Friday, February 06, 2009

TED 2009 Wednesday (cont.): "Reframe"

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TED is just too intense to blog – I can’t keep up. I’ll try to at least keep reporting on the highlights…

But first, some more brushes with celebrity: Paul Simon, Daniel Dennett, Nathan Myhrvold, Meg Ryan.

Wednesday afternoon’s session was titled Reframe. Ben Zander came back to TED to kick off the session, conducting the best rendition ever of Happy Birthday To You. I don’t know if it will make the DVD but if so he’s great to watch -- he always leaves shining eyes.

Tim Berners-Lee thanked the world for uploading documents to his HTML project and asked that we please follow up now by uploading our data. His new vision for the web centers around Linked Data – tables of structured information that can be linked to other tables enabling massive joins. His database in the sky is object-oriented, with a URL identifying each object (person place, etc). Tim led the audience in a chant of “Raw Data Now!” to compel the world (especially the US government) to publish raw data that anyone can access, rather than waiting for completed applications.

Score: 9 (out of 10) Balloons

We heard a funny interlude by Cindy Gallop who complained that hard core pornography is now so easily accessible online that young people have twisted ideas of what most people consider to be normal in bed. So she unveiled her educational site, debunking myths perpetuated by pornography. Definitely rated R, so I'll leave it at that.

Al Gore delivered a very short talk on climate change -- careful not to rehash old slides. He presented an update on the rate of arctic melting along with other ominous metrics of global warming. The focus of his talk, though, was "clean coal" which Al says is a myth promoted by the coal industry. He played a cartoon commercial developed as part of a shocking campaign to promote clean coal, that Al understandably compared to Joe Camel:

Gore also played the clip of a commercial meant to fight back the coal industry's campaign on clean coal.

Score: 10 Balloons

Tribes author Seth Godin gave a rousing and entertaining talk about leadership, and taking the initiative to activate groups of people around whatever cause that moves you. His basic point is that it’s easy to connect with people on the internet, so lots of micro-communities form.

Having said that let me caution you away from his book Tribes. If you read the paragraph I wrote above, then you get the gist. And if you get the gist, well then you’ve pretty much read the book. At least Seth doesn’t pretend that his conclusions are based on scientific data, so his books are better than Malcolm Gladwell’s.

Score: 6 Balloons

Nandan Nilekani, co-founder of InfoSys spoke well about the changes thrusting India's economy into a major world player. Unfortunately, I misplaced my notes today on this and several other lectures!

I may have also lost my notes on MIT Media Lab Professor Pattie Maes' talk but the highlight was unforgettable: a personal, wearable mobile system (cam, phone, battery-powered projector...) that scans the world around you, and in real time projects helpful video on any surface. For example, when you're looking at products in the store (books, paper towels, whatever), it will project information right onto the product such as a green rating, price comparisons, and consumer reviews. Presumably it could also scan the buildings around to tell me who and what is in them. Presumably, it could also "speak" to me through headphones so I can hear private tips such as the name of a person I run into and his/her spouse and kids!

It was an impressive demonstration. Pattie introduced the student behind it, and he evoked a standing ovation.

Score: 9 Balloons

Next we all danced, led by Matt Harding the guy who dances around the world in his famous YouTube videos. He tried to teach us a Bollywood dance, but he’s not really an expert. Chris compared the exercise to “learning science from George Bush.”

The day closed with a strange performance (and really, I mean that in a bad way) by Regina Spektor.

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