Hans Rosling: Debunking third-world myths with the best stats you’ve ever seen

Speaker

Hans Rosling is a medical doctor and statistician. He is co-founder and chairman of the Gapminder Foundation, which developed the Trendalyzer software system.

Summary

Hans taught ‘Global Development’ to Swedish undergraduates, finding they had preconceived ideas about statistics of Child Mortality after failing to predict which of 2 countries had worse child mortality. He talked through some common myths about the third world

  1. Developed world has long lives with small families, while developing world is the opposite: Hand showed this was true in 1962, but since then (until 2003) most countries have moved towards a trend of smaller families and increasing life expectancy. The African countries were one area lagging in life expectancy, due to a HIV epidemic in the 90s.
  2. Income distribution: there is no ‘gap’ between rich and poor (in that people earn incomes at all possible rates from $1 to $100 per day). The riches 20% take 74% of income, while the poorest 20% have 2%, and the middle 60% have 26% of money. There is some overlap in income rates between OECD and Africa (in that some Africans earn more than some OECD).
  3. Child mortality vs GDP: there is a clear linear trend between Child survival and GDP.
  • However within regions such as sub-Sahara Africa, there is tremendous variation – with Mauritius having OECD level high GDP and child health, but Sierra Leonne being much lower than average. He credits Mauritius’ success with breaking down trade barriers.
  • Taking China as an example, Hans showed Mao Ze-Dong’s period as bringing health to China (with decreased child mortality on one axis), and the Deng Xiao-Ping bringing money to China (moving across the GDP per capita axis).
  • UAE is an example of a country that started with high GDP but poor child mortality. Over time it has improved, but it is evidence that money alone is not enough to guarantee health, you need time to train doctors and build infrastructure.
  • Within countries, there is tremendous variation in income – eg over 3 countries in Africa there is the full spectrum of income levels. This makes it deceptive to talk of health issues in ‘Africa’, since the management strategies for the richest would be very different to those of the poorest.

These data will increase everyone’s understanding of the world, but is hidden away with separate organisations, making is difficult to access. Hans linked up some of the key databases using ‘GapMinder’ organisation. Gapminder has provided animation, search functions and design features to make it accessible and usable for all.

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Lawrence Lessig: The unstoppable walk to political reform

Speakers: Lawrence Lessig – Lawrence is an academic of law and political activist, a proponent of reduced restrictions on copyright and trademark.

Summary

Lawrence talks passionately on behalf of Aaron Swartz, a programmer and software freedom activist who died a year before the talk. The focus of the talk is on the financial influence on politics.

When Intel discovered a problem with the early Pentium chips, that caused a miscalculation 1 in 360 billion times, they spent $475 billion to fix it. However, when politics is currently ‘broken’ in a way that influences every single decision, no one responds. When Aaron Swartz asked Lawrence why he doesn’t respond, he said it wasn’t his field as an academic.

in 1999, at the age of 88, Granny D walked from Los Angeles to Washington DC carrying a sign labelled “Granny D for Campaign Finance Reform”. 18 months later, Granny arrived in Washington, with hundreds of followers. Most people don’t have the time to devote that long to walking 32,000 miles, but Lawrence instead organised a 185mile walk across New Hampshire with 200 passionate people. During his walk Lawrence conducted a poll, and found that 96% of Americans want to remove the influence of money from politics, but 91% believe there is nothing they can do about it. There is a politics of resignation about the issue.

Lawrence wants to keep the hope alive that something can be done.

  • He wants to organise a 1,000 person walk in 2015, and 10,000 people in 2016 to influence primaries in 2016. He has designed an open platform to the walks to allow other states to replicate the New Hampshire walk.
  • A list is being circulated to inform voters where candidates stand on the issue of finance reform.
  • Organising a Super PAC (a political action group, that collects funds to influence politics on an issue) to end all Super PACs. They will coordinate with experts to work out how much money it would take to influence this issue, then arrange a kickstarter-style funding model to make it happen.

Lawrence calls on you to join this movement not because you are a politician, not because you are an expert, not because it is your field, but because you are a citizen.

Pranav Mistry: The thrilling potential of SixthSense technology

Speaker

Pranav Mistry is a PhD student in the Fluid Interfaces Group at MIT’s Media Lab. Before his studies at MIT, he worked with Microsoft as a UX researcher; he’s a graduate of IIT. Mistry is passionate about integrating the digital informational experience with our real-world interactions.

Summary

Gestures are everything, and come naturally to us. Pranav asks why we can’t interact with computers in the same we we interact. He experimented with different input systems for computers

  • a hacked mouse was turned into a glove – allowing the computer read hand movements
  • sticky notes that could be written and read by the computer, then either sent on as sms or treated as an input to the computer.
  • A pen that can draw in 3 dimensions
  • A computer map built into a table

People are interested in information, not necessarily the computers or pixels that show them. His next step was to try to eliminate the computer. SixthSense is a helmet mounted computer projected to a wall, that tracks your fingers using a camera. You can make gestures at any wall to use the computer. One gesture immediately takes a photo, another allows sending it as an email. Some extra features, acting as an interface between physical and digital world are

  • can recognise an object such as a book, and project a review onto it (3star etc)
  • can project videos or images onto newspapers
  • looking at a boarding pass and seeing if the flight is delayed
  • playing pong on the ground with your feet
  • can project onto a piece of paper and use it as a touch screen (play racing games, draw with finger, browse web)
  • ‘copy and paste’ from physical world onto the paper screen

SixthSense has the potential to keep us more connected to the physical world, and keep us human rather than a machine in front of another machine.

At the end of the video, he announced the software will be made open source for others to experiment with. The hardware is relatively cheap at ~$300.

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.