TEDx Manitoba

February 15, 2011

The first annual TEDxManitoba event was held yesterday at The Park Theatre here in Winnipeg, and I was privileged enough to be invited to attend!  I am so happy to have things like this start popping up locally – until about a year ago (when Pecha Kucha started happening quarterly here) there was not a great local place for intellectual networking to occur.  The first iteration of TEDxManitoba was, I’ll say, an undoubted success and I can only imagine what it will grow to become in the years to come.

I had high hopes for this event.  One quick look at the schedule got the intellectual inside of me aching for knowledge.  And was I ever satisfied.  The speakers of course were brilliant, but what I wasn’t prepared for was the brilliant minds of the peers that sat around me as well.  There was plenty of time for networking and small talk…but really the small talk was anything but small.  What a mentally exhausting (and satisfying) day – it was just nonstop.

I’ll  share a few thoughts from my notepad on things that caught my eye.  It really is only the tip of the iceberg, so do be sure to check out the talks on TED.com yourself!  Oh, and as you can see – there’s a few photos I snapped from my seat at the top of the page too!

Being a computer scientist, one of my favourite talks was given by event opener Robert Sawyer (a science fiction writer) on the non-biological acquiring consciousness.  I’ve studied artificial intelligence and ethics with regards to it thoroughly, and Robert Sawyer picked up on “the singularity” where Ray Kurzweil left off.  One interesting point that came up that I had not considered before was how our Darwinian instincts could be causing us to wrongly worry about artificial intelligence becoming dangerous.  As biological beings, the “survival of the fittest/nastiest” motto aptly applies.  A non-biological being however would not have this instinct.  An interesting thought…

I was skeptical going into Kerry Stephenson’s talk on 3d printing, thinking it to be something of science fiction, years and years away.  Boy was I wrong.  It already exists at the industrial level and likely is only ~3 years away!  Sure…it’s still the “dot matrix” era of 3d printing, but one day not so far off I’m sure it will be commonplace to print off your hardware at home rather than heading over to the hardware store.  Heck, one day I bet we’ll even be able to “print” buildings.

Karen Letourneau’s talk was…eye opening.  Karen was soft spoken on stage but passionate about her message, and was it ever received.  I have no doubt that her talk will change the world.  A lead sonographer at the St. Boniface General Hospital, she is passionate about detecting heart disease in newborns.  With basic methodologies there are always missed diagnoses and death, resulting in ~4 deaths per year just here in Manitoba a few years ago.  Karen did lots of personal research and developed a set of procedures to do to get a better picture in an ultrasound to better detect these sorts of cases.  She taught people all around Manitoba these procedures and, as a result, a LOT more of these cases have been getting caught.  In fact, last year there were NO deaths.  Pretty amazing for simply changing procedures – no money or new equipment is required, just training.  I am so happy that she spoke because I believe her procedures will start to be followed around the country, even around the world.

Len Brownlie spoke on aerodynamics with professional athletes, and how technology combined with drive can help us take things to a level previously unreachable.  What I took away from this?  Wear more tights – they aren’t just for looking good.

Phil Doucette brought his charisma to the stage.  He drew the crowd into a very personal story of his growing up and realizing that liberation cannot be without forgiveness and love – a powerful message.

Rick Van Eck’s talk was title “how video games may transform education”, but what he really was talking about was how the educational system has to change the way it evaluates children before we’re able to radically change our teaching styles.  At one point he said “…And then in the industrial revolution someone decided it would be a good idea to koop up all the kids in a room and teach to the slowest one in the class.  What a great idea that was. (heavy sarcasm here!)”.  It really is kind of ridiculous.  We need to teach to the zone of proximal development.  This means that some people will pass third grade in two months and it might take another person three years which might sound strange at first, but take a second to really think about it and I think you’ll see just how much sense it makes.  Moving in video games as a teaching tool would be a destructive technology, destroying the old system.  But who’s to say that destroying the old system isn’t a good thing?

Leslie Silverman & Columpa Bobb came over from Manitoba Theatre for Young People (MTYP) where they get to work with kids every day and get to see the creativity they are capable of.  A key point that stuck with me is that kids are consuming stories all the time (with technologies like Twitter and Facebook) and it has become even more important to encourage them to find their authentic voice/story, rather than simply regurgitating that which they read in our common ADD internet habits.

Scott Stirton spoke on where architecture was going (and believe me, it makes much more sense than where it’s been!).  The concept is intelligent buildings: buildings that interact with the environment they are a part of (much like the new Manitoba Hydro Building) to promote sustainable environment AND a more natural environment for workers.  I really like that he included the latter because I’m stuck in a cubicle with no windows most days and I crave natural light and the feeling of a breeze constantly.  I’m excited to see the emerging architecture of the coming years.

Hannah Taylor is a thirteen year old that has made more of a difference already than a lot of people I know.  At age 8 she already had started her own charity – her passion being to help the homeless of Winnipeg.  This charity has raised over 2 million dollars already, and has spurred her to write a book and speak to inspire people all over the place.  Kids like this give me so much hope when i sometimes worry about the next generation.

I sat next to Terry MacLeod (CBC radio journalist) for the majority of the conference not realizing who he was – boy did I feel foolish when he got up on stage and had an open panel discussion with three ex-gang members: Miles, Chris, and JJ.  This was an intense conversation that gave us a glimpse into the blatant problems sometimes overlooked in Winnipeg – and, more importantly, the chance for hope for individuals who have been trapped in this life.  I wish I had 1/10th of the courage of any one of these men.

Very. Rev. Fr. Bernard McCoy, O.Cist is the Superior of the Cistercian Abben in Sparta, Wisconsin and CEO of lasermonks.com – a company he built that now raises over 2.8 million dollars a year, and takes all the profits to help charitable works around the world.  He shared his experience and encouragement for social entrepreneurism.  I certainly revere this monk for his selflessness and “passing the torch of kindness.”  I particularly enjoyed that a major focus of his was that in a world where kindness is often viewed as a weak business decision, it can actually be a really good business decision because consumers aren’t dumb and have choice on where they spend their money.

I’ll leave it at that for now, I’ve still got so many thoughts percolating in my mind.  It was a great day.  TED is really all about the movement of possibility, and making the possible the ordinary.  I feel so privileged to have been part of it.  We are but the only limit to what we are capable.