Weekend Watcher: Local TEDx events - Berkeley's 'Inspiring Innovation'

It's worth finding a local TEDx event, you'll meet some extraordinary people.
Written by Tom Foremski, Contributor
Gopi Kallayil, head of Google Plus

Gopi Kallayil, head of Google Plus

I usually try to keep my weekends relatively geek-free but I do make exceptions for some events, such as those produced by local TEDx organizations. Many people are fans of the annual TED conference and its rosters of amazing speakers. But few can afford the price of attendance. Fortuantely, there are now hundreds of local TED events in dozens of countries, and likely, some are near you. The local events are designated with an 'x' and are well produced and give you a flavor of big TED at a fraction of the cost. Here is my report and photos on the recent TEDxBerkeley event, which had the theme:" Inspiring Innovation."

I know the people that organize TEDxSF pretty well but this was my first time at TEDxBerkeley, which was held in the Zellerbach auditorium on the University of California campus.

The audience was very young compared with the much older audience for TEDxSF. The two events could maybe trade some attendees, it's always great to see young students.

While I waited for the event to begin I chatted with Carlos Olguin (above right), head of the Nanotechnology Group at Autodesk. I heard about Autodesk's plans for design software for life itself. He and one of the researchers at UC Berkeley showed me some petri dishes with genetically modified e.coli bacteria.

Here are some e.coli that have been genetically modified to smell like banana. I was asked if I'd like to smell it, I declined. These e. coli are a weakened strain that cannot survive for long outside of the lab, but I didn't want to chance it affecting my own gut flora, which are genetically modified to smell like roses.

DeCadence kicked off the event with some great a cappella singing.

Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk spoke about innovation. I loved what he said. He spoke about how corporations want to be innovative but that innovation is not their territory. Innovation is created by rule breakers and risk takers. The modern corporation is designed to impose rules and minimize risks. Well said.

Connie Duckworth was very impressive. She is a retired partner and MD of Goldman Sachs, where she was named the first woman sales and trading partner in the firm's history. She spoke about her work as founder ofAzru Studio Hope, a non-profit focused on helping women in Afghanistan find work and earn money for their families.

Nipun Mehta, the founder of ServiceSpace, spoke about a concept he calls "Giftivism" which is a "Gift Economy." He shared some stories about Indian villages. Interestingly, he did not mention the Burning Man community, which has been practicing a "Gift Economy" for more than 20 years.

(Above, Renee Blodgett, co-curator of TEDxBerkeley, focuses on Gopi Kallayil.)


Gopi Kallayil, head of Google Plus, the latest and sometimes controversial social network spoke about the lives that Google Plus has saved, or at least, saved an injured girl from paralysis because he was able to hook up surgeons with local doctors over the service.

Mr Kallayil is a prize winning Toastmaster, he gave a great performance but it was content-light.

Charles Holt spoke about being fired, rather as a friend described it, "released" from a job at IBM and finding his true calling as a singer.

Jodi Lomask and Capacitor kicked of the second session of the event.

David Ewing Duncan spoke about health and pollutants. He said that China's coal-fired power stations send plumes of mercury laden pollution via the jet stream to California. His company is launching consumer test kits that will reveal mercury levels. He shared his own results from eating two meals of locally caught fish, which showed elevated levels.

Tapan Parikh, assistant professor at the School of Information Technology spoke about his trip to India and his adventures helping small villages.

Tiffany Shlain, founder of the Webby Awards, spoke about her film projects, which are crowd-sourced around subjects such as our interconnectedness. She showed a short film of people from around the world sharing their views.

Robert Strong began the third session of the day with a great demonstration of close up magic.

Maria Fadiman was very entertaining, sharing stories of her work as an ethnobotanist. I wish, when I was growing up, such profession existed because it sounds like fascinating research.

Dr. Neha Sangwan could barely keep her emotions in check as she shared her stories of her encounters with people such as the King of Bahrain and the wise advice she has given them. Most of her presentation consisted of her recounting story after story of people telling her how brilliant, young, and talented she is. She seemed in need of some reassurance about how brilliant, young, and talented she is.

Ken Goldberg talked about his life-long interest in robots and how robots can make us better at being humans.

Lindsey Stirling finished the show with an energetic display of violin playing while dancing at a whirlwind pace around the stage.


I like the local TEDx events but sometimes I wish that they were a little bit more unique and risk taking. I've always felt that the 'x' should stand for experimental -- what else could you do in that 18 minute presentation window? Too often, little TED tries to ape big TED, and the presenters seem like they are auditioning for the main show in regional competitions.

I love the gaps between the talks, the chance to meet others. For example, during lunch I had a fascinating conversation with a research chemist working on developing artificial photosynthesis. It's those experiences that count and make it worthwhile to attend, otherwise you can view it from home via a live stream for free.

Above, Kevin Gong, curator of TEDxBerkeley, and co-curators Renee Blodgett (right) and R. Jennifer Barr, were the lead organizers of the event.
The event was co-sponsored by Pearltrees, appbaker, and LiveStream.
If you'd like to explore more information about the event and the speakers you can browse this Pearltree:

TEDxBerkeley 2012 and Photos / Videos Shown at TEDxBerkeley 2012 in Tom Foremski (foremski)

Editorial standards