Peter Doolittle: How your “working memory” makes sense of the world

Speaker: Peter Doolittle

Length: 9:30

Rating 2 / 5

Summary

Your ability to solve problems is limited to your ‘working memory’ capacity – to remember and think at the same time. The example was memorising 5 words and then doing maths problems, which most people failed. He gives some (very brief) hints on how to process things more accurately, and remember more – including visualising more, and practising the things we’re learning.

Critique

Interesting viewpoint, but missing the ‘killer’ ending telling us how to improve. Actually, he seemed to give quite a few hints, but perhaps my limited processing power wasn’t picking up on all of it 🙂

By this I mean he ran through the advice and hints too quickly, and without any elaboration. It made things difficult. The irony is not lost, but I missed most of it.

Still, the story of working memory itself is interesting, so I can at least take away knowledge of what it is.

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Dong Woo Jang: The art of bow-making

Speaker: Dong Woo Jang

Length: 8:29

Rating 2 / 5

Summary

Dang discusses high pressure South Korean schooling, and his unique form of meditation: bow-making. He uses found wood from the ‘concrete jungle’, harvests with improvised tools, then turns them into bows at his apartment. After designing a perfect bow, he comes to the realisation it is identical to an ancient Korean design, which increases his interest in Korean history.

Critique

A very entertaining talk, by a good speaker. I’d put it in the ‘inspirational’ category – it is a good story, well told, and makes you want to do something, but doesn’t really present any new ideas.

It does make me want to try my hand at bowmaking though 🙂

Steven Johnson: Where good ideas come from

Speaker: Steven Johnson

Length: 18:17

Rating 2 / 5

Summary

Steven discusses how ideas are formed. He argues against “lone scientists”, and eureka moments where a single person sitting along is the whole source of an idea. Instead he favours the coffee houses and team meeting environments where a number of different people can discuss and improve each other’s ideas. In this way, innovation is more organic, happening over a long time period.

He goes into detail about the discovery of GPS from a few curious researchers listening to sputnik, then one of them using Doppler to work out speed, then someone using the signal to work out its location, then their boss asking them to ‘reverse’ their calculations and develop a system to find ground locations from a satellite.

Critique

Chaos is the mother of invention! I like that idea, and the arguments for open source ideas instead of intellectual property protection.

It was an interesting summary of the history of good ideas. However, I think where this talk fell short is discussing how we can apply this in the modern environment. I’m particularly curious how the internet fits in – is this modern ultra-chaotic information sharing network more conducive to innovation? Or are we overloading ourselves and getting too much stimulus?

So I enjoyed the talk greatly. In rating I may be harsh because it stops short of passing on any ideas of its own. Still recommended though.

Can technology solve big problems?

Speaker: Jason Pontin

Length: 10:04

Rating 2 / 5

Summary

People, politicians & investors have recently been unwilling to back big technology challenges such as the moon landing. The problems people imagined would be solved by technology (including famine, disease), due to lack of political will and public support for large scale research. Some issues such as famine are no longer technology problems, with political corruption preventing the food being distributed fairly.

Critique

Jason talked well, but the presentation lacked an idea or solution. I feel most of what he talked about is well known – that to do something big you firstly need the appetite to do it.