What people heard at the TED conference
Some of the ideas presented at conferences like TED are complete garbage. Others are the right ideas at the right time. Others are the right ideas, but far ahead of their time. Regardless, the value in bringing lots of people and ideas together for one giant blender of a thinking event certainly must be at least a little more than the cost of putting it on. Even when ideas are wrong, if they're well-presented and thoughtfully defended, then they at least force the other side to sharpen its counter-arguments. Another recent conference caused computer scientists and others to debate the role of autonomous machines -- in other words, robots with artificial intelligence. We still don't seem to have a cultural grasp on what our relationships with those machines should be, but with empathetic robotic pets and unmanned aerial vehicles already in the world, we probably ought to pick up the debate. If it all seems too futuristic, consider what Isaac Asimov was saying about telephones, the Human Genome Project, and "clean energy" while writing for the Boy Scouts' general-interest magazine in the early 1990s -- which weren't that long ago. More than we realize, science fiction becomes reality.
Dredging the Missouri near Blair