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The interspecies internet? An idea in progress… Apes, dolphins and elephants are animals with remarkable communication skills. Could the internet be expanded to include sentient species like them? A new and developing idea from a panel of four great thinkers — dolphin researcher Diana Reiss, musician Peter Gabriel, internet of things visionary Neil Gershenfeld and Vint Cerf, one of the fathers of the internet. Peter Gabriel writes incredible songs but, as the co-founder of WITNESS and TheElders.org, is also a powerful human rights advocate. As Director of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, Neil Gershenfeld explores the boundaries between the digital and physical worlds. Diana Reiss studies animal cognition, and has found that bottlenose dolphins (and Asian elephants) can recognize themselves in the mirror.
Rodney Brooks: Why we will rely on robots Scaremongers play on the idea that robots will simply replace people on the job. In fact, they can become our essential collaborators, freeing us up to spend time on less mundane and mechanical challenges. Rodney Brooks points out how valuable this could be as the number of working-age adults drops and the number of retirees swells. He introduces us to Baxter, the robot with eyes that move and arms that react to touch, which could work alongside an aging population — and learn to help them at home, too. Rodney Brooks builds robots based on biological principles of movement and reasoning. The goal: a robot who can figure things out. WHY YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO HIM? MIT professor Rodney Brooks studies and engineers robot intelligence, looking for the holy grail of robotics: the AGI, or artificial general intelligence. For decades, we’ve been building robots to do highly specific tasks — welding, riveting, delivering interoffice mail — but what we all want, really, is a robot that can figure things out on its own, the way we humans do. Brooks realized that a top-down approach — just building the biggest brain possible and teaching it everything we could think of — would never work. What would work is a robot who learns like we do, by trial and error, and with many separate parts that learn separate jobs. The thesis of his work which was captured in Fast, Cheap and Out of Control,went on to become the title of the great Errol Morris documentary. A founder of iRobot, makers of the Roomba vacuum, Brooks now heads Rethink Robotics, whose mission is to apply advanced robotic intelligence to manufacturing and physical labor. Its first robot: the versatile Baxter. Brooks is affiliated with CSAIL, MIT’s Computers Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. “When I look out in the future, I can’t imagine a world, 500 years from now, where we don’t have robots everywhere.” Rodney Brooks
Erik Brynjolfsson: The key to growth? Race with the machines As machines take on more jobs, many find themselves out of work or with raises indefinitely postponed. Is this the end of growth? No, says Erik Brynjolfsson — it’s simply the growing pains of a radically reorganized economy. A riveting case for why big innovations are ahead of us … if we think of computers as our teammates. Be sure to watch the opposing viewpoint from Robert Gordon.
Skylar Tibbits: The emergence of “4D printing” 3D printing has grown in sophistication since the late 1970s; TED Fellow Skylar Tibbits is shaping the next development, which he calls 4D printing, where the fourth dimension is time. This emerging technology will allow us to print objects that then reshape themselves or self-assemble over time. Think: a printed cube that folds before your eyes, or a printed pipe able to sense the need to expand or contract. Skylar Tibbits, a TED Fellow, is an artist and computational architect working on “smart” components that can assemble themselves. WHY YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO HIM? Can we create objects that assemble themselves — that zip together like a strand of DNA or that have the ability for transformation embedded into them? These are the questions that Skylar Tibbits investigates in his Self-Assembly Lab at MIT, a cross-disciplinary research space where designers, scientists and engineers come together to find ways for disordered parts to become ordered structures. A trained architect, designer and computer scientist, Tibbits teaches design studios at MIT’s Department of Architecture and co-teaches the seminar “How to Make (Almost) Anything” at MIT’s Media Lab. Before that, he worked at a number of design offices including Zaha Hadid Architects, Asymptote Architecture, SKIII Space Variations and Point b Design. His work has been shown at the Guggenheim Museum and the Beijing Biennale. Tibbits has collaborated with a number of influential people over the years, including Neil Gershenfeld and The Center for Bits and Atoms, Erik and Marty Demaine at MIT, Adam Bly at SEED Media Group and Marc Fornes of THEVERYMANY. In 2007, he and Marc Fornes co-curated Scriptedbypurpose, the first exhibition focused exclusively on scripted processes within design. Also in 2007, he founded SJET, a multifaceted practice and research platform for experimental computation and design. SJET crosses disciplines from architecture and design, fabrication, computer science and robotics.
Dan Ariely: What makes us feel good about our work? What motivates us to work? Contrary to conventional wisdom, it isn’t just money. But it’s not exactly joy either. It seems that most of us thrive by making constant progress and feeling a sense of purpose. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely presents two eye-opening experiments that reveal our unexpected and nuanced attitudes toward meaning in our work. It’s become increasingly obvious that the dismal science of economics is not as firmly grounded in actual behavior as was once supposed. In “Predictably Irrational,” Dan Ariely tells us why. WHY YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO HIM? Despite our best efforts, bad or inexplicable decisions are as inevitable as death and taxesand the grocery store running out of your favorite flavor of ice cream. They’re also just as predictable. Why, for instance, are we convinced that “sizing up” at our favorite burger joint is a good idea, even when we’re not that hungry? Why are our phone lists cluttered with numbers we never call? Dan Ariely, behavioral economist, has based his career on figuring out the answers to these questions, and in his bestselling book Predictably Irrational (re-released in expanded form in May 2009), he describes many unorthodox and often downright odd experiments used in the quest to answer this question. Ariely has long been fascinated with how emotional states, moral codes and peer pressure affect our ability to make rational and often extremely important decisions in our daily lives — across a spectrum of our interests, from economic choices (how should I invest?) to personal (who should I marry?). At Duke, he’s aligned with three departments (business, economics and cognitive neuroscience); he’s also a visiting professor in MIT‘s Program in Media Arts and Sciences and a founding member of the Center for Advanced Hindsight. His hope that studying and understanding the decision-making process can help people lead better, more sensible daily lives. He produces a weekly podcast, Arming the Donkeys, featuring chats with researchers in the social and natural sciences. “If you want to know why you always buy a bigger television than you intended, or why you think it’s perfectly fine to spend a few dollars on a cup of coffee at Starbucks, or why people feel better after taking a 50-cent aspirin but continue to complain of a throbbing skull when they’re told the pill they took just cost one penny, Ariely has the answer.” Daniel Gross, Newsweek
Shared Leadership for Community Change: Andre Leroux As Executive Director of the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance, André has led efforts to reform zoning laws, increase transportation investment, and create a network of great places. He established Great Neighborhoods to support local groups and helped launch Transportation for Massachusetts to advocate for walking, biking, and public transportation. Before joining the Alliance, André led the Reviviendo Gateway Initiative (RGI) in Lawrence, Massachusetts, a model of public-private partnership for urban revitalization. Composed of residents, property owners, government officials, artists, nonprofit organizations, and businesspeople, RGI sparked more than $120 million of investment in the City of Lawrence in three years. André also led the creation of two smart growth zoning districts in the city, helped to found a cultural economic development initiative, and coordinated a research and educational collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology called MIT@Lawrence.
Economist: Jodi Beggs Jodi Beggs is an economist and writer whose focus is on making economics accessible and interesting to a general audience. She aims to bring economics out of the traditional classroom and utilize technology in order to provide a more compelling learning experience. Jodi has taught economics at both the undergraduate and graduate level at various universities in the Boston area. During the 2004-2005 academic year, Jodi was awarded a Harvard University Certificate of Distinction in Teaching for her work as an instructor for Principles of Economics. Since then, she has taught introductory courses, advised a group of honors thesis writers, and even led an undergraduate tutorial entitled “Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll.” In addition to teaching, Jodi is a subject matter editor for an online learning company and writes about economics on her web site “Economists Do It With Models” and for various other publications. Jodi has an A.M. in Economics from Harvard University and is a Ph.D. candidate in Business Economics. In a previous life, she studied Computer Science and Mathematics at MIT, specializing in operations research. Jodi was a member of the Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society and wrote a graduate thesis entitled “Queueing Implications of New Security Procedures in Containerized
Nina Tandon: Could tissue engineering mean personalized medicine? Each of our bodies is utterly unique, which is a lovely thought until it comes to treating an illness — when every body reacts differently, often unpredictably, to standard treatment. Tissue engineer Nina Tandon talks about a possible solution: Using pluripotent stem cells to make personalized models of organs on which to test new drugs and treatments, and storing them on computer chips. (Call it extremely personalized medicine.) Nina Tandon studies ways to use electrical signals to grow artificial tissues for transplants and other therapies. WHY YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO HER Nina Tandon studies electrical signaling in the context of tissue engineering, with the goal of creating “spare parts” for human implantation and/or disease models. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Cooper Union, Nina worked on an electronic nose used to “smell” lung cancer as a Fulbright scholar in Rome. She studied electrical stimulation for cardiac tissue engineering at MIT and Columbia, and now continues her research on electrical stimulation for broader tissue-engineering applications. Tandon was a 2011 TED Fellow and a 2012 Senior Fellow. “I love pointing out to my students that the cable equations we use to analyze transmission along nerves are the same ones developed for the transatlantic cable.” Nina Tandon
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