Watching TED Global 2012 Streamed Live From Edinburgh

TED Global 2012

TED Global 2012

Today I attended a virtual TED session at Kennisnet in Zoetermeer. Kennisnet has a TED Live membership and hosted a few guests on their verdieping. I watched two sessions of about six talks each streamed straight from Edinburgh. Below my semi-live blog with the things that triggered me.

Shades of Openness

Chris Anderson kicked of this session on radical transparency (one of my favourite topics) by saying that transparency is a great driver of moral progress, but that it is also easy to get carried away by it. This session thus also presented some of the darker sides of openness.

Malte Spitz has a lot of courage: he has a significant stutter, but was still on stage talking about the power of mobile phones. He talked about the EU data detention directive which tells providers that they have to store the data of their customers for months on end. There have been a lot of protests against this. Spitz asked his telecome provider Deutsche Telecom multiple times to give him all the data that they stored about him. They wouldn’t send him the information, so he took them to court. The court case was settled and Deutsche Telecom gave him 35830 lines of information (basically six months of his life) on a CD. He decided to make this information public to show people what data retention truly means. He visualised it in a scary way:

Malte Spitz' data

Malte Spitz’ data

This shows that if you have access to this information you can control your society. He considers it a blueprint for countries like Iran and the future of a surveillance society. States love this type of information. Privacy is not an outdated concept and should continue to be a value in this 21s century. Spitz says we have to contineously remind ourselves and our friends to fight for our self-determination in this digital age.

Spitze’s talk reminded me that I still have not published the results of my Privacy Inzage Machine exercise that did a few months back. I should really make an effort to get this online.

Ivan Krastev is a political theorist from Bulgaria talking about the crisis of democracy. He wants to question the popular belief that transparency and openness will fix our democratic problems. He questioned the optimism of the “Church of TED” and contrasted it with “the most pessimistic country in the world”: Bulgaria. He wants to know how come we live in societies that are much free-er than before while at the same time having lost our faith in the democratic institutions and trust in politics. One issue he sees is the huge increase of unequality in our societies.

With a transparent government we might get into a situation where we have a “reverse 1984”: all of us monitoring the politicians. What would that mean? When we put all our politicians under the microscope will consistency become more important than common sense? Politics is about people changing their views. Will that become harder? We should also remember that any unveilling is also a veilling: there will always be things that people will hold back. Maybe the best way to shut people up is to publish everything they say on the Internet.

Gerard Senehi is an experimental mentalist. He performed a few relatively lame illusions around telekinesis and mind-reading. I guess this was the entertainment part of this session.

Gabriella Coleman is a digital anthropologist. She has been studying Anonymous for the last three years doing “ethnographic diplomacy”. According to her it is very hard to answer the simple question: Who/what is anonymous? One of their more famous campaigns was Operation Payback, but they also consist of smaller groups like LulzSec and Antisec. In general she would describe anonymous as irreverent. Slowly the movement has become more politicised which probably started with their “ultra-coordinated motherfuckery” around Scientology.

Anonymous scales and is participatory; it is not simply hackers. To become anonymous you only have to self-identify as being anonymous. Anonymous may seem chaotic, but most targets are not random. They put on a good performance, obvious even to their detractors. They are a formidable PR machine that becomes a PR nightmare for others. Their political art is that of the spectacle. They dramatize the importance of anonimity and pricavy in an era when both are rapidly eroding. There visible and invisible.

What is their future? They’ve been plagued with government crackdowns and brand fatigue, but she believes that there will continue to be a group of people who care to protect the Internet and who might fight back when some forces and institutions are trying to erode the power of the net. As an aside: Wired has just published a good article on Anonymous too.

Walid al-Saqaf a journalist and TED fellow has developed a program called Alkasir that is designed to map and circumvent censorship in countries that censor the Internet. He shared some stats from the usage of his program: around 90% is Facebook usage.

Leslie T. Chang is a journalist who has spend a great deal of time talking to the people who make the things we use everyday: the factory workers making our running shoes or our phones. She says that our usual narrative equating Western greed to Chinese suffering is way too simple. Chinese workers are not forced into factories because of our insatiable demand for iPads, they migrate away from the countryside towards the big cities looking for a larger life. We shouldn’t think that we can know what the individuals making up what we see as the labouring masses are really thinking. Very few of them want to go back to the way things used to be.

I thought Chang’s talk itself mainly showed her prejudices going into this assignment: of course each of these factory workers has their individual life consisting of dreams and ambitions. Why wouldn’t they have? And yes, of course there is upwards mobility. But is that really the most interesting thing you can say about globalisation after spending two years talking to these people?

Neil Harbisson cannot see color (he is totally color blind, everything he sees is grey). He wears a device he calls the eyeborg allowing him to hear color. He created an electronic eye in 2003 that transforms light frequencies into tones allowing him to hear those tones using bone conduction. After wearing it for a while it became a true extension of his brain. Life has changed a lot for him now that he sees color. Visiting a supermarket is like going to a nightclub. He now dresses in a way that “sounds good”. During the talk he was dressed in “C-major” and he goes to funerals dressed in “B-minor”. He can use food to create melodies so that he can “eat songs”. When he meets people he likes to create sound portraits of them, finding for example eyes that sound similar. An interesting secondary effect is that normal sounds started to sound like colors. So he has created paintings from songs or from speeches. He can differentiate 360 colors (all degrees from the colour wheel), but he can also hear infrared and ultraviolet which are frequencies that normal people can’t see. He has started the cyborg foundation trying to encourage people to extend their senses through devices like eyeborgs, noseborgs, earborgs and fingerborgs.

Wonderful talk! I would love to make “extending your sensory perception” an informal research theme going forward. It reminded me of the Wired story about the haptic compass. Is there anybody who is willing to lend me some extra-sensory perception gear? Maybe something to be made in the Amsterdam Hackerspace Technologia Incognita? Here is an interesting blog belonging to the Extra Senses, Extra Interference research group at the Interfaculty ArtScience in The Hague.

Misbehaving Beautifully

Sarah Caddick introduced the topic of the talks in this session: they all relate to the brain in some way.

Read Montague is a reformed computational neuroscientist. He talked about what we can now do with fMRI technology. It has allowed us to study human beings to isolate mental functions. His research uses economic games (like the ultimatum game) and measures the cognitive apparatus that people use when they play these games. He has created technology to synchronize multiple fMRI machines and link them together on the net. For the first time we can now measure interacting brains simultaneously.

Elyn Saks is an academic with chronic schizophrenia. She described a psychotic episode she had years ago. She had delusions, hallucinations and weird/loose associations and was hospitalized in a psychiatric institution where she was restrained for many hours on end on many days. She wrote a paper about physical restraints and now is pro-psychiatry and anti-force. She also described how she tried to get off medication and what negative effects this had. Why is she able to address us like this today:

  1. She has had excellent treatment
  2. She has many friends that know her and know her illnesses and support her
  3. She works at an accomodating and even supportive workplace

But even though she has these three things, the stigma against mental illness is still so strong that it took her a long time before she was willing to talk about her schizophrenia in public. She asks us to stop criminalizing mental ilness (with the LA County Jail being the US’ largest mental institution) and to know that there aren’t schizophrenics, instead there are people with schizophrenia.

Ruby Wax started by thanking the creators of the chemicals that allow her to function. Without them she doubts she would have been able to conquer her depression. She had a terrible bout of depression and was institutionalized with the “other inmates”. She got very little support from the outside world, just a few calls telling her to “perk up”. How come we don’t get sympathy when our brains aren’t working properly? According to her there is a mismatch between how we are hardwired biologically and what modern life is throwing at us. This is why our pets are happier than us. She started a project/website titled Black Dog Tribe with the motto: Mental illness does not discriminate, it does stigmatise.

Vikram Patel talked about a life expectancy gap between people with a mental ilness and people without one: in developed countries this is 20 years, in developing countries this is worse. Many people all over the world don’t get the treatment they need. There isn’t enough mental health professionals in the developing world. He found books on task-shifting in health (like this one) and on the basis of that created the concept of SUNDAR:

Simplify the message
UNpack the treatment
Deliver it where people are
Affordable and available human resources
Reallocation of specialists to train and supervise

With SUNDAR ordinary people are taught how to deliver health and psychiatric services. To help this end forward he started a movement for global mental health.

Wayne McGregor talked a bit about the body as a very literate entity and proprioception. He then live-choreographed a piece of dance inspired by the T from the TED logo and had two dancer interpret his movement into movement themselves. Fascinating to see a choreochrapher in action, I can’t remember seeing that before.

The Quantified Self and What it Means for Learning

In early April I presented (in Dutch) at the e-Learning Event about the quantified self and learning. I have now translated the slides into English as I think the topic is important enough. The presentation explains (in five parts) why the quantified self movement will have big consequences for how we will learn in the future. You can download a full resolution PDF file, watch a video (with slides) in Dutch or watch it on SlideShare:

Below an outline of the presentation and links to all the sources I used.

Innovation

A short explanation about what an innovation manager does and how an innovation funnel works.

Scenarios

The scenario process is explained and the four scenarios that were create at the Online Educa workshop are presented.

Sources

Quantified Self

The history of the quantifying yourself (and the scientist and artists experimenting with it) is shown. Consumer products show that it is now not only scientist and artist anymore.

Sources

Learning

An exploration about what the quantified self might mean for learning (in organisations).

Sources

Risks

There are risks around measuring yourself.

Sources

Dutch Presentation about the Quantified Self (Leren is Meten Weten)

I presented the following keynote (in Dutch) at the the e-Learning Event 2012 (an English version of this message is available here):

Deze presentatie legt in vijf delen uit waarom de trend om jezelf te meten (quantified self) grote gevolgen gaat hebben voor hoe wij in de toekomst gaan leren (je kunt de presentatie ook als PDF downloaden en dan werken de overlay quotes bij de foto’s wel of je kunt een opname van de hele keynote bekijken):

Innovatie

Een korte uitleg over wat een innovatie manager doet en over de innovatie funnel.

Scenario’s

Het scenario proces wordt uitgelegd en de vier scenarios die uit een workshop op de Online Educa zijn gekomen worden toegelicht.

Bronnen

Quantified Self

De geschiedenis van de trend om jezelf te meten wordt uit de doeken gedaan. Met consumentenvoorbeelden is te zien dat het niet meer alleen voor wetenschappers en artiesten is weggelegd.

Bronnen

Leren

Een verkenning van wat de Quantified Self trend kan betekenen voor leren (in organisaties).

Bronnen

Risico’s

Er kleven ook risico’s aan jezelf meten.

Bronnen

Presentatie

De volledige presentatie kan hier als PDF gedownload worden.

Right to Be Forgotten: Forgiveness or Censorship

Meg Ambrose and Jill van Matre, two lawyers and privacy policy thinkers, hosted a conversation in which from the outset there was the ambition to answer some of the following questions:

  • Is forgiving and forgetting worth protecting in the digital age?
  • How does the Right to be Forgotten work in EU member countries?
  • Does the First Amendment prevent any possibility of a Right to be Forgotten in the US?
  • How does time change the value of information?
  • Can anything ever really be deleted from the Internet?

From the online summary of the session:

The digital age has eternalized information that was once fleeting, and the Right to be Forgotten has gained traction in the EU. A controversial aspect of these rights is that truthful, newsworthy information residing online may be removed after a certain amount of time in an attempt to make the information private again. Two compelling camps have arisen: Preservationists and Deletionists. Preservationists believe the web offers the most comprehensive history of humanity ever collected and feel a duty to protect digital legacies without censorship. Deletionists argue that the web must learn to forget in order to preserve vital societal values and that threats to the dignity and privacy of individuals will create an oppressive networked space.

The Starwars Kid: undeletable

The Starwars Kid: undeletable

They kicked off the conversation with the example of a girl in college who did somebody stupid which was posted on Facebook and surfaced 6 years later. We were also asked to remember our most embarassing moment and then imagine that being posted on the Internet and showing up as the first result on a search for your name. They then handed out a roadmap for the discussion (which I think some of the other discussion sessions could have used).

Forgetting is incredibly important to our emotional health. How human do we want our technologies to be? This becomes more important now that it is becoming harder to keep yourself out of the online context and are forced to live some of your civic life online. Digital life is also core to our expression rights. Somebody in the audience had a disability with his hands. He is now scared to post pictures of himself online being happy, because they might take his disability insurance away if he doesn’t look “disabled” enough.

In general the tone of the discussion seemed to be very pro right-to-forget (so deletionist). One German lady brought in the perspective of her press job. The press is very nervous about how this right will be used to censor the press.

My personal question on this topic relates to the ability to reinvent yourself. This will become much harder once everybody has something like a “Facebook timeline”. The assumption behind this seems to be that people don’t change and that identity is a constant concept. This semi-objective (it still is a subjective lens) digital history might become the single source of truth about who you are.

There are a lot of behaviours and social norms that are coming through that are helping us cope with this situation. There are also options to enforce law with forced technological solutions.

Access, Trust and Freedom: Coordinates for the Future Internet

I am now in Bucharest, Romania at the INET Conference organised by the Internet Society (ISOC). The Internet Society:

[brings] together Members, Chapters, and partners [and] is at the center of the largest global network of people and organizations focused on ensuring the Internet continues to evolve as a platform for innovation, collaboration, and economic development. By tackling issues at the intersection of technology, policy, and education, [they] work collaboratively to preserve and protect the multistakeholder model of development and management that has been key to the Internet’s success.

The one day conference, titled “Access, Trust and Freedom: Coordinates for the Future Internet” had the following topics:

  • Internet access in Romania (from a national and international perspective)
  • Trust and Privacy
  • Freedom of speech
  • The future of the Internet

Opening

The day opened with a short speech in Romanian by Emil Zahan, Director of Cabinet of the Romanian Ministry of Communications. I missed picking up the headsets with the simultaneous translation, so I am not sure what he talked about. Neelie Kroes had recorded a video message for the conference. This is now the third time I have looked at Kroes’ big blown-up face talking about broadband access, privacy, e-inclusion and how there has to be a balance in rights and freedoms on the net. I am not sure that this is an effective way of getting her message out or influencing stakeholders.

Protection, Trust, Privacy: Can we have it all?

View on Bucharest from the Eight Floor of the Palace of the Parliament

View on Bucharest from the Eight Floor of the Palace of the Parliament

After a morning session about Internet in Romania (did you know Romania has the fourth fastest broadband access in the world?) and a very quick visit to the baffling and partly obscene Palace of the Parliament, I attended a panel session about trust and privacy.

According to one of the panelist “privacy” is recognized as a universal right in the Declaration of Human Rights, but there is no universally recognized definition of what “privacy” is.

The stage was set by the CEO of Bitdefender who made us all realise that consumers have no idea about how vulnerable they are and where the problem might lie. There was a lot of discussion about whether educating citizens would be helpful. I personally don’t believe this at all and think most of the speakers underestimated the need for solid architecture that enables smart behaviour by users of Information Technology.

The panelist were too diverse to come to any real discussion. One of them was a policy adviser who had to read from a script, the next person was partly responsible for Romania’s network security and he kept warning people that they need to be aware. A technical director from Microsoft assured us that Microsoft is on top of all the Net’s problems (“probably the only major IT vendor”). The only person who was refreshingly straight in making his point was Professor Joseph Cannataci who clearly had a much better understanding of a problem as whole than his fellow panelist and the audience (not that he had any straightforward answers on how to solve the conundrum).

Scenarios for the Internet of tomorrow

Spread over the day the organisers showed the four scenarios for the future of the Internet that have come out of their scenario planning exercise. You can watch the trailer here:

All videos can be seen on this page. Which scenario tickles your fancy and which one do you think is the most likely to be the outcome in ten years?

Tomorrow…

There will be a workshop for ISOC chapters. Expect another post!