This past week, the 2011 TED Conference has been taking place in Long Beach. An annual gathering of the brilliant and innovative, TED isn't exactly the easiest event to attend. Fortunately for us, TEDx Goldstar, an independent TED-related event, offered a simulcast of Wednesday's sessions in Long Beach at the Downtown Independent Theater in Los Angeles. We watched all four of Wednesday's sessions– “Deep Mystery,” “Worlds Imagined,” “Knowledge Revolution” and “Radical Collaboration”– which featured guests ranging from physicist Aaron O'Connell, filmmaker Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me, The Greatest Story Ever Sold), band Antony and the Johnsons and the one and only Bill Gates.
“One thing you've learned after you've been in the TED community is that there is kind of a texture to the presentations through the course the week at TED,” said Jim McCarthy, president and CEO of Goldstar, the ticket company that hosted the TEDx event we attended. “Some are hard to follow because they are very scientific and yet they're very rewarding. Some are entertaining, like Morgan Spurlock's talk. Some are touching, like [MIT professor] Deb Roy's talk.”
With TED, it's hard to say which talks are tops, but the following five caught our attention. If and when videos become available, we will add those.
Felisa Wolfe-Simon is a NASA Astrobiology Research Fellow. During Wednesday morning's “Deep Mystery” session, she discussed a recent discovery at Mono Lake in Northern California, the microbe GFA-1. She described the microbe as “uninteresting,” save for one feature. Arsenic can contribute to its growth.
“That's not supposed to happen,” she said.
Wolfe-Simon explained the importance of this discovery in a way that even those of us who never studied biochemistry can understand.
“Diversity of life is actually unified,” she explained, before illustrating that no matter how physically different lifeforms appear to be, we're actually very similar. The microbe GFA-1, she said, was doing something “just a little different.”
Wolfe-Simon said that this discovery poses a new question, “Could we be missing alternatives to biochemistry here on earth?” Additionally, the findings can help in the study of astrobiology, indicating to researchers “more of what we need to look for and how.”
Felisa Wolfe-Simon's talk isn't online at this time, but you can download the recent paper she co-authored through her website.
Famed chef and Food Revolution host Jamie Oliver was the recipient of last year's TED prize. On Wednesday, he returned to Long Beach to update people on the progress of his “wish,” to help fight childhood obesity, with a brief talk.
A lot has happened since Oliver won his TED prize, which includes $100,000 and puts recipients in the position to collaborate with influential people on making their wish a reality. Oliver now has several kitchens across the country where people can learn to cook. He has a massive food truck with a fully functioning kitchen, in part to help give cooking lessons. He's continued his Food Revolution series.
But it's this latest season of Food Revolution, which just finished filming, that has brought about a whole other set of problems. Oliver decided to go to L.A., where he's been “banned,” he says, from the entire LAUSD. He was able to get into a charter school for a few weeks, but was eventually expelled from there as well.
Oliver's talk highlighted the problems that face food in Los Angeles.
“There are still food deserts within eyesight of the Hollywood sign,” he said.
Sounds like the next season of Food Revolution will blast any stereotypes of health-obsessed Angelenos.
LA Weekly's Amy Scattergood has reported on Oliver's problems in our city. Read “Jamie Oliver Fills A School Bus With 57 Tons Of 'Sugar' In Carson + Why L.A. Might Have Been A 'Big Mistake,'” “Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution: Jamie's Kitchen Opens, The Revolt Begins + Fighting with the LAUSD” and “Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution + the LAUSD: An Open Letter to Parents.”
Wael Ghonim didn't speak inside TED's Long Beach venue. Instead, he appeared via video from Egypt, where the Google executive has been instrumental in helping the country's recent revolution. Ghonim doesn't take credit for what happened in Egypt, though. Instead, he likened the movement to Wikipedia and its numerous, anonymous editors.
“At the end of the day, you've built the largest encyclopedia in the world,” he said.
Similarly, scores of often anonymous protesters came together online in Egypt. The result here, though was what he called “Revolution 2.0.”
Ghonim gave what may have been the most inspiring talk of the day. He discussed the use of Facebook, saying it “connected people from the virtual world, bringing them into the real world.” He talked about his detainment, how much the political climate had changed in the twelve days he was imprisoned.
He headed to Tahrir the day after he was released. He said that “with the amount of change that had happened,” he thought that “twelve years,” not twelve days, had passed.
Deb Roy's morning talk was the buzz all day at TEDx Goldstar. The MIT professor was at TED to discuss the Human Speechome Project, which looks at how young children develop language skills. The subject of the experiment was Roy's son.
Roy documented more than three years of his son's growth by installing video cameras and microphones throughout his home. He said that, over the course of three years, he captured between eight and ten hours worth of footage a day.
“The impact has already been immense,” he said.
Roy augmented his talk with audio and video clips from the project, illustrating how children learn to speak. One of the most riveting moments of the discussion was “Birth of a Word,” a time-lapse audio track that demonstrated how his son's string of “goo” and “ga” sounds evolved into the word “water.” Roy was able to pinpoint language cues, like which rooms and what gestures were associated with words like “water” and “bye.”
“I think that the emotional lever was strongest with Dr. Roy from MIT,” said Goldstar's Jim McCarthy, who cited this talk as one of his favorites of the day. “There's always that play between the intellectual and the emotional with the TED talk and that hit both. “
Roy's project hit a chord for more than just the emotional response to watching his son grow. He later stated the study may have more than one purpose, noting that his colleague Michael Fleischman had wondered if they could “apply [the study] to the role of public media.”
Now researchers are analyzing television programming and social media interaction in ways similar to the Human Speechome Project.
The winner of this year's TED prize is French street artist JR, who asked “Could art change the world?”
JR uses photographs that are blown up into massive posters and adheres them to the sides of buildings with wheat paste to highlight the people who live in neighborhoods. You can read more about his work in Shelley Leopold's story for LA Weekly, “Street Artist JR Does L.A.:Faces Pop up on Buildings from Venice to Downtown.”
Most recently, JR has been in Los Angeles, pasting enlarged photos of older people as part of “The Wrinkles of the City.” His wish now is to create “a global art project.”
“I wish for you to stand up for what you care about by participating in a global art project and together we'll turn the world inside out.”
Inside Out Project is JR's wish. People will upload photos to his site. They will receive a poster of this photo, which they can then paste in their neighborhood.
What was most interesting was what happened after the talk. TED isn't just a gathering of great minds, but of great minds who can make things happen. Following his talk, members of the TED community could volunteer to help JR's wish come true.
There were multiple offers for use of New York City studios, along with an offer for help on a documentary film and one to get his work included on Google Earth. One man said he would send JR to Mexico for a project. A woman asked if he could go to Pakistan. Listening to this brainstorming process was fascinating. It will be interesting to see how far the project spreads by TED 2012.
Check out JR's TED videos below: