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24 November 2009 / erikduval

TEDxBrussels – worth spreading?

I spent the day at TedXBrussels and enjoyed it…

I arrived a bit too late, after a long walk through the corridors of power at the European Parliament, a maybe-not-very-TED-like location. Because of security, we were not allowed to bring laptops into the meeting. Don’t ask: I don’t understand either. Was fun to take notes with pen and paper though…

ted1

Here are some of the things I picked up:

  • Michel Bauwens talked about “open everything”, including “product hacking” with examples like the ecar blueprint that allows anyone to turn a Toyota Corolla into a fully electric car.
  • Nicholas Negroponte shared some thoughts about (of course) the OLPC. I know that some people worry that he over-promises and under-delivers, but I agree that he helped to create the concept of a netbook and, as such, has over-delivered. He mentioned that 50% of the kids in Peru teach their parents how to read and write. Think about that…
  • Bruno Guissani interviewed Karel De Gucht: he remarked that the EU is more like soft powered Venus and the USA is more like hard powered Mars. Which one has been more successful?
  • Marc Van Montagu had a clear message: we will need Genetically Modified Organisms to feed the planet. The current over-regulation dramatically increases the costs to work on this and the result is that now only very big multinationals can proceed.
  • Dambisa Moyo from Dead Aid fame made her central thesis very clear: aid disenfranchises Africans and it shields African governments from doing their duty. She also mentioned that there are more poor Chinese or Indians than poor Africans. And 60% of Africans are less than 24 years old!
  • David Mccandless did what I consider the most TED-like presentation of the day: he had some really nice examples of information visualization: one illustrated when people break up on Facebook – turns out they do so two weeks before Christmas. Should I be worried? In any case, I just ordered his new book: I guess that is kind of an endorsement😉
  • Conrad Wolfram gave a passionate speech on the use of computers in mathematics education. He considers computation the ‘production line of math’. He was quite convincing that not doing math on computers is cheating kids out of an opportunity to do more conceptual math work. And it is cheating them out of fun!
  • Mark Millis was the other most TED-like person: he discussed visiting planets orbiting other stars than our moon. There are a few practical problems, like the fact that it would take the fastest spacecraft about 19.000 years to travel to the nearest star😉 He was very funny and rightly pointed out that many of the thought experiments say more about us than about the stars: for instance, what would be a proper governance model for a colony ship?
  • John Engel of Uncommon Sound had this nice thought: “don’t give up on an idea just because it’s small or crazy”.
  • That was a good segway to Djamel Laroussi, who gave a cool guitar concert and remarked that “everything is possible if you don’t know that it is impossible”. Very TED…
  • R.U.Serious did a rant on transhumanism, with the best W.S.Burroughs impersonation I have ever heard. (OK, I haven’t heard that many…) He urged us to end scarcity and not be too responsible.
  • Catherine Verfaille explained that the trick of stem cells is to make cells unlearn what they’ve learned, so that they can then learn to be liver or heart or whatever. There is something about the unlearning that I think is also very relevant at people scale rather than cell scale, but I need to think a bit more about that…
  • Noam Perski had a clear wish: to offset the carbon footprint of cloud computing (which he uses for Jameslist) by donating OLPC’s, which are very energy efficient.
  • Calligraffiti was … fun.

And some generic observations:

  • There were a few other speakers that I didn’t include in the list above because, frankly, I didn’t get their message. The problem may be at my end, but still…
  • Almost all the presenters had trouble dealing with the 18 minutes limit. I sort of understand: that is a short time. The again: many of them are experienced presenters and I had expected them to be better at dealing with this. (I did a three minutes presentation last week and will do a 15 minutes one in two weeks…)
  • TEDxBrussels continues the conversation: you can add your ideas on how to change Brussels. I’m curious…
  • I had a bit the feeling that many of the presenters and also many in the audience were … a bit too full of themselves. So I skipped the closing reception. Maybe I recognized a characteristic that I don’t like too much in myself?

In any case, maybe you were there too? What did you think? Twitter has some of your responses, but would sure love to hear more. Or maybe you have your own TED story to share?

3 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Gert-Jan Hüfken / Nov 24 2009 9:36 pm

    Thanks for your summary, it saves me some work:)! With a head full of ideas I took the train back home and…….I did not arrive. Nature took revench, one tree succeeded in blocking the entire train traffic to the north of Belgium. How sometimes the car still is a necessary alternative to get home……early next day.

  2. erikduval / Nov 24 2009 11:44 pm

    Sorry to hear that, Gert-Jan. Hope you didn’t have to spend the night on the train…

  3. Toon / Nov 25 2009 12:12 pm

    More or less the same highlights, with one notable exception😉
    http://www.automaton.be/wordpress/tedx/712/

    I felt it was more of a StarLab reunion / Walter De Brouwer friendmeet than an actual TEDx. The guy has an impressive set of friends so the line up was pretty sweet, but I still felt a lack of coherence in the whole event.
    The time limit of 18 minutes is perhaps too short for some, but it shouldn’t be an insurmountable hurdle. I noticed that the more experienced presenters (Negroponte, Womfram, Moya, Perski,…) managed to fit their talk perfectly within the allotted time without appearing rushed or stressed out. I guess it’s a practical example of Parkinson’s law🙂

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