Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘technology’

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.

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24 FEBRUARY, 2011

5 Must-Read Books by TED 2011 Speakers

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What doodling has to do with the evolution of consciousness and the raw beauty of the Arctic.

Last year, our selection of 7 must-read books by TEDGlobal speakers was one our most popular articles of 2010. Today, as we prepare for next week’s big event, we’re back with 5 essential reads by TED 2011 speakers, once again litmus-tested for brilliance in the world’s most reliable quality-control lab: the TED stage.

SELF COMES TO MIND

You may recall iconic neuroscientist Antonio Damasio from his insights on what it means to be human. Published last fall, Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain is his ambitious exploration of the underpinnings of the self. From distilling cognitive phenomena like creativity and memory to illuminating vital distinctions like brain vs. mind and self vs. consciousness, Damasio does for neuroscience what Malcolm Gladwell does for business, synthesizing complex notions and rigorous research into a digestible, absorbing narrative. The book is a surprisingly worthy follow-up to Damasio’s excellent, impossibly unmatchable 2005 Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain.

AS THE FUTURE CATCHES YOU

Harvard Business School professor and futurist Juan Enriquez, whose Homo Evolutis was one of last month’s revolutionary first crop of TEDBooks, is a thoughtful observer of the profound cultural and biological changes that genomics and other life sciences are sweeping through society. In As the Future Catches You: How Genomics & Other Forces Are Changing Your Life, Work, Health & Wealth, he takes a provocative look at the trajectory of technological progress, contextualizing scientific milestones in relative historical terms that help us grasp the true scale of innovation that surrounds us. (He argues, for instance, that February 2, 2001 — the date that anyone with Internet access could access the entire human genome — is equivalent in magnitude of importance to Columbus’s 1492 discovery of America.)

Sample Enriquez’s genius with his excellent 2009 TED talk on how the evolution of technology is impacting the financial crisis:

Besides the compelling thinking, the As the Future Catches You is a beautiful experience in and of itself, adorned with sophisticated typography and eye-popping graphics. Enriquez has purposely left blank pages for your notes in an effort to stress that the issue is an ongoing conversation with no conclusive answers, inviting you to partake in its intellectual exploration.

GAMESTORMING

We’re big proponents of the value of play in enhancing creativity, productivity and well-being. And while most people have an intuitive understanding of this correlation, it remains a taboo in the formal world of business. In Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers, visual thinker and tinkerer Sunni Brown, along with co-authors Dave Gray and James Macanufo, makes a compelling case for the tangible, practical applications of play in business, applying game mechanics to revolutionize business models and work environments across a remarkably wide spectrum of industries.

The book features 83 actual, playable games designed specifically for honing the creative process, facilitating problem-solving, overcoming organizational tensions, and even making meetings shorter and more productive. Playful and pragmatic, the book is an absolute treat from cover to cover.

THE ROAD AHEAD

Bill Gates is no stranger to TED. But while the world may have had more than its fair share of Gates exposure in recent decades, it’s undeniable that the iconic geek is a bold visionary. To truly appreciate his keen grasp of the future, we need only look at the past: Published more than 15 years ago, The Road Ahead is a priceless compendium of insights from Gates, who predicts the development and application of present-day information technology with astounding accuracy and further projects its future in shaping our lives with the provocative vision of a true entrepreneur. From personal computing to business to education, the book is both a rare timecapsule of the dawn of ubiquitous computing and an extraordinary lens for what lies ahead.

Sample the book’s retrofuturistic genius with this teaser about Gates’ 1995 vision for the future of education:

POLAR OBSESSION

Naturalist and wildlife photographer Paul Nicklen grew up in one of the only non-Inuit families on Baffin Island, Nunavut, in a tiny native settlement in the sprawling ice fields of Northern Canada. In Polar Obsession, he reconnects with his roots in a striking and powetic visual ode to the Arctic at the intersection of art and science. At once a bittersweet portrait of climate change and a passionate call to action in honoring the incredible planet we inhabit, the book is a visceral and deeply alive reminder of just what’s at stake as we talk about a topic so chronically overpoliticized and sterilized of aliveness.

A kittiwake soars in front of a large iceberg. Svalbard, Norway

Looking towards an uncertain future, a huge male bear triggers a camera trap, taking his own picture. Leifdefjorden, Spitsbergen, Norway

A gentoo penguin chick peeks, checking for patrolling leopard seals before tempting fate. Port Lockroy, Antarctic Peninsula

Mother bear and two-year-old cub drift on glacier ice. Hudson Strait, Nunavut, Canada

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23 FEBRUARY, 2011

Visions of the Future: Isaac Asimov’s Unrealized Pilot

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What vintage computers have to do with unrealized TV series and the future of humanity.

We love iconic science fiction author and futurist Isaac Asimov, whose keen insights on creativity in education were a favorite last month. Two years before his death, Asimov recorded a pilot for a TV series synthesizing his visionary ideas about where humanity is going. When he passed away in 1992, the pilot for the series was adapted into a tribute documentary titled Visions of the Future, now available on YouTube in four parts, totaling 40 minutes of rare footage and biographical background on the great thinker.

The series was intended to cover new breakthroughs in science and technology, preparing people for the coming future — essentially, the antithesis to the Future Shock series narrated by Orson Welles.

Most fascinating of all are Asimov’s thoughts on computers, which may seem like common sense today but in fact presage the modern applications of computing, from mobile technology to consumer electronics to artificial intelligence, by two decades.

Perhaps the most revolutionary development of recent years has been that of the computer. Because for the first time we’ve discovered a machine that can substitute, at least in part, the human brain. Before that, it was just a matter of saving human muscles, of using machinery to spare what human muscles couldn’t do very well.” ~ Isaac Asimov

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