22 November, 2010

SPARK radio show

Last week I had the great pleasure of being interviewed by the excellent Nora Young on Canada's Spark radio show, which was broadcast on Sunday Nov 21. It was a fascinating show, covering noise, filtering and overload in lots of ways and includes an interview with one of my favourite authors, William Gibson - the man who said: "The future is already here - it's just unevenly distributed." Nora's team were a delight to deal with and have done a superb job editing the piece. You can hear the show here.

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27 October, 2010

Can music be good (or bad) for you?

Just wrote this article for the ITHP website. I will in due course repost the whole article here, but for now I'll just link to it.

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24 October, 2010

Audi Sound Branding Identity

Audi's recent announcement about its very comprehensive Sound Identity seems to have set a new standard for our industry. You can see a rather self-congratulatory 'making of' documentary here on YouTube, and several of my friends in the industry have blogged about it (for example Ruth Simmons and Karhelinz Illner. What captures my attention is the commitment of the client. Sound is being treated as an essential component of the Audi brand, not the icing on the cake, and resources been made available to work that through into consistent and on-brand audio in all Audi's marketing communication. This is a huge step forward, and creates a benchmark for all major brands to aim at.

But is it enough? I'm not on the inside of this project, but so far I have seen Audi covering five of the eight expressions of a brand in sound we differentiate at The Sound Agency - as shown in the BrandSound™ graphic. 

Audi have defined Brand Music (including the approach of creating a library for all future uses, which is excellent); Sonic Logo (the heartbeat); Advertising Sound (now consistent and derived from brand values); Product Sound (pretty well-defined in general in the car industry); and Brand Voice (including recorded on-brand and standardised voicemail announcements). This is a far more comprehensive approach than many, which is why there is so much excitement about this case study in the industry.

But I wonder if they are also tackling Branded Audio (podcasts, apps and other high-value sound given or sold to customers or other stakeholders); Telephone Sound (have they looked at their IVR system's structure and live voice interactions on the phone?); and most of all Soundscapes (are they redesigning the aural experience of being in their showrooms? For example I know that the huge flagship Audi showroom in West London is very challenged in that way, with plenty of unpleasant noise and challenging acoustics). The research is clear and comprehensive on the importance of retail soundscapes in terms of their effect on sales - but in my experience most car showrooms have predominantly hard surfaces causing unsuitably long reverberation times, and the sound sources tend to be uncontrolled - for example SkyTVNews on plasma screens or commercial radio playing on ceiling loudspeakers, or even both at the same time. That kind of set up pipes in negative messages (such as bad news) and inappropriate sound (such as fast-paced music) and even allows competing brands to advertise into your own branded space, which is obviously undesirable. The far better alternative is branded, generative soundscapes designed to create an appropriate ambience and to enhance the desired state in visitors, which for showrooms is relaxed, unhurried and alert.

A truly comprehensive approach to BrandSound™ will cover all auditory interactions. Audi's commitment is a welcome inspiration to its peers, but it seems there is still potential for them to explore. 

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Skavlan and TEDxNewSt

Last week I appeared on the top chat show for Sweden and Norway. It's called Skavlan after its host, Fredrik Skavlan. I had a great time doing the show and they've now posted it here on the website of Norwegian TV; it'll be up until November 21.

They've edited it, so some of my lists are cut short, and my plea for businesses to take control of the sound they're making has disappeared - but overall it still gets the message across that we all can gain from listeing consciously, and businesses can gain from making sound consciously. I was last on the show, so it might help to know that Norwegian comedienne Anne-Kat had joked that bands have a pecking order for getting girls with the drummer always at the bottom, and that Swedish pop star Håkan Hellström had been talking about being brought up by a child psychiatrist mother.

My TEDx talk on brands and sound has also just gone up on the TEDx YouTube channel here

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22 October, 2010

Retail sound: article in The Grocer

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The Grocer.pdf (204 KB)

The Grocer is the UK's leading magazine for the retail trade. I've only just learned that it featured a major article about sound and retail in July - and here it is. I'm featured, along with Professors Adrian North and Charles Spence, as well as my friend Simon Harrop from BRAND sense agency. I think it's very powerful review of the great opportunity many retailers have yet to explore: creating appropriate, effective and branded soundscapes in their retail spaces.

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21 October, 2010

Stockholm - soundscape leader?

I'm in lovely sunny Stockholm today, just for one day, to record an appearance on Skavlan, the top Swedish/Norwegian chat show, which came about because of my second TED talk on sound and health. This is a very exciting opportunity to raise the consciousness of sound of three million people so I hope I get the message across! I type this blog in my dressing room minutes before going on... I am happy to report that Fredrik Skavlan is absolutely charming and he and his lovely team have put me very much at ease.

While here I visited the Museum of Architecture, where (almost lost among the huge visual exhibits) there is a small exhibition by Björn Hellström on aural architecture. It's in two parts. The first shows a model of the proposed massive redevelopment of the Slussen area, and with a simple before and after sound installation demonstrates how bad it will sound if nobody pays attention to the noise levels and installs acoustic treatments. Hellström's point is that aural architecture falls between the cracks: no town planner, architect, designer, engineer or councillor is tasked with thinking about it, so they all miss it and the result is the usual - accidental and unpleasant, just the exhaust gas of the urban machine. He argues for a new breed of 'acoustic architect' - though I prefer the term aural architect coined by Barry Blesser in his fabulous book Spaces Speak, Are You Listening? - one person who is completely focused on the question: how will this building sound?

The second part is more fun and equally thought-provoking. It's a single darkened room with a multi-channel sound installation on 10 lovely Genelec loudspeakers, which simulate the soundscape in Mariatorget, a square with busy roads at both ends in which there is a permanent sound and light installation. As usual, the sound feels much more intrusive when you can't see what's making it - much like what happens when I play clients their retail soundscapes on headphones. Our eyes acts as a kind of automatic compressor, preparing us for sounds a fraction in advance. Without the visual cues, the traffic noise in the installation is dominating, and leaving the room creates a visceral effect of peace. Whilst inside the installation, habituation occurs and the more delicate sounds of the art installation - chimes and light leaf sounds - emerge. The question Hellström's asking in this piece is: what happens when we see things we can't hear, and hear things we can't see? Does it matter? This resonates greatly with the schizophonia concept from Murray Schafer that I discussed in my TED talk and that seems to have rattled quite a few cages on the forums. It's an important question for modern living in my opinion, and one that needs to be researched.

Next visit to Stockholm I hope to swing by the University, which is home to the Soundscape Support to Health project, started by Birgitte Berglund in 1999. This is the oldest and probably the most influential scientific soundscape project in the world; Professor advises the WHO on the health effects of soundscapes, and the group, led by Östen Axelsson, is working on an ISO definition of soundscape quality. Stockholm University has just hosted a global conference on Designing Soundscape for Sustainable Urban Development, so this is the current hotspot for urban soundscape thinking. Exciting stuff, and with clarity I think will come feedback on what (and how) to improve. There is hope for our poor urban ears!

Architecture for the senses

02 October, 2010

Science or pseudoscience? Sound, music and health.

My TED talk on sound and health has created a lively debate, I am delighted to say: my intention was precisely to get people thinking and talking about sound and its effects on health. I wish I'd had more time during the talk to give references for the claims and assertions I made, and one purpose of this blog is to offer those for anyone who is interested in knowing more.

This is also for all those who seem hung up on the concept of proof, and have used the term 'pseudoscience' in what feels like the same way the word 'witch' was used in Europe and the US. It's sufficient to damn, and no evidence is required - ironic given that it is itself an accusation of lack of evidence. This is concerning, because of course the scientific method is not at all concerned with proof: it operates by people proposing hypotheses and then testing them to destruction. There is no proof in empirical science; there is only a current absence of dis-proof. An approach which dismisses any idea or hypothesis because it's not 'scientific' is itself anti-scientific! The true scientific response is to take the idea and then devise ways of testing it. Out-of-hand dismissal is the real pseudo-science.

In a wider context, the stance that assertions are acceptable only if backed by evidence also denies some of the more interesting areas of human thought, such as philosophy and religion, not to mention large parts of the social sciences and much of modern physics and cosmology. Any comprehensive study of sound and music touches on many other areas of study, such as physics, psychology, sociology, anthropology and neuroscience, and so must involve considering many theses and ideas that are untestable, or at least currently untested. I was surprised by the vehemence of some of the feedback to my talk, where people seemed very angry in dismissing assertions that lacked sources rather than investigating them, and where the very mention of the tradition of sound healing was enough to damn the whole talk as 'new age' - another of the heinous condemnations deemed sufficient for instant dismissal by the pseudo-science wolves. I like this perspective from the eminent psychologist Carl Seashore:

"Practically, metaphysics and philosophy proper are not separated, and they are not marked off in sharp distinction from science, on the one hand and common sense, on the other. In fact the historical development of any question, such as the nature of musical value, arises as the main question and soon takes on both metaphysical and supernatural interpretations. These are criticized in philosophy and gradually analyzed and clarified by scientific methods; this done, the information tends to be regarded as a matter of common knowledge or common sense." (Seashore CE 1938 Psychology of music. New York, McGraw-Hill p376)

I hope that my talk opens the minds of those who had dismissed the idea that sound can improve (or damage) health, and connects them with the work mentioned in this blog. And I hope that science does much more testing on the effects of sound on health so that we can see evidence for some of the hypotheses I put forward in the talk.

Let me give some background to each of the assertions I made, and clarify where I was suggesting a hypothesis or just giving a personal opinion.

"Nada brahma - the world is sound" is actually the title of a fascinating book by Joachim-Ernst Berendt. It spans science, religion and philosophy, and is thought-provoking throughout. Warning: much of it is 'unproven'!

Vibration / you are a chord - this is obvious from physics, though it's admittedly somewhat metaphorical to call the combined rhythms and vibrations within a human being a chord, which we understand to be an aesthetically pleasant audible collection of tones. But "the fundamental characteristic of nature is periodic functioning in frequency, or musical pitch." (Eagle CT 1991 The quantum reality of music. In Music education; Why? What? How? ed S Hauptfleisch p 43-66, South Africa, HSRC Publications). Matter is vibrating energy; therefore, we are a collection of vibrations of many kinds, which can be considered a chord.

Health as harmony of our vibrations. I qualified this carefully to say "one definition of health may be that that chord is in complete harmony." Taking the WHO definition of health ("a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity") opens at least three dimensions to the concept, two of which have nothing to do with the medical profession. This suggested definition of health is not a 'proven' proposition, which is why I qualified so carefully: however it is an interesting idea, still in the first of Seashore's stages of development (above) - and so may be considered supernatural by some until science tests it properly. For more on the idea of vibrational harmony and health, see (Wolf FA 1981 The body quantum: the new physics of body, mind and health. New York, Macmillan) or (Steve Halpern 1985 Sound Health: The music and sounds that make us whole. New York, Harpercollins) and try to set aside anti-'new age' prejudice to find out if there are any interesting ideas in there for you. I think there is plenty in this concept to explore and I hope scientific research turns its attention to the area.

On a philosophical level, Plato, Socrates, Pythagoras and Confucius all wrote at length about the relationship between harmony, music and health (social and physical). Here are a couple of references - there are many!

"Rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful, or of him who is ill-educated ungraceful." (Socrates, in The Republic of Plato 1888 Oxford Clarendon Press p 88)

"The Yi Jing develops the notion of ‘grand harmony’ (tai he). It is the concept that the entire universe constitutes a great harmony. ‘How great is the Qian (Heaven)! From it the myriad things originate under Heaven . . . With the changes of the Qian way, the myriad things all keep on their own path of life. Thus they preserve the grand harmony’ (Yi Jing: Tuan). Accordingly, ‘grand harmony’ is the most important ideal in the Yi Jing. The world is full of different things, yet all these things harmonize as they go through incessant changes. The ‘Yi Jing’ is considered the primary text among all Confucian texts. The notion of ‘grand harmony’ sets the stage for all other Confucian ideals, social as well as individual." (Chenyang Li 2008 The Philosophy of Harmony in Classical Confucianism in Philosophy Compass 3/3 p423–435)

New research by Jay Kennedy here shows that Plato not only wrote about the power of music on society and personal health - he embedded musical structure in his writings.

10 octaves v one octave. An octave is a doubling in frequency. The visual spectrum in frequency terms is 400-790 THz, so it's one octave. Humans with great hearing can hear from 20 Hz to 20 KHz, which is ten octaves.

Listening positions. This is a concept I develop in my book Sound Business - not research-based analysis, just a useful set of perspectives that can help people to be more conscious about their listening. As well as the two I mention in the talk, other listening positions include judgemental (or critical), active (or reflective), passive and so on. Some are well known and widely used; for example, active listening is trained into many therapists and counsellors, as well as forming the backbone of parenting and management systems such as Parent Effectiveness Training). I regret that my humorous explanation using affectionate gender stereotypes offended some among the more politically correct; the audience in the room, and I hope most viewers, found it amusing and the concept useful. I don't believe that generalisations based on gender are by definition sexist - sometimes they can be enlightening and helpful. But that's a whole new debate!

Noise stats. Where to start with the horrendous figures about noise and its effects?

The UK National Noise Attitude Survey (NAS) says that 24% of respondents in Greater London reported that noise spoilt their home life to some extent, with 10% reporting that their home life was spoilt either quite a lot or totally.

The 2000 UK Building Research Establishment report says that 2% of the British population - more than a million people - suffered noise of over 60dBA for 90% of the day. This compares with 1.2% ten years earlier.

The EU says “around 20 percent of the Union's population or close on 80 million people suffer from noise levels that scientists and health experts consider to be unacceptable, where most people become annoyed, where sleep is disturbed and where adverse health effects are to be feared. An additional 170 million citizens are living in so-called 'grey areas' where the noise levels are such to cause serious annoyance during the daytime.” (FUTURE NOISE POLICY European Commission Green Paper Brussels 1996).

The World Health Organization says that "Traffic noise alone is harming the health of almost every third person in the WHO European Region. One in five Europeans is regularly exposed to sound levels at night that could significantly damage health." Check the WHO website for more.

My claim about 25% of Europeans suffering from debilitating noise comes from the WHO study Community Noise by Birgitta Berglund and Thomas Lindvall Stockholm, Sweden, 1995: "Almost 25% of the European population is exposed, in one way or another, to transportation noise over 65 dBA (an average energy equivalent to continuous A-weighted sound pressure level over 24 hours) (Lambert & Vallet, 1994). This figure is not the same all over Europe. In some countries more than half of the population is exposed, in others less than 10%. When one realizes that at 65 dBA sound pressure level, sleeping becomes seriously disturbed and most people become annoyed, it is clear that community noise is a genuine environmental health problem."

The WHO is also the source for the startling estimate about noise killing 200,000 people a year. Noise does not just annoy; it increases the risk of death significantly. The WHO LARES report, available here, proves that noise causes many illnesses. It concludes: "...for noise induced sleep disturbances, traffic noise annoyance and neighbourhood noise annoyance, the identified health effects are independent of socio-economic status and housing conditions. The elevated relative risks are expressed in the cardiovascular system, the respiratory system and the musculoskeletal system, as well as through depression." The WHO findings estimate that 3% of deaths from ischaemic heart disease result from long-term exposure to noise. With 7 million deaths a year globally, that means 210,000 people a year are dying of noise. (I said 200,000 in Europe - my apologies for that error; hard to remember every fact perfectly in the pressure of a short TED talk. Nevertheless, even globally this is a horrifying number!)

A wide variety of studies have examined the question of the external costs of noise to society especially transport noise. The estimates range from 0.2% to 2% of GDP. The EU says: "It can be generally concluded from the present state of knowledge that exposure to environmental noise acts as a stressor to health as it may lead to measurable changes in e.g. blood pressure, heart rate, vasoconstriction, endocrine excretion levels and admission rates to mental hospitals... Present economic estimates of the annual damage in the EU due to environmental noise range from EUR 13 billion to 38 billion. Elements that contribute are a reduction of housing prices, medical costs, reduced possibilities of land use and cost of lost labour days.” (Future Noise Policy European Commission Green Paper 1996).

According to a 1999 U.S. Census report, Americans named noise as the number one problem in neighborhoods. Of 102.8 million reporting households, 11.6 million (11.3%) stated that street or traffic noise was bothersome, and 4.5 million (4.4%) said it was so bad that they wanted to move. For the category "other bothersome conditions," 2.7 million (2.6%) named noise. Additionally, 5.3 million (5.1%) said that they were bothered by building neighbornoise. More Americans are bothered by noise than by crime, odors, and other problems listed under "other bothersome conditions."

Then there is noise and society, with its effect on behaviour. The US report Noise and its effects (Administrative Conference of the United States, Alice Suter, 1991) says: "Even moderate noise levels can increase anxiety, decrease the incidence of helping behavior, and increase the risk of hostile behavior in experimental subjects. These effects may, to some extent, help explain the "dehumanization" of today's urban environment."

Maybe Confucious and Socrates had a point.

Schizophonia. As I did credit in the talk, this word was coined by the great Canadian audiologist Murray Schafer. In his essential book The Tuning of the World (1977) Schafer says: "I coined the term schizophonia in The New Soundscape [an earlier book] intending it to be a nervous word. Related to schizophrenia, I wanted it to convey the same sense of aberration and drama. Indeed, the overkill of hi-fi gadgetry not only contributes generously to the lo-fi problem, but it creates a synthetic soundscape in which natural sounds are becoming increasingly unnatural while machine-made substitutes are providing the operative signals directing modern life" (p 91). Schafer was always concerned about the 'hi-fi' quality of natural sound being displaced by the 'lo-fi' quality of much recorded sound - and that was before digital audio and compression were invented. My assertion that continual schizophonia is unhealthy is an opinion, stated as such - and possible a hypothesis that science could and should test. You only have to consider the strange, unreal jollity of train carriages now - full of lively conversation but none of it with anyone else in the carriage - to entertain the possibility that this is somehow unnatural. Old-style silence at least had the virtue of being an honest connection with those around us. Now we ignore our neighbours, merrily discussing intimate details of our lives as if the people around us simply don't exist. Surely this is not a positive social phenomenon? Again, research is required.

Compressed music. However clever the technology and the psychoacoustic algorithms applied, there are many issues with data compression of music, as superbly discussed in this excellent article by Robert Harley back in 1991. My example of course failed to transfer into the video, since all the audio is compressed for the web! It did work in the room. I have posted the sound here if you want to listen on headphones or decent loudspeakers and see if you can spot the difference. My assertion that listening to highly compressed music makes people tired and irritable is a hypothesis based on personal and anecdotal experience - and again it's one that I hope will be tested by researchers.

Hearing loss and headphone abuse. Over 19% of American 12-19 year olds exhibited some hearing loss in 2005-2006 - an increase of almost 5% since 1988-94. (Change in Prevalence of Hearing Loss in US Adolescents, Josef Shargorodsky, MD, MPH; Sharon G. Curhan, MD, ScM; Gary C. Curhan, MD, ScD; Roland Eavey, MD, SM JAMA. 2010;304(7):772-778), reported with comments from the researchers here.

The university study with 61% of freshmen showing hearing loss is from The Power Of Sound (Joshua Leeds 2001, Healing Arts Press p 92).

The rule of thumb that your headphones are too loud if you can't hear someone talking loudly to you over them is fairly common among audiologists. For example, Robert Fifer, an associate professor of audiology and speech pathology at the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine, says: "The ear doesn't care what kind of sound it is, it really only cares how loud that sound is and for what time duration." Fifer advises keeping the volume at a level where you can still hear conversation around you. "If you can still hear what people are saying around you, you are at a safe level," he says. "If the volume is turned so loudly that you can no longer hear conversation around you, or if someone has to shout at you at a distance of about 2 feet or 3 feet to get your attention, then you are up in the hazardous noise range."

The assertions that WWB and silence are good for you seem to be uncontroversial. Perhaps they resonate with everyone's experience.

Sound healing. This seems to have been a red rag to many of the 'pseudoscience' bulls. I was including music therapy and sound therapy in the one category. Music therapy is a well-established form of treatment in the context of mainstream medicine for many conditions, including the ones I mention (dementia, autism). Just Google 'music therapy' and you will find a wealth of references and case studies. Here are a few:

Katagiri J. The effect of background music and song texts on the emotional understanding of children with autism. J Music Ther. 2009 Spring;46(1):15-31.

Kim J. et al. Emotional, motivational and interpersonal responsiveness of children with autism in improvisational music therapy. Autism. 2009 Jul;13(4):389-409.

Stephens CE. Spontaneous imitation by children with autism during a repetitive musical play routine. Autism. 2008 Nov;12(6):645-71.

Music therapy is the use of music to improve health. Less mainstream, though intellectually no more difficult to accept, is sound healing: the use of tones or sounds to improve health through entrainment (affecting one oscillator with a stronger one). This is a very old practice: shamanic and community chant, as well as various resonators like bells and gongs, date back to the earliest societies and are still in use in many cultures around the world. Just because something is old and not done in hospitals doesn't mean that it's 'new-age BS' as some have commented. Doubtless there are charlatans offering snake oil (as in many fields) but I suspect there is much to investigate, and just as herbal medicine gave rise to many of the drugs we use today, I suspect there are rich resources and fascinating insights to be gleaned when science starts to unpack the traditions of sound healing.

Music made with love. Duke Ellington claimed there are only two kinds of music: "good, and the other kind". I suggest an alternative split: music made with love, and the rest. I agree with Manfred Clynes (check out his interesting theory of essentic forms) that music is an excellent transmitter of emotions - in other words people can receive the feeling that went into the making of it. That's what I meant when I recommended listening to music that was made with love - by which I do not mean the people involved were in a blissful state; I just mean that they cared about the outcome and were making it for its own sake, not for some other reason (such as money, status or contractual obligation).

I do think you can tell the difference - and I think it has a different effect on the listener. I was rushing to finish the talk at this point, so I couldn't qualify my specific recommendations: of course Mozart and devotional music are just some of the varieties that are often recommended by expert listeners such as Tomatis. I didn't mean to dictate taste to anyone - many kinds of music can be good for you (and what that means is highly contextual). But if health is equated with lack of stress, then it's hard to see how prolonged listening to music like rap and metal, with their prevailing emotional charge of anger and aggression respectively, can have a positive impact. There is plenty of research on this general area: for example see Heavy Metal Music And Adolescent Suicidality: An Empirical Investigation, which includes further references. Personal variations are huge of course, and I have no doubt that for some people listening to death metal is health-enhancing. However, as a rule I expect that further research will show that music with a positive emotional charge is better for the health than "the other kind".

Musicians have bigger brains. This is slightly misleading as one commentator pointed out. A study by Heidelberg University's Schneider found that people with musical experience had larger amounts of grey matter in the region called the Heschl's gyrus. The structure contained 536 to 983 cubic mm of grey matter in professional musicians and 172 to 450 cubic mm in non-musicians. (Nature Neuroscience, 2002). This does not mean that all musicians have bigger brains than everyone else, just that music leads to an increase in size in this area. However, other things being equal, it does mean that practising music as I suggest will increase the size of a person's brain.

I hope this helps answer some of the queries raised by viewers, and makes a contribution raising awareness of sound and its effects on health. I welcome your thoughts!

01 October, 2010

My new TED talk

I'm excited to say that TED have chosen to broadcast my short talk on sound and health this week, adding to my previous TED talk on the effects of sound on people. The new talk is creating quite a debate, stirring up some hard-core fans of the scientific method because I dare to mention sound healing... strange that they don't seem to know about the traditions in philosophy and pre-modern science (Plato, Pythagoras, Confucius) of equating harmony and pleasing music with health.

At the same time the talk is attracting great support and positive feedback from many who are sharing their own experiences of noise, sound and health. I'm delighted to have had almost 20,000 views already in just a few days, because my aim was to open this conversation - and raise people's consciousness of the importance of managing sound.

Do take a look if you get seven minutes spare - and if you feel like it, share it with others and do weigh into the debate, either in the relatively civilised TED forum or in the wild and woolly YouTube debate. Links are below.

Also, for those of you in the UK, the Financial Times this Saturday (October 2) features a profile of me and of The Sound Agency's work in the column by Mike Southon (the Beermat Entrepreneur). 

I will be posting a new log entry shortly with all the references collated to back up the claims in my talk.

See the talk on TED here

See it on YouTube here

Posted via email from Julian Treasure's posterous

17 July, 2010

TED session 12: Waging Peace

And so to the last session - as always, it's gone so fast and the combination of TED miasma, overload and sheer fatigue creates a unique altered state that takes a day or two to subside - hence the famous 'TED crash'.

Julian Assange, Whistle blower
Julian founded and runs Wikileaks, the website that invites whistle-blowers globally to send in their stuff, check it and then publishes the classified documents. This is powerful: their activity changes the outcome of the Kenyan election. They are struggling for the resources to grow (their people have to be very well qualified). The TED audience voted him a hero rather than a villain, though clearly his organisation is walking a fine line and could cause great damage as well as do great good. He seems to have a firm hand and care about this, however.

Stefan Wolff, Ethnic conflicts scholar
Ethnic conflict and civil war has declined in frequency by 30% over the last 20 years. However ceasefires are no guarantee of peace.We must have leadership, civil society, diplomacy and also well designed institutions if we are to keep this decline happening.

If we embrace complexity and use good visualisation techniques we will discover that there is clarity and simplicity on the other side. Complexity is not complication. Patterns are the guide to understanding.

William Perrin, Community activist
He is Blair's former web advisor, and lives near Kings Cross in a rough area, and (like a growing number of local communities in the UK) is using the web as a tool for community action to improve the local environment and funnel community pressure for change to the authorities. He proposed a charter for government (still locked in a post/telephone world) about the Internet:
1 make the Internet into the primary communication medium
2 train people who don't know how to use it
3 change all the institutions to make them web-compatible
Agreed - though I was sitting next to him and he could not stop accessing Twitter on computer/smartphone throughout others' talks (which is against TED rules) so he may be a little hooked on this stuff!

Mallika Sarabhai, Dancer, actor, activist
Absolutely brilliant combination of dance, acting, poetry and political message - of woman moving into her full power and glory.

Zainab Salbi, Activitst and social entrepreneur
Quote: "War is not about sound; it's about the silence of humanity." Women understand war as well as men - if not better, since they are so often victims of it and they are primary in the healing from it, often the only way hatred can be stopped from cycling through the generations through their good influence on their children. So why are women excluded from peace negotiations? We must support women if we are to have peace.

And that's it. 700 semi-conscious TEDsters with fried brains file out to go punting and say goodbye for another year. It's been a fine TED for me: some highs and lows as always, and much to absorb over the coming days and weeks. For me right now, the mushroom replacement for styrofoam, the luminous Elif Shafak, the inspiring Jessican Jackley and Sugata Mitra and the thought-controlled computer were the standouts among many great talks. 

Now to process dozens and dozens of business cards... if only there were an iPhone app to take pictures of them and get them straight into Contacts. I gather Google has such a thing on the Android so maybe it won't be long.

So long to TED until July 2011.

Posted via email from Julian Treasure's posterous

TED session 11: The Tiny Blue Dot

Good news - Caroline's superb hurdy-gurdy music (from TED-U) is now linked on the TED blog here. Get some!

This session is about the planet.

Johan Rockström, Sustainability expert
There are nine 'planetary boundaries' and we have already transgressed three of them (climate change, nitrogen, species extinction). We are squeezing the planet in four dimensions at once: human growth, climate, ecosystems and the element of surprise. Slowing growth is not going to be enough: we are going to have to bend the curves downwards. A shocking stat: 25% of rivers now don't reach the ocean because we are taking the water.

Jason Clay, Market transformer
Great quote: "You can't wake a person who'e pretending to be asleep." Population x consumption must = planetary resources, and it does not. The average American consumers 43x as much as the average African. the average European cat has a bigger environmental footprint than the average African. The key to cutting our footprint is trade. 100 companies control 25% of the trade so it's realistic to change their behaviour to using sustainable resources. 40 have signed up to this already, 40 more are about to. This make sustainability a  pre-competitive issue - asking consumers to choose green will just not work.

Rachel Sussman, Artist and photographer
Rachel photographs the world's oldest living things. A 7,000 year old tree in Japan; clone aspen that's 80,000 years old; Siberian actinobacteria that are 600,000 years old. Fascinating.

Rachel Armstrong, Senior TED Fellow
We can produce technology that produces positive outputs instead of waste products - for example buildings that absorb CO2.

Ze Frank, Humourist and web artist
A brilliant and very funny talk as always - I loved the mashups/community created music he makes. 

Dimitar Sasselov, Astronomer (and hear my AudioBoo interview with him here)
The Kepler telescope has just gone into orbit and Dimitar gives us a sneak preview of the results. They have found more than 140 Earth-sized planets already, so the conclusion is that our galaxy is rich in them - probably 100 million in total. Within a year we'll have identified Earth-type planets. The other end of the bridge is synthetic biology on Earth. 

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TED session 10: Who's The Teacher?

Sugata Mitra, Education researcher
This was a wonderful TED talk from a charming, funny and brilliant man with a great heart. Children learn to use computers on their, given space (and no teacher) - anywhere in the world. Arthur C Clarke: "Any teacher that can be replaced by a machine, should be." Groups of children (ideally pods of 3-4 on each computer) can learn without being taught to navigate the Internet and achieve defined educational objectives. Sugata shows many inspiring examples of this in India, the UK and Italy. He is setting up SOLEs (self organising learning environments) around the world, with a Granny Cloud (!!!) because he's found that children learn especially well when they can check in with a granny figure. There aqre hundreds of grannies connecting virtually with children all over the world - wonderful stuff that rewards both ends of the link! He should run the world's educational systems IMHO!

Conrad Wolfram, Mathematician
We must change the teaching of mathematics. Why do we obsess about grinding children into tedium by teaching only the boring bit (computation) when they will never use it in life - we have machines for that. The interest bits are formulating the right question, turning it into a mathematical formulation, and then interpreting the results. Computation is a necessary evil, not the 'basics'. Do you need to understand mechanics to drive a car well? Teach children to feel the mathematics. The first country to do this well will have a big advantage.

Tom Chatfield, Gaming Theorist
We can learn lessons from computer game design that we can apply in many areas of life. For example, game designers are brilliant at motivation through exactly the right mix of risk and reward - make a game too easy and people are bored, too hard they give up. Some transferable technologies: performance bars, multiple long/short term goals, rewards for effort (as well as for achievement), rapid frequent and clear feedback, an element of uncertainty, bursts of enhanced attention, peer cooperation in self-created groups.

Chris Anderson, TED curator
We are in a period of crowd accelerated innovation, courtesy mainly of YouTube. 90% of the world's Internet traffic will be video - the most natural form of communication between human beings, as it combines sound (voice), gesture and facial expression, as well as showing action. Groups of expert learners are forming and sharing and setting new standards in all sorts of activities, from skateboarding and unicycling to dance and poetry. TED is part of this, spreading ideas faster in video that text ever could. we had a revolution with Gutenberg, and this is just as big, possibly even bigger as the whole population become net contributors instead of passive consumers. Absolutely Chris - and it's strangely satisfying to see him go through what so many TED talkers have!

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TED session 9: The Unknown Brain

Gero Miesenböck, Optogeneticist
We don't understand the brain's code and we won't get there any time soon by trying to decode millions of neural impulses. Optogenetics uses flashes of light to change behaviour, and aims to understand the resulting brain activity. Our brains control an actor (controls actions) and a critic (learns and interprets). Using light, Gero has identified the brain region of the critic in flies and believes we can in humans.

Herbert Watzke, Computational neuroscientist
We aren't omnivores - we are coctivores: animals that eat cooked food. "I cook therefore I am." We perceive five tastes, of which three are acquisitive (sweet, umami and salt) helping us to find nutritious food, and two are protective (sour and bitter), warning us of dangerour food. We have two complete brains! Our gut has a brain connected with the limbic system that manages our complex gut - 400 sqm in area, 14 m long, with 500 million nerve cells, 20 types of neurone in the gut wall. The gut brain is autonomous, manages chemical/mechanical sensing, is responsible for feelings of satiation and hunger, and controls muscle movements.

Stefano Mancuso, Plant neurobiologist
Why were there no plants on the ark?! Plants are undervalued: they have intelligence - they sleep, they even play. Their intelligence is in their neural networks, in their roots. Each root has a few hundred cells that act like neurones, and a simple plant like rye has 14 million roots... so under the plant is a sophisticated neural network like the Internet. In future we should build plant robots (so we have androids, animaloids and plantoids) where we want to do the things plants do well.

Sebastian Seung, Computational neuroscientist
A true rockstar scientist! Each of us is a connectome - the map of all the connections between all our neurones. We have 100 billion neurones. Are memories, personality, identity held in the complexity of the connectome? Neurones look like trees, and where they touch is a synapse. The map of synapses changes all the time: just thinking probably changes your connectome. The length of the wiring in our brain is millions of miles!

Fascinating session.

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16 July, 2010

Prof Dimitar Sasselov at #TED: small planets are abundant

TED session 8: Adventures in Fairness

Tim Jackson, Sustainability Scholar
A terrific talk. We can be prosperous without growth, the endless pursuit of novelty. Driven by anxiety (Adam Smith's 'life without shame' is what we seek) we spend money we don't have on things we don't need to create impressions that won't last on people we don't care about! But there is another way - like the Ecosia search engine, which saves rain forest (please use or install this!) - business built on common citizenship. A new definition of prosperity is: 'flourishing as human beings within the ecological limitations of a finite planet.'

Jessica Jackley, Microlender
This slip of a girl went to Africa, realised people needed loans to kick start their businesses, came back and launched a website called Kiva to connect Western lenders with third world entrepreneurs. That was five years ago. Last year the site flowed $150 million in loans from 200 countries, crucially connecting the lenders with the businesses - they get monthly updates - and creating dialogue and relationship. Moving, inspiring and humbling. A standing ovation for this one.

Auret van Heerden, Labour Rights Activist
This man has been imprisoned and tortured for his principles, and his integrity shines through. Chocolate needs some image therapy after this TED: not only is it full of bugs, but 80% of the cocoa using child labour in Cote d'Ivoire. Worse example: the Uzbek government shockingly closes all the schools for the cotton harvest each year and the children a forced wot work in the fields. Regulatory systems don't work: the only thing that does is the contract with the Western customer company, with checking. Auret is making this happen: 4,000 companies have signed up to be part of his Fair Labor Association.

Peter Eigen, Founder - Transparency International
A great man, responsible for turning back the tide of corruption (western companies bribing corrupt third world officials). $1 trillion was paid each year in bribes, until he perdsuaded the companies in Germany to stop bribing all at the same time. (It was tax deductible until then.) He has created the Corruption Perceptions Index, which reveals the worst offenders. Transparency International is taking on oil, gas, mining - and creatin real openness.

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TED session 7: Creatures Great And Small

Bleary eyed but game we queue from 0800 and this is what we get to enjoy...

Adrian Dolby, Organic Farmer
I breakfasted with Adrian yesterday and what a charming man - he runs a huge organic farm in the Malvern Hills called Barrington Park Estate Farms. His talk is excellent.  Half a kilo of healthy soil ("the ecstatic skin of the Earth") contains 300,000 million bacteria and 10km of fungus. Organic farming works if skilled rotation is used, based on clover (naturally created nitrates). What about weeds? "We stopped calling them weeds and started calling them biodiversity" - and they found that unweakened by chemicals the crops were able to defend themselves against attacks. Very hopeful.

A brilliant TED talk. CM followed one pig through the whole process to see if it was all used after slaughter and if so how. We meet pig early in the morning in soap and toothpaste, then frequently through the day in low fat spread, concrete, train brakes, desserts, fine bone china, paint, sandpaper, beer, wine, fruit juice, collagen and bullets. Altogether 185 products, and it is all used up. Christien says we should be treating pigs like kings.

Thomas Dolby, Electronic Music Pioneer (see my AudioBoo with Thomas here and here)
A superb set from Thomas and hid band featuring three songs from his forthcoming album Amerikana, all in American roots style but with a British twist. I was beaming all the way through, especially in Toad Lickers (!). Great playing and a supreme merger between wide-eyed roots and ironic humour. Good to have him back.

Toni Frohoff, Wildlife Biologist
I totally support the content (whale and dolphin conservation) but this was not very well written or well read, so I have to admit I zoned out. Tired after too little sleep.

Marcel Dicke, Ecological Entomologist
Awake again for this one though. 80% of the world eat insects: over 1,000 species are eaten. You may go eurgh! (we all did) until a classic TED moment - Marcel reveals that you and I already eat 500g of insects every year in tomato soup, peanut butter, chocolate etc - because bits are permitted in most packaged foods. There will simply not be enough meat to supply the demand in 10 years, so we should switch to insect meat. Locust meat can be textured, and is very efficient: 10 kg of feed will produce 1 kg of meat or 9 kg of locust. He kindly supplied us with bug cookies at the break - they were delicious!

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15 July, 2010

Marcel Dicke at #TED on eating insects!

Sound of Music at TED! (power cut so impromptu fun)

Ed Stolman interview at #TED

Thomas Dolby interview at #TED part 2

Thomas Dolby interview at TED

TED session 6: Different By Design

Last session of a packed day and we're off again...

Miwa Matreyek, Multimedia Artist (and hear my AudioBoo with Miwa here)
One of the most extraordinary things I've ever seen. I'm not sure the web will do Miwa justice, but click the link on her name to take a look. Her performance on the TED stage combines shadow play with computer graphics, art and music in a wonderful phantasmagoria which really takes the breath away. Stunning.

Neil Gershenfeld, Physicist, Fabrication Pioneer
Some of this one goes right over my head but here's what I get... the universe runs at the same speed regardless of how much of it you have, unlike computers. NG is working on programs that become evolving shapes like biology and ultimately real materials. He distinguishes four stages of technology:
1 computers make machines
2 machines make machines
3 codes make materials
4 programs make materials - at which stage we are growing our technology. This will be the Star Trek replicator, where we can create any material. Anybody will be able to make anything anywhere. Blimey. There was more here but if you want to understand it you'll have to wait for it on TED.com because my brain fried at this point.

Tan Le, Enterpreneur
This one is massive. The best demo since wireless electricity last year. We actually see my mate Evan Grant controlling a computer by thought alone! Tan Le's simple 14-node wireless brain-scanning headset called Emotiv and powerful algorithm that 'unfolds' the brain to locate neuro impulses make so much possible: Evan and I have been discussing the implications ever since... how about composing and modulating music with thought alone? Or altering your house environment automatically to ameliorate mood (eg for depressives or those with anger issues). Wow. I now believe we will be controlling our technology via thoughts within ten years. Incidentally, a fact to remember: we have 170km of axons in our heads! 

Eben Bayer, Green designer
One cubic metre of styrofoam (filthy stuff) uses the energy equivalent of 1.5 litres of petrol. 25% of the world's landfill is this one material and it will take thousands of years to disappear. Eben has come up with a mushroom-based alternative: he grows this stuff into moulds and in fuve days it's formed perfect styrofoam replacements for packaging - which you just throw onto the garden when you unpack the TV or whatever. They improve your soil as they are absorbed - and they cost little to make as they grow themselves. Absolutely brilliant, and possibly the most important thing so far at TED.

David Bismark
Election can be verifiable and still secret using his ingenious form and a web-based system. Nobody else can know your vote and yet you can check it was recorded so it can't get 'lost'. Let's get this installed right now world wide.

Emily Pilloton, Humanitarian design activist
A pleasing story of reclaiming Bertie County through design.

This session contains some key talks - and the TED miasma has started. I did manage to AudioBoo Bill Liao, who is running a tree-planting programme called Weforest that just might save the planet. Listen here.

Tonight was dinner with TEDx organisers and Fellows - great fun but very noisy! May not remember who I am in the next blog. And so to bed for five hours before the next day...

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TED session 5: Healthier Together

Inge Missmahl, Analytical psychologist
In a tour de force of compassionate activism, Inge shows how she has single-handedly made a massive difference in Afghanistan by introducing psychosocial counselling for a population of whom up to 80% are clinically depressed. The average age in the country is 17, and everyone has been damaged by war: they need to feel heard. Inge's clinics are now part of the public health strategy and they are transforming thousands of lives a year. Humbling.

Annie Lennox, Singer
Yesterday Annie was completely expressed in her singing. Today she's speaking and the light is not on in the same way, though the cause is just, noble and needs all of our support: her Sing initiative is supporting Treatment Action Campaign, which aims to eliminate mother-child AIDS transmission by 2015.

Mitchell Besser, AIDS fighter
There are 300,000 HIV-positive mothers, the vast majority in Sub-Saharan Africa. Untreated, 40% will give birth to HIV+ve babies. But with Preventing Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT), 98% of babies will be healthy. Africa has 24% of thew world's AIDS cases, but just 3% of the medical professionals, so a new model is being used - based on Western 12-step recovery as I found when I spoke to Mitchell. It uses 'mother mentors' - HIV positive women who are living full lives and have given birth to healthy babies - as examples of success and guides who take the strain off the overworked nurses. With 1,600 mentor mothers this system is now treating 230,000 women a month! Fantastic.

Another excellent southern Mediterranean woman singer, this time from Turkey (via Netherlands) and very young. A strong voice and a rousing Turkish folk tune to close.

Aims to reduce waste in restaurants ("the most wasteful industry on earth - every calorie of food consumed uses 10 calories to create"). His London restaurants are zero carbon, and have their own ecosystem with all waste recycled and used in the garden. New supermarket 'The People's Supermarket' is in the same vein. Worthy, but looking at the photos  I wouldn't be able to spend more than five minutes in his Acorn House restaurant because it must be unbearably loud - no sound absorbing surface at all in sight.

John Hardy, Designer, Educator
Built the Green School in Bali. I was not alone in not getting this one... 160 children from 25 countries pay $10,000 a year and have a great education in a lovely place which was built with great passion (and presumably at great cost) from bamboo. I get his joy and commitment but how is this scaleable to East LA, Detroit or Brixton?

There's always one session that doesn't click for me and this was it... but without valleys you can't have mountains, and we have already had two classics.

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TED session 4: Irrational Choices

Sheena Iyengar Psycho-economist
The practice of choice is very different depending on culture. The American model (have it your way) is not necessarily best, though Americans blithely assume that everyone in the world only needs to adopt it to be happy. Three underlying assumptions, each of which can be challenged.
1 - we should make our own choices (but it can be better to defer to family or community)
2 - more options lead to better choices (but Eastern Europeans don't see Coke v Pepsi as a choice - both are just soda - and they see lots of choices as stress-inducing and wasteful)
3 - never say no to choice (but US parents who are given the choice to switch off life support for their baby suffer guilt and depression for years, whereas French parents (where the doctor makes the choice) recovery and assimilate much faster).
The benefits of choice are culturally and situationally sensitive.

Laurie Santos Cognitive psychologist
We make repeating mistakes in markets because we think relatively and we are loss-averse - hence we hang on in bear markets. Monkeys in tests do the same. We need to recognise this flaw in our design and consciously compensate, because these errors are predictable and immune to feedback.

Short talk from Mark Elliott, pastor - look for miracles and life is richer. Quotes Einstein: there are two ways to live: either as if nothing is a miracle, or as if everything is a miracle. I know which I prefer.

Lewis Pugh Coldwater Swimmer
Lewis is back to update us. Not content with his awe-inspiring 1km swim at the North Pole, he climbed half way up Everest and swam at 5,300m altitude in a lake that shouldn't be there - it was left behind by retreating glaciers. "There is nothing more powerful than a made up mind." Clearly true as he survives near death and completes the swim, learning that past experience is no reliable guide to the present as he has to swim very slowly due to lack of oxygen. Respect.

Jamil Abu-Wardeh Comedy Impresario
The man who birthed Muslim stand up comedy tells us how he did it - and what it is achieving. With Axis of Evil - an Iranian, a Palestinian and an Egyptian - touring the world (including the Arab world), comedy festivals in Saudi Arabia and even a women-only comedy festival, comedy is changing the narrative and 'righting writing wrongs'. Inspiring.

Maz Jobrani Comedian
We get a taste of the real thing as Maz (of the Axis of Evil) runs through some outstanding material that so clearly makes nonsense of stereotypes and creates empathy, as well as being downright hilarious.

A solid session. And so to lunch.

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14 July, 2010

TED session 3: Found In Translation

Here goes for the first of the two full days of TED - four sessions each day, starting at 0830. This is the meat!

Ethan Zuckerman, Blogger, digital visionary (also hear my AudioBoo with Ethan here)

We are prone to silo ourselves in filter bubbles - hence not many Americans know that Twitter is heavily Brazilian and African American. Just search on some unfamiliar words to explore. Digital is actually getting less global - 35% of US news was global in the 1970s, compared with just 12% today, while 95% of online news readership is domestic. We live in imaginary cosmopolitanism, following the wisdom of the flock and missing huge swathes of the wen. For example, who is translating the Chinese content generated by 400m users? We need to engineer serendipity, automate translation and cultivate xenophiles.

Elif Shafak, Novelist (also hear my AudioBoo with Elif here)
This was the standout talk of TED so far for me. Elif is a luminous, powerful and beautiful woman, speaking flawless prose (in a second language!) of great beauty and calm presence. She says: to destroy anything, put it in a circle and it will die. Thus living in communities of like-minded people inevitably leads to stereotyping and decay. Labels endanger our freedom of imagination. Fiction is powerful and can be a force for empathy, but it is itself and not a means to an end: as Chekov said, art's job is to correctly pose the question, not find the solution. Story is crucial, because changing the narrative changes the reality.

David McCandless, Data journalist
Three bulls eyes in a row now as McCandless shows the power of simple, well-designed data visualisation (which is becoming a real theme of this TED). Data is the new oil? No, he says: data is the new soil, fertile and versatile. Some brilliant charts - like this billiondollargram. Must buy his book, which contains many more.

Mor Karbasi, Singer-songwriter

Four in a row - could this be a vintage session like last night? Mor has a ravishing voice, combining Israeli, Ladino and Spanish influences into a potent mix heady with Moorish history, flamenco and Spanish passion. Simply superb. Go out and buy her music.

Iain Hutchison, Facial surgeon
This is hard to take after all that beauty and engagement. Health warning when this goes live on TED.com - it includes two pictures of people with their faces shot off. Hutchison reconstructs faces ravaged by tumour or violence. He mentions dysmorphphobia - an unshakeable belief that one's face looks bad (hence much of cosmetic plastic surgery). From his experience of the way people change after surgery, he says beauty does not equate to goodness - and believes in the five minute rule, where after five minutes we have seen enough from a face to know if we like this person or not. Strong but great respect to him and the brave patients he cites.

This was a second classic session. This TED is fabulous so far.

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Miwa Matreyek interview at #TED

Bill Liao interview at TED - listen and save the planet!

Elif Shafak interview at #TED

Ethan Zuckerman interview at TED

TED session 2: Human Systems

This was a classic session!

First Matt Ridley, giving a tour de force talk on how ideas have sex... the process is exchange, which is probably what cause homo sapiens to displace the neanderthals and what distinguishes us from tool-using animals. When we trade (which we've been doing for 100,000 years) we make room for specialisation, and thus we create a 'collective brain', which knows how to make everything - no one person knows how to make anything from beginning to end, but as a collective we can make things no individual understands. Brilliant.

Second, and the perfect complement, is Steven Johnson, author of upcoming book 'Where Good Ideas Come From'. Coffee shops were fundamental for the Enlightenment because the thinkers switched from alcohol all day (depressant) to tea and coffee (stimulant) and sobered up! Ideas are networks: most are mashups from previous ideas. They are very rarely single moments of inspiration - more common is the 'slow hunch'. Open systems are vital because chance favours the connected mind. Outstanding.

Next was Chris Wild, self-proclaimed 'retronaut'. A charmingly British (ie reserved, self-deprecating and wryly amusing) presentation contains one really big reframe: instead of looking back at the past (dark and boring and behind us) why not conceive of time like light radiating out from the sun, an expanding sphere, so that we look out at the time scape, and the further out we go, the earlier we are looking. Wild shows some photographic 'wormholes' from the retroscope, though I am not convinced the thing actually exists yet - only resource on the web appears to be this.

Fourth up is legendary game designer Peter Molyneaux. Books, films, TV - 'Rubbish!" he says, not one to mince his words, "because they don't include me." He demos a game which is controlled by Kinect (so no control device, just natural gesture and voice), includes an AI avatar of an 11 year old boy called Milo, and lets the player develop a relationship with Milo, eventually becoming his invisible friend, holding real conversations with this cloud-based AI brain, which will learn from all players simultaneously. Amazing, yet rather spooky to me. Not scheduled for release yet, this will doubtless be the shape of computer entertainment to come. But what's the point?

Finally, joyfully, we had Annie Lennox. I saw her on Later a while back and thought her voice had gone - but it so hasn't! She lit the whole theatre up with her radiant energy. Her face is so beautifully animated it's mesmerising, and she is so clearly completely expressed in her song when you see her in the flesh. And the voice... powerful, pitch perfect, many-faceted, leaping from falsetto to alto in a trice, it was a visceral thrill to be in the room when she cut loose on classics like You Have Placed A Chill In My Heart, Love Is A Stranger and of course Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This. What a treat!

Time to reflect on a fine first day, with a  top class TED-U session this morning (seems like a week ago now) which starred the wonderful Lee Hotz, talking in near-poetry about the team drilling ice cores in deep Antarctica, a hurdy-gurdy tour de force by Basque-domiciled Caroline Phillips, and a brilliant talk on risk management by Ron Dembo: if the risk is deterministic (it's probably going to happen, you just don't know when) then you execute action; if it's stochastic (any outcome is possible) then you hedge - so GM scrapping its electric car was dumb, as was Bush not sending the National Guard to New Orleans, both of which would have been wise hedges, where the cost of being wrong is moderate if you go for the hedge and massive if you don't. Then we had for the first time a TED-U partners session, where TED sponsors got the chance to pitch a talk (not a sales pitch) under the same rules as TED-U. Results were fair - Gasche Joost was excellent on gender tech, Giles Corbett faschinating on mobile futures, and Nick Allen convincing on the need for behaviour change now to avert climate disaster (new technology will not arrive in time). An experiment worth repeating I think.

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13 July, 2010

TED Session 1: Global Century

2pm and Chris says the magic words: "It's time for TED!" Bruno Giussani enjoys a huge welcome and hosts session 1 - and we're off!

First up legendary statesman Joseph Nye describes two shifts in power: transition (from west to east) and diffusion (from top to bottom). He distinguishes three ways nations (and individuals) can get their way: coercion, payment or what he calls 'soft power', aka enrolment. It's no longer about armies; it's about whose narrative wins - and this is a bumpy road: "History is not linear." He coins the phrase 'smart power' (espoused by Hillary Clinton) - combining hard power (force) and soft power (enrolment) as situations require.

Next is Pullitzer Prize winner Sheryl WuDunn. Shocking statistics: there are 60-100 million women missing in the third world (aborted or died through neglect). Men with income less than $2 per day spend 2% on education, 20% on cigarettes/alcohol/prostitutes. There were 80,000 slaves taken each year at peak; 800,000 girls are trafficked into the slavery of prostitution. WuDunn's solution: educate girls - they will have less babies, and the vicious circle will be replaced with a virtuous one as they produce income for their families.

Third is a great talk by Naif Al-Mutawa about The 99. How brilliant to use comic books to propagate the goodness that is in the Koran (each of the 99 embodies an Islamic virtue) and to give muslim children positive role models to replace suicide bombers. The 99 are about to be a major TV series, and there is already a theme park. I had never come across this before and found it truly inspiring - as well as a brilliant presentation. First standing ovation of the week.

Fourth up is Nic Marks, proposing that wealth is no measure of happiness. So why don't we measure happiness instead of GDP (which, as Kennedy said, measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile). Marks has produced a happiness index to help us focus on what really matters (as opposed to more stuff) - and Costa Rica is the happiest place on Earth! Five daily practices to achieve a happy life:
1 connect (with friends, family); 2 be active (exercise); 3 take notice (be conscious); 4 keep learning; 5 give.

Finally Swiss/Lebanese cartoonist Patrick Chappatte, convincing us that cartoons can unite divided peoples as well as fighting oppression - with some very funny examples of his work (my favourite - Jobs showing iPad onstage and saying: "This will simplify a lot of tasks you don't have to do yet.")

A solid first session, not earth-shattering but hey let's not peak too soon!

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