Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Save the planet, then finish high school

By Richard Galant, CNN
March 3, 2013 -- Updated 1651 GMT (0051 HKT)
Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm called for a "Race to the Top" competition among states to push the U.S. toward the use of cleaner energy. Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm called for a "Race to the Top" competition among states to push the U.S. toward the use of cleaner energy.
HIDE CAPTION
Ten ideas from TED
Ten ideas from TED
Ten ideas from TED
Ten ideas from TED
Ten ideas from TED
Ten ideas from TED
Ten ideas from TED
Ten ideas from TED
Ten ideas from TED
Ten ideas from TED
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • TED2013 conference theme was "The Young. The Wise. The Undiscovered"
  • Speakers included a mix of young and older voices, many with ambitious ideas
  • One 18-year-old with nuclear reactor experience proposed a different power plant design
  • Older voices expressed concern about economic and political challenges facing America

Long Beach, California (CNN) -- Taylor Wilson is going to create a safer source of nuclear energy, help reduce the world's stockpile of nuclear weapons, screen container ships for weapons and power manned missions to other planets. But first ... he has to graduate high school in May.

Jack Andraka is going to bring his 3-cent screening test for pancreatic, ovarian and lung cancer to market -- an alternative to a standard $800 test. But Jack, 16, hasn't been to high school much lately and isn't even sure he'll graduate.

The two teenagers with Justin Bieber style haircuts wowed the 1,400 people who attended TED2013 this week, fitting the conference's theme: "The Young. The Wise. The Undiscovered." They were among a number of youthful speakers who Time magazine's Ruth Davis Konigsberg called "some of the biggest showstoppers at the annual event."

By contrast, some of the older voices onstage struck notes that were far less hopeful. Northwestern University economist Robert Gordon declared that the era of strong economic growth in the United States is over -- as America faces the headwinds of an aging population, debt, inequality and educational weaknesses; he argued that it's hard to foresee innovations that could have the transformative effect electricity, indoor plumbing and the internal combustion engine had in powering growth in the past century.

Taylor Wilson, 18, aims to build a safer form of nuclear reactors that could be used for spaceflight.
Taylor Wilson, 18, aims to build a safer form of nuclear reactors that could be used for spaceflight.

Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, calling for a private sector-funded "race to the top" among states, lamented the inability of Washington politicians to develop a national energy strategy. She got laughs when she noted that Congress' approval rating is worse than lice, root canals and Donald Trump (although better than that of gonorrhea and meth labs).

TED.com: Granholm's clean energy proposal

And Lawrence Lessig, an author and professor at Harvard Law School, sketched an even starker picture of political dysfunction, a "pathological, democracy-destroying corruption" in which a tiny minority of Americans representing powerful interests use their campaign donations to determine which candidates survive the primaries. Even against long odds, Lessig said the problem is fixable if enough Americans organize to bring about change.

CNN Explains: TED

There were other speakers whose inventiveness and ambition were unambiguously upbeat.

Jane Chen spoke about developing a lower-tech method to save the lives of premature and low birthweight babies in regions where access to incubators isn't readily available. Her social enterprise Embrace distributes a specially engineered and heated sleeping bag that provides babies the heat they can't generate on their own until they're developed enough to survive.

Google CEO Sergey Brin demonstrated Google Glass, a smartphone-like piece of headgear that enables access to your contacts, your e-mail, your searches and your photos. His pitch for the device -- now being tested by a select few for $1,500 apiece and due on the market later this year -- is partly that it frees people up from the "nervous habit" of constantly checking their smartphone as they walk: "Is this what you're meant to do with your body?"

TED.com: Amanda Palmer -- the art of asking

David Lang, talked of his Open ROV project, which markets an $800 kit -- using off-the-shelf parts -- for a remotely operated underwater vehicle that gives its makers the ability to explore underwater worlds in James Cameron fashion.

PayPal co-founder Elon Musk didn't mention his recent dispute with a New York Times reporter over the battery range of the all-electric Tesla Model S, but made a case for the car's virtues before describing his effort to market solar panels to homeowners and businesses and his SpaceX commercial venture to the heavens. He screened a video of a reusable 12-story-tall rocket launching, hovering and then returning to a launchpad ready for another flight.

SpaceX capsule reaches International Space Station

Keller Rinaudo demoed Romo, a $150 iPhone-powered robot that recently launched. It uses the brains of the phone's computer chip, its camera and a plastic chassis with tank-style treads to zip around a room, express emotions, interact with owners, kids and pets, and function as "Skype on wheels" for grandparents dropping in for a virtual visit.

Edith Widder, part of the three-person team that developed the device that lured a giant squid to an underwater camera, explained how it was able to get the first-ever video displaying the enormous size and intricacy of the animal in the deep ocean.

13-year old invents system to protect family livestock from lions

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Ron Finley, an activist in South Central Los Angeles, is leading an effort to counter the neighborhood's "food desert," by growing fruits and vegetables on city owned and private land. "If kids grow kale, they'll eat kale," he said. "If kids grow tomatoes, they'll eat tomatoes."

Renowned photographer SebastiĆ£o Salgado showed finely etched works from his forthcoming book "Genesis," a 50-pound, $3,000 behemoth (there's a less elegant and smaller version for under $70) that does justice to the detail of his exquisitely composed black and white photos shot around the world.

TED.com: Sugata Mitra -- build a school in the cloud

Stewart Brand, the 78-year-old technologist who came to fame as editor of "The Whole Earth Catalog," introduced an ambitious plan to recreate extinct species, using DNA from museum specimens. The effort, echoing "Jurassic Park", won't bring back dinosaurs -- their DNA didn't survive the tens of millions of years since they disappeared -- but aims to "de-extinct" such species as the passenger pigeon, declared extinct in 1914.

TED normally attracts an audience of the elite of Silicon Valley, Hollywood and venture capital, along with foundation and corporate CEOs, who pay $7,500 for the five-day event, which is moving next year from Long Beach to Vancouver. (CNN has a partnership with TED in which it publishes selected TED Talks along with text pieces by speakers).

TED stands for "technology, entertainment and design," although its subject matter has branched out widely since its founding nearly 30 years ago.

The ingenuity of this year's youthful speakers was remarkable, and so was the confident way they expressed their ideas. Wilson, 18, is finishing high school while also attending the University of Nevada at Reno. He first attracted attention for creating a nuclear fusion reactor at 14.

In his TED Talk, he argued for an alternative to the most widely used nuclear power technologies.

Rather than create electricity by heating water and turning a turbine, Wilson's new reactor would use nuclear fission to produce energy from molten salt. His plan would be to centrally manufacture small fission reactors and distribute them widely for burial underground. He said they could last for 30 years without refueling, compared with 18 months for larger commercial reactors.

Since the reactors would not be pressurized, radioactivity would not be expelled as widely into the environment as in an accident like the Fukushima disaster, Wilson said. Costs would be lower since reactors would not have to be built onsite. Nuclear weapons could be recycled in the reactor, he said. And most exciting to the young space geek, such a reactor could power a spaceship to a distant planet and then be the power source for a human base at the destination, he said.

Andraka, who's 16 and a high school sophomore, won the top prize in the Intel Science Fair competition for his cancer screening test, which relies in part on carbon nanotubes to detect a protein that is present in the blood and urine in the early stages of the three deadly cancers, providing hope that they can be detected in time for a successful cure.

He told CNN in an interview that he doesn't go to high school much anymore but is busy with other projects -- including inventing an MRI the size of a credit card and leading a team of high school students competing for the $10 million Tricorder X Prize to design a handheld device people could use to monitor their health.

Andraka and Wilson probably don't have to worry about it but another speaker added a sobering element to the celebration of youth at TED. Meg Jay, a psychologist and author, argued against the idea that the 20s are a period of extended adolescence where people can postpone key life choices. By the time people reach 30, they may have missed out on some key chances to take their life in the directions they hope to pursue. "Thirty is not the new twenty," she said, urging people to "claim your adulthood" and start making choices.

Spoken word poet Shane Koyczan, a 36-year-old whose new video "To This Day" has attracted 5.5 million views, offered a reminder that for all that young people can achieve, many still carry a heavy burden. He told of being bullied as a child to the point that, without realizing it, he turned into a bully himself. He spoke of kids being called names, making them feel like "oddities juggling depression and loneliness" and challenged them:

"if you can't see anything beautiful about yourself

get a better mirror

look a little closer

stare a little longer

because there's something inside you

that made you keep trying

despite everyone who told you to quit"

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 0857 GMT (1657 HKT)
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 2151 GMT (0551 HKT)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1925 GMT (0325 HKT)
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2329 GMT (0729 HKT)
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0134 GMT (0934 HKT)
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT