Today started with a performance and talk by 10-year-old piano prodigy Harris Wang. As host Moses Znaimer joked in the introduction, “So what have you all accomplished in your lives?”
As expected the day was a wide mix of speakers, ranging from music (piano, singing and birds), optical illusions, magic, 3D TV and robotics to city poetry, science fiction, industrial design, environmentalism and pilatecize (yoga-ish stretching). The format of the conference is that each speaker gets a strictly-enforced 20 minutes to present, in the format of their choosing, something that they are passionate about. The bonus is that many of the speakers hang around to listen to others and are mingling in the crowd during the breaks. Even Miss Universe is here.
A few presentations that really stuck out:
Steve Schklair, founding principal of Cobalt Entertainment and its subsidiary 3ality Digital Systems, spoke about where movies, music and sports are headed with regards to 3D. He stressed the differences of a lean-forward experience such as with a computer and lean-back experiences like those found in theatres and at home with your entertainment system. Schklair pointed out that technology has advanced stereo and surround audio considerably and that visuals are gradually catching up. It will be most apparent first in digital signage and probably go big-time with concert videos (like “U2 3D,” which was recently filmed in Argentina) and Monday Night Football.
Philosopher and composer David Rothenberg demonstrated a remarkable clip of him playing clarinet to birds at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh. They sang along and together they had a pretty cool cross-species jam session. He also played some slowed down bird songs and they revealed some funky tunes not unlike human music – and in fact not unlike sped-up whale music or slowed down cat meows. Perhaps we all sing the same language. It’s “survival of the most interesting”.
The artist – mechanical designer – engineer team of Max Dean, Matt Donovan and Raffaello d’Andrea revealed the first-ever public presentation of their robotic chair. It’s a 21-year-in-the-making simple wood chair that wobbled, shattered into pieces and, autonomously and within about 10 minutes, figured out the mess and rebuilt itself on stage. The applications of such autonomous robotics is huge – just think of warehousing and traffic.
Three of the final sessions were environmental themed; all were passionate. Gordon Blankstein spoke of his efforts at endangered animal conservation. Tzeporah Berman talked about the loss of old growth forests. And in a charming (and perhaps a little ironic presentation), a former VP of Ford in Europe, Andy Eggleston described how his new hydrogen-powered motorcycle (ENV) venture lets him reconcile his love for autos with the obvious need for more efficiency in the auto industry. “The throughput is too much,” he said. “It’s all at your disposal, but you can’t have it all.”
The last guest of the day was Pete Seeger. What a privilege to listen to him (“I don’t have much voice left but I still visit schools when I can, and I can’t say I don’t see hope.”) and to sing some of tunes like “Turn, Turn, Turn” with this (frail) folk legend.
Other interesting comments include:
Science author and filmmaker Michael Lennick hinted that we are within months of an announcement of a sentient robot. Discovery Channel TV host Jay Ingram, in a discussion about consciousness and how one’s mental life is much larger than what one is aware of, asked “Can you access your unconscious in a way that will improve your life?” (that discovery is within a decade). Former Nokia Chief of Design Frank Nuovo reminded the audience a lot of good developments come from slowing down the machine and embrace precision craft in a new way – as he is doing with Nokia’s luxury offshoot Vertu. Magician Franz Harary explained how he takes advantage of our natural tendency towards linear thinking (and why kids are the toughest audience). Finally, Al Seckel, a Cal Tech researcher of optical illusions described their effect as “expectations violated in a delightful way”. Which, if you think of it, is a nice way of approaching ideas.