Tuesday, 24 March 2009

An Ode to TED- and why I still continue to be mesmerised, a month after attending the Long Beach event

Three cheers to my guardian angel, if there is one around somewhere. This agent of mine managed a coup for me when (s)he had me attending events across the globe as a part of my role. My favourites are TED and WEF Davos, and i wanted to articulate my impressions of TED, where i was at their LONG BEACH conference in Feb-2009

A quick attempt at trying to slot TED in the pantheon of events, and in particular, a quick comparison with WEF- Davos. TED to me is an ideas conference, where you are filled with two things- ideas from speakers that boggle the mind, and articulate conversations with very powerful intellects around you - you want to find the MIT types, you will find them here... The WEF, on the other hand is about power and influence, and the persons around you are likely to be folks that have achieved much, and have a huge amount of clout- think prime ministers, CEOs, bank governors etc...

There was another striking fact i found between Davos and TED this year. This year's DAVOS was an extremely pessimistic affair, with a lot of anxious and worried delegates trying to make sense of the doom and gloom in the economy. TED on the other hand, was an relatively more optimistic, and the future mattered more than the recession did. Interesting!

So, let me list the 10 things i found at TED that i personally found to be immensely stimulating, and had me really excited about the possibilities and the stories (to the extent possible i have tried to include their TED speech links, but some i couldn't find) :

  1. Bonnie Bassler, Professor at Princeton, who spoke eloquently about chemical language used by microbes to communicate, and about something called Quorum Sensing, which allowed the microbes to be dormant until they had reached critical mass- implications > think entirely new generation of pathogen inhibitors and drugs, including antibiotics
  2. Evan Williams, the founder of Twitter, which grew tenfold in 2008, who spoke about how celebrities, including NBA stars, and , of course, our very own Barack Obama extensively used Twitter. My moment-0f-truth was when after the 8 minute speech, there were 50 Tweets on his speech- talk about Instant feedback.
  3. Nathan Wolfe, epidemiologist, who rather terrifying speech was about the increased viral chatter and how viruses were jumping species (eg AIDS is a simian virus that has jumped into the human species), and how he is setting up a system that watches these jumps with intention of staving off global pandemics before they can happen. If there is one more reason to turn vegetarian, this is it.
  4. David Merill demoed his new concept called Siftables- which are "intelligent blocks" which can sense each other, sense motion , have a screen and a wireless radio, and are an example of tools that you can reach out and play with and manipulate and learn from- this is a fascinating demo, particularly the part that plays music(@ 4:30 on the video)
  5. Dickson Despommier, professor at Columbia, who spoke passionately about the need to create a Cradle to Cradle ecosystem which was a closed cycle loop, where there was no waste to dispose off, as compared to the current Cradle to Grave ecosystem, which left waste at the end of the ecosystem that needed disposing, and basically ran thro the natural resources and depleted them. Particularly fascinating were his concepts of Vertical farming- i really look forward to the day when all the food we consume will be grown on the walls of our buildings, and there will be no need for farmlands or farming...and we can think reforestation again. Also relevant is the concept of Hydroponics
  6. My absolute personal favourite, and the one that i would recommend you watch for sure- Willie Smits, and his incredibly moving and uplifting tale of how an experiment in reforestation in Indonesia has changed the ecosystem, and a ray of hope. this was an absolute eye opener–and the optimist in me believes we can bring the earth back from the brink, despite all the ravages we have perpetuated on all her species.
  7. Ueli Gegenschatz, the daredevil who spoke about his experiences with wingsuit flying, the closest i think humans have come to flying without contraptions- this uses airfoil technology. Careful though, there is invariably landing trouble J
  8. Barry Schwartz, and his incredible speech on the need for practical wisdom, and why rules and incentives do not even come close to helping define / enforce behaviour and how ethics cannot be compressed and taught in a 1 hr class.
  9. Bill Gates, who spoke about his uplifting work on the foundation side of the fence, and in specific, two areas, stopping Malaria where mosquito nets and DDT can cut deaths by 50%, but how newer resistant strains are coming up and also spoke about the incredible success of the KIPP program in school education - there is an interesting book Work Hard, Be Nice that talks about this program
  10. Finally we got treated to some great music, and my two personal favourites were Naturally7 listen to their "Wall of Sound" all human sounds, no instruments, and Jaime Cullum.

A fairly overwhelming experience, and i am still trying to come to terms with all the ideas that i was exposed to there... TED has its first India event scheduled in November-2009, to be hosted in the Infosys Mysore campus, and if you are interested in registering, you may want to click here, the homepage of TED India, by the way, has me speaking to a fellow Tedster- the 3rd photo from the top.


redapes said...

Thanks for mentioning Willie Smits' TED talk on your blog! I'd like to invite you and your readers to visit the Orangutan Outreach website to learn more about Willie's amazing work and see how you can help support it!

Orangutans need our help!

Best wishes, Rich

Richard Zimmerman
Director, Orangutan Outreach
Reach out and save the orangutans!
Facebook Cause: http://causes.com/redapes

Guru said...

Thanks Rich,

Willie's speech was amazingly moving, and i am really impressed with the work you folks do.