TED 2011 Day One Highlights

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TED 2011 kicked off in Long Beach with a typically eclectic line-up that included director general of Al Jazeera, Wadah Khanfar, New York Times columnist and author David Brooks, crowdsourcing composer Eric Whitacre, MIT's Carlo Ratti and Google Creative Lab's Aaron Koblin (both CAT alums) and designer Thomas Heatherwick. TED organizers also announced the launch of a new education initiative, TED Ed.

The first talk of this year's event, which is themed The Rediscovery of Wonder, commenced with a contemplation on the sound of space and black holes from physicist Janna Levin, who left the audience to wonder whether "our universe was one plume of a greater history...one part of a multi-verse.”

Al Jazeera's Khanfar brought things back to earth with a discussion of recent events in Egypt and Tunisia, proclaiming, "the future we've been dreaming of has arrived." A new generation of well educated and connected young people are inspired by "universal values," and have found a new way to express national feelings, said Khanfar of the protests that have led to the removal of longstanding dictatorships. "The internet and connectivity have created a new mindset," in the Arab world, he said.

Khanfar said that Al Jazeera is "not a tool of revolution," but the broadcaster played a central role in the uprising in Egypt, amplifying the voice of the people protesting. After the channel was banned in Egypt, he said its camera operators and journalists "went underground," and that he received feedback that keeping the cameras on Tahrir Square prevented more violent action against protesters. He urged listeners to "accept the choice of the people" and, to much applause, said that the values of democracy and freedom of choice are the best opportunity for the world, west and east, to establish peace and tolerance.

Google's data artist Aaron Koblin ran down some projects that will be familiar to Creativity/CAT followers, including Flight Plan, Bicycle Built for 2000, the Johnny Cash Project and the Wilderness Downtown. He showcased the projects by way of demonstrating that "the interface is the message."

Some of the most applauded talks came from the lesser known names.

National Geogaphic photographer Paul Nicklen, who specializes in polar wildlife, inspired chills (and one of many standing ovations) with his never before seen images of arctic creatures including the spirit bear, or kermode bear, a rare light-colored black bear that he had tracked for Nat Geo. Nicklen talked about melting polar ice in the context of the creatures he photographs, from polar bears to the tiny arthropods that live under the ice and form the basis of an ecosystem. The highlight of Nicklen's talk was his tale of his underwater encounter with an enormous female leopard seal, who defied the species' fearsome reputation by offering him gifts of penguins.

Other highlights:

War Horse
Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler of South Africa's Handspring Puppet Company introduced Joey, the human-powered puppet star of War Horse, the London stage show that is opening on Broadway in the spring.

Virtual Choirs
Composer and conductor Eric Whitacre chronicled the creation of a series of virtual choirs that brought together the voices of singers from around the world. Inspired by a YouTube clip of a young singer performing one of his songs, Whitacre assembled 185 singers online, with their performance of his Lux Aurumque cut together to form a collaborative choir. He also previewed his new project, a bigger virtual choir performance of his song Sleep.

Our Choice - the book
Former Apple developer Mike Matas who is now developing next generation e-book systems through Push Pop Press showcased the company's launch title, Al Gore's Our Choice, the interactive follow-up to An Inconvenient Truth.

TED's Chris Anderson wrapped up the day with the announcement that the non profit TED organization would launch a new education-oriented program, TED Ed, what it calls commitment to global education. TED Ed will assemble an archive of videos on an education theme and is seeking educators, filmmakers and other creative professionals to contribute to the TED Ed Brain Trust.
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