Friday, April 19, 2019

TED 2019 – Day 4

It is the next to last day at TED and there were four sessions. It has been a good TED, though my brain and body are about at their limits. Fortunately, I'm not staying out late to party like some of the folks. It is listen/watch, eat, talk, and sleep (not long enough). 

Today started off with a breakfast gathering of 20 or so Christians attending TED. It was, as usual, a great time to pray and talk with fellow Christians. We shared struggles, triumphs, and aspirations and felt part of a community rather than outsiders of the TED community. It's a good group of folks and one I enjoy meeting with each year. 

The four sessions were titled Mystery, Play, Connection, and Wonder. The talks generally lived up to those titles. There were enough good ones, that i'm going to briefly summarize most, leave out some, and still have this entry a bit long. 

There were a couple sessions that discussed gaming. One was by Herman Narula who quoted some interesting numbers such as the average gamer age is 34 years old and there are currently 2.6B gamers. He told about his new technology for building much larger, immersive, multiplayer gaming worlds. He hopes to enable million-person worlds rather than today's much smaller, single-server (or cluster), duplicated shards/worlds. I don't share his enthusiasm for how such environments will be an unmitigated good, but it would be cool!

Emmett Shear showing the Twitch platform in action
Emmett Shear is the CEO and co-founder of Twitch, the streaming, game-watching service. Millions of people use the platform to watch others play games while commenting and interacting with other viewers. They have have even experimented with using the platform with NFL games. I don't want to listen to Ninja's opinions on football, but obviously others would. Shear portrayed the Twitch platform as a great place to "gather around campfires of like minded people" while watching someone game. My experience with online gaming conversations has never been quite so cozy and wholesome. It is often more like an angry mob of hecklers than folks singing kumbaya while giving words of encouragement. 

Throughout the talks, there were people enthusiastic about their pursuits. Even if their material was sometimes dry, their enthusiasm made them enjoyable to listen to. We heard people like Karen LLoyd about microbes below the surface of the Earth, Es Devlin about her incredible work designing sets for musical performances ranging from Beyoncé to opera to U2, Asmeret Asefaw Berhe regarding soil and its ability to sequester carbon, Kristie Ebi about how excess CO2 is making plants yield less protein and vitamins, Juna Kollmeier about her efforts to map all the galaxies in the universe and stars in our own galaxy, Andrew Marantz regarding his work interviewing and trying to understand the people who purposely start, and take viral, lies and provocations, Jamie Paik about her prototype foldable/reconfigurable orogami-inspired robots (robogami), Janelle Shane and her amusing stories of AI gone wrong like suggesting that turdly is a good color name for a shade of brown paint, and Ivan Poupyrev about his advances in integrating device controls into fabric and clothing which he demonstrated by using the sleeve of his jacket to change the slide. (Run-on sentences like that are one of the many reasons why I need an editor!)

Matthew Walker on the importance and physiology of sleep

Matthew Walker is a sleep scientist, professor, and author of Why We Sleep. I've never needed to be convinced that I need more sleep, but now I know how important it is for my health. He cited a number of studies showing that sleep is necessary to learning, that the lack of sleep is linked to cancer, lower testosterone, Alzheimer's, and a generally lowered immune system, and that the WHO considers shift work as a probable carcinogen. I guess I need to go to bed earlier and buy his book. Someone commented on the irony of TED, a place where everyone is sleep-deprived, having a talk on the importance of getting enough sleep!

Anthony Veneziale did a fun performance of an improvised TED talk. The MC picked a title suggested by an audience member on the spot, Stumbling toward Intimacy. Then, Veneziale gave a talk using slides that he had never seen. He did a great job that almost sounded real while incorporating a crazy set of photos and charts.

Kishore Mahbubani is a US diplomat and researcher. He explained his belief that US and the West went to sleep just when China, India, and Asia woke up. China and India had long been the world's two largest economies until about 200 years ago when the West dominated due to its advances in economics (free market), outlook (improve yourself rather than be a victim of fate), and governance (emphasis on improving the welfare of all through health, education, and the rule of law). The West freely shared those ideas with the rest of the world. When Asia began to incorporate those ideas and rise again, the West felt invulnerable due to winning the cold war and turned much of its attention to the Middle East in the aftermath of 9/11. The West largely ignored or missed the rise of Asia. 

Mahbubani hopes and believes it is not too late for the West. His prescription is to be minimalist (stop wasting energy all over the world), multilateral (work with other governments and the UN), and Machiavellian (engage with other nations and find win-win situations). I fear the US is still subject to too much hubris and distraction, but I hope that he is right. 

Jon M. Chu telling of the making of Crazy Rich Asians
Jon M. Chu told about his life experiences growing up as an Asian in America and his desire from a young age to make movies. He became a successful movie maker, but began to want to find the right vehicle to feature Asians in lead roles. All of that led to turning the book Crazy Rich Asians into a successful movie. He mentioned a few times "a power bigger than us," but somehow managed to make that not spiritual, let alone religious. Despite that, I found it to be a very enjoyable talk. 

The last session of the day, titled Wonder, very much lived up to its name. The talks both both inspired wonder and were wonders. It started off with Beau Lotto and Cirque du Soleil. After some opening comments by Lotto, a pair of Cirque trapeze artists performed on the stage while a Cirque sand artist created incredible, changing and ephemeral pictures projected on one of the screens. Together they made for an awe-inspiring performance. 

Lotto then talked about awe and experiments he had done on people before and after Cirque du Soleil performances. In the preliminary results, they found evidence of brain changes indicative of awe. He then explained how such changes lower the brain's executive function and make people more open to connection. I've long wondered if our 21st Century lack of awe makes us less receptive to religion and spirituality. I look forward one day to reading more about his research. 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt on the importance of striving to pay
attention rather than to get attention
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the actor famous for roles in (500) Days of Summer, Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, and Snowden, spoke compellingly about the need to strive for paying attention rather than getting attention. He felt it was important for him as an actor to think of his fellow actors as collaborators rather than competitors. Of course, because he is an actor, I was left wondering whether I was watching the true Gordon-Levitt or him acting. Regardless, it was well worth watching. 

Jon Gray, a self-described culinary evangelist, told about his efforts to not leave the Bronx behind as he became successful in his design career. Instead, he wanted to continue to be part of that community while trying to bring parts of it to the world. With some chef friends, he came up with Ghetto Gastro. It attempts to meld cuisine with the foods he grew up with and take the resulting foods around the world. His overriding goal is to "ignite conversations about race, class, and inclusion via the medium of food." It was a good talk, with a decided hip-hop beat and sensibility. 

Kelly speaks with Daniel Lismore in and amid his costumes
One of the oddest talks of the week was by Daniel Lismore who claimed that his life is art--not that he does performance art, but his whole life is art. He dresses in elaborate costumes that are works of art, but I really didn't get his concept of his life being art. He told of the importance of authenticity and claimed that his life as art was an example of that. I'm probably just an old fuddy-duddy, but I had trouble understanding how totally transforming himself was authentic. Regardless, his talk was oddly thought provoking. 

The session ended with a musical performance by Richard Bona from Cameroon. I had never heard of him or his music. I came away interested in hearing more of his gentle, complex, and soothing music. 
Another TED Celebration party where I did not dance or party!

The day ended with an elaborate party that was either also beyond my ability to comprehend or past my limits of endurance. The decor, food, and music were all rather good. Mark and I ate, had an interesting conversation with another attendee, and then gladly went back to our rooms for some well deserved rest. Plenty of others, however, were having a blast at the party. 

Time for this old fuddy-duddy to get some sleep! 

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