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13 JULY, 2011

Highlights from TED Global 2011, The Stuff of Life: Day Two

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How to get eaten by mushrooms, why we’re all African, and what language has to do with genetics.

It is Day Two in our ongoing coverage of TED Global 2011, titled The Stuff of Life. (Previously: highlights from Day One; two sets of must-read books by this year’s speakers; remarkable work TED Fellow Nathalie Miebach.) Gathered here are the most noteworthy highlights of Day Two, in photos and soundbites.

SESSION 4: FUTURE BILLIONS

Historian Niall Ferguson, author of The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World and presenter of the excellent six-part BBC series of the same name, which is now available online in its entirety, opened with some striking insights on wealth and the global economy. Most of the world’s wealth was made after the year 1800 and is currently owned by people we might call “Westerners” — economic historians call this The Great Divergence, and it reached its zenith in the 1970s. But, Ferguson argued, it’s not geography or national character: it’s ideas and institutions.

There are six killer apps that set the West apart from the rest: competition, the scientific revolution, property rights, modern medicine, the consumer society, and work ethic. These killer apps can be ‘downloaded” — they’re open-source. Any society can adopt these institutions.” ~ Niall Ferguson

Historian Niall Ferguson

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

The biggest story of our lifetime is the end of Western predominance.” ~ Niall Ferguson

Political economist Yasheng Huang

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Political economist Yasheng Huang explored the parallel economic growth of China and India, examining why China has grown twice as fast as India in the past 30 years. He pointed out the difference between the statics of a political system and the dynamics of a political system — statically, China is strictly authoritarian, but dynamically, it has shifted from more authoritarian to more democratic. Women, Huang argued, play a significant role in strong societies, with 60-80% of China’s workforce being female.

In a surprise visit, economist Tim Harford — whom everyone should follow on Twitter and who authored the excellent new book, Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure — delivered one of the most striking and captivating talks of the day. (Bonus points for calling Hans Rosling “the Mick Jagger of TED,” which couldn’t be more accurate.)

Undercover economist Tim Harford

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Harford explored the mind-boggling scale of consumer choices we face daily and juxtaposed it with the conditions under which our brains evolved.

If you wanted to count every product and service available in New York, all 10 billion of them, it would take you 317 years. The society in which our brains evolved had about 300 products and services.” ~ Tim Harford

Perhaps most importantly and urgently, Harford argued for repeated trial-and-error as the only way to eradicate our culture’s God complex, insisting — much like Isaac Asimov did some three decades ago — that schools need to start teaching children that there are some problems with no correct answer, encouraging trial-and-error as the vehicle of learning.

Comedian Robin Ince

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

The universe is pointless. Brilliant, that means you can come up with your own purpose!” ~ Robin Ince

Street artist JR stopped by for a quick update on his wonderful Inside Out Project, the product of the $100,000 TEDPrize he won last fall.

Street artist JR

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Anti-hunger activist and UN World Food Programme director Josette Sheeran opened with a striking statistic: This morning, 1 out of 7 people on earth didn’t know how to find breakfast. Most of us, she pointed out, don’t have to go too far back in our own lineage to find an experience of hunger, usually a mere two or three generations away.

Anti-hunger leader Josette Sheeran

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Every 10 seconds we lose a child to hunger.” ~ Josette Sheeran

Sheeran focused on the central disconnect of these devastating statistics: We know how to fix this. A child can be saved every 22 seconds if there was breastfeeding in the first 6 months of life. In countries where girls don’t go to schools and meals are offered in schools, there’s a 50/50 enrollment rate for girls and boys, a transformation in attendance that shows food not only helps keep a girl in school, but also enables her to eventually give birth to a healthier child because malnutrition is set generation to generation.

We shouldn’t look at the hungry as victims, but as the solution — as the value chain to fight hunger.” ~ Josette Sheeran

SESSION 5: EMERGING ORDER

Session 5, Emerging Order, was curated by The Rational Optimist author Matt Ridley and opened with geneticist Svante Pääbo, who explored our ancestral origins.

Geneticist Svante Pääbo

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

From a genomic perspective, we are all African.” ~ Svante Pääbo

As former Brain Pickings contributor Brian W. Jones keenly pointed out, Pääbo echoes this fantastic print by Milton Glaser produced for the SVA and benefitting the One Campaign for improving conditions in Africa and eradicating poverty.

Evolutionary biologist Mark Pagel spoke about social learning as a springboard to cumulative cultural evolution, calling it “visual theft” that enables us to learn from the mistakes of others by observing their behavior and stealing their ideas for problem-solving. Language, Pagel argued, evolved to solve the crisis of visual theft as a piece of social technology for enhancing the benefits of cooperation. Since the love of language is a standby here, his point that language is the most potent and valuable trait that ever evolved resonates deeply.

Evolutionary biologist Mark Pagel

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Language is the voice of our genes.” ~ Mark Pagel

Sand artist Joe Castillo

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Sand artist Joe Castillo, despite the tragically non-ironic beret, delivered an absolutely mesmerizing live performance of an evolving sand-painted narrative, shape-shifting into faces from different ethnicities and culminating in a global vision for world peace. Here’s some of his prior work, to scratch the itch until his TED talk goes live:

SESSION 6: THE DARK SIDE

Cyberworld investigator Misha Glenny

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

There are two types of companies in the world — those that know they’ve been hacked, and those that don’t.” ~ Misha Glenny

Underworld investigator Misha Glenny delivered a message of urgency: We are at the beginning of a mighty struggle for control of the Internet. He suggested that many hackers either exhibit characteristics consistent with Asperger’s syndrome or developed their hacking skills during their teenage years, before their moral compass had fully developed, but concluded with the slightly ambivalent message — perhaps honed for the highly pro-hacker TED crowd — that we need to embrace hacker culture rather than condemn it.

The Internet embodies a complex dilemma that pits the demands of security with the desire for freedom.” ~ Misha Glenny

Glenny’s forthcoming book, DarkMarket: Cyberthieves, Cybercops and You, is already on pre-order and a clear must-read addition to these 7 essential books on the future of the Internet.

Cybersecurity expert Mikko Hypponen

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Cybersecurity expert Mikko Hypponen produced a brief history of computer viruses — with many of the early ones bearing a striking visual similarity to some of today’s generative art — and exposed some today’s stealthiest virus techniques, such as “keyloaders” that silently sit on your computer, recording everything you type, including credit card information and personal data.

I see beauty in the future of the Internet, but I’m worried that we might not see that because of online crime. I’ve spent my life defending the net and I believe that if we don’t fight online crime, we run the risk of losing it all. We have to do this globally, and we have to do it now.” ~ Mikko Hypponen

In what was part comic relief, part powerful illustration of his central point, Hypponen whipped out an old-timey overhead projector for a part of his presentation, to better illustrate our options for when we do lose the things we take for granted. He concluded by proposing and “Internetpol” — Interpol for the Internet, a bastion of cyber security and investigator of cyber crime.

Lie detector Pamela Meyer

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Lie detector Pamela Meyer shared some insights from her book, Liespotting: Proven Techniques to Detect Deception, including hands-on tips for telling a fake smile from a real one, the body language of a lie from the body language of truthfulness, and more.

Lying is our attempt to bridge the gap between how we wish we could be and what we’re really like.” ~ Pamela Meyer

SESSION 7: BODIES

Movement expert Daniel Wolpert argued that the only reason we have a brain is to produce adaptable and complex movement, since movement — from the contractions that underpin our speech and facial mimicry to the actions that allow us to exert force — is the only way to affect the world around us.

Movement expert Daniel Wolpert

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Biologist Sheril Kirshenbaum, author of the fascinating The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us, revealed some fascinating theories and statistics behind why and how we kiss. (Did you know, for instance, that two thirds of people tilt their head to the right when they kiss, and it has no correlation with righthandedness?)

Biologist and writer Sheril Kirshenbaum

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

We’re interpreting the world through our mouths more than we realize. Our lips are packed with nerves and signals.” ~ Sheril Kirshenbaum

TED Fellow Jae Rhim Lee delivered what was positively one of the wildest yet most thought-provoking talks to date. With her Infinity Burial Project, she is advocating for a movement she calls “decompiculture” — environmentally friendly, gentle ways of disposing of our dead bodies, an antidote to the chemical-laden, highly toxic burial and cremation processes of how we handle the dead today. Lee is training a unique strain of mushroom to decompose and remediate toxins in human tissue in a process that’s equal parts scientific exploration and philosophical quest to come to terms with her own mortality.

TED Fellow Jae Rhim Lee

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

By trying to preserve our dead bodies, we deny death, poison the living and further damage the environment.” ~ Jae Rhim Lee

Introducing UP from Jawbone

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

The makers of Jawbone revealed an exclusive first look at UP, a jaw-dropping sensor-based wristband that tracks your sleep patterns and eating habits to deliver data that optimizes your everyday life for greater well-being — a promising new personal data tracking tool in the arsenal of the quantified self.

Singer Alice Russell

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Musician extraordinaire Alice Russel closed the evening with her utterly magnificent voice, best described as Adele meets Ella. Her most recent album, Pot of Gold, is an absolute gem.

For highlights from the final two days of TEDGlobal 2011, keep an eye on our friends at the TED Blog, or follow along on Twitter between 8:30AM and 7PM GMT for the live feed.

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13 JULY, 2011

Ingrid Dabringer’s Map Paintings: Finding Whimsy in Geography

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What Manhattan’s biceps have to do with Austrian ballet, bird migrations and flamenco.

As a hopeless lover of maps, creative cartography and, especially, maps as art, I was utterly enchanted by the work of mixed-media visual artist Ingrid Dabringer, who uses acrylic paint to draw — or, more precisely, find — extraordinary, playful characters and vignettes in ordinary maps.

I like to elevate the mundane. The Mundane is so saturated with meaning if we just take an extra second to dwell on it. The Mundane is saturated with symbolism.” ~ Ingrid Dabringer

Manitoulin

New York City Subway

Bird Migration Dame

Bird Migration Dude

Vienna Ballet Countess

Vienna Ballet

Philippines

Ireland and England

OH! Canada

Green Toronto A

Green Toronto B

Flamenco: Middle America

Some of Dabringer’s magnificent map paintings, most certainly on par with The Map as Art, are available on Etsy, or you can contact her directly for originals.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

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12 JULY, 2011

Highlights from TED Global 2011, The Stuff of Life: Day One

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What 86,000 neurons have to do with privacy, the Magna Carta, and the world’s fastest piano player.

After warming up with two sets of must-read books by this year’s speakers and a look at some amazing work by the TED Fellows, this year’s TED Global, titled The Stuff of Life, is officially underway. Gathered here are the essential highlights of Day One, in photos and soundbites.

TED Curator Chris Anderson and TED Europe director Bruno Giussani open the first session of TED Global 2011, 'Beginnings'

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

SESSION 1: BEGINNINGS

Biologist Lee Cronin opened the day with a compelling look at the chemical origins of life, questioning our most fundamental assumptions about what constitutes living matter with a scientific lens underpinned by philosophical inquiry.

Life is flame in a bottle.” ~ Lee Cronin

Chemist Lee Cronin

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Biology doesn’t care about the design unless it works.” ~ Lee Cronin

Author Annie Murphy Paul shared insights from her book, Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives. Fetuses, she argued, are learning about sounds, tastes and smells while still in the womb, and the meals a pregnant woman consumes constitute a kind of story that imparts information the fetus uses to organize its body and its systems.

We’re learning about the world before we even enter it.” ~ Annie Murphy Paul

Author Annie Murphy Paul

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Global Voices co-founder Rebecca MacKinnon

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Rebecca MacKinnon, co-founder of visionary citizen journalism portal Global Voices, explored private sovereignty in cyberspace, how digital laws can challenge or extend the sovereignty of nation-states, and what we can do to uphold sovereignty in a cultural context where most private CEOs focus on maximizing profit, not freedom.

What people can and cannot do with information has more effect than ever on the exercise of power in the physical world.” ~ Rebecca MacKinnon

MacKinnon drew on history, pointing to the Magna Carta — which recognized that even the king who claimed to have divine rule still had to abide by a basic set of rules, setting off a cycle of political innovation and eventually leading to “Consent of the governed” — and called for the need to build “Consent of the networked,” which would require innovation not only in politics and geopolitics, but also in business management, investment behavior, consumer choice and even software design.

Each and every one of us has a vital part to play in building a world in which government and technology serve the world’s people and not the other way around.” ~ Rebecca MacKinnon

Soprano Danielle de Niese

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Richard Wilkinson, author of The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, spoke about improving the qualities of human life by reducing income differences, pointing out that the most important determinant of healthy community life is the scale of income differences between us.

Richard Wilkinson

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

If Americans want to live the American dream, they should go to Denmark.” ~ Richard Wilkinson

Political theorist Phillip Blond argued that, for the past 30 to 40 years, Western societies have run on extreme individualism, leading to social maladies like enormous disparity, a welfarist culture, and ultimate breakdown after which the state has to pick up the pieces.

The state has turned class into caste and the market has converted owners into serfs.” ~ Phillip Blond

Political theorist Phillip Blond

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Blond pointed to relationships as the real basis for society and asserted that the economic problem isn’t so much about income inequality as it is about asset inequality, which is far worse.

Assets are the great drive of modern inequality — who owns and who doesn’t own. The bottom half of the UK owns just 9% of the nation’s assets.” ~ Phillip Blond

SESSION 2: EVERYDAY REBELLIONS

Opening the second session, Everyday Rebellions, artist Hasan Elahi, who has been publicly tracking every detail of his life for the past several years after getting erroneously placed on the FBI’s watchlist and is the subject of the book Bursts: The Hidden Pattern Behind Everything We Do, spoke about privacy, arguing that the only way to protect our privacy in the digital age by taking full control of its transparency.

Artist Hasan Elahi

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

We’re all creating an archive of our own lives, whether we’re aware of it or not.” ~ Hasan Elahi

Quilliam Foundation founder and anti-extremism activist Maajid Nawaz, a former 13-year Islamic extremist himself, spoke about the “age of behavior” — a period when trans-national ideas and narratives are affecting allegiances and behavior — and argued that the people who have capitalized the most on this age of behavior have been extremists, using globally networked tools to disseminate their ideology. He identified four elements of social movements — ideas, narratives symbols and leaders — and pointed to an ultimate ideal where people vote in an existing democracy, not for democracy, a model in which democracy isn’t merely one of many political choices.

Anti-extrimism activist Maajid Nawaz

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

In history, identity was defined by religion and race. Now, in the age of behavior, it’s defined by ideas and narratives” ~ Maajid Nawaz

Raspy angel Asaf Avidan

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Israeli indie folk-rock musician Asaf Avidan, an absolutely remarkable voice channeling Janis Joplin, Cat Stevens and something else entirely, delivered an utterly spellbiding performance alongside cellist Hadas Kleinman. Their debut album, The Reckoning, is one of the finest indie records to come by in years.

Filmmaker Julia Bacha, who has dedicated her life to documenting how Israeli and Palestinians are finding ways for peaceful conflict resolution and emergence of nonviolent movements in the West Bank, Gaza and elsewhere, argued passionately for giving nonviolent behavior enough attention and exposure to shift the normative models for conflict resolution.

What’s missing is not for Palestinians to start adopting nonviolence but for us to start paying attention to those who already are.” ~ Julia Bacha

She noted that the one important characteristic violent and nonviolent resistance have in common is that they are both a form of theater, seeking an audience for their cause.

Filmmaker Julia Bacha

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

I believe at the core of ending the conflict in the Middle East and bringing peace is for us to transform nonviolence into a functional behavior by giving a lot more attention to nonviolent leaders today.” ~ Julia Bacha

SESSION 3: CODED PATTERNS

Physicist Geoffrey West, whose work on “turning the city into an equation” was profiled in The New York Times last winter, explored the economies of scale as they apply to cities and innovation, arguing that unbounded growth requites accelerating cycles of innovation to avoid collapse, but with the catch that it also necessitates a faster and faster pace of innovation.

Every week from now until 2050 more than a million people are being added to our cities.” ~ Geoffrey West

Urban physicist Geoffrey West

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

We are the city — it’s our interactions and the clustering of our interactions.” ~ Geoffrey West

Architect Shohei Shigematsu examined the box as a building block of architectural innovation.

Architect Shohei Shigematsu

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

In order to make an iconic place, shape doesn’t really matter.” ~ Shohei Shigematsu

Kevin Slavin explored how algorithms are shaping our understanding of markets, behaviors and the world at large, calling for rethinking the role of math in life and society. He noted that there are 2,000 physicists working on Wall Street, many working on “black box trading”, which, as Slavin facetiously pointed out, makes up “70% of the algorithm formerly known as your pension.”

Algoworld expert Kevin Slavin

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

We would have to understand algorithms as nature — and, in a way, they are.” ~ Kevin Slavin

Neuroscientist Allan Jones exposed the processes and practices of his lab, which has devised a way to glean 50 million data points from any given human brain. But despite advances in neuroscience, Jones noted, the brain, with its 86 million neurons whose distribution determine its function, remains largely a mystery.

Brain scientist Allan Jones

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

The brain is truly an unexplored, undiscovered continent. It’s a new frontier, if you will.” ~ Allan Jones

Virtuoso pianist and composer Balazs Havasi, holder of the Guinness World Record for the Most Piano Keys in One Minute, closed the day with a riveting rock-classical duet with a master-drummer, rolled onstage in a glass box alongside the grand piano.

Pianist Balazs Havasi

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Come back tomorrow for highlights from Day Two, or follow along on Twitter between 8:30AM and 7PM GMT for the live feed.

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