TEDx McGill 2010

Technology Entertainment Design Conference http://www.ted.com/tedx
TED xMcGill http://tedxmcgill.com/
20th November, 2010

Venue: Marche Bonsecours, Old Port, Montreal, QC.

This is my First TED conference, hopefully it’ll be the first of many.
The single most important conclusion of the conference: If you have an idea that you are relentlessly curious about, invest time in pursuing it, research it with a passion, discuss it with others and most importantly: spread it.

Brett Rogers, documentary filmmaker, takes us on a journey down Cancer Alley along the Mississippi River
(The real Chris Mcandless!)

Completed three major expeditions.
1. McKenzie river
2. Yukon (100 days)
3. Mississippi River (110 days)

Three main goals
1. Engage with the locals.
2. Understand culture.
3. Document a story.

Important lessons:
“Cancer alley in the Mississippi River is a perfect example of an industrialized river. It’s an incredible glimpse into the future of the Yukon and McKenzie rivers if they were to be industrialized.
In the Mississippi, corporations act like they own the river.”
“First rule of conservation is to show people that something exists.”
“In the Yukon, The River is the grocery store”.
“We know we have to get off oil, we just have to act on it”.

Henry Mintzberg, prolific on the topic of modern management, tells us why managers need to be curious

Curious human beings learn independently rather than being taught by a teacher.
Birds, tigers, bears, wolfs and kids are all relentlessly curious.
Kids grow up and lose this curiosity as they have to deal with stress, job, transport (LIFE).
We all dream in color. We keep our relentless curiosity hidden in our brain.
Creativity is important .When kids are small they all do art, and as they grow up they learn reading and writing and lose their curiosity.
Read the article “A Curious Plan: Managing on the Twelfth Clifford” to help you get your curiosity back.
How do you reanimate Relentless Curiosity in Adults?
1. Reflect on your own natural experience.
Morning reflection, writing, thinking. Happening only become experinces if you reflect upon them thoroughly.
Most people do not accumulate a body of experience. Most people go through life undergoing a series of happenings, which pass through their systems undigested. Happenings become experiences when they are digested, when they are reflected on, related to general patterns, and synthesized.” Rules for Radicals, Saul Alinsky
“shouldn’t the best book your read be the one your write based upon your own natural experience.”
2. Roundtable sharing/ Discussion.
3. Build community learning by gathering people in circles.

Michele Morningstar discovers surprising differences in the rhythm of languages and its role in rehabilitation for aphasia patients

Studies Aphasia – an acquired language disorder in which there is an impairment of any language modality – at the Palmer Lab.
Key Points
-Melodic Intonation Therapy as a biofeedback mechanism to treat aphasia.
-Sensorimotor synchronization is a perfect way to assess perception.

François Lacoursière, Executive Vice-President and Senior partner at Sid Lee Agency, journeys into multidisciplinary teamwork

Key Points:
“Structure was never my friend. I had an unstructured childhood. I had poor school form and learned only what I was interested in. I hate Rules”
Today, Technology allows you to teach yourself. Check TED Talk by Sugatra Mitra on Education.
We live in a world of Autodidacts. These people create their own rules and do not follow structure. The Increasing number of autodidacts is changing the world.

How do you manage people that don’t want to be managed?
Organization for the self-organized? But how?
At SID LEE we have a very multidisciplinary team. Out Amsterdam office is a perfect example of an unstructured self-organized team.
“We are a bunch of improvers. Improvers always want to improve themselves and society”
“Can improvement be the ultimate management litmus test?”

Space: “Office space and décor is important. Décor allows you to speak up or shut up”.
Chaos: “You need to embrace chaos.”
Virtual Space: Quick lee website. A Facebook esque website that is built for the purpose of sharing work stories.

Amara Possian tells us how traveling to the places our families have fled can have implications for moving forward from a conflict-ridden past.

Key Point:
“Identity in the diaspora is forged out of a crisis point”.

Graham McDowell de-abstracts climate change with examples of tangible impacts affecting Arctic and Himalayan communities.

Key Points:
Climate change is a significant challenge of our time. But our representation and understanding of climate change is very abstract. It doesn’t represent effect, so we need to look at the human dimension of climate change.
(Graham is another Chris Mcandless/Into the wild type).

Lessons from Baffin island expedition. Although Climate change is making open water hunting longer, there are many disadvantages to this.
• Ice is melting. Sea ice is thinning.
• Travel roots are thus more dangerous. More time is spent finding new travel roots.
• Economic burden has also increased.

Lessons from the Himalayas expedition.
• Climate change is causing erosion of agricultural land
• Fertility of soil is decreasing
• There is less winter snowfall
• The intensity of precipitation has increased. This has significant effects on agriculture.
• Seeds are damaged.
• There are less resources to the locals to generate cash income.

Conclusion: Climate change has long term adverse effects on human communities.
“De-abstracting climate change is an idea of hope”

Com Mirza, serial entrepreneur, turns his eye to how our time spent online can save one million lives

Has 12,000+ followers on twitter. His mission is to save 1 million lives. He continuously researches foundation leaders like GATEs, Acumenfund, Mo Younes.

Important Lessons:
“If you think you are too small to make in impact, try going to sleep with a mosquito in the room.”
“Learn by doing. Get it right by doing”.
“What can the average peron do to get himself heard? Align yourself with similar minded people and SPEAK IN UNISON”.
“Technology is a tool to spread you message. (Obama is a perfect example. YES WE CAN). How we use these tools can save lives and change the world.

Bree Akesson discovers just how important a “sense of place” is for children affected by war.

(A very poignant lesson about children affected by war with a particular focus on Palestinians. YES!!!)

Important lessons:
“Children are always yearning to return home. Place attachment and familiarity provide safety and stability for children to survive and thrive.”

“Home, School and the Child’s Play Space are significant for the formation of a child identity.”

Palestinians have an intense connection to place passed on from generation to generation. The symbol of the key is an important symbol for their sense of place. The absence of place is an important part of their self-identity.

School is very important in times of war. The first places hit during recent conflicts were schools. Nonetheless, imformal schools were created.
Despite being faced by adversity in times of war children still survive and thrive in times of war.

Jonathan Emile, cancer survivor, composer-poet & performer, discusses social consciousness, art and the healing power of music.
An excellent rapper who raps about hope.
In his words: “MUSIC IS POWERFUL”

Salma Moolji shares an outlook full of promise as she opens a school for abused girls in the slums of Nicaragua.

Another poignant session about abuse within Nicaraguan culture.
Important lesson: “Ideas shouldn’t be separated from culture”

Jonathan Glencross, the student behind McGill’s $2.5M Sustainability Projects Fund, tells us why making change doesn’t have to mean being miserable

A Brilliant Undergraduate student. Riveting talk, unfortunately not much recorded.

Key points:
“How can we create a culture of sustainability”.

Two challenges:
1. Community building
2. Engagement

“We have to study environment to affect change.”
“Universities are very resilient”.

Gregory Dudek explains why amphibious robots have a hard time with underwater vacations

(AMAZING TALK!!! Near the end of the day, general idea not entirely understood.)

1. Vacation pictures
2. Skin cancer
3. Space exploration
4. Scientific discourse
5. SETI: Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

Connection: looking for something novel.

Scientific data collection:
1. You cant work alone,
2. Lots of analysis
3. Hard to access
Ex. Combinatorial biosynthesis, collecting data on mars, northernmost field center (McGill).

“Explorers must find and also SELECT. Careful SELECTION is what good explorers do.”

Think of a device that cause generate a Navigation summary.
These navigation summaries can be based on geographic, visual and sensory data.
So, how do you describe images, how to you select highlights?
COMPUTER SCIENCE ALGORITHMS. The more sophisticated they get, the better their application.
Example of application: surveillance, planter exploration.

Here is a problem that can be solved by AI: How do you hire1 person on the spot from a pool of 100 applicants of that you can only meet once?
Answer: The lake Wobegon hiring theory. (Strong women, good looking men and above average children). Hire people better than your current average. Disadvantage: you will hire fewer and fewer people. Advantages: team gets better. Example: Google.

Other AI applications:
Google street view: summarizes what camera is seeing
AUQA robots: to assess highlights underwater. How do you design such a robot? Work with humans to assess what they need an like and incorporate this in to the design (Servo based robots).

Amruth Bagali Ravindranath demos a new tool integrating cognitive science and artificial intelligence that adapts to the way you learn

What is the best way to design games?
How do you put wonder back into the center of education?
1. Give students emotional and intellectual stimulation.
2. Build games that add wonder. Here a great disadvantage is that the teacher is not involved.
How do reintroduce the teacher back into teaching?
Design games based on the concept of blogging, ie. User genereated content.
“ we need to democratize the process of animation. We need to do to interactive educational content what blogger did to writing”.

AUTOMATED ADAPTATION: Teacher + technology = adaptive education.

Derek Ruths shows, with evidence from biological cells, Roman roads, and social systems, how understanding interconnectivity can help us predict behavior

Hands down, The BEST TALK OF THE DAY!!

STRUCTURE MATTERS: interconnectivity of structure and function.
Structure tells a lot about function.
“Complex living systems from cells to social system exhibit behavior.”
Why predict behavior of such complex systems?
1. Tangible benefits: health, economy, happiness.
2. To build better and more sustainable societies.

Why study structure?
We know little about genetic behavior (on or off) and little about how societies form.
But, we know a lot about their structure.

-Predicting drugs effects on cancer cells. This predicative analysis using structural information is a quick way to evaluate from hundreds of candidates. We can use computational structural analysis to predict the function of a drug.

-Roads in antiquity: Structure can also be used to understand human behavior.
You can look at how a society works just by looking at its road system.
Political, economic, cultural, lingual and ancient systems are all encode din road structures.
Roads structures also encode social phenomena.

So how can we use these ideas to better our societies?

Mapping Social networks. Relationships are very complex. We know little about their detail (how old, how strong) and a lot about their structure (information from Facebook, twitter, etc).

How do you use structure to understand how people form relationships?
How often are people meeting through mutual friends?

FACEBOOK. More friendships occur through mutual friends than twitter.

Structure matters. Structure is a reliable indicator about function. Objects DO function as a result of their structure.
Examples: Spoons, cells, roads, social networks,


Lee Park builds musical performances piece by piece

A very talented Violnist that records and plays music on the go.

Ian Gold explains that we need to move “beyond the brain” in order to understand it

(BRAIN TALK. The one I’ve been waiting for).
If you want to understand yourself, then you must understand your brain.
There are close to 30,000 books about the brain currently published. This overwhelming focus on the brain has a downside.
To understand the brain, look outside it, look at your social environment.

Chloropromazine: released during peak of Freudian psychology. Decreases the effect of schizophrenia.
– As a result, SSRI’s have solidified the idea of brain pathology.
– Models of severe mental illness don’t have much meaning anymore.
– Nonetheless, We can’t understand the disease just by looking at the neurophysiology.

Tenptine: increases serotonin, decreases serotonin????!?!?! Not sure of mechanism.
(Check the Truman show movie. Delusion caused by culture. )

We have to look at mental illness differently.
Schizophrenia: caused genes, brain, social world.
Social world plays a significant role in mental illness.
– Dead parents
– Bullying
– Living in big cities
– Immigration (stressful experience)
– Racism (Discrimination and racism are mental health experiences).

The brain does not live in vacuum. The brain lives in an environment.
There is a revolution about to occur in Neuroscience.
Brain science will explain the mind, it will explain what makes us human. It will explain what really makes us tick.

The framework of science is evolutionary theory,
The virture of the world the creature lives in is the driver.
At the very heart of biology you must understand the organism and the conversation it is having with everything else.

Go beyond the brain and ask Why

The Organizing team

Compiled with a passion by Ahmad KANAAN, November 20, 2010.


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