Rodney Brooks: Why we will rely on robots

Well, Arthur C. Clarke, a famous science fiction writer from the 1950s, said that, "We overestimate technology in the short term, and we underestimate it in the long term." And I think that's some of the fear that we see about jobs disappearing from artificial intelligence and robots. That we're overestimating the technology in the short term. But I am worried whether we're going to get the technology we need in the long term. Because the demographics are really going to leave us with lots of jobs that need doing and that we, our society, is going to have to be built on the shoulders of steel of robots in the future. So I'm scared we won't have enough robots. But fear of losing jobs to technology has been around for a long time. Back in 1957, there was a Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn movie. So you know how it ended up, Spencer Tracy brought a computer, a mainframe computer of 1957, in to help the librarians. The librarians in the company would do things like answer for the executives, "What are the names of Santa's reindeer?" And they would look that up. And this mainframe computer was going to help them with that job.

Well of course a mainframe computer in 1957 wasn't much use for that job. The librarians were afraid their jobs were going to disappear. But that's not what happened in fact. The number of jobs for librarians increased for a long time after 1957. It wasn't until the Internet came into play, the web came into play and search engines came into play that the need for librarians went down. And I think everyone from 1957 totally underestimated the level of technology we would all carry around in our hands and in our pockets today. And we can just ask: "What are the names of Santa's reindeer?" and be told instantly — or anything else we want to ask. By the way, the wages for librarians went up faster than the wages for other jobs in the U.S.

over that same time period, because librarians became partners of computers. Computers became tools, and they got more tools that they could use and become more effective during that time. Same thing happened in offices. Back in the old days, people used spreadsheets. Spreadsheets were spread sheets of paper, and they calculated by hand. But here was an interesting thing that came along. With the revolution around 1980 of P.C.'s, the spreadsheet programs were tuned for office workers, not to replace office workers, but it respected office workers as being capable of being programmers. So office workers became programmers of spreadsheets. It increased their capabilities. They no longer had to do the mundane computations, but they could do something much more. Now today, we're starting to see robots in our lives. On the left there is the PackBot from iRobot. When soldiers came across roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan, instead of putting on a bomb suit and going out and poking with a stick, as they used to do up until about 2002, they now send the robot out.

So the robot takes over the dangerous jobs. On the right are some TUGs from a company called Aethon in Pittsburgh. These are in hundreds of hospitals across the U.S. And they take the dirty sheets down to the laundry. They take the dirty dishes back to the kitchen. They bring the medicines up from the pharmacy. And it frees up the nurses and the nurse's aides from doing that mundane work of just mechanically pushing stuff around to spend more time with patients. In fact, robots have become sort of ubiquitous in our lives in many ways. But I think when it comes to factory robots, people are sort of afraid, because factory robots are dangerous to be around. In order to program them, you have to understand six-dimensional vectors and quaternions. And ordinary people can't interact with them. And I think it's the sort of technology that's gone wrong. It's displaced the worker from the technology. And I think we really have to look at technologies that ordinary workers can interact with. And so I want to tell you today about Baxter, which we've been talking about.

And Baxter, I see, as a way — a first wave of robot that ordinary people can interact with in an industrial setting. So Baxter is up here. This is Chris Harbert from Rethink Robotics. We've got a conveyor there. And if the lighting isn't too extreme — Ah, ah! There it is. It's picked up the object off the conveyor. It's going to come bring it over here and put it down. And then it'll go back, reach for another object. The interesting thing is Baxter has some basic common sense. By the way, what's going on with the eyes? The eyes are on the screen there. The eyes look ahead where the robot's going to move. So a person that's interacting with the robot understands where it's going to reach and isn't surprised by its motions. Here Chris took the object out of its hand, and Baxter didn't go and try to put it down; it went back and realized it had to get another one. It's got a little bit of basic common sense, goes and picks the objects.

And Baxter's safe to interact with. You wouldn't want to do this with a current industrial robot. But with Baxter it doesn't hurt. It feels the force, understands that Chris is there and doesn't push through him and hurt him. But I think the most interesting thing about Baxter is the user interface. And so Chris is going to come and grab the other arm now. And when he grabs an arm, it goes into zero-force gravity-compensated mode and graphics come up on the screen. You can see some icons on the left of the screen there for what was about its right arm. He's going to put something in its hand, he's going to bring it over here, press a button and let go of that thing in the hand. And the robot figures out, ah, he must mean I want to put stuff down. It puts a little icon there. He comes over here, and he gets the fingers to grasp together, and the robot infers, ah, you want an object for me to pick up. That puts the green icon there. He's going to map out an area of where the robot should pick up the object from.

It just moves it around, and the robot figures out that was an area search. He didn't have to select that from a menu. And now he's going to go off and train the visual appearance of that object while we continue talking. So as we continue here, I want to tell you about what this is like in factories. These robots we're shipping every day. They go to factories around the country. This is Mildred. Mildred's a factory worker in Connecticut. She's worked on the line for over 20 years. One hour after she saw her first industrial robot, she had programmed it to do some tasks in the factory. She decided she really liked robots. And it was doing the simple repetitive tasks that she had had to do beforehand. Now she's got the robot doing it. When we first went out to talk to people in factories about how we could get robots to interact with them better, one of the questions we asked them was, "Do you want your children to work in a factory?" The universal answer was "No, I want a better job than that for my children.

" And as a result of that, Mildred is very typical of today's factory workers in the U.S. They're older, and they're getting older and older. There aren't many young people coming into factory work. And as their tasks become more onerous on them, we need to give them tools that they can collaborate with, so that they can be part of the solution, so that they can continue to work and we can continue to produce in the U.S. And so our vision is that Mildred who's the line worker becomes Mildred the robot trainer. She lifts her game, like the office workers of the 1980s lifted their game of what they could do. We're not giving them tools that they have to go and study for years and years in order to use. They're tools that they can just learn how to operate in a few minutes. There's two great forces that are both volitional but inevitable. That's climate change and demographics. Demographics is really going to change our world. This is the percentage of adults who are working age.

And it's gone down slightly over the last 40 years. But over the next 40 years, it's going to change dramatically, even in China. The percentage of adults who are working age drops dramatically. And turned up the other way, the people who are retirement age goes up very, very fast, as the baby boomers get to retirement age. That means there will be more people with fewer social security dollars competing for services. But more than that, as we get older we get more frail and we can't do all the tasks we used to do. If we look at the statistics on the ages of caregivers, before our eyes those caregivers are getting older and older. That's happening statistically right now. And as the number of people who are older, above retirement age and getting older, as they increase, there will be less people to take care of them. And I think we're really going to have to have robots to help us. And I don't mean robots in terms of companions.

I mean robots doing the things that we normally do for ourselves but get harder as we get older. Getting the groceries in from the car, up the stairs, into the kitchen. Or even, as we get very much older, driving our cars to go visit people. And I think robotics gives people a chance to have dignity as they get older by having control of the robotic solution. So they don't have to rely on people that are getting scarcer to help them. And so I really think that we're going to be spending more time with robots like Baxter and working with robots like Baxter in our daily lives. And that we will — Here, Baxter, it's good. And that we will all come to rely on robots over the next 40 years as part of our everyday lives. Thanks very much.

(Applause).

Gary Kovacs: Tracking the trackers

Translator: Timothy Covell Reviewer: Morton Bast I don't know why, but I'm continually amazed to think that two and a half billion of us around the world are connected to each other through the Internet and that at any point in time more than 30 percent of the world's population can go online to learn, to create and to share. And the amount of time each of us is spending doing all of this is also continuing to go grow. A recent study showed that the young generation alone is spending over eight hours a day online. As the parent of a nine-year-old girl, that number seems awfully low. (Laughter) But just as the Internet has opened up the world for each and every one of us, it has also opened up each and every one of us to the world. And increasingly, the price we're being asked to pay for all of this connectedness is our privacy.

Today, what many of us would love to believe is that the Internet is a private place; it's not. And with every click of the mouse and every touch of the screen, we are like Hansel and Gretel leaving breadcrumbs of our personal information everywhere we travel through the digital woods. We are leaving our birthdays, our places of residence, our interests and preferences, our relationships, our financial histories, and on and on it goes. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not for one minute suggesting that sharing data is a bad thing. In fact, when I know the data that's being shared and I'm asked explicitly for my consent, I want some sites to understand my habits. It helps them suggest books for me to read or movies for my family to watch or friends for us to connect with.

But when I don't know and when I haven't been asked, that's when the problem arises. It's a phenomenon on the Internet today called behavioral tracking, and it is very big business. In fact, there's an entire industry formed around following us through the digital woods and compiling a profile on each of us. And when all of that data is held, they can do almost whatever they want with it. This is an area today that has very few regulations and even fewer rules. Except for some of the recent announcements here in the United States and in Europe, it's an area of consumer protection that's almost entirely naked. So let me expose this lurking industry a little bit further. The visualization you see forming behind me is called Collusion and it's an experimental browser add-on that you can install in your Firefox browser that helps you see where your Web data is going and who's tracking you. The red dots you see up there are sites that are behavioral tracking that I have not navigated to, but are following me. The blue dots are the sites that I've actually navigated directly to.

And the gray dots are sites that are also tracking me, but I have no idea who they are. All of them are connected, as you can see, to form a picture of me on the Web. And this is my profile. So let me go from an example to something very specific and personal. I installed Collusion in my own laptop two weeks ago and I let it follow me around for what was a pretty typical day. Now like most of you, I actually start my day going online and checking email. I then go to a news site, look for some headlines. And in this particular case I happened to like one of them on the merits of music literacy in schools and I shared it over a social network. Our daughter then joined us at the breakfast table, and I asked her, "Is there an emphasis on music literacy in your school?" And she, of course, naturally as a nine-year-old, looked at me and said quizzically, "What's literacy?" So I sent her online, of course, to look it up. Now let me stop here. We are not even two bites into breakfast and there are already nearly 25 sites that are tracking me.

I have navigated to a total of four. So let me fast-forward through the rest of my day. I go to work, I check email, I log onto a few more social sites, I blog, I check more news reports, I share some of those news reports, I go look at some videos, pretty typical day — in this case, actually fairly pedantic — and at the end of the day, as my day winds down, look at my profile. The red dots have exploded. The gray dots have grown exponentially. All in all, there's over 150 sites that are now tracking my personal information, most all of them without my consent. I look at this picture and it freaks me out. This is nothing. I am being stalked across the Web. And why is this happening? Pretty simple — it's huge business. The revenue of the top handful of companies in this space is over 39 billion dollars today. And as adults, we're certainly not alone. At the same time I installed my own Collusion profile, I installed one for my daughter. And on one single Saturday morning, over two hours on the Internet, here's her Collusion profile.

This is a nine-year-old girl navigating to principally children's sites. I move from this, from freaked out to enraged. This is no longer me being a tech pioneer or a privacy advocate; this is me being a parent. Imagine in the physical world if somebody followed our children around with a camera and a notebook and recorded their every movement. I can tell you, there isn't a person in this room that would sit idly by. We'd take action. It may not be good action, but we would take action. (Laughter) We can't sit idly by here either. This is happening today. Privacy is not an option, and it shouldn't be the price we accept for just getting on the Internet. Our voices matter and our actions matter even more. Today we've launched Collusion. You can download it, install it in Firefox, to see who is tracking you across the Web and following you through the digital woods.

Going forward, all of our voices need to be heard. Because what we don't know can actually hurt us. Because the memory of the Internet is forever. We are being watched. It's now time for us to watch the watchers. Thank you. (Applause).

Tim Jackson: An economic reality check

I want to talk to you today about prosperity, about our hopes for a shared and lasting prosperity. And not just us, but the two billion people worldwide who are still chronically undernourished. And hope actually is at the heart of this. In fact, the Latin word for hope is at the heart of the word prosperity. “Pro-speras,” “speras,” hope — in accordance with our hopes and expectations. The irony is, though, that we have cashed-out prosperity almost literally in terms of money and economic growth. And we’ve grown our economies so much that we now stand in a real danger of undermining hope — running down resources, cutting down rainforests, spilling oil into the Gulf of Mexico, changing the climate — and the only thing that has actually remotely slowed down the relentless rise of carbon emissions over the last two to three decades is recession.

And recession, of course, isn’t exactly a recipe for hope either, as we’re busy finding out. So we’re caught in a kind of trap. It’s a dilemma, a dilemma of growth. We can’t live with it; we can’t live without it. Trash the system or crash the planet — it’s a tough choice; it isn’t much of a choice. And our best avenue of escape from this actually is a kind of blind faith in our own cleverness and technology and efficiency and doing things more efficiently. Now I haven’t got anything against efficiency. And I think we are a clever species sometimes. But I think we should also just check the numbers, take a reality check here. So I want you to imagine a world, in 2050, of around nine billion people, all aspiring to Western incomes, Western lifestyles. And I want to ask the question — and we’ll give them that two percent hike in income, in salary each year as well, because we believe in growth. And I want to ask the question: how far and how fast would be have to move? How clever would we have to be? How much technology would we need in this world to deliver our carbon targets? And here in my chart — on the left-hand side is where we are now.

This is the carbon intensity of economic growth in the economy at the moment. It’s around about 770 grams of carbon. In the world I describe to you, we have to be right over here at the right-hand side at six grams of carbon. It’s a 130-fold improvement, and that is 10 times further and faster than anything we’ve ever achieved in industrial history. Maybe we can do it, maybe it’s possible — who knows? Maybe we can even go further and get an economy that pulls carbon out of the atmosphere, which is what we’re going to need to be doing by the end of the century. But shouldn’t we just check first that the economic system that we have is remotely capable of delivering this kind of improvement? So I want to just spend a couple of minutes on system dynamics.

It’s a bit complex, and I apologize for that. What I’ll try and do, is I’ll try and paraphrase it is sort of human terms. So it looks a little bit like this. Firms produce goods for households — that’s us — and provide us with incomes, and that’s even better, because we can spend those incomes on more goods and services. That’s called the circular flow of the economy. It looks harmless enough. I just want to highlight one key feature of this system, which is the role of investment. Now investment constitutes only about a fifth of the national income in most modern economies, but it plays an absolutely vital role. And what it does essentially is to stimulate further consumption growth. It does this in a couple of ways — chasing productivity, which drives down prices and encourages us to buy more stuff. But I want to concentrate on the role of investment in seeking out novelty, the production and consumption of novelty. Joseph Schumpeter called this “the process of creative destruction.” It’s a process of the production and reproduction of novelty, continually chasing expanding consumer markets, consumer goods, new consumer goods.

And this, this is where it gets interesting, because it turns out that human beings have something of an appetite for novelty. We love new stuff — new material stuff for sure — but also new ideas, new adventures, new experiences. But the materiality matters too, because in every society that anthropologists have looked at, material stuff operates as a kind of language — a language of goods, a symbolic language that we use to tell each other stories — stories, for example, about how important we are. Status-driven, conspicuous consumption thrives from the language of novelty. And here, all of a sudden, we have a system that is locking economic structure with social logic — the economic institutions, and who we are as people, locked together to drive an engine of growth.

And this engine is not just economic value; it is pulling material resources relentlessly through the system, driven by our own insatiable appetites, driven in fact by a sense of anxiety. Adam Smith, 200 years ago, spoke about our desire for a life without shame. A life without shame: in his day, what that meant was a linen shirt, and today, well, you still need the shirt, but you need the hybrid car, the HDTV, two holidays a year in the sun, the netbook and iPad, the list goes on — an almost inexhaustible supply of goods, driven by this anxiety. And even if we don’t want them, we need to buy them, because, if we don’t buy them, the system crashes. And to stop it crashing over the last two to three decades, we’ve expanded the money supply, expanded credit and debt, so that people can keep buying stuff. And of course, that expansion was deeply implicated in the crisis.

But this — I just want to show you some data here. This is what it looks like, essentially, this credit and debt system, just for the U.K. This was the last 15 years before the crash, and you can see there, consumer debt rose dramatically. It was above the GDP for three years in a row just before the crisis. And in the mean time, personal savings absolutely plummeted. The savings ratio, net savings, were below zero in the middle of 2008, just before the crash. This is people expanding debt, drawing down their savings, just to stay in the game. This is a strange, rather perverse, story, just to put it in very simple terms. It’s a story about us, people, being persuaded to spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need to create impressions that won’t last on people we don’t care about. (Laughter) (Applause) But before we consign ourselves to despair, maybe we should just go back and say, “Did we get this right? Is this really how people are? Is this really how economies behave?” And almost straightaway we actually run up against a couple of anomalies.

The first one is in the crisis itself. In the crisis, in the recession, what do people want to do? They want to hunker down, they want to look to the future. They want to spend less and save more. But saving is exactly the wrong thing to do from the system point of view. Keynes called this the “paradox of thrift” — saving slows down recovery. And politicians call on us continually to draw down more debt, to draw down our own savings even further, just so that we can get the show back on the road, so we can keep this growth-based economy going. It’s an anomaly, it’s a place where the system actually is at odds with who we are as people. Here’s another one — completely different one: Why is it that we don’t do the blindingly obvious things we should do to combat climate change, very, very simple things like buying energy-efficient appliances, putting in efficient lights, turning the lights off occasionally, insulating our homes? These things save carbon, they save energy, they save us money. So is it that, though they make perfect economic sense, we don’t do them? Well, I had my own personal insight into this a few years ago. It was a Sunday evening, Sunday afternoon, and it was just after — actually, to be honest, too long after — we had moved into a new house.

And I had finally got around to doing some draft stripping, installing insulation around the windows and doors to keep out the drafts. And my, then, five year-old daughter was helping me in the way that five year-olds do. And we’d been doing this for a while, when she turned to me very solemnly and said, “Will this really keep out the giraffes?” (Laughter) “Here they are, the giraffes.” You can hear the five-year-old mind working. These ones, interestingly, are 400 miles north of here outside Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria. Goodness knows what they make of the Lake District weather. But actually that childish misrepresentation stuck with me, because it suddenly became clear to me why we don’t do the blindingly obvious things. We’re too busy keeping out the giraffes — putting the kids on the bus in the morning, getting ourselves to work on time, surviving email overload and shop floor politics, foraging for groceries, throwing together meals, escaping for a couple of precious hours in the evening into prime-time TV or TED online, getting from one end of the day to the other, keeping out the giraffes.

(Laughter) What is the objective? “What is the objective of the consumer?” Mary Douglas asked in an essay on poverty written 35 years ago. “It is,” she said, “to help create the social world and find a credible place in it.” That is a deeply humanizing vision of our lives, and it’s a completely different vision than the one that lies at the heart of this economic model. So who are we? Who are these people? Are we these novelty-seeking, hedonistic, selfish individuals? Or might we actually occasionally be something like the selfless altruist depicted in Rembrandt’s lovely, lovely sketch here? Well psychology actually says there is a tension — a tension between self-regarding behaviors and other regarding behaviors. And these tensions have deep evolutionary roots, so selfish behavior is adaptive in certain circumstances — fight or flight. But other regarding behaviors are essential to our evolution as social beings.

And perhaps even more interesting from our point of view, another tension between novelty-seeking behaviors and tradition or conservation. Novelty is adaptive when things are changing and you need to adapt yourself. Tradition is essential to lay down the stability to raise families and form cohesive social groups. So here, all of a sudden, we’re looking at a map of the human heart. And it reveals to us, suddenly, the crux of the matter. What we’ve done is we’ve created economies. We’ve created systems, which systematically privilege, encourage, one narrow quadrant of the human soul and left the others unregarded. And in the same token, the solution becomes clear, because this isn’t, therefore, about changing human nature. It isn’t, in fact, about curtailing possibilities. It is about opening up. It is about allowing ourselves the freedom to become fully human, recognizing the depth and the breadth of the human psyche and building institutions to protect Rembrandt’s fragile altruist within.

What does all this mean for economics? What would economies look like if we took that vision of human nature at their heart and stretched them along these orthogonal dimensions of the human psyche? Well, it might look a little bit like the 4,000 community-interest companies that have sprung up in the U.K. over the last five years and a similar rise in B corporations in the United States, enterprises that have ecological and social goals written into their constitution at their heart — companies, in fact, like this one, Ecosia. And I just want to, very quickly, show you this. Ecosia is an Internet search engine. Internet search engines work by drawing revenues from sponsored links that appear when you do a search. And Ecosia works in pretty much the same way. So we can do that here — we can just put in a little search term. There you go, Oxford, that’s where we are. See what comes up.

The difference with Ecosia though is that, in Ecosia’s case, it draws the revenues in the same way, but it allocates 80 percent of those revenues to a rainforest protection project in the Amazon. And we’re going to do it. We’re just going to click on Naturejobs.uk. In case anyone out there is looking for a job in a recession, that’s the page to go to. And what happened then was the sponsor gave revenues to Ecosia, and Ecosia is giving 80 percent of those revenues to a rainforest protection project. It’s taking profits from one place and allocating them into the protection of ecological resources. It’s a different kind of enterprise for a new economy. It’s a form, if you like, of ecological altruism — perhaps something along those lines. Maybe it’s that. Whatever it is, whatever this new economy is, what we need the economy to do, in fact, is to put investment back into the heart of the model, to re-conceive investment. Only now, investment isn’t going to be about the relentless and mindless pursuit of consumption growth.

Investment has to be a different beast. Investment has to be, in the new economy, protecting and nurturing the ecological assets on which our future depends. It has to be about transition. It has to be investing in low-carbon technologies and infrastructures. We have to invest, in fact, in the idea of a meaningful prosperity, providing capabilities for people to flourish. And of course, this task has material dimensions. It would be nonsense to talk about people flourishing if they didn’t have food, clothing and shelter. But it’s also clear that prosperity goes beyond this. It has social and psychological aims — family, friendship, commitments, society, participating in the life of that society. And this too requires investment, investment — for example, in places — places where we can connect, places where we can participate, shared spaces, concert halls, gardens, public parks, libraries, museums, quiet centers, places of joy and celebration, places of tranquility and contemplation, sites for the “cultivation of a common citizenship,” in Michael Sandel’s lovely phrase.

An investment — investment, after all, is just such a basic economic concept — is nothing more nor less than a relationship between the present and the future, a shared present and a common future. And we need that relationship to reflect, to reclaim hope. So let me come back, with this sense of hope, to the two billion people still trying to live each day on less than the price of a skinny latte from the cafe next door. What can we offer those people? It’s clear that we have a responsibility to help lift them out of poverty. It’s clear that we have a responsibility to make room for growth where growth really matters in those poorest nations. And it’s also clear that we will never achieve that unless we’re capable of redefining a meaningful sense of prosperity in the richer nations, a prosperity that is more meaningful and less materialistic than the growth-based model.

So this is not just a Western post-materialist fantasy. In fact, an African philosopher wrote to me, when “Prosperity Without Growth” was published, pointing out the similarities between this view of prosperity and the traditional African concept of ubuntu. Ubuntu says, “I am because we are.” Prosperity is a shared endeavor. Its roots are long and deep — its foundations, I’ve tried to show, exist already, inside each of us. So this is not about standing in the way of development. It’s not about overthrowing capitalism. It’s not about trying to change human nature. What we’re doing here is we’re taking a few simple steps towards an economics fit for purpose. And at the heart of that economics, we’re placing a more credible, more robust, and more realistic vision of what it means to be human. Thank you very much.

(Applause) Chris Anderson: While they’re taking the podium away, just a quick question. First of all, economists aren’t supposed to be inspiring, so you may need to work on the tone a little. (Laughter) Can you picture the politicians ever buying into this? I mean, can you picture a politician standing up in Britain and saying, “GDP fell two percent this year. Good news! We’re actually all happier, and a country’s more beautiful, and our lives are better.” Tim Jackson: Well that’s clearly not what you’re doing. You’re not making news out of things falling down. You’re making news out of the things that tell you that we’re flourishing. Can I picture politicians doing it? Actually, I already am seeing a little bit of it. When we first started this kind of work, politicians would stand up, treasury spokesmen would stand up, and accuse us of wanting to go back and live in caves. And actually in the period through which we’ve been working over the last 18 years — partly because of the financial crisis and a little bit of humility in the profession of economics — actually people are engaging in this issue in all sorts of countries around the world. CA: But is it mainly politicians who are going to have to get their act together, or is it going to be more just civil society and companies? TJ: It has to be companies.

It has to be civil society. But it has to have political leadership. This is a kind of agenda, which actually politicians themselves are kind of caught in that dilemma, because they’re hooked on the growth model themselves. But actually opening up the space to think about different ways of governing, different kinds of politics, and creating the space for civil society and businesses to operate differently — absolutely vital. CA: And if someone could convince you that we actually can make the — what was it? — the 130-fold improvement in efficiency, of reduction of carbon footprint, would you then actually like that picture of economic growth into more knowledge-based goods? TJ: I would still want to know that you could do that and get below zero by the end of the century, in terms of taking carbon out of the atmosphere, and solve the problem of biodiversity and reduce the impact on land use and do something about the erosion of topsoils and the quality of water. If you can convince me we can do all that, then, yes, I would take the two percent.

CA: Tim, thank you for a very important talk. Thank you. (Applause).

Allan Adams: The discovery that could rewrite physics

If you look deep into the night sky, you see stars, and if you look further, you see more stars, and further, galaxies, and further, more galaxies. But if you keep looking further and further, eventually you see nothing for a long while, and then finally you see a faint, fading afterglow, and it's the afterglow of the Big Bang. Now, the Big Bang was an era in the early universe when everything we see in the night sky was condensed into an incredibly small, incredibly hot, incredibly roiling mass, and from it sprung everything we see. Now, we've mapped that afterglow with great precision, and when I say we, I mean people who aren't me. We've mapped the afterglow with spectacular precision, and one of the shocks about it is that it's almost completely uniform. Fourteen billion light years that way and 14 billion light years that way, it's the same temperature. Now it's been 14 billion years since that Big Bang, and so it's got faint and cold. It's now 2.

7 degrees. But it's not exactly 2.7 degrees. It's only 2.7 degrees to about 10 parts in a million. Over here, it's a little hotter, and over there, it's a little cooler, and that's incredibly important to everyone in this room, because where it was a little hotter, there was a little more stuff, and where there was a little more stuff, we have galaxies and clusters of galaxies and superclusters and all the structure you see in the cosmos. And those small, little, inhomogeneities, 20 parts in a million, those were formed by quantum mechanical wiggles in that early universe that were stretched across the size of the entire cosmos. That is spectacular, and that's not what they found on Monday; what they found on Monday is cooler. So here's what they found on Monday: Imagine you take a bell, and you whack the bell with a hammer.

What happens? It rings. But if you wait, that ringing fades and fades and fades until you don't notice it anymore. Now, that early universe was incredibly dense, like a metal, way denser, and if you hit it, it would ring, but the thing ringing would be the structure of space-time itself, and the hammer would be quantum mechanics. What they found on Monday was evidence of the ringing of the space-time of the early universe, what we call gravitational waves from the fundamental era, and here's how they found it. Those waves have long since faded. If you go for a walk, you don't wiggle. Those gravitational waves in the structure of space are totally invisible for all practical purposes. But early on, when the universe was making that last afterglow, the gravitational waves put little twists in the structure of the light that we see. So by looking at the night sky deeper and deeper — in fact, these guys spent three years on the South Pole looking straight up through the coldest, clearest, cleanest air they possibly could find looking deep into the night sky and studying that glow and looking for the faint twists which are the symbol, the signal, of gravitational waves, the ringing of the early universe. And on Monday, they announced that they had found it.

And the thing that's so spectacular about that to me is not just the ringing, though that is awesome. The thing that's totally amazing, the reason I'm on this stage, is because what that tells us is something deep about the early universe. It tells us that we and everything we see around us are basically one large bubble — and this is the idea of inflation— one large bubble surrounded by something else. This isn't conclusive evidence for inflation, but anything that isn't inflation that explains this will look the same. This is a theory, an idea, that has been around for a while, and we never thought we we'd really see it. For good reasons, we thought we'd never see killer evidence, and this is killer evidence. But the really crazy idea is that our bubble is just one bubble in a much larger, roiling pot of universal stuff. We're never going to see the stuff outside, but by going to the South Pole and spending three years looking at the detailed structure of the night sky, we can figure out that we're probably in a universe that looks kind of like that.

And that amazes me. Thanks a lot. (Applause).

The danger of a single story | Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I'm a storyteller. And I would like to tell you a few personal stories about what I like to call "the danger of the single story." I grew up on a university campus in eastern Nigeria. My mother says that I started reading at the age of two, although I think four is probably close to the truth. So I was an early reader, and what I read were British and American children's books. I was also an early writer, and when I began to write, at about the age of seven, stories in pencil with crayon illustrations that my poor mother was obligated to read, I wrote exactly the kinds of stories I was reading: All my characters were white and blue-eyed, they played in the snow, they ate apples, (Laughter) and they talked a lot about the weather, how lovely it was that the sun had come out. (Laughter) Now, this despite the fact that I lived in Nigeria. I had never been outside Nigeria.

We didn't have snow, we ate mangoes, and we never talked about the weather, because there was no need to. My characters also drank a lot of ginger beer, because the characters in the British books I read drank ginger beer. Never mind that I had no idea what ginger beer was. (Laughter) And for many years afterwards, I would have a desperate desire to taste ginger beer. But that is another story. What this demonstrates, I think, is how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, particularly as children. Because all I had read were books in which characters were foreign, I had become convinced that books by their very nature had to have foreigners in them and had to be about things with which I could not personally identify. Now, things changed when I discovered African books. There weren't many of them available, and they weren't quite as easy to find as the foreign books. But because of writers like Chinua Achebe and Camara Laye, I went through a mental shift in my perception of literature. I realized that people like me, girls with skin the color of chocolate, whose kinky hair could not form ponytails, could also exist in literature.

I started to write about things I recognized. Now, I loved those American and British books I read. They stirred my imagination. They opened up new worlds for me. But the unintended consequence was that I did not know that people like me could exist in literature. So what the discovery of African writers did for me was this: It saved me from having a single story of what books are. I come from a conventional, middle-class Nigerian family. My father was a professor. My mother was an administrator. And so we had, as was the norm, live-in domestic help, who would often come from nearby rural villages. So, the year I turned eight, we got a new house boy. His name was Fide. The only thing my mother told us about him was that his family was very poor. My mother sent yams and rice, and our old clothes, to his family. And when I didn't finish my dinner, my mother would say, "Finish your food! Don't you know? People like Fide's family have nothing." So I felt enormous pity for Fide's family.

Then one Saturday, we went to his village to visit, and his mother showed us a beautifully patterned basket made of dyed raffia that his brother had made. I was startled. It had not occurred to me that anybody in his family could actually make something. All I had heard about them was how poor they were, so that it had become impossible for me to see them as anything else but poor. Their poverty was my single story of them. Years later, I thought about this when I left Nigeria to go to university in the United States. I was 19. My American roommate was shocked by me. She asked where I had learned to speak English so well, and was confused when I said that Nigeria happened to have English as its official language. She asked if she could listen to what she called my "tribal music," and was consequently very disappointed when I produced my tape of Mariah Carey. (Laughter) She assumed that I did not know how to use a stove. What struck me was this: She had felt sorry for me even before she saw me.

Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa: a single story of catastrophe. In this single story, there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals. I must say that before I went to the U.S., I didn't consciously identify as African. But in the U.S., whenever Africa came up, people turned to me. Never mind that I knew nothing about places like Namibia. But I did come to embrace this new identity, and in many ways I think of myself now as African. Although I still get quite irritable when Africa is referred to as a country, the most recent example being my otherwise wonderful flight from Lagos two days ago, in which there was an announcement on the Virgin flight about the charity work in "India, Africa and other countries." (Laughter) So, after I had spent some years in the U.S. as an African, I began to understand my roommate's response to me. If I had not grown up in Nigeria, and if all I knew about Africa were from popular images, I too would think that Africa was a place of beautiful landscapes, beautiful animals, and incomprehensible people, fighting senseless wars, dying of poverty and AIDS, unable to speak for themselves and waiting to be saved by a kind, white foreigner.

I would see Africans in the same way that I, as a child, had seen Fide's family. This single story of Africa ultimately comes, I think, from Western literature. Now, here is a quote from the writing of a London merchant called John Lok, who sailed to west Africa in 1561 and kept a fascinating account of his voyage. After referring to the black Africans as "beasts who have no houses," he writes, "They are also people without heads, having their mouth and eyes in their breasts." Now, I've laughed every time I've read this. And one must admire the imagination of John Lok. But what is important about his writing is that it represents the beginning of a tradition of telling African stories in the West: A tradition of Sub-Saharan Africa as a place of negatives, of difference, of darkness, of people who, in the words of the wonderful poet Rudyard Kipling, are "half devil, half child.

" And so, I began to realize that my American roommate must have throughout her life seen and heard different versions of this single story, as had a professor, who once told me that my novel was not "authentically African." Now, I was quite willing to contend that there were a number of things wrong with the novel, that it had failed in a number of places, but I had not quite imagined that it had failed at achieving something called African authenticity. In fact, I did not know what African authenticity was. The professor told me that my characters were too much like him, an educated and middle-class man. My characters drove cars. They were not starving. Therefore they were not authentically African. But I must quickly add that I too am just as guilty in the question of the single story.

A few years ago, I visited Mexico from the U.S. The political climate in the U.S. at the time was tense, and there were debates going on about immigration. And, as often happens in America, immigration became synonymous with Mexicans. There were endless stories of Mexicans as people who were fleecing the healthcare system, sneaking across the border, being arrested at the border, that sort of thing. I remember walking around on my first day in Guadalajara, watching the people going to work, rolling up tortillas in the marketplace, smoking, laughing. I remember first feeling slight surprise. And then, I was overwhelmed with shame. I realized that I had been so immersed in the media coverage of Mexicans that they had become one thing in my mind, the abject immigrant. I had bought into the single story of Mexicans and I could not have been more ashamed of myself. So that is how to create a single story, show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.

It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power. There is a word, an Igbo word, that I think about whenever I think about the power structures of the world, and it is "nkali." It's a noun that loosely translates to "to be greater than another." Like our economic and political worlds, stories too are defined by the principle of nkali: How they are told, who tells them, when they're told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power. Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person. The Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti writes that if you want to dispossess a people, the simplest way to do it is to tell their story and to start with, "secondly." Start the story with the arrows of the Native Americans, and not with the arrival of the British, and you have an entirely different story. Start the story with the failure of the African state, and not with the colonial creation of the African state, and you have an entirely different story. I recently spoke at a university where a student told me that it was such a shame that Nigerian men were physical abusers like the father character in my novel.

I told him that I had just read a novel called "American Psycho" — (Laughter) — and that it was such a shame that young Americans were serial murderers. (Laughter) (Applause) Now, obviously I said this in a fit of mild irritation. (Laughter) But it would never have occurred to me to think that just because I had read a novel in which a character was a serial killer that he was somehow representative of all Americans. This is not because I am a better person than that student, but because of America's cultural and economic power, I had many stories of America. I had read Tyler and Updike and Steinbeck and Gaitskill. I did not have a single story of America. When I learned, some years ago, that writers were expected to have had really unhappy childhoods to be successful, I began to think about how I could invent horrible things my parents had done to me. (Laughter) But the truth is that I had a very happy childhood, full of laughter and love, in a very close-knit family.

But I also had grandfathers who died in refugee camps. My cousin Polle died because he could not get adequate healthcare. One of my closest friends, Okoloma, died in a plane crash because our fire trucks did not have water. I grew up under repressive military governments that devalued education, so that sometimes, my parents were not paid their salaries. And so, as a child, I saw jam disappear from the breakfast table, then margarine disappeared, then bread became too expensive, then milk became rationed. And most of all, a kind of normalized political fear invaded our lives. All of these stories make me who I am. But to insist on only these negative stories is to flatten my experience and to overlook the many other stories that formed me.

The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story. Of course, Africa is a continent full of catastrophes: There are immense ones, such as the horrific rapes in Congo and depressing ones, such as the fact that 5,000 people apply for one job vacancy in Nigeria. But there are other stories that are not about catastrophe, and it is very important, it is just as important, to talk about them. I've always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar. So what if before my Mexican trip, I had followed the immigration debate from both sides, the U.

S. and the Mexican? What if my mother had told us that Fide's family was poor and hardworking? What if we had an African television network that broadcast diverse African stories all over the world? What the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe calls "a balance of stories." What if my roommate knew about my Nigerian publisher, Muhtar Bakare, a remarkable man who left his job in a bank to follow his dream and start a publishing house? Now, the conventional wisdom was that Nigerians don't read literature. He disagreed. He felt that people who could read, would read, if you made literature affordable and available to them. Shortly after he published my first novel, I went to a TV station in Lagos to do an interview, and a woman who worked there as a messenger came up to me and said, "I really liked your novel. I didn't like the ending.

Now, you must write a sequel, and this is what will happen …" (Laughter) And she went on to tell me what to write in the sequel. I was not only charmed, I was very moved. Here was a woman, part of the ordinary masses of Nigerians, who were not supposed to be readers. She had not only read the book, but she had taken ownership of it and felt justified in telling me what to write in the sequel. Now, what if my roommate knew about my friend Funmi Iyanda, a fearless woman who hosts a TV show in Lagos, and is determined to tell the stories that we prefer to forget? What if my roommate knew about the heart procedure that was performed in the Lagos hospital last week? What if my roommate knew about contemporary Nigerian music, talented people singing in English and Pidgin, and Igbo and Yoruba and Ijo, mixing influences from Jay-Z to Fela to Bob Marley to their grandfathers. What if my roommate knew about the female lawyer who recently went to court in Nigeria to challenge a ridiculous law that required women to get their husband's consent before renewing their passports? What if my roommate knew about Nollywood, full of innovative people making films despite great technical odds, films so popular that they really are the best example of Nigerians consuming what they produce? What if my roommate knew about my wonderfully ambitious hair braider, who has just started her own business selling hair extensions? Or about the millions of other Nigerians who start businesses and sometimes fail, but continue to nurse ambition? Every time I am home I am confronted with the usual sources of irritation for most Nigerians: our failed infrastructure, our failed government, but also by the incredible resilience of people who thrive despite the government, rather than because of it.

I teach writing workshops in Lagos every summer, and it is amazing to me how many people apply, how many people are eager to write, to tell stories. My Nigerian publisher and I have just started a non-profit called Farafina Trust, and we have big dreams of building libraries and refurbishing libraries that already exist and providing books for state schools that don't have anything in their libraries, and also of organizing lots and lots of workshops, in reading and writing, for all the people who are eager to tell our many stories. Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity. The American writer Alice Walker wrote this about her Southern relatives who had moved to the North.

She introduced them to a book about the Southern life that they had left behind. "They sat around, reading the book themselves, listening to me read the book, and a kind of paradise was regained." I would like to end with this thought: That when we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise. Thank you. (Applause).

Dan Barber: How I fell in love with a fish

So, I've known a lot of fish in my life. I've loved only two. That first one, it was more like a passionate affair. It was a beautiful fish: flavorful, textured, meaty, a bestseller on the menu. What a fish. (Laughter) Even better, it was farm-raised to the supposed highest standards of sustainability. So you could feel good about selling it. I was in a relationship with this beauty for several months. One day, the head of the company called and asked if I'd speak at an event about the farm's sustainability. "Absolutely," I said. Here was a company trying to solve what's become this unimaginable problem for us chefs: How do we keep fish on our menus? For the past 50 years, we've been fishing the seas like we clear-cut forests. It's hard to overstate the destruction.

Ninety percent of large fish, the ones we love — the tunas, the halibuts, the salmons, swordfish — they've collapsed. There's almost nothing left. So, for better or for worse, aquaculture, fish farming, is going to be a part of our future. A lot of arguments against it: Fish farms pollute — most of them do anyway — and they're inefficient. Take tuna, a major drawback. It's got a feed conversion ratio of 15 to one. That means it takes fifteen pounds of wild fish to get you one pound of farm tuna. Not very sustainable. It doesn't taste very good either. So here, finally, was a company trying to do it right. I wanted to support them. The day before the event, I called the head of P.R. for the company. Let's call him Don. "Don," I said, "just to get the facts straight, you guys are famous for farming so far out to sea, you don't pollute." "That's right," he said. "We're so far out, the waste from our fish gets distributed, not concentrated." And then he added, "We're basically a world unto ourselves.

That feed conversion ratio? 2.5 to one," he said. "Best in the business." 2.5 to one, great. "2.5 what? What are you feeding?" "Sustainable proteins," he said. "Great," I said. Got off the phone. And that night, I was lying in bed, and I thought: What the hell is a sustainable protein? (Laughter) So the next day, just before the event, I called Don. I said, "Don, what are some examples of sustainable proteins?" He said he didn't know. He would ask around. Well, I got on the phone with a few people in the company; no one could give me a straight answer until finally, I got on the phone with the head biologist. Let's call him Don too. (Laughter) "Don," I said, "what are some examples of sustainable proteins?" Well, he mentioned some algaes and some fish meals, and then he said chicken pellets. I said, "Chicken pellets?" He said, "Yeah, feathers, skin, bone meal, scraps, dried and processed into feed." I said, "What percentage of your feed is chicken?" Thinking, you know, two percent.

"Well, it's about 30 percent," he said. I said, "Don, what's sustainable about feeding chicken to fish?" (Laughter) There was a long pause on the line, and he said, "There's just too much chicken in the world." (Laughter) I fell out of love with this fish. (Laughter) No, not because I'm some self-righteous, goody-two shoes foodie. I actually am. (Laughter) No, I actually fell out of love with this fish because, I swear to God, after that conversation, the fish tasted like chicken. (Laughter) This second fish, it's a different kind of love story. It's the romantic kind, the kind where the more you get to know your fish, you love the fish. I first ate it at a restaurant in southern Spain. A journalist friend had been talking about this fish for a long time. She kind of set us up.

(Laughter) It came to the table a bright, almost shimmering, white color. The chef had overcooked it. Like twice over. Amazingly, it was still delicious. Who can make a fish taste good after it's been overcooked? I can't, but this guy can. Let's call him Miguel — actually his name is Miguel. (Laughter) And no, he didn't cook the fish, and he's not a chef, at least in the way that you and I understand it. He's a biologist at Veta La Palma. It's a fish farm in the southwestern corner of Spain. It's at the tip of the Guadalquivir river. Until the 1980s, the farm was in the hands of the Argentinians. They raised beef cattle on what was essentially wetlands. They did it by draining the land. They built this intricate series of canals, and they pushed water off the land and out into the river. Well, they couldn't make it work, not economically. And ecologically, it was a disaster. It killed like 90 percent of the birds, which, for this place, is a lot of birds. And so in 1982, a Spanish company with an environmental conscience purchased the land.

What did they do? They reversed the flow of water. They literally flipped the switch. Instead of pushing water out, they used the channels to pull water back in. They flooded the canals. They created a 27,000-acre fish farm — bass, mullet, shrimp, eel — and in the process, Miguel and this company completely reversed the ecological destruction. The farm's incredible. I mean, you've never seen anything like this. You stare out at a horizon that is a million miles away, and all you see are flooded canals and this thick, rich marshland. I was there not long ago with Miguel. He's an amazing guy, like three parts Charles Darwin and one part Crocodile Dundee. (Laughter) Okay? There we are slogging through the wetlands, and I'm panting and sweating, got mud up to my knees, and Miguel's calmly conducting a biology lecture. Here, he's pointing out a rare Black-shouldered Kite.

Now, he's mentioning the mineral needs of phytoplankton. And here, here he sees a grouping pattern that reminds him of the Tanzanian Giraffe. It turns out, Miguel spent the better part of his career in the Mikumi National Park in Africa. I asked him how he became such an expert on fish. He said, "Fish? I didn't know anything about fish. I'm an expert in relationships." And then he's off, launching into more talk about rare birds and algaes and strange aquatic plants. And don't get me wrong, that was really fascinating, you know, the biotic community unplugged, kind of thing. It's great, but I was in love. And my head was swooning over that overcooked piece of delicious fish I had the night before. So I interrupted him. I said, "Miguel, what makes your fish taste so good?" He pointed at the algae.

"I know, dude, the algae, the phytoplankton, the relationships: It's amazing. But what are your fish eating? What's the feed conversion ratio?" Well, he goes on to tell me it's such a rich system that the fish are eating what they'd be eating in the wild. The plant biomass, the phytoplankton, the zooplankton, it's what feeds the fish. The system is so healthy, it's totally self-renewing. There is no feed. Ever heard of a farm that doesn't feed its animals? Later that day, I was driving around this property with Miguel, and I asked him, I said, "For a place that seems so natural, unlike like any farm I'd ever been at, how do you measure success?" At that moment, it was as if a film director called for a set change. And we rounded the corner and saw the most amazing sight: thousands and thousands of pink flamingos, a literal pink carpet for as far as you could see. "That's success," he said. "Look at their bellies, pink.

They're feasting." Feasting? I was totally confused. I said, "Miguel, aren't they feasting on your fish?" (Laughter) "Yes," he said. (Laughter) "We lose 20 percent of our fish and fish eggs to birds. Well, last year, this property had 600,000 birds on it, more than 250 different species. It's become, today, the largest and one of the most important private bird sanctuaries in all of Europe." I said, "Miguel, isn't a thriving bird population like the last thing you want on a fish farm?" (Laughter) He shook his head, no. He said, "We farm extensively, not intensively. This is an ecological network. The flamingos eat the shrimp. The shrimp eat the phytoplankton. So the pinker the belly, the better the system." Okay, so let's review: a farm that doesn't feed its animals, and a farm that measures its success on the health of its predators. A fish farm, but also a bird sanctuary. Oh, and by the way, those flamingos, they shouldn't even be there in the first place.

They brood in a town 150 miles away, where the soil conditions are better for building nests. Every morning, they fly 150 miles into the farm. And every evening, they fly 150 miles back. (Laughter) They do that because they're able to follow the broken white line of highway A92. (Laughter) No kidding. I was imagining a "March of the Penguins" thing, so I looked at Miguel. I said, "Miguel, do they fly 150 miles to the farm, and then do they fly 150 miles back at night? Do they do that for the children?" He looked at me like I had just quoted a Whitney Houston song. (Laughter) He said, "No; they do it because the food's better." (Laughter) I didn't mention the skin of my beloved fish, which was delicious — and I don't like fish skin; I don't like it seared, I don't like it crispy. It's that acrid, tar-like flavor.

I almost never cook with it. Yet, when I tasted it at that restaurant in southern Spain, it tasted not at all like fish skin. It tasted sweet and clean, like you were taking a bite of the ocean. I mentioned that to Miguel, and he nodded. He said, "The skin acts like a sponge. It's the last defense before anything enters the body. It evolved to soak up impurities." And then he added, "But our water has no impurities." OK. A farm that doesn't feed its fish, a farm that measures its success by the success of its predators. And then I realized when he says, "A farm that has no impurities," he made a big understatement, because the water that flows through that farm comes in from the Guadalquivir River. It's a river that carries with it all the things that rivers tend to carry these days: chemical contaminants, pesticide runoff.

And when it works its way through the system and leaves, the water is cleaner than when it entered. The system is so healthy, it purifies the water. So, not just a farm that doesn't feed its animals, not just a farm that measures its success by the health of its predators, but a farm that's literally a water purification plant — and not just for those fish, but for you and me as well. Because when that water leaves, it dumps out into the Atlantic. A drop in the ocean, I know, but I'll take it, and so should you, because this love story, however romantic, is also instructive. You might say it's a recipe for the future of good food, whether we're talking about bass or beef cattle. What we need now is a radically new conception of agriculture, one in which the food actually tastes good. (Laughter) (Applause) But for a lot people, that's a bit too radical. We're not realists, us foodies; we're lovers. We love farmers' markets, we love small family farms, we talk about local food, we eat organic.

And when you suggest these are the things that will ensure the future of good food, someone, somewhere stands up and says, "Hey guy, I love pink flamingos, but how are you going to feed the world?" How are you going to feed the world? Can I be honest? I don't love that question. No, not because we already produce enough calories to more than feed the world. One billion people will go hungry today. One billion — that's more than ever before — because of gross inequalities in distribution, not tonnage. Now, I don't love this question because it's determined the logic of our food system for the last 50 years. Feed grain to herbivores, pesticides to monocultures, chemicals to soil, chicken to fish, and all along agribusiness has simply asked, "If we're feeding more people more cheaply, how terrible could that be?" That's been the motivation, it's been the justification: it's been the business plan of American agriculture.

We should call it what it is: a business in liquidation, a business that's quickly eroding ecological capital that makes that very production possible. That's not a business, and it isn't agriculture. Our breadbasket is threatened today, not because of diminishing supply, but because of diminishing resources. Not by the latest combine and tractor invention, but by fertile land; not by pumps, but by fresh water; not by chainsaws, but by forests; and not by fishing boats and nets, but by fish in the sea. Want to feed the world? Let's start by asking: How are we going to feed ourselves? Or better: How can we create conditions that enable every community to feed itself? (Applause) To do that, don't look at the agribusiness model for the future. It's really old, and it's tired. It's high on capital, chemistry and machines, and it's never produced anything really good to eat. Instead, let's look to the ecological model.

That's the one that relies on two billion years of on-the-job experience. Look to Miguel, farmers like Miguel. Farms that aren't worlds unto themselves; farms that restore instead of deplete; farms that farm extensively instead of just intensively; farmers that are not just producers, but experts in relationships. Because they're the ones that are experts in flavor, too. And if I'm going to be really honest, they're a better chef than I'll ever be. You know, I'm okay with that, because if that's the future of good food, it's going to be delicious. Thank you. (Applause).

Ben Katchor’s comics of bygone New York

I'm going to read a few strips. These are, most of these are from a monthly page I do in and architecture and design magazine called Metropolis. And the first story is called "The Faulty Switch." Another beautifully designed new building ruined by the sound of a common wall light switch. It's fine during the day when the main rooms are flooded with sunlight. But at dusk everything changes. The architect spent hundreds of hours designing the burnished brass switchplates for his new office tower. And then left it to a contractor to install these 79-cent switches behind them. We know instinctively where to reach when we enter a dark room. We automatically throw the little nub of plastic upward. But the sound we are greeted with, as the room is bathed in the simulated glow of late-afternoon light, recalls to mind a dirty men's room in the rear of a Greek coffee shop. (Laughter) This sound colors our first impression of any room; it can't be helped. But where does this sound, commonly described as a click, come from? Is it simply the byproduct of a crude mechanical action? Or is it an imitation of one half the set of sounds we make to express disappointment? The often dental consonant of no Indo-European language.

Or is it the amplified sound of a synapse firing in the brain of a cockroach? In the 1950s they tried their best to muffle this sound with mercury switches and silent knob controls. But today these improvements seem somehow inauthentic. The click is the modern triumphal clarion proceeding us through life, announcing our entry into every lightless room. The sound made flicking a wall switch off is of a completely different nature. It has a deep melancholy ring. Children don't like it. It's why they leave lights on around the house. (Laughter) Adults find it comforting. But wouldn't it be an easy matter to wire a wall switch so that it triggers the muted horn of a steam ship? Or the recorded crowing of a rooster? Or the distant peel of thunder? Thomas Edison went through thousands of unlikely substances before he came upon the right one for the filament of his electric light bulb. Why have we settled so quickly for the sound of its switch? That's the end of that. (Applause) The next story is called "In Praise of the Taxpayer." That so many of the city's most venerable taxpayers have survived yet another commercial building boom, is cause for celebration.

These one or two story structures, designed to yield only enough income to cover the taxes on the land on which they stand, were not meant to be permanent buildings. Yet for one reason or another they have confounded the efforts of developers to be combined into lots suitable for high-rise construction. Although they make no claim to architectural beauty, they are, in their perfect temporariness, a delightful alternative to the large-scale structures that might someday take their place. The most perfect examples occupy corner lots. They offer a pleasant respite from the high-density development around them. A break of light and air, an architectural biding of time. So buried in signage are these structures, that it often takes a moment to distinguish the modern specially constructed taxpayer from its neighbor: the small commercial building from an earlier century, whose upper floors have been sealed, and whose groundfloor space now functions as a taxpayer. The few surfaces not covered by signs are often clad in a distinctive, dark green-gray, striated aluminum siding. Take-out sandwich shops, film processing drop-offs, peep-shows and necktie stores.

Now these provisional structures have, in some cases, remained standing for the better part of a human lifetime. The temporary building is a triumph of modern industrial organization, a healthy sublimation of the urge to build, and proof that not every architectural idea need be set in stone. That's the end. (Laughter) And the next story is called, "On the Human Lap." For the ancient Egyptians the lap was a platform upon which to place the earthly possessions of the dead — 30 cubits from foot to knee. It was not until the 14th century that an Italian painter recognized the lap as a Grecian temple, upholstered in flesh and cloth. Over the next 200 years we see the infant Christ go from a sitting to a standing position on the Virgin's lap, and then back again. Every child recapitulates this ascension, straddling one or both legs, sitting sideways, or leaning against the body.

From there, to the modern ventriloquist's dummy, is but a brief moment in history. You were late for school again this morning. The ventriloquist must first make us believe that a small boy is sitting on his lap. The illusion of speech follows incidentally. What have you got to say for yourself, Jimmy? As adults we admire the lap from a nostalgic distance. We have fading memories of that provisional temple, erected each time an adult sat down. On a crowded bus there was always a lap to sit on. It is children and teenage girls who are most keenly aware of its architectural beauty. They understand the structural integrity of a deep avuncular lap, as compared to the shaky arrangement of a neurotic niece in high heels. The relationship between the lap and its owner is direct and intimate. I envision a 36-story, 450-unit residential high-rise — a reason to consider the mental health of any architect before granting an important commission.

The bathrooms and kitchens will, of course, have no windows. The lap of luxury is an architectural construct of childhood, which we seek, in vain, as adults, to employ. That's the end. (Laughter) The next story is called "The Haverpiece Collection" A nondescript warehouse, visible for a moment from the northbound lanes of the Prykushko Expressway, serves as the temporary resting place for the Haverpiece collection of European dried fruit. The profound convolutions on the surface of a dried cherry. The foreboding sheen of an extra-large date. Do you remember wandering as a child through those dark wooden storefront galleries? Where everything was displayed in poorly labeled roach-proof bins. Pears dried in the form of genital organs.

Apricot halves like the ears of cherubim. In 1962 the unsold stock was purchased by Maurice Haverpiece, a wealthy prune juice bottler, and consolidated to form the core collection. As an art form it lies somewhere between still-life painting and plumbing. Upon his death in 1967, a quarter of the items were sold off for compote to a high-class hotel restaurant. (Laughter) Unsuspecting guests were served stewed turn-of-the-century Turkish figs for breakfast. (Laughter) The rest of the collection remains here, stored in plain brown paper bags until funds can be raised to build a permanent museum and study center. A shoe made of apricot leather for the daughter of a czar. That's the end. Thank you. (Applause).

Mark Bezos: A life lesson from a volunteer firefighter

Back in New York, I am the head of development for a non-profit called Robin Hood. When I’m not fighting poverty, I’m fighting fires as the assistant captain of a volunteer fire company. Now in our town, where the volunteers supplement a highly skilled career staff, you have to get to the fire scene pretty early to get in on any action. I remember my first fire. I was the second volunteer on the scene, so there was a pretty good chance I was going to get in. But still it was a real footrace against the other volunteers to get to the captain in charge to find out what our assignments would be. When I found the captain, he was having a very engaging conversation with the homeowner, who was surely having one of the worst days of her life. Here it was, the middle of the night, she was standing outside in the pouring rain, under an umbrella, in her pajamas, barefoot, while her house was in flames. The other volunteer who had arrived just before me — let’s call him Lex Luther — (Laughter) got to the captain first and was asked to go inside and save the homeowner’s dog.

The dog! I was stunned with jealousy. Here was some lawyer or money manager who, for the rest of his life, gets to tell people that he went into a burning building to save a living creature, just because he beat me by five seconds. Well, I was next. The captain waved me over. He said, “Bezos, I need you to go into the house. I need you to go upstairs, past the fire, and I need you to get this woman a pair of shoes.” (Laughter) I swear. So, not exactly what I was hoping for, but off I went — up the stairs, down the hall, past the ‘real’ firefighters, who were pretty much done putting out the fire at this point, into the master bedroom to get a pair of shoes. Now I know what you’re thinking, but I’m no hero. (Laughter) I carried my payload back downstairs where I met my nemesis and the precious dog by the front door.

We took our treasures outside to the homeowner, where, not surprisingly, his received much more attention than did mine. A few weeks later, the department received a letter from the homeowner thanking us for the valiant effort displayed in saving her home. The act of kindness she noted above all others: someone had even gotten her a pair of shoes. (Laughter) In both my vocation at Robin Hood and my avocation as a volunteer firefighter, I am witness to acts of generosity and kindness on a monumental scale, but I’m also witness to acts of grace and courage on an individual basis. And you know what I’ve learned? They all matter. So as I look around this room at people who either have achieved, or are on their way to achieving, remarkable levels of success, I would offer this reminder: don’t wait.

Don’t wait until you make your first million to make a difference in somebody’s life. If you have something to give, give it now. Serve food at a soup kitchen. Clean up a neighborhood park. Be a mentor. Not every day is going to offer us a chance to save somebody’s life, but every day offers us an opportunity to affect one. So get in the game. Save the shoes. Thank you. (Applause) Bruno Giussani: Mark, Mark, come back. (Applause) Mark Bezos: Thank you..

David Keith: A surprising idea for “solving” climate change

You've all seen lots of articles on climate change, and here's yet another New York Times article, just like every other darn one you've seen. It says all the same stuff as all the other ones you've seen. It even has the same amount of headline as all the other ones you've seen. What's unusual about this one, maybe, is that it's from 1953. And the reason I'm saying this is that you may have the idea this problem is relatively recent. That people have just sort of figured out about it, and now with Kyoto and the Governator and people beginning to actually do something, we may be on the road to a solution. The fact is — uh-uh. We've known about this problem for 50 years, depending on how you count it.

We have talked about it endlessly over the last decade or so. And we've accomplished close to zip. This is the growth rate of CO2 in the atmosphere. You've seen this in various forms, but maybe you haven't seen this one. What this shows is that the rate of growth of our emissions is accelerating. And that it's accelerating even faster than what we thought was the worst case just a few years back. So that red line there was something that a lot of skeptics said the environmentalists only put in the projections to make the projections look as bad as possible, that emissions would never grow as fast as that red line. But in fact, they're growing faster. Here's some data from actually just 10 days ago, which shows this year's minimum of the Arctic Sea ice, and it's the lowest by far.

And the rate at which the Arctic Sea ice is going away is a lot quicker than models. So despite all sorts of experts like me flying around the planet and burning jet fuel, and politicians signing treaties — in fact, you could argue the net effect of all this has been negative, because it's just consumed a lot of jet fuel. (Laughter) No, no! In terms of what we really need to do to put the brakes on this very high inertial thing — our big economy — we've really hardly started. Really, we're doing this, basically. Really, not very much. I don't want to depress you too much. The problem is absolutely soluble, and even soluble in a way that's reasonably cheap. Cheap meaning sort of the cost of the military, not the cost of medical care. Cheap meaning a few percent of GDP. No, this is really important to have this sense of scale. So the problem is soluble, and the way we should go about solving it is, say, dealing with electricity production, which causes something like 43-or-so percent and rising of CO2 emissions.

And we could do that by perfectly sensible things like conservation, and wind power, nuclear power and coal to CO2 capture, which are all things that are ready for giant scale deployment, and work. All we lack is the action to actually spend the money to put those into place. Instead, we spend our time talking. But nevertheless, that's not what I'm going to talk to you about tonight. What I'm going to talk to you about tonight is stuff we might do if we did nothing. And it's this stuff in the middle here, which is what you do if you don't stop the emissions quickly enough. And you need to deal — somehow break the link between human actions that change climate, and the climate change itself. And that's particularly important because, of course, while we can adapt to climate change — and it's important to be honest here, there will be some benefits to climate change.

Oh, yes, I think it's bad. I've spent my whole life working to stop it. But one of the reasons it's politically hard is there are winners and losers — not all losers. But, of course, the natural world, polar bears. I spent time skiing across the sea ice for weeks at a time in the high Arctic. They will completely lose. And there's no adaption. So this problem is absolutely soluble. This geo-engineering idea, in it's simplest form, is basically the following. You could put signed particles, say sulfuric acid particles — sulfates — into the upper atmosphere, the stratosphere, where they'd reflect away sunlight and cool the planet. And I know for certain that that will work. Not that there aren't side effects, but I know for certain it will work. And the reason is, it's been done. And it was done not by us, not by me, but by nature. Here's Mount Pinatubo in the early '90s. That put a whole bunch of sulfur in the stratosphere with a sort of atomic bomb-like cloud.

The result of that was pretty dramatic. After that, and some previous volcanoes we have, you see a quite dramatic cooling of the atmosphere. So this lower bar is the upper atmosphere, the stratosphere, and it heats up after these volcanoes. But you'll notice that in the upper bar, which is the lower atmosphere and the surface, it cools down because we shielded the atmosphere a little bit. There's no big mystery about it. There's lots of mystery in the details, and there's some bad side effects, like it partially destroys the ozone layer — and I'll get to that in a minute. But it clearly cools down. And one other thing: it's fast. It's really important to say. So much of the other things that we ought to do, like slowing emissions, are intrinsically slow, because it takes time to build all the hardware we need to reduce emissions. And not only that, when you cut emissions, you don't cut concentrations, because concentrations, the amount of CO2 in the air, is the sum of emissions over time. So you can't step on the brakes very quickly. But if you do this, it's quick. And there are times you might like to do something quick. Another thing you might wonder about is, does it work? Can you shade some sunlight and effectively compensate for the added CO2, and produce a climate sort of back to what it was originally? And the answer seems to be yes.

So here are the graphs you've seen lots of times before. That's what the world looks like, under one particular climate model's view, with twice the amount of CO2 in the air. The lower graph is with twice the amount of CO2 and 1.8 percent less sunlight, and you're back to the original climate. And this graph from Ken Caldeira. It's important to say came, because Ken — at a meeting that I believe Marty Hoffart was also at in the mid-'90s — Ken and I stood up at the back of the meeting and said, "Geo-engineering won't work." And to the person who was promoting it said, "The atmosphere's much more complicated." Gave a bunch of physical reasons why it wouldn't do a very good compensation. Ken went and ran his models, and found that it did. This topic is also old. That report that landed on President Johnson's desk when I was two years old — 1965. That report, in fact, which had all the modern climate science — the only thing they talked about doing was geo-engineering. It didn't even talk about cutting emissions, which is an incredible shift in our thinking about this problem.

I'm not saying we shouldn't cut emissions. We should, but it made exactly this point. So, in a sense, there's not much new. The one new thing is this essay. So I should say, I guess, that since the time of that original President Johnson report, and the various reports of the U.S. National Academy — 1977, 1982, 1990 — people always talked about this idea. Not as something that was foolproof, but as an idea to think about. But when climate became, politically, a hot topic — if I may make the pun — in the last 15 years, this became so un-PC, we couldn't talk about it. It just sunk below the surface. We weren't allowed to speak about it. But in the last year, Paul Crutzen published this essay saying roughly what's all been said before: that maybe, given our very slow rate of progress in solving this problem and the uncertain impacts, we should think about things like this. He said roughly what's been said before.

The big deal was he happened to have won the Nobel prize for ozone chemistry. And so people took him seriously when he said we should think about this, even though there will be some ozone impacts. And in fact, he had some ideas to make them go away. There was all sorts of press coverage, all over the world, going right down to "Dr. Strangelove Saves the Earth," from the Economist. And that got me thinking. I've worked on this topic on and off, but not so much technically. And I was actually lying in bed thinking one night. And I thought about this child's toy — hence, the title of my talk — and I wondered if you could use the same physics that makes that thing spin 'round in the child's radiometer, to levitate particles into the upper atmosphere and make them stay there. One of the problems with sulfates is they fall out quickly. The other problem is they're right in the ozone layer, and I'd prefer them above the ozone layer. And it turns out, I woke up the next morning, and I started to calculate this. It was very hard to calculate from first principles.

I was stumped. But then I found out that there were all sorts of papers already published that addressed this topic because it happens already in the natural atmosphere. So it seems there are already fine particles that are levitated up to what we call the mesosphere, about 100 kilometers up, that already have this effect. I'll tell you very quickly how the effect works. There are a lot of fun complexities that I'd love to spend the whole evening on, but I won't. But let's say you have sunlight hitting some particle and it's unevenly heated. So the side facing the sun is warmer; the side away, cooler. Gas molecules that bounce off the warm side bounce away with some extra velocity because it's warm. And so you see a net force away from the sun.

That's called the photophoretic force. There are a bunch of other versions of it that I and some collaborators have thought about how to exploit. And of course, we may be wrong — this hasn't all been peer reviewed, we're in the middle of thinking about it — but so far, it seems good. But it looks like we could achieve long atmospheric lifetimes — much longer than before — because they're levitated. We can move things out of the stratosphere into the mesosphere, in principle solving the ozone problem. I'm sure there will be other problems that arise. Finally, we could make the particles migrate to over the poles, so we could arrange the climate engineering so it really focused on the poles. Which would have minimal bad impacts in the middle of the planet, where we live, and do the maximum job of what we might need to do, which is cooling the poles in case of planetary emergency, if you like.

This is a new idea that's crept up that may be, essentially, a cleverer idea than putting sulfates in. Whether this idea is right or some other idea is right, I think it's almost certain we will eventually think of cleverer things to do than just putting sulfur in. That if engineers and scientists really turned their minds to this, it's amazing how we can affect the planet. The one thing about this is it gives us extraordinary leverage. This improved science and engineering will, whether we like it or not, give us more and more leverage to affect the planet, to control the planet, to give us weather and climate control — not because we plan it, not because we want it, just because science delivers it to us bit by bit, with better knowledge of the way the system works and better engineering tools to effect it. Now, suppose that space aliens arrived. Maybe they're going to land at the U.

N. headquarters down the road here, or maybe they'll pick a smarter spot — but suppose they arrive and they give you a box. And the box has two knobs. One knob is the knob for controlling global temperature. Maybe another knob is a knob for controlling CO2 concentrations. You might imagine that we would fight wars over that box. Because we have no way to agree about where to set the knobs. We have no global governance. And different people will have different places they want it set. Now, I don't think that's going to happen. It's not very likely. But we're building that box. The scientists and engineers of the world are building it piece by piece, in their labs. Even when they're doing it for other reasons. Even when they're thinking they're just working on protecting the environment. They have no interest in crazy ideas like engineering the whole planet.

They develop science that makes it easier and easier to do. And so I guess my view on this is not that I want to do it — I do not — but that we should move this out of the shadows and talk about it seriously. Because sooner or later, we'll be confronted with decisions about this, and it's better if we think hard about it, even if we want to think hard about reasons why we should never do it. I'll give you two different ways to think about this problem that are the beginning of my thinking about how to think about it. But what we need is not just a few oddballs like me thinking about this. We need a broader debate. A debate that involves musicians, scientists, philosophers, writers, who get engaged with this question about climate engineering and think seriously about what its implications are. So here's one way to think about it, which is that we just do this instead of cutting emissions because it's cheaper.

I guess the thing I haven't said about this is, it is absurdly cheap. It's conceivable that, say, using the sulfates method or this method I've come up with, you could create an ice age at a cost of .001 percent of GDP. It's very cheap. We have a lot of leverage. It's not a good idea, but it's just important. (Laughter) I'll tell you how big the lever is: the lever is that big. And that calculation isn't much in dispute. You might argue about the sanity of it, but the leverage is real. (Laughter) So because of this, we could deal with the problem simply by stopping reducing emissions, and just as the concentrations go up, we can increase the amount of geo-engineering. I don't think anybody takes that seriously. Because under this scenario, we walk further and further away from the current climate. We have all sorts of other problems, like ocean acidification that come from CO2 in the atmosphere, anyway. Nobody but maybe one or two very odd folks really suggest this. But here's a case which is harder to reject. Let's say that we don't do geo-engineering, we do what we ought to do, which is get serious about cutting emissions.

But we don't really know how quickly we have to cut them. There's a lot of uncertainty about exactly how much climate change is too much. So let's say that we work hard, and we actually don't just tap the brakes, but we step hard on the brakes and really reduce emissions and eventually reduce concentrations. And maybe someday — like 2075, October 23 — we finally reach that glorious day where concentrations have peaked and are rolling down the other side. And we have global celebrations, and we've actually started to — you know, we've seen the worst of it. But maybe on that day we also find that the Greenland ice sheet is really melting unacceptably fast, fast enough to put meters of sea level on the oceans in the next 100 years, and remove some of the biggest cities from the map.

That's an absolutely possible scenario. We might decide at that point that even though geo-engineering was uncertain and morally unhappy, that it's a lot better than not geo-engineering. And that's a very different way to look at the problem. It's using this as risk control, not instead of action. It's saying that you do some geo-engineering for a little while to take the worst of the heat off, not that you'd use it as a substitute for action. But there is a problem with that view. And the problem is the following: knowledge that geo-engineering is possible makes the climate impacts look less fearsome, and that makes a weaker commitment to cutting emissions today. This is what economists call a moral hazard. And that's one of the fundamental reasons that this problem is so hard to talk about, and, in general, I think it's the underlying reason that it's been politically unacceptable to talk about this. But you don't make good policy by hiding things in a drawer. I'll leave you with three questions, and then one final quote.

Should we do serious research on this topic? Should we have a national research program that looks at this? Not just at how you would do it better, but also what all the risks and downsides of it are. Right now, you have a few enthusiasts talking about it, some in a positive side, some in a negative side — but that's a dangerous state to be in because there's very little depth of knowledge on this topic. A very small amount of money would get us some. Many of us — maybe now me — think we should do that. But I have a lot of reservations. My reservations are principally about the moral hazard problem, and I don't really know how we can best avoid the moral hazard. I think there is a serious problem: as you talk about this, people begin to think they don't need to work so hard to cut emissions. Another thing is, maybe we need a treaty.

A treaty that decides who gets to do this. Right now we may think of a big, rich country like the U.S. doing this. But it might well be that, in fact, if China wakes up in 2030 and realizes that the climate impacts are just unacceptable, they may not be very interested in our moral conversations about how to do this, and they may just decide they'd really rather have a geo-engineered world than a non-geo-engineered world. And we'll have no international mechanism to figure out who makes the decision. So here's one last thought, which was said much, much better 25 years ago in the U.S. National Academy report than I can say today. And I think it really summarizes where we are here. That the CO2 problem, the climate problem that we've heard about, is driving lots of things — innovations in the energy technologies that will reduce emissions — but also, I think, inevitably, it will drive us towards thinking about climate and weather control, whether we like it or not.

And it's time to begin thinking about it, even if the reason we're thinking about it is to construct arguments for why we shouldn't do it. Thank you very much..