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Oge Marques Connects Technology with Stories That Make Sense to His Audience

Oge Marques at his 2019 AAAS Leshner Fellow orientation, speaking with AAAS Mass Media Fellows
Oge Marques at his 2019 AAAS Leshner Fellow orientation, speaking with AAAS Mass Media Fellows.
Photo credit: Mary Catherine Longshore / AAAS

One of Marques’ goals from the beginning of the AAAS Leshner Public Engagement Fellowship year was to better understand what human augmentation means to most people, and how he and his colleagues could increase interest in this topic and support broader engagement with it. Marques is part of the 2019-20 class of AAAS Leshner Public Engagement Fellows, whose scientific and public engagement work connects to the topic of human augmentation. These researchers come from a diverse range of disciplines, but they are all interested in technologies that temporarily or permanently change the capabilities of the human body. Their work varies widely, from assistive technologies and wearable sensors to tattooing and antibiotics.

Toward this goal, one of Marques’ projects as a fellow has been to develop a website about the topic of human augmentation, in part with seed funding provided through the AAAS fellowship. Marques, who is a professor of engineering and computer science at Florida Atlantic University focused on the intelligent processing of visual information (including the use of artificial intelligence techniques for medical applications), is populating it with news, useful links and resources, and research papers related to human augmentation. He hopes it will engage science-interested members of the public and those considering science careers, as well as some researchers in the field. Marques would like the site to provide continuity for the cohort, so they can continue to share resources with the public in a collective way.

Marques realized at the start of his fellowship year, during the training at AAAS, that his unique interest and audience lay in his work with the “lifelong learners” program at his university. He had been giving lectures to this audience of older, mostly retired learners for some time, and he sought to improve these interactions further. Marques has been very pleased with the growth in his talks over the course of the year, as he has expanded the topics and locations. His in-person audiences are typically very engaged and share many of their own related stories, which he greatly values.

“I make them feel at ease with topics that they typically would feel uncomfortable with… [namely], technology… by creating connections between the scientific and technical topics we’re discussing and stories that make sense to them. Sometimes I create those things myself, such as using a deck of cards to explain a machine learning algorithm (clustering)… Sometimes it’s things they infer, by connecting what I’m saying with memories of their lives. I love this type of interaction! As a public engagement enthusiast, you want your message to connect with the audience. If the memorable part comes from the person’s life story, but you helped [by] triggering it or framing it in some way, then it’s even more rewarding,” says Marques.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, he has continued to give lectures online, such as “The Artificial Intelligence Revolution in Medicine: Technology, Risks, Applications, and Implications,”.

Marques has also started encouraging his students to experiment with how they communicate about science. In one of his classes, rather than asking them to write papers, he suggested they explore other formats, from videos to games to podcasts. He has collected many of these examples on his blog.

Before the AAAS training, Marques acknowledges he was for the most part a traditional researcher, professor and speaker, and the fellowship led him to conclude that good public engagement with science and technology is even harder than he thought. But he is continuing to expand his repertoire of engagement experiences, lately with a variety of outlets in Brazil, where he is from -- such as podcasts and online public talks and webinars. He is very grateful for the program, and says, “The AAAS training week was one of those times when you don’t realize until afterward how impactful it will be for the rest of your life.”

The AAAS Leshner Leadership Institute was founded in 2015 and operates through philanthropic gifts in honor of CEO Emeritus Alan I. Leshner. Each year the Institute provides public engagement training and support to 10-15 mid-career scientists from an area of research at the nexus of science and society.