From TED to IBM Insight: A Futurist’s Musings

TED is known best for innovation. Some have called it the un-conference. I went to the #TEDatIBM event last week feeling slightly skeptical. Pessimism isn’t my bag, truly. When it comes to conferences, expectations and the actual experience rarely match up. In this case I can admit that my skepticism was ill founded. The TED experience overall feels different than other conferences… Maybe this is why they are so popular on the interwebs?

TED from Autodesk

Taken at a recent USA Today event hosted at the Autodesk offices in San Francisco.

What matters to me most is content. Each speaker was creative, dynamic and thoughtful in what they shared. I left the event that day with more questions whirling in my brain than answers. They got me thinking. Rarely do conferences do that to me anymore… Honestly, too many conferences have become pay to play “me, me, me” type content regurgitated by corporate shills. What’s also lacking is forethought. For example, TED won’t allow people to bring devices into majority of the auditorium. I love this rule. However, they made an exception for us. They had a ‘hey it’s cool to tweet zone for Futurists- and tweet we did!


Who has two thumbs and a love of tweeting? (but not in a weird way) THIS GAL

Who has two thumbs and a penchant for tweeting? (but not in a weird way) THIS GAL

I’d like to highlight a few of my favorite sessions.

Dr. Chieko Asakawa, Visionary inventor

Dr. Asakawa presented some amazing technologies she’s developed to enhance mobility for the visually impaired. What I loved the most about this talk was the confidence and wit with which she approached her problems. I’ve watched people I care about struggle with mobility. I have even experienced a few mobility problems myself (TL;DR spine stuff). The first thing people can lose along with their mobility is confidence. We’re taught in school about individualism and told repeatedly we’re equal. What they do not teach is that it’s horribly difficult to be different than other people. It’s hard to ask others for help. Technology is the key to taking power back and Dr. Asakawa is one of the closest I’ve seen succeed at that. She flawlessly navigated a set of challenges with her invention that were simply impressive, from finding her ‘boyfriend’ to counting calories in a bag of chips. People like Dr. Asakawa give power to those with impairments in their vision and otherwise. I think that’s the most amazing thing. Technology can enable anyone to excel if they’re up to the challenge.

Dr. Kala Fleming, Water mapper We got schooled on water. Every piece of dribble I’d read about the drought, i.e. link-bait type articles on California’s situation are patently false. We’re doing water all wrong and we’re approaching it incorrectly. We have to think about ways to collect and use the data like Africa is. Many people believe there’s no water in Africa, which is incorrect. It’s just distributed in a less than ideal way. Dr. Fleming went on to delicately describe just how wicked wrong our viewpoints are, especially about African water management. I felt Dr. Fleming hit on the pulse of what many people are thinking about; why don’t we have more intelligence when it comes to water management? When I read that California is not even sure about the amounts of underground water we have it makes me sad. Africa can teach us something about water conservation programmatically and beyond. Will we listen? Dr. Fleming’s observations and research make her a force de wateure (see what I did there?)

Aaron Horowitz, Jerry the Bear This talk took my heart strings and tugged ‘n yanked them. Aaron Horowitz shared sincerely touching stories from his own childhood. He showed the audience pictures of kids who are suffering from diabetes. It robs them of the innocence and simplicity of childhood. Often times the kids with diabetes use their teddy bears as practice patients, acting out their own lives. Jerry the Bear is a smart toy that contributes to both the health and wellness education of kids with diabetes. Children can act out and role play with an interactive toy that makes them feel less alone. Go ahead and go grab a tissue, I’ll wait a minute. It was gripping, to say the least.

IBM Insight
So what’s next? INSIGHT is what’s next (week). As far as I can tell, IBM’s mega conference is like the Burning Man for big data, analytics, IoT and the like. Speakers of note include Ron Howard, Aaron Levie and Brian Grazer. Music will be performed by Maroon 5.

What really excites me isn’t so much the speakers, but meeting new people / seeing my fellow Futurists. Having gotten to tweet with my colleagues at TED, I know it’s going to be a wild geeky ride!