Tag Archives: Conference

TEDxCERN: about science, research and consciousness

TEDxCERN aka TEDxTent

TEDxCERN aka TEDxTent

Science and research, particle physics and astronomy, talks and music… On Friday, I had the honour and pleasure of spending a very special day at CERN: a guided visit plus TEDxCERN.

For those of you who are not familiar with this acronym: it stands for Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire and has been a bit in the news lately for discovering a new particle, most probably the Higgs boson (cf. understandable explanations of the Higgs boson).

Back to my very special day: the morning was dedicated to visiting the impressive CMS experiment facility and in the afternoon, the TEDx conference took place. We were welcomed in a tent, but the actual event was held in the beautiful Globe of Science and Innovations.

It was not my first TEDx experience, and I enjoyed the scientific emphasis. Below, I will share my personal thoughts and highlights, but would like to underline that the whole program was on a very high level.

Science and marketing

One of my favourite catch phrase comes from entertaining Marc Abrahams and goes more or less like this:

If you do research and you know what you are going to find, you’re not doing research – you’re doing marketing.

Abrahams must know: he has been following improbable research for a long time, awarding studies that first makes you laugh, then think, with the IgNobel Prize since 1991. (A quick heads-up for people based in Geneva: an IgNobel-show will take place on May 7!)

Science and findings

Unsurprising for a science-heavy program, there were several speakers sharing their journey from not knowing to actual findings:

Maya Tolstoy, a marine geophysicist with an impressive track record, spoke about her noticing oddly recurrent signals in her data – which would then pave the way for the discovery of correlations between tides and seafloor seismicity. Theoretical physicist Gian Giudice showed the impact of the discovery of the Higgs boson on the calculation of the stability of the universe. (Bad news, by the way: with Giudice’s current premises, the calculations reveal a highly unstable universe; however, it seems we don’t have to worry since our sun will blow up anyway before anything happens to our universe.)

And cosmologist Hiranya Peiris, wonderfully starting off the TEDxCERN talks with a whodunnit about the beginning of the universe, reminded us that all research – even when not revealing a ground-breaking discovery – trumps never leaving the point of not knowing:

“Looking and not finding is not the same as not looking.” (H. Peiris)

Science and resources

The focus of TEDxCERN was, accordingly, not only on the outcome of research, but also on science itself, and on the very importance of enabling and undertaking research:

Computer scientist Ian Foster, who is to be credited with the analogy between research and journey (and, accessorily, grid computing), explained very well how an “ocean liner” such as CERN may be best adapted for certain kinds of research-journeys – but not for all kinds of research-journeys. And scientists who are not aboard an ocean liner (but a sailboat, for example) need to get ahead, too…

“Today, a person can run a company from a coffee shop thanks to cloud computing… what about labs?” (I. Foster)

He presented many cloud platforms empowering small-scale labs and researchers, notably Globus online which allows scientists to focus on the data content rather than data storing, sharing and maintenance.

On the other hand, TED veteran Lee Cronin stressed the need for his field, chemistry, to advance not only in sailboats, but to engage and collaborate on ocean liner scale in order to discover the origin of life.

Science and tomorrow’s scientists

Accidentally or not, two of the most personal talks were dedicated to the situation of young academics – although each one from a very different viewpoint: Becky Parker is a teacher of physics and astronomy at Simon Langton School, acting along the lines of the “radical” idea that interest in science can be sown and supported by engaging students in actual scientific projects. LUCID proves her right. Her innovative approach and personal enthusiasm has triggered many “I wish I had had a teacher like her” thoughts and tweets.

In a society where Becky Parkers are an exception rather than a rule, insatiable curiosity and personal experience may make up for a lack of intellectual stimulation in school: Brittany Wenger began studying neural networks (by herself!) when she was just 13 years old, learnt programming and is now providing Cloud4Cancer, a service to detect breast cancer less invasively than standard methods.

The special guest scheduled right after Brittany Wenger’s talk, Will.I.am, also advocated for young scientists: on direct via webcam, he explained why he is fascinated by science and why he encourages young people, no matter what neighbourhood they grow up in, to learn about science and programming. He underlined the importance of engaging every kid in education and science, no matter their background.

(Unfortunately, I spotted some of the white grey-haired men in the public frown upon hearing a black musician (read: “non-scientist”) talking about science in his own words – kudos to the TEDxCERN curators for not sharing this elitist mindset.)

Science and collaboration

SESAME transnational scientific cooperation TEDxCERN

SESAME: transnational scientific cooperation

A propos science and elitism: astronomer Chris Lintott‘s talk was a perfect illustration of the benefits scientist can gain from considering laypeople as a complement rather than an opposition. His Zooniverse, regrouping citizen science projects, makes for a great POC of collaborative and/or crowdsourced science.

Collaboration of another kind is at the heart of SESAME, presented by Zehra Sayers and Eliezer Rabinovici: much like CERN has been a unique transeuropean venture in Europe post world war II, SESAME is a unique undertaking and aspires international cooperation across cultural and political divides through first-class science in the Middle East.

Science and subjectivity

By affinity, I guess – I am a sociologist – the talks addressing objectivity/subjectivity in science and research were the talks I personally liked best:

John Searle explained that ignoring consciousness was science’s biggest fallacy, which contributed to upholding, unfortunately, the wrong dichotomy of objective science as opposed to subjective consciousness. He argued for the objectivity in subjectivity (and vice versa!) and, accessorily, trashed behaviorism. Which makes me think: for subsequent editions of TEDxCERN, it would be a great addition to give more room to research about science.

Many of the examples mentioned in Londa Schiebinger‘s talk were a perfect illustration of how objectivity and subjectivity co-exist – and thus why science and innovation need to be inclusive of diversity in subjectivity in order to be as objective as possible.

“Gender bias in society create gender bias into knowledge.” (L. Schiebinger)

(For instance: childless urban planners modelled people’s movements by categorising each trip as “work”, “shopping”, “leisure”, “visits” etc. This might work for them. However, for people with care obligations who often zig-zag around the city – bring one child to school, the other one to day-care, and pass by the dry-cleaners etc. … all this on their way to work – single, finite categories for each trip simply didn’t work. For more examples and resources cf. Schiebinger’s project Gendered Innovations at Stanford.)

Science and soprano (and other music)

Listening to Maria Ferrante singing about galaxies and C8H10N4O2 was pure delight and fit the overall program very well. So did the re-edition of the first interplanetary transmitted song Reach for the stars, performed by Collège International de Ferney-Voltaire Choir and International School of Geneva Chorus. Yaron Herman and Bijan Chemirani played together at the very end of TEDxCERN. I remembered Yaron Herman from when he played at TEDxHelvetia at EPFL, a few months ago, where he also shared his fascinating story. A pleasure listening to him again, especially in harmony with Bijan Chemirani.

Last but not least

I need to mention geneticist George Church‘s talk, but I am not embarrassed to admit that I was not able to follow everything he said. What I understood and recall: DNA bears immense potential; transdisciplinary research is the future.

Big thanks to CERN, the TEDxCERN team and everyone else involved for a well-curated, diverse yet coherent program. Thanks to the speakers for making me think, and laugh.

By the way: another account of the TEDxCERN day can be found on TEDxCERN volunteer Alex Brown’s blog.

Oh, and you might want to have a look at the TED Ed videos co-produced with CERN. My favorites:

and

Looking forward to LIFT 13

Three months from now, my favourite conference will take place: LIFT.

What do I like about LIFT conference? I have been given the opportunity to explain this in a recent mini-interview for their website:

Why do you come to Lift?
Lift treats technology and innovation the only sensible way: from a people’s perspective. It goes beyond specific “fields” (tech, marketing, etc.) and easy dichotomies (good/bad, real/virtual), always with a clear focus on our future as individuals and society. It is all about interaction and the intersection of different kinds of knowledge. Same goes for the participants: I love engaging with designers, programmers, artists, entrepreneurs, journalists, students… and sociologists, of course. At Lift, I feel both understood and challenged, which is unique, because Lift is about the big picture as much as it is about the details.

This will be my 5th edition and this time, I promise, I will talk about it here. I blogged about TEDxZurich and the Crisis Mapping Conference in 2011, but I have not found the right approach for LIFT yet.

However, there is one articles directly inspired by a LIFT talk (about algorithms), and two other articles that I know would not exist without everything I got from the conferences (about the porn TLD .xxx and about general web issues).

The parts of their 2013 program which are announced already are very promising… Will I see you there?

Social networks call for an overall understanding of digital interaction

When I was asked to replace Matthias Lüfkens, former Head of Digital Media at the World Economic Forum and now Managing Director EMEA of Digital Practice at Burson-Marsteller, at a presentation for business owners about social media, I accepted gladly. And I decided to put the emphasis on increasing the attendees’ overall understanding of social networks and the impact of digitalisation in general.

If you have been reading other articles on this blog or been following me on twitter, you are probably aware of how much I keep advocating for increasing digital literacy. Continue reading

Film industry and internet – social media as a transformer of business

Screens internet social media transformation of film businessWhy the recurrent focus on the film industry? Let me tell you where I come from.

Over a decade ago, I have started working in the film industry in what qualifies easily as a dream job: programming and acquisition for an independent film distribution. My actual work experience with movies had started much earlier, when selling tickets in a local movie theatre, but it was with the film distribution that I really plunged in, attended film festivals all over the world and learnt about the trade. A trade, an industry, fairly untouched yet by the internet. No social media yet.

Since then, a lot has changed: social media has arrived. So has broad band internet. Digitalisation everywhere. Piracy has become an issue. Continue reading

[French] Industrie de Cinéma et Internet – l’influence des réseaux sociaux

Exceptionally, this article is in French. English speaking readers might want to read “Film industry and internet – social media as a transformer of business”.

Industrie de Cinéma et Internet - l'influence des réseaux sociauxPourquoi internet et les réseaux sociaux représentent un enjeu crucial pour l’industrie de cinéma indépendant? Quels points sont à considérer lors des réflexions autour une présence digitale?

A ce sujet, j’ai été invitée à donner une conférence chez Fonction:Cinéma, une structure qui vise à encourager la création cinématographique indépendante à Genève et en Suisse romande. Continue reading

VoD & Social Web – some basics

I have written before about why basic education about digital is needed.

This diagnosis was not only one of the significant results of my Master Thesis. I also experience every day in my work that many people know very little about computers, the internet etc. Basic knowledge is lacking.

There are many reasons for this lack of knowledge. One of these reasons: there is a lot to learn and there is tons of “learnable” stuff around. Even if you wanted to start learning today, you may not know where to start.

Because: How do you know what you should learn if you don’t even know what you could learn?

The presentation I have given last week for FOCAL to Swiss film industry people has been conceived with exactly this logic in mind, i.e. with respect to the state of knowledge about digital I have been observing within the last years. The very positive feedback I received afterwards by the participants themselves – which is always appreciated – has been encouraging.

Don’t get me wrong: these professionals know their trade. Some of them have decades of experience in the film industry. However, their trade is not what it used to be: digital has been – and will keep! – changing this industry in a profound way. And it is more difficult to take step two if you have never taken step one…

Here are the presentation “slides” [in German only – well, with a lot of English expressions anyway]:

PS: My part was only one piece of the puzzle: I’ve had 4 great co-presenters. A follow-up article on the entire workshop is coming soon to a theatre near you website well known to you.

Top picture by S Richards Photography

What was TEDxZurich?

Yesterday, I have attended TEDxZurich. TED stands for technology, entertainment, design and is branded “ideas worth spreading”. What is TED and TEDxZurich?

There is, of course, the official answer to this question.

And then, there’s my personal answer: TEDxZurich is many things at the same time. It is conference, entertainment, education and community, it is a networking event, a recruiting platform, a film set and, accessorily, an advertising opportunity.

I’ll explain myself, by starting with the last point.

Advertising

Almost 1 year ago already, TED aligned their advertising strategy with their core values. They created a competition called Ads Worth Spreading, perfectly in spirit with pull marketing: ads should be so good people would actually want to watch them.

They succeded. Because it is a great illustration of transmedia storytelling, I would like to share with you The Chase Film, one of the winning ads, screened at the very beginning of TEDxZurich.
Continue reading