TEDx Brussels 2010

On 6 December, Brussels became a capital of ideas by hosting the largest TEDx event ever. Gathering the world’s leading thinkers and do’ers, TED has become the most anticipated conference of the world. Despite its exclusivity, TED has opened its content (you can watch all talks online) and brand (TEDx stands for independently organized) to the rest of the world. The ultimate TED experience is sharing a “TED moment”, in which ideas have sex and new ones are born. Here’s TEDx Brussels 2010 in 5 TED moments:
People shouldn’t drive and soon they won’t have to
We all know cars are bad, and that drivers can be equally destructive. Sebastion Thrun heads Google’s Driverless Cars project, which aims to help prevent traffic accidents, free up people’s time and reduce carbon emissions. His movie about building the first car to finish the DARPA Challenge impresses, but his demo on how driverless cars navigate swiftly through San Francisco traffic blows your mind. Did you know that in peak hours, only about 8% of the road is occupied? What remains is “whitespace” in between cars, safety distance. What if our cars would drive bumper to bumper, reacting instantly to every move of adjacent cars, while you are reading the newspaper? And what if, as David Orban argues, we move from a culture of ownership, to a culture of access? In other words, what if the car would drop you off at work in the morning, and drive on to the next person in urgent need of mobility? That would greatly reduce the number of cars that are parked at any time (96% of all cars!), and thus could truly change the world. And the best part is…it’s not fiction. It works, today! It’s even used by our friends at Google right now. You thought that people were driving the Google streetview car? Guess again.
Nerds don’t exist.
David Anderegg, child psychologist, starts off with a moving testimonial about Max, the kid whose school grades dropped dramatically since he’s afraid of being called a nerd.
What is a nerd, Anderegg wonders. Max: “A nerd is someone who does whatever her parents want to her to do.” Anderreg then puts on his thick nerdy goggles and discusses some of the nerd stereotypes that are reinforced daily by mass media (think of Beauty & the Nerd, Big Bang Theory). This includes “a nerd is persecuted by non-nerds” and “a nerd simply will never get laid”. However, after this set of bad characteristics follows “a nerd is interested in science and technology”. Anderreg argues that, from a young age, we teach our kids that an interest in the skills we need in the next century is nerdy, which refrains a future generation of knowledge workers from developing them. Nerds only exist in the cultural space. Nerds are a stereotype that leads to anti-intellectualism and therefore can and must be changed. But what about the recent rise of the “geek chic” movement, where nerdy-looking is considered a plus. Maybe the cultural pendulum is already starting to swing away from anti-intellectualism and back into reinforcing the brainiacs. Hurray!
Use your brain
Tan Le uses Stromae as her guinea pig to demonstrate her breakthrough brain-computer interface, officially called “epoc”, but referred to as “the god helmet” by most. Plugged in to his helmet, Stromae only needs one short training session, before pulling a virtual box right to him only using his creative mind. Tan Le eliminates the middleman between intention and instruction, by using some simple localization principles in the brain. The brain sends out electrical impulses which can be captured and located. If you know the position of a certain thought (f.i. “pulling”), you can perform actions (pulling something) based on the electrical discharge thinking about them induces. Sounds simple, but not an easy trick to pull off.
As Tan Le closes her talk, our mind starts racing to a distant future suddenly getting very close. What if we could navigate our computer screen with our hands on our back? How will that change working? Gaming? How might it affect the way we can interact on social media? Will this allow disabled people to move freely again? The system however seems to work mainly based on the motor areas (movement), facial expressions and some emotions. If you were thinking about uploading your genial musings straight into the cloud, you’ll be disappointed.
A converted priest preaching
In his former life Marc Luyckx Gishi was a bishop at the Vatican, but manages to give one of the freshest perspectives on what the future will bring. He passionately speaks about the post capitalistic society, a society in which the brain is the main tool of production, and where value creation is captured by the following formula: knowledge x knowledge = value. In order to get the knowledge stream flowing inside networks, a flat structure and human management is needed. His most memorable quote is borrowed from Einstein: “You cannot solve problems with the same level of consciousness that created them”. He leaves the stage with the Bozar on their feet and resonating with applause. This guy truly is, as Walter De Brouwer would say, the wasabi to the sushi.
One laptop per child
Nicholas Negroponte starts his talk with the question he asks himself everyday: “Is what I will do today going to happen through normal market forces? If the answer is yes, I stop immediately”. Providing a laptop to the poorest children in the world certainly isn’t happening without him. Negroponte shows how two million OX laptops in the most remote parts of the world create unseen educational opportunities for the world’s poorest children. The laptops are about the size of a small textbook, have built-in wireless and a unique screen that is readable under direct sunlight. Negroponte’s favorite part of the demonstration is smacking the laptop to the ground to prove its robustness.
One Laptop per Child (OLPC) not only brings remarkable technological innovation, but, more importantly, it also brings educational innovation. The OX laptop allows education to move from a teacher-centric to a children-centric model. It’s the children who own the laptop and teach adults how to use it. It’s the children who access the knowledge stored online. It’s the children who connect the most rural areas to the rest of the world. Ironically, western countries still see computers more as a source of distraction than as a source of learning. Walter Bender, former CTO of OLPC, also points out that collaboration is strongly encouraged everywhere expect in the classroom; there it’s called cheating. In short, OLPC shows that children can become the object of change, rather than the subject of change.
So, a full day of TEDx Brussels resulted in this blogpost. Five TED moments. I don’t think I forgot any (you don’t forget TED moments).
Is five a lot? Granted, TEDx has sparked more ideas and surprises than a regular day at the office, but our initial expectations were higher. One talk, however, was undoubtedly unworthy of TED’s standards. In her “Intention experiment”, Lynne McTaggart asked us – rational (nerdy ) beings with a predilection for hard science – to believe that we can purify water and heal people by “sending good intentions”. Not that we have anything against trying to heal a fellow TEDster in the audience, but holding hands and seding good vibes is not the way to go. This talk was equally appropriate as a homeopathic expert pitching his products at a pharmaceutical congress. If good intentions were to save the world, this conference would have been obsolete.
Short conclusion:
On the 6th of December, we lost our TED virginity, but we were still hungry for sex – of ideas, that is.
By Elias Veris and Thomas Ghys of InSites Consulting

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