Wednesday, April 11, 2018

TED 2018, day 2, ends with a bang

I took no photos today, so I can offer only my brief text reports.

The first session of the day carried the title, "After the end of history..." and focused more or less on the state of the world.

The initial speaker was to have been historian Yuval Noah Harari, but he couldn't get from Tel Aviv to the show.  In classic TED style, he instead appeared live via hologram, a nifty effect indeed.  He talked a lot about the differences between nationalism and fascism.  He concluded with the point that control of our data is the most effective tool a fascist regime or dictatorship can wield today.

MIT professor Cesar Hidalgo began by saying that he was a bit disappointed in democracy and went on to cite low levels of participation in elections in many countries.  He argued that though direct democracy was unlikely to work, a blended democracy using agents that aggregate the opinions of groups of people might.  I left unconvinced but interested in his thinking.

Neuroscientist Poppy Crum, the chief scientist at Dolby Laboratories, showed us how much our devices can tell about us and some of the potential risks and benefits of that type of tech.

Economist Kate Raworth argued that we can make economies thrive and distribute wealth better without needing them to grow.  I am interested in reading more of her argument, but at the end of the talk, I was unconvinced.

Another MIT professor, Max Tegmark, talked about the future of AI and what we needed to do to make sure that when (not if) artificial general intelligences pass human intelligences, we can be as sure as possible that they will not hurt us.  Despite the way that sentence sounds, he was relentlessly upbeat and focused on encouraging us to steer toward a future we want.

After a short break, the next session, "Nerdish delight," for the most part took us in a different direction.

Yet another MIT professor, Dina Katabi, showed us the amazing work she and her team have done with using everyday Wi-Fi signals to track movements within buildings and, more importantly, provide a great deal of valuable health data.

Supasom Suwajanakorn discussed and demonstrated his work in sampling images and voices and using them to make video that appears to be people saying things that in fact they never said.  He began his research as part of a project to create interactive presences of Holocaust survivors, but what he can do now is both incredible and terrifying.  He also discussed some of the countermeasures he is creating to combat his own technology.

Giada Berboni walked us through some of her work with flexible robots, a field of study that shows great promise in, among other areas, robotic surgery.

Simone Giertz, who apparently is a YouTube star but whom I had never heard of, treated us to a fun and funny presentation on her hobby (and now job) of building useless machines.

Rajiv Laroia followed with what felt like basically an ad for a 16-lens camera from his company.  I found the talk and product very interesting, but I would have liked more tech and less product pitch.

The next talk, from Token CEO Melanie Shapiro, addressed a timely and fascinating topic, digital identity and its protection, but again felt like a product pitch.  The pitch raised a ton of interesting "how does this work" questions, but she answered none of them.

The session ended with a great interview of SpaceX COO Gwyne Shotwell by TED's Chris Anderson.  As someone who wants us to go to the stars, I predictably loved this one.  If you're into space exploration, check it out as soon as it comes online.

After a lunch break, I attended a breakout session on podcasting by Roman Mars, the creator of the podcast "99% Invisible" and co-founder of Radiotopia.  I learned a reasonable amount and came away more interested than ever in podcasting--but sure I would want audio production support.

The fourth session of the show and the day's final one was "The Audacious Project."  This set of talks made me glad I have already signed up for TED 2019.  You should go check out the project's site, but it's basically TED moving from the $1M TED Prize to trying to attack major problems at scale.  In this case, the first set of winners from the Audacious Project need over $600M to tackle their issues, and with the help of TED's program and the money of a lot of big donors, they're already raised over $400M of that amount.  Each of the causes deserve support, and I was at least intrigued and often moved by all the talks.  As soon as these are online, if you have the time, check them out.  I wouldn't do them any justice here.

I do, though, want to single out two.

Public defender Robin Steinberg's talk on the problems with our bail system and how her group, The Bail Project, was attacking them was a beautiful, frightening, and galvanizing presentation that brought the whole theater to its feet.  Do not miss this one when it's available.

It's late, and now I'm feeling guilty about not covering the others, so do check them out.  I must, though, mention one more.  T. Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison, co-founders of GirlTrek, talked about their plan to expand the GirlTrek walking for health and social good program to reach a million African American women.  Their passion and intelligence and, most of all, stories hit us all in the hearts and again brought the room to its feet.  Do not miss it when TED posts their talk.

Expect tomorrow's post to be short, because I am once again up way too late and planning to get up way too early.  My head and heart are full, which is exactly what I want from TED.

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