I’ve been at TED all week, dazzled by how much stuff I didn’t know was going on.
Some of it is really bad.
Like the desertification that’s consuming so much of the planet — way more than I realized — and not, as it turns out, caused primarily by climate change. That just makes it worse.
But so much of it is really positive.
After decades of failed attempts even to understand the causes of desertification, distinguished Zimbabwean biologist Allan Savory seems to have figured it out and demonstrated a workable solution.
And there was 15-year-old Jack Andraka recounting his invention of a test for cancer that is dramatically faster, spectacularly cheaper (about three bucks), and sensationally more accurate than what we have now. By catching cancers early, his new method may save tens of millions of lives including yours and mine. He will be graduating from high school in May.
And there was South African-born PayPal co-founder Elon Musk who’s in the midst of building launching three even more ambitious companies: Tesla, whose electric cars two of my friends now own and love; Solar City, placing panels on rooftops; and SpaceX, sending rockets into space and, he thinks, one day men and women to Mars.
Taylor Wilson, 18, is the kid who invented the dramatically more efficient way of protecting our ports from nuclear terrorism . . . and who revealed to us Tuesday his design for assembly-line-produced safe 50-megawatt nuclear power plants that eat down-blended plutonium — the former weapons stuff we haven’t found great ways to dispose of (and would also work fine with thorium, of which I’ve written previously). Small enough, perhaps, to go to Mars to power Elon Musk’s first colony.
Stewart Brand told us how after 6 million years the passenger pigeon — which had been North America’s most prevalent avian species — went extinct in 1914, thanks to the human species. But how he and others are planning their regenesis. And the regenesis of, ultimately, scores upon scores of extinct species. The aurochs, for sure — once Europe’s equivalent of our buffalo — but even the woolly mammoth.
Ron Finley walked us through some of the 20 gardens he’s planted in South Central LA, bringing fresh food to a neighborhood blighted by diabetes, inspiring kids to see that gardening is gangsta, noting that “if kids grow tomatoes, they’ll eat tomatoes.” (Don’t miss this one.)
And soooo many more. The Canadian architect who’s found a safe smart way to build 30-storey skyscrapers out of wood, Sergey Brin showing off Google glasses (you may want a pair, after all), the Chinese artist who makes himself invisible, the young Brit who overcame schizophrenia and learned to live with the voices in her head — and gave her talk to us even as they were talking to her — the North Korean refugee, the Ghanaian undercover journalist, Ben Affleck introducing the Kinshasa Symphony, a team working to communicate with other species . . . the head spins, and there’s another day of this.
Most of the talks have not yet been posted, but if you have time, watch this one, by Sugata Mitra. It won a $1 million TED prize. Watch what happens when a computer is left in a hole in the wall of a slum. His idea could lead to a revolution in education. And will at the very least make you smile.