Monday, February 15, 2016

TED 2016 begins

The first order of the day was to walk to the convention centre and pick up my gift bag.  Bill and I strolled there together.  I received a gift bag, chose my "extras" from the various stations, and immediately returned to the hotel, because the very large bag was too heavy for me to want to schlep it all day.  It had a right to be heavy, however, because it was chock full of goodies.

Click an image to see a larger version.

Given that I'm on the road for two more weeks after this one, I will definitely have to ship the bag and its contents home.

The first two sessions I attended were sort of pre-TED specials, the TED Fellows Talks.  They took place in a smaller theater on the top level of the convention centre.

Over the course of two sessions totaling more than three and a half hours, we watched nearly thirty talks and performances from various TED Fellows.  None was bad, all were interesting, and some were quite moving.  During the two sessions, we also enjoyed multiple musical performances.

A theme that ran through many of them was the poor way our society has treated people of other than European descent.  At the risk of stating the obvious, we still have an enormous amount of work to do to create a world that is fair and equal for all.  For example, one speaker, PKeolu Fox, pointed out that 96% of all genome studies were on people of European descent.

The funniest talk of the two sessions came from social justice comedian Negin Farsad, who discussed ways in which her comedy is helping illuminate social issues, particularly those related to Muslims.  I would love to see a full show of hers.

Lunch was from a picnic basket that we were supposed to share with four other people, but we couldn't find a group to share with, so the two of us ended up eating on our own.  We were quite comfortable with that--too comfortable, we would both argue--but it worked out well enough.  I did not try the "zesty nacho" kale chips, because, kale.

TED kicked off at 5:00, when for the first time I was able to sit live in the main TED theater.  It's an impressive place that truly has no bad seats.  Here's one of the speakers, Shonda Rhimes, in the middle of her talk.

She was the only speaker the TED team allowed to have a teleprompter, a testimony to her power.  I found her talk well written, as one would expect, but ultimately too manipulative to touch me deeply.
In general, I enjoyed the talks, but none moved me to tears or to depths of thought.

One of the two I liked most was Astro Teller's discussion of how things work at the "moonshot factory" at Google, the team otherwise known as X.  His team rewards failure, because failure means that they've found the issues with a project's concept, and that's an interesting and unusual approach.

For my taste, the best talk of the evening came from Riccardo Sabatini, who discussed the status of human genetic research and the way big data and machine learning techniques are advancing this area.  He brought on stage the printed complete genome of genetic pioneer Craig Ventner.

It filled all of those binders on the carts in the center of the stage.

All of that, though, was a prequel, albeit a very interesting one, to Sabatini's real message: we are going to crack the secret of genetic manipulation, so we must start now having people of all sorts discuss the ethics and laws surrounding these abilities, what they will mean to all of us as humans.

Dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones closed the talks with a long dance that addressed a great deal of his career and the fact that he turned 64 today.  I am not a fan of modern dance, and I'm sure I missed a lot of what Jones was conveying, but I still found it interesting and moving.

The welcome dinner this evening was a buffet in which no dish was simple--adjectives and qualifiers and ingredient lists abounded--but all those I tasted were good.  Bill and I managed to speak with a few different people, including folks from AutoDesk and Disney, but never for very long.  I definitely suck at being social in a crowd of people I do not know.

Tomorrow, we have a long day full of talks, the first of which starts at 8:30 a.m.

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