A 30 Second TEDTalk

Imagine a future when you could put on one of Hugh Herr’s robotic biomechatronic exoskeletons and instantly do acrobatics. Imagine shredding slopes like Shaun White. Pair this with a Chris Klewe style augmented reality football visor so you could see real time stats and visualizations of your new iron man esque skills. Thinking farther future, you might pop some Negroponte knowledge pills and Kurzwifi neuro nanobots so you can instantly calculate new tricks, download the latest apps and stream your adventures first person from glass and the drones filming you from above.

Surprise this morning. I was invited to share a 30 second neural avalanche onstage at TED 2014. Opening the final day. This references a few favorite wild and forward thinking presentations from this week which I look forward to rewatching. Because awesome.

Extraordinary life. Wonderful times. Viva TED.

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What’s the best thing you’ve ever spent money on? Experience

I opened Quora on my iPhone the other morning and saw this question and suddenly felt an urge to answer. Odyssey on the fly

What’s the best thing you’ve spent money on?

Amy Robinson, idea machine Edit Bio

TED.

I spent every penny I had (and then some) getting to a TED Conference when I was 24. It changed my life.

I was organizing a TEDx in Huntsville, Alabama, where I’m from, when I learned that in order to have more than 100 people at your event you have to go to TED. Like, go to TED. Real people actually do that and you can too.

At the time I was working in environmental management and bartending on the side i.e. not your typical millionaire attendee. It was April, my TEDx was slated for November and TEDGlobal was happening in early June. TED Registration was closed so even if I could have afforded it, I couldn’t  apply.

Then came Tod, a now close friend and mentor at TEDxAtlanta who I reached out to for advice. We talked extensively and he convinced me that I should do everything in my power to go. He wrote letters to TED on my behalf and landed a nonprofit rate (yes it exists; you can only use it once in your life). I spent everything in my savings to buy that ticket. I had to fly standby because I couldn’t afford a real flight.

I don’t really know how to explain it..the sheer joy, inspiration and openness of ideas that is TED. Big ideas from the stage coupled with extraordinary audience members is the perfect storm with which to disrupt yourself. Conversations blew my mind. I talked with executives, researchers, explorers, entrepreneurs..I met people from all walks of life from all over the world, something I had not much been exposed to while growing up in Alabama.

TED audience members are all people who go to great lengths and expense to immerse themselves in Ideas Worth Spreading. I was nervous and intimidated but I forced myself to suck it up and walk up to strangers and ask them things like “What talks inspired you most?” In part because one of the first interactions I had at TED was with a stranger who walked up, said hello then asked point blank “so what inspires you?” So..that can happen. It helped me realize I can catalyze amazing, thoughtful conversations by asking intimate, important questions. TED was the perfect environment for it. I learned never to be intimidated and to just relax and talk about ideas that matter. The editor of WIRED and Shell’s Sustainability Director are all people, too, and if you just ask interesting questions with an open mind, they might surprise you with perspectives you never even imagined.

I realized how little I knew about the world and how much, even in my state of perpetual optimism, I had underestimated the infinite opportunities in it. TED connected me with ideas and people that have helped shape who I am today. Involvement in TED and my expansion into TEDx has heavily influenced how I organize projects and even got me into crowd sourcing, which I now do for MIT. It is my duty to use my time here on Earth to make it a better place and TED has played an instrumental role in shaping how I take action along those ideas.

Now, three years later, I am Creative Director of EyeWire, a game to map the brain at Sebastian Seung’s Lab. I met Sebastian at TED. I started the TEDx Global Music Project — it was catalyzed in part by TED. I cannot quantify the multitude of things that this engagement has brought to my life.  I’ve kept going to TED and expanded to TEDMED and many TEDxes.

I wrote this story out because TED can be anything. I followed my passion for ideas and caliber conversations and I invested everything so that I could take action – it started because I wanted to put on a big TEDx event. You can find your TED (and it may be cheaper!) and when you do, I hope you have someone like my friend Tod to tell you to throw caution to the wind go for it. And if you don’t, I will be that person for you. My email is neurons@mit.edu. If you ever need encouragement to be brave, drop me a line.

You must take risks. I overdrafted my bank account while at TED (ahh FML but it was worth every penny I didn’t have). My parents had to wire money over because I didn’t even have a credit card. That’s the TED attendee story you don’t hear! Money is a means to experience. I don’t buy prada bags. I buy plane tickets. It’s true. Put your pocketbook where your heart is — better, where your head is. Invest in your passion. I use my money, limited as it may be, to facilitate action, interaction, collaboration, side projects and I rarely live a day without experiencing awe at just how much my life has changed since I signed away my savings to attend a dreamy conference in England..

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The TED Conference 2012

Think of TED as a marathon for your mind.  Over the course of a week, roughly 100 presenters from around the world deliver power-packed presentations lasting 18 minutes or less.  Topics range from quadrotor flying robots to the abundant future of humanitybasic human rights to next-generation liquid metal batteries.  And that’s just the first session.

 

TED is a brain spa.  The main TED Conference hosts 1,500 attendees in Long Beach, California.  600 additional TEDsters gather for a simulcast event known as TEDActive in Palm Springs.  So maybe it’s a brain rave.  Heavenly perspective with the world’s big thinkers.  A little known sentiment among attendees is that meeting other people at TED is the best part of attending – even better than the talks is interacting with the audience.

‘TEDTalks set the atmosphere for you to jump in and engage with people you’ve just met.  You can feel like you’ve known for someone for years when really it’s been only a few minutes,” says one attendee.

This is one of many reasons thousands of people shell out thousands of dollars on an annual basis to immerse themselves in the hybrid reality that is TED.  Innovation comes alive.

What is it like to walk into TED?  Look up and you see a rainbow made of thread.  To the right, custom prosthetics printed in 3D via additive manufacturing. There’s a Google Garage; AutoDesk’s history of the universe; Target Idea/Paper Airplane Factory; Music Genomic Sequencing; TEDBookshop, Coffee Commons’ endless espresso and numerous lounges stacked cushily with the latest Steelcase designs.  These spaces are designed to germinate ideas.  A single conversation, for example, may include Peter Diamandis of XPRIZE, Jesse Dylan of Wondros Films and Jay Walker of Priceline and TEDMED.

Finally, a quick rundown of my favorite presenters from TED2012:

  • Peter Diamandis:  Our world is fueled with abundance. Rather than lamenting potential future catastrophies, how can we empower the billions of new minds coming online with the priceless treasure that is the internet?  A passionate case for optimistic possiblism.
  • Ed Glaeser, Harvard:  Globalization has increased the value of being intelligent.  Cities boast benefits ranging from higher incomes to lower infant mortality rates.  Most importantly, cities are a place to evolve culture.  As humans, we need to be immersed in innovation – cities allow us to experience and learn from the mistakes, failures, and successes of others.
  • Andrew Stanton, Pixar:  When you’re telling a story, invoke wonder.  Elegance is the ability to tell a story without dialogue and is a central tenet to Pixar’s success in making animated features mainstream.  Pixar abides by the Unifying Theory of 2+2, meaning that the audience should put things together.  Don’t give people 4, give them 2 + 2.  Make people think; make the story worth your audience’s time.
  • Michael Tilson Thomas, Conductor:  Music is a new language and it has something powerful to say about what it means to be alive.  Factoids:  The earliest recorded music in history is from around 200 BC and was inscribed on a Greek tombstone.   Music “notes” were first seen in the 13th century as lines on a page.  Recording technology emerged in the 1880′s and forever revolutionized music such that suddenly songs could exist even when there were no musicians in the room.
  • Regina Dugan, Director of DARPA:  Believe in impossible things. Failure is key to success.  Case in point:  6 out of the first 8 rockets blew up on the pad.  ”There is only time to iron your cape..and it’s back to the sky for you.” Regina shared amazing technology inspired by biological systems such asadhesives akin to gecko feet and hummingbird spy drones.
  • Tali Sharot, Cognitive Neuroscientist: Optimism changes subjective reality.  It is a motivation to action.  If we expect to do well, stress and anxiety are reduced, resulting in positive health benefits.  Quoting Henry Ford, “Whether you believe you can or cannot, you’re probably right.”
  • Taylor Wilson, 17 year old scientist:  At 14 years old, he built a nuclear fusion reactor in his garage.  Enough said.
  • David Kelley, Founder of IDEO: ‘We’re focused on human-centered design: designing behaviors and personality into products.”  Everyone is innately creative.  Unlock it and let your ideas fly.  Case study of creative success:  an fMRI machine at a children’s hospital had to sedate children 80% of the time for them to be still enough for successful scans.  The team reimagined design into a pirate cave.  Operators were trained by museum guides to bring kids into a game where they had to lay very still so pirates didn’t find them.  Results?  After the fMRI turned playful, only 10% of kids had to be sedated.
  • Joshua Foer, Memory Champion: Remember better by taking information lacking context and creating a framework so that it becomes meaningful.  Josh brings to the table important considerations about what we miss by not deeply processing interactions with others.  What do we lose when we constantly tweet, text, check facebook etc. in stead of engaging with the person across the table?
  • Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Prize Winner: Leymah shares heart wrenching stories of women in Liberia.  We sometimes lose focus on the world outside our sphere, a world where, for example, a girl may get a scholarship only to find out that she must repeatedly have sex with the department chair if she wishes to keep it.  We have the power to change this world by giving a voice to the silenced and providing education scholarships to girls worldwide.
  • Brene Brown, Vulnerability Researcher: Final speaker at TED.  Outstanding presentation met by thunderous applause.  Rene speaks toward the importance of being vulnerable.  She asks “How do we learn to embrace our vulnerabilities and imperfections so that we can engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness?”  In the spirit of TED, failure is necessary.  We will fail repeatedly in the process of success.  Those who take failure and cultivate courage, compassion and connection are the ones who are able to derive true meaning and joy from life.
 
 

And that’s a wrap.  Or is it.  The notorious “TED Hangover” has come and gone (#firstworldproblem: TED’s wonder seemingly surpasses reality and generally leaves attendees with a sinking feeling – the hangover – of returning home to the real world).  The question now is “what’s next?”  How do I turn these great ideas and phenomenal interactions into meaningful outputs?  How will this year’s TED shape the way I perceive future challenges?  I am inspired, invigorated, motivated by the abundance of great minds in today’s world.

As we learned from Ed Glaeser, urbanization increases both the true and perceived value of intelligence.  With this in mind, I challenge you to TEDify your life by participating in the 2012 TEDPrize:  The City 2.0.  Lead your community to the future you imagine.

Now I venture again out into the real world of thought and action, perhaps most inspired by a conversation starter which I humbly acquired at TED.  A stranger walked up to me, looked at my name badge and said “Hi, Amy.  So tell me, what inspires you?”

This is how I learned it is possible to have a deeply meaningful conversation with a stranger.  It is also possible to reconnect with the person you’ve known for years in a completely new way.  Today, this week, this year, try something new.  Dive straight into who you’re speaking with.  Strive to make every conversation worthy of TED.  Enbrace with daring courage the potential that someone will shut down your curiosity.   Embrace also that that person may tilt her head, be silent for a moment, then share something amazing that changes the way you think for the rest of your life.

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