Monday, April 11, 2022

TED 2022 - Day 1

I had not planned to blog about TED this year. The week is always packed and finding time to write each day is hard. However, a dear friend prevailed upon me to do so. (I started writing this at 5:00am and need to finish by 8:00 so I can attend the first of today's sessions. I apologize in advance for any typos, incomplete sentences, or general incoherence!) 

In so many ways, it felt like a normal TED. We had to get COVID tested as part of the registration, but that meant that folks were comfortable going without masks. Other than the staff, masks were few and far between. The list of speakers looked solid with many familiar names from TEDs past. The day started off with a pair of TED Fellows sessions. These consisted of 12 or so 5-minute talks by an impressive and varied array of Fellows. The topics varied from exoplanets to journalism to art to technology to dance. 
None of those talks were overly inspiring, but it is always wonderful to hear from people impassioned by their work, even if the work may be something as obscure as the Internet of Elephants. (Yes, that is a thing.) It felt like a normal TED. 

Finally, in the early evening the main talks began on the main stage. The theme of this TED is "A New Era." That title was picked long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine and seemed like a normal TED theme. Things started out with an augmented reality demonstration by Particle Ink. Everyone had an iPad on their seat and could use it to watch magical creatures and special affects augment the dancing on stage. It was very cool and felt like what, in my jaded perspective, I had come to expect from a normal TED. 
Then, what unfolded was the greatest session of talks that I can remember from my many years of attending TED. Sadly, no words I can write will do the evening justice. Please keep an eye out on for when they post the talks. I will update this with links to the talks if I notice them. 

I normally keep track of my standing ovations. I don't give them out lightly and I often get through a whole session without one. The first talk was by Garry Kasparov, probably the greatest chess player of all time and a long-time critic of the Soviet Union and Russia. He got my first standing ovation. It was nowhere near the last of the evening. 

Kasparov has first-hand knowledge of Putin and has long warned of his potential for evil. He put Putin and his invasion in stark terms. He argued that Putin is evil. While good is often tinged with evil, evils like Putin are pure evil. He said, "Dictators lie about what they have done, but tell us the truth about what they will do." Unfortunately, Kasparov did not have any great prescriptions for what to be done about the situation, but he strongly felt that there is no room for compromising with evil. My guess is that this will be the first talk from TED 2022 that the organizers make available. Watch it. I look forward to watching it again and thinking more carefully about the nature of evil. 

Zoya Lytvyn followed Kasparov. She is a Ukrainian educator and entrepreneur from Kyiv. Her company had created an online platform for education to deal with learning outside of classrooms due to COVID. That platform is now in use teaching over 400K displaced Ukrainian students online, wherever they may be. She said, "What you cherish can be taken from you in an instant." Indeed. Check out her talk

Her talk was followed by moving video of Ukrainians who were involved with TED in one way or another. It was shaping up to be an emotional evening. 

After Chris Anderson made an emotional appeal that raised over a million dollars for Ukrainian charities such as Lytvyn's Osvitoria, the talks turned to things other than than Russia and Ukraine. It was a series of great talks, that I just don't have the time to describe in detail. Normally, each one of those might have been my first standing ovation and the high point of the session, but Kasparov already had taken both of those honors. US Olympian Allyson Felix told of her struggles being a world-class track and field athlete while becoming a mother. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Alison Killing described her efforts to expose Chinese Uyghur concentration camps using publicly available satellite data. Melissa Moore, the chief scientific officer of Moderna spoke about mRNA vaccines and mRNA's future role in changing medicine. It was amazing to hear the person who had so much to do with COVID vaccines start her talk with, "It is wonderful to see you all here without masks."

Then came the final talk of the evening by the photographer, Platon. His description touts him as the person who has photographed more world leaders than anyone else in history. While that may be true, to me he will always stand out as having given the most masterfully crafted TED talk ever. I seldom can say that I hung on every word of a speaker, but I did. The photos he showed of people like Muhammed Ali, Donald Trump, and Vladimir Putin were amazing, but his stories were even more so. Few people, have had private conversations where Ali says he wasn't the greatest, Trump said he was the storm, and Putin admitted to loving the Beatles. But, it wasn't just the stories of such moments, but the way he weaved them together to reveal human nature and the ambiguities therein. Every sentence seemed perfectly crafted and the cadence of his words was mesmerizing, all while not seeming overly rehearsed. This talk is one you must see when it is available. Again, I will watch it repeatedly and think carefully on human nature and our perception of it. 

What followed was lots of food and desserts. I had time to see old friends and eat lots of desserts. The food truck cannolis were amazing! I fear that the rest of the week will have to be anti-climatic, but at least it will not end up being a normal TED! Nor will I starve to death... 

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