Friday, April 13, 2018

TED 2018, day 4: another intense day

Once again, I'm not going to cover every speaker, but I will touch on the majority of them.

The first session, "Insanity. Humanity.", kicked off with a funny and occasionally creepy presentation from James Bridle.  He started with YouTube content, such as surprise egg videos, that targets small children, and expanded from there to talk about how advertising and automation are driving a great deal of basically useless content that nonetheless draws millions of views.  He ended his cautionary talk with the suggestion that we bring digital literacy to all, so everyone will understand what people and companies are doing with this kind of content. 

Yasmin Green, the director of R&D for Jigsaw, discussed her work in trying to stop the process of radicalization before people are deep into it.  Their "redirect method" involves ads that explain the dark side of the recruiting messages from radical groups.  Her team is also working on technology they call "Perspective," which can tell you how people are likely to perceive your comments.  Though I am all for stopping hate speech online, I am not at all comfortable with software editing my compositions in the cause of its agenda--even when I agree with that agenda. 

Emily Levine delivered a wise and funny talk that began with her telling us that she has stage four lung cancer.  Among my favorite comments of hers were, "Fantasies:  exactly like goals, but without the hard work," and "My cancer isn't that aggressive; it's kind of like the Democratic leadership."  We all stood after her presentation.  I could listen to her talk for hours. 

In one of the more unusual talks of this year, Elizabeth Streb, whose bio in the TED program said she was an "action and hardware architect," talked about helping people fly--but often only for a few seconds, until they hit the ground.  As odd as the talk was, I enjoyed it. 

Dylan Marron's talk on his podcasts and other work is one you definitely should not miss.  He mentioned only briefly his "Sitting in bathrooms with Trans People" podcast and focused instead on his show, "Conversations with People Who Hate Me."  In it, he calls people who have posted online nasty comments about him and just chats with them.  "Empathy is not endorsement," he commented, and I could not agree more.  Great stuff. 

The session closed with a smart and interesting presentation from Harvard Business School professor Frances Frei on repairing broken cultures.  She felt the key to fixing any culture--and she applied this at Uber as a consultant--was to repair trust, which you do, she said, by being authentic, rigorous in logic, and displaying empathy.  Another talk you should not miss, and one I'm still pondering.

After a short break, we filed again into the main theater for the ninth session, "Body electric." 

Inventor, scientist, and entrepreneur Mary Lou Jepsen demonstrated some amazing technology for being able to scan people with a device about the size of a belt that she said they could deploy at scale to replace much of the function of MRI machines.  Though you may already be tired of me saying this, yup, don't miss this talk. 

Floyd Romesberg showed us how his team has created synthetic life that possess two more DNA "letters."  This tech is exciting and terrifying, and I have to hope that not only his organization but also many others are working on making sure the tech comes with ample safeguards. 

In another DNA-related talk, Dan Gibson discussed how his team can print DNA from an emailed "recipe."  He also showed video of the devices involved in the process.  Also both exciting and terrifying. 

Sex educator Emily Nagoski explained the phenomenon of arousal non-concordance and why with any partner you must always trust the person's words, not their body.  Almost all people would benefit from watching this talk, and I tend to think all men should. 

The musical group Ladama entertained us with a couple of their songs.  I hope to pick up more of their music.

MIT professor and bionics designer Hugh Herr talked about the problems of bringing information back from prostheses to the brain and showed some solutions.  Much of the talk centered around a new lower leg and foot his team had created for a rock-climbing friend, and the friend even came out at the end.  Fascinating stuff.

At that point, Bill and I hustled over to a nearby hotel for a lunch for The Climate Reality Project.  Former Vice President Al Gore delivered a compelling presentation and answered a lot of questions.  I still feel that if this version of Gore had run for President, he would have won. 

We then went upstairs in the same hotel for a workshop on impromptu speaking.  I don't feel weak in this area, but I always want to do better, and the leader was TED's main speaker coach.  I learned multiple useful tips, and the workshop was generally fun. 

Back at the convention center, we hit the theater for the last session of the day, "Personally speaking."

Illustrator, artist, and author Christoph Niemann delivered a funny presentation on conveying ideas with images. 

Kashmir Hill and Surya Mattu discussed what they learned by making Hill's apartment as smart as possible and them monitoring all of its network traffic.  The bottom line was that, yes, all those devices are sending a ton of data about you back to the companies that make them.  In a smart house, as on social media, you are the product.

Rebecca Hwang discussed the challenge of finding an identity when you come from a multicultural background.  Her conclusion was simple but one we should all heed:  you have to create your own identity.

Jason Rosenthal, husband of deceased author and TEDActive attendee Amy Krouse Rosenthal, discussed dealing with his wife's death and trying to cope with it a year later even as he struggles to find joy in life. 

Violinist Lili Haydn treated us to one beautiful song.  I would love to have heard more. 

Performer Tamekia MizLadi Smith delivered a funny but sometimes insightful talk on working with non-clinical staff in healthcare. 

In a talk I found very moving, Chetna Sinha told the story of how she came to start and grow a bank for poor women in India.  I loved the talk, which included the wonderful and smart line, "Never provide poor solutions to poor people." 

Singer Elise LeGrow sang three songs that were originally from the famous Chess Records.  She has a lovely voice and made me want to find her album.

The last talk of the session was in many ways its best.  Oskar Eustis, who directs New York's Public Theater, started with the history of theater and wound his way to a surprising and moving conclusion that earned him a standing ovation.  I'll be surprised if this talk doesn't appear right away, and when it does, you should not miss it.

The evening concluded with a big party in the community theater one level down from the main stage.  We stayed longer than normal and actually talked with a few strangers, but as the DJ was taking the stage, we headed out. 

Wow, are my brain and heart full.

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