Five sparky ideas from a revolutionary talkfest
If the weekend of provocative public talks TEDxSydney accepted your application to be part of their 800-strong audience, then like me, you would have had the privilege of spending your Saturday sitting in a dark room listening to lecturers talk about their work.
However if you didn’t make the cut, or couldn’t afford the $160 entrance fee, you’d have been more than welcome to camp out in the hall with the rest of the plebs. The lectures and performances are broadcast free and speakers happily participate in lively Q&A sessions with their eager audience.
TEDxSydney, the local incarnation of the wildly successful TED events (TED standing for Technology, Entertainment and Design), was held at Carriageworks in Sydney over the weekend. Billed as “the ultimate brain spa”, participants were treated to performances from Tim Freedman and Katie Noonan, along with thought-provoking ideas from architects, philosophers and social entrepreneurs.
Of course the true genius of TED is that in between the lectures, the carefully curated audience members are herded into a giant room, plied with fantastic food and encouraged to “start a conversation with someone you don’t know”.
Here are the sparkiest ideas from this year’s event:
‘Flipping’ teachers the keys
Chris Anderson is venerated in the Cult of TED. The Oxford-trained philosopher and journalist used this year’s conference to introduce TED-Ed, a free online archive of animated videos that can be used by teachers to transmit key concepts.
Professional animators from around the world volunteer their time to help teachers translate their lessons into interactive videos which can then be viewed by students in their own time.
Multiple-choice questions check that students are learning and while faster students can use the site as a launch pad to explore a world of related topics, slower students can rewind as many times as they need to understand the lesson.
Best of all, the website allows teachers all over the world to change the title or questions in any TED-Ed video and re-publish it themselves. The videos can be customised to suit the class, and teachers can track their students’ progress through the video’s unique URL.
“Everything that TED has achieved thus far has happened by throwing the keys to other people,” Anderson says. TED-Ed is certainly an example of that.
Killing the ‘green vomit’
GetUp! co-founder Jeremy Heimans wants consumers to be more “irrational”.
Despite the fact that 75 per cent of people say they intend to switch to green products, consumers repeatedly choose price over environmental credentials, and only two per cent will actually put their money where their mouth is.
Meanwhile, the word “green” has become so mainstream that it no longer means anything. A quick Google of the word throws up an endless “green vomit” of vaguely leafy logos, and consumers have become increasingly wary of “green-washing”.
While we wait for technological advances and government regulation to level the playing field for green products, Heiman thinks that environmentally-friendly products need to tap into different, more irrational instincts to encourage consumers to buy green.
The dawn of quantum computing?
Quantum computers have long been seen as science fiction - fun to think about, but frankly, not particularly practical.
That could be about to change.
In February this year, Professor Michelle Simmons, physicist at UNSW and 2011 NSW Scientist of the year led a team of international scientists who successfully created a working single-atom transistor.
Computers that are able to crunch through reams of data at quantum speed would revolutionise everything from weather predictions to data encryption, and while Professor Simmons’ achievement is still just a proof-of-concept, her breakthrough could herald a new age of quantum computing.
Renovating and integrating with Asia
Tim Soutphommasane grew up in Cabramatta and still remembers the giant gateway with the inscription exhorting citizens “to be renovative and integate”.
The Oxford-educated philosopher reckons it’s advice that Australians would do well to consider.
New migrants are urged to assimilate, but multiculturalism is a two way street, and Soutphommasane says that Asia has plenty to teach Australians.
Confucianism is a good counterpoint to Western notions of family, while Asia’s nascent struggles with democracy give us a chance to reflect on the health of our own political system.
As Australia strides into the Asian century, Soutphommasane argues that we need to rethink who’s doing the renovating, and who’s doing the integrating.
Taking play seriously
Psychologist Evan Kidd never had an imaginary friend but he wishes he did.
The senior lecturer at ANU has written over 40 scientific papers, but his research on imaginary friends is by far the most famous.
Some 65 percent of children have them at some point, and children with imaginary friends are more creative and have better language skills.
As US schools cancel recess to try to cram in more learning, Kidd reminds us of the value of letting kids be kids. “We need to start taking play a bit more seriously,” he says.
Which begs the question: “Where can I buy an imaginary friend?”
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