Catalyst - US Zeitgeist 2010

Uploaded by zeitgeistminds on 14.09.2010


Michael Fitzgerald: Good afternoon.
Thanks for being here with us.
I have to tell you when that pulsing bass first started I
thought, "Is that my heart?"
Because I'm very excited to be here and to get the chance to
introduce to you a number of catalyzers and to talk about
this idea of catalyzing the world around us, and the
organizations that we're in and to deal with problems and
create great new things.
You know, catalysts -- I thought about what a catalyst
is, and obviously, you know, it makes chemistry kits a lot more
fun to have catalysts in them, but I think in life, we have
people who drive change and become catalysts for new kinds
of ideas, for changing situations that are
troublesome, for no longer accepting the status quo.
And what we're going to get to see today are four people who
have, in their own ways, been catalysts but have also helped
to create other catalysts.
And we're going to hear from them.
In order, we're going to start with someone who has changed
really the nature of publishing and also shown us what it takes
for humans to exceed their own wildest expectations, how that
happens, how it comes about, and especially in context
of how we react to crisis.
We're also going to see someone who has worked for 20 years --
more than 20 years -- to bring together something that was
thought almost impossible at the beginning, doing it in a
large-scale way across multiple geographies, working with
sometimes thousands of people, and in the end sort of getting
his arms around all this chaos and helping to bring us
something new that is going to take us into places that
we can barely imagine.
We'll also have someone who really studies and thinks about
the kinds of tools that help create change, that
galvanize society.
And we'll have someone, as well, who has been, in
multiple ways, a catalyst.
And so it's just -- for me, it's extremely exciting to
sort of be able to do this.
We're going to start with Sebastian Junger, who is
probably familiar to almost everyone in this room as the
author of "The Perfect Storm" which catalyzed our language
and galvanized publishing, creating this -- when he
published that book and the reaction to it, it swept
through book publishing, at least, and created this just
almost insane amount of demand for narrative nonfiction
stories about real people and real situations.
And really, the market in publishing has not
been the same since he published that book.
And I think part of the reason why is that what he gets at in
that book and in his -- certainly in his new book
"War," he gets at the kind of bonds that humans form in
circumstances that take them through almost impossibly
difficult situations.
He looks at people in crisis and he's able to sort of show
us all how we respond to crisis successfully, and then we can
kind of, we hope, go back and apply that in some small way in
our own lives or in our own organizations.
So Sebastian is going to come up, but first I'm going to
show you a brief movie.
[Movie played]
Sebastian Junger: Thank you very much.
It's a real pleasure to be here.
That was the trailer for a movie that my partner, Tim
Hetherington, and I shot, directed, and produced that's
been out for the past couple months in the United States,
and if you're interested, it may be playing in a city
near where you live.
That movie was shot in the Korengal Valley of
eastern Afghanistan.
I spent a year, off and on, there with Tim with a small
platoon in a small outpost.
They were in almost 500 firefights during
their deployment.
A fifth of all the combat in all of Afghanistan while they
were there was taking place in that six-mile-long valley.
I'm a journalist.
Specifically, I'm a war journalist.
One of the things I cover -- I realized, as I started thinking
about this talk I was going to give, one of the things I
cover in my job is catalysts.
There are social and political factors that cause wars that
can simmer for decades and be ignited literally
in an afternoon.
One of my jobs -- one of the things I do in my job is to
explain how that catalyst worked or try to predict when
it's going to happen again.
It happens all the time.
There's a tax on tea and suddenly the colonies are
rebelling against the English government.
An airplane is shot down over Rwanda with the president in it
and suddenly there's three months of genocide that kill
almost a million people.
That kind of event that precipitates a long-standing
problem is exactly what I cover in my job.
It affects me personally.
I was in Liberia once during the Civil War in 2003 and the
rebels were advancing on the capital and the Charles Taylor
government -- it wasn't even a government, really -- were
convinced that America was backing the rebels, and I was
the only American in the country.
I had come in kind of randomly during a time of peace and then
suddenly the rebels attacked and Charles Taylor, when --
While I was there, George Bush declared that Charles Taylor
was a war criminal and could not travel the world freely
and would be brought to the Hague, if caught.
And that afternoon my life was in danger.
It was the right thing to say by President Bush.
It was true.
But suddenly I was accused of being an American spy and
I had to -- I was actually kicked out of the country.
I was dragged into a basement detention center, interrogated.
The U.S. embassy, which was getting mortared at the time,
intervened and so they kicked me out of the country.
I couldn't get out because rebels had surrounded
the capital and so I went into hiding.
That statement by President Bush was the catalyst for
something that almost ended very, very badly for me and
remains -- for all the footage that you saw there, remains
probably the most terrifying experience of my life.
The way I understand catalysts is that basically -- I mean, as
a journalist, I focus on catalysts in the social
world, the political world.
I'm not a chemist, obviously.
The catalysts take a -- basically a sort of sea
of potential and they convert it into energy.
You know, you light a match in a kitchen with a gas leak and
that match is the catalyst for an explosion.
Someone shouts an accusation during a mob, a lynch mob, a
riot -- that happened to me once in Liberia -- and suddenly
a mob turns into a lynch mob and people get killed.
It can be one sentence.
Planes fly into buildings.
That's a catalyst.
In my job, catalysts can produce a lot of good and a
lot of bad, and often both.
And I think it's very interesting to watch the events
following 9/11 still unfolding, watch to sort of see the bad
and the good compete with each other.
One human reaction to catastrophe is to group
together and help one another.
Another reaction is to become extremely defensive and
paranoid and ready to kill.
They both happen.
I've seen it in wars over and over and over again.
Tremendous examples of courage and generosity side by side
with incredible acts of violence and hatred.
Political and religious leaders all act as catalysts for what I
think of as the sort of endless human capacity for both
violence and for generosity and collective action.
Successful political leaders are catalysts.
The ones who are not successful fail to become catalysts.
That's why they're not successful.
I'm going to tell a brief story.
I think no discussion on catalysts is complete without
a story about a bar fight.
When I was a young man, I was traveling in Spain.
My dad grew up in Spain -- Spain and France -- and I've
been back there many times.
And I was in Pamplona during the festival, the running of
the bulls, and, you know, basically you're out all night
and you go to sleep at about 7 a.m. after they run the bulls
and you wake up in the afternoon and --
I mean, at least that's what you do if you're 22.
And I wound up with some really nice young Spanish
guys, a couple of guys.
One of them -- I mean, they had had quite a lot to drink, and
one of them was wearing a plastic Viking helmet sort of
askew on his head, and we -- they were just friendly
and we started talking.
We were in a bar.
In walked three very tough-looking Moroccan
guys, and spoke French.
My friends spoke Spanish.
And one of the Moroccan guys walked up to the my -- the guy
with the Viking helmet, grabbed it off his head, and said in
French, "That's my helmet.
You stole it from me."
I'm the only person who speaks both languages so now I'm,
like, a U.N. translator in the middle of a bar fight.
So I'm explaining everything.
The Spanish guys grab the Viking helmet.
The other two Moroccan guys grab the Viking helmet and
I'm trying to translate and avoid a bar fight.
And I'm thinking in my mind, "How long --
what's the protocol?
How long do you have to know a guy before you really are
obligated to back him up in a bar fight?"
Like I'm hoping years.
Maybe -- maybe months.
If it's an hour, I'm in trouble, right?
So I'm trying to negotiate this.
It's getting uglier and uglier.
Everyone else backs away.
And then suddenly, they're all pull -- they haven't started
hitting each other yet, but that's coming.
They're pulling at the Viking helmet and they're all
cross-eyed drunk, right?
They're pulling at it and the helmet, the thing they're
fighting over, starts to rip.
The only thing that could have gotten these guys to stop was
that they were destroying the thing they were
fighting over, right?
Of course.
So "Stop, stop, stop!"
And one of the Spanish guys yelled, you know, (speaking in
Spanish) and then he came to me and he said, in this sort of
elegant Spanish way, "Do you promise -- will you take
my place at the helmet?"
I was like, "Okay."
So I -- he said, "Do you promise to defend the helmet
upon your ancestors," blah, blah, blah.
And I said, "Yes," et cetera.
So he went and got the biggest, cheapest jug of red wine that
he could from the bartender, screwed the top off, and -- in
that bar at that time, you could just buy big bottles
of wine from the bartender.
It was no problem.
So he came over and he filled the Viking helmet with red
wine up to the brim, till our fingertips were red.
And then he put his hand underneath it.
And I think the only thing that would have been worse for these
five guys, worse than destroying the helmet, was --
would be spilling red wine, right?
So he puts his hand under the helmet and he says,
"Now, everyone let go."
And we all let go and he gave the helmet to the leader of
the three Moroccan guys and said, "You drink first.
You're our guests.
In this country, you drink first."
And he drank from the helmet, passed it to his friends, went
around the circle, went around again, filled up again with
more red wine, finished the bottle, got another
bottle of red wine.
Half an hour later, the helmet is, like, forgotten under a
table and they're just passing the bottle of red wine around
and like an hour after that, they're all best friends.
They can't understand each other at all but they're so
drunk that it doesn't matter.
You can see in that story the hallmarks of human society.
You can see tribal affiliation.
You can see the defense of resources and territory.
You can also see the incredibly deep satisfaction of
the human connection.
That guy, that helmet, was a catalyst -- threatened to be
a catalyst for violence.
It also became a catalyst for human connection.
They're so close those two things.
Human society -- we evolved from the higher primates.
And we evolve from a system where dominance -- there were
groups controlled by dominance.
Dominance hierarchies.
As language developed, that system of controlling
the group broke down.
Before language -- I mean, just on a very crude level, if
you're the biggest ape in the group and there's no language
so no one else can form an affiliation to confront you,
you basically call the shots.
And, as soon as you have language, you have alliances
of weaker individuals who collectively are stronger than
any one dominant individual.
With that language you need empathy.
Zog wants to sleep with your wife.
You go tell Joe that you're unhappy about it, but
Zog is 8 feet tall.
Joe needs a certain amount of empathy to say, "Okay.
I'll help defend your home because you will do that
for me." I'm really making this very simple.
But that's the essence of how I understand this works.
As soon as you have language, you have cooperation,
you have empathy.
And you have organized violence and organized cooperation.
A society that doesn't have organized cooperation, a human
society, an early human society that doesn't have organized
cooperation cannot thrive.
And one that cannot assemble, organize violence, organize
defense can't survive, can't defend itself.
They estimate that something like 15% of our early ancestors
died from intergroup violence.
Imagine a 15% casualty rate in this society from violence
from another group.
I think the civilian casualty rate in the 20th century, which
was such a bloodbath, was 1%.
Just imagine.
That was human prehistory.
So you got violence, and you have cooperation and empathy.
Every social catalyst -- I believe that every social
catalyst will potentially -- at least of the ones I deal with
as a journalist will potentiate one of those two or both.
I spent, as I said, a year off and on with a platoon
of 30 men in a very remote outpost in Afghanistan.
The outpost was called Restrepo.
That's the name of the movie.
They had no running water up there.
They couldn't bathe for a month at a time.
They had no phone, no internet, no connection to the outside
world, no Internet, no hot food.
They basically lived in a world of sandbags and crates of
ammunition, two or three firefights a day, for a year.
No women, nothing.
It was -- they were on Mars except with a lot of combat.
Very high casualties.
The guys really suffered.
And they came back -- it was just, basically, the worst
thing a person can go through.
And they came back to their base in Vicenza, Italy.
It was the battle company of the 173rd airborne
based in Vicenza.
And a lot of things that were not at Restrepo were very
easily available around the base in Vicenza.
And they sort of indulged themselves for a few weeks.
And after a few weeks or a couple months, they, most
of them, realized that they missed Restrepo.
They missed being on that hilltop.
They missed the worst experience of their lives.
It was a great -- it was very confusing to them.
And in my book "War" I try -- the main thing I try to explain
is what is it about combat, because it's so obviously so
awful, what is it about combat that young men actually miss?
Why is that more compelling than the society that
soldiers come home to?
I don't mean just in this war, I mean going back to the Iliad.
I think one of the -- one of the explanations is that combat
potentiates both of these great human reactions to crisis.
It triggers organized violence.
And it triggers cooperation and brotherhood and,
in a word, it -- love.
One of the guys in the platoon said -- Brendan O'Byrne, said
to me -- we were on a hillside outside an enemy village.
And American mortars were going over our head and hitting
the far hillside.
It's very tense because mortars sometimes fall short.
They were going right over our heads.
We were trying to have a conversation hoping
this all ended well.
And he said, "You know, it's crazy.
There's guys in the platoon who straight up hate each other.
But we would all die for each other."
That is one of the most tremendous human traits.
To briefly go back to chimpanzees, they -- chimpanzee
groups will send out groups of males -- 6, 7, 8 males into the
territory of a rival group.
And they will creep -- it's a raid.
And they go in very quietly and they're very observant
and they're very careful.
And they will attack lone males of the rival group
and beat them to death.
And over the course of months or years, one by one, they'll
kill off the males of this rival group.
And then they'll expand their territory.
Suddenly they have all the females of that group.
They have more food.
With more food, the females in their group are more likely
to raise healthy young.
And that group, that aggressive group thrives.
The less aggressive group dies out.
Chimpanzees happen to be, genetically, our closest -- we
are the -- we are closest primate relative
to chimpanzees.
So chimpanzees and humans are over here.
The rest of the primate groups are over here.
But here's what's interesting about this: When this happens
and they attack a lone male and he -- that lone male has
brothers in the area who can hear his screams, they do not
rush to his aid even if doing that would equalize the fight
and allow their compatriot to escape alive.
They just get out of there.
The problem is that there's no language to convey acts of
courage in chimpanzee society and there's no language
with which to penalize acts of cowardice.
As soon as you have language and you fail to come to the aid
of a brother and you survive but back at the campfire
everyone is talking about how disgracefully you acted, all of
a sudden, courage is something that's required of individuals
and cowardice is something that's punished.
And one of the really extraordinary human
accomplishments, I think, is this idea that individuals will
risk or sacrifice their lives for other people that they're
not even related to.
I don't mean their kid.
I don't mean their spouse.
I mean some guy who joined the platoon three months ago.
There's no other animal species that does that in that way, the
throwing yourself on a hand grenade act.
I'm going to bring this to a close.
I don't know how long I've talked.
But I don't see a flashing red light yet, but I think
we're getting close.
Some people, I feel, look at human history, look at
human events, and they see war, they see conflict.
That is what characterizes the human experience.
As a journalist, I can tell you that as much as that is true,
in equal part what I see is an incredible sea of potential
altruism and generosity and cooperation.
It is both.
There's a war in Afghanistan.
People are getting killed.
We've spent God knows how much money.
A trillion whatever dollars.
There are also people from this society who have nothing to do
with Afghanistan who have gone over there, civilians, who have
gone over there as doctors, as architects, as engineers to
help build roads, to help cure people, bring medicine,
to educate children.
And, tragically, many of those people have
been killed doing it.
That is altruism.
That is human altruism side by side with human violence.
And I feel that, if we as a species, if our leaders, if we
as a people can figure out a catalyst that triggers
that altruism that's out there, we'll be fine.
Thank you very much.
Michael Fitzgerald: Thanks, Sebastian.
And you can see some of that unfold in his book "War,"
which is available in airport bookstores everywhere.
Your movie just came out, yes?
Sebastian Junger: It came out a couple months ago.
Michael Fitzgerald: Where can we get information
on screenings?
Sebastian Junger: If you go to the Web site, it's
It will list the screenings.
It's playing in about 50 cities right now.
Restrepo, R-e-s-t-r-e-p-o.
Michael Fitzgerald: Our next speaker is going
to be Andy Lankford.
Andy is a particle physicist at the University of California
Irvine and deputy director of ATLAS, which is one of the four
particle detectors at the large hadron collider, the sort of
world beating particle accelerator tool that he's
going to now talk to us about the development of.
Andy, welcome.
Andrew Lankford: So it's a pleasure to be here today to
have the opportunity to tell you about the fun
I have at my job.
The large hadron collider is a journey of discovery.
It's a global undertaking to solve the mysteries of nature
both at the smallest scales of the quantum world and at the
very largest scales of the cosmos.
So I'll introduce you to the LHC.
But in the process, I will try to convey the scientific
challenge but also as well the extreme technological
innovation that's needed in order to address these
challenges and also what we've reached in terms of extreme
levels of collaboration.
Finally, I'll try to illustrate how tacting the basic questions
of science is a catalyst for innovation.
So, in order to imagine the challenge, since we're here at
a Google event, consider what most be the world's most
energetic search engine.
It's a project sited on the border between France and
Switzerland at CERN, the European laboratory
for particle physics.
It's a 17-mile long ring lined with superconducting magnets.
It's buried deep underground.
It accelerates two beams of protons at nearly
the speed of light.
The two beams are brought into violent collision with energy
densities that we haven't -- the universe hasn't experienced
since right after the Big Bang.
The beams collide in the center of complex arrays
of particle detectors.
Deep in the heart of the detectors, protons from
each beam interact and create new particles.
These particles are detected by rays of particle detectors, and
data is recorded, tremendous amounts of data, up to 15
peta-bytes of data per experiment over its lifetime.
And scientists will search this data for answers
to the question.
What are the queries that we make?
What are the questions that we ask?
Some are age-old questions.
How has the universe evolved since its creation,
since the Big Bang?
What drives the motion of the heavenly bodies of the stars?
For instance, like in this image of merging galaxies?
Today we know that the motion is largely driven by what we
call dark matter, matter that isn't visible, not the
luminous matter you see here.
The age-old questions include question of what are the
basic building blocks of the universe?
We know, of course, that molecules are made of atoms and
atoms are made of protons, neutrons, and electrons.
But there are many more types of particles.
Why are there so many types?
Well, one of our speakers today explained that.
Murray Gell-Mann explained that all the particle species
arrived from three simple smaller particles, the quarks.
But are quarks the end of the story?
Other questions are more recent and relate to
the quantum world.
Dark matter.
What is the particle nature of dark matter?
Anti-matter, why is there more matter than anti-matter?
When was the symmetry broken?
Is there a supersymmetric partner, a heavy supersymmetric
partner for each of our particles?
Extra dimensions.
Are there just three spatial dimensions, or are there more?
Our everyday world is the mid-point of 60 powers of 10
stretching from the small universe at the time of
the Big Bang to the very large universe of today.
Telescopes examine the large universe.
The LHC is a super-microscope to study the subatomic world.
What search engine are we using to find the answers
to our questions?
What is the science experiment that we've mounted?
The world's most powerful particle accelerator, the
LHC, has been built in an underground ring.
The ring is solidly lined with superconducting magnets
to guide the protons.
Inside the beams, there are two beam pipes.
And within the vacuum of these pipes the beams travel.
Energy is pumped into the ring to accelerate the beams to
within one millionth of the speed of light.
Each beam is composed of protons.
The protons collide at four locations around the ring.
Energy turns into matter producing jets of particles --
Some ordinary, some familiar, possibly some never
seen before.
These particles are measured by experiments.
ALICE; ATLAS, the experiment that I work on; CMS; and LHCb.
The LHC accelerator is a technological tour de force,
a collection of extreme accomplishments.
A complex of smaller accelerators prepare the
particles for the LHC.
The LHC performs the final stage of acceleration,
accelerating the protons to an energy of 7
trillion electron volts.
At this energy, the protons make more than
10,000 turns of the ring every second.
During the time that a proton spends in the beam, it travels
10 billion miles, further than going to Neptune and back.
Superconducting magnets are the critical components that make
available to us the energy that we need for our research.
The dipole magnets are each about 30 meters long.
Without superconducting magnets, the LHC would be
nearly five times as big and consume 40 times
as much energy.
Magnets are installed end-to-end around the
ring and aligned with incredible precision.
The superconducting coils are insulated in cryostats.
Each magnet contains two coils, one for each of the beams.
The beam cannot be allowed to escape.
It has enough energy to melt 50 tons of copper.
Instrumentation is required to control the beams.
Every one of the 1800 superconducting magnets needs
to be operating properly in order to circulate the beams.
There's no redundancy available in this machine.
The magnets are cooled by super fluid liquid helium at a
temperature just two degrees above absolute zero.
It's colder than the vacuum in outer space.
The liquid helium plant is probably the largest
installation in the world.
The beam travels through an intense vacuum.
Inside the vacuum pipe the atmosphere is thinner
than it is on the moon.
There's 17,000 particle accelerators in the world today
that are used in industry, for medicine, as well as in
research and other fields.
The construction of ATLAS was a tremendous engineering
undertaking as well, beginning with the excavation of a cavern
to accommodate its monumental size, ATLAS is half a
football field in length.
It's about 80 feet tall and 80 feet wide.
It has as much steel as the Eiffel Tower and it's about
the size of a cathedral.
The 4-year long assembly the pieces of ATLAS in the cavern
was like assembly of a ship in a bottle but, of course,
on a much grander scale.
Starting from the undercarriage designed to precisely position
the 7,000-ton weight, an array of racetrack-shaped
superconducting coils was assembled to form a magnetic
field that enshrouds the entire detector.
This field bends particles called muons to measure
their momentum.
Chambers inside the field detect the muons with a
precision much less than the thickness of a
hair, even a thin hair.
Other particle detectors are put inside the toroid.
The ATLAS toroid is perhaps the iconic feature defining
the ATLAS experiment.
Last year it even appeared in Valencia as a set of Barlioz's
opera, "The Trojans."
ATLAS was constructed from pieces constructed
around the world.
Tracker modules made in the U.S., a superconducting solloid
magnet made in Japan, a tile calorimeter module.
These modules were made in Spain, Russia and the U.S.
A cryogenic liquid Argon calorimeter arriving
from Canada.
Another was made in Europe.
Here's a big wheel made with chambers that came from China,
Israel, Japan and the U.S. And here is the so-called small
wheel, the last component of ATLAS being lowered down
100 meters into the pit.
ATLAS is the fruit of the labor of 6,000 individuals
and 20 years of design, construction, and assembly.
Although enormous, ATLAS measures particles with an
incredible precision, a precision that drives
challenging technological solutions.
The innermost detectors are like silicone digital cameras.
Small precise detectors are assembled into
large precision arrays.
These detectors are as intricate as a fly's eye.
These cameras have about 100 million pixels each.
Not so impressive by today's standards, but keep in mind
that we take 40 million pictures per second.
Particle detectors such as these are used now quite a
bit for medical imaging.
The challenge of our search of new discoveries, the challenge
of finding just a handful of interesting particle
interactions in the billions of trillions that we witness,
requires vast computational resources and some
innovative new techniques.
Large processor farms process data in nearly real time to
sift through tens of thousands of particle interactions per
second to pick just the 100 to 200 interactions that we
can afford to store.
Even with this reduction, our detectors are so fine grained
that each experiment may store about 15 petabytes
of data each year.
This data volume is equivalent to a stack of 15 million CDs,
about -- a stack that would go about 12 miles high.
In order to amass the required computational resources needed
to reconstruct and analyze our data, CERN and the experiments
have assembled the worldwide LHC Computing Grid.
This is an association of 60 or so computer centers
around the globe.
Data is recorded at CERN, and then it is distributed to the
other centers which are organized in clouds of
geographical clusters.
Jobs are sent wherever they can find the data that they need.
Grid computing is working quite well for us today.
The technical challenges of the LHC require an extreme
level of collaboration.
The LHC accelerator was built and financed by
the CERN laboratory.
CERN was established by 12 European nations by treaty in
1954, and it is now distinctly the premier particles physics
laboratory in the world.
The LHC experiments were built and financed by large
international collaborations of scientists from institutions
around the globe with CERN as a member institution.
As an example, ATLAS is a collaboration of 175
institutions from 37 countries.
It's truly a global collaboration as you
can see from the map.
There are 3,000 scientists, including 1,000
students involved.
Students play a special role in particle physics.
They are essential contributors to the science.
They receive excellent scientific and technical
training and that training serves them well in
their ultimate careers.
ATLAS was designed, collaboratively, built
collaboratively and it is now maintained collaboratively.
How can such a collaboration design and manage a
project of this scale?
The answer is we are united by our scientific goals.
How can scientists and institutions around the world
contribute to a project that's based in Switzerland?
We rely heavily on collaborative tools that enable
us to communicate at a distance often and effectively.
The need to communicate amongst our extreme collaborations gave
birth to the Worldwide Web at CERN 20 years ago.
How far are we in our journey of discovery?
We have reached a milestone like this moment from Ron
Howard's Sony Pictures film "Angels and Demons."
Collisions are fixed and running.
Andrew Lankford: That's my detector.
Particles at 99% the speed of light.
Andrew Lankford: How far are we in our journey of discovery?
Last November the LHC achieved its first collisions.
In December, it reached a world record collision energy.
In March, it reached a collision energy three
times higher than that.
In 2012, the energy will be doubled again.
Each of these milestones is a momentous occasion for
the experimental teams.
The experiments have since collected enough data to
start the exploration of new scientific territory.
Nonetheless, we are just starting the journey.
It is likely to take years to search enough interactions
to find something that revolutionizes our
During the coming years, we will advance the frontiers of
knowledge beyond our current understanding, exploring the
theories and questions that we have posed and finally reaching
beyond our theories into the unknown, a regime in which we
might discover something truly new and excited, something
totally unexpected.
The search to answer questions never before answered requires
techniques never before used.
Basic research catalyzes innovation.
Thank you.
[ Applause ]
Michael Fitzgerald: Thanks, Andy.
I have one question for you.
How many frequent flyer miles did you build up while you
were working on this project over the last 20 years?
Andrew Lankford: Millions.
Michael Fitzgerald: Not quite enough to get you to Neptune.
Andrew Lankford: No, not that many.
Michael Fitzgerald: Our next speaker is coming to us from
the plains of Kansas, but he is going to talk to us about the
tools of change and the tools of catalyzing social
media and other things.
This is Michael Wesch.
If you would please come up and do your thing.
[ Applause ]
Michael Wesch: So I actually got my start studying
in Papua New Guinea.
I was studying new media and how it was affecting
very remote areas of Papua New Guinea.
New media there was actually books.
It wasn't anything exciting like you see up here.
It brought to me a number of questions that I thought were
really important, mostly about the importance of media
and social change.
So think, for example, just if you do a quick run-down of
human history, the importance of speaking in the organization
of bands and tribes, the importance of writing in the
organization of empire, the importance of the printing
press in the Reformation, Enlightenment, and so on.
And the reason why media is so important in all of these major
shifts is because media ultimately shape and sometimes
limit and sometimes even dictate what can be said, how
it can be said, who can say it and who can hear it.
And you take it a step further and you recognize that media
also shape how things will be stored, how they will be
accessed and actually what will be stored and what will
be accessed by who.
And when you add all that up, then you are into the level of,
you know, basically what is a society's knowledge base going
to be and what's going to count as knowledge.
And you take that another step and you start to see that media
can shape all levels of culture from economics to even really
important things like core values and things like that.
I will get to some of that in just a moment.
Now, where I'm starting from is this idea that media
are not just tools.
We hear that a lot.
I'm going to suggest that media are not just tools.
Media are not just forms of communication.
They actually -- media mediate relationships.
So when media change, relationships change.
And, therefore, you see these broad changes happening
throughout society.
So I'm going to start with just a real simple run-down of
television and how it changed our society.
Then I'm going to shift into new media to show you what's
happened since then.
So I'm going to, first off, look at what happens
when television enters into a living room.
You have to rearrange your furniture.
It really reshapes the relationships in the family.
And let's face it, this isn't just the living room.
This is also people's dining room in a lot of cases.
This is essentially the American dining room reshaped
around the television.
And as Neil Postman has pointed out, I will just do a 60-second
run-down of Neil Postman's argument about television and
how it's affected culture.
The conversations of our culture are ultimately
happening here in the television era.
Those conversations are controlled by the few and
designed for the masses.
The conversations are always entertaining -- that's how
you get the masses watching -- even the serious ones.
So our political debates go from long-form political truly
debates to what we see today which is more like 8-second
sound bites, more like an entertainment situation.
The conversations are punctuated by 30-second
And these conversations create our culture of irrelevance,
incoherence and impotence.
What he means by "impotence" is he asks you -- like, he is
writing this book in 1985.
He asks you to imagine yourself in 1985 watching the most
important program you can imagine.
Imagine watching the news in 1985 and he asks you
a series of questions.
He says, So what steps do you plan to reduce conflict in the
Middle East or the rates of inflation, crime
or unemployment?
What do you plan to do about NATO, OPEC, the CIA, et cetera?
And then he takes the liberty of answering for you.
He says, "You plan to do nothing" which is basically
what you could do in 1985.
There weren't a whole lot of options.
Here we are bombarded with media.
This has a particularly profound effect on our youth
and how they're learning about the world.
And I just want to show you real quickly here
a commercial here.
This is created by Dove as part of a campaign to demonstrate
how this mass media onslaught is affecting our young girls.
This is a very powerful commercial.
It demonstrates, I think, Marshall McLuhan's famous
aphorism, "We shape our tools and thereafter
our tools shape us."
Something interested has happened recently, and you guys
all know about this and how new media is shaping our
society in new ways.
I have this little clip here and I think it demonstrates
sort of a hero for our mediated culture of today.
I'm going to leave out all the sociology for you guys.
This guy really represents the sort of lonely individual that
the sociological thinking has been theorizing here for
the last few decades.
He is this lonely guy.
Comes home to Sydney.
Doesn't have anybody to hug when he gets to the airport.
So he goes down to the mall with his "free hugs" sign
and eventually somebody gives him a hug here.
And then you will see that this "free hugs" movement
actually starts to spread.
Other people start taking up the sign, start
getting hugs themselves.
And this spreads throughout Sydney, and the mall is just
sort of rife with these free hugs.
Then it goes on to YouTube and gets over 45 million views
and then it goes global.
This is where a number of interesting points can be made
about new media and how it is shaping our society.
The first point, of course, is that it is global.
The second is that, you have individual pursuits leading to
large-scale collective actions.
And, third, you can also point out that you have gone from
this lonely individual thing, we've had several decades of
sort of being trapped in our homes with our television sets
and suddenly people are wanting to reach out.
Of course, on YouTube there is always the parody.
[ Laughter ]
This is where things get really interesting because sometimes
these parodies are really quite cutting and important.
And I will just draw your attention back to
that Dove commercial.
Here is a remix of that Dove commercial which probably could
never have existed on network television, but it did
exist on YouTube.
Here's the remix.
A lot of you are probably actually familiar with this.
One way or another, you are familiar with this -- not just
this particular video but perhaps movies -- or
videos like this.
This one in particular was very effective.
Two weeks and about a million views after this was created,
the creators of this were at the table with Unilever, Dove's
parent company and Unilever actually signed a moratorium
on deforestation.
So that was actually a great moment.
It actually demonstrates also that this is not a
one-way conversation.
Speaking of conversations, here's an interesting --
another interesting example.
This is Shawn Ahmed.
He was a graduate student at Notre Dame sitting in a room
like this hearing about poverty and thinking, "What can I
really do about poverty as a graduate student?" And he just
decided to get up and leave.
He actually left the university.
He was saving up some money to buy an Xbox and decided to
spend it instead going to Bangladesh and trying to do
something real about poverty.
What he is trying to do is change the conversation.
What he does is he goes around Bangladesh and
other places in the world.
He creates now over a hundred videos about poverty
through his eyes.
And then he, in the meantime, gets over 279,000
followers on Twitter.
Starts up a type of organization that a lot of NGOs
could only dream of copying.
Essentially, he put donors directly in contact with the
people that they are helping which is something that donors
really like and he does it all through this
community-generated space like you will see here.
There is so much here that you can point to.
One thing I want to point to is something that maybe just went
right under the surface there and that was the music
in the background.
The music in the background was also created through a global
collaboration of artists working together
almost accidentally.
Here you've got Collin Muchler who uploaded the guitar
track to Opsound.
And then CoraBeth from North Carolina picks it up and plays
the violin over the top of it here that you hear.
And then that's posted and then Vavrik over here takes all
these clips that are being posted to Opsound and creates
the sound track you just heard on that video.
There is something, I think, especially important about
thinking about music in this collaborative space because
when you think about these collaborations that are
happening here, all these spaces are, in a sense, spaces
for collaboration in which -- and each one structured in a
different way that actually shapes what can be
done in those spaces.
And so music actually becomes an interesting way to look at
this because it is a way of sort of seeing and feeling
the layers upon layers that are created through this.
So here's a project from Eric Wittiker, I think, demonstrates
this really well.
He had some music up on iTunes.
One of his fans picked it up and sung it back
to him on YouTube.
He was so moved by hearing this person sing his music to him on
YouTube, they thought if I could just create a
whole virtual choir.
You can see there he recorded himself conducting the choir.
He put the sheet music up for free, and then he had all these
people try out and ultimately had from 12 different countries
these 185 singers create this virtual choir.
But this is really just a metaphor for the different
layers you see happening in this collaborative space.
And sometimes it gets very serious.
Like, here you see the Kenyan -- the elections -- Kenya
elections in 2007 and the violence after that.
These four Kenyans get together and they put together this
thing called Ushahidi which allows people on the ground
with their cell phones to report on the violence and
troubles that they are having at those times.
Other people on the ground can then receive updates based
on where they are through their cell phones as well.
They essentially unleashed 45,000 citizen reporters to
talk about so they could share information about what was
happening on the ground.
Three years later in Haiti, that same software is freely
available because those four Kenyans give it away for free
and some students at Tufts University are able to
implement it for Ushahidi Haiti.
You can see here they get over 100,000 messages coming in.
They are documenting these messages, placing
them on the map.
There are messages like this, "We are looking for Baby
Joseph who got buried under the university."
mapped not using Google Map but using Open Street Map which is
collaboratively edited by thousands of people
around the world.
Those are the maps that are ultimately on the ground.
And here you see Clark Craig from the U.S. Marine Corps'
comment, "It is saving lives every day.
I wish I had time to document every example,
but there are too many.
I say with confidence that there are hundreds of these
kinds of success stories.
The Marine Corps is using your project every second of the day
to get aid and assistance to the people who need it most."
I'll end there.
[ Applause ]
Michael Fitzgerald: Just one thing.
We can see why you're one of the leading media theorists,
theorists on new media.
I know you're also a terrific educator.
You were Professor of the Year in 2008.
And you work a lot with educating kids on these tools.
What do you tell them?
Michael Wesch: Well, I think it's not so much
what I tell them.
It's how you set up the environment.
The key to me is not setting up a teaching environment, but
a learning environment.
We focus so much on setting up teaching environments, and I
was just talking to Murray.
Like, teaching is not actually possible.
People can learn but, it's really impossible to teach.
But we set up these teaching environments where you have all
these neat fixed chairs in these neat rows, where it's
basically an information dump.
Well, people don't learn well that way.
You need to set them up engaging real problems, you
know, using -- working together and using the right media at
the right time, and then they end up practicing the
tools that they need to be great learners.
Michael Fitzgerald: Thanks.
And you mentioned Murray.
Murray Gell-Mann, if you'd please come up and join me
here, and I'll sort of try to start your introduction.
Murray is a true polymath.
He entered Yale at age 15.
I think he graduated at age 16 or so.
He went on from there to really become the instigator of
finding the quark, for which he was awarded the Nobel
Prize in physics in 1969.
He's a linguist who is widely published in that field.
In fact, he's published myriad papers on academic subjects.
He's also published books, including the book that
defined, kind of for a general audience, his theories on
simplicity and complexity called "The Quark
and the Jaguar."
He was a cofounder of the Santa Fe Institute, which is a
pioneering and a premier interdisciplinary research
center in Santa Fe, which was made famous, in part, for what
it brought to the study of complexity, and I could go on.
But we are going to sit down and talk a bit about just a
couple of your ideas on how to be a catalyst.
I mean, you have been, in many ways, a catalyst, and so it's a
privilege to get to sort of sit down with you and talk with you
a bit about how you do that.
And why don't we just sort of start there.
Start with the quark, actually.
How did that theory come about?
Murray Gell-Mann: Well, that's a very good thing to start
with, because it can illustrate something we ought
to talk about.
What is a quark?
Well, we heard how -- and most of us know anyway -- how atoms
are made up of nuclei, which in turn are made up of neutrons
and protons, and then there are electrons as well.
So we have a nucleus with electrons swarming around it.
The nucleus, as I said, made of neutrons and protons.
But the neutrons and protons turn out not to be the
elementary particles that everybody thought they were.
Instead, each neutron or proton is made of three quarks,
roughly speaking.
And people ask me, "How did you think of that?"
Well, turns out it was very easy.
If you look at a chart of various discovered particles,
some kind of thing you heard about in an earlier talk, it's
pretty obvious that the neutron and proton ought to be
made of three quarks each.
It's not -- but it is very difficult to believe it.
That's why it wasn't immediately advertised by
everybody as a model or as a theory, because it violated --
the quark idea violated some well-known principles.
For example, that the neutron and proton are elementary.
Everybody knew they were elementary.
So of course they're not made up of smaller things.
Second, an elementary particle should have a charge that's an
integral multiple of the proton's charge.
Could be in units of the proton's electric charge, it
could be -- the charge of the new particle could be one or
zero or minus one or two, but not two-thirds or
minus a third.
But those are the electric charges of the quark: plus
two-thirds and minus a third.
The third principle: Nobody had ever heard of a particle type
such that the particle was always confined inside
something else, the way that quarks are permanently confined
inside things like the neutron and proton.
Can't get out.
Nobody had ever heard of anything like that.
So we had three clearly defined ideas that made the quarks
wrong, but those three ideas were themselves wrong.
That was the problem with them.
And that occurs over and over and over again in science.
Look at the Maya glyphs in Mexico and Central America, the
two kinds of these characters often chiseled in stone.
One set describe calendrical, astronomical information, about
the apparent rising and setting of the sun in different places
of the sky, the motions of the planet Venus, the motions of
the moon -- apparent motions of the moon and so on, all
described in these calendrical glyphs and they were deciphered
a hundred years ago or so.
But that left the non-calendrical glyphs.
What were they?
Well, the dictator of Maya studies at that time was
the Englishman Sir J. Eric S. Thompson.
And this influential Englishman ruled that the non-calendrical
glyphs were not writing.
He didn't say what they were, but they were definitely not
writing, and anyone who tried to publish a paper saying they
were writing was unsuccessful.
Anybody who wanted to be promoted at a university
had better agree that they were not writing.
There was only one trouble.
They were writing!
It took a Russian scholar, Uri Knorosov, to carry out
the first steps of the correct decipherment.
That's the kind of thing that goes on all the time.
Michael Fitzgerald: So in the case of the quark, how did you
get people to come around to your point of view?
Murray Gell-Mann: Well, two things.
One was that it was clear to a lot of people that the quark
picture explained a great many things.
Second, some friends of mine at Stanford University, at the
accelerator there, were able to take what amounts to an
electron microscope picture of the protons, and, roughly
speaking, there were the three quarks.
Michael Fitzgerald: So you had evidence.
Murray Gell-Mann: So there was certainly evidence, yes.
But --
But it often takes a long time to overcome these rules that
you mustn't think in a certain way.
I was asked once by a company to appear in a commercial on
television for the company.
I wasn't supposed to praise the company nor even mention it.
I was just supposed to discuss asking "Why not?"
Because that's what we've been talking about.
Why this negative prescription that you mustn't think
in a certain way?
Why not think in that way?
So I talked about it a little bit, and they paid me a
substantial fee, and then it turned out it was a quite
successful commercial and they renewed it for another year,
paying me my fee a second time, as they were obliged to do by
the rules of actors equity.
I also got a second year's membership in the
Screen Actors Guild.
And then they invited me to come to their headquarters and
talk to their important employees on the intranet, and
in fact talk to all their employees who were awake at the
time, given that many of them were in different parts of the
world, talk to all of them through the intranet,
the company intranet.
So I did.
And I talked about how I don't know much about business but I
know a little bit about theoretical science and I
assume that there's some similarity.
And in theoretical science, it's good to ask -- when
you're told not to think in certain ways, it's
good to ask "Why not?
Are we sure that we mustn't think in those ways?"
And usually there's a damn good reason why not.
But not always.
Sometimes it turns out this prohibition is misguided.
And we've just talked about two or three examples of that.
But I was careful to mention that you must ask -- you must
check and make sure there isn't a simple reason why not.
"For example," I said, "in business I assume you always
have to worry about profit and loss and you always have
to worry about legal and ethical considerations."
What was the company?
Of course. Enron.
Michael Fitzgerald: Enron.
Michael Fitzgerald: So why do you think in that case --
Michael Fitzgerald: -- they took the other view of "why
not," which is "Why not ignore this stuff"?
Murray Gell-Mann: Well, of course.
The whole idea is to be able to distinguish those negative
prohibitions that are there for a damn good reason and
the ones that are not.
And in this case, there was a damn good reason why you should
pay attention to legal and ethical considerations and
there was a damn good reason for worrying about
profit and loss.
Michael Fitzgerald: And there we have it.
Michael Fitzgerald: So you've been involved with the Santa Fe
Institute, which sort of --
Murray Gell-Mann: Oh, yes.
From the prehistory of the Santa Fe Institute up to now.
That's where I work every day.
Michael Fitzgerald: How did that come about, and was that
another example of this "why not" thinking?
Murray Gell-Mann: In a way. In a way.
We met -- a group of us -- during the early
1980s in Los Alamos.
These were people who were employed by Los
Alamos, in some cases.
In other cases like mine, they were consultants to Los Alamos.
And we talked about our dream of starting a scientific
institute in Santa Fe, which we all love.
But it would be a civilian scientific institute.
It would not be run by the government, although it might
accept government money if it were begged to on
certain occasions.
It would -- but the main thing that I emphasized in these
discussions was that we ought to have no barriers among
the different fields.
At universities, you typically run into all these walls
between the disciplines coming from curricula, from textbooks,
from sections of granting agencies, from curricula,
and so on and so forth.
So it's very difficult to have real interdisciplinary
It's possible, but it's very difficult.
And I said that we should set up an institute, an institute
where it was easy and where we encouraged people to do it.
And that's the way it works now.
We have little groups that form after some discussion in the
kitchen, usually, at tea time to study problems of
mutual interest.
And each person can make a contribution whether or not
that person is trained in a relevant field.
Doesn't matter.
As long as the person has some knowledge, intuition, is
relatively bright, and so on, a contribution can be made.
But we do have a rule that at least one person in the group
should know something about the subject.
Michael Fitzgerald: And that's all it takes to overcome
these barriers?
Murray Gell-Mann: No.
It takes something else.
It takes a determination, a real devotion to the idea of
doing these things, because the languages are different for
different fields, the way of judging ideas is different in
different fields, people have different vocabulary in
different fields, and overcoming these differences
and barriers is not easy at all.
But it is possible for people who have always
dreamt of doing that.
We had our founding seminars in the fall of 1984 at this room
kindly lent us by the School of American Research in Santa Fe.
Beautiful, beautiful weather.
We had terrible problems getting people to go home.
And -- but anyway, I made the phone calls for a lot of the
invitations, and I knew what people would say, because
these were quite important, interesting scientists in many,
many different subjects.
And I knew they were going to say something like this: "I
have my teaching, I have my research, I'm writing two
textbooks, and I consult for several companies and I
just don't have the time.
I'm terribly sorry.
Don't call me; I'll call you."
But that isn't what they said.
We had a list of people that we suspected might be interested
in this project, and it turned out nearly every one of them
said something like the following: "When can I come?
Can I come sooner?
I've been dreaming about this all my life!"
Well, we hadn't expected that amount of enthusiasm,
but that's what we got.
Michael Fitzgerald: Which is great.
We have a -- and it's gone on to have a sort of story of
development since then.
We have just a couple of minutes left and I'm curious,
is there a question that you -- is there a problem to which
you wish we were asking "why not" about now?
Murray Gell-Mann: Well, yes.
It's something I'm working on very hard with some bright
Russian linguists, and that is the question of distant
relationships among human languages.
To take the known families and see if they aren't descended
from superfamilies, and if the superfamilies shouldn't
be grouped into a super-superfamily.
In other words, to carry the process of historical
linguistics back before six or seven thousand years ago,
because the experts in the field mostly have this negative
-- this prohibition, this negative requirement: "You must
not think of anything before six or seven
thousand years ago.
It's wrong, it's unscientific, it's prescientific.
It's misleading, it's not properly proved," and
so on and so forth."
And I suspect that this is another one of those fake
prohibitions, wrong prohibitions.
I can't prove it rigorously at this time, but I suspect it is.
Michael Fitzgerald: And in the world of business, is -- is
there something that you think businesses should be asking
"why not" about, or can they do a better job of
processing "why not"?
Murray Gell-Mann: Well, why not do the things that are
represented here at Zeitgeist?
This is a marvelous, really splendid milieu for thinking
about important problems of business and its relation to
every other human activity, including happiness, as we
heard, including all the things that lead to happiness.
Why not carry all that away from here and actually do it?
Some people do, apparently, and I think it's marvelous.
Michael Fitzgerald: Well, on that note, we're out of time.
Thank you very much, Murray.
It was wonderful.
Michael Fitzgerald: We're going to, in the interest of time, in
compressing time, skip past the panel we were going to have
with the four of our previous speakers and move directly
to the panel that Eric Brewer is going to run.
Eric is the founder of Inktomi, which is a pioneering
search engine effort.
He is now a visiting scientist at Google.
He teaches at Berkeley, at the University of
California-Berkeley, and he is working a great deal on
technology for developing countries.
So Eric, I think we have a video to show, and then you
-- then it's your show.
Eric Brewer: We do.
We're going to see some catalysts in person.
Eric Brewer: All right.
So we're going to talk about two catalysts, in the last
little bit we have in this session, and the video you just
saw represents the work of Cameron Sinclair, on the near
side, and he created Architecture for Humanity, and
Marc Koska, who created SafePoint, who you'll
hear from in a minute.
And what they share, like with many people in the audience, is
fantastic passion, the kind that Murray just talked about,
that actually led them to do things that I think we want
to make many other people able to do.
So why don't we start with your story, Cameron.
Cameron Sinclair: Okay.
So the video you saw actually is not for you.
And I'm going to tell you about -- a bit about
how that came to be.
First off, Architecture for Humanity --
I'm a recovering architect.
I trained as an architect.
And I didn't become an architect because I went to
great cathedrals, but I lived in a real hellhole of South
London and I realized early on that our communities and the
way the fabric of the environment was set up actually
dictated the way people behaved.
So I decided I would be an architect to try and improve
these environments.
So, you know, what I'm doing now pretty much was dictated
from an early age.
When I was in -- early on, in my early 20s, I decided that
instead of doing high-rises in Manhattan and, you know, law
firms in L.A., which I was doing, that I'd begin to do a
side project, which was: How do we get licensed professionals
in the architectural and construction industry
to get involved in humanitarian problems?
And it started off with a simple idea, and I'm not going
to tell you the full story, but 10 years later we've now worked
in about 38 countries, we have 70 city chapters, and we have
5600 architects actively working on projects
around the world.
Right now, 40% of our work is in Haiti, but we're rebuilding
in Pakistan, we just finished our first dozen permanent homes
yesterday and we're going to push into a hundred by the end
of next month, as well as in Chile and elsewhere.
So, yeah, that's us.
We're about providing not just design solutions, but
construction capabilities, so you can take some of these
innovative ideas and actually implement them.
I think probably the most important message is that what
I've found over the last decade is that there's a million ideas
that can change the world, but unless you build it,
it doesn't matter.
And when you're focused on the systemic issues or on
post-disaster, that actually implementing innovative
solutions is the key and really the catalyst for our
organization to grow exponentially.
Eric Brewer: That's definitely a theme we're going
to come back to.
Really the idea is that the idea is not it.
The idea is the start, and it's the passion and
the tremendous amount of work -- a decade, in your case --
and more than that in Marc's case.
Why don't you tell people a little bit about your story.
Marc Koska: Well, because I'm older than Cameron.
And my story revolves around solving a problem and it's
probably just best illustrated if I can show you a short
clip of the film from India that we made.
Marc Koska: And that film was made last year, and as I
said, made under cover.
In 1984, there was a prediction -- 26 years ago -- that
syringes would be a major transmission route for HIV, and
I took this very seriously.
I thought that was kind of really unacceptable.
After 2 1/2 years of research, I designed this,
which is my syringe, and basically it operates exactly
the same as a normal syringe, and then is used and if you try
and reuse it again, it locks and then breaks and
it can't be used.
The trick was to make it in such a way, design it in such
a way, that any manufacturer in the world can make this.
And we've been relatively successful in the field.
We're the leading design group or licensing group, and we now
have 14 manufacturers around the world making these.
It took me 17 years to sell the first one, in 2001, to UNICEF.
And since then we've sold about 2 billion and the syringe is
being credited with saving about 10 million
fatal infections.
Eric Brewer: Now, one thing that unites the two of
you is persistence.
Marc Koska: Yeah.
Eric Brewer: And I think that's, in some sense, the --
you guys are here because you persisted and you were
successful, but there must be literally millions of young
people like the two of you that aren't at this meeting because
they haven't gotten up that path.
I want to talk a little bit about your path and a little
bit about how you kind of had to do this on your own, in
some sense, building these things from scratch.
Cameron Sinclair: Well, I was very lucky.
The cofounder of my organization, Kate Stohr,
worked for a company that worked for this website called
pathfinder, and it was one of the first early websites.
And so when we started this -- and she was a journalist -- and
we began talking about -- you know, we always focused
on the issue, we never focused the solution.
So if we utilized the Internet as a mechanism to show
innovation, to show solutions, that's how innovation spreads.
And so we started with I think about 700 bucks and we started
a website and we just said, "Look, we're going to give pro
bono professional design services to anyone
who wants it."
And it just spiraled out of control.
It was literally going to be a weekend project, and, you know,
within a few years, we suddenly realized that we were -- in
terms of the pro bono architectural groups, we became
the largest entity, primarily because we jumped on
technology early on.
We were on Twitter early on.
We were on Facebook early on.
We -- and then not only going on that technology, but
figuring out how you utilize it.
And what's happening and what's really amazing is that, you
know, I sit in a very interesting position that I get
to see all these young -- new, young, innovative designers
around the world that are actively doing stuff.
So you get to see me in maybe a few projects, but right now
there are tens of thousands of innovative building
technologies that are happening, all open sourced,
all collaboratively around the world, but they're not
looking to get re-tweeted by Ashton Kutcher.
You know, what they're looking for is a way to influence and
support their communities and then share their solutions with
other like-minded people.
So for us, technology isn't about the number of "likes" you
get on Facebook or the number of views you get on YouTube.
It's who's actually utilizing that technology and how are
they sharing it with each other to exponentially
make that change.
Eric Brewer: Excellent.
Now, Marc, you had quite a bit of -- I would say a
longer path than Cameron.
And you had to build up some partnerships pretty much
from scratch, including manufacturers, the obvious one.
Many other people knew this was a problem.
So why do you think you were the guy who
could get this done?
Marc Koska: I think one of the reasons --
my journey was completely different to Cameron's.
But one of the reasons I stuck with it, if that's one of the
basic elements of your question, is that, instead of
designing straightaway, I researched the problem.
And, having understood the problem by going to
immunization camps and working with drug addicts, not that
they're a target market for us, but they have a very
complicated methodology of using syringes, and going to
syringe factories and patent office and trying to
understand the whole scene.
Once I really understood the problem, the solution
was much easier.
And I knew it was true to me.
And so that allowed me to stick with it.
Eric Brewer: That must have been like '86 or something.
Marc Koska: Don't remind me. But it was, yeah.
I started in '84. I designed this product in '87.
And then we repatented it in '96, and we've got
eight more years left.
Eric Brewer: I'm kind of chastising the world, myself
included, for not helping you out between 1986 and now.
Marc Koska: I called. I called.
Eric Brewer: You must have some opinions on what happened in
that era to make it so long.
You were clearly right.
You told us so.
You can say so now.
Marc Koska: Yeah, I was right.
Not really.
It's more of an in-depth conversation.
There were a lot of vested interests.
There were a lot of whys and why nots in the field.
Whether it was with the large NGOs, the World Health
Organization type organizations, or whether it
was local ministries or manufacturers.
There were lots of barriers along the way.
But, by designing it to fit an existing manufacturing
system, that was really the breakthrough.
That was going to allow our first early adopters to
pick it up and start manufacturing them.
So sticking with that inner belief was really the key
through all those ups and downs and forming
those relationships.
You really have no idea what's going on in the guy's mind
you can be talking to.
For example, I met the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
And he signed papers, "We will adopt your product."
They never made one.
But he's telling you he's going to do it three
or four years ago.
But there's no intention to do it.
He wanted a press article which made him look good, and there
was an election the following month.
There's so many different things built into the journey.
You really have no idea.
All you have to do is keep going.
Eric Brewer: One of the things you brought up that's been true
for Cameron as well is an issue of transparency and
You've written already that one thing that's unique about these
small organizations is they get money from donors that
expect accountability.
And sometimes you're working directly with donors that
donate directly to particular projects that have
to be transparent.
You talk about a little of the issues you had
to face that's similar?
Cameron Sinclair: It's fascinating.
We're like a tug boat, and a lot of these large
NGOs are like tankers.
I don't see them as opposition.
They have these very vague claims, right?
They're going to end poverty for children, right?
And they're going to go from A to B, and they're going to
get there in one direction.
And these smaller nonprofits and organizations and
for-profits collaborating and working together can
be just as impactful.
And it doesn't mean we're against.
It's not a competition.
But we can latch on to that oil tanker and pull it to a more
sustainable and holistic solution that's
Because certainly in many of the places I work, most NGOs
say, "There's a massive disaster in Haiti.
We need to build lots of houses, and everyone's
going to be happy."
That's not what people want.
Yes, they want shelter. But they want a job.
So how are we making sure we're designing and building
buildings that create the most amount of jobs in the community
that actually employ people locally and integrate
disaster mitigation both future and current?
You know, that has to be done with a lot of different groups.
So working with economists and working with environmentalists
and bringing those groups together.
And then distributing that.
So that's the idea of competing against large NGOs.
The other is accountability.
My largest donor base right now in Haiti is high
school children.
There are hundreds of groups all over the country right
now that are raising money to build schools.
That video was done by somebody I've never met before, Ashley
Gutierrez, who said, "Look, you're in the business
of building buildings.
I'm a filmmaker.
I'm going to give this to you as a present." She
uploaded it on Vimeo.
We kind of sent it viral.
We sent it to schools who wanted to raise funds.
We used the square to raise money in person.
Raised enough money to build the schools and then
interconnect through video connections.
Now, that's the first half of the story.
Sorry, but this is really important.
Suddenly, when you have 100,000 donors, how are
you accountable to them?
Everybody can ping me on Facebook.
So we have to create a mechanism that's transparent
so people can show on.
So we actually -- there's a slide, I don't know if they
can put it up -- of mine.
Do you guys have that slide or that video?
If not, I can show it through this.
So, you know, if I want money from the U.S. government,
I'm an architect.
So can anyone guess where it comes from?
Well, it's -- I'm not going to leave you waiting.
It's the National Endowment of the Arts.
So, basically, I have to steal money from sculptors and
photographers to fund fund humanitarian work
through architecture.
I'm not going to do that.
I have to figure out a way to raise funding -- that's yours.
Marc Koska: That's mine.
Cameron Sinclair: So anyway, what we did is we created an
iPad app that has every single project we've done around the
globe that updates on the ground --
Michael Fitzgerald: Might want to hold it to the camera.
Cameron Sinclair: Okay. I don't know if you need it.
But, for instance, you know, we can go over to Pakistan or
Afghanistan and our architects mentioned that are on the front
lines are using their camera phones to upload every day.
So we build these houses in Pakistan through
$50, $100 donations.
And they can see today the roof got put on.
Today it's complete.
I'm going to put another 100 bucks in.
So that level of accountability is not happening
at the large NGOs.
They just have to put in some big white paper and say we did
the work that you told us to do.
So this level of accountability needs to transform on
the larger oil tankers.
Eric Brewer: That sounds easy.
You, apparently, had to deal with partnerships of all
kinds, especially in the health sector.
You can't just go be a doctor and give out needles.
How did you get groups to help you distribute?
You have billions of these things out there.
Marc Koska: We used a licensing basis.
I never wanted to be a manufacturer of syringes.
There are too many manufacturers in the world.
We've got 600 factories, which is way too many anyway.
So that was why it was so key to be able to
retrofit the factories.
And also to make the product the same price.
That was really key, so that there was as minimal change
to the distribution line as possible.
So all our distribution is done by the normal channels that
were already in place from those manufacturers.
And so that was quite easy.
But what we had to do was kind of jump in front of the
manufacturing and supply lines and lobby governments, which is
where I started my NGO.
And, for example, in India, I was able to raise a modest
amount of money and inform through a mass media campaign
on television, radio, and newspapers about 700 million
views of this message over a 5-day period.
And then we used that to lobby the government to change the
law on the use of injections.
In fact this hospital that you saw is only using
this type of syringes.
Eric Brewer: I love this path.
We could go to WHO and just get this problem solved.
Or we could advertise on TV to build up public support to get
the government of India to adopt what's right.
Marc Koska: The answer is in the question.
Because, if WHO were going to do it, they'd have done it.
They know these figures.
They know the problems.
And they said they can't do it, and I said I can.
So you just go and do it.
Eric Brewer: Fascinating.
One of the things that's different between your two
groups but I think is worth a little bit of discussion, you
said to me, personally at least, that when you went with
Creative Commons to essentially open source your plans
is when you took off.
And I know intellectual property was critical to your
success so you could make your manufacturers successful.
Comments on this model?
Open source is what we talk about, but you clearly needed
some amount of something else.
Marc Koska: Yeah.
I mean, we funded our commercial side of the
business through investors.
But what I'm working on now is a plan where we can buy the
investors out, which would include me, but then literally
give the patents to any manufacturer and allow
them to make it on a royalty-free basis.
And that's what I'm really keen to do now.
Because that will allow us to get to scale.
And not just syringes.
I think there are many products that fit that profile, which
are kind of under a glass ceiling of unfair competition.
They don't even know there's competition, but they're not
growing to scale because of these real competitive
And I think we need to throw the baby out.
Let's start again.
Let's open source all these ideas.
Let's just get on with the job.
Eric Brewer: Talk about your experience with that.
Cameron Sinclair: Well, you know, I had a mid-life
crisis when I hit about 30.
And part of that was I realized all the work we've done around
the world, I felt very chuffed. We've impacted the
lives of 1.2 million people around the world.
Tiny little organization.
Looking at statistics and looking at the issues out
there, it's not even a drop in the ocean, not
even a beat of sweat.
So the only way we could really impact is by open sourcing
everything and saying look, we're in the business of social
innovation, not financial gain.
So by using Creative Commons as a mechanism on physical
structures, we can share those innovative details.
Now, fast forward, we were very fortunate.
We got the Ted prize.
We were able to help push something called the Open
Architecture Network.
In 2007 there was one building with a Creative
Commons license.
As of today there are 5,000 buildings that we know of.
And those have been replicated many times.
So all the work we've done on the Gulf Coast, which is
almost 700 houses, are all under Creative Commons.
If there's a storm on the Carolinas next year, you can
download full construction documentation.
You can implement buildings.
Make sure you adhere to local code, and you're ready to go.
Why should we have to spend money on jump starting
innovation in these disasters?
One quick example is last year we hosted a design competition
to design the classroom of the future.
We said you can only enter if you went into your
local school and you work with teachers and kids.
And we ended up with 10,000 people from around the world.
They entered designs, and we ended up being able to build
a couple of these schools.
Fast forward a few months, Haiti happens.
They lose 100% of their schools in western Port-au-Prince,
25% of their schools in the country.
Guess what they need? Plans for schools.
Guess what we've got? 600 plans for schools.
Suddenly, we can go through that, call up the schools and
say, "Hey, you know what?
We can tweak your design based on materials and labor and
implement it in this area.
Are you up for it?"
Who's going to say no?
So the idea is crowd sourcing innovation, but making sure
the people who are being sourced have the expertise
and skills to do it.
So this isn't hey, you've got an idea, throw it up there.
This is a health and safety issue, so making sure you've
got licensed professionals doing it.
Eric Brewer: Excellent.
We're getting near our end of time.
I think James Wolfensohn is in the audience, and he had a
comment before about World Bank being one of the groups that
hasn't historically worked with the kinds of people
we have up here.
Did you want to comment on that, Jim?
James Wolfensohn: Such a fantastic set of presentations.
It's a little difficult to do that.
What I was reminded of was that we had at the World Bank
a thing called the Innovation Marketplace.
And we have still every year some thousands of innovative
ideas, creative ideas.
But what's come through today, I think, is that
the idea is part of it.
But the management and sticking with it and bringing it about,
in your case 17 years before you got the sales of your
syringes, is a critical element in what we're hearing
about today.
And so I think it's extremely interesting as evidence of
great creativity that behind each one of these stories is a
story of management -- continuing management
and building.
And I think we've been very lucky to have this group of
people to present before us.
Eric Brewer: In the interest of time, I'm going to
make that the last word.
Thank you so much for a great session, and we'll
be up here to continue it.