A Philly spin on the TED conference

Sam Cusumano's performance has appeal for some who stopped by the Kimmel Center lobby to hear him during the TEDx conference. He said he was generating music and other sounds through the radio fields of apples and other items.
Sam Cusumano's performance has appeal for some who stopped by the Kimmel Center lobby to hear him during the TEDx conference. He said he was generating music and other sounds through the radio fields of apples and other items.
Posted: November 19, 2010

From the beginning of civilization to 2003, the world has created five exabytes of data.

While this factoid was met with several "oohs" and "ahs" at the TEDx conference in Center City on Thursday, most people in the audience seemed a bit perplexed.

When he talks to people about exabytes, presenter and founder of RJ Metrics Robert J. Moore told the audience, many respond with "What the hell is that?"

An exabyte of data, Moore explained, is what we'd have if we cut down all of the trees in the Amazon rain forest, turned them into paper, and wrote information on all of the pages we had produced - and then multiplied those pages by 1,000.

Although it took people thousands of years to create what amounts to five exabytes of information, humans now produce that quantity of data every two days. RJ Metrics helps companies figure out what data truly have value amid the staggering onslaught of information that meets them every day.

The purpose of TEDxPhilly was to bring together thinkers and innovators such as Moore to share their ideas in 18-minute presentations. Thursday's event was a local version of the exclusive TED conference, which has drawn big names such as Microsoft's Bill Gates and Google's Larry Page and costs thousands of dollars to attend - if you're lucky enough to get a ticket.

TED - which stands for technology, entertainment and design - began approving TEDx events after videos of TED conference speakers drew millions of viewers to the organization's website. Less than two years after its first event, TEDx has reached every continent. Monday's conference in Berlin was the 1,000th TEDx, according to the TED blog.

While tickets were still hard to come by, TEDxPhilly brought the city's flair to the conference. Musicians showcased avant-garde instruments during intermissions and food trucks lined up on the street.

The presenters came from a variety of backgrounds, but were all rooted in Philadelphia. Victory Brewery Co. co-owner Bill Covaleski spoke about the city's return to homegrown food and drink after decades of relying on processed foods, which he described as a "fake food fad." Simon Hauger challenged traditional education, using his after-school program at West Philadelphia High School as a model. He and a group of West students design energy-efficient cars that have beaten MIT and Cornell in national competitions, even garnering the attention of President Obama.

Other presenters took their experience in the city and applied it to national issues. Evan Malone, who opened NextFab Studio in West Philadelphia to provide high-tech equipment to locals who would not otherwise have access, spoke about how immigration laws prevent talent from reaching the United States.

The crowd at the Kimmel Center was a mix of passionate locals, from poets and artists to entrepreneurs and analysts. Between presentations, the lobby buzzed with conversation, as attendees had been instructed to meet five new people during the breaks.

Jeff and Ellie Gibbard, a husband and wife who were among those enthusiastically greeting other attendees, said they were drawn to the culture of TED, especially in their home city. "For me, the Philly-centric aspect was interesting," said Ellie Gibbard, a lawyer and business consultant. She said the conference was proof that "this community is alive and well and growing."

Staying true to TED's emphasis on innovation, the Philadelphia conference began with social media. Organizer Roz Duffy said the idea quickly generated interest and volunteers on Twitter.

"There have always been incredibly creative people in Philadelphia, but they didn't have a chance to meet," said Chris Bartlett, who began planning the event with Duffy. Bartlett, an LGBT activist and director of William Way Community Center, served as the event's host.


Contact staff writer Liz Gormisky

at 215-854-2917 or egormisky@phillynews.com.

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