Wednesday, April 26, 2017

TED 2017: day 3, and already my brain hurts

I come to TED to make my brain hurt. After yesterday's sessions, I was well on my way to that state, and today definitely took me there at times.  It's quite late here, way, way later than the timestamp says, so I'm going to hit only some of the talks that particularly struck me.

The first session opened strong with a talk by Michael Patrick Lynch on our need to reconnect with the idea that we live in a common reality. In a time in which too many of us seem all too willing to accept the ridiculous notion of alternative facts, I found his talk refreshing and compelling. I particularly liked the way he noted that when the powerful get to define truth to their liking, we are in for big pain. "You can't speak truth to power," he said, "when power speaks truth by definition."

Dan Ariely and Mariano Sigman then conducted an experiment on the audience in which they posed two dilemmas, asked us to rate the proposed solutions from bad to good, and also asked us to rate our certainty. Then, we were paired with another person or two--one, in my case--to compare our answers, discuss them, and see if we persuaded each other to change. The woman with whom I was paired made good points on each dilemma, and apparently I did the same, because we each changed our opinions somewhat and landed on common answers.

Neuroscientist and novelist Lisa Genova presented a lot of information and some perspectives on Alzheimer's. I didn't learn much, but I care about this topic and so enjoyed the refresher.

The second session focused heavily on environmental issues and contained many compelling talks.

I know very little about the Greenland Ice Sheet, so I found Kristin Poinar's talk on it both informative and more than a bit scary.

Artist Daan Roosegaarde showed some very cool projects, including a smog-removal tower that his team installed in a park in Beijing. The tower extracts smog from the atmosphere and yields pollutants that Roosegaarde and his team then turned into parts of jewelry.

Peter Calthorpe railed against sprawl as part of his call for transit-based urban planning. Though I'm not at all sure I agree with many of his proposals, I enjoyed learning about them and will be considering them for some time.

Former Vice President Al Gore made a surprise brief appearance on stage. He plugged his upcoming second climate change movie and made the case that even this administration is likely to try to grapple with climate change.

In my favorite talk of the session, Republican and conservative Ted Halstead argued for a carbon dividends plan that would include a gradually rising carbon tax, carbon dividends for all, regulatory rollback, and a climate domino effect. I found his proposal compelling and look forward to learning more about it.

After lunch, Bill and I attended a session on augmented reality. I found it mildly interesting, but I didn't learn much new. This technology could one day be very useful, but the implementations, particularly the glasses, have a long way to go.

The last session of the day focused on connection and community. Given that focus, you'd expect it to be the most emotional of the day, and indeed it was.

Musician and artist Jacob Collier kicked it off with two songs that involved him playing every instrument, singing all parts, and controlling all of the live video. Interesting stuff, though I don't think I'd enjoy a steady diet of it.

Architect Anna Heringer showed her work using mud to build structures that are amazingly durable and attractive. As she noted, this material is available almost everywhere in even the poorest areas.

My two favorite talks of this session were both emotional pleas to our better selves on the subject of refugees. Former UK Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs David Milliband, both of whose parents were refugees who ended up in Britain, made the strong case that we must take care of the refugees simply because it is the right thing to do. "This is not just a crisis," he said, "it is a test, a test of us." I strongly agree, and I hope that we as a country rise to this test better in the future than we are doing now.

Luma Mufleh gave an even more personal take on the refugee crisis. As a gay Muslim woman who had to flee her home country and who now coaches and works with refugee kids, she related moving stories of her own experiences and her work. "When do we say, enough?" she asked.

I pray soon.

The evening took Bill and me to a Jeffersonian dinner on the topic of whether businesses might be able to do a better job of uniting us than government. The nine of us who chose that topic enjoyed several hours of lively conversation and companionship. Despite always feeling awkward in such situations, I had a good time and learned a lot of interesting perspectives.

TED always leaves me resolved to do more and to do better, and today certainly filled me with those desires.

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