Review :: TED Talks @ Carriageworks

May 31st 2011


Inventor Saul Griffiths thinks the future is awesome.

To Griffiths, it’s not useful thinking about the future as a looming wave of disaster. It’s much more useful think about the future as a place where you could be exploring the ocean in a mechanical shark or going to the moon with your dog. Instead of worryingly warm summers at best and cataclysmic armageddon at worst, we could have skies filled with airplane-sized kites and self-replicating machines. Thinking like this is useful, according to Griffith, because it’s hard to get motivated to self-inflict a thousand tiny sacrifices to cut your carbon footprint, but it’s really easy to get excited about doing something positive if it involves jetpacks.

Last year the TEDx conference made its first appearance in front of a live Sydney audience. TEDx is a locally-organised variation of TED (which stands for technology, entertainment, and design), an online and live arena for people thinking up extraordinary and often revolutionary new things. The event is a terrarium of photosynthesising ideas. That terrarium first sprouted in 1984 as a series of live lectures in California. In 2006 the talks were broadcast online, making the ideas of extraordinary people accessible and spawning hundreds of live events around the globe.

Saul Griffith was one the speakers at the latest event, held in Sydney's CarriageWorks over the weekend. Others included astronomer Bryan Gaensler, bird behaviourist Josh Cook, and engineer Veena Sahajwalla. Sahajwalla is an engineer but she works like an alchemist. Looking for a way to reuse discarded materials she discovered a way to turn car tyres into steel, which is something that you can only do if you’re a magician with a 1500 degree Celsius oven. This is the kind of surprising idea that TED specialises in. Similarly supernatural ideas discussed at the Sydney conference included a camera that might one day be able to record all the sky at once and a flock of macaws, parrots, and cockatoos taught to fly together over the mountains.

The TED ideas are exciting because their inventors are making them come true. If Saul Griffith has his way, the sky will be filled with kites, and they’ll be producing energy from the wind. That sounds pretty awesome to me.


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