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Risk is the currency of innovation

Almost 1,000 people turned out this weekend for the latest TEDx Bermuda conference dedicated to innovative thinking.

A record turnout of 920, including 137 students, heard speakers ranging from Japan's last ninja to the world's fastest electric pilot.

“Whatever you were doing this morning, I hope you were clearing your minds,” organiser John Narraway told the conference at the Fairmont Southampton hotel.

Mr Narraway, who helped narrow this year's speakers down from a pool of 60 to the top ten, took to the stage as the smoke cleared from the first presentation — Jinichi Kawakami's lecture on the roots of ninjutsu.

The man billed as Japan's last ninja had just demonstrated the use of the smoke bomb as cover, and how to use a cloak to disguise himself as a stone.

Asked why he hadn't assigned himself a successor, Mr Kawakami replied: “Ninjutsu is a classical military technique; ninjutsu has no place in this modern society.”

Sparking conversation is the TEDx mission, and Saturday's speakers didn't disappoint.

The conference heard of the budding new field of synthetic biology from guest Natalie Kuldell. There was also a second visit from Professor Robert Lustig, who travels the world warning of the chronic disease caused by the sugar overdose fed into Western processed food.

Dr Lustig was a guest speaker for a lecture organised by the Bermuda Diabetic Association earlier in the year, and his current visit will include meetings today with local health authorities.

In a TEDx first, the audience got to view themselves on a screen through the Google glasses of surgeon Rafael Grossman, who cut his teeth as a medical student at a remote clinic deep in the Amazon jungle.

Lecturing on the “telemedicine” permitted by new smartphones and devices like the glasses, Dr Grossman marvelled: “A device that was for play, we can now use to save lives.”

Now based out of Bangor, Maine, Dr Grossman is part of a network of physicians using consumer electronics to collaborate across an area more than 1,000 times the size of Bermuda.

Devices like Google glasses, which Dr Grossman wears while he makes his rounds, allow him to look his patients in the eye while calling up their medical records.

“People talk about the glasses depersonalising medicine,” he said. “But I think just the opposite.”

Introducing “sea farmer” Bren Smith, Mr Narraway noted the techniques of vertical farming could have profound implications for the Island's ongoing dialogue over how best to use the swathe of ocean covered by Bermuda's exclusive economic zone.

Mr Smith called his own journey “a story of ecological redemption”.

Disillusioned with industrial fishing, which he said had pillaged and devastated the oceans, the former oysterman switched to “the least deadliest catch”, a vertical farm in the waters of Long Island Sound, which extends from the seabed to surface buoys.

Three-dimensional sea farming maximises diversity without stripping the environment of resources.

It's also vastly more efficient than industrial fishing or aquaculture.

“A network of sea farms the size of Washington State could, technically, feed the world,” Mr Smith said.

Seaweed is also a biofuel. A kelp farm half the size of Maine could replace 50 percent of the oil consumed by the US.

“Here in Bermuda you've got shellfish, seaweeds, that you can grow in this,” Mr Smith told the audience.

While a MakerBot Replicator machine in the lobby demonstrated 3-D printing, the conference saw teaching through break-dancing demonstrated by the group Hip Hop Fundamentals. Meanwhile, Bermuda's Ombudsman Arlene Brock, lectured on the art of sifting through the complex facts of a dispute.

Declaring herself “stunned” at the extent to which opinion and personal whim could influence crucial decisions, Ms Brock said she'd learned “how critically important it is to see through our own eyes — not the eyes of others — and get the facts”.

Animator and artist Andrew Park lectured along to one of his own animated displays on learning, and filmmaker Jeremy Gilley related his 14-year personal journey in getting September 21 established as a global day of peace.

Pilot Chip Yates closed the 2013 TEDx on a high note. The man behind the world's fastest electric motorbike and plane informed his audience: “The last two world records I set with an aeroplane were last week. The three before that were last month. The one before that was last year.”

Mr Yates accomplished such feats having only received his pilot's licence last year.

He had to take a break from his test flights to share his experiences at TEDx Bermuda.

“Risk is the currency of innovation,” Mr Yates said, after recounting an early electric motorcycle crash that shattered his pelvis.

“The risks we're taking here, we believe are necessary for taking technology forward.”

Photo by Antoine Hunt High note: Pilot Chip Yates, the man behind the world's fastest electric motorbike, addresses the audience this weekend at the TEDx event at the Fairmont Southampton.

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Published October 21, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated October 20, 2013 at 9:43 pm)

Risk is the currency of innovation

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