24 July, 2009

TED Day 4

TED is over and I am already in withdrawal. There's a well-documented reaction called TEDcrash that can accompany re-entry into normal life after four days of immersion in amazing ideas and even more amazing people. I have met more than 90 people in the last five days; each conversation has been at the very least interesting, and at most completely mind-blowing.

Here's a summary of the two sessions from this last Friday morning:

Session 11: Cities Past and Future
Eric Sanderson gave one of TED's most beautiful sessions on the Mannahatta project, which has mapped and cross-referenced every geographical feature and species of flora and fauna of Mannhattan going back to 1600 and culminating in a gorgeous virtual reality view; Constanza Cerruti showed the value of archaeology at high altitude (over 6,000m high!); Carolyn Steel was inspiring, forthright and downright fascinating on how cities were shaped by their food supplies up to the rail and road revolution and how important it is to reforge that broken relationship now; Bjarke Ingels was totally inspiring and also very funny in showing the real future of architecture - jaw-dropping designs (wish I'd known when I had breakfast with him!) that proved sustainability doesn't have to be boring; and Magnus Larsson showed how sand plus a special bacterium equals instant sandstone, which could create a wall of tress and dwellings across Africa to hold back the desert. One of my favourtie sessions, this one - fascintaing, inspiring and amazing in equal measure.

Session 12: Enquire Within
Dan Pink brilliantly and passionately exposed the massive business fallacy that extrinsic motivators, otherwise known as carrots and sticks, improve performance (disproved conclusively by science - they work for simple mechanical tasks but if there is even a hint of creativity involved they actually degrade performance by narrowing focus!) and showed that what work are intrinsic motivators (autonomy, mastery and purpose); Itay Talgam was absolutely brilliant in analysing the essential styles of his fellow great conductors and received a standing ovation; Daniel Birnbaum gave us a personal tour of the Venice Biennale exhibition; Cappucin Friar Br Paulus Terwitte was passionate but sadly to me largely incomprehensible due to langauge limitations; and Imogen Heap returned for a triumphant encore which involved a hang, her voice and a lot of audience participation. She is a gem.

And that's it for another year... now I need at least a week to process the connections! I have met incredible people, my brain is on fire and my faith in humanity has been restored - though not without a clear view of how scary our current challenges are. Thanks to Chris and the whole TED team for my best-ever TED experience. I've signed up for next year already - I wouldn't miss this for anything.

TED Day 3

TED does funny things to your time perception. It seems to be going so fast - only two sessions left now - but at the same time it seems a lifetime ago that I did my TED-University talk on Tuesday.

Today was fabulous; here's a brief run-through.

Session 7 - Radical Development
Paul Romer proposed that we need some good rules for changing rules because we get stuck with useless old rules too often, and suggested transforming Guantalamo Bay into a Charter City to be Cuba's Hong Kong; Marc Koska demonstrated his safe syringe (plunger breaks after one use); Michael Pritchard showed his brilliant Lifesaver bottle that cleans filthy water (Chris Anderson bravely acted as on-stage guinea pig) and allows people to live where water is; William Kamkwamba inspired us all with his pure dedication in building windmills from scrap to power and irrigate his family home; Rob Hopkins brilliantly showed how we can adapt to the end of the oil age through the wonderful Transition Network (who knew that Lewes had its own currency?); IDEO boss Tim Brown berated the 'design priesthood' for thinking small and argued convincingly that design is really big if we start with humans, prototype fast, move from consumption to participation and ask the right questions.

Session 8 - In The Shadows
A dark and scary session. Taryn Simon showed her superb but unsettling photographs of forbidden or hidden places and of wrongly-convicted people; Misha Glenny gave a tour (de force) of his amazing McMafia book, scaring the pants off me (organised crime is 18% of global GDP!!); Ed Burtynsky showed photographs of man's effect on land; Loretta Napoleoni suggested that terrorism had indirectly caused the credit crunch (US flooded the market with bonds to fund the $7bn war on terror, so interest rates were artificially reduced to increase yields, leading to the sub-prime market); and former child soldier Emmanuel Jal rapped for peace and had the whole house dancing and in tears at the same time.

Session 9 - Revealing Energy
A highlight among highlights: the session started with the BBC Radiophonic Orchestra playing the Dr Who theme complete with live theramin. Priceless - though confusing to the non-Brits. Ross Lovegrove underwhelmed me with some rambling design projects (should have listened to Tim Brown); Nick Veasey showed his x-ray art; Steve Cowley predicted workable fusion soon; Eric Giler demonstrated wireless electricity (at last!! short range only but long enough to eliminate that spaghetti under the desk and remove the need for many of the 40 billion batteries we use and discard each year); Jason Soll showed some card flourishing - a new obsession on YouTube; and Bertrand Piccard was elegantly metaphorical about transglobal balloon flight and about his new venture to circumnavigate the world non-stop in a solar-powered plane (yes nights too).

Session 10 - Worldview Rethink
Parag Khanna proposed that more infrastructure like pipelines and railways will bring peace to the geopolitical map; Richard Bernstein described an astoundingly simple way for business to tackle poverty (create shares and give them to charity); the articulate Geoff Mulgan argued for a new social capitalism founded on care and relationships instead of consumption and credit; Michelle Borkin showed some superb interdisciplinary data visualisation; Rory Bremner was outstanding and very funny ("Sorry I missed Gordon Brown's job application yesterday..."); and Karen Armstrong updated us on her TED Prize wish, the Charter For Compassion, which is being launched late this year (wonderful!).

Bonus session
In the stunning Sheldonian Theatre we had an extraordinary performance of Felix's Machines, a witty talk by charming QI producer John Lloyd, some terrifying time-lapse photography of retreating glaciers by James Balog (any remaining climate change doubters can view similar here), and a beautiful talk by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that urged us not to have just one story about any person, country or group.

Only two sessions left tomorrow morning, then it's all over for another year. I have met 90 people, and they have all been fascinating. This has been a vintage TED, and I'm already registered for next year, which is selling fast. Now for some sleep...

23 July, 2009

TED Day 2

I'm a TED host here, which gives me double permission to speak to anyone - actually just wearing a TED name badge is permission enough, but the Host tag has emboldened me to set aside all remnants of Britishness and just dive in. As a result I have met around 80 people in two days! Every one of them has been a delight. TED is all about connections - and the people connections are just as important as the idea connections. This has been a vintage TED for me in both respects and it's only halfway through.

The content in today's four sessions was astounding.

Session 3: Connected Consequences
Jonathan Zittrain reflected on altruism on the Internet (for example Wikipedia is 45 minutes from destruction at all times and the only thing protecting it is a thin line of volunteer geeks); Evgeny Morozov questioned whether the web brings freedome or new slavery (18% of US teenagers are addicted to it); Stefana Broadbent proposed that modern communication is re-establishing family and friend connection during working hours, which is the way things used to be before industrialisation; Aza Raskin showed a great Mozilla initiative in plain language granular applications called Ubiquity; Carlos Ulloa demonstrated amazing 3D video called Papervision; Rory Sutherland brought the house down with a hilarious talk on the invisible value of marketing; and Imogen Heap played a haunting, beautiful and very charming set.

Session 4: Nature's Challenge
Cary Fowler showed how a biodoversity storage facility in the Arctic may save us from famine; Janine Benyus inspired by asking the question "how would nature solve this?"; Mathieu Lehanneur showed a living room air filter and other strange designs; Matthew White gave us more brilliant euphonium; and Lewis Pugh brought gasps as he explained and showed how he swam for 20 minutes in freezing water at the North Pole to raise awareness of climate change - it took four months for the feeling to return to his hands.

Session 5: Hidden Algorithm
Beau Lotto showed amazong visual illusions to prove that context is everything; Rebecca Saxe shared the latest research about the RTPJ region of the brain which thinks about other people's minds; Henry Markram explained the modelling of a human neural column and predicted complete computer brain modelling within 10 years; James Geary explored metaphors; Manuel Lima reviewed the latest in visual complexity and data representation; and David Deutsch gave a searing and razor sharp definition of good and bad scientific method.

Session 6: Curious and Curiouser
Marcus de Sautoy spoke on symmetry; Garik Israelian explained how spectroscopy is spotting planets around stars and even whether they have plant life (he told me later that he believes 30-40% of all stars will be shown to have planets!); Candy Chan showed the benefits of neighbourhood communication techniques; 90-year-old Elaine Morgan got a standing ovation and left us all touched, moved and inspired by her fight to get the aquatic theory of human evolution accepted by the snooty academic establishment; and Sophie Hunger played a fine set with the best trombonist I've ever seen in her band.

What a day. A classic TED day. It seems a lifetime ago I gave my talk at TED-U. Must savour every moment because after tomorrow evening it'll be almost all over. Gordon Brown's talk is already up on the TED site. More will follow in the days to come.

21 July, 2009

TEDGlobal 2009 Day 1

It's a joy to be back at TEDGlobal in Oxford, and what an excellent first day we've had. Where else do you see Stephen Fry (who was winging it, albeit in his usual witty and learned fashion), followed by a 17 year old euphonium genius called Matthew White, followed by Gordon Brown? The PM actually impressed me and everyone else I've spoken to with a passionate and articulate speech about the great opportunity we have at the confluence of global communication, global problems and a shared ethical basis for global action. I hope he speaks as eloquently in Copenhagen.

This morning (seems like a lifetime ago as I write - that's TED) I spoke about sound to a packed house of 270 as part of TED-University, where 24 TEDsters did a series of short talks - a mini TED which achieves the same effect of simultaneously stimulating and boggling the mind. I loved Rachel Armstrong on saving Venice with a protocell reef and Sam Martin on manspaces. Some kind comments about my talk, so a good start to the week.

Session 1: What we Know and Session 2: Seeing Is Believing
Sound has featured on the main stage already - not surprising given the conference theme of "The substance of things not seen". Evan Grant intrigued me with his talk on cymatics - the study of wave phenomena and specifically the patterns produced by sound waves, for example in sand grains on resonating metal plates or in water. Some of these patterns are identical to snowflakes, starfish and even living cells. There is something wonderful here... We also had Mark Johnson of Playing For Change with the YouTube-friendly video of Stand By Me. I would have been more in tune with this if he had credited 1 Giant Leap, whose modus operandi and video style he has clearly borrowed wholesale. I applaud the charitable intentions of his project, but in terms of musical worth the first 1GL album is out on its own. If you don't own it, go straight to Amazon and get yourself a copy of the DVD. It is truly inspiring.

We also had James Geary juggling (literally) as he advocated aphorisms (my favourite: no snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible); Andrea Ghez making supermassive black holes intelligible and exciting; Willard Wigan showing his extraordinary nanosculptures (the Statue of Liberty in the eye of a needle!); Steve Truglia planing a parachute jump from 120,000 feet; and a wonderfully urbane and intelligent talk by Alain de Botton on the myth of success and the devastating effects of envy.

Just another standard day at TED. I have met upwards of 70 fascinating people so far - but that's just 10% of the number here. Only three days left...