TEDx Brussels 2011 - A Day in the Deep Future

Here are a look at the shows that I liked at the Brussels TEDx  event that I attended with Jean B. on 22 November 2011. It was an inspiring day of great ideas!  More info and videos are available at www.texbrussels.eu!

Arduino - Learn by Doing!
If you don't know what it is, then you don't know that the world is changing for the better. David Cuartielles, one of the founders of Arduino, gave a quick look into what it means to the planet. Although this was one of the most important things that was presented in this TEDx, it was given a tiny time slot - insulting in my view - and we could only get a peak at the project. Luckily, I was already aware of what it is and means, but for anyone who wasn't, this presentation was too short. During the breaks Jean and I talked with David, who was passionately interesting!

Singularity - Aggregation of systems
The "Singularity" was mentioned a million times at this TED. Ken Hasse (see also Being Meta)gave a fascinating, but once again too short, presentation of how aggregation, i.e. groups acting together as organisms, are evolving thanks to intercommunication. One of the positive elements that this is producing is "Open Science" which is  a really good thing that we can all do! Are corporations organisms? Do they have Id (yes), Ego (yes), Superego (not yet?)? Maybe not yet, but soon?  Talking with Ken at a break, I mentioned that some Internet forums exhibit Superego, without moderation, in particular Helifreak. A very provocative talk!

Radical Transparency - Drowning in information
The artist and scientist, Hassan Elai, gave a short version of his fantastic TED - Global show.  Look at that and think! One thing he added: As policy lags behind culture and technology, it become a hindrance. As technology accelerates, this hindrance can have excessively negative impact. Another speaker who had to cut his talk to fit the organizers' crazy schedule...

Identity - Nym Wars
Kaliya Hamlin gave a relatively interesting talk about the question of multiple, context dependent identities on Internet. The big question is: Why not? Just because governments would prefer to be able to track their citizens (and other country's citizens) in whatever they express? Interesting, but only so.

Rob Spence lost his eye and replaced it with an embedded movie camera. Need I say that he is a documentary film maker! His show about eye enhancements was great! Later, we met him at a break and he was an interesting and pleasant guy. This kind of stuff is what makes TED special!

End of Stability - in times of change...
Paddy Ashdown gave a great funny talk about how he sees the world changing. It would be impossible for me to summarize, but one of the ideas was: In the recent past, power was controlled by states which are governed by laws. Today, power is moving to dynamically evolving aggregates supported by interconnectivity on the Web, but there are no laws. This could/will/must lead to serious instability.  Watch the video, please!

Defend the NET or it may disappear...
In my opinion, this was the most important presentation given in Brussels this year! The subject is very close to my heart. We use Internet to make our lives better. It provides communication, information, shopping, tools for doing things, access to travel, everything... But there are evil people, organizations, even countries using it for bad things and these may destory it for everyone! Mikko H. Hypponen gave a great and profound view on this which complements his TED Global talk. Later, I spoke with him about potential activities and he was very forthcoming. He mentioned that his life has been threatened and that a colleague had is son kidnapped because of actions taken to defend Internet... I found his work profoundly interesting and important. Did you know that each laser printer has an identity that is signed into every printout, thus enabling one to know the origin of any printed document? Scary stuff...

The Brainpower of the Bottom 4 Billion
Leila Janah is doing good for a lot of people. She spoke about her project to bring work, via Internet, to the poorest people on the planet and radically improve their lives. There was nothing high-tech or super scientific in it. Just an idea and energy and success stories. Her organization provides a framework to outsource work from the 1st world to the last world and everyone profits. If you feel that doing good counts, then watch her talk, and maybe do something with it? This was moving to the point of tears.

Education Connects Youth with Opportunity
No one is born a killer - no child dreams of becoming a killer, so what happens? How can this change? Literacy is not enough, education is needed, real hopes and dreams education. Check out Kushal Chakrabarti and his talk. It was very complementary to what Leila Janah had to say.

Music for the Soul
Charles Hazzlewood is a conductor who created the Paraorchestra of Great Britain. They played for us and it was more than moving! Standing Ovation and many tears. This was the highpoint of TEDxBrussels 2011. Sadly, I didn't get the chance to talk with this man after his show.

Dance you PhD
A close runner up to the Paraorchestra, this danced presentation by the gonzo scientist John Bohannon  of what science could/should be was mind expanding, even Mind Blowing! With humor, sensitivity, grace we saw how lasers can super-cool substances to make a super-fluid. And that was not all! Then we saw a dance about titanium hip replacement technology. This was great stuff! Incredibly great stuff. Later, talking with him and the 2011 winner of the Dance your PhD contest, and the dancers and the choreographer, I was inspired by their earnestness,  energy, and the beauty of their creations!

To Predict
This came via video link from Oxford University. David Deutsch, of quantum computer fame, spoke to us about what can and cannot be predicted and why this is so. For unknown reasons his video is not posted at the time I am writing so if you want to see him talk check out this TED show. He tried to answer the question: What can be known in advance? This is the defining characteristic of science: Scientific theories are predictive. And as such, they are self-correcting: wrong theories fail to predict correctly and get fixed or dumped. But human desire is not predictable: in the 60's we wanted nuclear power, now we don't. As technology advances at a faster and faster pace, the prediction horizon gets closer and closer. Example: in the middle ages you had a king today and were pretty sure that there would be a king in 50 years due to the slow pace of change. This is not so today. Another aspect of this is that the impact of mistakes is bigger now than ever before. Another one is that the "nature of explanation will not change". These combine to give us hope. How to protect against big mistakes? General knowledge is the key. Specialists advance a particular area, but when solutions are needed they often come from far off - the generalist is the one who can bring that. His idea of what counts for the "deep future": "The universality of explanatory knowledge and the desire to create and apply it." Very profound indeed. Check out his book: The Beginning of Infinity.

Eileen Bartholomew spoke with great impact on the importance of transforming "crazy ideas", i.e. those that no one believes, into "revolutionary ideas", i.e. ones that change the word. The Xprize foundation encourages this by providing incentives for those who realize "crazy ideas", like making your own spaceship and going into outer space! She is looking for crazy ideas that need realizing so if you have one, write to her!  Later, I spoke with her and suggested cleaning up the great Pacific ocean garbage island. She agreed that it was a great idea but said that no one seemed to be interested in putting up the money for such an award. How sad to think that making a commercial spaceflight company gets more finance that cleaning our seas, source of all life...

Open Source Biology
Andrew Hessel spoke about the idea of how an open source community in molecular biology could lead to individual specific therapeutics, i.e. drugs made just to fix what is wrong with a particular individual - your own private genome derived cures! This was a fascinating and uplifting talk!

Drug Companies are 2-Sigma
Computational bioligst, Jack Tuszynski talked about statistics in various things and in particular health care: Pharma companies get it wrong 1 in 3 times! Compare this to the aviation industry the gets it wrong 1 in 300,000 times! The success rate of drug development is 1 in 100,000! His talk showed why this is and how it can change. It was complementary to what Andrew Hessel said about making custom drugs for nearly no cost ($100) in small companies using cheap tools! This was great, and later talking with him we had a view on why it wasn't happening, i.e. pharma companies don't want to loose their monopoly on money from drugs! Talking with him was really fun and uplifting!

Zero-G Dance
With the same people as Dancing the PhD, a moving dance in simulated zero gravity! Another Standing ovation, and one of my favorite presentations! Really great! I wish they would put the video up! We spoke to the dancers and choreographers who were genuinely interested in talking with us and hearing our thoughts on their show! They are known as the Black Movement Company.

Tiger and Rock - look for the rock!
Although his show came at the end of nearly 12 hours of stuff, Peter Hinssen had a lot to say about a lot of things. In fact, his talk was one of the best! He talked down the "exponential" aspect of change preferring to look at it as an S-curve, i.e. flattening out at the end. The point where the curve "flips" (2nd derivative becomes negative) is what interests him. He brought this out in the area of health care, saying it was about to "flip". Many people take better care of their car then of themselves. This is not right. Health-care is about to flip and become personal:
  1. Health will be quantified, i.e. a number just like on the Wii-health game,
  2. Proactive, not reactive,
  3. A service,
  4. **ALL** Medical knowledge will be available to all.
  5. check out patients like me where you can read about what happens to people like "you", a health sharing site!
  6. The picture of the tiger and the rock. Westerners see the tiger, Easterners see the rock. Don't focus on the tiger, focus on the context that is what is most important!
Peter Hinssen is a guy who has deeply thought about a lot of things!  Check out is illustrated video about the Future of IT!

5 Minutes Look-Ahead
Last but not least, Alain De Taeye told us how useful it would be if cars could tell each other about the road conditions they observed. We could then look into our  future, i.e. what we were going to run into down the road! This is coming to the next generation of GPS navigation systems!


TJG said...

Thanks for this excellent recap of what was clearly an interesting and important meeting. Any mention of the Amazonian rain forest? Lots of big changes going on here, as usual, and lots of tough questions (see "The Unconquered" by Scott Wallace-2011 for a good taste of this); I would think TedX and the internet could play a big role here.
Anyway, great stuff, when is the next meeting and where?

Unknown said...

Thanks for the great summary...I couldn't be personally there and your passionate post will offer an inspirational path to explore during my (too short) weekends!

MrBlackSun said...

Thanks Robert. Very interesting. I have seen Peter Hinssen a few times as a speaker on IT conferences (usually about IT Vision and evolution, e.g. Net 2.0). He is indeed a very fluent and entertaining speaker.