Will.i.am Takes Over Radio Disney This Afternoon/Evening — for Science!

Geek Culture People

Jake Whetter and Will.i.am. Photo: Disney Channel / Todd Wawrychuk

Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas will take over Radio Disney today, Friday, August 12, at 6:00 PM ET/3:00 PM PT to talk about his one-hour television special promoting science education. The special, “i.am.FIRST: Science is Rock and Roll,” will air on ABC on Sunday, August 14 at 7:00 PM. Will.i.am has partnered with Dean Kamen (best known as the inventor of the Segway) to create the special, which is built around the 20th Annual FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Championship, a worldwide science and robotics competition for children in grades K-12. The special features LIVE performances by The Black Eyed Peas and Willow Smith, as well as special appearances from superstars such as Bono, Jack Black, Justin Bieber, Snoop Dogg, Justin Timberlake, Steven Tyler – among others, to lend their support for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education.

Now celebrating its 15th Anniversary, Radio Disney is the #1, 24-hour radio network devoted to kids, tweens and families. Kids help pick the music that is played and are encouraged to interact via a toll-free phone line to the Radio Disney studio. The network’s current playlist, driven by listener requests and representing major record labels, includes recording artists Selena Gomez & The Scene, Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Willow Smith, Cody Simpson, Katy Perry, Taio Cruz and Allstar Weekend. The network is available on over 35 terrestrial radio stations and is also available via RadioDisney.com, Sirius and XM satellite radio on channel 79, iTunes Radio Tuner, mobile phones and on the Radio Disney iPhone and Android Apps.

At the Radio Disney studio, Will.i.am spoke about his experience as a child attending a science magnet school, saying “I was blessed to be bused to the school from the ghetto where I lived,” where he was able to learn about computers and other technology that later played a large part in his musical career. He went on to say that “the school made the difference between myself and my next-door neighbors, most of whom are dead or in prison.” He has been a passionate advocate of education and technology throughout his career.

Following the recording of the Radio Disney segment, I had an opportunity to ask Will.i.am a few questions:

Q: You mentioned “the marriage of art and technology;” can you give us a few of your thoughts on that topic?
A. The last time art and science were married was 1930, and that was when RCA’s birth of making radio a consumer product. And then when RCA bought Victor’s “Talking Machine;” that was all technology, and they didn’t know what to put on that technology. Someone thought to record theater, speakeasies, swing clubs, and captured art on their technology, and that was the birth of the music industry. Everyone was inventing things, and NTSC, the code that makes television television, RCA purchased that. RCA was the first Google. They realized that the marriage between art and science, what it births. It birthed two big industries: the television and the music industry. Before the music industry was the music industry, it was publishing. And that was technology, because you printed sheet music and made pianos, and sheet music sold pianos. It was all technology, because the actual printing press, it was technology too. So the marriage of art, the art of chord progressions and songwriting, with the science of printing sheet music and playing it, is art and science. So right now we’re at the new intersection, of whole new technology, and art, and what does that intersection birth? We don’t know what that is, because the two worlds haven’t collaborated yet. The art world thinks the new technology world is geeks and nerds, probably because of movies like REVENGE OF THE NERDS, this stigma that comes along with intelligence, right? And dedication and discipline around math and science, there’s a stigma there; I don’t know where it came from, but we need to clean up those lines. And the stigma from the tech world that looks at art as “ah, those guys aren’t smart!” When there’s two different things that could complement each other, that could birth a whole new industry.

Q. It used to be if you wanted to make a record, you needed a record contract, a studio, $50,000 worth of recording equipment; now, the barriers to entry are down; if you have $50, a computer and an internet connection, you can be a record producer…
A. Not only that, you can buy time on a network and make a TV show.

What is it that separates a Justin Beiber from the other 10,000 kids that have videos up on YouTube and aren’t becoming worldwide pop sensations?
A. It all depends on your definition of “worldwide pop sensation,” because there are kids who put content on the internet and get 100,000 views or two million views… that’s popular. When two million people watch it, and you never know who’s gathered around the computer watching it, so it’s more than two million. Just because the record industry doesn’t adopt it, doesn’t mean it’s not popular. Just because someone didn’t make a movie out of a skit, doesn’t mean that those 10 million people that saw it don’t know about it.

So, once again, the journalists are connected to this industry, and that industry is fickle, and lopsided and one-sided, and they don’t really know the barometer of the weather, what’s actually happening, so because the journalists are writing for this industry that’s build on yesterday’s platform of technology, the new technology are defining and developing new popular culture, regardless of whether it’s monetized. As soon as it’s monetized, with these new smart televisions that we’re now seeing — “Samsung new Smart TV with internet!” — it disrupts radio and the networks, so now my little sister can compete with the networks, if she has the ability to put together content-makers and animators. And now, think about what’s coming in three years. Just like with app people who built apps for smart phones, people are going to write apps for XBox Kinect, now you can do animation in real-time by recording gestures. You don’t have to have animators in India doing your cartoons anymore. Those people doing animation aren’t American; they send animatics to India and Korea and they animate it. But now technology is going to allow people to animate in their house with XBox Kinect.

All this new disruption is about to speed up even more. People that have smart TVs can be networks, and brands are going to come straight to my sister, not to the network. ‘Cause Coke’s like, ” hey we’re not selling product with our one billion dollar marketing budget, because no-one’s watching commercials!” So there’s this big void that’s happening in the world; content, delivery, monetization, technology… technology’s growing, but the marriage hasn’t happened yet. The technologists are being technologists and the artists are being artists, and yesterday’s system is inoperative.

Q. Dean Kamen’s dad was a comic book artist; what’s the relationship between pop culture and science? How do we bring those kids, the kids that love comics, together with the kids that love math and science, are they the same kids, is there an overlap or a divide?

A. I pay attention to pop culture, and people’s imagination.. people aren’t dreaming anymore. Everything’s recycled; “New PLANET OF THE APES!” I saw the new Planet of the Apes two years ago, ’cause the other Planet of the Apes was when I was a little kid. Now they’re re-doing re-dos. The new Superman! How many new Supermans do we gotta have? The new A-Team? Mr. T is still alive! Think about all the re-dos; there’s no new anything. The reason is, the imagination that it took to make Superman and Spider-Man, and now we have the Human Genome Project and real science that’s going to marry the imagination that used to make fantasy, and make fantasy reality.

It’s like how our grandmas used to say “when we went to the store, we walked,” and now I have a Segway.”I remember when we had the internet!” Can you think beyond the internet? I can’t imagine what will come next, but it’s just like, from Henry Ford’s car to now, private planes, or the Wright Brothers’ planes to the super-duper fast super trains in Japan that run off magnets. This is just the beginning of where we’re going. So now, superheroes; to people that build robots, Iron Man is possible; that’s not science-fiction, that could be science-fact. So we’re going to see science fiction turned into science fact in 20 years, and that’s the intersection, when art and science marry, this new thing we’re about to see.

Q: So I’ll finally get my jetpack?

A: Jetpack? We’re going to bypass the jetpack, because Nikola Tesla’s Warden Tower is going to be executed; the concept of broadcasting power wirelessly, to then broadcast matter. That’s 1920! Our radio is only a byproduct of Nikola Tesla’s original concept; before you would send a person from one place to another, you would hear them, and and before you’d send them, you’d see them, and that’s television and radio. Before you’d send all your data — teleportation — you’d send the internet. It’s all steps, to be able to get to… it’s a hundred years; look of it as a hundred-year program of transferring information; in order to send all your molecules from one place to another, you’d have to send all your data, and that’s what the internet is. Send the voice, that’s what radio is; send the vision, that’s television, it’s all steps, and in 20 years…

We didn’t hear about Tesla in school; we heard about Edison. Because Edison’s concepts were all consumer products of something that was even grander, if you want to get down to it. That’s why I’m passionate about this stuff, because I did my research on the industry that I’m in.

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