Friday, November 12, 2010

TEDx Talpiot

TEDx is a locally-organized conference based on, and with the blessing of, the TED project. TED's rules for TEDx are that the event not be for profit, not promote any political, national, or religious agenda, and that it stick to the premise of "ideas worth spreading".

TEDx Talpiot, held yesterday evening at Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, was a successful and enjoyable event. Around 300 or so people heard six speakers and two musical interludes, all but one of which ranged from good to great. None of the speakers were as mind-blowing or jaw-dropping as the best lectures you can find on; but, after all, those are the best of the best, so that was to be expected.

The event was partially sponsored by ROI Community, which gathers Jewish innovators, and Leadel, which does the same.


The organization was good, especially considering that the event was free. I assume that the food was donated, as they had cookies, drinks, and a catered bagel meal for everyone. Sweet.

Every attendee had a personal QR code on the back of their name tag, which, when passed very carefully in front of a smart phone with the appropriate software from, loaded the owner's information into the phone. These were harder to use than the software maker would have you believe; the phone and tag had to be held still and at just the right distance; not as good as RFID. But they worked.

The sound, lights, and projection had occasional snafu's. Nothing cataclysmic. Wifi didn't work inside the hall.

Everything started and finished on time, and the speakers stuck to their time frame, for the most part.

The Content

Read the abstracts

1. Eti Katz (he): Something about visual learning.

My Hebrew is not very good, so I had some trouble understanding Eti's talk, but it looked good.

Essentially, different children have different ways of understanding the world. We must teach them each according to their understanding. She presented pictures of people outlines with different, funky pictures in them, and went on to explain each case of a child and his or her relationship to it.

While interesting, I couldn't see anything remarkable about the content; then again, I may have missed it. The presentation was fine, but also unremarkable.

2. Zvia Agur (en): Virtual patients

This speech was allegedly about the development of a personalized, virtual patient, used to test the effectiveness of drugs on a patient before administrating a course. That would have been interesting on its own. However, this was covered only in the last few minutes of the speech.

What the speech was actually about was freakin' bizarre.

Zvia said that swings have frequencies, and that pushing harder doesn't make the swing go back and forth at a higher frequency, only at a faster speed and higher height. If you push at the same frequency, the swing swings higher; if you push against the frequency, the swing slows. So far, so good.

Then she dropped this one: A population's size has a frequency that can be contrasted against the frequency of disasters that befall it. If the frequencies match, the population thrives. Otherwise, the population falls. What????

From there, she went on to say that the same applies to cell growth in an organism. And that this mathematical frequency theory can be used to time the application of chemotherapy to the rhythm of healthy cell growth: the frequency matches the growth of healthy cells in the body, which means that the healthy cells will continue to grow well, but works against the frequency of cancer's cell growth, which means the cancer cells will suffer.

She said that her experiments have proved a double survival rate using this theory. But it was hard to get funding in an academic or medical institution due to skepticism. So she and some others have developed their own research company and pharmaceutical company to test and develop these.

In the process, they have developed a virtual cancer patient. They extracted information from a patient with aggressive cancer. They used their math to design the virtual patient. Used virtual treatment models to treat the virtual patient. Tripled frequency of one of the drugs. The patient improved for some time.

I had no idea where she was going, and she didn't back up what she was talking about, so disses to her confusing presentation. But the content was certainly fascinating.

3. [someone] Lipshitz

Played piano. Tchaikovsky

A fantastic piece played by a fantastic musician.

4. Prof Avshalom Elitzur (en): Beauty of Quantum Design

An introduction to quantum theory, concentrating on how the observer works.

Light = waves, but only when the photons are not observed closely. Talked about the Mach-Zehnder Interferometer. If you shoot photons one at a time, it works. But shoot the photons and observe them, it doesn't work!

An application: the Elitzur-Vaidman bomb testing experiment. Test a bomb without having to explode it.

Another weird thing: Two particles, one up and one down. Judge whether a particle is entangled with another gives you some yes and some no; but even when the particles not entangled, they are, by forcing them both to either be entangled or not.

I wasn't sure how much of this was revolutionary, but it was interesting. Presentation was ok. Most people didn't understand him, and he didn't present any compelling universal benefit for his research.

5. Dr. Oren Harman (en): Evolution of altruism

Where does kindness come from? Some animals appear to have evolved to behave to their own detriment. For instance, an antelope that jumps up and down when they see a lion, sacrificing themselves so that the rest of the herd can escape. Certain bees and amoeba. Etc.

Types of altruism:

- Nepotism: I.e. survival of the genes. W.D. Hamilton.
- Reciprocation: Which invokes game theory. Robert Trivers.
- Group selection: Group evolution sometimes trumps personal evolution. (several people)

What is the relationship between biological altruism (I lose something to give you something) vs psychological altruism (the intent matters). All still under research. Several false leads.

The story of George Price (Oren summarized the book he wrote about him). George ran away from his life and then published a seminal paper in Nature without any background in the field. Claimed that psych altruism is always selfish in nature. Then tried to argue against his own findings by being overly altruistic with his life, to prove that spirit triumphs biology. Failed and committed suicide.

An interesting but not revolutionary talk, very well presented.

6. emotiv - TED TV presentation

This was simply a video presentation of Tan Lee and her mental headset. Available on TED.

A great presentation, but I don't know why they showed it here.

7. Maurit Beeri (en): Fixing babies is more than medicine

Healthy babies today, and in the past, all develop at roughly the same pace. Modern technology doesn't make them grab or walk any faster. They don't need specialized playthings.

Kittens raised in darkness until five months never developed sight in the brain. More generally, developing children need many different stimulation, not a small set of the right ones.

Babies can survive adverse early conditions so long as they get love and stimulation eventually, but within a certain time window. Babies' early reflexes must be replaced by learned patterns to fill the same needs. Otherwise, if still young, they need pediatric rehabilitation and specialized playthings. If the window of opportunity is closed, they may never acquire the skills. A baby fed through a gastro tube may learn to eat if the tube is taken out before a certain age, but not after that.

It's not enough to fix physical problems without considering the neurological and psychological effects.

Interesting content, adequate presentation

8. Musical interlude

A dude played a Chabad melody on a saxophone. All of two or three minutes.

9. Joseph Dadoune (he): Film, architecture, desert.

A truly awful presentation by a likely talented artist who might have done some good work, but I couldn't sit still while he talked endlessly about himself. I heard from those who stayed until the end that it didn't get any better. He showed a picture of a house.

Overall, it was a great event, one that I hope will be repeated. I assume the videos of the presentations will make their way online, eventually.

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