The Paradoxes of Power in Australia – Geoff Aigner

Speaker: Geoff Aigner

Length: 20:30

Rating 3 / 5

Summary

Geoff discusses power – coming from authority / title, but also that from general experience / skills / knowledge. The paradoxes prevent people from feeling like they should use this power, and are:

  • We are authority dependent, but also anti-authoritarian
  • Australians are generally egalitarian (feel we are equal), but increasingly hierarchical
  • want relationships, but also competitive
  • carry a background of adversity, but are currently extremely prosperous.

He makes the points that people should not be afraid of using their power, or intervening when they see bullying or abuse of others. We cannot neglect or ignore others, or wait for others (government, CEOs) to act for us.

Critique

I think Geoff is getting at some good points, but it is difficult to pick the ‘takeaway message’. The main focus is that all people have some form of power, and should be willing to use this to protect others.

William Ury: The walk from “no” to “yes”

Speaker: William Ury

Length: 19:16

Rating 4 / 5

Summary

William discusses the importance of a ‘third side’ in a conflict – the outsiders affected by it. Their role is to keep perspective for the parties, and find the common ground. He especially talks of helping parties take a step back – go for a walk, “go to the balcony” and think together.

In the context of middle east conflict, he talks of finding a common story between the combatants. In this case he suggests Abraham – a common biblical figure known for hospitality between strangers. He mapped a walk along important points in Abraham’s life and the hotspots of the conflict, walking the route together and allowing enemies to experience the kindness of locals together.

Critique

This is a good story with an interesting perspective on negotiation attached. Some is obvious but well phrased “when angry you will make the greatest speech you’ll ever regret”. The idea of calmness “going for a walk” or “going to the balcony” and letting people get alone time away from the conflict was strong in his talk.

His idea of the walk through Abraham’s life didn’t resonate with me, but I can see it working for the middle east. I can certainly see help in people walking through hotspots together and getting to know the locals. This could start to soften the violence associated with religious intolerance, and at least get different people talking together.

A realistic vision for World Peace

Speaker: Jody Williams

Length: 11:23

Rating 3 / 5

Summary

Peace cannot be achieved from hoping for it alone. It requires organisation, courage and work to make it happen. Jody went through a list of people who worked hard for peace and made sacrifices to keep fighting.

Critique

I enjoyed watching this talk, but not sure what I learnt from it. Yes peace takes work, and it is difficult to achieve. I’m not sure if anyone thought otherwise.

Some of her examples were interesting: Wangari Maathai who organised tree plantings as an excuse to gather people together and instigate social change.

She also makes a good point – some people categorise peace with cowardice and weakness – with symbols like doves and rainbows. The difficulty of achieving peace makes it a stronger goal than that.

Online Filter Bubbles

Speaker: Eli Pariser

Length: 9:05

Rating 3 / 5

Summary

Internet algorithms (Facebook, yahoo, Google) are filtering what we see based on what we tended to click in the past. This means we don’t tend to hear different points of view, instead just reinforcing what we want to hear. Ultimately this is bad for humanity and democracy, which is reliant on receiving a range of arguments.

His suggestion was for internet giants to be transparent about how they filter information, and to allow users more control over what is filtered / prioritised for them.

Critique

A worrying look at our life being tailored too much. We’ll always be at the mercy of what we want to hear, without ever having our views challenged. I think we are at risk of this regardless of algorithmic bubbles, just because of the sorts of communities we attach ourselves to. Eg – a conspiracy theorist would be a member of a variety of forums happy to reinforce each others views, and convincing themselves that all evidence disagreeing with them is a lie. In the end the conspiracy theorist and sceptic would be so convinced of themselves that they wouldn’t even be capable of arguing their point. The same sort of dichotomy would exist in political circles – with people surrounding themselves with others holding similar views, then saying “This politician is useless – I don’t know anyone who voted for him, he must have cheated”.

Regardless, I support the idea of internet titans releasing details into how they filter. Is it entirely on popularity of things you’ve clicked on, or is there more tuning going on?

We also should occasionally see a site that challenges our views, so we don’t end up with many unconnected internets.

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.