Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘technology’

25 FEBRUARY, 2010

Kopernik: Crowdfunding World-Changing Design

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Humanitarian three-ways, or what Polish astronomy has to with the future of civilization.

We fully endorsed Emily Pilloton’s vision that design can empower people and change the world. But there’s often a disonnect between the world-changing products and technologies that get dreamt up, and the actual ability to fund them and get them in the hands of those who need them the most.

No more. At least not if it’s up to Kopernik, a revolutionary new social platform that connects breakthrough technologies with the people and communities whose lives they will better the most, harnessing the power of crowdsourced microfunding.

The name, of course, comes from Copernicus, the Polish Renaissance astronomer who busted the geocentric model of the universe and completely changed the way people perceived the way around them — an aspirational metaphor for Kopernik‘s ambition to revolutionize how people see and understand the biggest challenges the world faces today.

From a rollable water container for women in East Timor, to self-adjustable glasses (remember those?) for refugees without access to eye clinics, to computer training for Sierra Leonean youth, Kopernik lets development groups write short proposals and submit them to the public for crowdfunding. Sort of like a humanitarian Kickstarter, which then does a three-way connect with individual supporters, technology provider companies, and the local organizations who seek those technologies.

Founded by a team of United Nations and World Bank expats, Kopernik is planning to expand beyond crowdfunding proposals and into developing their own products with DIY and open-source instructions that local communities can use to build technologies.

Because the only kind of design revolution that’s going to stick is one where grassroots empowerment lets people take ownership of the very solutions that are changing their lives.

via TBD

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12 FEBRUARY, 2010

Highlights from TED 2010: Day Two

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Suspended animation, augmented reality, and what sheep’s knuckles have to do with the future of cultural problem-solving.

We’ve been busy live-tweeting from TED 2010, so yesterday’s highlights come mostly in photos and quotes — see Twitter for play-by-play updates.

SESSION 1: REASON

Be skeptical. Ask questions. Get proof. Don’t take anything for granted. But when you get proof, accept it. We have a hard time doing that. ~ Michael Specter

Science tells us what we can value, but it never tells us what we ought to value. ~ Sam Harris

AIDS researcher Elizabeth Pisani shows the remarkable and life-saving effects of HIV treatment, but says that, contrary to popular belief, treatment is not all the prevention we need. In fact, it leads the infected to take their guards down, so they become less careful, which can be dangerous.

Pisani’s book, The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels and the Business of AIDS, sounds fascinating and eye-opening.

Pisani shows some counterintuitive HIV stats

Nicholas Christakis, whose social contagion studies we tweeted some time ago, talked about

Christakis’ book, Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, is a sociology and digital anthropology must-read.

Christakis calls obesity a 'multicentric epidemic,' reduced not to the behavior of individuals but to that of the 'human superorganism.'

SESSION 5: PROVOCATION

Ex-CIA covert operations officer Valerie Plame Wilson shares Global Zero, her advocacy for eliminating nuclear weapons.

One thing our country needs is better political debates. We need to rediscover the lost art of political argument. ~ Michael Sandel

If we weren't afraid our servers might go down tomorrow, we'd dare say 4chan founder Christopher 'moot' Poole was endearing, but left us underwhelmed and missing a connect-the-dots idea. Hypothetically speaking.

Kevin Bales reveals some shocking facts about modern-day slavery: Today, there are 27,000 people in real, physical slavery. He points to four main causes: Overpopulation, extreme poverty, vulnerability of disadvantaged groups, and corruption.

'What enables slavery is the absence of the rule of law. It lets people use violence with impunity.' ~ Kevin Bales

Kevin advocates “freedom dividend” — letting people out of slavery and letting them work for themselves, which causes local communities to flourish. He says the total cost of enduring freedom for those 27,000 contemporary slaves is $10.8 billion, which is how much the US spent shopping this past holiday season.

We stand wholeheartedly behind Chris Anderson’s recommendation for Bales’ chilling and fascinating book, Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy.

A TED first: Mark Jacobson and Stewart Brand (whose compelling new book, Whole Earth Discipline, we reviewed recently) entered a good old fashioned debate on the merits of nuclear power.

Brand for, Jacobson against

If all of the electricity in your lifetime came from nuclear, waste would fit in a Coke can. ~ Stewart Brand

Each got 6 minutes to defend his stance, followed by an audience grill and refuting arguments.

To power the entire world with wind you will need only about 1% of US land area. ~ Mark Jacobson

Despite his charisma, Brand 'lost' in the end -- the audience skew moved from 75/25 in favor of nukes in the beginning of the debate to 65/35 by the end.

SESSION 6: INVENTION

The Extraordinary Legion of Dancers, LXD, were extraordinary indeed.

LXD received the most enthusiastic standing ovation at TED 2010 yet.

Though without the impact of a live performance, you can see for yourself:

When I dance, I want people to question the reality of what they’re seeing. ~ Madd Chadd

Game designer Jane McGonigal delivered some staggering statistics on gaming: Since World of Warcraft launched, we’ve spent 5.33 million years solving it; to put this in time perspective, 5.33 million years ago, the first humans stood up.

In the game world, we become the best version of ourselves. ~Jane McGonigal

Today’s kids, McGonigal pointed out, spend some 10,000 hours gaming by the time they turn 21. At the same time, the average child with perfect attendance spends 10,800 hours in school by graduation — so there’s a parallel “education” going on. She advocates for using social games as something bigger than escapism from reality — a cultural advancement tool putting gamers’ problem-solving talents to work. She demoes World Without Oil, a collaborative social game made in 2007.

Ancient dice made out of sheep's knuckles, invented in Libya, are world's first recorded gaming device.

McGonigal premieres Urgent Evoke, a game developed in partnership with the World Bank. If you complete it, you get certified by the World Bank as “social innovator”.

Music icon David Byrne, a cultural hero of ours.

Byrne says people in 19th-century opera houses used to yell at each other just like they did at CBGB's in the 70's.

Photosynth mastermind Blaise Aguera y Arcas demoes some remarkable Augmented Reality technologies using Microsoft's Bing

Inventor Gary Lauder says energy efficiency is about more than just vehicles: It's also about the road. He points out that converting a traffic light into a roundabout -- something well-adopted in Europe, but tragically scarce here in the US -- reduces accidents by 40%. He proposes a new hybrid sign that blends a Stop sign and a Yield one.

In the developing world, 10-50% of vaccines spoil before delivery. Kids die. ~Nathan Myhrvold

Polymath Nathan Myhrvold delivers some known but still chilling statistics about malaria — it sickens 250 million people a year; every 43 seconds a child in Africa dies — and demonstrates a radical new way of fighting the disease: By laser-blasting infected mosquitoes.

Myhrvold orchestrates an incredible on-stage demonstration, wherein a mosquito is shot by a laser beam in a glass tank.

We've stitched together the slow-motion sequence of the mosquito blast. Click the image to look closer.

SESSION 7: BREAKTHROUGH

Singer-songwriter Andrew Bird, amazing as usual.

Stephen Wolfram, creator of revolutionary semantic search engine Wolfram|Alpha, argues raw computation combined with built-in knowledge changes the economics of the web and democratizes programming. He talks about the principle of computational equivalence — the idea that even incredibly simple systems can do complex computation.

Wolfram says you don't have to go very far in the computational universe to start finding candidate universes for our own.

For the first time, Microsoft Labs’ revolutionary Pivot software is availble for the world to tinker with.

MacArthur genius fellow Mark Roth admits he didn’t know what TED was until Chris invited him to talk, but we quickly forgive him after hearing his incredible — literally — and surprisingly grounded sci-fiish work in “suspended animation,” a slowing life process and makes a living being appear dead without harming, then reanimates it. In layman’s terms, resurrection.

The amazing TED Fellows are a mind-blowingly multi-talented group, working in anything from crowdsourced citizen journalism to e-waste management to humanitarian documentary film-making.

For live coverage of today’s and and tomorrow’s TED talks, follow us on Twitter. And keep an eye on the TED website as the first of this year’s talks begin being uploaded.

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04 DECEMBER, 2009

Top 10 Contemporary Cross-Disciplinary Conferences

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Ideas in real life, or how to increase the statistical probability of finding a clown, Malcolm Gladwell, and a rocket scientist in the same room.

It’s no secret that we’re huge TED fans here at Brain Pickings, but we also follow other conferences with a great deal of interest — ambitious alternative events determined to make oft-repeated phrases like “design thinking” and “interdisciplinary innovation” mean something. These expansive — but not prohibitively expensive — experiences also aim to create communities that live beyond the initial flurry of inspiration. And while we certainly don’t believe the world needs gratuitous gatherings of extraordinary people doing extraordinary things, we do believe in incubating ideas and connecting inspired changemakers.

So here’s a list of the top-10 non-TED alternative live conferences — and we use the term loosely — bound to make your brain sparkle.

99%

Named after Thomas Edison’s dictum, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% Perspiration,” the 99% conference has a unique raison d’être: “making ideas happen.” In a twist to traditional conference talks, the speakers are asked to share the stories behind the execution of their great ideas, rather than the ideas themselves. (And with a brand-name lineup featuring Michael Beirut and Seth Godin, attendees were already familiar with the speakers’ main ideas anyway.)

Produced by the creativity consultancy Behance, the inaugural 99% conference took place in New York in April of this year; next year’s is already on tap for April 15-16, 2010.

BARCAMP

Inspired by Tim O’Reilly’s famous invite-only hacker summit, Foo Camp, BarCamp borrowed from the hacker slang foobar to create a set of guidelines for an alternative, open-to-all, ad-hoc event around a common topic or theme that anyone can host anywhere. (These user-generated experiences are also sometimes called unconferences or non-conferences, after legendary eccentric curator Hans Ulrich Obrist‘s experimental non-conference in Jülich, Germany, in the 90’s.)

A self-organizing community of diverse interests, BarCamp participants are also its presenters. Attendees spend the first part of each event brainstorming and voting for session subjects, and can then choose among the various breakout groups. As you might imagine, the quality of a BarCamp can vary considerably depending on who’s present — we’ve had mixed experiences, accordingly. But as the saying goes, you get what you pay for; and BarCamps are typically free.

DO LECTURES

As with the 99%, the Do Lectures have the proactive premise “that the Doers of the world can inspire the rest of us to go Do something.” Fewer than 100 attendees, speakers, and staff gather in west Wales under a tent for a weekend of cross-disciplinary inspiration. Speakers at this year’s second-annual Do session included mountaineer Paul Deegan and Tony Davidson, Creative Director of ad agency Wieden+Kennedy.

The Do Lectures were started by David and Clare Hieatt, founders of the activewear brand Howie’s.

THE FEAST

Produced by the irrepressible duo behind All Day Buffet (Jerri Chou and Mike Karnjanaprakorn, who also put on the first 99% conference), The Feast is a two-day affair that had its first run in New York this year as well.

With the tagline “feast on good,” the focus here is social enterprise: self-sustaining, next-generation initiatives with nothing less than world-changing intentions. Talks from inspiring models such as charity: water and New Orleans’s 9th Ward Field of Dreams made for an amazing lineup, and everything from fifteen-minute breaks to flatware is carefully curated by the conference organizers. (Okay, perhaps we’re a little biased, having attended the first Feast as a fellow.) Bias notwithstanding, though, All Day Buffet’s thoughtful stewardship of this startup conference makes it a must-follow event.

GEL

An acronym for “Good Experience Live,” GEL is a twice-yearly conference in New York, focused — as its name suggests — on the human experience in all arenas. The main event takes place in April and features speakers from business, design, technology, and other service-driven disciplines (so basically anything). GEL Health focuses on improving the patient experience and is held in October. Entering its seventh year, GEL was founded by Bit Literacy author and user-experience consultant Mark Hurst.

The next GEL is scheduled for April 29-30, 2010; in the meantime you can check out clips from past GELs here.

IGNITE

Started in Seattle in 2006, Ignite talks hacked Pecha Kucha’s 20×20 format (below) for a Google generation’s attention spans. Speakers have five minutes and 20 slides (which automatically rotate every 15 seconds) with which to present anything from cheesemaking to conservation. In addition to these nano-talks, participants also spend part of any Ignite event making — usually coding or moding something to be judged in a subsequent contest. Founders Brady Forrest and Bre Pettis have roots in online networks (O’Reilly Media and Etsy.com, respectively), and correspondingly, Ignite events are openly geeky affairs. Since that inaugural event Ignite has spread to cities around the world, with strongholds in New York, Helsinki, Paris, and Portland.

You can view more talks at Ignite’s YouTube channel, including Scott Berkun’s now canonical “Why and How to Give an Ignite Talk.”

PALOMAR5

A global group of 30 people under age 30 just completed six weeks at this innovation camp in Berlin, forming Palomar5’s first graduating class. Six young entrepreneurs founded the group and formulated the question posed to these lucky souls: “How will we work in the future?”

The residency itself then became a kind of living laboratory for Palomar5’s premise. (In a great nod to the industrial-era fabrik that served as backdrop, participants were given overalls to wear for their first weekend, “to initiate a kind of reset-mode.” From the look of Palomar5’s Flickr sets, the attendees may have enjoyed a Hefeweiss or two on the former beer factory site as well.) Following weeks of envisioning, workshop-ing, and prototyping ideas, the camp culminated in a festival and livestreamed summit (that included a talk by Brain Pickings favorite Aaron Koblin).

Palomar5 may be in hibernation mode now, but you can still connect with its community on Facebook and Twitter.

PECHAKUCHA

What started in 2003 in a Tokyo gallery as an event for designers has since spread to 260-plus cities, from A Coruña to Zürich. Pecha Kucha pioneered the 20-slides-in-20-seconds format, providing a built-in check for creatives who tend toward too much exposition. Beyond this constraint, however, the talks have been held in bars, churches, and swimming pools; equally diverse are Pecha Kucha speakers, fulfilling the founders’ wish that anyone, from upstart to well-established, might be able to present.

Check here to see if there’s a Pecha Kucha Night near you, and catch up on presentations past on their recently launched video portal.

PINC

Held in the Netherlands, the annual PINC conference typically features around 16 speakers and 500 guests.

Its acronym stands for People, Ideas, Nature, and Creativity, and the prevailing ethos — as articulated by PINC’s founder, publisher Peter van Lindonk — is “passion.” (Not for nothing did van Lindonk spent 15 years moonlighting as a ringmaster for Amsterdam’s World Christmas Circus.)

The eclectic program aims to recharge the brain’s batteries with “[a]n inspiring cascade of new ideas, great stories, and impressive visual presentations.” Next year’s PINC is scheduled for May 11-18, 2010, but you can watch videos from past years here.

TEDX

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the fantastic success that is TEDx.

These independently curated, local talks have brought TED’s mission of “ideas that matter” to 350-plus places globally, and created their own rich cache of video for anyone to watch. TED may be the sine qua non of idea conferences, but these smaller stages are showcasing an exciting amount of big thinking.

We’re certain that we missed other great conferences and meeting models in this rundown, particularly non-English-language-based experiences, so do use the comments section to tip us off to your favorite alt-conferences.

Kirstin Butler is writing an adaptation of Gogol for the Google era called Dead SULs, but when not working spends far, far too much time on Twitter. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA.

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