Danny Hillis: The Internet could crash. We need a Plan B

Carla enjoyed Danny Hillis' presentation at TED2013. Here's how he began the talk:

So, this book that I have in my hand is a directory of everybody who had an email address in 1982. (Laughter) Actually, it's deceptively large. There's actually only about 20 people on each page, because we have the name, address and telephone number of every single person. And, in fact, everybody's listed twice, because it's sorted once by name and once by email address. Obviously a very small community. There were only two other Dannys on the Internet then. I knew them both. We didn't all know each other, but we all kind of trusted each other, and that basic feeling of trust permeated the whole network, and there was a real sense that we could depend on each other to do things.

So just to give you an idea of the level of trust in this community, let me tell you what it was like to register a domain name in the early days. Now, it just so happened that I got to register the third domain name on the Internet. So I could have anything I wanted other than bbn.com and symbolics.com. So I picked think.com, but then I thought, you know, there's a lot of really interesting names out there. Maybe I should register a few extras just in case. And then I thought, "Nah, that wouldn't be very nice."

Danny Hillis: The Internet could crash. We need a Plan B

TED2013: Amanda Palmer on "The art of asking"


Amanda Palmer's talk about "the art of asking" was one of Carla's favorites at TED2013. The video is now up and has been watched 750,000 times since it was posted a couple of days ago.

Amanda Palmer commands attention. The singer-songwriter-blogger-provocateur, known for pushing boundaries in both her art and her lifestyle, made international headlines this year when she raised nearly $1.2 million via Kickstarter (she’d asked for $100k) from nearly 25,000 fans who pre-ordered her new album, Theatre Is Evil.

But the former street performer, then Dresden Dolls frontwoman, now solo artist hit a bump the week her world tour kicked off. She revealed plans to crowdsource additional local backup musicians in each tour stop, offering to pay them in hugs, merchandise and beer per her custom. Bitter and angry criticism ensued (she eventually promised to pay her local collaborators in cash). And it's interesting to consider why. As Laurie Coots suggests: "The idea was heckled because we didn't understand the value exchange -- the whole idea of asking the crowd for what you need when you need it and not asking for more or less." Summing up her business model, in which she views her recorded music as the digital equivalent of street performing, she says: “I firmly believe in music being as free as possible. Unlocked. Shared and spread. In order for artists to survive and create, their audiences need to step up and directly support them.”

TED2013 -- Amanda Palmer: The art of asking

See all TED2013 coverage

TED2013: Takeaway roundup

Every talk this week had a message that could help us shape our personal lives as well as the bigger world around us. I want to conclude my TED coverage with four talks that resonated most with me. The over-arching takeaway here was that obstacles give us the opportunity to think, problem-solve, and create something amazing.

Amanda Palmer: Asking is connecting

Before Amanda Palmer got her alt-rock band Dresden Dolls off the ground, she was an 8-foot living statue for five years. She says her work as a street performer gave her the ability to directly connect with her music fans, which she did by hanging out with them, inviting them up on the stage with her, and getting to know them on a personal level. This unconventional relationship between performer and audience allowed her to turn the music industry's business model on its head. She decided to give her music away for free, and in exchange, she would receive things she needed - a piano, food, a place to crash - just by asking. When she asked for $100,000 on kickstarter, she received $1.2million. By asking people, you connect with them, and by connecting with them, they want to help you. "When we really see each other, we want to help each other. People have been obsessed with the wrong question, which is, 'How do we make people pay for music?' What if we started asking, 'How do we let people pay for music."

Read the rest

TED2013: Bluebrain's location-aware albums

Imagine strolling through New York's Central Park with earbuds, listening to music that changes its melody and emotion as you pass each statue, monument, pond, and play area. For instance, if you are walking towards Bethesda Fountain, the orchestral instruments might build to a dramatic crescendo as you approach the water, and walking past a pond might sound the way a Zen monastery feels. This is the kind of experience TED Fellow Ryan Holladay creates with his "location-aware albums," music apps that use GPS to accompany specific landscapes such as The National Mall and Central Park.

Living between Washington DC and California, Ryan, 31, works with his brother Hays, 29, as the duo BLUEBRAIN, where they experiment with interactive music in big ways. After a few busy days at TED we finally connected for a Q&A.

Do you and your brother write the music for your "location-aware albums?" If so, do you walk around the spaces that the music is intended for before writing it? I guess what I really want to know is how the process works between creating the music and figuring out the space that it will fit into.

Yes, all of the music is written and produced by Hays and me. Although we've had a number of great collaborators, from string players and drummers to opera singers and software engineers. The process of writing music for a park like the National Mall is kind of a strange one. The walls of our recording studio are covered with giant maps that we use to sort of plan out the various ways the music can unfold. It helps to visualize it as we're writing. But then a lot of the process is spending time in the park itself, walking back and fourth testing both the accuracy of the GPS in addition to mapping out the music.

Read the rest

TED2013: My Top 3 Wednesday TED Talks

Today's TED2013 line-up was once again filled with amazing people with super-charged ideas and skills. I really can’t pick any bests out of the bunch, but here are three talks that stood out for me.

Black: Yo-Yo Performance Artist

Wow! Never has yoyo-ing seemed so elegant, exciting, and dare I say, beautiful. Black is a cross between an amazing yo-yo champion, graceful gymnast, and gasp-inducing magician. He got his first yo-yo when he was 14 and spent hours with it every day. By age 18, after 10,000 hours of practice, he became the world’s yo-yo champion in 2001. But then he quit and became an engineer, thinking that taking the title of World Champ was as far as he could go. He couldn’t, however, squash the yo-yo passion that lived inside him, and by 2007 he was back at it, this time winning World Champion in the Artistic Performance category.

When Black performs, the yo-yo goes from being a toy to a spectacular prop. Wearing black sensei garments, he is precise with his choreography, dramatically moving his yo-yo in time with music that combines percussions with sounds of nature. Later he shoots his yo-yo out towards a nearby table, and suddenly the yo-yo grabs and holds a white cloth napkin, which he reels in with one quick snap. Later the yo-yo is spinning while Black is contorted into a backbend that makes his body seem hardly human.

This video is from the 2011 TEDx Tokyo and only shows a fraction of what he did today. But at least it will give you a peek.

Stewart Brand: Animal De-Extinction

Stewart Brand began his TED talk today with the statement, “Biotechnology is about to liberate conservation.” Before I had a chance to process what that meant, he went on to list a number of birds and mammals that have become extinct in the last few centuries, including the passenger pigeon, which was killed off by hunters in the 1930s. For a moment my mood plunged, as it always does with conversations of human-caused animal extinction. And then he asked the question, “What if DNA could be used to bring a species back?” I felt a tsunami of awe and excitement barrel through the audience. This was as exciting as his declaration about the digital world in 1984 when he said, “Information wants to be free.”

Read the rest

TED2013: Interview with creators of Romo iPhone robot

One of the biggest charmers at TED2013 so far has been Romo the Robot, who rolled and whizzed around the stage with one of his creators, Keller Rinaudo. With large bubbly eyes, four fang-like teeth, and a happy alien voice, it's easy to forget that this animated robot is actually just an iPhone mounted on a rolling platform.

"We wanted to build a robot that anyone can use, whether you're eight or eighty," Rinaudo told the audience. So he and his two friends - Peter Sodd and Phu Nguyen - all from Phoenix, created Romo, who you can control from an iPad, computer, or another iPhone after downloading its free app. The three twenty-somethings then started their company, Romotive, where you can purchase Romo for $150. I spoke to them after the talk.

What's the purpose of Romo?

Rinaudo: He's just a robot that anyone can program and hack. He's also just fun to play with. You can invite anyone to control Romo from anywhere in the world. We think of him as a robot, but a lot of people buy him for kids, especially because when kids create behaviors for him and they try to train Robo how to do things, they are actually learning about computer science. It's a really cool way to get kids excited about technology and robotics and coding.

Read the rest

Video of "invisibility cloak" at TED

Yesterday I linked to a video of Baile Zhang's "invisibility cloak," which was demoed at TED2013. The video was hosted by Dropbox, which killed the link (too much traffic). Here's a YouTube version of the same video, courtesy of Ben Kellogg.

See all TED2013 coverage

Invisibility Cloak demoed at TED2013

I'm here at TED2013 in Long Beach, jacked up on amazing coffee and mind-blowing ideas from today's 4-minute TED fellow talks (the longer 18-minute talks start tomorrow).

I was only part-way through the first day when I had to take a moment to track down Baile Zhang, an assistant professor of physics at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, who had demonstrated his "invisibility cloak." Now I'll admit, when I first heard of Zhang's invention, I pictured - against common sense - an invisibility cloak similar to the one Professor Dumbledore gave to Harry Potter. So I was a little surprised when the cloak looked more like a tiny clear plastic box just a few inches high, reminding me of a magic trick prop my 9-year-old daughter might have. Nevertheless, the cloak's ability to conceal an object so that both the cloak and the object become invisible was astonishing. Zhang placed the cloak over a bright pink Post-it note and voila! Nothing! The pink paper disappeared. And the cloak itself wasn't really visible in the first place.

I found 31-year-old Zhang in the auditorium, watching other TED Fellows talk. He told me the cloak is made out of two pieces of calcite, or optical crystals - found in nature - that are cemented together. The calcite bends light and suppresses shadows, creating the effect of, well, nothingness. When I asked him what his big plans were with this reality-bending invention, he said it had no purpose. He just created it for fun. He does, however, plan to make it bigger. How big? "As large as possible." The idea came to him in 2010, and today was the first time he's shown it to a live audience.

Above: a video of the invisibility cloak taken before today. I have to say, today's demonstration was even more spectacular, but this is still pretty amazing.

See all TED2013 coverage