TED talk by Deb Roy: mind-blowing

Last week in Long Beach during the TED 2011 conference, I was blown away (multiple times) by incredible speakers and fellow attendees. There is so much interesting work going on right now, and it was nothing short of thrilling to get a glimpse into some of it. One of my favorite speakers was Deb Roy. He is an MIT researcher who spoke about his process of wiring his house with videocameras to catch every moment of his infant son’s life as a way to understand how he learned language. Deb then creating 4d mappings of these recordings as a way to make a powerful, yet incredibly simple, method for exposing patterns in learning language.

The TED conference tag line is “Ideas worth sharing”. Well, Deb’s idea is certainly worth sharing. Watch his 18 minute mind-blowing talk below:


4 Responses to “TED talk by Deb Roy: mind-blowing”

  1. waterrose says:

    I so love the ted talks. I’ve been listening and enjoying them for several years now. So much to learn.

  2. wayneconners says:

    Fascinating stuff. Thank you for sharing it.

  3. Steven Holmes says:

    Amazing post Michelle. I love watching the TED talks on my iPad via their app. Inspiring stuff.

    This really struck a chord with me for several reasons. One, I have a 5+ month old boy. I’m fascinated by his development and find Deb’s work with his son’s language development interesting.

    Secondly, I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about information in general. I’m interested in the thirst we currently have for data and how we value and capture it, including what we extract and then interpret. I’ve been thinking about this relative to the banking collapse, e.g., thinking of all the sophisticated data mining and modeling in use within financial services risk mgmt departments that presumably should have offered clear warning signs about the dangers of broad and deep high-risk mortgage lending…and if there were signs and they were simply ignored what use is information if it doesn’t inform better decision making? Obviously I’m making assumptions, but I see it in my wife’s work at a large tech company too. Does data analysis and the resulting conclusions yield true structural or behavioral change or does it just assuage our fears. At what point does the data have practical meaning?

    Deb says, “as our world becomes increasingly instrumented, and we have the capabilities to collect and connect the dots between what people are saying and the context they’re saying it in…what’s emerging is an ability to see new social structures and dynamics that previously have not been seen.” His microscope analogy seems appropriate, but I wonder at what point will all the resulting wisdom from this data collection and analysis give something of value. What constitutes value is debatable of course.

    Lastly, the fact that they knew the cameras where in-house has me wondering how that may have effected their behavior. As a photographer and videographer, I’ve encountered it numerous times. People, regardless of their best efforts, struggle with maintaining a sense of detachment from the camera recording process (photo or video). I would guess that Deb and his family were far more true in their actions than they might have otherwise been, just based on how many cameras were in operation and how long they conducted the study. But it does beg the question – did the cameras influence their behavior in any meaningful way?

    Sorry for the long response but this struck a chord with me.

    Thanks Michelle!

  4. Ruth DiPietro says:

    I am perplexed by all the accolades this speaker/project receives. Does anyone see this isn’t the birth of a word but rather the birth of Big Brother? Using his son as an emotional prop to hide behind the potential “usefulness” of tracking what you say in your own home, in your car, on your phone, on your blog, strikes me as phony. He reminds me of the hatchet man employed by a big corporate takeover to first announce he has a family and a golden retriever and then announce that everyone will lose their jobs. I lived this lay-off announcement scenario and Deb Roy’s presentation smacks of the same purpose. This project looked like the kind of thing sponsored by “homeland security” to probe our thinking or at the very least of the worst, corporate marketers.
    Secondly, Deb ignores the biological development of his son. In other words, the ability to say “water” has a lot to do with his physical capability to say the word. How is Deb’s talk scientific?
    I am stunned and chilled by everyone standing up and clapping for Big Brother. Organizing data rapidly sets the stage for good but more significantly for evil. He didn’t make a strong case for the good his data tool/recording can do. Instead of looking for the word “water”, innocently uttered by a cute child, is missing the point. Maybe another word… you fill the blank…will be used against you.

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