Julian's blog: TED Day 2

July 23rd, 2009
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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.

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