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TED Global: Day Three by Ann Treacy
July 30, 2012, 5:12 pm
Filed under: Edinburgh | Tags:

The third day of TED started with a focus on international. Pankaj Ghemwat started with an interesting statistics – only 2 percent of phone traffic was cross border. I don’t know if that includes Skype. I can’t even remember what the scope of the test group was – but I found that amazing. Although I suspect that except when I’m in Ireland less than 2 percent of my phone traffic is international. The same can’t be said of my email or Facebook traffic.

Robert Neuwirth spoke about System D – essentially off the books economic activity, especially happening in third world (hopefully emerging) economies. I find this fascinating – and love to hear about the ingenuity and entrepreneurship of folks in stressed economic environments and I hate to hear about what the folks on the “right side” of the economic divide are willing to do to maintain the status quo. System D may not be pretty – but I think it lifts a lot of people to a better place – making room for the next generation to make it pretty!

I was surprised how much I enjoyed Alex Salmond (Scotland’s First Minister) on the power of small countries. Without a doubt, it’s the time I spend in Ireland that makes the toptic interesting to me. But like small businesses I think the small countries have an agility that the US has totally lost. And I think agility is more important now that it ever had been in the past. I wish the US would be open to hearing about agile strategies. For folks who don’t know, Alex Salmond would like to see Scotland separate from England. And I found him interesting – but someone asked why Sctoland should separate and he didn’t have a good elevator pitch answer. I think he needs to work on that. (And I’m sure he’s reading this post for my advice!)

Ivan Krastev spoke about governments – he was entertaining – coming as he said from a country of pessimists, Bulgaria. One comments he made the struck me – We can change governments but not policies.

Gabriella Coleman gave a super interesting talk on AnanOps – a group of cyber vigilantes who have been known to take down folks/groups that they feel have earned some agro. I think they’re like Alex in Clockwork Orange or other antagonists who build a subculture hero status by using nefarious tactics sometimes to right a wrong – but sometimes just because they can. One interesting thing about the AnanOps is that membership is open and anonymous – so to even talk about them as a group is difficult.

Leslie Chang gave a great talk on the life of factory workers (women mostly if not exclusively) in China. Her point was that measuring the life of factory worker by US or most European standards wasn’t really fair. The women are working under what I would call horrendous conditions – but the conditions are much better than what they have left in the country and the factory jobs allow them to make major improvements in their lives – and like System D – while the picture isn’t pretty it improves the lives of subsequent generations. I think in the US we’ve lost the appreciation of working for the next generation.

Neil Harbisson was a walking cyborg. He’s color blind – but he has created adaptive technology that allows him to hear colors based on the tone of the frequency those colors generate. Reminded me of many exhibits I’ve seen at the Science Gallery – very cool but I don’t entirely get the direct translation from color to sound. That being said I do appreciate that once you create a standard you can develop a system for translation that can be understood universally so I applaud the effort. Also his geometrical art, based on mathematic-created colors was amazing!

In the afternoon we heard from some more amazing people – a couple of whom had learned to cope with sever metal illness, such as chronic schizophrenia. Elyn Saks spoke about her experience being committed against her will as a young woman and how she went on to get a Phd and live a productive life thanks to medication, a strong support system and an occupied mind. (And I’d add a strong will!) Ruby Wax gave an entertaining look at what it’s like for a brain with issues. Vkiram Patel introduced SUDAR – a tool that will help deploy mental health treatment to patients all over the world through channels that don’t require high level medical staff, which often aren’t available. I love his idea of democratizing medical knowledge. We learned of a few examples. The gist is sort of DIY kits that help semi-trained or maybe even just compassionate people to support to offer medical service to others. Sometimes (as in the case of SUDAR) it’s a matter of rough and ready training for the care giver; sometimes it’s a matter of easy-to-administer medical exams or medication.

We also heard from Rob Legato who did the special effects for Apollo movies (and others but not being a movie person I can’t remember them). He had a fun story of how he recreated the first rocket launch – first they used footage to create an replica and everyone said it was wrong. So they surveyed loads of people – who remembered things incorrectly – but they observed trends in the misremembering. Then they built the second launch as people remembered it and everyone thought it was great.

In the evening we learned about renewable energy projects – which again I loved! We heard from Jonathan Trent (from NASA, who I talked to at a party!!) who talked about Project Omega, a very cool way to tap into biofuels under the sea – in a way that’s respectful to the sea and the surrounding community.

Sarah Jayne Blackmore spoke about how the prefrontal cortex develops through adolescence. Here’s some shocking news – teens have difficulty understanding other’s perspective! Well, it was good to hear that it’s kind of out of their control anyways – not just willful crabbiness, which is what I had previously assumed.

The night ended with my friend Preston Reed playing with Usman Riaz. The music was amazing! But the best part was the visual. Usman is a virtual apprentice to Preston’s style of percussion guitar. Usman learned to play that way via YouTube videos of Preston. Preston is huge with long greyish hair – he plays standing up. Usman is slight with dark hair and plays sitting down. If I were a painter and I wanted to capture a modern day apprentice relationship – I couldn’t do much better than painting them on stage. Plus they both have such a generous and modest stage presence. (Think *big* smiles after each song – while super serious faces while they play.) I’m going to cheat and use video from a TED After Hours event here – since no filing during TED!

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