07 April 2007

A Glimmer of Hope

The previous two posts have been oriented more towards me venting some ex-patriot steam than anything that could be construed as productive. To get away from that trend, I have to share something that I have discovered that I've found to be immensely interesting and believe represents a real glimmer of hope for human progress.

Imagine if you could take a university course entitled "The World, the Universe, Everybody and Everything in It." As you might expect from the title, this class hits on all major subjects from economics, to philosophy, to religion, to third world development, to astronomy, to... This course is taught by not just a good professor, and not just a great professor, but everyday by one of the leading specialists in the various fields under the broad umbrella of the course. Better yet, these professors aren't allowed to self-gratify by speaking at length about the topic of their choice, rather they are required to get the point across in 18 minutes or less in non-specialist language. Sounds pretty good right? So good, it might even be worth paying a fair dollar for it. In fact, about 1,000 people pay $6,000 for this invitation-only course, even though it lasts for only four days. What injustice, right? That's where the democratizing effect of theinternet comes in.

This wonderful thing, enchanting as it seems, goes by a rather lowly name. It's called TED. It stands for Technology Entertainment Design. It has been going on since 1984 and, from what I can tell, has been gaining considerable steam in the past few years. It's goal is to bring together creative, successful people who are interested in making the world a better place. It's greatest benefit is that it brings these great minds together for some serious problem solving and networking. A substantialancilliary benefit is the publication of what have been dubbed TEDTalks, online videos of some of the talks. I've downloaded several to my iPod and have been watching them on my way to and from work. By and large they are fantastic, enchanting, inspiring, and sometimes breathtaking.

The suggestion from TED is to watch at least three at once to get a sense of the cumulative effect of the conference. Here are three that I found particularly spectacular. I've embedded the videos from various sources because the TEDTalks site doesn't provide embed code. I would suggest watching them at the original site. Here is the link to that: TEDTalks Main Site

(Note of warning: TEDTalks are sponsored by BMW and I can't help but notice an incredible desire to go on a cross-country blast on a BMW R 1200 RT. ...can't...break...marketing's...grip...)

Here is journalist and author Robert Wright talking the arc of human history and the solution to the "clash of cultures" that everybody seems to think is inevitable:

Astrophysicist Sir Marin Rees looks at our position in things from the very large and very small perspective:

tedtalks TEDTalks (video) - TEDTalks : Sir Martin Rees (2005) video

Finally, here is Jeff Han showing off a new multi-touch interface that could significantly change human-computer interaction. This is to show that not everything at the conference is super heavy, some is just super cool:

I've watched about 15 of these and have really been impressed, I'll be sharing and offering commentary on more from time to time, though you should really check it out for yourself. Here's the link again if you don't want to scroll back up to the top: TEDTalks

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