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Where Africa and Technology Collide!

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Renny on The Culture of Availability

Renny creative guru from Wieden and Kennedy gives a quick talk at TED on the rise of the culture of availability. The proliferation of mobile devices and the expectation of availability.

He talks about the different contortions we make to check our mobile phones (email, SMS, chat, whatever). He shows pictures that are titled, “The Lean”, “The Stretch”, and “The Love You”. (I’ll try to get these later)

Renny states that what we’re doing when we check our phones around other people is saying, “You are not as important as what is on my mobile device.” Our reality is less interesting than the story I will tell.

I share, therefore I am. We are creating the technology that will create the new shared experience, which will create the new world. Let’s make technology that makes people more human, and not less.

Ed Ulbrich: Bringing Benjamin Button to Life

I’m standing in for Ethan Zuckerman today. This post is part of a series from the TED 2009 conference held in Long Beach, California from February 4-8th. You can read other posts in the series here, and the TED site will release video from the talk in the coming weeks or months. Because I’m putting these posts together very quickly, I will get things wrong, will misspell names and bungle details. Please feel free to use the comments thread on this post to offer corrections. You may also want to follow the conference via Twitter or through other blogs tagged as on Technorati.

At Digital Domain, Ed Ulbrich works at the leading edge of computer-generated visuals. On a recent project, filmmakers, artists, and technologists have been working at a breakthrough point where reality and digitally created worlds collide. His most recent work can be found in the Curious Case of Benjamin Button film, starring Brad Pitt.

Benjamin Button

They first started on this project back in the ’90s and had to throw in the towel because the technology just wasn’t up to creating these visual effects. The “holy grail” of the industry is digitizing the face. The problem was, there is no margin for error when doing this with a face as well known as Brad Pitt.

Ed tells of how nervous he was when the finally realized they could do it, and then got the “go ahead” from the studio. It was a daunting task. They had to take all the details and idiosyncrasies that make up Brad Pitt in order to make it real (for a full hour of the movie).

Step 1: admit you have a problem
Step 2: break the problem down

The current technology (in 2004) wasn’t really up to the task, so they had to walk away from all that was in this movie and video game space. Instead, they had to make their own technology “stew” that would be able to handle what they were trying to do.

FACS – Facial Action Coding System and Contour by Mova allowed them to do so much more. They ended up stipling Brad Pitts face and getting every 3d possibility of what his face was capable of doing.

The problem… Brad was 44 and Ben needed to be 87 years old. Ed just unveiled to us a 100% representation sculpture of Benjamin Button in three different age increments. (Absolutely incredibly… looks so real). Then they transposed that 3d data onto the sculpture. In the end, they created a real life puppet that Pitt could control with his face.

Olafur Eliasson: Visuals, Art and Movies

I am stepping in to help liveblog TED for Ethan Zuckerman today. This post is part of a series from the TED 2009 conference held in Long Beach, California from February 4-8th. You can read other posts in the series here, and the TED site will release video from the talk in the coming weeks or months. Because I’m putting these posts together very quickly, I will get things wrong, will misspell names and bungle details. Please feel free to use the comments thread on this post to offer corrections. You may also want to follow the conference via Twitter or through other blogs tagged as on Technorati.

Today’s session is titled “See”, and that’s just what we’re doing with Olafur Eliasson and his artwork. He is also behind 121 Ethiopia, an African nonprofit.

Olafur Eliasson: The Weather Project

Olafur thinks of his studio in Berlin as more of a lab, where they do a lot of experimentation. He is asking us to stare at a screen, which has colors in certain shapes. When the image disappears, we see the complimentary color in the same shape. Though the narrative isn’t that exciting, he claims we are co-producing a movie.

My view from the blogging area

Olafur tries to make art that helps people feel a part of a certain space. As an example, he tells of his large waterfall artwork that gives a sense of size to people in New York City. Where you can finally get a real feel for what the size of the space you’re in is.

Oliver Sacks: Seeing with the Mind

I am stepping in to help liveblog TED for Ethan Zuckerman today. This post is part of a series from the TED 2009 conference held in Long Beach, California from February 4-8th. You can read other posts in the series here, and the TED site will release video from the talk in the coming weeks or months. Because I’m putting these posts together very quickly, I will get things wrong, will misspell names and bungle details. Please feel free to use the comments thread on this post to offer corrections. You may also want to follow the conference via Twitter or through other blogs tagged as on Technorati.

Oliver Sacks

We start this morning with Oliver Sacks, who since Awakenings first stormed the bestseller lists (and the silver screen), has become an unlikely household name, and single-handedly invented the genre of neurological anthropology.

We see with our eyes, but we also see with our minds. Hallucinations is what he will be talking to us about today.

Oliver tells a story of an old lady who was “seeing things”. Who ended up being a perfectly sane and lucid lady, who had been very startled because she had been, “seeing things”. She had been completely blind, through macular degeneration for 5 years, but now was starting to see people in Eastern dress, cats, dogs, and a man with large teeth on one side of his face. Sometimes, she might hallucinate black and pink squares on the floor that go up to the ceiling. In her words, “It’s like a movie, a very boring movie.”

She was confused, and thought she might be going mad. She wasn’t, she had Charles Bonnet Syndrome: an anarchic visualization stimulation release.

10% of visually impaired people get visual hallucinations.
10% of hearing impaired people get hearing hallucinations.

As the visual parts of the brain aren’t getting as much input, they start to become hyperactive. Oliver tells us amazing stories of people what people see. Of boys flying up to 100 feet, men splitting into 6 parts and cartoons come to life.

Functional Brain Imagery (FMRI), has been possible in the last couple years. He tells us how the different parts of the brain are being activated and which are overactive for certain types of hallucinations, and it’s different parts that see teeth and eyes, from buildings, landscapes or cartoons.

He reminds us that blind people all over the world, many times have cases of hallucinations, yet they probably don’t share those with people for fear of being seen as crazy.

PW Singer and Robots Wired for War

[Sidenote: follow the real TED 2009 liveblogging by Ethan Zuckerman]

There have been some phenomenal talks in this first day of TED 2009. If I had to pick a favorite, I don’t think any quite caught my imagination as did PW Singer’s talk on “Wired for War” talk on robots use in modern warfare. Singer is an interesting character, he’s a military analyst that doesn’t study or write about the normal topics that you think would come from someone with that profession. Apparently, his new book by that name just came out 5 days ago, and I’ve decided that will be my read for the flight back home.

PW Singer

Maybe it’s my infatuation with gadgets or making things, maybe it’s because I, like so many boys, fantasized about robots and all the cool things they could do as a child. Either way, I was mesmerized by his story, and the images he showed of this new breed of mechanized warfare and the “cubicle warriors” that control them.

Singer said that the robots we have now are the equivalent of the Model-T for vehicles 100 years ago. When you see what they can do, what they are capable of, that can be a very scary picture. The US military is on the cutting edge with the leading technology in this space right now, however there are 42 other countries working on military robotics too, so no one knows what will come next.

www.Army.mil

He takes us a step deeper and asks, “How do we rethink the rules of war?” What are the repercussions of a having robots that have the capability and “go ahead” to kill?

So, at the end, I’m troubled and I’m excited. It’s an amazing world of technology that I don’t know much about, but that has such potential for great good and for great harm.

Framing TED 2009

It seems that the frame for discussion and debate for TED 2009 has been set:

We are facing an economic crisis and the environmental crisis, with technology as the possible answer.

Al Gore  at TED 2009

Talks in the first two session, especially the ones by Juan Enriquez, Al Gore, Bill Gates, Ray Anderson, Pattie Maes and Tim Berners-Lee have set the tone for this year’s TED. Each of them has talked about the current economic crisis, the environmental crisis or the future promises that technology offers.

Some Schooling on Slide:ology from Duarte Designs

Eric Albertson from Duarte Design, the firm behind the excellent book Slide:ology, is here to tell us how to creat more effective presentations. I’m a HUGE fan of these guys, so this is very exciting for me. (One other great resource for presentations is the Presentation Zen blog.)

Erik from Duarte Designs (Slide:ology)

He starts off by telling us not to start a presentation by opening up presentation software to begin. “That’s not a presentation”.

“Step away from your computer, grab a paper and pen, and that’s how you begin to create a great presentation.”

The most important thing to know and understand before a presentation is the audience. Eric recommends creating an outline of just who is in the audience and creating a profile for who that really is, what he calls this an “audience map”.

Slideology - audience needs map
(download link)

He’s talking a lot about process of how you go about ideation of the presentation, not about how to really create the slides themselves to be compelling. So far, it’s been about how you understand the presentation arc, the audience and the logic and/or emotion that goes into the way you communicate.

S.T.A.R. Moments

Something
They’ll
Always
Remember

To really nail a talk, you need to find a STAR moment, one that’s repeated at the watercooler the next day. It’s the way that people remember your talk, that phrase or visual that resonates well after the presentation is over.

Visuals

We finally, after all the other parts of the process have been done, start to put together the actual slides and lay out our story and data.

“Minimize the unimportant, maximize the important visually.”

3D charts are really hard to work with, be careful with them, and also be careful with choosing the right type of chart.

Nokia and TED: Spreading Worthy Ideas

Afdhel Aziz from Nokia is here to talk to us about what’s been happening at Nokia and why they’re so excited about TED. Their partnership first started with the extraordinary Pangea Day project. Nokia is going to be TED’s Global Communications Partner, sponsoring TED Fellows, TED Translated and future TED conferences.

If TED is about “ideas worth spreading“, then Nokia’s role is “spreading worthy ideas

Nokia gave us all an E71, which really is one of the best phones on the market for doing a lot of work anywhere you go in the world. It’s a smart phone without all the difficult settings and small keyboard of some of the other higher end smart phone. Best of all, the one they gave us is unlocked, which means it’s very easy to travel and use it with local SIM cards (Plus, we’re getting 8Gb memory cards for them and 1000 minutes/month).

Afdhel then showed us the “6 billion people, 6 billion connections” video:


Nokia E71 launch / 6 Billion People, 6 Billion Colours from Universal Everything on Vimeo.

TED 2009 – Fellows Talks

[TED 2009 Fellows pictures on Flickr.]
Flickr Set of TED Fellows 2009

Even better pictures by Josh Wanyama in this Flickr set.

This morning is a whirlwind of TED Fellows giving short, 3-minute TED Talks to each other. Each of them is being recorded, and it looks like many will make it to the TED.com site one of these days. The best part about these sessions are that it’s an incredibly eclectic group, mixing environmental engineers with musicians and anthropologists.

A small taste

(These are 3-minute lightning talks, so I can only get a couple of the fabulous speakers in here.)

Pragnya has told us that, generally, the poorer we are the happier we are. That’s the reverse of the correlation that most of us think about regarding wealth. Being an engineer, she gives us a great graph to illustrate it.

Pragnya at TED 2009

Sean Gourley talks about how we can use math to predict and understand violence in the world around us. He came up with equations that helped describe what was happening – scanning the news and using an algorithm to better see the future. He asked a hard question of himself at one stage: “how can I describe this human suffering with numbers?”

Sean talks of meeting the real-life people who were part of his algorithm in Iraq. How it shook him, realizing that there were people behind the numbers.

Sean Gorley - TED 2009

“If you want to change the world, you need to begin at your home.” – Yatin Sethi

Darius, from “Darius Goes West“, comes on stage with Logan to give us a small taste of their amazing story of how they are raising money to fight Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

Logan and Darius from "Darius Goes West"

Daniela Candillari and opera coach, sings a haunting song dedicated to the rest of the TED Fellows.

Daniela Candillari plays at TED 2009

Dr. Awa Marie Coll Seck, Professor and Doctor at the University of Dakar in Senegal, is taking the fight against Malaria to a new level. After being the Minister of Health in Senegal, she decided to start an awareness and fund raising campaign against Malaria. “We can be in a poor country, and we can do a lot of things by ourselves.

Film maker, Taghi Amirani, tells a funny, captivating, and ultimately heartbreaking story of his grandmother finding love in Iran. And tragically, how the husband was swapped out at the last minute…

Taghi Amirani - TED Fellows Talk

(sidenote: GAH, running out of power and no extension cords…!)

Kyra Gaunt, the captivating and energetic anthropologist/musician talks to us about race, prejudice and the brand that has been created around racism. “It takes a lot to change something that doesn’t actually exist in the physical universe.

Kyra Gaunt - TED Fellows Talk

“Racism as a resource… think opposable thumbs. What if we need to embrace racism to reach the next level of our humanity? It’s what I call, ‘agreeing to be offended’.”

Joshua Wanyama of Pamoja Media and African Path, gives a talk on how accessing the internet for the first time back in 1998 completely changed his life and set his path for the future. Now he thinks of how the internet frees communication, and people, away from a government controlled monopoly all over Africa.

Joshua Wanyama - TED 2009 Fellows Talk

Sara Mayhew talks about her new Manga book: Ztarr

Sara Mayhew - TED Fellows Talk

Bright Simons of Mpedigree reminds us that solutions for Africa are complicated, it’s not just bad governance, that most of Africa isn’t resource rich, and that cultural legacies aren’t always the problem.

Bright Simons - TED Fellows Talk

TED 2009 and the New TED Fellows Program

TED 2009 starts this week, and I’m heading to California early as part of the new TED Fellows program. As expected, there is an amazing line-up of speakers, but what I’m really excited about is the other attendees and the other TED Fellows. (A quick warning as well, there will be an inordinate number of posts here this week during TED, then back to normal.)

TED Fellows 2009

Interestingly enough, this whole program started in Africa – with the fellows at TED Global 2007 in Arusha, Tanzania:

“Because TEDAfrica’s success in 2007 was due in no small part to the boundless energy and remarkable ideas of our fellows, we decided to create a permanent program to bring more amazing leaders into the TED Community. TED will help them communicate their ‘ideas worth spreading’ to a much larger audience,” said Tom Rielly, TED Community Director, who is responsible for the program.

This is true. Anyone who was there will agree that there was an electricity in the air that was palpable. Talks from Andrew Mwenda, Chris Abani and George Ayittey set the tone. Conversations were started, lasting relationships built and future leaders inspired. It helped remind us that Africa can be greater, and that we need look no further than ourselves to catalyze that change.

As testament to this, 4 of the 5 full-time members of Ushahidi were TED Fellows in Arusha: Henry Addo, Juliana Rotich, Ory Okolloh and myself.

The New TED Fellows Program

Each year TED plans to bring on 50 Fellows to attend TED and TED Global (this year there are more, as there will be another 100 Fellows at TED India). An international selection committee representing the target regions will then choose 20 Senior Fellows, who can take part in the next 3 years of TED conferences, at which point they become TED Alumni.

TED Fellows Program - flowchart

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