The three sessions on Wednesday (Regeneration, Cities, and Imagination) and the one on Thursday morning (Awe) covered a lot of ground. Topics (and speakers) ranged from autonomous building robots on Mars (Melodie Yashar) to leather made from mushrooms (Dan Widmaier) to the urgency of and hope in the efforts against climate change (Al Gore) to a robot art installation in the Tate Modern museum (Anicka Yi, shown with one of them in the picture to the left) to the importance of philosophy (Michael Schur) to the need for more nuclear energy (Isabelle Boemeke, a model turned social influencer) to the flaws in our current historical understanding of the development of civilization (David Wengrow, whose book on the topic, The Dawn of Everything, I need to finish reading). Many of the talks were interesting and a few were really thought-provoking. Rather than try to describe them all or in any particular order, I'm just going to write about a few of the talks that stuck with me.
Two talks that hit me were by people making a difference starting with what and who they knew. Tiffani Ashley Bell was a computer programmer who learned about people in Detroit (where she did not live) who were unable to pay their water bills and had the water turned off. She decided to do something about it. She figured out how to pay water bills for folks and get their water turned back on. Then, she told her friends about it and they did so as well. Over time, they paid off over $100K of bills and started a movement. Bell challenged folks to decide what problems bother us and figure out how we can help. Sara Lomelin told of her work with giving circles which are groups of people, who may not be friends initially, that gather to do philanthropic things together. Both of their approaches seemed very doable and mostly require people (like me) to just start doing something.
Bryce Dallas Howard gave an interesting talk on living one's life in the public eye as many people are now doing on social media. She is the daughter of Ron Howard and lived her life in the public eye long before social media. She told of being given a movie script to give to her father when she was in preschool! Her mother worked hard to help her to develop tiers of relationships. That allowed her to have a private life while still being in the public eye. Howard is now an actress and dealing with similar issues for her children. She gave two rules for dealing with social media that seemed very practical. First, give a 2-day delay in posting and when you do post, do so with purpose. That advice probably won't allow anyone to be a social media influencer, but few of us will be or even want to be.
One of the final talks on Thursday was obviously meant to be a headliner to keep people at the conference for the last day. Musk did not give a talk, but rather was interviewed by Chris Anderson. Elon Musk is always quotable and his current attempt to purchase Twitter made the conversation even more high profile. It was almost an hour long and covered too much ground to attempt to describe here. Fortunately, it is already available to watch.
Though Musk had lots of interesting things to say, I was struck most by his discussion of dealing with having Aspergers. I could not help but think of one of my grandsons and both the challenges he faces as well as the things he may be able to achieve. They key is to get him involved in things he loves (for Musk it was physics and reading) and help him along his way.
The most moving talk of the sessions was Wednesday evening's finale by the artist JR. He has spoken at multiple TEDs in the past and his art has always been interesting. He said regarding his art, "I don't tell people what to think, I just ask them to think." What he does is take photos, usually of people, and print them very large so that they can be applied to buildings and walls. What he spoke about was an installation he did in a supermax prison in California. These were the hardest of criminals that needed to be kept in such as secure facility. He took photos from above of each of the inmates. Then, he printed them very large and the inmates help glue them to the ground such that they filled the exercise yard. From above it looked like they were all looking up from inside the prison walls.
The art was cool, but what was moving was the influence it had on the inmates. He had interviewed each of them about why they were in prison and how it had changed them. The stories were available on the Internet and some of their families saw them and communicated with them for the first time in years. It changed many of them. Some of the stories he told were very touching. His talk will be well worth watching when it comes out.Of course, no TED is complete without a party or two for me to feel awkward and out of place. Despite Mark's and my efforts last evening to hide in the corner and eat dinner, we ended up talking with a woman who works for a non-profit trying to augment NASA's (insufficient, by her telling) efforts to identify asteroids that might collide with the Earth. I asked a stupid question about the recent movie Don't Look Up, which she correctly point out was about a comet crashing into the Earth and totally different. Regardless, it was the start to an interesting conversation and yet another reminder that I really ought to make the effort to talk to people.