I've explored the intersection of technology, entertainment and artistic design in Orlando Weekly's pages for a decade, but TED conferences have been doing just that since 1984. If you've ever listened to an inspiring TED Talk, you've probably wished you could attend one in person, but August's TEDGlobal meeting in Tanzania costs $6,000 a seat.
The next best thing is TEDx, independently organized and freely licensed events inspired by the TED model that are held around the world. Last weekend, TEDxOrlando was revived at the Dr. Phillips Center's Pugh Theater after a yearlong hiatus, organized this time by Alex Rudloff, Ron Ben-Zeev and Melissa Koch with the support of UCF Downtown and more than 100 volunteers.
The four-hour event featured over a dozen diverse presentations on the themes "Growth, Identity and Conflict," ranging from Orange County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Joshua Stephany (who led the autopsies of the Pulse victims) and bionic limb builder Dr. Albert Manero (of Iron Man viral video fame) to young slam poet champs Leo Mokobe and Otter Jung-Allen. Most of the speeches tackled weighty, even existential, issues, and though the suggested solutions were sometimes as shallow as "we must all work together," I came away with several insights worth sharing; if any of these spark your interest, you can relive the entire event on the TEDxOrlando Facebook page.
Shelley Lauten (CEO, Central Florida Commission on Homelessness)
Families with children make up the largest population of homeless Central Floridians, one out of 17 kids in our community are at risk of being homeless this year, and 1.8 million area residents – a full 4 percent of the population – are considered "working poor." The gap between the average income and the cost of living in our supposedly thriving tourism-driven economy is almost $5 per hour. Using a "housing first" model, the Commission has placed 800 people into permanent homes over the last 18 months at a cost of $10,000 per person, a substantial savings over the $31,000 annual cost for traditional treatment programs, but there are still scores more to go before they achieve their goal of eradicating homelessness.
Dr. Graham Worthy (UCF Biology Department Chair)
Florida's population has doubled since 1980; 1,000 people move here every day, resulting in 16 million people living in coastal counties at sea level. South Florida's 2016 toxic algae bloom (actually a cyanobacteria) had devastating economic and health impacts, which we can expect to see again in the future, along with regular flooding during normal high tide as sea levels rise. Technology alone cannot fix the problem, and the researchers who should be working together on solutions are isolated into "academic silos" without a common language to enable interdisciplinary collaboration.
Kay Rawlins (co-founder, Orlando City Soccer)
Despite being warned that professional soccer couldn't succeed here, Orlando City tapped into the millennial market and accumulated more than 1.5 million social media followers. When county commissioners were debating whether to fund downtown's new stadium (it was ultimately built with private money), Orlando City activated that fanbase, inspiring over 200 supporters to testify during the five-hour meeting. Orlando City also rallied their followers in support of the LGBTQ community after Pulse, winning the club the Stuart Scott ENSPIRE Award. One wonders what other causes the purple army might be mobilized for.
Adam Hoffman (principal consultant, Hello Nimble)
Florida's Space Coast is the nation's fifth largest high tech center, with 15.5 percent of the region's population employed in high-tech industries. But despite being the home of rockets and smartphones, some companies on the Space Coast suffer a 70 percent attrition rate within the first three years of employment, resulting in tens of millions of dollars wasted on recruiting and training. Many newcomers – especially immigrants – leave because they find it hard to "plug in" to the local culture.
Chandra Arthur (founder, Friendish)
Black women are now the most educated demographic in America and are the fastest-growing segment of new business owners, increasing by 265 percent between 1997 and 2014. Unfortunately, women CEOs receive only 2.7 percent of the venture capital flowing into the tech industry, and women of color CEOs get only 0.2 percent (otherwise known as "none"). Minority entrepreneurs are at an inherent disadvantage because they must devote crucial time to learning code-switching and cultural compatibility survival skills in order to be non-threatening to whites, instead of simply focusing on their business success.
Bruce Duncan (managing director, Terasem Movement Foundation)
Melbourne Beach resident Bina Rothblatt volunteered her face and personality to become the basis of BINA48, a robotic bust that uses voice recognition and speech synthesis to hold natural language conversations. BINA48 supposedly can converse on a range of subjects, and could someday be driven by a digital consciousness, or "mindfile," compiled from its template's social media posts. For now, BINA48 is the uncanny valley intersection of Apple's Siri and Disney's Hall of Presidents, and more prone to spouting philosophical non sequiturs than anything intelligent (artificial or otherwise), but she could be an evolutionary step toward a dystopia of cyber-sapiens. I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords!