Wednesday, March 19, 2014

On the road again: TEDActive, Whistler, day 3

TED again today delivered multiple points of magic, along with many good talks.  I'm still sick and running on fumes, so I'm going to keep this short and thus not do justice to all I saw and heard.  Sorry about that, but this conference keeps you insanely busy--and then there's a ton of work to do each day. 

Nancy Kanwisher reviewed some of the progress her team has made in identifying which parts of the brain are responsible for certain types of functions, such as recognizing faces.  As she lit up multiple areas on a brain model, what became clear is that we have indeed come a long way in this field--and we still have no clue about the specific functions of the vast majority of the brain. 

Rob Knight made a compelling and at times fascinating case for the importance of the human microbial biome in determining a great deal about us.  Among the interesting tidbits he shared was the fact that the reason mosquitoes bite some people more than others is the composition of their skin microbes.

Ze Frank stepped in for a quick "Are you human?" quiz that I found at times silly and at times both charming and touching.  I do love his work. 

Supermodel Geena Rocero then broke our hearts and raised our spirits with a powerful talk about growing up gender-identified as a boy and finally getting to become the woman she always was on the inside.  Her joyful memory of the day she moved to California and was able to get a driver's license as a woman, and her clear sorrow as she discussed the high suicide rate of transgendered people and the way so much of society treats them made her presentation one of those magic TED events that on their own make the whole trip worthwhile. 

Facebook's design chief, Margaret Gould Stewart, offered some interesting insights into the challenges of designing for a truly huge scale.  I found her talk interesting, but I'm still not a fan of Facebook's design. 

Del Harvey, Twitter's senior director of trust and security, discussed the many challenges of handling security for a company that's hosting 500 million tweets a day.  As she said, "If it's a one-in-a-million problem, it's happening to us five hundred times a day.  One example that surprised her and cracked me up was that she learned that "yo bitch" is normal speech between people who are role-playing being dogs.  I didn't know that was a thing, but apparently it is.

Charlie Rose then interviewed Larry Page.  Page mostly stuck to the Google company line, but I was struck by how sincere he seemed to be when he argued that companies should demand of themselves that they pursue worthy goals. 

One session of the day that touched everyone was Hugh Herr.  Herr directs the Biomechatronics research group at MIT's Media Lab.  He lost his legs many years ago and has worked tirelessly since then to produce bionic limbs that would not only be as good as the originals people had lost, they would also in many cases be better.  He walked the stage with ease on his normal walking bionic legs and played videos of those he uses for rock climbing and ice wall climbing. 

He then showed a photo of Adrianne Haslett-Davis, a woman who had been a ballroom dancer before she lost most of a leg in the Boston Marathon bombing.  He said the time between the bombs was 3.5 seconds, and his team had worked 200 days to make a new leg for her.  He then introduced her and a dance partner, and for the first time since the accident, she danced publicly on stage.  The dance was graceful and elegant, full of turns and twists and even a dip.  She teared up, and so did everyone else.  It was amazing to behold. 

When this talk goes live on TED's site, do not miss it.

Imogen Heap's song in her short "TED All-Stars" talk didn't thrill me, but I was glad to get to see her perform.  Amanda Palmer also sang a tune for us.  Sarah Kay spoke and performed a short poem I rather liked, a love letter from a toothbrush to a bicycle tire. 

Larry Lessig's call to action for campaign reform was a short but brilliant piece.  Look for it on TED's site; you'll want to see it. 

So much more happened, but I am too exhausted to recount it all.  I learned more about autism from Wendy Chung, enjoyed Elizabeth Gilbert's discussion of how she found her way back to writing, and had a good time listening to Jim Holt's sarcastic but thought-provoking discussion of one of the really big questions--why is there something rather than nothing?  Jason Webley entertained us with songs and touched us with his quest to figure out what he wanted to do next. 

The day ended with some brilliant close-up magic (close-up via cameras, of course) from the incredibly entertaining Helder Guimaraes. 

So much good stuff.  So much that filled my head, and some that grabbed my heart and wouldn't let go.

In other words, a typical wonderful day at TED.


Rosanne said...

Wow, this sounds wonderful!I'm so glad more folks are being kind, although, as far as equality for women, equality for all of different races/ethnicity/religions, and equality for all different sexual orientations, even in the US there is a long way to go. Every little bit is a step forward. I also LOVE hearing about any scientific advancements. Not enough time to study in detail everything that's fascinating about the world and universe. Would take more than one lifetime. Thanks again for sharing the TED info and hope you feel better soon.

Mark said...

It is a wonderful conference. I wish I were healthier so I could enjoy it more.

Yes, we have a long way to go in those areas, but every bit of progress is good.


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