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Vancouver TED Talk streams inspiration to Eldersburg studio

ELDERSBURG - Since 1984, TED has been building a reputation as the place where the most brilliant and creative minds in the world share their ideas and innovations with the public. The carefully curated TED Talks are meant to be easily digestible, and the best ones seem to build to an awe-inspiring revelation. On Tuesday, the annual conference was streamed live in Carroll County at TEDxEldersburgLive, courtesy of the Carroll Technology Council, at Cre-a-tv Studios in Eldersburg.

The 30th Anniversary TED conference is taking place this week in Vancouver, and local organizers said Eldersburg was the only location in Maryland streaming the event live.

Today's Pantheon: autonomous vehicles

The first speaker of the day was technology designer Bran Ferren, co-founder of Applied Minds and the son of modern artists.

"Radical ideas require no new technology, just fresh thinking," said Ferren.

The most profound moment of his life, he said, took place when he was 9 years old. He went to Rome and visited the Pantheon. He was astounded to find what appeared to be a high-tech, modern roof on the building and other technological advances that amazed him.

"That moment changed my life," said Ferren. "To build this took some miracles."

He began talking about the miracles of innovation needed to create a modern-day Pantheon. The Internet is not a Pantheon, said Ferren. It's more like the concrete used in building a Pantheon, he said. The Internet is more part of our continuum of knowledge, he said.

The next Pantheon, he said, will be autonomous vehicles.

Much of our world has been designed around roads and transportation, said Ferren. Autonomous vehicles will be the key technology that will allow us to redesign our cities and thereby our lives, he said. Energy consumption and pollution will be cut dramatically, congestion will disappear and society will recapture vast amounts of lost productivity, he said.

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Architecture to be designed by social media

Architect Marc Kushner spoke about the history of architecture and how that history is no longer relevant.

"Architecture is not about math or zoning; it's about the way we feel about the places we occupy," he said.

Americans spend 90 percent of their time indoors, he said. Architecture is shaping us in ways we do not even realize, Kushner said.

"Building things is terrifying," said Kushner.

It takes a long time and it's complicated. People who build things are afraid of innovation, he said.

In 1997, Frank Gehry fundamentally changed the world's relationship to architecture with the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, Kushner said. People loved it, he said. Everyone wanted a building like this because media successfully galvanized around the architectural movement, he said.

The previous movement in architecture, brutalism, went on for 20 years because architects didn't know how much the public hated it, Kushner said. With instantaneous communication, we can tell each other what we think about architecture, he said. Digital media has changed the relationship between people and buildings.

"This is the end of architectural history," Kushner .

We don't need to look back to see what we want and need out of architecture, he said, because people are able to communicate those needs immediately. The buildings of tomorrow will look a lot different from the buildings of today, he said.

Building on a blueprint for equal rights

When an African-American was elected president in 2008, said documentary filmmaker Yoruba Richen, in many ways, it was the climax of the black civil rights movement in the U.S. On the same night Barack Obama won his historic presidency, however, the gay and lesbian community suffered a severe defeat with Proposition 8.

Two minority groups of which she was a part seemed to be competing with each other instead of supporting each other, Richen said.

"I was torn in half," she said.

But there was more to the story, she said. After the election, the march toward gay equality accelerated, she said. Richen detailed the history of the civil rights movement, focusing on strategies.

Richen showed a clip from her documentary, filmed in Baltimore. She spoke about the black civil rights and women's rights movements as blueprints for gay rights.

Not only are the struggles interconnected, but they must support and enhance each other for us to be truly victorious, Richen said.

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Edward Snowden stops in via video robot

Edward Snowden made an unscheduled appearance in Vancouver via a video-headed robot. The head of TED, Chris Anderson, interviewed Snowden, who leaked classified intelligence documents and fled the country. Anderson asked Snowden if he thought of himself as a traitor or a hero.

"Who I am really doesn't matter at all," said Snowden. "What really matters here are the issues - the kind of government we want, the kind of Internet we want."

Snowden said he saw a lot of things in his employment with the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency that disturbed him. He said he saw a lot of good things happening but also things that were done in secret without public consent.

He said in considering what he would do about it, he knew he risked being buried alongside any information he brought forward.

By working with journalists, Snowden said he was able to give classified information to the American people to decide what to do with it.

The legality of the PRISM program was never considered in a public court, only in secret courts, Snowden said.

Technology companies denied collaborating with the NSA on data collection. Snowden said the data are taken directly from company servers, even from those companies that push back.

The best way companies can defend public privacy is to switch to SSL encrypted browsing by default, Snowden said.

"Your rights matter because you never know when you are going to need them," Snowden said.

Trusting any governmental authority with the entirety of human communication is simply too great a risk to be ignored, he said.

People who have seen and enjoyed a free and open Internet have a responsibility to protect it, said Snowden. If we don't stand up to make the changes we need to do to make the Internet safe, we are going to lose that, he said.

Founder of the World Wide Web Tim Berners-Lee joined the Snowden robot on stage to call for a Magna Carta for the Internet.

"We need to encode our values not just in writing, but in the structures of the Internet," Snowden said.

He said he wants to come back to the U.S. but does not want to compromise the public interest to do so.

"The last year has been a reminder that democracy may die behind closed doors," Snowden said.

Planning New York City

"Cities are fundamentally about people. More important than buildings in a city are the public spaces between them," said Amanda Burden, city planner for New York City. "I believe lively enjoyable public spaces are the key to planning a great city," she said.

Most plazas have been designed in a Spartan style for generations, said Burden. People avoid spaces like this. Architects love them, developers love them, but this is a waste, Burden said.

For public spaces to be successful, someone has to think very hard about every detail, she said.

"Design is not just how something looks, it's how your body feels in that seat in that space," Burden said.

As planner for New York City, she rezoned 124 neighborhoods, or 40 percent of the city. She said 90 percent of all new development is within a 10-minute walk of a subway stop.

In the areas zoned for significant development, she said she was determined to create spaces that made a difference in people's lives. She felt an obligation to create magnificent parks on waterfronts.

To turn a park into a place people want to be, she said, the key is to create a place where the designer wants to be.

"You don't tap into design expertise," she said. "You tap into humanity. Would you want to go there and stay there?"

Commercial interest will always battle against public space, Burden said. It might mean more money for the city, she said, but a city has to take the long view - the view for the common good.

Public spaces have power. Public spaces change how you feel about a city, Burden said.

"A successful city is like a fabulous party," said Burden said. "People stay because they are having a great time," she said.

Cruciverbalist extraordinaire

David Kwong presented an entertaining and elaborate magic trick demonstrating his message.

"Human beings are wired to solve - to make order out of chaos," said Kwong, who is both a magician and New York Times crossword puzzle constructor.

As a cruciverbalist and illusion designer, he said, "I test your ability to solve."

"Solving is as primal as eating and sleeping," he said.

Climate change trio

Climatologist Gavin Schmidt took the stage to explain the complexity of predicting climate change.

We live in a very complex environment, Schmidt said. It's a huge challenge to understand.

He discussed 14 orders of magnitude that can be studied, the climate models' influences and their effectiveness. He also discussed predicting the influence mitigation might have on climate change.

Following Schmidt, Peggy Liu took the stage to describe what her country of China is doing to mitigate climate change and improve living conditions.

"China's problem is everybody's problem," Liu said.

Within a decade, China's emissions will double those of the U.S., Liu said. She said China is the only battlefield in climate change that matters right now. Demand continues to grow very fast. In a 20-year time frame, China will have 350 million people move into cities, Liu said.

"We want to move from survive to thrive," Liu said.

To improve living standards without increasing emissions, China will have to run a marathon at a sprinter's pace, she said. The country is very motivated and has the flexibility to make things happen quickly, she said.

China is already the largest investor in renewable energy, Liu said. China has moved from just being the factory of the world to the clean-tech laboratory of the world, she said.

"If you are frustrated about the slow progress the world is making on climate change," Liu said, "why aren't you in China yet?"

Plasma physicist Michel Laberge wrapped up the afternoon talks having to do with renewable energy and climate change.

Laberge's company, General Fusion, is seeking to produce energy from fusion. Fusion is really, really hard to do, he said.

Fusion is criticized for being expensive, said Laberge. Then he compared it to the development funds needed to produce the cellphone.

"I don't think it's too expensive," he said. "I think it's been shortchanged."

Laberge detailed his efforts in producing fusion energy.

"Fusion is getting very close," Laberge said. "We are almost there."

The evening's keynote speakers began at 9 p.m. and didn't wrap up until too late to be included in today's edition. Those scheduled included Melinda Gates, Bill Gates, Zak Ebrahim, Sting and the TED Prize winner.

Those at the Eldersburg simulcast were impressed with the content of the talks they had seen so far Tuesday. However, Rich Waganer, of Cre-a-tv Studios, said the speakers did not seem to be as polished as in previous years. Kati Townsley, of the Carroll Technology Council, and several others attending the simulcast agreed with that assessment.

Townsley said about 65 people reserved a seat at the simulcast, but only about half of that number attended the sessions earlier in the day. Townsley said the biggest crowd was expected for the late evening session.

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