The afternoon session at TED today wasn’t exactly a smorgasbord for those of us looking for high-tech tidbits, but there were some fascinating talks about emerging technologies that will make a major impact on the way we live our lives. So even though they're a little outside of our normal field, we’ll give you a quick rundown of some of the interesting developments.
One of the most exciting presentations of the afternoon was given by Shai Agassi, the one-time heir-apparent at SAP who gave it all up to found a company called Better Place. Better Place’s mission is to create a fossil-fuel-free transportation infrastructure, and after hearing his talk it’s hard not to believe that they can do it. His plan centers on a widespread grid of charging and battery-swapping stations that will allow electric cars a much greater operating range. Also interesting is his idea that when a person buys an electric car, they shouldn’t have to pay for the expensive battery, but rather “rent” it from his company. According to Agassi, the combined effect of this system will be electric cars that are cheaper and more efficient than their gas-guzzling brethren.
Easily the coolest part of today’s TED event was Dr. Pattie Maes’s “Reframe” presentation on new technology interfaces. Maes, a researcher at MIT’s Media Lab, energized the crowd with a demonstration of a $350 piece of technology that her team dubs “the sixth sense.” Maes’s Fluid Interfaces research group collaborates on projects and inventions that augment the interaction between human and machine, including both visual and haptic interfaces that are far more immersive than our traditional keyboard and monitor.
Maes started by discussing the five natural senses that humans have developed over the past million years of evolution. These senses help us make important decisions in everyday life, including how we interact with other individuals and our physical environment. But arguably, the most useful stimulus we come across is information that we don’t have easy access to via these senses, such as large amounts of aggregated data and factual knowledge. Increasingly, all of this knowledge is being stored and made available online.
The question, then is whether we could develop (either naturally or artificially) a sixth sense to detect this meta-information that may exist and is relevant to our decision-making.
Read on to see what Dr. Maes and her team developed!
Bill Gates (the philanthropist, not the technologist) capped off the “reboot” segment of today’s TED speeches with a presentation about two of the important global problems the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have been addressing since Gates retired from day-to-day operations at Microsoft: eradicating malaria and boosting education.
With regard to the Malaria issue, Gates noted that though the disease claims the lives of one million victims each year, this is a greatly reduced number from when Malaria was a global epidemic a hundred years ago. Now, the epidemic is centralized in poorer countries, whereas first-world nations have largely dismissed the problem. In fact, Gates noted more money was spent on developing baldness medication than on curing malaria – Malaria simply isn’t the rich man’s problem.
Gates then proceeded to release a handful of mosquitoes into the air, joking that there was no reason that only poor people should get malaria. These mosquitoes obviously didn’t carry the disease, though the surprise move drew more than a few nervous laughs from the 1,300 in attendance.
In between Tim Berners-Lee and Nandan Nilekani’s featured presentations at this year's TED conference, past-TED speaker Cindy Gallop announced the launch of her new website: Make Love Not Porn (NSFW, so we won’t link it). The feisty New York advertising exec, who last year gave a speech called “The Toyboy Manifesto” (about relationships between older women and younger men) started the site to debunk the myths that hardcore pornography is teaching about sex. Using some saucy language, Gallop claimed that internet pornography has become a de-facto substitute for sex education for today’s youth, and wants the site to become a open dialogue on the cultural meaning of sex. So far, the new site has only one entry.
If you check the list of hot topics on Twitter right now, you’ll fine #TED at the top of the list. That’s because today is the opening day of the annual TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference, a prestigious gathering of just over 1000 of the world’s most influential thinkers, entertainers, and futurists. This private event (registration costs $6,000, and that’s only after you’re invited) hosts a series a thought-provoking presentations aimed at stimulating the minds of attendees who are then encouraged to engage in an exchange of ideas throughout the week-long session.
Past speakers include Al Gore, JJ Abrams, and Jeff Bezos, who each gave provocative talks about their passions and innovations. This year’s lineup includes Green Auto Pioneer Shai Agassi, web pioneer Tim Berners-Lee, and one Bill Gates. The public typically has to wait several months before videos of these 18-minute long TED talks get uploaded, but we’ve received special access to the live stream of the main stage. Over the next three days, we’ll be posting recaps of tech-related talks to give you some insight into what goes on in this exclusive and enlightening forum. Keep tabs on our TED coverage by clicking this link!