Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘technology’

07 MARCH, 2011

5 (More) Must-Read Books by TED 2011 Speakers

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What information curators have to do with the revenge of technology and synesthetic autism.

We spent the past week in sleep deprivation and intellectual overstimulation so you wouldn’t have to, reporting from TED 2011: The Rediscovery of Wonder and bringing back the most noteworthy highlights, soundbites and exclusive photos. Last week, we warmed up with 5 must-read books by some of this year’s speakers, and today we’re back with five more.

BEING WRONG

The pleasure of being right is one of the most universal human addictions and most of us spend an extraordinary amount of effort on avoiding or concealing wrongness. But error, it turns out, isn’t wrong. In fact, it’s not only what makes us human but also what enhances our capacity for empathy, optimism, courage and conviction. In Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, Kathryn Schulz approaches the subject of wrongness with equal parts wit and rigor, eloquently blending philosophical inquiry with social psychology and neuroscience to examine how the mind works.

However disorienting, difficult, or humbling our mistakes might be, it is ultimately wrongness, not rightness, that can teach us who we are.” ~ Kathryn Schulz

From Shakespeare to Freud, Schulz examines some of history’s greatest thinkers’ perspectives on being wrong and emerges with a compelling counterpoint to our collective cultural aversion to wrongness, arguing instead that error is a precious gift that fuels everything from art to humor to scientific discovery and, perhaps most importantly, a transformative force of personal growth that we should embrace, not mask or stifle.

THE FILTER BUBBLE

As information continues to proliferate, how we sift and filter it is of increasing importance in making sense of the world and framing what matters in it. And while human information curators (cough cough…) are working hard to separate the signal from the noise, the reality is that much of our information diet is being force-fed to us by algorithms that track and profile us, custom-serving us an information menu very different from our neighbor’s. In The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You, Eli Pariser offers an eye-opening investigation of how this ultra-personalization is controlling and limiting the information we’re exposed to.

We’ve moved to an age where the Internet is showing us what it thinks we want to see, but not necessarily what we need to see. [...] We need the new information gatekeepers to encode a sense of civic responsibility into algorithms.” ~ Eli Pariser

This is an increasingly urgent question: Is the responsibility of those who serve information to give us more of what we already like and believe, or to open our eyes to new perspectives? And if it’s all algorithmically driven, is there even a place for such responsibility? From the role of content curators as moral mitigators of algorithmic efficiency to the underbelly of Google’s powerful personalization engines, which look at 57 data points before they serve us custom-cut search query results, The Filter Bubble is a timely and critical read for the informed information consumer.

WHY THINGS BITE BACK

Nearly 15 years old, science historian Edward Tenner’s Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences remains an essential exploration of what the author calls the “revenge effects” of technology — the unintended negative consequences of technological innovation. From oil spills to computer-induced carpal tunnel syndrome to the mass extermination of birds, Tenner draws on a wide range of everyday examples to deliver a thought-provoking study of Murphy’s Law as a grounding cautionary tale, even more important today in the midst of our blind techno-lust.

MAPS OF TIME

Astro-historian David Christian is considered the founding father of the Big History movement — the notion that in order to fully understand human history, we must integrate it with all disciplines and contextualize it in the larger history of time itself. Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History is Christian’s ambitious effort to synthesize the universe’s 13 billion years in a single volume, spanning nearly 600 pages and featuring 45 stunning black-and-white illustrations and 9 beautiful maps.

We can share what we learn with such precision that it can outlast the individual and remain in our collective memory. That’s why we have a history. I call this ability ‘collective learning.’ It’s what makes us different.” ~ David Christian

Though certainly non-exhaustive — after all, how could one possibly compress the entire spectrum of existence into a single tome, however formidable its size? — the book is an excellent primer for macro-history and a necessary foundation for deeper understanding of our place in the universe.

BORN ON A BLUE DAY

Daniel Tammet is a high-functioning autistic savant with Asperger’s syndrome, capable of extraordinary feats of computation and memory, from learning Icelandic in a single week to breaking the European record by reciting the number pi up to the 22,514th digit. The 32-year-old Brit also has synesthesia, the rare neurological crossing of the senses that enables one to “see” music, “hear” color, or experience letters and numbers with motion and texture, which makes him one of only about 50 people living in the world today with both synesthesia and autism.

Born On A Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant offers a rare and fascinating look at this superhuman brain and how it goes through the human world.

Our personal perceptions are at the heart of how we acquire knowledge.” ~ Daniel Tammet

From the challenges of sustaining a long-term romantic relationship to the realization of being gay to the entrepreneurship of turning his unusual life into a living by building an online language-learning system, the book is a powerful perspective-shift as Tammet transcends the pathology of his condition to deliver eloquent and highly engaging storytelling that leaves you with equal parts awe and empathy.

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03 MARCH, 2011

TED 2011: The Rediscovery of Wonder, Day 3

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Embracing chaos, 57 things Google knows about you, and how to 3D-print a kidney.

This week, we’re reporting live from TED 2011: The Rediscovery of Wonder. So far, we warmed up with 5 must-read books by some of this year’s speakers, synthesized highlights from Day 1 and Day 2, and spotlighted an inspired urban intervention by designer and TED Fellow Candy Chang. Today, we’re back — on the brink of our sleep budged — with highlights, photos and notable soundbites from Day 3 — dig in.

Historian Edward Tenner

Culture and technology historian Edward Tenner showed statistical evidence that the greatest time for game-changing innovation in modern history was actually The Great Depression, which had a paradoxically stimulating effect on creativity. He argued that one of the grand questions of our time is how to close the gap between our capabilities and our foresight.

Our ability to innovate is increasing geometrically but our capacity to model those innovations is linear.” ~ Edward Tenner

Tenner’s excellent 1997 book, Why Things Bite Back: Technology & the Revenge of Unintended Consequences, will change the way you think about adversity, opportunity and innovation.

Chris Anderson presenting the winners of the Ads Worth Spreading contest.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

TED announced the 10 winners of the inaugural Ads Worth Spreading contest, seeking to reframe commercial communication from an interruption to inspiration.

Eli Pariser of MoveOn.org fame, author of the excellent forthcoming The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You, delivered a stride-stopping and timely curtain-pull on our modern information diet and what we’re being force-fed by the powers of the Internet. Google, apparently, looks at 57 data points to serve us personally tailored search results.

We’ve moved to an age where the Internet is showing us what it thinks we want to see, but not necessarily what we need to see.” ~ Eli Pariser

Which raises the question of responsibility: Is the responsibility of those who serve information to give us more of what we already like and believe, or to open our eyes to new perspectives? And if it’s all algorithmically driven, is there even a place for such responsibility? Our key takeaway from Pariser’s talk, one particularly relevant to our own credo, is that human information curators will have an increasingly important role as moral mitigators of algorithmic personalization efficiency.

Eli Pariser 'We need the new information gatekeepers to encode a sense of civic responsibility into algorithms.'

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

We need the Internet to introduce us to different ideas and different perspectives.” ~ Eli Pariser

Virginia Tech’s Dennis Hong is building the world’s first vehicle for the visually-impaired. and recently made history with the Blind Driver Challenge.

Dennis Hong 'We need the new information gatekeepers to encode a sense of civic responsibility into algorithms.'

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

High-functioning autistic savant Daniel Tammet opened the door to his fascinating view of the world. He used synesthesia, the strange neurological crossing of the senses, as an example of how the world is often richer than we think it to be.

Daniel Tammet shows us the world through the eyes of an autistic savant.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Tammet’s Born On A Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant is one of the most fascinating perspective shifts you’ll ever read.

Google's Sebastian Thrun 'We took a driverless car from San Francisco to LA, and no one even noticed there was no driver.'

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

The idea behind the Stuxnet worm is quite simple: We don’t want Iran to get the bomb.” ~ Ralph Langner

Security consultant Ralph Langner 'Mossad is responsible for Stuxnet. But the real force behind that is not Israel, it is the only cyber force: The U.S.'

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

In one of the day’s most jaw-dropping demos, the kind that restores one’s faith in humanity, Berkley BionicsEythor Bender showcased the incredible eLEGS exoskeletons, which enable the paralyzed to walk again, and HULC, which enables ordinary people to carry up to 200 lbs. Bender was joined onstage by a soldier, who demoed HULC, and a paralyzed woman who walked for the first time in 18 years thanks to eLEGS.

Eythor Bender on stage with paraplegic Amanda Boxtel, ecstatic in her new non-invasive exoskeleton legs.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Biomedical engineer Fiorenzo Omenetto is developing amazing non-invasive implants made of silicon and silk.

Fiorenzo Omenetto shows a disposable cup made of silk, a biodegradable, biocompatible alternative to the highly unsustainable styrofoam.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

There was no shortage of astounding demos today. Anthony Atala, whose work in 3D organ printing is an unbelievable next frontier in medicine, literally “printed” a kidney on the TED stage as 1,700 of the world’s smartest people gasped in awe, speechless.

Anthony Atala 'prints' a kidney to a collective gasp.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

The remarkable papercut artist Béatrice Coron, whose stunning artwork we’ve spotted on the New York subway, echoed some of our own beliefs about combinatorial creativity:

I’m influenced by everything I read, everything I see. In life and in paper cutting, everything is connected: One story leads to another.” ~ Beatrice Coron

Watch Coron’s creative process and swoon like we did:

Keep an eye on our live Twitter coverage and come back here tomorrow evening for highlights from the final day.

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03 MARCH, 2011

TED 2011: The Rediscovery of Wonder, Day Two

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Redefining life, understanding consciousness, and why technology is humanizing education.

This week, we’re reporting live from TED 2011: The Rediscovery of Wonder. Earlier, we warmed up with 5 must-read books by some of this year’s speakers and kicked off with exclusive coverage of Day One yesterday. Today, we’re back — sleep-deprived and intellectually overstimulated in typical TED fashion — with highlights, photos and notable soundbites from Day Two. Hold your heart and brace your brain.

Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio: 'A conscious mind is a mind with a self in it.'

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

The day’s first session, Deep Mystery, opened with one of our favorite brain-tinkerers, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, whose work on consciousness we’ve previously covered and whose new book, Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain, is an absolute must-read. Damasio spoke of the three three levels of self — the proto self, the core self and the autobiographical self. While we share the first two with other species, the third, which deals with memory and weaves complex mental narratives, is uniquely human.

Antonio Damasio: 'Consciousness is how we know we exist.'

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Consciousness is what we regain when we awaken from deep sleep” ~ Antonio Damasio

Philosopher Damon Horowitz: 'I want to know about wrongness itself. The idea of wrong.'

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Everything around you is connected, and that’s the profound weirdness of quantum mechanics.” ~ Aaron O’Connell

Biochemist Felisa Wolfe-Simon, whose recent discovery of arsenic-utilizing bacteria that thrive in otherwise poisonous environments rewrote science textbooks in a profound way, reminded us of the importance of questioning our most fundamental understanding of life.

Astrochemist Felisa Woldfe-Simon is responsible for one of the most important discoveries in modern life science.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

If all life on Earth was made of the same pieces, how can we look for something different? I can only find what I know to look for. It’s really hard to look for something when you don’t know what it is.” ~ Felisa Wolfe-Simon

We’re fascinated by language, so MIT Media Lab’s Deb Roy blew us away with some astounding research on how children learn language, some of which is reflected in his Human Speechome Project and some in his fascinating observation of his baby son’s speech development, meticulously recording his development for three years. Listening to the evolution of the child’s pronunciation of the word “water.” Essentially, Roy made a 90,000-hour home video to explore the evolution of human speech.

As our world becomes increasingly instrumented and we gain the ability to connect the things people are saying with the context in which they’re saying it, new social structures are being revealed. And I think the implications for science and commerce will be significant.” ~ Deb Roy

Groundbreaking documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, of Supersize Me and 30 Days fame, took us behind the scenes of his new film, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold — an irreverent investigation of the make-believe world of product placement. In fact, he auctioned off the naming rights to this very TED talk, which EMC eventually acquired for $7,000. (Spurlock subsequently handed the check to The Sapling Foundation, TED’s parent entity, and joked that it was to be put towards his 2012 attendance.)

Embrace fear, embrace risk. Today, more than ever, we need to embrace transparency.” ~ Morgan Spurlock

Documentarian-provocateur Morgan Spurlock

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

When you’re traing your employees to be risk averse, you’re training your whole company to be reward-challenged.” ~ Morgan Spurlock

TED’s Tom Rielly brought this year’s remarkable class of TED Fellows on stage — exceptional doers and world-changers working across everything from documentary film to education to tissue engineering — for a well-deserved ovation.

Tom Reilly introduces 2011's class of fellows and senior fellows.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Astro-historian David Christian made a passionate argument for teaching kids Big History — essential knowledge about the origin of the universe. His 2005 book, Maps of Time, is an aboslutely must-read

Bill Gates with David Christian: Collective knowledge -- the ability to record information and pass it beyond the lifespan of the individual -- is what makes us different.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

We can share what we learn with such precision that it can outlast the individual and remain in our collective memory. That’s why we have a history. I call this ability ‘collective learning.’ It’s what makes us different.” ~ David Christian

Polio is like a root fire — it can explode again if you don’t snuff it out completely.” ~ Bruce Aylward

The Khan Academy may just be the most important phenomenon in grassroots open education of our time, so it was an absolute pleasure to see its founder, Salman Khan, take the TED stage.

Bill Gates with Salman Khan.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Here I was, an analyst at a hedge fund, and I was doing something of social value.” ~ Salman Khan

Khan Academy founder Salman Khan: 'By removing the one-size fits all lecture from the classroom, these teachers have used technology to humanize the classroom.'

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Khan was introduced by Bill Gates, who curated the entire Knowledge Revolution session — a new guest curation experiment at TED. Last fall, Gates eloquently captured just why the Khan Academy is such a formidable force of social change:

Learn math the way you learn anything, the way you learn to ride a bicycle. Fall off that bicycle and get back on. We encourage you to fall, we encourage failure, but we do expect mastery.” ~ Salman Khan

The day’s final session opened with a surprise talk directly from TEDxCairo. Wael Ghonim — the widely credited with sparking the Egyptian revolution by building a Facebook page for Khaled Said, the businessman slain by police brutality —

No one was a hero because everyone was a hero.” ~ Wael Ghonim

Internet activist Wael Ghonim delivers a powerful surprise talk.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Everything was done by the people for the people, and that’s the power of the Internet.” ~ Wael Ghonim

Deep-sea explorer Edith Widder studies bioluminescent creatures.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Bioluminescence expert Edith Widder delivered a fantastic follow-up to her 2010 TED Talk on the fascinating glowing world of the world’s deepest waters.

There’s a language of light in the deep ocean and we’re just beginning to understand it.” ~ Edith Widder

The day wrapped up with street artist JR, the most recent $100,000 TEDPrize winner, who showcased some of his incredible work and echoed our own beliefs about remix culture, and revealed his ambitious new global collaborative art project.

TEDPrize winner JR in Session 7: Radical Collaboration.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

It doesn’t matter today if it’s your photo or not. The importance is what you do with images.” ~ JR

Keep an eye on our live Twitter coverage and come back here tomorrow evening for highlights from Day Three.

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.