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TED2012: The ideas you should hear this year

How social media is making us emotionally lazy, why humans are born optimists and one man who has probably made you cry: the inspiring talks to expect from non-profit group TED this year.

TED2012 - how to revolutionise your thinking...
TED2012 - how to revolutionise your thinking...
Image: Chris Corwin via Flickr.com

TED – THE NON-PROFIT organisation whose motto is Ideas Worth Spreading – this week announced the line-up to its flagship talks conference.

You might not recognise many of the names in the list – with the possible exception of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Leymah Gbowee of Liberia, singer and songwriter Janelle Monae and French daredevil Philippe Petit. (No? He’s the man who crossed the space between the World Trade Centre towers in 1974 and star of the Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire).

TED isn’t about celebrity – its aim is to gather inspiring lectures from experts and idea-generators from all over the globe and make them accessible to the rest of us. While you might not be lucky enough to score a ticket to the spring conference, keep an eye on the site for “riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world”.

Here are some speakers at TED2012 who will catch the eye:

KAREN BASS - Natural history filmmaker for the BBC’s Natural History Unit for the past two decades. TED says:

Her award winning series include: Andes To Amazon, exploring the wildlife and extreme landscapes of South America; Jungle, an investigation of the world’s rainforests; Wild Caribbean, about the varied nature, weather and landscapes of the Caribbean, and Nature’s Great Events, a dramatic portrayal of six of the planet’s most spectacular wildlife events.

SUSAN CAIN – Author and “quiet revolutionary”. TED says:

Cain argues that we design our schools, workplaces, and religious institutions for extroverts, and that this bias creates a waste of talent, energy, and happiness. Based on intensive research in psychology and neurobiology and on prolific interviews, she also explains why introverts are capable of great love and great achievement, not in spite of their temperaments — but because of them.

PETER DIAMANDIS – Futurist. TED says:

Diamandis is the founder of the X Prize Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is simply “to bring about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity.” By offering a big cash prize for a specific accomplishment, the X Prize stimulates competition and excitement around some of the planet’s most important goals, including health care, social policy, education and the environment.

RAFE ESQUITH – Teacher. TED says:

For the past three decades, Esquith has taught fifth-graders at a public school in a Los Angeles neighborhood plagued by guns, gangs and violence. His exceptional classroom at Hobart Elementary – known simply as Room 56 – is unlike any other in the country. Esquith’s students are mostly immigrants or children of immigrants, living in poverty, and learning English as a second language. Yet, under his tutelage, they voluntarily come to class at 6.30 in the morning, and often stay until five in the afternoon. They learn math, reading and science. But they also play Vivaldi, perform Shakespeare, often score in the top 1 percent on standardized tests, and go on to attend the best universities. For his work, Esquith is the only teacher to be awarded the (US) president’s National Medal of the Arts.

JONATHAN HAIDT - Social psychologist. TED says:

Haidt is a social psychologist whose research on morality across cultures led up to his 2008 TED talk on the psychological roots of the American culture war. At TED2012 he’s combining his work on morality with his work on happiness to talk about “hive psychology” – the ability that humans have to lose themselves in groups pursuing larger projects, almost like bees in a hive. This hivish ability Is crucial, he argues, for understanding the origins of morality, politics, and religion.

DAVID KELLEY – Designer, teacher. TED says:

As founder of legendary design firm IDEO, David Kelley built the company that created many icons of the digital generation — the first mouse, the first Treo, the thumbs up/thumbs down button on your Tivo’s remote control, to name a few. But what matters even more to him is unlocking the creative potential of people and organizations so they can innovate routinely.

BILL NYE – Science guy – making science accessible. TED says:

These days he’s the CEO of the Planetary Society, the world’s largest non-governmental space interest organization. He wants everyone to know and appreciate our place in space. It’s all about the P, B, & J — the Passion, Beauty, and Joy — of science and math.

T BOONE PICKENS – Entrepreneur and energy theorist. TED says:

A legendary oil and gas entrepreneur, Pickens is now on a mission to enhance US energy policies to lessen the nation’s dependence on OPEC oil.

JON RONSON – Writer and filmmaker. TED says:

In his latest book, The Psychopath Test, Jon Ronson explores the unnerving world of psychopaths – a group that includes both incarcerated killers and, one of his subjects insists, plenty of CEOs.

TALI SHAROT – Cognitive neuroscientist. TED says:

Optimism bias is the belief that the future will be better, much better, than the past or present. And most of us display this bias. Neuroscientist Tali Sharot wants to know why: What is it about our brains that makes us overestimate the positive? She explores the question in her book The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain.

ANDREW STANTON – Filmmaker. TED says:

Andrew Stanton has made you cry. He wrote the first film produced entirely on a computer, Toy Story. But what makes that film a true classic isn’t the history-making graphic technology — it’s the story, the heart, the characters that children around the world instantly accepted into their own lives. Stanton wrote all three Toy Story movies at Pixar Animation Studios, where he was hired in 1990 as the second animator on staff. He has two Oscars, as the writer-director of Finding Nemo and WALL-E.

BRYAN STEVENSON – Public interest lawyer. TED says:

He’s the founder and exec dircetor of the Equal Justice Initiative, an Alabama-based group that has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent prisoners on death row, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill and aiding children prosecuted as adults.

SHERRY TURKLE – Cultural psychoanalyst. TED says:

For three decades, legendary social theorist Sherry Turkle has studied psychoanalysis and culture, especially our relationships with computers and other technology… But in her most recent book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, Turkle argues that the social media we encounter on a daily basis are making us emotionally lazy. While we over-share online, we’re diluting our real relationships, forsaking social complexities for the convenience of Likes and +1s, and the possibility of total control over our digital personas.

Inspired yet? There are more amazing speakers on the full list.

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