Tuesday, February 9, 2010

TED 2010 Day 1

Officially, TED hasn't started. But you can see the banners are up, the balloon is flying, and the buses are lined up for the first tours. This isn't a very good picture, from the window of my hotel on a very overcast day. But you get the idea.

Today, there were a variety of tours, the first semester of TED University, a chance to explore the site (I really liked the expanded bookstore), and start to get acquainted at a cocktail party in our hotel and the opening night party over at the Conference Centre.

I went to Venice on a tour of Digital Domain, co-founded by James Cameron, and best known as winners of many special effects Oscars, including most famously Titanic. Ed Ulbrich, who gave a great presentation on the making of Benjamin Button at last year's TED (and later accepted an Oscar), was our host for a visit to DD premises in Venice.

Ulbrich gave us a glimpse of the future as they see it. 3D is on the rise. There'll be increasing digitization in movies. In fact, he said tours these days were much more boring, because there were no models to show any more, since virtually everything was created digitally now. This reminded me of the tour guide at SONY last year, who showed us a room full of story boards and said these were actually the last story boards SONY would be doing.

Studies are now envisioning the entire gamut of possibilities upfront - i.e. seeing beyond the movie to games, browsers, ringtones, etc. These used to be add-ons, but now they're thought of in an integrated way right up front. This shift in moviemaking is also seen in the emergence of directors who used to make commercials into the film world. More of the specialized work is being outsourced - for instance Digital Domain has turned their sound and action stage into offices, since they usually outsource that kind of thing to other specialist players, and often outside the country. They do a lot of their work in India and Canada these days.

Ulbrich told the story of how the writers' strike caused a paradigm shift for them. The new TRON movie was conceived of during the strike, and was pitched from short 'prototype' of the look of the movie, rather than from the screenplay as it would have been done in the past. We learned one tidbit about the movie, but we were required to sign a non-disclosure agreement, so I won't tell you about that!

On returning from the tour, I headed off for the first 'semester' of TED University. Fourteen speakers covered a lot of different territory, and over time I hope to tell you about several of them in depth.
  • Michael Martin told us about the life lessons he learned from living through a tornado.
  • Catherine Mohr, one of the hits on the Main Stage last year with her description of robotic surgery, told of her efforts to build a green house over the last year. She pointed out how hard it really is to determine how you're doing, as you balance the embedded energy in all your material against the ongoing energy operating costs. She calculates that the amount of energy spent to build the house will be paid back in 5 year, based on the energy efficiency. To be fair, she pointed out that if you compare that with upgrading the existing house that was demolished, it would take 22 years to pay back the embedded energy of the new build.
  • Felix Kramer extolled the virtues of running barefoot, or with minimalist foot covering, as opposed to running shoes. This causes strengthening of your arches, reduces injuries, and restored the joy of running for him.
  • Daniel Kraft, from the faculty of the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at Stanford gave us a whirlwind tour of the future. He described meeting someone online who shared his haplotype, a symbol of how much we're going to know about our genetic make-up in the future, as the price of decoding our whole genome heads for $100. There'll be social networks to connect you with people with the same haplotype. He described a lab on a chip, pills with embedded technology to communicate, microbots in our body doing operations, nanomedicine, geomedicine, systems biology and 3D organ printing. I was pretty blown away a couple of years ago to hear about manufacturing based on 3D printing that builds up layers using technology similar to a printer. But building up arteries that way? That was mind-blowing.
  • Kevin Stone, an orthopaedic surgeon, continued to dazzle by describing his work to move from bionic joint replacement to biologic. He's already operated on 4000 patients to regrow meniscus to repair knees. However, there's a dearth of donors, and he believes the only way to help a lot of people is through use of animal tissue. He's developed techniques for stripping these animal tissues in ways that make them usable in humans. For instance, he's already used pig ligament in 10 patients, one of whom is apparently a Canadian Masters Downhill skier. He says we're moving beyond hardware and software to bioware.
  • David Bolinksy showed some amazing photographs of melanocytes (which create melanin) and urged everyone to get checked by their dermatologists often.
  • Frederick Balagaade, a TED Fellow from Ghana is now working at Lawrence Livermore to develop microfluidic chips that can provide diagnostics for 100 patients for 100 different conditions in 4 hours. The size of an iPhone, such diagnostic breakthrough could revolutionize diagnosis in third world countries.
  • Jonathan Klein, co-founder of Getty Images, showed up some amazing photographs that changed the world.
  • Jessica Green, another TED Fellow who is a Professor of Ecology and Evolution at University of Oregon, pointed out that we spend 90% of our lives indoors, subject to mechanical ventilation. She posits this is not good for us and is beginning research on the subject.
  • Jonathan Drori, one of my favourite TED U professors last year with his talk on the Kew seed vault, was back to delight us with a discussion (along with truly stunning photos) of pollen. Pollen takes many fascinating forms, and the collection and proportions of pollens on, say, someone's clothing can provide a distinct pollen signature as to where the pollen was picked up. Apart from being used on some episode of CSI to track a murderer, pollen signatures have been used to track down origins of drugs, provenance of antiques, and has helped nail down Bosnian war criminals by proving skeletons have been dug up and moved.
  • Juliana Ferreira, a TED Fellow, and biologist from Sao Paolo, talked about what you do with the thousands of birds that are seized in the illegal animal trade in Brazil. The dilemma is whether they are safe to release back into the wild.
  • Phil Zimbardo, who talked on the Main Stage about Evil a couple of years ago, was back to talk about his Heroic Imagination Project. He had made the point that, in the right circumstances, anybody can be evil, and illustrated it with depressing examples. He feels that anybody can be a hero, given the right circumstances. Those who haven't been a hero yet, are just Heroes in Training. And he intends to start distributing material to help people become true Heroes. It's a very interesting concept.
  • Cindy Gallop expanded on Zimbardo's notion, by talking about her new web site called ifwerantheworld.com, which intends to stimulate and record microactions that make the world a better place.
Whew - that was a long post. I'm sure I'll be too tired and overwhelmed to be so comprehensive tomorrow, as the main program begins.

1 comment:

heroworkshop said...

I've spent time with both Phil Zimbardo and CIndy Gallop. I'd love to hear more about their talks if you get time.