OK, so here are the people and talks that I think are really worth following up form day one of TED Global. Of course the talks themselves will appear on TED.com in the future so get ahead of the curve and check them out now.
Its worth remembering that the theme for this year’s TED global is ‘and now for the good news’ finding reasons for hope and optimism for humanity.
the whole shebang kicked of with Joseph Nye – who describes himself as a rational optimism – talking about the nature of power in a World in which power transition to Asia (what Nye calls the Asian recovery) and power diffusion to non-states (driven in part by a reduction in computing costs by 1000x since 1970) are the dominant global themes. Nye advocates that we embrace the idea that the root to power is through influence not control and that ‘narratives’ are as important as tanks in winning influence on the global stage.
The star of the session for me was Sheryl WuDunn, a female rights advocate. She believes that gender inequality is the central moral challenge of our time. Not simply because brutality against women is morally wrong but because she believes women are the solution to many of the problems we face – indeed the highest return on investment in the developing world may well be in women’s education. Sheryl is the author of Half the Sky.
Naif Al-Mutawa is the creator of the 99. This is a comic series that features 99 characters each from a different country and each of which embodies one of the 99 attributes of Alah. His intention is to provide a positive view of Islam for both Muslims and non Muslims.
Nic Marks talked about Happiness and the Happy Planet Index he has created. He was inspired by Robert Kennedy who said that what frustrated him was that “GNP measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile”. According to the index the country that is most successful in converting resources into happiness is Costa Rica. He is determined that conversations about reducing our ecological footprint goes hand in hand with a fundamental improvement in our quality of life and happiness.
Matt Ridley is another rational optimist and talked about what happens when ideas have sex. His maintains that it is the act of exchange – of objects and ideas – that defines humanity, because it means that we don’t have to do and make everything that we need ourselves and he uses the example of the pencil to prove this. There is literally no one that knows how to make a pencil – no one person knows how to provide all the elements that go into the entire system that creates a pencil. This is the collective brain – the ability to do things for each other so that all of us can specialise and do the things we are best at. For Ridley this exchange is the engine of human development and what marks us apart from other species.
I love Steven Johnson and have done since he wrote the Ghost Map, an understanding of the limits of urbanisation and specifically the way in which John Snow discovered the link between cholera and poor sanitation by mapping cases in the Soho outbreak of 1854 around one water pump in Broad Street. He talked about the conditions that create great ideas or in which great ideas are born. People recalling how their ideas emerge tend to ascribe them to one ‘eureka’ moment as Darwin did about natural selection (he said it had come to him while reading Malthus). In truth ideas emerge in a much more muddled and laboured way over time and critically through connections not just between existing ideas but also between people. He has written this all up in a new book Where good ideas come from – the natural history of evolution.