TED: Apes that write, start fires and play Pac-Man by Susan Savage-Rumbaugh

Apes are not really that much dumber than us, especially the great ones. 🙂 Susan Savage-Rumbaugh has been studying Bonobo that understand human language, can draw symbols, start fires and even play Pac-Man. Susan thinks that the level of intelligence is determined by culture (vs. biology) to a much greater extent than it is currently thought.

Original video on TED.com (might be better quality).

TED: How creativity is being strangled by the law by Larry Lessig

Lawrence Lessig is a Stanford law professor, and one the leading authorities on the issue of copyright. He is a founding board member of Creative Commons, an organization (and a license name) devoted to making creative works such as images or video available for others to build upon and share. This wonderful TED presentation, in “Lessig Method” style, is about how our culture has been changed (and is changing) by Internet, and why the existing copyright laws are inadequate any more.

Original video on TED.com (might be better quality).

Lessig has been extremely politically active and is widely recognized by the Internet community as having greatly contributed to the freedom of expression. Here’s a “Tribute to Larry Lessig” from Brave New Films, the guys who brought you The Real McCain, FOX Attacks! and Meet the Bloggers:

TED: Will videogames become better than life? by David Perry

Videogame designer David Perry talks about the future of video games, and shows a super-cool video mix of how computer graphics has been evolving over the last decade. Since I quit playing videogames long time ago, I found the early stages shown in this mix much more emotionally stimulating. 🙂


Original video on TED.com (might be better quality).

TED: How a ragtag band created Wikipedia by Jimmy Wales

Jimmy Wales, who at least co-founded Wikipedia, talks on its origins, history and organization. Wikipedia is probably the most successful collaborative project to date, the largest general reference resource on the net, counting over 2.5 million articles, and #8 popular website in the world reaching almost 10% of Internet users daily. And most amazingly, it costs very little to run – the whole Wikimedia Foundation took just $3.5m to run in 2007/2008. It’s one of those landscape-changing projects that excite me so much. What will the future bring next?

Original video on TED.com (might be better quality).

TED: How juries are fooled by statistics by Peter Donnelly

If you have a disease test which is 99% accurate, and it’s diagnosed a patient positive, what is the probability that a patient indeed has the disease? 99%? Wrong! Think again! You really can’t tell unless you know the probability of the disease itself, i.e. how likely a random patient is to have the disease. For a quite uncommon one, this single test may present confidence of 1% or even less. Although obvious to a statistics specialist, common people are usually totally stumbled by it, and find it very hard to grasp. I won’t explain here why it is so, since I doubt I’ll do a better job than the speaker I’m about to present.

Peter Donnelly is an Oxford mathematician, specializing in applied probability. In this highly educational (and quite jaw-dropping for most) talk, he reveals common mistakes in interpreting statistics – and the devastating impact they can have. This is a great presentation of how important statistics is, and how crucial, and yet so uncommon, it is to understand it.

There are so many ways to misuse or misinterpret statistics, with one of the favorites being, of course – correlation implying causation. And yet, I believe statistics is a cornerstone of modern science. It may not play such a central role in theoretical physics, of course, but medicine, sociology, cognitive science, etc. etc. all depend on it to interpret the results of experiments correctly. If we all had better education in this area, we maybe wouldn’t be interviewing successful people so much.

Please watch this talk. It might be a little boring in the beginning, but it gets much more fun pretty soon.

Original video on TED.com (might be better quality).

TED: Secrets of success in 8 words, 3 minutes by Richard St. John

Richard St. John spent more than a decade interviewing 500 people he defines as successful, and presents his distilled version of his book in just 8 words, and 3 minutes time.

Of course, to be scientifically correct, Richard should have interviewed at least as many people that have not become successful, to avoid what statisticians call selection bias. Nassim Taleb in his famous “Black Swan” came up with his own name for the same thing – he calls it “the silent evidence” (by the way, the book is a good read and definitely deserves a post on itself).

I guess, we’ll never know how many people exerted the same 8 traits and never got successful. Based on Richard’s “scientific” approach, we can come to a conclusion that brushing one’s teeth is an important road to success, since all(?) successful people undoubtedly do so. Of course, that wouldn’t fly, so we can presume interviewees were asked to identify behaviors they practice, but others don’t, or the questions were implicitly perceived as such. In any case, that’s not very scientific – why guess when you can actually ask the less fortunate? I’d bet it wouldn’t be nor that fascinating, not that inspiring once done. My hypothesis that it could all be distilled in 1 word, 1 second, and no book – there’s only one secret of big success, and it’s called LUCK.

Selection bias is an insidious beast. Please forgive me, as I cannot back the following story up with links or references, but I have once read of a study which confirmed “beginner’s luck” phenomena – casino players were indeed more lucky when they were just starting. The reason? Simple – those beginners who blew all their money away tend to never return to a casino, while the lucky ones tend to become the very “casino players” that got interviewed in this research.

Anyhow, I don’t want to dismiss John’s findings whatsoever, as I am sure they’re all very applicable to success in life, albeit maybe you shouldn’t really count on becoming the next Thomas Edison or Bill Gates by following them. Since you’ve probably spent more than 3 minutes reading my thoughts on it, why not spend another 3 minutes listening to a much more educated man:

Original video on TED.com (might be better quality).

TED: A journey to the center of your mind by Vilayanur Ramachandran

Neurologist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran is known for his work in behavioral neurology and psychophysics. In this 2007 TED talk, he explores how brain damage can reveal about the connections between the internal structures of the brain and the mind. He talks about phantom limb pain, synesthesia (when people hear color or smell sounds), and the Capgras delusion. Ramachandran was the original inventor of the “Mirror Box” (but don’t click on the link, better watch the talk first!). Extraordinary talk.

Original video on TED.com (might be better quality).