June 06, 2020   12:58am

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TED 2009 – the full range of emotions


Ending with an abundance of hope, this year’s TED event also elicited promise, surprise, fear, distress, reflection, delight, awe, and the laughter, grimaces and tears to accompany. So, it seemed appropriate to use my emotions — although many speakers inspired a mix — to highlight just some of what was talked about at TED 2009 …..


Bonnie Bassler: Molecular biologist (on bacteria)
· “Bacteria are the oldest living organisms on earth … 1 billion human cells on a human being but 10 billion bacteria …”
· Bacteria can talk to one another and have the ability to do ‘quorum sensing’ [which basically means they communicate with one another to group together and do some deadly work on you] … They talk, they’re multicellular and they distinguish self …

Dr. Nathan Wolfe: Virus hunter (on viruses)Wolf has put together the Global Viral Forecasting Initiative
“This is the most exciting point in history for studying alien life forms on our planet.”

Jill Tartar (TED Prize winner): Astronomer and director of the Center for SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence)
· “One does not meet oneself until one catches the reflection from an eye other than human …” (quote from Loren Eiseley)
· “We actually only belong to one tribe — earthlings… ”
· On talking about extraterrestrials and the vastness of unexplored space – “No one would say the ocean doesn’t have fish based on one glass of water.”

Don Levy: SVP Marketing and head of Sony Animation
· “3D is soon to be part of all our lives … there will be 16 3D movies this year and 40 next … ”
· 3D TV sets will soon be on the market by several different electronic companies
· “One has greater success with adapting a tool to the way people are already working.”

Must make a note here that I’m not completely sure I like this 3D stuff — as one who likes being a couch potato when I’m watching TV, this may just get the adrenalin flowing a bit too much. However, for the porno crowd, this may prove to be better than the real thing …


Liz Coleman: President of Bennington College
· Pointed out that no one seems to be drawing a connection between our democracy and education
· Quoting Thomas Jefferson: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”
· “We cannot have a viable democracy made up of experts, zealots, politicians, and spectators …”
· Putting her money where her mouth is, Coleman is putting together a Center for the Advancement of Public Action on campus

Willie Smits: a “forester” and scientist who has devoted his life to saving the forest habitat of Orangutans (and won a standing ovation)
Smits demonstrated how he has re-grown a forest in less than five years and the remarkably positive impact this can cause on the weather, the food supply, the work force, the animals, and the empowerment of the local community. His process can be recreated to re-grow desolated forests, animal life and communities throughout the world …

Bill Gates: Philanthropist who is investing his considerable time and resources to make change
On disease – “The market does not drive scientists, the government and others to do the right thing … A few diseases account for the vast majority of deaths: diarrhea, pneumonia, malaria… there is more money put into baldness drugs than into malaria.”

On education -· “Top 20% of students in the U.S. have gotten a great education … over 30% of kids never finished high school … for minority kids its over 50% …
· In low income U.S., a higher chance for going to jail than getting a 4 year degree …
· A top teacher can increase test scores by 10% … We’ve done almost nothing to find out or replicate what makes a good teacher (the best often leave) … after first 3 years teaching quality doesn’t get better …”


Sylvia Earle (TED Prize winner): Oceanographer
· “We’ve eaten more than 90% of the fish [in the oceans] … 50% of the coral reefs are gone … NOW is the time to explore and protect the wild ocean …”
· On talking about the continuing rape of the ocean and with a reference to the SETI prize winner: “Someday I hope to find intelligent life on this planet …”


Jake Eberts: Producer
Eberts showed us an underwater feature documentary Oceans that took our breath away (and will yours, too, when it’s released). It served to underscore Earle’s (see directly above) concerns for the ocean’s demise.


P.W. Singer: Military analyst who studies war
· Robots will be fighting our wars
· The future of robotic war will not be singularly American
· 43 other countries are working in military robotics
· Who is going to be the manufacturer? Hardware from China; software from India?
· [robotics will] replace the publics’ relationship with war


Elizabeth Gilbert: Writer and best selling author of Eat, Pray, Love
· What is it about creative ventures that make people frightened about what you do?
· People feel artistry leads to anguish … it’s better to encourage our creative minds to live …
· The creative process does not always behave rationally which can almost be paranormal … imagine that [your creativity] doesn’t come from you but is passed through you …
· Don’t be afraid; don’t be daunted; just do your job.

Barry Schwartz: Psychologist and author of The Paradox of Choice
· Speaking on “Practical Wisdom and the Remoralization of Professional Life,” he said:
-A wise person … improvises … knows when to break the rules
-You don’t have to be brilliant to be wise … wisdom is made, not born …
-Neither rules nor incentives do the job. They create a downward spiral in the long run
-Excessive reliance on incentives is destructive
-We must ask not just is it profitable, but is it right-Remoralize work by celebrating moral examples
-The single most important thing kids need to learn is character: teach them to respect learning; teach by example; encourage practical wisdom (virtue and hope)

Rosamand Zander: Therapist and writer
Talked about “Human Virtuosity Transformation” and what does it means to grow up?
1) Reframe upsetting experiences … as memories
2) Take responsibility for everything
3) Seek out everything
4) End the campaign for safety and control
5) Stay present; stay curious and walk in possibility

Lyna Maria Klingvall: Painter, singer, athlete (who is missing 2 arms and has only 1 full leg)
“Most of the handicaps you have are invisible.”

Nina Jablonski: Anthropologist and author of Skin: A Natural History
– Human skin color is the product of evolution by natural selection.
– Melanin is a natural sunscreen … it protects against damage to DNA and a breakdown of folates …
– 125 million people were moved during slave trade and there were health consequences, resulting in a deficiency of vitamin D …


Bruce Bueno de Mesquita: Professor/Senior Fellow NYU/Stanford”
History not an issue … Most complicated negotiations are predictable … If you can predict, you can engineer … Influencers have advisers, so you have to pay attention to everybody who impacts the outcome …”

Need to know:
– Who has a stake
– What they say they want
– How focused are they
– How much clout do they have

People care about 2 things:
1) Outcome
2) Credit

Oliver Sacks: Neurological anthropologist and “The Poet Laureate of Modern Medicine” according to The New York Times
· “Seeing with the brain is called imagination.”
· Hallucinations seems to mimic perception and come outside the mind …
· Psychotic hallucinations abuse you and are about you; temporal lobe hallucinations are at a space in time and are sensory, with smells, sounds, etc.

Seth Godin: Marketer and author of Purple Cow and Tribes and others
· We are at a point in time where we can change ideas, not about money or power, but about leading.
· People on the fringes can connect and go somewhere
· Tribes change the world because they want to connect … find something worth changing and assemble tribes

Nandan Nilekani: Co-founder of Infosys and author of Imagining India, a radical rethinking of the world’s great economies
· In India 35% of the population is under 15 and a third under 35
· It’s only when ideas take root that things change
· What’s causing change in India [is a new way of thinking]:
– People are now considered a human asset rather than a burden
– Entrepreneurs have changed from villains to role models
– English has moved from imperialism to jobs/aspirations
– Technology has transformed from man vs. machine to man and machine
– Globalization is now to be participated in
– Deepening of democracy which was once considered elitist and now is celebrated from the bottom up
And he said so much more …


Jose Antonio Abreu: Maestro who founded El Sistema to help poor Venezuelan kids learn classical music.
· A performance conducted by Gustave Dudamel, a former student and now the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, who conducted an El Sistema youth orchestra and made us cry for joy.


Under this category go musicians (Jamie Cullum, Herbie Hancock, Deepak Ram, Naturally 7) and entertainers (Sarah Jones) and photographers (Yann Arthus-Bertrand) and the TED crew …

OTHER SPEAKERS just as fascinating (I’ve run out of steam), and there were many more:
· Evan Williams: Twitter CEO
· Dan Ariely: Economist and author of Predictably Irrational
· Nalini Nadkarni: Researcher who blew everyone away with her work as “queen of canopy research” and her collaborations including prison inmates …
· Dickson Despommie: Professor at Columbia University who spoke with us about Vertical Farming in cities
· David Hanson of hansonrobotics.com who creates amazingly real robotic heads with, eerily, the full range of facial movement.
· Ed Ulbrich: Special-effects director, whose company Digital Domain created the aged/aging head of Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons
· Robert Full: Biologist who studies cockroach legs and gecko feet to help build the “distributed foot” for tomorrow’s robots and is taking us “beyond biomimetrics to biomutualism”
· Shai Agassi, who may just succeed in putting us all behind the wheel of an electric car
· Catherine Mohr: Roboticist who is working on remarkable surgical robots and robotic procedures…

And, as you can imagine, there were a lot of “Happy 200 Birthday” wishes to Charles Darwin!

By next week I’ll post links to some websites introduced that you might want to explore. Meanwhile check out TED Talks where you can watch some of the TED 2009 speeches as well as others from past TEDs. (Bill Gates’s and Elizabeth Gilbert’s are now up, and there will be more posted shortly.)

TED is full of so many BIG ideas that it can’t help but make many of us feel small and — I’ll just blurt it out — inadequate. However, it’s all so energizing that you just want to get out there and do whatever you can for this world.

Something to think about …

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