The first session of the day opens (like several TED sessions) with Thomas Dolby and his House Band, which provide the live soundtrack of the conference.
Iconic Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr (he's invested in Google, Amazon, Sun and others) talks about greentech, around which Silicon Valley seems to be reinventing itself, leaving behind the "dotcom/I-have-a-business-plan" era and moving anew into engineering real tech (see these stories in the San Francisco Chronicle).
I'm scared. I don't think we're gonna make it, he says. Shortly after I saw Al Gore's speech at TED last year (original post; video), I had a conversation over dinner with friends on global warming, and when it came to my 15-year-old daughter, she said: "I'm scared and I'm angry; your generation created this problem, you better fix it". I didn't know what to say. Maybe there are times when panic is the appropriate response, and we may have reached that time. (BG note: this reminds me of the "good ancestor principle"). We cannot afford to ignore this problem. We must act decisively. For me everything changed that evening. My partners and myself (at VC firm Kleiner Perkins) mobilized, and the more we learned, the more concerned we grew.
The first lesson is that companies are really powerful. When Wal-Mart last year made "going green" a top priority, committing to reduce energy use in their stores -- it matters because it is massive. They are the largest employer in the US, have the largest private fleet on the roads, andwhen they declare that they can "go green" and be profitable, they can have a big effect on other companies. If they achieve reducing 20% energy consumption, that will matter.
But it won't be enough. The second thing we learned is that individuals are powerful. We should all switch to fluorescent lightbulbs. It is stupid that we use two tons of steel plastic and glass (a car) to go to the store to buy bread. It is stupid that we put water in plastic bottles in Fiji and ship it here. As long as we pretend that CO2 is free, we won't be able to create change. The third lesson is that policy matters. The most important thing right now is to make it clear to politicians to have a system that caps and mandates reduction of greenhouse gases. Doerr mentions his (and others') lobbying for a law that was passed recently in California, mandating 25% reduction of greenhouse gases by 2020. But that's not enough. Here is a story about national policy: we went to Brazil, to meet the producers of ethanol. Brazil's government mandated that every gas station in the country carry ethanol, and every vehicle run on ethanol. 85% of their cars run on flex fuels. But even Brazil ethanol policy is not enough. I'm afraid all of the best policies we have are not enough.
Every year 1.5 million people die of malaria around the world. A team from Berkeley is designing a new way to make anti-malaria drugs, to make it 10 times cheaper -- through synthetic biology. What has this to do with green? This technology can be used to make better biofuels. This is a really big deal: it means that we can precisely engineer the molecules and design them the right way. In 2005, 600 million USD were invested in these new techs; 1.2 billion in 2006. But we need much more. It is almost criminal that we are not investing more in energy research in the US.
So despite Wal-Mart, ethanol, cutting-edge biologists, I'm afraid it's not enough. The wild card in this is China. China's CO2 emissions are passing those of the US. But the Chinese say: "why should we sacrifice our growth, so that the West can continue to be profligate and stupid?". I don't have an answer to that.
Green technology is bigger than the Internet. It's the biggest economic opportunity of the XXI century. If the trajectory of all the world -- companies, individuals, policies, innovation -- is not gonna be enough, what are we going to do? Make "going green" your next big thing. Become carbon neutral (BG note: I have my doubts about carbon offsets). Lobby for green legislation. Use your personal power to push your company to go green. Because if we do (Doerr stops talking, he is getting visibly emotional, and starts to cry) I can look forward to the conversation I will have with my daughter in 20 years. (His daughter is in the room and stands up to hug him).
TEDster Ron Dembo is on stage for three minutes. He's an expert in mathematical modeling and risk analysis, CEO and founder of ZeroFootprint in Toronto, which works towards sustainability by guiding users to "green" products and services or through things like carbon offsetting. He agrees with all Doerr has said. He says that over 40% of total US greenhouse gases comes from operating buildings, and suggests that a possible solution to the problem is to promote ground source heating.
Robin Chase is the founder of Zipcar, the US' leading car-sharing company (which was founded after similar companies in Europe) is also scared -- scared that we won't be able to dramatically reduce CO2 within the required time frame to avert catastrophic effects. It's not a movie. It's happening. Her speech is about using market-based pricing to affect demand for car mobility, and wireless technology to create more efficiency. People just say: let's use fuel-efficent cars. But even if we start today, we may reduce consumption by a few percent, that's not enough. She explains how Zipcar (carsharing) works, and what social results it produces: 100'000 members sharing 3'000 cars, and driving much less on average than car owners, because people respond quickly to prices: if you know that picking up the Zipcar car to go buy an ice-cream at the mall costs you 8 dollars for 1 hour of car driving, you may reconsider it, buy the ice cream when you do your weekly shopping. That drives consumption down.
She talks about her new venture: GoLoco.com, which is an attempt at developing ridesharing. 75% of all trips in the US today are single occupancy vehicles. Sharing rides will transform the way we travel, with huge social benefits, from fewer cars congesting the highways to less demand for parking to more efficiency of fuel use (spread over several people), to a reduction of the portion of our income that goes into cars. Why do we drive too much: because car travel is underpriced, so we consume alot. We need to put price tags on car travel. When will we start to charge people what it really costs to drive? And what kind of wireless tech are we going to use to enable more efficient use of cars? She suggests ad hoc peer-to-peer self-configuring wireless networks (aka "mesh networks") where every device contributes to expand the network. Low-cost devices, with zero ongoing communication costs, highly scalable (just keep adding devices), resilient and redundant networks. How do we create a big network? By putting wireless in cars. Imagine if we put a mesh network device in every single car across America. We could have a coast-to-coast free wireless communication system, possibly accessible to everyone with open standards. As a major side effect, we could have a new tool for creating energy efficiency in every sectors. I believe this is as important to our economy as electrification. (BG note: cars seem to me the wrong place to put a good idea -- mesh networks -- because they move. Cars should be the "clients" of the network, which could be built along roads).
Anand Agarawala is a student at the university of Toronto who has created Bumptop, an evolution of the computer's desktop metaphor to make it more "natural" (piling up documents on a corner for later use, flip through them, etc). After Jeff Han's demonstration yesterday, this is the second computer interface innovation that made me think (and I'm not alone in this) "I want one". He shows Bumptop -- just click "play" to see a demo (6 minutes):
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Finance and Foreign minister of Nigeria, known for her tough policies on corruption and debt reduction, is next on stage -- she provides somehow a link to the upcoming TEDGLOBAL in Tanzania next June. There are stories about Africa that you hear all time: the Africa of poverty, violence, HIV/AIDS, disaster. But there is an Africa that you don't hear often about, the Africa that's changing, the Africa of people that are taking their destiny into their hands. In Sept 2005, the governor of one of the richest oil states in Nigeria, was arrested in London because of money transfers in the millions that went into an account that belongs to him and his family. Today he is in jail. This is not trivial: people in Africa are no longer willing to tolerate corruption from their leaders. People want their resources managed properly for their good, not stolen by the elites. In some countries people and governments are fighting corruption. There is still a long way to go, but there is a will there. Figures show that the trend is downwards in terms of corruption, and governance is getting better.
There is a will for reform. Africans are tired of being the subject of everybody's charity. We are grateful, but we know that we can take charge of our destiny if we have the will to reform. No one can do it but us. We can invite partners that can support us, but we have to start, reform our economies, change our leaderships, become more democratic and open. Nigeria has 140 million chaotic people but very dynamic people. We put forward a comprehensive reform program which we developed ourselves (not the World Bank or others). A program that would get the state out of businesses it should not be in, because it is often inefficient and incompetent. At the end of 2003 we started privatizing markets. We had a telecom company that had developed 4500 land telephone lines in its whole life. After liberalization of the telecom market, we went to 32 million GSM mobile phones. The other thing we have also done is to manage our finances better. In Nigeria the oil sector had the reputation of being corrupt. We introduced a fiscal rule that de-links our budget from the oil price, and began to budget at a price lower than the oil price. It was very controversial, but it took out the volatility from the system, and we are able to save and create reserves. Brought inflation down to 11%, GDP growth up to 6%. We want to get away from oil and diversify. Most of our growth came from non-oil sectors.
There is a new wave in the continent, of democratization and reform. Not everything is perfect, but the trend is clear. The average rate of growth in the last three years has moved from 1.5 % to 5%. Things are changing. Conflicts are down. The best way to help Africans today, is to help them to stand on their own feet, by helping in creating jobs. There is no issue in fighting malaria, of course. But imagine the impact if the parents can have jobs and buy the drugs to fight the disease themselves. And some of the best people to invest in on the continent are the women.
She concludes by mentioning the Africa Open for Business documentary featuring African entrepreneurs.
My colleague June Cohen, TED's Media Director, goes on stage to give a preview of the new TED website, which will be launched in a couple of weeks. She tells how last year TED decided to "open up" and distribute the talks of its speakers online, in video, for free (thanks to a generous sponsorship by BMW). It has been an unexpected success: TEDtalks have been downloaded or streamed over 6 million times since last summer, almost one million a month, trend growing. They're currently distributed on TED's website and blog as well as on YouTube, Yahoo Video, Google Video, AOL, iTunes, etc. We have been adding two-three new talks every week, and will continue to do so, including of course all the talks from this year's conference, and we are partnering with other conferences as well. The new website will be structured around the TEDtalks, and will allow everyone to create a personal profile, comment on the speeches, and more. Here is how it will look (still a work in progress):
June adds her belief that the newest digital technologies are returning us to the most ancient form of media — one in which a natural order is restored; our individual stories take center stage, with the rest of the world as a backdrop.
Poet Rives -- a wordsmith with an engineering background -- offers a comedic break with a verbal riff about "4 in the morning". Sorry I can't possibly summarize it, but you can see his previous TEDtalk recorded in New York last November.
Larry Lessig (blog), professor at Stanford and co-founder of Creative Commons, which is his way of fighting what he calls "the overregulation of 21st-century creativity and innovation" produced by the copyright system (which was crafted in the 19th century), tells three stories about user-generated content.
First story: 1906 John Philip Sousa traveled to Washington to talk about the "talking machines" (records) that, he said, "are going to ruin artistic development of music":
"These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country. When I was a boy...in front of every house in the summer evenings, you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or old songs. Today you hear these infernal machines going night and day. We will not have a vocal cord left. The vocal cord will be eliminated by a process of evolution, as was the tail of man when he came from the ape"
If this makes you smile, Lessig takes it very seriously. Sousa's remarks were certainly romantic, but basically what he was saying is that before music was recorded people participated in a read-write culture. Since, the "machines" have created a top-down, read-only culture, where some produce and the mass consumes.
Second story: land is property. Trespass law protects the land, including up and down (underground and sky). Until the airplane came along: were they trespassers? Justice decided that the doctrine was against common sense, and that airplanes were not trespassers.
Third story: When broadcast came along, the first conflicts over access to music happened. ASCAP, who was then controlling copyright, raised the fees that it charged to broadcasters by more than 400 percent between 1931-39. Broadcasters began a competing organization, BMI, pushing even music by black musicians and putting music in the public domain. ASCAP predicted that "people would revolt", but that didn't happen, and BMI changed music consumption forever.
Lessig's argument: the most significant thing is to recognize that what the Internet is doing is the opportunity to revive the read-write culture that Sousa romanticized. User-generated content celebrating amateur culture, by which I don't mean amateurish culture, but culture that people produce for the love of what they do and not for the money. He shows some examples of anime music videos and other amateur-made videos, remixes, etc. It is important to emphasize that this is not piracy (taking other people's content in wholesale and distribute it without the permission of the content's owner). The importance of this is not the technique that you see here. The importance is that the technique has been democratized. Now everybody with access to a computer can take images and sounds and words and create with it. These tools are tools of literacy. This is what your kids are.
The law has not greeted this new use of culture through digital technologies with much common sense. Instead, the architects of copyright law are produced the presumption that this is illegal. If copyright protects from copy, the problem is in the digital domain every single use of culture produces a copy. We are seeing a growing extremism from both sides in this debate: one side wants to build new technologies that allow, for example, to take automatically down copyrighted content from sites like YouTube. On the other side, there is a growing copyright abolitionism. Both extremisms in this debate are just wrong. The balance that I try to fight for, is a solution that can legalize what it means to be young again.
How does this connect to our kids? We have to recognize they kids different from us. We watch TV, they make TV. It is technology that has made them different. We can't kill the instincts that tech produces, we can only criminalize them. We can't make our kids passive again, we can only make them "pirates". We live in a strange time, like a new age of prohibition, our kids live lives against the law. This is extraordinarily corrupting. In a democracy we ought to be able to do better. At least for them.