TED2012, Sessions 8 to 10

. lecture : 9 minutes

Session 8: The Courtroom

The Courtroom starts with a beautiful short movie, "Symmetry", by Everynone (video link), followed by some tunes from the TED house band. The theme of this session is not clearly defined, except for the fact that a "jury" is present on stage, and will be able to ask questions, and that the audience will vote on whether they were convinced by each speaker's talks. Chris Anderson comes to the stage with a "gavel" which looks more like a mallet.

Symmetry, by Eveynone

The first guest to be "summoned" is Jim Stengel (@JimStengel), who talked about values in the world of business. According to recent polls, only 30% of employees feel engaged at work, and 19% do not trust big businesses. By taking the example of his own brother, a family doctor in a small town, Jim Stengel has tried to bring values such as compassion, kindness into his job. Companies that do well are companies that have ideals.

His talk was followed by short one, where the comic author Rob Reid explained to us "copyright math", the "science" behind the numbers the MPAA and RIAA keep repeating. Reid makes the audience laugh by giving us the industry's number while keeping a straight face.

Piracy numbers

Given the cost of a single pirated movie/piece of music, estimated by the majors, $15,000, we can calculate that every Ipod sold holds about "$8 billion of stolen media, or 75,000 jobs". While it is laughable, some people have had their lives destroyed for a few copied songs, to serve as example in court.

Next up was the psychologist Sherry Turkle (@STurkle), back to the TED stage, where she gave a talk on technology, back in 1996. She viewed technology then as a brave new world, a way for humans everywhere to connect more and communicate better. But today she is on the TED stage to tell a different story, one that smart phone lovers and internet addicts won't like very much.

She feels that nowadays, technology has become so psychologically powerful that they are changing who we are. We can connect with everywhere on Earth, yet we don't know how to talk to our neighbors anymore; we always need to be "elsewhere". As she puts it, "Human relationships are rich, messy, and demanding. We clean them up with technology".

Next we got another short talk, where Andrea Kates and Thomas Stat gave a simultaneous talk, on both Shakespeare and Star Trek. It was original and kind of fun.

The next talk was more serious; Tali Sharot gave us an insight into the "optimism bias", which makes people more optmistic than realistic, when considering themselves or their families. It seems that we keep considering only the good things that can happen to us, we underestimate our chances of getting a serious illness, or of having a divorce. Yet, we do not have this bias thinking about others; "Yes, smoking kills, but it mostly kills the other guy". Think about it, how do you rate yourself on your driving abilities, the way you interact with others, your modesty… ?

We can't all be better than everyone else.
still from TED 2012

Very interesting stuff, I'll need to consider it when making decisions in the future. You can learn more about the optimism bias here : www.ucl.ac.uk/affective-brain.

The next to last talk of the session was given by Taylor Wilson, 17-year-old nuclear physicist (wait wat ?). He once decided that he wanted to make a star, so he proceeded to build a nuclear reactor in his parent's garage, at age 14. An amazing mind.

And here is the talk that stayed in everyone minds : Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer, took the stage to talk about injustice in the US criminal system.

He's the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, an Alabama-based group that has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent prisoners on death row, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill, and aiding children prosecuted as adults.

his bio on TED.com

Bryan Stevenson once made a promise to his grandmother : "Always do the right thing, even when the right thing is the hard thing". There's something wrong in the justice system in America : 50 to 60 percent of young black men are either jail or on parole; in some states, convicts lose permanently the right to vote, so 34% of the black male population cannot vote. Think about it for a minute. In states where racism was the norm, where black men have been lynched, a huge proportion of their descendants cannot vote ?

Sorry in advance for the Godwin point, but what would we think if Germany was executing people, especially people of Jewish descent ? Speaking of the death penalty, Bryan mentioned that one of every 9 people on death row has been found innocent. What kind of success rate is this ?

In too many places the opposite of poverty is justice

Bryan Stevenson

This talk is already available on TED.com, go see it.

Session 9: The Design Studio

The last session was a bit intense, this one is more fun. It opens with a musical number, we get to see Reggie Watts singing "The Devil Went Down to Georgia".

Chip kidd's dinosaur

The first guest is Chip Kidd (@ChipKidd), a book designer. While being very entertaining, he gave us some insight into his creative process, with a lot of examples from the books he designed for the Knopf publishing house. While he agrees that much is to be gained with ebooks, he believes that something is lost; "tradition, thingyness, a little bit of humanity".

John Hodgman (@hodgman) then gave the first of three short talks along the session, presenting the "spaceport" next to LAX, or Philippe Starck's citrus juicer. True to his style John Hodgman gave in all seriousness a series of facts, all of the amazing, notwithstanding the fact that there're all invented.

John Hodgman at TED 2012

He was followed by Liz Diller, an architect. She has been given the task of re-imagining the Hirschhorn Museum, on the National Mall in Washington. It is a concrete donut 71 meters in diameter. The concept her theme came up with is the addition of a giant inflatable structure in the center of the museum, which required a special permit as nothing on the mall can be higher than 40 meters, unless it is a dome, minaret or spire.

The national mall

The inflatable volume represents the air of democracy that famously inhabits the open space of the National Mall.

David Kelley, the founder of the design firm IDEO, was next. He gave an uplifting talk, claiming that too many people consider themselves as "not the creative type", their creativity crushed some time in their childhood. He teaches a course at Stanford where people get reacquainted with their creative side. He gave the example of Doug Dietz, who was able to re-design an MRI machine, so that kids wouldn't be so afraid to get scanned.

how to design an MRI… for kids ?
A MRI machine for kids


From design to art : the next speaker was the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (@metmuseum), Thomas Campbell. He recalled one of his teachers in London, who was suspicious of formal art training, feared that it filled people with jargon, and that they would then "classify" instead of looking. As curator, he helped design exhibits that made art accessible to everyone. As for technology, in his own words, "digital media is not replacing museums. Nothing replaces the authenticity of the object presented with passionate scholarship". He concluded that people should always expand their curiosity, and trust their instincts.

Next on stage were two dancers from the American Ballet Theatre (@ABTBallet), who performed beautifully a piece by Twyla Tharp, "Known by Heart". I didn't use to like dancing, until I followed the show So You Think You Can Dance, where amateurs perform their craft on TV, from a variety of styles.

This session on design was closed by John Hockenberry (@JHockenberry), speaking about intent in design. He made a link between art and design, comparing good design to a cover song, one that brings something more to the original. Stuck in a wheelchair for 36 years, he uses it as an example. A wheelchair projects misfortune, but by adding something whimsical to it, he changed its intent : People now smile when they see him, instead of feeling sorry and looking away. Intent is primordial, it changes the picture completely. A killer, for instance, is evil, but if he is insane, missing the intent from his actions, then we keep him in an hospital, we look after him.

Session 10: The Campfire

While session 9 was about images, The Campfire is all about stories. It began with a short movie from Calcutta, made in the style of hand shadows (youtube link). What better way to start a campfire than with Jared Ficklin (@jaredrawk), who uses fire to visualize sounds. He also showed images made from sounds, allowing us to "look at music", the removal of time allowing us to better see patterns.

Avoid distractions
Joshua Foer avoiding distractions

Following him was Joshua Foer (@joshuafoer), a journalist that has been investigating the way people train their memory. Following the techniques he got from participants in memory competitions, he started to train his memory, "remembering to remember" something new every day. Before the age of technology, before books even, people used to train their minds, to store as much as possible in them.

You do not need to be a savant to improve your memory. Consider the word "baker"; it is much easier for people to remember a baker, than it is to remember someone named Baker. Foer presented the technique of the "memory palace", where you store themes or ideas into a virtual place, using your visual and spacial memory.

After his talk came Philippe Petit, a Frenchman famous for his high-wire walks on top of famous buildings across the world, including the World Trade Center in 1974, a feat showed in the documentary Man on Wire.

Don't look down…
poster from the movie Man On Wire

Passion is the motto of all my actions.

Tenacity is how I kept it against all odds.

Intuition is a tool that is essential in my life.

Faith is what replaces doubt in my dictionary.

Start gluing feathers to your arms, take off, fly and start seeing things from a different perspective.

Philippe Petit

The illusionist Marco Tempest then made a second appearance, this time using the tools of augmented reality to share his views on magic. Then came a short talk by Gary Shenk, the CEO of Corbis. The way he puts it, "my company manages delebs: dead celebrities".

A still from Jon Ronson's talk

The last story of the session was told by Jon Ronson (@jonronson), a writer and documentary maker. A few years back, he started investigating psychology, which made him contact members of the sect of scientology, radically opposed to any psychiatric science. They had him meet Tony, someone who faked madness in order to avoid a prison sentence. Has Jon puts it, he "faked it too well", and got institutionalized in an hospital for the criminally insane. His doctors know that he faked his madness, but have kept him inside because they believe him to be a psychopath.

This started Jon Ronson on a path to study what is psychopathy, he even took a course to be able to administer the "psychopath test". According to statistics, 1 in 100 people are psychopaths, and 4% of CEOs. Which means that, in the TED audience in Long Beach, there should be 30 psychopaths. Why so many CEOs ? In a way, capitalism is a physical manifestation of psychopathy, where lack of empathy and manipulation are rewarded. In the end Tony was set free; "[he] is a grey area in a world that doesn't like grey areas. But that's where you find complexity, humanity and truth".

Note that Jon told the same story on NPR's This American Life, in 2011, episode "The Psychopath Test", which you can listen to online.

At the end of session, and of this day of TED, was Abigail Washburn (@abigailwashburn), a banjo player who sings in mandarin (!). Find out more about her at abigailwashburn.com. With her beautiful voice she stiches together different styles of music and song, and the result is amazing.

Abigail Washburn at TED 2012


1. le 22 mars 2012 (16 h 02), par nyco :

DAMN YOU and your interesting time black holes articles. I have so much to catch up with, it scares the shit out of me u_u'

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