Live from TED2015: Alicia Eggert illuminates the future with peace


The Future is hard to read when so few countries in the world are at peace. Photo: Ryan Lash

The Future: installation by TED Fellows Alicia Eggert + Safwat Saleem, TED2015, Vancouver. This piece illuminates the overall state of peace or conflict around the world. Each light bulb represents one of the world’s 206 sovereign states; bulbs representing states at peace are lit, while bulbs representing states in conflict are unlit. The Future is a commission. Photo: Ryan Lash

Anyone headed for the TED2015 Fellows lounge will be greeted by bright lights. Look more closely, and you’ll see the word “FUTURE” spelled out with light bulbs — some illuminated, some not. This installation — created by TED Fellows Alicia Eggert and Safwat Saleem and debuting at TED2015, explores the prospects of world peace, country by country, while interrogating not only what constitutes a country, but what constitutes peace. Here at TED, we asked Alicia Eggert to tell us more.

Tell us about The Future.

Two TED Senior Fellows, Julie Freeman and Yana Buhrer Tavanier, recently launched an initiative to encourage artists and activists to collaborate on projects for social change, called Fine Acts. They put out a call to the rest of the Fellows to submit artworks along the theme of peace. I started brainstorming, and I came up with an idea to make a sign that uses light bulbs to make the word “peace”. Each light bulb would represent a different country, and the bulbs would be turned on or off depending on whether or not each individual country was in conflict or at peace.

The Future debuts at TED2015, at the Fellows Lounge. Photo: Mike Femia/TED

The Future debuts at TED2015, at the Fellows Lounge. Photo: Mike Femia/TED

As soon as I had the idea for the piece, the next question was, “What does peace even mean, and how do I determine the number of countries in the world?” It has raised all these issues that I’d never considered before.

I reached out to the TED Fellows community on Facebook, saying, “Does anyone have thoughts about this, or want to weigh in?” Safwat Saleem started sending me his thoughts about how you might determine the number of countries, or how you would determine the state of peace. He was so helpful, I asked if he’d want to collaborate on it. He’s a designer, and I figured he would do a great job designing the typeface and all the other little things about the work. He said yes, and the piece evolved from there.

For example, we decided to make the word “future” instead of “peace.” As you know, the theme of my artwork is time, and I’d wanted to do some kind of piece about the future for a while. Using the word “future” adds the dimension of time to the concept of peace, another layer of meaning.

How did you end up determining what conflict is?

Actually our very first challenge was to determine the number of countries in the world, which would dictate the total number of light bulbs we would use to create the word “FUTURE.” In the end, we decided to be as inclusive as we possibly could by representing all 206 sovereign states. This number includes some states that are not officially recognized by the United Nations.

Our next challenge was to decide the on/off state of each of those 206 bulbs. One of the prompts Julie and Yana sent to us was a link to an article in The Independent that talked about the Institute for Economics and Peace, an organization that releases a study every year about the state of peace or conflict around the world. This article claimed that only 11 countries in the world were free from conflict in 2014.

The base of each light bulb is etched with the name of a sovereign state. Photo: Mike Femia

The base of each light bulb is etched with the name of a sovereign state. Photo: Mike Femia

But the IEP’s report was several months old, and it only addressed 162 countries, not all 206 sovereign states. So in addition to using data from the IEP, we also consulted websites like, and Amnesty International’s 2014/2015 report on The State of the World’s Human Rights. Ultimately, we had to draw an arbitrary line in the sand to make a distinction between “peace” and “conflict”. For instance, the IEP’s report lists a numerical score for various criteria, such as perceived criminality in society, political instability, violent demonstrations, and homicides. We often used those scores to make our decisions.

Safwat and I did independent research, defined our own parameters, and came to our own conclusions about each and every state. We did this intentionally to see whether there would be any countries we didn’t agree upon. There ended up being only six countries that we did not come to the same conclusions about initially, but it was not difficult to find a compromise.

How does the piece work?

Each individual light bulb’s base has been laser-engraved with the name of the sovereign state it represents. All the light bulbs are wired in, and it’s just about turning the light bulb just a little bit more into the socket to get it to switch on. We’re aware that peace isn’t binary — it isn’t an on-off thing. There’s a continuum and spectrum of peace to conflict.

But if a country’s in conflict, the light bulb will be off. Only the lights of countries at peace will be on. Right now, the future, literally, will be kind of grim and dark. Only 33 of the 206 bulbs are currently lit. But we hope that illuminating the overall state of peace around the world in this way will spark conversation and debate and awareness. And we hope people see the big picture: how conflict happening in some really faraway places affects everyone, billions of people around the world. We might not feel it here, but hopefully this will show how it is affecting us.

Can people look up the data behind the artwork, to get more detail and context?

We’d like to create a website down the line, and make that information available. What’s interesting is that I think different people would make different decisions about what constitutes peace. One of my dreams is to make this project available to people in other countries, so if an artist or an activist wanted to do their own version of The Future, they could determine their own number of countries, their parameters for determining levels of peace or conflict, as well as use their own language and typeface design. I would love to see many different versions of this being made.

TED2015 attendees walk past The Future. Video: Mike Femia/TED


Giant pouched rats, baby corals & the FBI: A recap of TEDFellows Session 2 at TED2015

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In Session 2 of the TED Fellows talks, we learn about the FBI’s use of informants in counterterrorism operations, how giant pouched rats are helping to save lives, laser-delivered HIV drugs, how Silicon Valley companies are working to protect our privacy — and that’s not to mention the piano solo, percussive dance and opera!

Sri Lankan opera singer Tharanga Goonetilleke opens Session 2 with Magda’s aria from the opera La Rondine by Puccini, accompanied on piano by Tina Chang. “The character sings of true and passionate love that is better than all the riches of the world,” says Goonetilleke.

“The FBI is responsible for more terrorism plots in the United States than any other terrorist organization” begins investigative journalist Trevor Aaronson. After 9/11, the FBI were instructed to find terrorists before they strike — and this pursuit of terror has consumed the agency to the tune of $3.3 billion a year. While there have been only a handful of successful domestic terror attacks, the FBI boasts that it’s foiled dozens of terrorism plots in their undercover sting operations, and have arrested more than 175 people in counterterrorism stings.  According to Aaronson, many of these are orchestrated by the FBI itself, who pay informants $100,000 or more to seek out and “inform” on often-impoverished and mentally ill Muslim-Americans. The FBI then provide the suspects with all they need to execute a terrorist plot — weapons, a martyrdom video, and money — which are then stopped, just in time, by the FBI. Until now,  Aaronson has drawn his startling conclusions from years of poring over domestic terrorism prosecution files. But in an article published this morning in Intercept,  Aaronson has revealed the transcript of a secret recording of FBI agents, proving they knew would-be terror suspect Sami Osmakac — who has schizoaffective disorder and was lured by an undercover FBI agent into plotting a bombing — was incapable of the crime. Osmakac was subsequently arrested, convicted, and sentenced to 40 years in prison, an unwitting victim of what Aaronson calls the theater of national security.

Meet David Lang’s hero John Dobson, the amateur astronomer who created the Dobsonian telescope and was a pioneer in the realm of amateur science who spent his life teaching people the joy of constructing their own telescopes. It’s been hard for other scientific disciplines to replicate amateur activity, says Lang. But now, low-cost, accessible tools like cheap sensors, the rise of open standards, and the ability for fellow enthusiasts to connect over the internet is creating what he calls the era of Connected Exploration. As the tools for science, conservation and innovation have gotten more accessible and powerful, communities in Borneo are using drones to monitor their forests; in Japan, makers and hackers built Geiger counters to monitor the impact of Fukushima in real time; DIY biologists are competing with each other to design engineered microbes. In this context, science and discovery is not about efficiency and convenience, but wonder and adventure. One thing is clear, says Lang,  ”When you give people the tools to ask questions, they will surprise you with what they ask and what they discover.”

Choreographer Camille A. Brown performs a passionate and percussive solo dance excerpted from BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play, accompanied on piano by Scott Patterson. “This dance reveals the complexity of carving out a self-defined identity as a black female in urban American culture,” says Brown.

 To read the full recap, visit the TED Blog >>>

On blazars, quantum computers, and looking for life on Mars: A recap of TEDFellows Session 1 at TED2015


TED Fellows and Senior Fellows have just opened TED2015 with a bang in the beautiful Kay Meek theatre in Vancouver. In the first session, discover: how bacteria can be programmed to detect and treat cancer, a yellow legal pad that smuggles transgressive data into the halls of power, what makes non-state armed groups tick, hyperactive supermassive black holes — and much more.

East African singer Somi sets the mood for the TED2015 Fellows talks with Abbey Lincoln’s “Should Have Been,” accompanied on double bass by Jodi Proznick. (Read more about Somi and her album The Lagos Music Salon on the TED Blog.

There are more bacteria in our bodies than stars in our galaxy, says bioengineer Tal Danino, and they are an integral part of our health. But did you know that we can program bacteria as though they were computers? Danino first engineered bacteria to produce fluorescent proteins in a rhythmic fashion, and generated a molecule that allows bacteria to communicate and synchronize. Danino next turned his attention to using programmable bacteria to detect and treat diseases like cancer. He programmed a bacteria to alert to the presence of liver cancer by producing a molecule that changes the color of urine in cancer’s presence. Another bacteria can be programmed to produce molecules that cause tumors to shrink. Danino also produces beautiful works of art using bacteria engineered to form complex patterns; he shows an image of a colorful and intricate mandala, a symbol of the universe, that speaks to the power and beauty of the invisible.

Some people are moved by sunsets, weddings, a child’s birth. But for artist Sarah Sandman, marching band parades make the tears flow. Why? It’s the magical togetherness of people moving in sync that pulls her heartstrings, she says. An artist who designs ways to bring people together, Sandman cares less about personal expression than about creating human connection, “extracting a collective voice.” Her projects have included designing black hand-shaped protest signs with her HOSTOS South Bronx students to join the Hands Up, Don’t Shoot movement, Human Scrabble games where total strangers race to form words together, and Gift Cycle — in which she and her collaborator rode 75 miles a day from community to community all the way across the United States, carrying local art from one location to exchange with artists in the next community. A narrative of togetherness emerged, unexpected acts of kindness, fun, and generosity — building social capital through the sweat of altruism.

To read the full recap, visit the TED Blog >>>

mPowering the Apple ResearchKit: How Max Little put a Parkinson’s app on the iPhone

This week, Apple turned the iPhone into a medical research tool with the launch ofResearchKit. This open-source framework, described in the video above, lets a medical researcher set up a project to gather anonymous patient data on diseases like asthma, breast cancer and diabetes. Using their own smartphones, patients who join a project can monitor their symptoms on a regular basis — while contributing their data to researchers working to cure their condition. ResearchKit makes it possible to generate large, wide-ranging datasets about the day-to-day of disease.

ResearchKit launched with a set of five apps, including the Parkinson’s mPower app, developed by Sage Bionetworks. This app builds on the work of applied mathematician and TED Fellow Max Little. At TEDGlobal 2012, Little (watch his talk: A test for Parkinson’s with a phone call) made headline news when he launched the Parkinson’s Voice Initiative, a data-gathering project that aimed to develop a quick and non-invasive way to detect the disease with a phone call. Since then, Little, along with collaborators in the US, has been creating Android-based apps for monitoring Parkinson’s symptoms and gathering data for research. These apps have been used to record symptoms from thousands of participants in studies in the UK and US, leading to hundreds of gigabytes of data about Parkinson’s — which may open up entirely new scientific understanding about the disease.

We asked Little to tell us how his technologies got ported to ResearchKit, and how this could take his work to the next level.

How did you get involved with developing a Parkinson’s app for ResearchKit?

Apple was really impressed with the research work I’ve been doing over the last three years on apps for monitoring symptoms of Parkinson’s. We’d been using voice recording over mobile phones since 2012, of course. We’d also developed touch-screen tapping tests and walking and balance tests using the accelerometer in the smartphones. We’d been able to show in small pilot studies that we can predict symptom severity and very accurately detect who has Parkinson’s using these apps.

We were looking to run studies on larger populations to see if it would work on a larger scale — essentially what we were doing with the PVI project, but using smartphones. My collaborators and I developed apps on Android, but Sage Bionetworks wanted to replicate it on iPhone. So Sage built the mPower app on top of Apple’s ResearchKit API, embodying many of the tests that we’ve been developing over the years.


What exactly does mPower do?

mPower is an entirely remote recruitment and objective sensor data collection app, tailored specifically for Parkinson’s research. It’s designed to capture objective data about the disease using daily tests such as voice, walking, balance and manual dexterity, all using the basic functionality of the iPhone.

What difference do you think it will make to your research to have these tests running on iPhones? And what does this mean for the future of medical research in general?

Since the launch of mPower earlier this week, they’ve been able to recruit nearly 8,000 participants — so it looks like the data collection is going fantastically well!

mPower has tremendous potential for speeding up discovery of medical and biological knowledge about Parkinson’s. Having symptom tests like this on iPhone opens up the whole, non-Android half of the world’s smartphone users. Apple’s enormous reach — around 700 million users — poses an extraordinary opportunity for researchers to gather objective symptom progression data from a sizable fraction of all Parkinson’s patients all over the world. It’s not often that researchers can set up studies that have essentially zero cost, yet are able to recruit subjects in the thousands in a matter of hours.

For example, we don’t yet know what causes Parkinson’s, but we do know it can’t be entirely genetic, behavioral or environmental. So it’s not enough to study the biological/genetic side alone. We really have to gather detailed knowledge about behaviour and the environment of each patient. With objective testing using smartphones, we can more fully complete the scientific picture.

Cyclone of TED2015 Fellows touches down in Vancouver!

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TED2015 Fellows and Senior Fellows circle up. Click photos to view large.

It’s (almost) time for TED2015, and the newest class in our global network of trailblazers and innovators has, in the last few hours, touched down in Vancouver from as far afield as Vietnam, London, South Africa, Kenya, and Slovenia.

This extraordinary group includes a Middle East policy analyst whose work focuses on violence and conflict resolution, a bioengineer who uses genetically programmed bacteria as a diagnostic tool, a Julliard-trained Sri Lankan opera singer, a chef who teaches cooking as a way to help boost livelihoods in Brazil’s favelas, an astrophysicist studying blazars — hyperactive supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies — a paleontologist who discovered the dinosaur Spinosaurus – and that’s seriously just the tip of the iceberg.

If you’re headed to Vancouver for TED2015, please join us at the TED Fellows talks at the Kay Meek Centre on Monday afternoon. Always one of the conference’s most talked-about highlights, it’s definitely not to be missed! You’ll also certainly want to check out WTF to pack, as counseled by our own inimitable Safwat Saleem.

If you can’t join us live, read more about all our TED2015 Fellows as well as our Senior Fellows in this beautifully designed program guide – then keep an eye on this space for a full recap of the talks on Monday evening, as well as highlights from an exciting week to come.




How to go to space, without having to go to space: Angelo Vermeulen

“We will start inhabiting outer space,” says Angelo Vermeulen, crew commander of a NASA-funded Mars simulation. “It might take 50 years or it might take 500 years, but it’s going to happen.” In this charming talk, the TED Senior Fellow describes some of his official work to make sure humans are prepared for life in deep space … and shares a fascinating art project in which he challenged people worldwide to design homes we might live in there.

Want to know more about Vermeulen and his work? Read “Spatzle in space” – a full-length interview with the space systems researcher, biologist, artist and community organizer about his HI-SEAS adventures – on the TED Blog >>>



Why I chose to stand up, alone: TED Fellow Boniface Mwangi on risking his life for justice in Kenya


Boniface Mwangi stands in front of one of the murals he helped create. The main character is “the Vulture” — a stand-in for Kenya’s corrupt politicians. Photo: Allan Gichingi

Boniface Mwangi stands in front of one of the murals he helped create. The main character is “the Vulture” — a stand-in for Kenya’s corrupt politicians. Photo: Allan Gichingi

Award-winning photojournalist Boniface Mwangi captured the 2007-2008 post-election violence in Kenya unflinchingly through the lens of his camera. But the horrors he witnessed propelled him into a new career as an activist and artist. Here, Mwangi talks to the TED Blog about the events that led him to stand up against injustice, literally, rather than simply document it.

Tell us about your experience on the front lines of the post-election violence in Kenya.

At the time, I was a photographer working for The Standard, one of the largest newspapers in Kenya. It was a routine election, though hotly contested. There were two contenders: Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki. Kibaki won — at least he claimed that he won — while Raila claimed that he was the rightful winner and that Kibaki had rigged the election. So the supporters of the two politicians erupted into fighting over the results. What followed was ugly, bloody, terrible violence. More than a thousand people were killed, and more than half a million displaced. My job was just to document this violence as a photographer.

Why do you think this particular event created such a violent response?

During the build-up of the election, there was a lot of terrible tribal rhetoric. The politicians were inciting people, slowly. Whatever the outcome was, the losing side would not be ready to accept the results. There were a lot of underlying, unresolved issues; a violent response was inevitable. It didn’t just happen. It was very deliberate.

Boniface Mwangi was assigned to photograph the post-election violence in Kenya in 2007. His photos are unflinching, capturing violence from both civilians and soldiers. Photo: Boniface Mwangi

Boniface Mwangi was assigned to photograph the post-election violence in Kenya in 2007. His photos are unflinching, capturing violence from both civilians and soldiers. Photo: Boniface Mwangi

Did you see it coming?

No. No one saw it coming. You see, we’d had elections before in 1992 and 1997 where people died — maybe 10, 20, 50, 100 — but it was a scattered number and relatively few. The sheer brutality of 2007’s events — this level of orchestrated violence — had never been seen before in Kenya.

Did other Kenyans try to stop it?

The violence was in low-income neighborhoods, and most Kenyans did not know the extent of what was going on. If you are extremely poor, you only get your news on the radio. All those communities heard about were numbers of the dead and displaced, and they couldn’t relate. If you’re middle class, you might get the paper or watch TV, but graphic pictures were not shown because TV content is classified for family audiences. Most Kenyans did not see what really happened.

What were the police doing while this was happening?

By and large, the monstrosity of the violence overwhelmed them. Unfortunately, the police were perpetrators as well. I took pictures of women who had been raped by the policemen who were meant to protect them. I saw innocent kids being killed by police. During the violence, I only broke down once — when a girl was killed. She was about 12 years old, and she looked like my younger sister. That made me wail like a baby.

How do you take pictures in the face of such violence? Are you concerned about your personal safety?

When I’m taking pictures, I’m not thinking about the person. I’m thinking about lighting, framing, composition. There is so much adrenaline in your body that you’re not thinking about death. You’re not careless — you’re careful while you’re doing your work — but at the same time you realize that you have to do a job. If you’re a news photographer, or any photographer, and you get a chance to cover hard news like war, it’s stimulating and also humbling. It’s every news photographer’s dream to cover war. So at that particular time, I wasn’t really thinking about safety.

To read the full interview, visit the TED Blog >>>

Watch this video of Boniface Mwangi’s story, which shows many more of his images. Warning: Some are hard to look at. But all are powerful. 

For these women, reading is a daring act: Laura Boushnak

In some parts of the world, half of the women lack basic reading and writing skills. The reasons vary, but in many cases, literacy isn’t valued by fathers, husbands, even mothers. Kuwaiti-born photographer and TED Fellow Laura Boushnak traveled to countries including Yemen, Egypt and Tunisia to document some of the women — schoolgirls, political activists, 60-year-old moms — who are fighting cultural odds for the sake of education. Listen to Boushnak’s talk, then see a gallery of her images on the TED Ideas Blog >>>

Octopus’s garden: Alasdair Harris’s radical approach to saving fisheries


Eco-entrepreneur Alasdair Harris is passionate about conserving marine biodiversity, and he’s doing it in unusual ways. While most marine conservationists focus on what’s in the water, Harris’ company Blue Ventures works with people in poverty-stricken coastal communities to engage them in rebuilding tropical fisheries and in the process of protecting both their ecosystems and livelihoods. The company’s approach: eco-tourism.

We spoke to Harris about why humanity’s marine conservation efforts to date haven’t worked — and his vision to change that.

How did Blue Ventures get started?

I was studying zoology in 2000, learning about the enormous threats that were wreaking havoc on the world’s coral reefs, which are the rainforests of the ocean. I was already a keen scuba diver, and this got me asking myself: how on Earth can an undergraduate student in Scotland do something meaningful to help tackle the mass extinction that’s taking place beneath the waves?

I set to work raising money to take a group of fellow students to the Indian Ocean to learn more about what was happening, and contribute in some small way to studying these unprecedented changes. My initial focus was on coral reefs in Madagascar, because this part of the Indian Ocean is one of those regions where we just didn’t know what’s there — there’s a huge gap in the literature. Sadly, this is true for many places; we understand tragically little about so much of our oceans, and marine biodiversity is being lost before we even know it exists.

This isn’t just a tragedy for nature. It’s also a critical issue for many of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. Almost 1-and-a-half billion of us live around our tropical coasts. Hundreds of millions of these people depend on fishing for survival. Our planet’s so-called small-scale fisheries are anything but small — they’re a lifeline underpinning cultures, food security and livelihoods. So tropical marine conservation isn’t just about conserving marine wilderness to satisfy the curiosity of biologists. It’s a human issue of enormous global importance, at the intersection of food security, conservation, and development. It’s an issue on the front line of climate change.

That first trip was an old-fashioned expedition, funded by Edinburgh University and the Royal Geographical Society, among others. Our goal then was simply — perhaps naively — to put these reefs on the map. But it quickly became apparent that we couldn’t hope to change anything simply by carrying out research. The money was spent and we put together some species lists, but we didn’t achieve anything practical in terms of helping either the reefs or the people that depended on them. The only real winners were those of us getting to dive in these fabulous seas.

This troubled me — it was clear that conservation was about much more than simply indulging a scientific interest in these extraordinary underwater ecosystems. Conservation today is about people, markets and behavioral change. And making change happen requires a totally different approach to simply publishing papers and hoping someone might read them: it means listening to what communities need, developing a deep understanding of local issues — and all that requires a permanent presence and commitment — plus funding for the long haul.

After that first trip, I decided to raise the bar. Each summer for over the next two years, our team went back to the Indian Ocean — to Madagascar and the adjacent republics of Comoros and Tanzania. We raised money during the year as students, running marathons and shaking buckets in the streets of Edinburgh and Oxford.

Madagascar was then recovering from political turmoil following disputed elections in 2002, and there was an overwhelming need to build capacity in the environmental sector. This provided the impetus for me to bite the bullet. It was really just saying, “I’m setting up an organization that will continue the work we’ve started.” That was Blue Ventures. It kicked off the day I left university.

The reef octopus is a cash crop for tens of thousands of subsistence fishers in the Indian Ocean. Blue Ventures looks to get them invested in the conservation process. Photo: Garth Cripps

The reef octopus is a cash crop for tens of thousands of subsistence fishers in the Indian Ocean. Blue Ventures looks to get them invested in the conservation process. Photo: Garth Cripps

Why did you decide to set up a tourism business to fund conservation programs, rather than just start a conservation organization?

Having the idea was one thing, but finding the means to finance the vision was a whole new challenge. No donor or philanthropic foundation in their right mind would give a 23-year-old support for this kind of vision. So by default I had to look at entrepreneurship. And the solution was there all along. Those expeditions I’d been running were incredible opportunities for people from all walks of life to learn about the ocean, to experience new cultures and the enormous challenges of making conservation work on the ground. We had a business opportunity in our hands. So Blue Ventures Expeditions went live with £500 from my student overdraft, and the business was born.

Since then, we’ve welcomed hundreds of volunteers every year to our field programs around the world. These volunteers contribute to the running costs of our conservation work. They learn to dive with us, play a key role collecting data underwater and participate in our research and outreach work. Crucially, they also provide year-round financial sustainability to the organization, helping keep the lights on as we support a global team of more than 100 conservationists.

Any profits we make get reinvested in the charity, strengthening our conservation programs. It’s this social business that’s provided the catalyst for all our conservation work. We’ve expanded our reach beyond Madagascar — to Malaysia, Fiji and Belize — and we’re launching new country programs later this year.

How does the tourism enterprise work? 

We accept volunteers who want to come and learn about conservation. Say you want a career break, or you want to learn to scuba dive for six weeks, or reboot your career in conservation or development. We even get families looking for a new experience. Each expedition lasts six weeks and involves a series of intensive training programs in diving, marine science and underwater surveying. You then live and work alongside our conservation staff, getting hands-on experience of the issues that we confront on a daily basis, in incredibly remote settings.

Another great thing is the network Blue Ventures has formed. We have an inspiring community of more than 2,000 alumni around the world, all of whom have lived and worked with us for extended periods of time and are very close to the spirit and culture of the enterprise.

By making conservation work for people, Blue Ventures works to mobilize fishing communities to support marine protection. Photo: Garth Cripps

By making conservation work for people, Blue Ventures works to mobilize fishing communities to support marine protection. Photo: Garth Cripps

Your view of marine conservation today must have been very different 11 years ago.

Absolutely. By approaching conservation as an entrepreneur, the challenges and limitations of “conventional” funding models are made very apparent to us. Marine reserves — areas of ocean protected from fishing, within which ecosystems can recover and help rebuild and replenish fisheries — are the end goal for any marine conservationist. They’re our currency. And given the threats our seas are facing — from overfishing and pollution to climate change — science tells us that we need to be setting aside about 30% of our seas within these marine reserves if we’re to have any hope of safeguarding our seas from the soaring stresses that humankind is unleashing.

But we have some serious problems in reaching that 30% target. Firstly, these conservation zones are typically funded by donors or governments in short-term project cycles, with no real hope of attaining financial sustainability for the protected area. Compounding this is the issue of scale: despite tireless efforts and commitment from thousands of conservationists and marine park managers working for this cause from the Arctic to the Southern Ocean, at best we’re fully protecting barely 1% of our seas. Worse still, the funding available for conservation isn’t growing in any significant way

To read the full interview, visit the TED Blog >>>

Design for dying: Alison Killing on the architecture of death


Alison Killing thinks a lot about death … and specifically, how its ubiquitous, hidden presence shapes our cities. In Death in Venice, her June 2014 exhibition on the topic, Killing mapped London’s death-associated architectural features — hospitals, cemeteries, crematoria, and so on — making visible the invisible mechanics of death and dying. She asks us to consider: What might a good death experience mean today? And how can we design differently for the dying, as well as those caring for them?

Here, the Netherlands-based British architect and urban designer, who specializes in humanitarian architecture, talks about how the project has challenged her own perception of death, and how she plans to make space for better dying.

First of all, it’s hard to miss the connection between your work and your name. Is it just a coincidence?

Yes, it’s my real name. My firm is called Killing Architects — I like to say that I started Killing Architects four years ago. [laughs]

How did you become involved in the architecture of death? Was it a long-term interest?

It began rather suddenly and recently with a call for proposals to the 2014 Venice Biennale. The theme was “fundamentals.” Most countries in the world stage their own exhibition in a national pavilion. For 2014, nations were asked to look at modernism in their own country between 1914 and 2014.

Two days before the deadline, a friend emailed me with an idea for the British Pavilion’s call for entries:  “Let’s do an exhibition about death.” He and a partner had already completed a thesis project on this topic, and I pulled in a couple more friends to build a solid team with a curatorial and research base. We didn’t get accepted, but at the end of a quite rushed process, we had a proposal that was well worked out, and an idea that we liked. So we applied for funding on our own, and produced it in Venice as an independent event, coinciding with the opening week of the Biennale.

We had about 500 people come and see the actual exhibition, a few really nice reviews and quite a lot of press attention for the project, too. Part of the funding for the exhibition came from a Kickstarter campaign, and through that we had a lot of social media buzz. We could only stay open a week, but we heard of a lot of people going to Venice for the Biennale later on and looking for Death in Venice.

A close-up of one of the infographics in Death in Venice, showing changing life expectancy over the course of the 20th century. Early in the century, many children died before their 5th birthday, and the average life expectancy at the time was around 48. Today we can expect to live to almost 80. Photo: Alison Killing

What was your focus for the exhibition?

When death has been studied before, it’s usually been from a memorial standpoint — about monuments and tombstones and so on — straightforward architecture. We had a lot of background research on this aspect, but we decided to think about how, while death is something that we don’t talk about much publicly, or even think about on a day-to-day level, it’s pervasive in our lives. Hospitals, hospices, crematoria and cemeteries surround us, yet we are not aware.

The architectural history of the 20th century is often presented in terms of advances in science and technology leading to light, airy, green, healthy cities for the masses. It was a reaction to the filthy industrial slums of the previous century. The narrative is about life and increased health and progress — but death is never mentioned in this story, even though these developments have also massively changed the way we approach it.

At the start of the 20th century, people typically died at home and of infectious diseases after a short period of illness (and a huge proportion died of “other causes” that couldn’t be adequately explained at the time). Developments in medicine — like the discovery of penicillin — and in public health led to a decline in deaths from infectious disease. At the same time, the invention of heavy and expensive medical equipment, like X-ray machines, needed to be kept somewhere central, which gave us the modern hospital. Universal health care meant more people got access to proper medical treatment, which in turn created a need for more of these buildings.

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