Big Ideas for Busy People for Busy People


I’ll keep it quick.


1- Dealing with Disaster – Paul Biddinger

Natural disasters are more frequent nowadays than in any other time in recorded history. Compounding this, populations are concentrating more and more towards disaster-prone areas such as ocean shores and fault lines. How should we deal with these problems? Two ways: Practice (practice, practice) our emergency response procedures and encourage households to prepare themselves. The Boston marathon bombing was a tragedy, but it would have been more of a tragedy had local agencies had not been drilling mass-casualty response procedures for years. The average grocery store will sell out of it’s stock in three days if not continually restocked, and that is in non-emergency times. In emergencies food will quickly become inaccessible. So keep at least 3 days supply in your home at all times.

2- Video Surveillance: Enhancing Security Without Increasing Danger – Larry Kandell

Surveillance technology is everywhere. Think about it, your eyes and everyone elses eyes are surveillance tech (whoa man).  The latest in synthetic tech is just now disseminating through public spaces. This technology entails 360 degree cameras capturing HD footage at a dozen frames per second. Visual recognition software allows automatic identification and tracking of critical objects. A audience member asked the presenter to comment on the human rights issues surrounding the proliferation of advanced surveillance technology. The response: Everyone has a different set point wherein fair surveillance becomes an invasion of privacy. Leaders and citizens must have a constant dialogue about this as the technology spreads.

3- Dancing in the Age of Bionics – Elliott Rouse

This guy helped design a prosthetic foot that could could be used to dance. But it’s not like anyone missing a foot could pop this on and hit the dance floor. It takes a significant amount of research and calibration to allow the foot to responds to the needs of the dancer it was designed for There is no one-size-fits-all prosthetic solution, but we are getting there.

4 The End of History Illusion – Daniel Gilbert

People tend to drastically underestimate how much they will change in the coming years. Research shows that time drastically alters the values people hold and the ways in which they behave. The thing is, people rarely recognize how much change their future will bring. When surveyed most say they believe will change very little in the coming years, but when psychometric evaluations are used to track personality changes over time these same people often undergo dramatic personality shifts. The cause of this short-sightedness is the fact that it is easier to remember our past than it is to imagine our future. It is hard to creatively forecast how we might evolve in the coming years, it is easier to think about what we are and lazily cast our memories out as predictions. “Human beings are works in progress who mistakenly believe they are finished products”.

5 From a Magic Trick to the Design of Materials – Tadashi Tokieda

A clear cup is shown, coiled inside the cup is a length of chain. One end of the chain is pulled out of the cup and dropped, causing the rest of the chain to follow it out of the cup. But the chain doesn’t just pour out of the cup. The chain shoots out of the cup as if it was being propelled by an unseen source of power. Picture a powerful water fountain. The demonstrator says that people often point to the stars or towards computers to expound the wonders of physics. But there are simple yet awe-inspiring examples of physics everywhere around us. Someone from the audience asks how to go about finding these simple miracles. The demonstrator responds that you find the wonders of physics in the same way you find wonderful friends. Curiosity and persistence.

6 The Temporary Universe – Alan Lightman

Everything in the universe is temporary. Even the sun will one day burn out. The entire universe will one day (theoretically) be an infinitely diffuse cloud of near-nothingness. Why do humans so desperately cling to what is, cling to what can never be again? He posits two conclusions. The first is that we are deluding ourselves, we futiley cling to things we can never have. The second is that perhaps our longing for permanence is justified by forces in nature yet undiscovered, maybe we will discover a force that allows us to grasp the infinite which we long for. He says it’s probably just delusion.

7 How Did the Atmosphere Become Breathable? – Tanja Bosak

Oxygen, we need it. It makes up 20 percent of our breathable atmosphere. In the past it has been much, much lower. 2.4 billion years ago there was a “great oxygenation event” in which levels of oxygen on Earth’s atmosphere drastically rose, yet the levels were still thousands of times lower than now. 560 million years ago we see the first signs of life that likely needed oxygen in the atmosphere to survive. What caused the rise in oxygen? We have no idea. It is one of the most basic questions in the field of Earth sciences, but we do not know the answer to it.

8 Climate Change comes to Thoreau’s Concord – Richard Primack

The legendary American author Henry David Thoreau kept detailed measurements of the Concord Massachusetts changing natural variables. Bird migration patterns, dates of plants flowering, Thoreau’s measurements are the most detailed accounts we have of the natural world in the 19th century. Predictably, these variables have changed significantly in contemporary times. For example, flowers now blossom 10 days to 2 weeks earlier than in Thoreau’s time. Modern environmental scientists have a strong understanding of how global climate trends have affected birds and plants, how insects have been affected is now the hot area of research. Understanding how the behavior of insects will change is the missing link in forming a predictive picture of global climate change’s ecological impact.

9 Can Supercomputers Diagnose Heart Disease? Amanda Randles 

Imagine this. Your doctor is worried you are in risk of suffering heart disease. He takes a scan of your entire body through an MRI. This data is converted into a 3 dimensional computer simulation of your body and it’s entire cardiovascular system. One of the world’s fastest supercomputers runs a simulation of blood flowing through your body, virtualizing the individual physics of hundreds of millions of blood cells flowing over dozens of simulated years. This data allows doctors to determine exactly how your circulatory system might fail you and formulate a targeted prescription. Now imagine this, the FDA has already approved forms of this technology.

10 Addiction by Design – Natasha Schull

Slot-machines now make above 75 percent of gambling revenues. Retirees and women make up the majority of slot-machine users. What attracts people to slot machines with such fervor? The act of a using a slot-machine is solitary, continuous, and rapid. These three traits allow someone playing a slot-machine to enter a comfortably numb zone. These people do not play-to-win, they play-to-win-to-play. The act of playing is a warming sedative. “They are not interested in entertainment, they want to be totally absorbed and in a rhythm.” ( my thoughts: Facebook, anyone?)


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