I totally missed out on getting a ticket to TEDx but luckily my friend Jen managed to hook me up last minute, in the VIP section! Thanks! So on Saturday I sat with the other “Flitterati” in the third row back from the stage and had an amazing view of the whole event. Here are a couple of the things that really stood out for me…
Michelle Dickson, the first speaker, got things off to a fantastic start. She works in a nanomechincal laboratory making really really tiny things. Michelle had a well prepared lecture that explained her work through superhero metaphors and even showed off a few cool tricks. One such thing was a levitating nanobot which was pretty sweet. Probably the highlight of my day was her showing off a nano-coat she’d sprayed on her white canvas shoes. Even sitting so close to the stage it’s impossible to see this invisible coating so to demonstrate how it works she poured chocolate sauce on her shoes! The 2000+ crowd audibly gasped when it ran straight off her shoes like water off a duck’s back. Amaze.
The next three speakers showed us architecture that works with it’s natural environment, how New Zealand helped build the LHC and why Iraqi orphans need our help.
After morning tea, Dr Paul Wood talked about his experience getting a PHD while incarcerated. Judging from the reaction of the crowd this seemed to be a favourite. While his story is incredible I didn’t personally draw any inspiration from his talk.
Next up was Pip Hall on Wet Hot Beauties, a synchronized swimming group based in Auckland. I actually already knew this story because Pip runs the group with the gorgeous wife of my ex-Creative Director. I think their group will grow as a result of the exposure, already a couple of my friends have said they’re signing up!
Both Professor John Windsor and Alistair Knott did interesting talks on their work in stopping multiple organ failure and artificial linguistics, respectively. I even learned a bit about Noam Chomsky’s theory of languages which made me think maybe I should take up French or German or Te Reo again or even try something new. Can it really be that hard when robots can learn sentence structures?
Before the lunch break we heard Sam Hunt read out some of his poems. Wow, they are even better when he’s standing in front of you reading them in his own voice!
My highlight after lunch was probably the Mobileye team talking about their app which helps blind people see. A lot of the functionality of the app already exists, but the thing that impressed me was the crowd sourcing of help. You can sign up to be a “human buddy” and translate photos into text. So a blind person using the app might take a photo of a hotel lobbery and say “which direction is room 315 in?” and you can quickly text back the answer.
I know a big drawcard of the event was Sean Gourley and he certainly made an engaging point about the connection between computers and humans in problem solving or “augmented intelligence”. It reminded me of a lot of the big data discussions at SXSW. Something that I am definitely intrigued by but perhaps don’t know all the answers to yet.
Philip Patston talked about diversity, although honestly I enjoyed his comedy more than the pep talk about being better people.
By the last session my brain was hurting a bit and it’s all a bit of a blur. I really like what Matthew Simmons was doing using his love for big noises to do cool shit and even save lives. Literally scaring off birds at airports to stop potential crashes. Booktrack is pretty cool too, although I don’t know if I’m sold on the idea of using it myself (maybe when they start doing nonfiction books).
We finished in a good place which was looking at footage of baby penguins and seals in the Ross Sea. My dad lived in Antartica for a year so I’m quite passionate about the conservation of our last “untouched” continent.
All in all it was a great day that the organizers should be very proud of. It made me think more about what makes me unique, and how I can use that to do more good. What is my personal cause going to be?