Sunday, March 11, 2007

My TED Highlights

I had a blast at the Technology Entertainment Design conference of 2007. Four days of brain camp with the most remarkable people. There were great scientists, like Murray Gell-mann, Steven Pinker, Jonathan Widom, E.O. Wilson, Paul Ewald, and Carolyn Porco from NASA’s Cassini Probe team, who brought photos of Titan’s landscape. Bill Clinton was there to solicit help for his foundation work in Rwanda. (He still has great speechwriters: “The terrorists in London were home-grown citizens who valued their differences from other British citizens more than their common humanity,” said the President. “That’s the central psychological plague of humanity in the 21st century.”) Kareem Abdul Jabaar talked to us about growing up in Harlem (but why did all 7 feet and two inches of Kareem have to sit in the front row)? Dean Kamen shared his development of a prosthetic arm for Iraqi veterans that has 14 degrees of freedom, temperature sensing, and fine motor movements. BMW unveiled their Hydrogen 7 car at a lunch where the water was served in bottles labeled EXHAUST (but they evaded the tough questions on hydrogen extraction and distribution), and I got to test drive a prototype of the 2008 Lexus hybrid LS600 (smooth). Thomas Dolby, Paul Simon and Tracy Chapman all performed (Peter Gabriel just listened), as did a great R&B vocalist/guitarist named Raul Midon. Microsoft architects showed off Virtual Earth, and another mapping tool that actually links photos on the web based on the content, with the intelligence to stitch them together into landscapes. (Think of the thousand photos one might find online of the Eiffel Tower—this software synthesizes those photos into a 3D rendering of the tower, where you can zoom into the detail of any one of the photos.) Still, Google won the day by serving free coffee, drinks and snacks throughout the week. Meg Ryan, Goldie Hawn, and Forrest Whitaker represented the thespian crowd. The Disney Imagineering team brought a pimped out Segway driven by muppets who elicited laughs at my expense when their contraption spritzed me. We heard from Jok Church the children’s science writer, Emily Oster the Harvard economist, Jamie Nachtwey the war photographer, and Lost writer JJ Abrams. Silicon Valley was represented by Alan Kay, Kevin Lynch, Bill Gross, Jeff Skoll, Lawrence Lessig, Sergey and Larry (with a retinue of friends and family), John Doerr and a herd of other VC’s. I had lunch with Saul Hansell (I recommend it--New York Times makes him pick up the tab), and I hung out for an hour with the great James Randi, as he wowed us with his conjuring. During his talk, Randi wondered why the cold readers who channel the dead always seem to find our loved ones in Heaven—why aren’t any of them ever in Hell? He tested homeopathy by downing an entire bottle of homeopathic sleeping pills. We saw two robotic demonstrations, both of which featured evolutionary learning (the beach dweller on the right, powered by wind, uses wind and water sensors to avoid drowning). Richard Branson shared renderings of his tourism space craft. It was designed by Philippe Starck, who started his presentation by summing up what the rest of us felt: compared to the speakers he just heard, “I feel like a shit.”

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1 comment:

  1. I am addicted to the Tedtalks on YouTube. I thought the presentation on making world religions part of the public school curriculum raised a great, timely idea. Can you get me an invite for next year?!