I’m feeling thankful to be fulfilling an old dream of mine this week. Attending the main TED conference in Vancouver (#TED2017 on Twitter). The theme this year is the “The Future You” or as Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks put it in his talk, to solve the challenges we’re facing as a society these days, whenever you see the words “you”/”me”/”I”/”self”, consider replacing them with “we”/”us”/”others”, so the “The Future Us” seems more appropriate and is actually the back cover of the conference guide.
Day one felt like a gym for the mind. Jetlag woke me up from 1:30 to 4:00 am so it wasn’t an easy workout ;-)
A broad range of topics in the talks from neuroscience to art, social activism to paleobiology. This is in addition to live music and a bunch of interactive exhibition activities. There are 2265 attendees in the conference (according to the app), of which 120 of them are speakers. So overall, great polished talks inside and a buzz of interesting conversation outside. It’s my first TED, so I attended all the talks (call it FOMO, who knows). Here’s a summary of my experiences today.
I did the VOID, an awesome immersive VR experience which creates a virtual world in a physical set. Cool gear and graphics, great group dynamics and very entertaining. This was a Ghostbusters demo, the suits have haptic feedback (including splashing of water, smell, and impact).
TED Fellow talks
Since 2009, TED selects a group of Fellows, a global network of rising stars from all around the world (now 415 individuals), who collaborate across disciplines to create positive change. Once selected through a rigorous process, fellows get professional coaching, mentoring and the opportunity to give their own TED talk.
- Mei Lin Neo — a Marine Biologist from Singapore, Mai Lin is focused on the study of a specific species — the giant clam of the Indo-Pacific. She raises awareness to their declining population (a “Clamity”) and shies a light on their important role of contributing calcium to coral reefs.
- Karim Abouelanga — created Practice Makes Perfect, a summer school program for kids in low income neighborhoods in New York to combat “Summer Slide”, the loss of material that takes place over the summer months where kids are out of school.
- Reid Davenport — a documentary filmmaker with disabilities, he founded Through My Lens, to teach students with disabilities how to tell their own stories through video and smash the social taboo of disability. His film “Wheelchair Diaries: One step Up”, documenting the challenges of accessibility in Europe has gained prominent media attention.
- Jimmy Lynn — Geneticist pioneering early cancer detection techniques through blood tests that detect signals in the blood based on genetic signatures (Rare Genomics). Early trials using this method show we can catch patients with remission of cancers 100 days earlier than the current methods, by simply collecting blood.
- Christopher Ategeka — originally from Uganda, educated in the USA, he lost his parents to HIV and his brother to Malaria at a young age. The ratio of Doctors to patients in the US is 1:390. In Uganda it is 1: 24,500. Through Health Access Corps, he combats the shortage of healthcare in the African continent by placing doctors, midwives and nurses where they are needed most.
- Armando Azua-Bustos — an Astrobiologist, he studies how life has adapted to survive in the driest place on earth — the Atacama desert in Chile, where he was born.
- Dr Rebecca Brachman — a neuroscientist, discovered what could potentially be the first drug to prevent psychiatric disorders such as PTSD and Depression. Tests on mice have shown positive results.
- Stanford Thompson — a Trumpeter and music educator, created Play on Philly, a music education and social development program for youth in Philadelphia to equip them with skills and turn day to day stress to moments of success. “Culture for the poor shouldn’t be poor Culture”.
- Matilda Ho — a Chinese entrepreneur, Matilda founded Yimishiji, China’s first online farmers market, to She also founded Bits x Bites, China’s first food tech accelerator.
- Elizabeth Wayne — Biomedical Engineer and Stem advocate is re-programming immune cells to attach to cancer cells and destroy them, to stop cancer cells from spreading. Early tests in mice are showing promising results.
- Wanuri Kahiu — an African filmmaker based in Kenya, she created one of the first sci-fi films to come out of East Africa. Her movement “Afro Bubble Gum” hopes to create cultural material that is not just about the challenges of the continent, but fun, free and frivolous. “Remaining hopeful requires tenacity”.
- Anjan Sundram — author and journalist from India, traveled to the DR of the Congo and Rwanda to document war-torn places. When he encountered local villagers who fled to the jungle from fear of getting killed by government soldiers, their question to him was “Do people know what is happening to us?”. Sadly, despite hundred of thousands of casualties, the atrocities of war in some of these regions are a footnote in the evening news.
- Dr Digeo Bohorquez —a neurobiologist from Ecuador educated in the USA. How does your brain know what you ate? He explores ‘Neuropods’, gut sensors that are the missing link between the gut and the nervous system.
- Kayla Briet — a 20 year old filmmaker and composer, comes from a mixed background: Chinese/Dutch/Native American and shares her identity through music and films.
- Kristen Marhaver — Coral Reef Biologist, is doing “IVF for corals”, collecting specimens, Fertilizing coral semen with eggs and implanting them back in the coral to help rehabilitate reefs.
- Uldus Bakhtiozina — a photographer from Russia, practices escapism, creating elaborately staged surreal works, without photoshop. “Beauty in authenticity”.
- Prumsodun Ok — Choreographer and dancer from Cambodia, is preserving the art of Cambodian classical dance, almost completely annihilated by the Khmer Rouge and created the first gay dance company in the country.
- Lauren Sallan — Paleobiologist applies big data on fossils to report on one of earth’s mass extinctions that wiped out 96% of vertebrae creatures 359 million years ago and paved the way for modern biodiversity.
- Manu Prakash — serial inventor and winner of the MacArthur Genius Grant, he pioneers ‘Frugal Science’, inventions to make science accessible to the 1 billion people who don’t have access to health services. Foldscope, a low-cost microscope that costs $1.5 dollars will be shipped to 1 million kids around the developing world. PaperFuge, his latest invention uses the mechanism of pull string saucers toys to create a low-cost blood centrifuge that can help people get diagnostics at $0.25 cost.
- Negin Farsad — Iranian/American comedian gave the rules for dealing with Shmyrants — shmucks + tyrants.
These are not even the main talks!
First Session of Main talks
Anab Jain — A futurist and designer based in London, Anab creates visual prototypes of the future together with her husband. For example, they did a project on how future cities will look like when drones are around, for which they’ve built and tested drones. Imagine new possibilities to “Move beyond hope into action”.
Gary Kasparov — the Chess grandmaster who famously beat and then lost to Deep Blue 20 years ago (!), argued that machine triumph is human triumph. AI will help humanity to create and train intelligent machines that will make our dreams into reality — and we should help make that happen.
Laura Galante — a cyberspace analyst, addressed the Russian government hackers traces and their agenda — penetrating your echo chambers of social media to gain a back door into our minds. Change perception by feeding timely released material, to make people believe they got to their own conclusions. “The US and the west were unequipped to deal with it”.
OK Go — gave a great performance, and an even better talk, which covered their creative process of experimentation and unique moments. Wow.
Tim Ferriss — author, investor and podcaster, revealed he suffers from bi-polar disorder that almost got him to commit suicide in his senior year in high school. He learned how to manage his lows through Stoicism and talked about the philosophy of Seneca “we suffer more often in imagination than in reality”. Rather than Goal Setting, he once a quarter does a ‘Fear Setting’ exercise — 3 pages on defining his fears, what can he do to prevent them, and what can he do to repair them in case things do go wrong. Then he describes what might the benefits be, and most importantly what’s the cost of inaction in 6 months, a year and 3 years from now. Brave talk.
Titus Kaphar — an artist based in New York, gave a truly authentic talk, on finding his voice and the voice of African Americans in art by filling the voids. Watch the video when it’s out.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks — the final talk of the day, started with a single question: Can we face the future without fear? in a message of unity, he defined three types of “us”: identity, relationship and responsibility.
— identity — who do you define as ‘us’? the larger the group the better.
— relationship — it’s the people who are not like us (his wife) who make us grow the most.
— responsibility — we have a responsibility to help the weak, the vulnerable, those in need.
Coincidentally, my talk from TEDx Manchester University last month went live a few days ago, so it feels like a double whammy. You can watch it here: (I’d love your feedback!)