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TEDx Oxford

2011 October 18
by roostonline

Could we live forever, and become cyborgs? Are we facing an Orwellian future in which media moguls or algorithms feed us only the news and information that they deem appropriate for us? Which experiences have shaped some of today’s most influential leaders in their field, and how do they come up with their groundbreaking ideas?

These were some of the questions discussed at the TEDxOxford event on Monday 26th August, an independently-organised TED event for young people from the ages of 16-25 held in Merton College, Oxford. If you don’t already know about TED find out more here: http://www.ted.com/

I went along out of personal interest and on behalf of Roost, and was thoroughly impressed by the calibre of speakers, the quality and breadth of the talks given and the sense of curiosity, passion and engagement that permeated the event. Unlike other TEDx events, this one was open to any young person that applied, and tickets were allocated according to a random lottery. To offer such an impressive experience to young people was admirable and a breath of fresh air: given the recent monetization of education in which brilliant minds and keen pupils are made to reconsider or are actively discouraged from entering university or further education.

Having a degree in Anthropology, and interests in culture, science, technology, social media and marketing, the day’s content was incredibly engaging and interesting for me. The screening of a TED talk from Eli Parsier (which I have previously written about here) and a talk by Chris Goodall (a businessman, author and climate change expert) on media plurality got me thinking about the power certain individuals hold over the flow of knowledge to everyone, in both media and in a more undetectable way on the Internet in general. The more diverse voices and outlets that we have in media, the more our opinions are rigorously tested and challenged as they should be. However, as multinational corporations begin to take over behind the scenes (the likes of BskyB and Murdoch) the more homogenous the opinions we are exposed to, and the greater the risk of losing independent dissonant voices. Likewise, on the internet, the algorithms developed by major players such as Google, Facebook and online news sites increasingly craft the content we view, delivering more and more of the content they think we want to see. Thus the danger of only being exposed to certain things rather than a diversity of issues and opinions puts us in danger of becoming blinkered and unaware of anything beyond a certain limited view.

The other two speakers who most caught my attention were Kevin Warwick and Aubrey du Grey. Kevin is Professor of Cybernetics at Reading University and is a pioneer in his field, so much so that he connected a silicon chip to his own nervous system (by inserting it in his arm) which allowed him to carry out a number of groundbreaking experiments. In one he used his bionic arm and hand to control a robotic counterpart on the other side of the world, and in another, to swipe into a building, open doors, turn on lights and various other interactions with the building simply by gesturing with his hand. These experiments were incredibly exciting as they hint at the possibilities of the future: to defy the limits of place by controlling avatars in multiple locations, to interact with the world around us in newer and more natural ways, and to enhance ourselves by adding abilities that transcend our biological capabilities.

This tied in conceptually with Aubrey De Gray’s talk on life extension. Theoretically, he argued, we can stop the state we call “old age” from occurring. “Old age” as we know it is caused by bodily fatigue: cells wear out after a certain amount of time and so our bodies function less and less effectively. We could stop all this, however, by repairing the damage as it happened, never letting it build up. He argued that we already have all of the technology we need, we just need to deploy it as part of a cohesive system. Once we have made this significant step, he postulates, we will see the first person live to 150 years old, and shortly after we will see the first 1000 year old. Imagine what the world might look like if we could live that long?

There were many other fantastic speakers but those were the ones that most captured my attention. I hope that I have the chance to return to TEDxOxford and to feel again a sense of being involved in an open forum of great minds and free thinking positioned at the forefront of the boundary between the present and the future, between investigation and discovery.

Meg Wise, Junior Community Strategist @ Roost (www.roost-online.com)

www.twitter.com/megamywise

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