Thursday, April 27, 2017

TED 2017: Another beautiful day

Despite forecasts calling for rain all day every day, the weather here in Vancouver has been spectacular, with cool clear days and only occasional slight rains. Today was another such day, a lovely time to be here.

My first activity was a session on confronting your implicit bias, with a particular focus on attitudes toward Muslims. We all agreed to keep private what folks had to say, but I think it's fair for me to relate that I found the discussions interesting and occasionally enlightening.

The first group of presentations focused on Bugs and Bodies. Neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky kicked us off with an interesting conversation on why we humans do what we do, especially at our best and worst times. I was intrigued enough that I'll be on the look-out for his upcoming book, Behave.

Other notable talks in this session included Ann Madden's fun presentation on the many microbes on our skin and in our homes, and David Brenner's proposal to use a special form of UV light to kill super-bugs without harming the host humans.

One of my two favorites of this session was photographer David Biss' presentation on his spectacular photographs of bugs, photographs he creates with amazing lighting and depth of field that he achieves by taking many, many almost identical shots. I hope one day he puts out a book of his bug photos.

The other was Nobel Laureate Elizabeth Blackburn's engaging and informative discussion of her research into the role of telomeres in aging. If you're interested in aging, check this one out when it hits

We also had a chance today to hear a pitch from Richard Browning, founder of Gravity, for his personal flying device, which is about as close to the propulsive bits of an Iron Man suit as we're likely to see anytime soon. He later demoed the early stage tech in the adjoining plaza.

The ninth session, It's Personal, began after the lunch break.

Helen Pearson presented some data from the longest-running human development study around, an effort in Britain that spans many decades and multiple generations. One of its key findings is that being born into poverty will for most people have consequences that will disadvantage them for the rest of their lives. The pressing need to address poverty as a global issue is a clear theme of this conference, and one I applaud.

Susan Pinker's discussion of the importance of in-person social interactions intrigued me, but I really would like more data. In one study she found that the factor most likely to keep you alive longer was staying socially integrated, which means having regular contact and relationships with multiple people. Her research shows that digital interactions simply are not as good for us as real, human contact.

Adam Alter argued persuasively that our need to check our devices is in every sense an addiction--and not a good one. He suggested more time away from those devices, and that is something I'll be pondering a lot in the days ahead.

Chuck Nice did a reasonably funny comedy turn, something TED offers from time to time. His jokes fell flat fairly frequently, but he's a pro and recovered well each time.

My favorite talk of this session was Guy Winch's presentation on effective strategies for handling heartbreak. He noted that research has proven that dealing with the end of a romantic relationship is basically the same as withdrawing from an addiction. Interesting stuff.

Tony- and Grammy-winning performer Cynthia Erivo started the last session of the day with a couple of songs and a short discussion about performing. Her voice is incredible, and her rendition of "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" was spectacular, a treat I'm glad I got to hear.

Indian film mega-star Shah Rukh Khan gave a humorous talk and then joined TED Curator Chris Anderson in a discussion of the upcoming Indian TV show of TED Talks, a show that will appear in Hindi. A testimony to Khan's popularity was the large crowd waiting outside the convention centre for hours in the hopes of seeing him and getting an autograph.

Ashton Applewhite's presentation on ageism and our need to combat it was both compelling and full of fun pull quotes, including "Everyone is old or future-old," and "Ageism is prejudice against our future selves."

Nigerian-born artist Laolu Senbanjo showed and discussed some of his intricate, interesting art, and even brought on stage two women whose bodies he had almost entirely painted.

Podcaster Manoush Zomorodi talked about the value of avoiding our devices and letting ourselves be bored so that our brains could switch into more creative modes.

Poet David Whyte closed out the day with some talk and performances of two of his poems. I found him engaging and the poetry lovely; I need to check out more of his work.

After dumping our packs back in our rooms, Bill and I joined the traditional large party on the last evening of the conference.

Tomorrow morning, we have an extra-long last session of TED 2017!

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