TEDGlobal Day 3: All things TEDxWomen, Future Billions to Bodies, and TEDxChange gathering

Sticking to our usual TEDx program, day 3 kicked off at the social spaces in the lower level of the EICC as TEDxWomen took the stage. Pat Mitchell from the Paley Centre for Media, who also helped to co-host the one-off TEDWomen in December 2010, was on hand to share details along with Betsy Scolnik. Seeing the success of TEDWomen, it’s now become TEDxWomen in collaboration with TED. Some of the details on hand included that there will be 2 sessions in the U.S – one in Washington D.C and the other in LA (unless my memory serves me right). The date has been set for December 1. Lara, being the Director of TEDx licensing, was at hand along with June Cohen to share here thoughts.
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Opening it up to other TEDx organizers, I jumped in with the thought that this shouldn’t just focus on women but also younger girls as they play a bigger role in society. What followed also included insightful contributions on how TEDx events around the world can join in on the conversation on the event day, not just restricting it to watching a simulcast.

In addition, today 1000s of people across the world will be watching Day 3 of TEDGlobal 2011 courtesy of TEDxLive-based events through numerous TEDx simulcasts being held concurrently. Plus, I got an email saying that all TEDx organizers should be in the live presentation hall for Session 6. I don’t know what to expect, but I drilled that reminder deep into my subconscious.

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Following this, it was already evident that I wouldn’t even make it to the live presentation area and snag a seat. I decided to retreat to my usual spot in the Bloggers Alley, with Matej keeping me company. One thing I realized is that being in the social spaces has an advantage – you also get to be early to the lunch line.

Session 4 ‘Future Billions’ began with Niall Ferguson talking about the supremacy and wealth of the West in the 1800 with regards to all other nations. It’s evident that the wealth accrued by the West was the biggest chunk out of all nations, and Niall makes the argument that it’s due to ideas and institutions. He likes to call them the ‘killer apps’. I met him the day before in the social spaces, and only realized that he was seated across me. You may not know, but him and few others will be opening a new liberal arts college in London; the venture came about after the whole issue of UK tuition being raised as much as 3 times. I even asked him about how would he shuffle his Harvard posting with this, and he replied that he still needs to work out those issues.

Yasheng Huang is an MIT professor/researcher who really talked about something that opened all my senses – India vs. China. A very insightful one, as both countries are looking to be the future economic powers. If there’s one thing I realized, many other nations are likely afraid when India and China would  shake hands to strengthen their economic advancement. That would be the biggest deal break for countries like the U.S, U.K, and many more as their combined might can’t even topple the might of India and China together. Yasheng’s talk really shed light on how China’s practices, though viewed with skepticism by many around the world, is really helping to shape the country for a better future. Things like democracy and how it helped China emerge as a powerhouse. Really shows whether democracy does play a positive role in economic growth, or just sticking to communism practices.

Robin Ince was like taking a stand-up comedian who recently got a Ph.D. You could say that he was adding some rationalist comedy to the usual sciences. “Like all rationalists, I’m a Pisces” is what he threw out to listeners. Josette Sheeran, who works with the UN Food programme, really showed us how we aren’t taking food seriously. Hunger and famine strikes the many every second with each bite we take from our dining table.

Tim Harford, an economist, talked about how randomness can really be benificial to us. Touching upon what he quoted someone regarding the ‘God complex’, he explains that it’s evident everywhere from doctors to politicians and many other professions. He even referenced Hans Rosling as the ‘Mick Jagger of TED’. He shared that we tend to resort to ways that make us understand the complexity surrounding our lives across the world, and it doesn’t even help even with a few graphs. Adopting another problem-solving technique that works, he openly stated one thing: show me a successful system that works and I’ll show you one that evolved in trial and error. Giving an example of a human baby, he likened the variation and selection to trial and error.

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Session 5 ‘Emerging Order’ was guest curated by Matt Ridley. You may remember him from his TEDGlobal 2010 talk ‘When ideas have sex’. Quite coincidentally, there was also a badge available for attendees to pick up that gave a different twist – ‘My ideas had sex with another TEDster’s’. I think the majority picked that up, including myself.

Svaante Paabo (I don’t know how to put the double dots above the ‘aa’ in his last name), a geneticist, gave quite a discover on the DNA. He said that there are many more significant differences among Africans than between Africans and non-Africans. You could summarize it as the path of the genome distinction between species, and digging deeper to see how they differ. Pagel showered his study on how language can do more than just communicate in a social setting. It is a means of learning, and he summarized it into something nice when you combine it with your most widely used sense of vision: “Social learning is visual theft”.

Ellizabeth Murchinson described how she discovered one mutation of cancer that proved to be contagious just by coming into contact, citing her initial discovery among the tasmanian devils. In addition, she also stated that she has been a victim of cancer and survived through it. She claims that if such a mutation can evolve, they could spell extinction for various species on the planet’s biodiversity that robs it of is diverse presence. Cynthia Kenyon used her experiment on a worm to study how the longevity of animals is heavily tied into their genes. I guess she could crack this code for humans.

Karol Bordreaux put forth her view on how communities can bring their efforts to sustain wildlife in a way that none have to rely on external entities.

Last but not the least, the session culminates in a live sand storytelling performance by Joe Castillo. Starting off from a plain sand tray, he uses his fingers to ‘sculpt’ out characters and natural features as he lets those features serve as a narrative to a story. It proved to be more impactful when his finger movements synced perfectly with the music they played, from slow to high-note crescendos.
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Session 6 ‘The Dark Side’ really proved to be quite the ‘gritty’ yet parallel twisted reality of things around us. Just to give you some food for thought, they informed all TEDx organizers to be in for this session. I luckily made it to the presentation area well in advance before the crowd packed in. Bilal also joined in. For those of you from Qatar who don’t know, he moon lights between his day job at Al Jazeera and his standup comedy routine.
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Chris Anderson opened it by showing a nice stuffed bear that would be thrown into the live audience as a gift. It even had it’s own TEDGlobal attendee badge with photo, and there were at least 6 to give away. From my seat, it almost looked like it was wearing a kilt.
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Misha Glenny shared his investigative efforts of cybercrime and criminal hacking, even going as far as to put Anonymous in the spotlight in the form of a ‘sponsor’s message’.
Listing all organizations from Sony to some nation’s governments who already been their target, he also quotes one of his friends on something important: “Those who know that they have been hacked, and those that don’t”. Even 3 cybersecurity companies to the FBI were also hacked. What does that tell you about them? Going back to Anonymous, he quotes that they are the authentic voice of resistance against worldwide governments clamping down on censoring the Internet. That only leads to the thorny issue: demand for security vs. the freedom of access. You can even see a snapshot of Anonymous’s message.
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Mikko Hypponen really put the spotlight on computer viruses, telling his experience of tracing the origins of the very first one back to Pakistan – specifically, two brothers living in Lahore. Though viruses were written just for the fun of it, he’s shown that it has evolved into syndicated crime gangs using it as ways to steal personal data for their gain and it’s not only restricted to credit cards and bank accounts. Putting the Stuxnet worm for a short spotlight, he claims that bigger damage can be done beyond just financial gain if these gans target infrastructure. Moments later, the lights go out with the old Windows ‘blue screen of death’ takes over for a few seconds, and I thought his talk ended; only for him to walk further back to the stage where he lights up an overhead projector. Everyone in the crowd erupted in laughter. He continues his talk from there, and eded it with a nice jab at Microsoft Powerpoint. 
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Mikko sent a very strong message with that; we can’t always rely on our modern day technological amenities. You never know when that fax machine may come in handy if you can’t access your emails.

Pamela Meyer put the dark reality of every single day, we face upto 200 lies. We may not know that their words lie, but their body gestures can help to give it away. Liespotting is what she engages in every part of her daily life.

Now, Ben Goldacre made it see that giving a TED talk was easy. With the manner that he spoke, it almost felt that he crunched 3 of them in the same time as one. He likes to debunks things, and he claims that there are atleast 500,000 + to distort evidence. That’s quite a big number! I’m thinking if that number would double considering the U.S financial meltdown. 
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Next thing you know, he takes the modern day myth of wine and dissects it down to show that there may not be enough truth to that claim.Suddenly, ‘WTF’ comes up on the projector with the audience erupting in laughter. Ben takes it that our own brains try to comprehend it that we end up cursing it every now and then, when we used to make sense of it but now it’s utter nonsense.

Eddi Reader, a native of Scotland who was also part of TED in the early days of transition to Chris Anderson, kind of brought about some light into ‘The Dark Side’ with her eloquent voice.
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Chris Anderson took to the stage to share some grave news that 3 blasts took place in Mumbai. Seeing that he holds India close to his heart, he sends out his wishes on behalf of TED and the audience presence.

Moments later, he announces a ‘TEDx’ break and Lara Stein takes the stage to share details and updates on the whole TEDx program. Accompanied by a short video consisting of TEDx organizers, she also shared just how much the TEDx program has grown and how this has impacted the spread of TED to many other communities. With that, she asks all TEDx organizers seated in the audience to rise from their seats. There were 110 of us including myself, and we were surrounded by   100s of attendees in the presentation area who applauded us for our efforts. Then it just hit me:
It’s not only these people, but there are 100s of numerous TEDxLive events who are watching Day 3 including this moment, combined with 100s more attending each of them. So were were practically showered with 1000s of applauses by people present at TEDGlobal and from various TEDxLive events scattered around the world.

I high-fived my good friend Ajit and Kristine, as we have become a united force to be reckoned. Lara ended with words that the mission of TED has been successfully carried out with these 100 and those who were watching it live. You can even catch reflections of many other TEDx organizers who were present with me at TEDGlobal 2011 (If you look closely at the photo on the projector screen, you can almost see my face visible on it): http://blog.ted.com/2011/07/15/51373/

Lastly, Karen Tse really put forward her personal account as she fought against torture. she shared her insights into how torture has become the easiest way to pin blames of others upon hapless innocents. Citing her experience of a young 6 year old held in prison just because he stole some food, she explains that we only need to see within ourselves that the darkness within has to be turned as a beacon of light.

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Session 7 ‘Bodies’ made me think that we could really manifest presence through other forms, but I guess they went farther to expand on it. Sherli Kirshenbaum put her perspective on kissing. It’s not just the simple kiss to the cheeks, but also between parent and child. Let’s not even forget passionate lovers. There was probably too much of kissing going on in the slides, I had almost lost track of it.

Peter Fankhauser demonstrated a robot that balances itself on a spherical wheel and moves about it. He’s still a student, and is due to finish his graduate school in Switzerland. Him and his other 2 team members helped in a live demonstration while he talked and explained the mechanics behin ‘Rezero’ (I didn’t realize that they gave it such a quirky name).
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Guess what? All of them were students. I wondered how he pulled it through with TEDGlobal and his academics. After his talk, the robot stuck around as Chris took to the stage. Even though it didn’t move, Chris wittily exclaimed :”I don’t have any questions to the robot… None!”.

Jae Rhim Lee came up on stage wearing something black that was laced with threads-like features, only for her to highlight that she’s engineering a way for our bodies to be decomposed back into nature using the power of mushrooms. A TED Fellow, she coins it as the ‘Infinite Burial Project’; she feels that the nutrients that are trapped in our body can be recycled back into nature if the dead are clothed in the very black dress she is wearing on stage.

Marco Tempest really played with our psyche when he used cyber illusion to give a great performance. Using open-source tools and the wonders of technology, he live animated a living stick-figure with which he was interacting as if it was a live person.
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That brought Day 3 to a close, but there was still more on TEDx as those who had signed up to a TEDxChange dinner.

Buses lined up outside the EICC as the TED staff took name calls when they permitted people to board the buses for the TEDxChange dinner. Getting to the Andalusia Cafe, being with them only reminded me of how Day 0 unfolded in the company of 110 TEDx organizers. Corrie Frasier took to the mic on thanking TEDx organizers for their efforts, along with Lara Stein and June Cohen.
Following that, there were numerous conversations unfolding among many other organizers, including TED Volunteer Translators who have also played a big role in getting TED out into the non-native English speaking realm.
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Witness the live unfolding of Day 3 from the story:
Look forward to what Day 4 and finally Day 5 have in store. I’ve got lots of things to announce after that…

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