TED’s Next Challenge
What can the tech community learn from artists who are embracing the principles of emergence and open systems, and who create art that interprets a world that creates 15 petabytes of data every day? Here is the video of the talk Josette Melchor and Peter Hirshberg gave at the TEDx Silicon Valley conference.
STANFORD, Calif. — Can a gun made of chocolate change your perception of violence? Can a digital arts foundation help revive a downtrodden neighborhood? Can online social networks solve the world’s biggest problems?
These and other topics were front and center at TEDx Silicon Valley, a one-day conference held Dec. 12 at Stanford University, dedicated to “Innovation for Social Change.” The event was a local spinoff of the annual TED (for technology, entertainment and design) conference, which brings together prominent thinkers for inspiring talks and entertainment.
TEDx Silicon Valley featured speakers ranging from LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and PayPal founder Peter Thiel to neo-geographer Di-Ann Eisnor (she makes maps that reflect social data) and Victor Tsaran, who is blind and runs Yahoo!’s ( YHOO – news – people ) accessibility program, which tries to ensure that users with disabilities are able to use Yahoo!’s Web sites. German-American artist Yvonne Lee Schultz showed a video of children in Berlin playing with chocolate guns that she made. While some children pretended to shoot each other, one girl painted her face with the melting chocolate and others nibbled on their toys.
The overall message of the day: Social change is possible. Not only that, it’s already happening–in small doses. Businessman Alberto Vollmer from Venezuela described how he convinced dozens of dangerous gang members to pursue work and peace instead of killing each other. Leila Chirayath Janah, founder of San Francisco nonprofit Samasource, talked about the thrill of providing refugees in Kenya with computer-based work commissioned by Silicon Valley companies (including Google ( GOOG – news – people )). Gray Area Foundation For The Arts co-founders Peter Hirshberg and Josette Melchor conveyed the pride they feel about turning a former porn theater in San Francisco’s down-at-the-heels Tenderloin neighborhood into a sleek space for their art-meets-digital-technology foundation.
Some of the 200 audience members are busy pushing social change as well. Arsen Ari Kalfayan, who by day runs business development for cloud labor start-up CrowdFlower (formerly called Dolores Labs), co-founded a nonprofit called Reason To Party that throws affordable fundraiser parties for a variety of causes, from an AIDS hospice to the San Francisco Food Bank. Kalfayan’s parties raise thousands of dollars from 20- and 30-somethings who normally couldn’t afford to attend the fancy black-tie fundraisers held by more traditional charities.
“How do you coordinate the actions of millions of people so you create a better world?” asked Reid Hoffman during his talk. His proposal: Create microgroups targeted at solving individual issues such as water, hunger, microfinance. Added Hoffman: “I like to say that the future is sooner and stranger than you think.”