Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘TED’

21 JULY, 2009

TEDGlobal Highlights: Day 1


Tiny objects, supermassive holes, and everything in between.

Coming from anyone else, an event titled The Substance of Things Not Seen would come off as anything from wishy-washy to obnoxiously self-important. But it’s coming from TED — it’s the title of this year’s TEDGlobal conference, which opened today in Oxford, and it’s the kind of brave and aspirational promise only TED can make, and only TED can deliver on.

Session 1, titled What We Know, opened with philosopher Alain de Botton, who pondered the issue of snobbery.

A snob is someone who takes a small part of you and uses that to paint a complete picture of who you are.

He went on to decry “job snobbery” — the tendency to judge others by their career choices — stressing that it’s impossible to know what someone’s true value is.

Next up, iconic graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister (whom you may recall) showcased some of his recent work, including a table made out of 320 compasses and an incredible piece of logo-generation software connected to a scanner that takes any image you put in and colors the logo graphic in complementary colors based on the image. Sagmeister used the software to create the identity for Portugal’s Casa da Música, which is based on the building’s architectural shape.

His latest project is a film called The Happy Film, shot in Bali and set to release in 2011.

Actor, author and web personality Stephen Fry followed with a somewhat messy and unfocused yet utterly engaging talk about the importance of developing and harnessing all sides of the human mind — art together with science, the intellectual together with the emotional — rather than compartmentalizing ourselves.

He gave an example of a C. P. Snow lecture given nearly 50 years ago, decrying the snobbery on the art side where ignorance of science was acceptable in a way that ignorance of humanities on the science side was unacceptable.

Next up, 17-year-old virtuoso Matthew White wowed the crowd with his euphonium magic.

What came next was a complete wildcard no one had anticipated — British Prime Minister Gordon Brown took the stage, for a talk about the unique age we live in, shaped by new media and modern technologies, which are becoming a tool of social change.

We are the first generation which is in a position to form a truly global society.

Although a bit formulaic and expected, Brown’s points were interesting to hear from a politician — perhaps an indication that Brack Obama’s tremendously smart use of social media, as well as the grassroots case study of Twitter use in Iran last month, have set the pace for politics’ new sociocultural relationship with emerging media.

The talk was followed by an intense Q&A session with TED’s relentlessly inquisitive curator, Chris Anderson.

In Session 2, titled Seeing Is Believing?, astronomer Andrea Ghez talked — with enormous charisma and wonderful energy — about the fascinating phenomenon of supermassive black holes, which have 4 billion times the mass of the Sun and may exist at the center of every galaxy, including ours. She spotlighted a technology known as adaptive optics and stressed the need for more research in order to build bigger, better, more powerful and sophisticated tools to investigate the phenomena we know the least about.

Following was one of the gawk-inducing highlights of the day: Microsculptor Willard Wigan, whose art takes the word “miniature” to new levels. A typical piece consists of a tiny object — a house, a person, Homer Simpson — built on top of a pinhead or inside a needle ear, and takes 5-8 weeks of incredibly painstaking work.

Inspired by an early childhood fascination with the microcosm of ants, Wigan’s work is a true reflection of the conference theme of the substantial but unseen.

Nothing doesn’t exist. Because there’s always something.

Next, optical innovator Josh Silver asked for a show-of-hands to see how many people in the audience wear glasses or contacts. Amazingly, the majority of hands were raised.

Which shouldn’t come as a surprise since, as Silver pointed out, 60% of world has some sort of vision correction — but few can actually afford something we in the Western world take for granted.

Over one billion people would see their world change if they had glasses.

Silver’s organization, the Center for Vision in the Developing World, came up with a solution: Adspecs, a pair of DIY glasses that anyone in the world can make and use. Prototyped in 1985, there are now 13,000 pairs in use. And although, at $19, Adspecs are far cheaper than other corrective eyewear, Silver reminded us that the main target for this product is a population living on $1 per day, urging for more research to drive the cost down into truly affordable levels.

Next, professional stuntman Steve Truglia, whom you may have (not) seen in many a Bond movie, introduced his new project, Space Jump — an ambitious effort to make the world’s biggest stunt by jumping from 120,000 feet, breaking the sound barrier with his body at over 700mph. He demoed the weight suit intended for use in the stunt, a neo-Jetsonian outfit of questionable color choice.

The day’s final speaker was the incredible Mark Johnson of Playing For Change fame. The project became, deservingly, a viral sensation several months ago, with its moving ability to illustrate the power of music in acting as global social glue.

Johnson was also the only speaker to get a real TED standing ovation — well-deserved recognition for a brave and brilliant grassroots experiment in promoting peace through one of the greatest, most universal human passions: music.

For full live coverage throughout the remaining 3 days of the conference, stay tuned on Twitter and keep an eye out for our daily highlights here.

20 JULY, 2009

Behind the Scenes of TED


Why TED is really in the package design business.

We’re off to TEDGlobal for what’s bound to be the intellectual equivalent of a Roman feast. Starting tomorrow, you’ll be able to follow along with exclusive daily updates, highlights and photos here on Brain Pickings.

But, in the meantime, what better way to celebrate the tremendously fascinating week ahead than with a special behind-the-scenes look at all the incredible energy — physical, intellectual, emotional — that goes into the making of a TED talk?

In a way, this only confirms our belief that TED is very much in the package design business.

TED takes what’s already out there — most speakers have published extensive books, written dry research papers, even given long talks at other conferences — and packages it brilliantly and beautifully. Stuffed in a bite-sized 18-minute box, glossed with shiny production value, and placed in the exuberant context of the (as some would argue, “cultish”) conference itself, each talk is a premium package that makes the ideas inside all the more appealing. It makes them feel richer and more valuable and more meaningful, and thus, it makes them matter more.

And when ideas matter to us, we internalize them, we propagate and advocate them, we tell our friends about them, we make them — truly — ideas worth spreading.

So here’s to intellectual package design — the true currency of ideas.

via TEDBlog

08 JULY, 2009

Mapping Big Ideas: BIGVIZ


200 pages of world-changing thinking, or what a sheep and a dog have to do with universal compassion.

When two of our favorite ideas — TED and data visualization — converge, it’s a beautiful thing. Naturally, we’re all over BIGVIZ — an ambitious effort by the fine folks at Autodesk, who took it upon themselves to visualize the entire 2008 TED conference.

BIGVIZ is the work of visual cartographers David Sibbet and Kevin Richards, who created over 700 spontaneous sketches in real time at TED. The 200-page PDF book — a free download — visually captures the gist of each speaker’s talk, mapping out the broader themes and the connections between them.

You’ll also find a number of fascinating charts and graphs on information patterns, some rather humorous illustrations of memorable TED moments, and even a few blank pages for you to sketch whatever ideas, connections or insights the talks may have sparked in you.

Go behind the scenes with the Autodesk team as they create the visualizations on-site, using multi-touch technology to interact with the sketches and view them as a history timeline or an interactive digital corkboard. Then, download BIGVIZ and enjoy.

And in case you’re wondering just why this visualization model works, watch information designer Tom Wujec’s excellent short TED talk about the 3 ways the brain creates meaning out of words, images, feelings, connections.