Saturday, March 1, 2008

TED... "What's Out There?"

Ok. The rest of DAY THREE I just wanted to listen and take notes, so these are just my brief thoughts on what happened yesterday during the "What's Out There?" session.

The most interesting presentations for me were Paul Stamets, a mycologist, and Joshua Klein, a biological and computer hacker.

Paul Stamets work with mushrooms was fascinating. The mycelium in mushrooms contained various solutions for pest control, health issues and our environment. Paul showed an experiment where mushrooms cleaned up a petroleum pool in soil. He explained how he created a new pesticide for termites and ants using mushrooms. Many pesticides ants and termites learn to avoid, but a mycelium-based pesticide he create actually attracted ants where they took it back to their nest. Then it killed the queen and the whole colony. He patented this and I believe licensed it to some pesticide companies. Very cool.

Joshua Klein's work was creepy and interesting. Creepy for me because I have witnessed the intelligence of crows first-hand while growing up (attacked and chased), and having watched Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds too many times:)

He explained how crow are found everywhere on the planet except for the Poles and deserts. Joshua explained how crows' brains are proportional in the same way that chimpanzee's brains are, and how intelligent they are. He showed a video of a young crow trying to get a piece of meat out of a tube. His beak isn't long enough, so the crow takes a metal wire and bends it into a hook. Yes, a hook. Then the crow proceeds to hook the meat and pull it up out of the tube. Joshua emphasized that this crow didn't learn this behavior from another crow. It simply figured out this out. Scary smart for a bird.

The second video showed crows in Japan discovering how to crack nuts. They drop the nuts on not just the road but a crosswalk area, waited until a car drives over it, and then waited until the light is red for it to walk along the crosswalk to get the nuts. Scary smart. What is more interesting is that they started to teach each other this behavior, so it spread it other part of this Japanese city.

Based on all of this, Joshua built a machine that trained crows how to pick up change and deposit it in return for peanuts. This was driven by his desire to find a good use for these intelligent birds instead of looking to exterminate them.

"TED2008: What's Out There?" TEDBlog

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