Anyone can be an underwater expolorer: OpenROV at TED2019

TED Fellow and maker David Lang, at right, helps attendees navigate Monterey Bay through the eyes of a OpenROV Trident drone. Check out the starfish! (Photo: Dian Lofton / TED)

It’s a foggy day in Vancouver — dense, white clouds hang over the North Shore Mountains, just barely visible through the high glass walls of Vancouver Convention Center. A light rain falls. But in Oahu, Hawaii, it’s sunny, bright and clear. The connection? At TED2019, OpenROV’s Trident underwater drone patrols the water in Oahu, and attendees are at the wheel.

Created by TED Fellow and maker David Lang (watch the 2013 TED Talk where he shared the kernel of this idea), the Trident offers what used to be reserved only for those with access to multimillion-dollar submersibles: the ability to capture one-of-a-kind underwater videos, anywhere in the world.

“Our mission is to democratize the ocean and make it more accessible,” Lang says. “We’re at TED to show the progress we’ve made — and what’s becoming possible.”

Through the Science Exploration Education (S.E.E.) initiative, anyone can get their hands on one of the drones, empowering citizen scientists, educators, nonprofits, researchers and students to monitor and protect marine environments. Apply for one through National Geographic’s Open Explorer program.

Charles Cross of OpenROV pilots a Trident underwater drone in real-time, giving one attendee a glimpse at underwater worlds in Monterey Bay, Indonesia and Oahu, Hawaii. (Photo: Dian Lofton / TED)

Controlling the Trident drone feels a lot like playing a video game — if the video game was live, underwater and happening thousands of miles away.

The 1080p feed from the drones projected onscreen creates the experience of swimming through the water. Connected by a tether to a boat where an operator waits, the Trident is powered by two propellers and swims like a fish, diving down to depths of up to 100 meters, with up to three hours of dive time and a top speed of two meters per second.

Throughout the week, attendees used Tridents throughout the world to explore kelp fields in Monterey Bay, meet reef fish in Indonesia and even glimpse a sea turtle in Oahu. Beyond the transportive ideas shared on stage, it’s spaces like these that make TED special.

from TED Blog

In Case You Missed It: Highlights from day 4 of TED2019

Legendary stage designer Es Devlin takes us on a tour of the mind-blowing sets she’s created for Beyoncé, Adele, U2 and others. She speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 18, 2019 in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

Day 4 of TED2019 played on some of the more powerful forces in the world: mystery, play, connection, wonder and awe. Some themes and takeaways from a jam-packed day:

Sleep is the Swiss Army knife of health. The less you sleep, the shorter your life expectancy and the higher your chance of getting a life-threatening illness like Alzheimer’s or cancer, says sleep scientist Matt Walker. It’s all about the deep sleep brain waves, Walker says: those tiny pulses of electrical activity that transfer memories from the brain’s short-term, vulnerable area into long-term storage. He shares some crazy stats about a global experiment performed on 1.6 billion people across 70 countries twice a year, known to us all as daylight savings time. In the spring, when we lose an hour of sleep, we see a 24 percent increase in heart attacks that following day. In the autumn, when we gain an hour of sleep, we see a 21 percent reduction in heart attacks.

Video games are the most important technological change happening in the world right now. Just look at the scale: a full third of the world’s population (2.6 billion people) find the time to game, plugging into massive networks of interaction, says entrepreneur Herman Narula. These networks let people exercise a social muscle they might not otherwise exercise. While social media can amplify our differences, could games create a space for us to empathize? That’s what is happening on Twitch.TV, says co-founder Emmett Shear. With 15 million daily active users, Twitch lets viewers watch and comment on livestreamed games, turning them into multiplayer entertainment. Video games are a modern version of communal storytelling, says Shear, with audiences both participating and viewing as they sit around their “virtual campfires.”

We’re heading for a nutrition crisis. Plants love to eat CO2, and we’re giving them a lot more of it lately. But as Kristie Ebi shows, there’s a hidden, terrifying consequence — the nutritional quality of plants is decreasing, reducing levels of protein, vitamins and nutrients that humans need. Bottom line: the rice, wheat and potatoes our grandparents ate might have contained more nutrition than our kids’ food will. Asmeret Asefaw Berhe studies the soil where our food grows — “it’s just a thin veil that covers the surface of land, but it has the power to shape our planet’s destiny,” she says. In a Q&A with Ebi, Berhe connects the dots between soil and nutrition: “There are 13 nutrients that plants get only from soil. They’re created from soil weathering, and that’s a very slow process.” CO2 is easier for plants to consume — it’s basically plant junk food.  

Tech that folds and moves. Controlling the slides in his talk with the swipe on the arm of his jean jacket, inventor Ivan Poupyrev shows how, with a bit of collaboration, we can design literally anything to be plugged into the internet — blending digital interactivity with everyday analog objects like clothing. “We are walking around with supercomputers in our pockets. But we’re stuck in the screens with our faces? That’s not the future I imagine.” Some news: Poupryev announced from stage that his wearables platform will soon be made available freely to other creators, to make of it what they will. Meanwhile Jamie Paik shows folding origami robots — call them “robogami” — that morph and change to respond to what we’re asking them to do. “These robots will no longer look like the characters from the movies,” she says. “Instead, they will be whatever you want them to be.”

Inside the minds of creators. Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt has gotten more than his fair share of attention in his acting career (in which, oddly, he’s played two TED speakers: tightrope walker Philippe Petit and whistleblower Edward Snowden). But as life has morphed on social media, he’s found that there’s a more powerful force than getting attention: giving it. Paying attention is the real essence of creativity, he says — and we should do more of it. Legendary stage designer Es Devlin picks up on that theme of connection, taking us on a tour of the mind-blowing sets she’s created for Beyoncé, Adele, U2 and others; her work is aimed at fostering lasting connections and deep empathy in her audience. As she quotes E.M. Forster: “Only connect!”

We can map the universe — the whole universe. On our current trajectory, we’ll map every large galaxy in the observable universe by 2060, says astrophysicist Juna Kollmeier, head of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). “Think about it. We’ve gone from arranging clamshells to general relativity to SDSS in a few thousand years,” she says, tracing humanity’s rise in a sentence. “If we hang on 40 more, we can map all the galaxies.” It’s a truly epic proposition — and it’s also our destiny as a species whose calling card is to figure things out.

from TED Blog

Steelcase at TED2019: A colorful mural spreads an inspiring message of collaboration

Over the week of TED, artist Milt Klingensmith co-created a mural featuring the images of TEDsters interacting in a sports-inflected workplace inspired by Steelcase. Klingensmith and co-artist Jody Williams worked at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 15–19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED

Every day at every workplace around the world, employees engage in a ballet. Each of us has a role to play, and we alternate between solo moments and collaborative interludes, between scripted choreography and improv. While the members and the steps may change over time, as long as the business continues, the ballet goes on.

Well, if work is a dance, then you might think of Steelcase — a US company that creates furniture for offices, hospitals and classrooms — as a production designer. To the people at Steelcase, the workplace is not a static setting but one that’s as dynamic as the employees themselves. They’re always asking: “What are the patterns, rhythms and trends emerging in the business world?” and “How can we take this information and use it to help people perform at their best?”

For its 2019 Active Collaboration Study, the company spent more than two years surveying and observing over 3,000 office workers in Australia, France, Germany, Japan, UK and US. Respondents told them they spent half their time in group interactions but felt constrained: 72 percent said they want to move when collaborating but only 53 percent can; 54 percent want to rearrange their furniture, yet just 38 percent can.

For TED2019 in Vancouver, Steelcase has created an exhibit that captures an idealized solution to these difficulties and goes one delightful step further: it places attendees in this imaginary world. However, unlike the Vulcan Holodome (also at the conference) which puts people into Monet paintings thanks to advanced 4K projectors, this is a strictly analog affair. Starting with the opening of the conference on Monday, Michigan artists Jody Williams and Milt Klingensmith have been painting a mural to which they’re adding willing TEDsters.

The painting is a colorful fusion of streamlined Scandinavian design, the humanity-filled feel of folk art, and athletic tropes — it’s as if Grandma Moses and Eero Saarinen got married and became rabid sports fans. Steelcase has been a TED partner for 25 years, and brand events manager Cindy McDonagh says, “We always like to interact with attendees in very personal ways. Given that everyone is at some point involved in teaming or collaboration, we decided to engage them in the story visually and make it very personal to them.”

Interestingly, while collaboration was chosen by Steelcase to be the theme of the mural, it’s taken on a life of its own. For starters, the attendees and artists must constantly interact. TEDsters sit or stand for a minute or so — all that Klingensmith needs to sketch them — and later they return to look for themselves in the piece. While Klingensmith has never done this kind of live work before, he used to regularly walk to a cafe near his home and do on-the-spot drawings of passersby. “I just love drawing human forms,” he says. “This has been a dream job.”

People happily chat as they’re being sketched, and a few have had specific requests. One person wanted to be depicted standing on a table; another asked that his painted self look heavier (!). The artists have noticed the mural is bringing people together off the canvas, since attendees like to come in groups.  

Then there’s the synergy between the artists. While Klingensmith is focused on capturing the people, Williams is filling in the setting. The two are actually old friends from college, but they hadn’t spoken for a decade until Williams was hired for the project and thought that Klingensmith would be the ideal teammate. Williams says, “Milt and I have been getting together for the last few Saturdays to discuss questions like, How are we going to do this? What colors of paint should we use?”  

The mural is infused with whimsy — for example, this workplace has bleachers and a soccer field, a nod to the theme. Says Steelcase senior communication specialist Audra Hartges, “Work today is more like a soccer game where it’s really dynamic, there are lots of moving parts, and there’s lots of interactivity between people.” Yet it has realistic elements, with plenty of individual desks and coworking spaces. Look closely, and you’ll see a scattering of Steelcase pieces, such as the Oculus chair and the Umami bench,  throughout. (In response to the opinions captured in its study, Steelcase has just launched some real-life products including Flex, a line of moveable desks, tables, whiteboards, carts, space dividers and accessories, and a Roam stand for Microsoft’s Surface Hub2S.)

While the mural will be taken down and rolled up when TED2019 concludes, it may go on to have a second life. There’s the possibility of it being displayed at Steelcase HQ in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where it can serve as a sweet, graphic reminder of this moment of teamwork and the inspiring backdrop of collaborations to come.  

Our writer, Daryl Chen, finds her own image in the Steelcase mural at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 15–19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Dian Lofton / TED

from TED Blog

Wonder: Notes from Session 11 of TED2019

Richard Bona performs at TED2019

Multi-instrumental genius, Grammy winner and songwriter Richard Bona held the audience spellbound at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 18, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED

Session 11 of TED2019 amazed, enriched, inspired and dazzled — diving deep into the creative process, exploring what it’s like to live as an artwork and soaring into deep space.

The event: Talks and performances from TED2019, Session 11: Wonder, hosted by TED’s Helen Walters and Kelly Stoetzel

When and where: Thursday, April 18, 2019, 5pm, at the Vancouver Convention Centre in Vancouver, BC

Speakers: Beau Lotto with performers from Cirque du Soleil, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jon Gray, Daniel Lismore, Richard Bona, Es Devlin and Juna Kollmeier

Music: Multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Richard Bona, mesmerizing the audience with his “magic voodoo machine” — weaving beautiful vocal loops into a mesh of sound

Beau Lotto, neuroscientist, accompanied by performers and artists from Cirque du Soleil

  • Big idea: Awe is more than an experience; it’s a physiological state of mind, one that could positively influence how we approach conflict and uncertainty.
  • How? Humans possess a fundamental need for closure that, when unmet, often turns to conflict-heavy emotions like fear and anger. The antidote may be one of our most profound perceptual experiences: awe. Lotto and his team recorded the brain activity of 280 people before, during and after watching a Cirque du Soleil performance, discovering promising insights. In a state of awe, research shows that humans experience more connection to others and more comfort with uncertainty and risk-taking. These behaviors demonstrate that a significant shift in how we approach conflict is possible — with humility and courage, seeking to understand rather than convince. Read how this talk was co-created by Beau Lotto’s Lab of Misfits and the Cirque du Soleil.
  • Quote of the talk: “Awe is neither positive nor negative. What’s really important is the context in which you create awe.”

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, actor, filmmaker and founder of HITRECORD

  • Big idea: If your creativity is driven by a desire to get attention, you’re never going to be creatively fulfilled. What drives truly fulfilling creativity? Paying attention.
  • How? Social media platforms are fueled by getting attention, and more and more people are becoming experts at it — turning creativity from a joyous expression into a means to an end. But while Joseph Gordon-Levitt certainly knows what it feels like to get attention — he’s been in show business since he was 6, after all — he realized that the opposite feeling, paying attention, is the real essence of creativity. He describes the feeling of being locked in with another actor — thinking about and reacting only to what they’re doing, eliminating thoughts about himself. So get out there and collaborate, he says. Read more about Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s talk here.
  • Quote of the talk: “It’s like a pavlovian magic spell: ​rolling, speed, marker ​(clap)​, set and action​. Something happens to me, I can’t even help it. My attention narrows. And everything else in the world, anything else that might be bothering, or that might otherwise grab my attention, it all goes away.”
Jon Gray speaks at TED2019

“We decided the world needed some Bronx seasoning on it”: The founder of Ghetto Gastro, Jon Gray, speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us. April 18, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED

Jon Gray, designer, food lover, entrepreneur and cofounder of Ghetto Gastro

  • Big idea: We can bring people together, connect cultures and break stereotypes through food.
  • How? Jon Gray is a founder of Ghetto Gastro, a collective based in the Bronx that works at the intersection of food, art and design. Their goal is to craft products and experiences that challenge perceptions. At first, Gray and his co-creators aimed to bring the Bronx to the wider world. Hosting an event in Tokyo, for example, they served a Caribbean patty made with Japanese Wagyu beef and shio kombu — taking a Bronx staple and adding international flair. Now Ghetto Gastro is bringing the world to the Bronx. The first step: their recently opened “idea kitchen” — a space where they can foster a concentration of cultural and financial capital in their neighborhood.
  • Quote of the talk: “Breaking bread has always allowed me to break the mold and connect with people.”
Daniel Lismore speaks at TED2019

“These artworks are me”: Daniel Lismore talks about his life as a work of art, created anew each morning. He speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us. April 15 – 19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED

Daniel Lismore, London-based artist who lives his life as art, styling elaborate ensembles that mix haute couture, vintage fabrics, found objects, ethnic jewelry, beadwork, embroidery and more

  • Big idea: We can all make ourselves into walking masterpieces. While it takes courage — and a lot of accessories — to do so, the reward is being able to express our true selves.
  • How? Drawing from a massive, 6,000-piece collection that occupies a 40-foot container, three storage units and 30 IKEA boxes, Lismore creates himself anew every day. His materials range from beer cans and plastic crystals to diamonds, royal silks and 2,000-year-old Roman rings. And he builds his outfits from instinct, piling pieces on until — like a fashion-forward Goldilocks — everything feels just right.
  • Quote of the talk: “I have come to realize that confidence is a concept you can choose. I have come to realize that authenticity is necessary and it’s powerful. I have spent time trying to be like other people; it didn’t work. it’s a lot of hard work not being yourself.”
Es Devlin speaks at TED2019

“So much of what I make is fake. It’s an illusion. And yet every artist works in pursuit of communicating something that’s true.” Stage designer Es Devlin speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 18, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED

Es Devlin, designer and stage sculpture artist

  • Big idea: Art is about communication and expression, and designers have the power to foster lasting connections and deep empathy with their work.
  • How? Es Devlin weaves boundless thinking into her stunning stage designs, emphasizing empathy, intimacy and connection for the performers and the audience. As a set designer for some of the world’s most iconic performers and events — including Beyoncé’s Formation tour, Adele’s first live concert in five years, U2 and Kayne West, among many others — Devlin dives into the heart of each performer’s work. She sculpts visual masterpieces that reflect the shape and sound of each artist she works with. Audiences come to shows for connection and intimacy, Devlin says, and it’s the task of set designers, directors and artists to deliver it for the fans.
  • Quote of the talk: “Most of what I’ve made over the last 25 years doesn’t exist anymore — but our work endures in memories, in synaptic sculptures in the minds of those who were once present in the audience.”

Juna Kollmeier, astrophysicist

  • Big idea: Mapping the observable universe is … a pretty epic proposition. But it’s actually humanly achievable.
  • How? We’ve been mapping the stars for thousands of years, but the Sloan Digital Sky Survey is on a special mission: to create the most detailed three-dimensional maps of the universe ever made. Led by Kollmeier, the project divides the sky into three “mappers” that it documents: galaxies, black holes and stars. Our own Milky Way galaxy has 250 billion(ish) stars. “That is a number that doesn’t make practical sense to pretty much anybody,” says Kollmeier. We’re not going to map all of those anytime soon. But galaxies? We’re getting there. On our current trajectory, we’ll map every large galaxy in the observable universe by 2060, she says.
  • Quote of the talk: “Black holes are among the most perplexing objects in the universe. Why? Because they are literally just math incarnate in a physical form that we barely understand.”
Juna Kollmeier speaks at TED2019

“Stars are exploding all the time. Black holes are growing all the time. There is a new sky every night”: Astronomer Juna Kollmeier speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 18, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED

from TED Blog

Co-creating an “experiential experiment” to measure awe

Beau Lotto + Cirque du Soleil performs at TED2019

Neuroscientist Beau Lotto (second from left) stands with performers from Cirque du Soleil after they together created a shared experience of awe onstage at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 18, 2019, in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED

“You have to start with an interesting question,” says neuroscientist Beau Lotto. We’re talking over Skype with collaborator Geneviève Laurendeau, the corporate PR manager at Cirque du Soleil, to discuss their year-long science project: an experiment to measure awe. When and how do we feel awe? And: Why does it matter?

One great place to find awe is a Cirque du Soleil live show. That’s why, a few months ago at one of the company’s long-running shows, O, in Las Vegas, you could find 20 members of the Lab of Misfits, Lotto’s creative neuroscience group, running an “experiential experiment.” With the help of a clown and a zebra from the Cirque cast, they asked audience members whether they’d volunteer to wear an EEG helmet while researchers watched their brain activity, then take some tests to measure what awe does to them.

As Laurendeau says: “O is an iconic show that generates strong audience reaction and emotional connection. We have audience members who are going back to this specific show every year over and over, and the feeling is the same.” O was a great platform for research, both for its stability (it has its own purpose-built theater, versus being in a traveling circus tent) and for its sheer astonishment factor: the show combines circus arts with dreamlike performances in and around 1.5 million gallons of water. As Lotto puts it, O creates an environment where people feel “brought elsewhere.”

Of working with Cirque, Lotto says, “It was a true co-creation and collaboration.” Which started, as many great things do, with a lot of meetings. “It took about one year to plan,” he says, to Laurendeau’s agreement.

The people behind Cirque were as eager as Lotto to learn the results of the experiment. As Laurendeau says, “For over 35 years now, our audience, they can’t describe what they felt. They say, ‘wow!’ — that’s how they describe what they felt. Is that the only way they can really identify or really share what they experienced? That’s what we were curious to know.”

Genevieve Laurendeau and Beau Lotto speak with host Helen Walters

Geneviève Laurendeau, left, of the Cirque du Soleil takes a question from host Helen Walters, right, about Cirque’s collaboration with neuroscientist Beau Lotto and his Lab of Misfits, during TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 18, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED

Lotto says, “The experiments themselves ran over 10 shows, two shows a night. So we were in Vegas for roughly 10 days, but we were running experiments for about five, six days of that. And it was constant, completely continuous. And it’s super high-energy. Exhausting. But beautiful, beautiful. And we can’t complain; I mean, look at the performers, they’re doing two shows a night forever.”

As acrobats, dancers, clowns and swimmers performed during the 90-minute show, lab members monitored the data that streamed from the EEG helmets, and collected self-reported reactions before and after the show. They measured 23 specific “awe moments” identified in the show, from a collective 280 audience members, over the course of the experiment.

The team found some surprising results around a specific brain wave signature that’s associated with a feeling of awe — and their tests drew connections between awe and some core human feelings: a sense of connection, a desire to take risk, and our impressions of the future and the past. The results are shared in a white paper; Lotto is discussing his initial findings today, onstage at TED, with help from Cirque performers and other artists.

“A lot of what we discovered isn’t known yet,” Lotto says. “There is some research on wonder, but not much on awe. A great deal of it comes out of professor Dacher Keltner’s lab at Berkeley, where they’ve demonstrated an effect of pro-social behavior, which we can confirm, but no one has been able to get into the brain. People thought maybe awe is created by a social effect. And we’re saying, no, actually it’s something far deeper.“

Lotto surmises that awe evolved as a way to help humans try new things that scare them. “It’s maybe evolution’s solution that enabled us to go to the very place that we evolved to avoid, which is the north, is the unknown.”

The experiment has stimulated more questions at the Lab of Misfits, of course. “We want to explore the pro-social impact,” says Lotto, “how awe connects people, how it facilitates growth and expansion in others. It really gives you energy to continue.”

As Lotto says: “When you can truly unite science and art, you’ll see they’re the same thing.”

from TED Blog

The secret life of plant music

Data Garden Quartet at TED2019

These two plants are part of the Data Garden Quartet, a collection of potted plants that wear special sensors to measure their conductivity — and turn it into music. Data Garden appeared at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 15–19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED

Barreling through the high-visibility, high-tech exhibits on the TED2019 circuit, you’d be forgiven for mistaking The Data Garden for just another chillout zone, with its oasis of potted houseplants and people lying draped, spaced out, across bean bags. Yet an arresting sound beckons from this unassuming island – a soothing patter of gently percussive gongs, like a harmonious array of meditation bowls or a gamelan, with a variety of textures and tones.

Nothing unusual here – except that if you look closely, the plants have white sensors attached to the leaves, wired into speakers. Wait – is this music coming from the plants?

Listen here >>

It is. “We’re listening to Data Garden Quartet – a quartet of plants all playing music together,” says Los Angeles-based sound artist Joe Patitucci. Each plant is fitted with a MIDI Sprout, a device invented by Patitucci and partner Jon Shapiro that translates plant biofeedback into sounds. The white sensors, it turns out, are electrical probes that send a 4.5 volt signal through the plant to measure variations in the plant’s conductivity, which changes according to the amount of water moving through it.

“It’s very similar to technology used in a lie detector,” says Patitucci. “If you imagine the wave in a lie-detector readout, we translate that into pitch in a musical scale. Changes in the waves also control various textural aspects of the sounds, or ‘instruments.’”

Patitucci conceived the idea of Data Garden Quartet in 2012 out of a sense of exploration as a musician. “I’d hear about people who could reached this flow state, where it was like universe was expressing itself through them. I was never able to get to that state – but I’d get my inspiration by going out into nature and bringing the feeling back into the studio and then composing.” So rather than making his body the channel – “instead of expressing itself through my body on my fingertips on a guitar” – Patitucci cut the middleman and wired his source of inspiration directly into the instrument, working with an engineer. Meanwhile, Patitucci designed the sound set – a palette from which the plant selects every single note in real time.

“Big influences are Brian Eno, generative ambient music in general, and the plant biofeedback experiments of the 1970s, and cellular automata – the mathematical principle that simple rule sets expressed over time can become complex systems,” says Patitucci.

The installation not only proved popular at festivals and museums, soon artists and musicians began demanding the hardware itself. In 2014, he and Shapiro launched a Kickstarter for a version of the hardware, which they dubbed MIDI Sprout, made specifically for artists, which plugs directly into a synthesizer so they can create their own sound sets. (Could I, for example, attach little samples of Prince songs to the plant’s dataset? “Prince Remix by DJ Plant,” Patitucci affirms.)

Inevitably, demand snowballed to ordinary consumers who wanted MIDI Sprout in their home – in their yoga class, meditation studios, and so on. For them, MIDI Sprout is now available as an iOS app with a custom-made sound palette that includes harp, flute, and bass. Now anyone can turn a houseplant into an ambient music generator.

In case you’re wondering, MIDI Sprout doesn’t only work on plants. You can hold the electrodes and get sonic feedback on your own biorhythms. “If you can really relax and have a steady pressure on the probes, you can get it to play one note,” says Patitucci. “You can even get it to stop. It takes some practice.”

As for the question I know is burning in readers’ minds: “Can I put a MIDI Sprout on my cat?” The answer is here.

Data Garden Quartet at TED2019

Data Garden Quartet at TED2019: Bigger Than Us. April 15 – 19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED

from TED Blog

The key to creativity? Start paying attention: Joseph Gordon-Levitt speaks at TED2019

When you see others as partners in creation, that’s when the magic begins, says Joseph Gordon-Levitt at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 18, 2019, at Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

“I’m an actor, so I’m a bit of an expert on … well, nothing really,” says Joseph Gordon-Levitt onstage at TED2019.

Jokes aside, there’s one thing he does know really well: what it feels like to get attention. He’s gotten a lot of it — since he played Dougie on Family Ties in the late ’80s through to his roles in Batman and beyond — and it’s a powerful feeling. He admits that. But the thing he’s come to crave — like, really crave — is sort of the opposite: it’s paying attention.

To explain, he paints us a picture of what it’s like on set: “I’ve heard the sequence so many times, it’s become like a pavlovian magic spell: ​rolling, speed, marker ​(clap)​, set, and action​. Something happens to me, I can’t even help it. My attention narrows. And everything else in the world, anything else that might be bothering me, or that might otherwise grab my attention, it all goes away. And I’m just there.”

“If you’re looking for creative fulfillment, that’s the feeling you want to be going after,” he says.

Compare this to creativity on social media, where the platforms are fueled by getting attention, and more and more people are becoming experts at it. In essence, creativity is becoming a means to an end — and that end is to rack up likes, gain followers, get attention. “If your creativity is driven by a desire to get attention, you’re never going to be creatively fulfilled,” he says.

Gordon-Levitt is by no means immune. He does his best work when he’s collaborating — when he’s really locked in on another actor, really paying attention. He’s known that for a while. Yet 10 years ago, something happened: a little thing called Twitter. And he got hooked. He began obsessively checking his follower count, wondering what people would say about this movie or that show, instead of focusing on the work itself.

Let’s be clear: he’s no Luddite. He’s not saying social media is the enemy of creativity. He still loves social media, actually. He even started the collaboration platform HITRECORD, where people gather to create and swap ideas.

But he’s calling for a shift in how we think about creativity, how we make art. How to do it? He’s got a couple ideas. First: try not to see your fellow creatives as competitors. Everybody brings their own experience to the scene — or to the page, or the stage, or whatever your pursuit might be — so you don’t have to worry about being special. You can just be honest. And second: collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. “This, more than anything else, is what helps me really pay attention,” he says. “As long as I can focus my attention on them, I don’t have to think about myself or anything else, I just react to what they’re doing, and they react to what I’m doing, and we can just keep each other in it, together.”

So, get out there, meet some people and start creating. If you can do that, well, that’s where the magic happens.

from TED Blog

Connection is a superpower: Jon M. Chu speaks at TED2019

On the heels of the breakout success of his film Crazy Rich Asians, Jon M. Chu reflects on what drives him to create inspiration. He speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 18, 2019, at Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

If you haven’t heard of the blockbuster megahit Crazy Rich Asians, then, well, it’s possible you’re living under a large rock. But whether or not you saw it, the film’s director, Jon M. Chu, has a TED Talk that goes far beyond the movie.

Speaking onstage at TED2019, Chu reflects on the importance of representation onscreen and the experiences that propelled him to create such a groundbreaking hit. Spoiler alert: it all comes down to human connection.

My story is only possible because of a collection of connections that happened throughout my life,” Chu says. “And maybe through my little stories, others may find their path as well.”

As Chu starts off, it becomes clear that his connection to his family, his culture, to film and technology – each one of those ingredients – made him who he is today.

But first, back to the beginning: Chu grew up with immigrant parents, in a family that never felt “normal,” he says. Why not? Because his family didn’t look like the families they saw on TV and in movies. That was his “normal.”

The first shift in that narrative happened on a family vacation when Chu was young. His father put him in charge of the video recorder, so he tried his hand at stitching together a highlight reel of the vacation. He anxiously showed it to his family — and what happened next changed the trajectory of his life.

“Something extraordinary happened,” Chu says. “They cried and cried. Not because it was the most amazing home video edit ever, but because they saw our family as a normal family that fit in and belonged. Like from the movies they worshipped and the TV shows that they named us after.”

After that, Chu’s future crystallized in his own mind. He went to USC School of Cinematic Arts and built up a career in Hollywood, hitching a number of successful films under his belt. (Remember Believe, that uber-popular Justin Bieber doc from 2012? Or The LXD?)

And yet, despite his successes, Chu was at a creative loss a couple years ago. Spurred in part the Twitter firestorm around the Academy Awards’ lack of diversity, Chu realized: he could be a part of the solution. He was already inside the Hollywood circle, after all, with power that few possessed.

“I realized I was not just lucky to be here, but I had the right to be here – I earned the right to be here,” he says. “And to not just have a voice, but to have something to say. To tell my story with people who looked liked me and had a family like mine.”

He wasn’t alone in his efforts, he says. A vibrant community on social media backed him every step of the way, ultimately driving him toward Kevin Kwan’s bestselling novel Crazy Rich Asians — and the breakthrough film movie we know today.

Lest we forget: there was no guarantee Chu’s movie would do well. In fact, many signs pointed toward failure. But, with the help of “a grassroots uprising” of Chu fans online, he says, Asian representation in the arts started to hit headlines. “This swell of support allowed a conversation to be had between us — Asian Americans defining how we saw the future of our own representation,” Chu says.

And then the movie was out in theaters, and it exploded. Chu was overwhelmed with pride — a familiar sensation from all those years ago when he sat surrounded by his family, the sounds of his vacation highlight reel washing over them. Seeing people in the theater enjoying his film – well, that was “the ultimate prize,” he says.

The takeaway? It all circles back to connection, to those that offered breadcrumbs of connection along the way: kindness, love, and generosity. Closing out his talk, he makes an offering to us all: a breadcrumb of connection, of inspiration.

“I realized once you start listening to those silent beats in the messy noise all around you … you realize there is a beautiful symphony already written for you and it can give you a direct line to your destiny – to your superpowers.”

from TED Blog

Connection: Notes from Session 10 of TED2019

“For those who can and choose to, may you pass on this beautiful thing called life with kindness, generosity, decency and love,” says Wajahat Ali at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 18, 2019, at Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Sometimes it feels like the world is fraying. Like our long-hold truths turn out, in an instant, to be figments of the imagination. Amid this turmoil, how can we strengthen connection, create more fulfilling lives? Speakers from Session 10 offer a range of provocative answers.

The event: Talks from TED2019, Session 10: Connection, hosted by TED’s head of curation, Helen Walters, and assistant curator Zachary Wood

When and where: Thursday, April 18, 2019, 2:30pm, at the Vancouver Convention Centre in Vancouver, BC

Speakers: Kishore Mahbubani, Wajahat Ali, Priya Parker, Barbara J. King and Jon M. Chu

The talks in brief:

Kishore Mahbubani, author and public policy expert

  • Big idea: The West needs to adapt its strategy for working with the growing Asian economy.
  • How? Asia has, Mahbubani says, experienced three silent revolutions in recent decades that powered its growth as a global power: one in economics, one in outlook and a third in improved governance. While he believes these have been, at least in part, due to the spread of “Western wisdom,” he feels the West became distracted while Asia rose. Mahbubani recommends that the West adopt a strategy of minimalist intervention in other societies and embrace multilateral collaboration — especially as it makes up only 12 percent of the global population.
  • Quote of the talk: “Clearly minimalism can work. The West should try it out.”

Wajahat Ali, journalist and lawyer

  • Big idea: Falling birth rates around the world will have catastrophic effects. By increasing access to health and child care, we can make it easier — and cheaper — to have children.
  • How? Having children is expensive and difficult, but it’s necessary for the sake of our future. Our planet’s challenge moving forward isn’t overpopulation, Ali says, but underpopulation: Young people aren’t having enough kids — and this is a nearly universal problem. In China and Europe, for instance, shrinking populations could lead to labor shortages, catalyzing economic calamity. Aging populations have always relied on younger generations to care for them — we lose this, too, when we don’t have children. So, what’s stopping people from having kids? Mostly, it’s the cost. Governments need to provide child care, health care and paid parental leave so that more people can have kids and we can secure the future.
  • Quote of the talk: “Babies have always represented humanity’s best, boldest, most beautiful infinite possibilities. If we opt out and don’t invest in present and future generations, then what’s the point?”

Priya Parker teaches us how we can gather better at home, at work, over holiday dinners and beyond. She speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 18, 2019, at Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Priya Parker, conflict mediator and author

  • Big idea: In our multicultural, intersectional society, we can change our everyday get-togethers (parties, dinners, holidays) into meaningful and transformative gatherings.
  • How? With just three straightforward, yet playful, steps: embrace a specific purpose, cause good controversy and create a thoughtful set of one-time rules for attendees to follow. It may sound odd, but when diverse groups are temporarily allowed to change and harmonize their behavior, something amazing happens: people find a way into each other without discomfort. Collective meaning is attainable in modern life, Parker says, when we’re intentional about how and why we interact.
  • Quote of the talk: “The way we gather matters, because how we gather is how we live.”

Jon M. Chu makes up stories for a living. On the heels of the breakout success of his film Crazy Rich Asians, he reflects on the origin of his artistic inspiration at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 18, 2019, at Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

Jon M. Chu, filmmaker, director of Crazy Rich Asians

  • Big idea: Film offers us the power of connection to something bigger than ourselves.
  • How? The son of immigrant parents, Chu remembers that his family never felt “normal” – mostly because they never saw themselves represented on screen. But after his father equipped him with a video recorder on their family vacation, everything changed. He showed his family the footage afterward, and they cried — finally, they felt like they belonged. In the decades since, Chu made a number of Hollywood hits, but found himself at creative loss a couple years ago. That’s when Crazy Rich Asians came along — and the rest is history. Millions of people just like his family saw themselves represented on the big screen, feeling pride in their existence and story. He credits his success to connections he’s made throughout life — the ones that were sparked by generosity, kindness and hope.
  • Quote of the talk: “Once you start listening to those silent beats in the messy noise all around you … you realize there is a beautiful symphony already written for you, and it can give you a direct line to your destiny – to your superpowers.”

from TED Blog

Play: Notes from Session 9 of TED2019

Jamie Paik unveils robogamis: folding robots that can morph and reshape themselves as the situation demands. She speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 18 at Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

The more we look, the more our digital and analog worlds are blending. What is this future we are entering? In Session 9 of TED2019, we peer into the thrilling, sometimes frightening, often hilarious world of technology.

The event: Talks and tech demos from TED2019, Session 9: Play, hosted by head of TED Chris Anderson and poet Sarah Kay

When and where: Thursday, April 18, 2019, 11:15am, at the Vancouver Convention Centre in Vancouver, BC

Speakers: Emmett Shear, Anthony Veneziale, Janelle Shane, Ivan Poupyrev, Jamie Paik and Herman Narula

… and now, for something completely different: Master improver Anthony Veneziale took to the TED stage for a truly off-the-cuff performance. Armed with an audience-suggested topic (“stumbling into intimacy”) and a deck of slides he’d never seen before, Veneziale crafted a profoundly humorous meditation about the human experience at the intersection of intimacy, connection and … avocados?

The talks in brief:

Emmett Shear, cofounder of and TwitchTV and part-time partner at Y Combinator

  • Big idea: Video games are a modern version of communal storytelling, with audiences both participating and viewing as they sit around their virtual campfires.
  • How? As on-demand entertainment becomes more accessible via the internet, consuming broadcast media has become a solitary and sometimes isolating activity. But interactive gaming — and, believe it or not, watching other people play video games — is reversing this trend, and helping to build new communities. Platforms like Twitch allow millions of viewers to view and comment on games, turning livestreamed gaming into multiplayer entertainment.
  • Quote of the talk: “Picture millions of campfires … huge, roaring bonfires with hundreds of thousands of people around them. Some of them are smaller, more intimate community gatherings where everyone knows your name.”

Janelle Shane, AI humorist

  • Big idea: The danger of AI is not that it’s too smart — but that it’s not smart enough.
  • How? Shane runs with blog AI Weirdness, a collection of the (often hilarious) antics of AI algorithms as they try to imitate human datasets. (Examples: AI-generated ice cream flavors and a recipe for horseradish brownies.) Despite the widespread celebration of AI, the truth is they don’t yet measure up to the versatile, free-associating human brain. And sometimes, the consequences can be dire, as with a self-driving car trained to identify the back of a truck on a highway — but not what it looks like sideways, leading to a fatal accident. So we need to separate science fiction from reality, Shane says, to be skeptical about AI claims that seem too good to be true. Surely, this tech will get better — but if we trust the answers it currently gives us without checking, it can be dangerous.
  • Quote of the talk: “AI can be really destructive and and not know it.”

Ivan Poupyrev, inventor, scientist, designer of interactive products

  • Big idea: Keyboards and touchscreens shouldn’t be the only way we access computing power. With a bit of collaboration, we can design literally anything to be plugged into the internet — blending digital interactivity with everyday analog objects.
  • How? The world of things is much vaster than the world of computers. If designers of objects had a simple way to build internet connectivity into their creations, even non-engineers could build interactive devices. Poupyrev invents tech — including an interface called Tag — that makes it possible for any object to connect to the cloud, opening the door to things like smart running shoes and interfaces in your clothes.
  • Quote of the talk: “We are walking around with supercomputers in our pockets. How amazing is that? So it’s disappointing that the way we use computers — the way we interact with them — hasn’t changed. We’re stuck in the screens with our faces, not seeing the world around us? That’s not the future I imagine.”

Jamie Paik, founder and director of the Reconfigurable Robotics Lab

  • Big idea: Robots of the future shouldn’t just be built to serve one function. Instead, they should be highly adaptable — and we can take our design cues from origami.
  • How? Paik realized early in her career that truly useful robots would need to look different from the humanoids she’d been working on. Those best adapted to help humanity would be much closer to Transformers: capable of adapting to any environment and task on Earth … or off. Taking design cues from origami, Paik and her team created robogamis: folding robots made out of a thin, paper-like material that can morph and reshape themselves as the situation demands. This makes them cheaper and more efficient to launch into space — and even land on another planet. When paired with a haptic interface, they could train medical students by re-creating the precise sensation of doing surgery. “These robots will no longer look like the characters from the movies,” Paik says. “Instead, they will be whatever you want them to be.”
  • Quote of the talk: “For robogamis, there’s no one fixed shape or task. They can transform into anything, anytime, anywhere.”

Herman Nerula, entrepreneur, gamer, cofounder and CEO of Improbable Worlds

  • Big idea: The most important technological change happening in the world right now isn’t AI, space travel or biotech. It’s video games.
  • How? Video games are more than entertainment. Just look at the scale of gamers: a full third of the world’s population (2.6 billion people) find the time to game, plugging into massive networks of interaction. These networks let people exercise a social muscle they might not otherwise exercise. And this is sorely needed: while social media seems to amplify our differences, games create a space for us to empathize with one another. Their economic impact will be profound: as long as you can access a cell phone, the chance to create and contribute to the gaming universe is yours for the taking. The future of gaming, in Nerula’s eyes, means working together and understanding one another — despite deep divisions and differences.
  • Quote of the talk: “The reality is there are worlds you can build right here, right now, that can transform people’s lives. Let’s engage. Let’s actually try to make this something we shape in a positive way.”

from TED Blog