host of PBS’ “Tell Me More with Kelly Corrigan,” about the constant challenge of trying to be there for your family and your job at the same time.


Thinking, Innovating and A.I. with Walter Isaacson

Artificial intelligence is clearly going to change our lives in multiple ways. But it’s not yet obvious exactly how, and what the impacts will be. We can predict that certain jobs held by humans will probably be taken over by computers, but what about our thoughts? Will we still think and create in the same ways? Author and former Aspen Institute president Walter Isaacson has been writing biographies about big thinkers and innovators for decades, including Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin and Jennifer Doudna. Isaacson returned to the world of technology for his most recent book on Elon Musk. Journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin interviews Isaacson on stage at the Aspen Ideas Festival about whether a society fully integrated with AI can foster the same qualities shared by many influential people. Will A.I. augment the best that humans have to offer, or will it compete with or even degrade human intelligence? And are there some traits that technology just will never be able to replicate, like empathy and compassion?


Harnessing A.I. in Education with Sal Khan

When Sal Khan created Khan Academy, he was trying to scale up the successful experiences he’d had tutoring his cousins one-on-one in math. He saw how effective it could be for students to go at their own pace, ask questions and be questioned about their reasoning, and he wanted to make those benefits available to as many kids as possible. The organization eventually grew to include free online content on just about every subject taught in schools, and even test prep for the LSATs and MCATs. Now Khan Academy has been experimenting with the next level of scalable tutoring. In March, the organization launched Khanmigo, a generative artificial intelligence tool made specifically for learning. Educators have been embroiled in debate about the role A.I. could and should play in school, and how to ensure that it’s effective for students and trustworthy for teachers. Khanmigo is aimed at quelling some of those fears and finding the opportunity in technology that’s so interactive and easily accessible. In this talk at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Khan demonstrates Khanmigo and explains how it was designed. Mehran Sahami, the head of Stanford’s computer science department, interviews Khan about the tool and takes questions from the audience.


The Dilemmas of Hostage Diplomacy

The White House has declared hostage-taking to be a national emergency. In July 2022, Biden issued an executive order outlining steps to deter the practice and help bring Americans back sooner. Increasingly, autocratic nation states such as Russia and Iran are detaining U.S. citizens unlawfully or on minor and bogus charges with the aim of getting something they want. Hostage diplomacy is no longer a tactic of terrorists or rogue actors, but a tool government officials are turning to. Roger Carstens, the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, is the person who takes charge and tries to start negotiations when the State Department determines that a detainment is a diplomatic issue. At the Aspen Ideas Festival, NBC correspondent Tom Llamas talks with Carstens about the process, as well as Jason Rezaian, who spent 544 days in an Iranian prison for being a Washington Post reporter. Hostage expert Dani Gilbert, a political science professor at Northwestern University, also joins the panel to share research in this field.


Wicked Problem: The Road Ahead for Immigration Policy

Almost everyone agrees that immigration policy in the United States is lacking, but despite decades of debate, Congress has not been able to pass comprehensive reform on the issue. For some, the primary issues are border security and economic concerns, and for others, labor needs and a commitment to humanitarianism take precedence. Why is it so hard to find common ground, and what are some visions for a different immigration future? NBC correspondent Tom Llamas moderates a panel of experts at the Aspen Ideas Festival who identify the key immigration pressure points and share thoughts on moving forward. Former Arizona Governor Doug Ducey joins Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, the head of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, U.S. representative Tony Gonzales from Texas and Mary Kay Henry, the international president of the Service Employees International Union.


Rainn Wilson and Spiritual Revolution

Actor Rainn Wilson had his dream job on the hit TV show “The Office,” but was still being kept up at night by anxiety, depression, and life’s big unanswerable questions. He went on a quest to discover the world’s spiritual teachings, reading all the holy books of the world’s major religions. For several years, he researched and pondered concepts like truth, love, free will, and suffering, and he eventually landed back at the Baha’i Faith of his family and childhood. His latest book, “Soul Boom: Why We Need a Spiritual Revolution,” explores what he learned on his journey and how he’s navigated the spiritual gaps that can be found in our modern society. NBC TV host Jenna Bush Hager interviews Wilson about getting in touch with his spiritual self, reconciling with the difficulties of his past and writing Soul Boom.


Mary Barra: The Future of General Motors and EVs

The automotive industry is going through a time of profound transformation, facing internal and external pressure to electrify America’s fleet of personal vehicles. General Motors has made a bold pledge to phase out internal combustion and produce only electric vehicles by the year 2035. CEO Mary Barra is leading the ambitious effort to revamp the company, after about a decade in the top role. Journalist Rebecca Blumenstein of NBC News interviews Barra about starting at GM in college and ending up as CEO, and plotting the company’s groundbreaking future.


Democracy Dilemma

Populations around the world have been electing more and more autocratic leaders in the past couple decades, via supposedly free, fair, and democratic elections. The freedom of the press is being impinged upon in many places, and fear, outrage and misinformation are often taking the place of reasoned debate. Minority populations in some countries are increasingly oppressed and vulnerable. Is democracy working? Filipino journalist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa, Brookings Institution Fellow Shadi Hamid and president of the advocacy group Freedom House, Michael Abramowitz, meet on stage at the 2023 Aspen Ideas Festival to share their diverse expertise about what got us to this point, and where democracy might go in the future. Journalist Ravi Agrawal from Foreign Policy moderates the conversation.


Solving the Problem of Guns in America

Merely defining gun violence is difficult, and coming to agreement on what to do about it often seems near-impossible in the United States. But people on all sides of the debate agree that they want to feel safe, even if they have different ideas of how to achieve security. What will it take to truly listen to each other and make progress on this issue? U.S. Representative Lucy McBath, advocate John Feinblatt, Cato Institute legal scholar Clark Neily and sociologist Jennifer Carlson come together at the 2023 Aspen Ideas Festival to share their unique perspectives and expertise on fighting gun violence. Journalist and public radio host Jenn White moderates the discussion.


Reviewing the Supreme Court’s Latest

The U.S. Supreme Court continues to issue major decisions that have profound impacts on the lives of Americans and the political future of the country. During the term that just ended, the court ruled on affirmative action, voting rights, gay rights and student loan forgiveness, among other issues with broad reach. But the justices are not a monolith, of course, and there is much to be learned from closely reading the full opinions and dissents, and placing the decisions in legal context. Georgetown Law professor Neal Katyal, Stanford Law professor Pamela Karlan and Clark Neily from the Cato Institute join law professor and journalist Jeffrey Rosen for an in-depth discussion at the 2023 Aspen Ideas Festival about the justices’ arguments and what we expect to see from the court in the future.


Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Everything

Like all technology, artificial intelligence can be used for good, and it can be used for evil. What little federal regulation the United States has governing technology and the internet was written before artificial intelligence existed in its current form, and as a society, we’re flying blind and in way over our heads as we enter this next phase of digital life. What could we possibly do to help point these constantly-evolving tools in the right direction, anticipate the biggest risks, and not replicate the overblown optimism of social media’s early days? Philanthropist and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and the head of MIT’s College of Computing, Daniel Huttenlocher, explain how generative A.I. is built and taught to create content, and where it could go wrong. The two co-authors of the book “The Age of A.I.: And Our Human Future” point out the human biases built in to AI systems, and the dystopian (and some utopian) use cases of these tools in politics, warfare and other societal realms. Biographer and former Aspen Institute President Walter Isaacson moderates the conversation.


The Surprising Source of Joy (Encore)

Why is it that simple pleasures such as bubbles, rainbows, and hot air balloons bring joy to most people? Designer Ingrid Fetell Lee says, “there’s something really powerful in the idea that we all find joy in the same things,” especially items with little significance otherwise. Fetell Lee studied how our physical environment impacts our well-being, both physically and psychologically. She believes that our surroundings can be a powerful tool for cultivating happier, healthier lives … and joyful moments. In this episode, she talks about the difference between happiness and joy and how we can stimulate our senses to produce joy. Fetell Lee is the author of Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness.


Why People Want to Ban Books

The desire to try and stop people from reading certain printed material has been around since material was first printed. In the modern era, book banning has waxed and waned in popularity, experiencing peaks during McCarthyism and again in the 1980s. We’re now in the midst of another wave, mostly targeting books by people of color and LGBTQ identities. In 2022, the number of U.S. attempts to ban books hit the highest point since tracking began more than 20 years ago, according to the American Library Association. Not all of the 1,269 attempts last year were successful in actually removing books from shelves, but many were, and several were the result of efforts by coordinated groups with political ties. John Szabo, the head of the Los Angeles Public Library, has dealt with the challenges of library systems of all sizes all over the country, and now leads the nation’s largest. He joins Nadine Strossen, the former president of the American Civil Liberties Union and an expert in constitutional law, at the 2022 Ideas Festival for a conversation about why book banning is so alluring for some, and antithetical to the purpose and mission of a library. The Aspen Institute’s Elliot Gerson moderates the discussion.


Sex Recession: Why Isn’t Everyone Doing It?

The age of technology and the internet provides constant easy access to sexual content and information about sex, for all tastes and curiosities. But survey data show that young people are having less sex than people of previous generations did at their age, and the experts are trying to figure out why. In this 2019 talk from the Aspen Ideas: Health archives, three professionals with inside knowledge talk to Atlantic culture writer Amanda Mull about the positives and negatives of keeping to yourself and delaying sexual experiences a little longer. Human sexuality professor Debby Herbenick conducts a national survey on Americans’ sexual behavior, and gets firsthand accounts of college students’ sex lives in her classes. Columnist and activist Dan Savage has been answering no-holds-barred questions from the public about sex for decades. And Atlantic editor Kate Julian wrote one of the magazine’s most-read pieces of 2018, “The Sex Recession.”


Geraldine Brooks on Spirit, Obsession and Injustice

As a budding journalist in Sydney, Australia, Geraldine Brooks was assigned to the horse racing beat in the sports department, with no experience or knowledge of the subject. She went to every single horse race in the city and reported on the results in great detail. It wasn’t until her 50s that she actually became personally interested in horses, and returned to the subject in her latest historical fiction novel, “Horse.” The book’s main subject is Lexington, the greatest race horse in American history, and the horse’s Black and enslaved groom, Jarret. The two navigate the injustices of the years just before the Civil War, as they travel the country winning races. Brooks weaves Lexington and Jarret’s stories in with characters living through other eras of American history, including the present day, illustrating the evolution and persistence of racism. In the last conversation of the 2023 Winter Words season from Aspen Words, Washington Post book critic Ron Charles interviews Brooks about what inspired “Horse” and led her from journalism to historical fiction.


Separated: Inside an American Tragedy with Jacob Soboroff

During the period of several months in 2018 when the Trump administration was separating migrant families at the U.S. border with Mexico, NBC News and MSNBC reporter Jacob Soboroff was exposing the raw details of the situation. He toured a detention facility holding young boys in Texas, and interviewed parents hundreds of miles away in California. He gave the public stark and simple descriptions of what he was seeing, and turned his reporting into a book, “Separated: Inside an American Tragedy.” At the time of this interview with NPR host Mary Louise Kelly at the 2022 Aspen Ideas Festival, at least a thousand children still hadn’t been reunited with their parents. Soboroff is still following the issue, and shares what has happened to the families affected and how the Biden administration is handling the aftermath.


Bret Stephens and John Englander on Climate Skepticism

Even people who agree that climate change is a problem don’t necessarily agree on what to do about it. And some people still need a little more convincing that the threat is as serious as climate scientists and activists have been telling us it is. It can be difficult for skeptics with serious, well-intentioned questions to find a forum for getting answers. New York Times columnist Bret Stephens knows what that intellectual journey is like firsthand, having gone from climate skepticism to climate evangelism in just a few years, with the help of patient authorities on climate science. Oceanographer and sea level rise expert John Englander was one of the scientists who helped Stephens make that transformation, even inviting him on a trip to Greenland to see receded sea ice up close. Englander and Stephens reunite on stage at the 2023 Aspen Ideas: Climate event in Miami Beach to talk about persisting climate skepticism and effective tools of persuasion. The talk is moderated by Susan Goldberg, the president and CEO of public media company GBH.


Vice President Kamala Harris Believes We Can Tackle Climate Change

A problem as big as climate change relies on millions of incremental solutions of all sizes, but also requires leaders who can keep their eye on the big picture. Not all the movement on climate needs to come from the government, but making progress will rely in large part on executive action. Vice President Kamala Harris has a clear vision for the role that the U.S. government can play in solving this daunting problem, and is even excited about implementing solutions that she believes will not just avert disaster, but also improve public health and quality of life. She’s focused on making technology and clean energy available to all Americans, not just those who can easily afford upgrades. She took the stage at the 2023 Aspen Ideas: Climate event in Miami Beach to share her optimism and expand upon the policy ideas that are inspiring her and the Biden administration. Singer and Miami resident Gloria Estefan interviews Harris and talks about the changes she’s seen in her home city as the climate shifts, and the precious resources she hopes to protect.