Analysis & Opinion, Events

The Stuff of Life – first thoughts from TEDGlobal in Edinburgh, Scotland

July 22, 2011 Mullen

Having just returned from an intensive week of 18-minute sparks of innovation, I can say that TEDGlobal was far more than a conference. It was a community of intellectuals, thought-leaders and, above all, doers from every discipline: medicine, science, business, philanthropy and government.  If the world needs help solving its problems, I’m fairly certain this closely networked group has the capacity to challenge the age-old questions of humanity and break the binds that hold us back — igniting conversations, crafting new ideas and inspiring action. It was truly humbling to be part of “The Stuff of Life” and feel personally changed by the endless hours of discussion, much of it relatable to the art and science of influencing human behavior.

The talks will be available online over the next several weeks, as it would be impossible to capture them all in a short blog post, but I’ll do my best to point out a few of the highlights.  And there will also be more to come from mullenunbound and fellow planner Richard Santiago in the coming days and weeks.

  1. Algorithims are governing our lives — Kevin Slavin, algoworld expert, gave one of the most thought-provoking yet disturbing talks on the hyper-evolution and complexity of the algorithms actually shaping cities’ levels of connectivity. We are now creating algorithms that control everything from our power grid to culture, e-commerce and to the stock market; many of which have become so complicated we can no longer control them, as represented by the “Flash Crash” of 2010.
  2. Censorship and the internetRebecca MacKinnon, media activist, challenged the world to bring government, technology and the sovereigns of cyberspace (Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Google) together to adopt a unified authority on censorship — a consent of the networked. We can not allow corporations or governments to decide what is best on their own as both are motivated by self-interest.
  3. Of course there is no God — In perhaps the most controversial yet thought-provoking speech of the week, Alain de Botton spoke of Atheism 2.0, in which he posited the need for atheists to embrace spiritual well-being despite their lack of belief in a deity. Religions are multinational and branded, so they don’t get lost, a common challenge for atheists who often live without the benefit of organized togetherness. Our common ground is in our desire for human purpose and ethics, regardless of faith.
  4. Barefoot solar — Bunker Roy, founder of Barefoot College in India, spoke about finding solutions from within and masterfully told his personal story of teaching unprivileged mothers and grandmothers the science of building solar panels. This was perhaps the most remarkable story told at TEDGlobal. A true testament to the power of an idea matched with human ambition.
  5. The moral molecule Paul Zak, neuroeconomist, sees proof that trustworthiness has a biological foundation in the hormone oxytocin (not to be confused with oxycontin).  When production levels are high, generosity to strangers increases by up to 80%, leading to lower crime and better education. The simple prescription to raise your oxytocin, according to “Dr. Love” – 8 hugs a day.  More here from Fast Company.

“Look for solutions within and listen to people. They have all the solutions in the world.”
- Bunker Roy, TEDGlobal 2011