Live from TED

In case you missed it: Day 3 at TED2014

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(L-R) Dancers Adrianne Haslet-Davis and Christian Lightner. Photo: Ryan Lash

Day 3 at TED2014 was dense with science, design, conversation. Here’s a quick recap of some highlights:

Hugh Herr and Adrianne Haslet-Davis’s surprise dance

Hugh Herr is a bionics designer and multiple amputee. He gave a talk that was half mind-blowing — full of extraordinary advances in prosthetics, like bionic designs that produce the same forces as a natural foot — and half stirring, as he argued that there is no such thing as a disabled person, no such thing as a broken person, just broken technology and an inadequate environment. But the most amazing part of the talk was at the end, when he invited Adrianne Haslet-Davis onto the stage. She was a dancer who lost her left leg in the Boston Marathon bombing. After 200 days of work, for the first time she danced a rumba on her new leg, to raucous applause from the crowd. See her above, with dance partner Christian Lightner.

Response from the NSA — tomorrow morning

During Edward Snowden’s talk, Chris Anderson offered the National Security Agency a chance to reply. They took him up on it. Rick Ledgett, the Deputy Director of the NSA, will give a response at TED at 8:30am Pacific tomorrow morning. Ledgett is the former leader of the NSA Media Leaks Task Force up until this January, and was responsible for overseeing the NSA’s efforts “surrounding the unauthorized disclosures of classified information by a former NSA affiliate.” Ahem.

Larry Lessig’s barnburner

It began like a fairly normal Larry Lessig talk — which is to say not at all normal, and quite fast and interesting. But the audience quickly got a sense that something else was happening as he began to talk about Aaron Swartz, who was lost a bit over a year ago. Swartz had deeply inspired Lessig to work hard to remove the corrupting influence of money in American elections. Lessig turned his pain at Swartz’s loss into an incredibly rousing and inspiring talk, encouraging all to join him in fighting that corruption.

Geena Rocero’s coming out

Geena Rocero has had a spectacular career as a supermodel. But she also had a secret, something she had never told neighbors, friends and colleagues. On stage, for the first time in public, she told the story of her transition from a kid assigned “boy” to her inner truth as a woman. It was a stunningly powerful talk, as she make clear how lucky she is compared to her peers, who face extraordinary discrimination.

Bryan Stevenson’s progress

In the third TED All-Stars session, Bryan Stevenson gave an update on the remarkable progress he’s made since his blockbuster 2012 TED Talk, on the massive injustice of mass incarceration of African American youth. A week after giving that talk, he was in front of the Supreme Court of the United States, arguing that the death penalty for minors was unconstitutional. Three months later the court granted the motion. In addition, since then, we have also seen the end of Three Strikes laws in California, and the first decrease in prison populations in many years. Stevenson expressed his profound thanks to the TED community for their help in his part of making that happen.

Sarah Kay’s lovely and inappropriate metaphor

Poet Sarah Kay has wowed the TED audience since her first performance in 2011. In this session, she talked about a problem she often has, how to reply to people asking her how to write a poem, or what the right way to write a poem is. She has started using a very particular metaphor, “Poetry is like pooping. If there’s a poem inside you, it has to come out.” She agrees it’s immature, but it’s also very useful in one of her main missions: to take poetry off a pedestal, and make it clear that it can be written by, and for, anyone.

Rob Knight’s discovery

Microbiologist Rob Knight’s talk on the bacteria in our gut hid a fairly huge finding. His lab has found that transplanting fecal microbes into people who sufferer from C-Diff can relieve them of a disease that sees them suffering from diarrhea at least 20 times a day. In tests, patients who’d suffered from C-Diff for more than 2 years were cured … often in one day. Tests continue, but this is a radical and incredible finding. Microbiome-based medicine might be as few as five years away.

Jon Mooallem’s teddy bear

The story of the origin of the teddy bear shouldn’t be that profound, but it is. In an extraordinary tour through human psychology, author Jon Mooallem showed how this story — President Roosevelt refused to shoot a bear, leading to bears switching from monster to cuddly in the public mind — is an example of how powerfully our perception of the environment can determine how we see animals, and how we approach their conservation.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s recognition

When she was approached in an airport and recognized for being “that woman who wrote that book based on that movie,” Elizabeth Gilbert knew she had a problem. The author of Eat, Pray, Love — which came before the movie — turned the experience, and others, into a remarkable insight that let her publish her next novel, which was guaranteed to disappoint, see it flop, and move on with equanimity and happiness.