A Cut Above the Rest – TEDx ManipalUniversity 2018

Utsav Dash | Staff Blogger

The second edition of the annually held TEDx ManipalUniversity was held on the 18th of February 2018 from 8:30 AM. The event boasted 10 speakers of various backgrounds to speak at the event under the theme ‘Transcendence’. One of the speakers, Mrs. Laxmi Narayan Tripathi withdrew because of her mother’s health issues.

100 attendees, including myself, gathered at the MCPH Hall at 8:30am and the program began at 9:00am. The program itself was divided into three parts, each containing three talks.  Each part was begun by showing a clipping of an old TED talk which would act as a precursor for the three talks in each part.

Segment I

The first part began with a clipping of a 2014 TED talk by Sam Berns, who suffered from Progeria, a rare disease affecting only 350 people in the world today. Sam Berns spoke about how to live life to a happy life by focusing on what we can do instead of what we cannot.

The first speaker was Siddharth Chakravarty, a person who has been on the frontline of efforts to promote marine conservation. His talk began by the declaration that a world controlled by fishermen would holistically take care of both the humans and the environment. He spoke about over-fishing, over-exploitation of marine resources, tragedy of the commons and how overpopulation affects fishing patterns and asked us where we fell in the picture. He revealed the capitalism behind the fishing industry in which a small oligopoly of 13 companies control almost the entire seafood supply of the world to a point where they are keystones. Siddharth said that apart from overpopulation social and governmental stigmas of caste, race, gender, etc. drive overfishing and it is in the spectrum of these stigmas that we find ourselves in the picture of overexploitation if marine resources. He ended with an appeal to put an end to this capitalism which is posing a major threat to our environment and in the long run us.

The second speaker was Anand Sudarshan who spoke about designing the future. Anand spoke about the continuous change taking place in the world and how the velocity of change in continuously increasing describing how technologies which he couldn’t have envisioned in the past have become commonplace in today’s world. The focus of his talk was on our role in designing the future by employing a practice of ‘myfuturescape,’ a term of his coinage which is a set of guidelines to design our future. He encouraged us to think about possibilities rather than probabilities in our design because the computers of today can calculate the probabilities for us.

The third speaker was Vinayak Jain. Vinayak was hilarious in his approach and managed to engage the crowd instantly by telling them that the best way to make money is to sue medical practitioners because as he described by giving many examples, it is very easy. While he had already won the heart of all the attendees by sharing his money making tactics, the real topic he covered was the role of humanities and other unscientific subject matter in medical education as it has proven to help in increasing the future doctor’s empathy towards the patients and their families.

After the first segment there was a 20-minute break for attendees to interact with speakers and the organizers. Light snacks were served and attendees were engaged in fun activities such as choosing their last words and planting new ideas.

Segment II

The second segment began with a TED talk clipping of Sarah Kay who spoke on spoken poetry and how it helped express herself and connect deeply with her audience. She spoke of how accessible spoken word poetry is and how everyone should find a way of expressing themselves.

The first speaker in the second segment of the program was Sasri Akondi who spoke on ‘jugaad,’ a concept familiar to us all but with a twist. She defined Jugaad aptly as a simple yet elegant solution and went on to speak about jugaad in sustainable development and how in order to innovate each of us has to redefine sustainability for our own purpose. Innovation with jugaad can be done by observing then simplifying then creating frugal organizations and finally failing forward that is to take a learning from all our failures.

The second speaker, Mr. Sammilan Shetty is a butterfly conservationist and naturally spoke on butterfly conservation. He talked about the importance of butterflies in our ecosystems, their complex evolution and their cultural impact. He described his own conservation efforts and ended his talk by showing a video of his butterfly park.

The third speaker of this segment was K.S. Jaivittal, the Estate Officer of MAHE, he delivered the inspiring life story of his daughter who suffers from Down syndrome and discovered a passion for swimming which has led to her winning many medals representing India around the world. His talk revolved around the education of special needs students as a lot of them are unable to get the help they require because of lack of proper schools with funding and infrastructure. He described his initiative in opening ASARE, a school for special needs children in Manipal which is allied with the university and the Archana trust. Jaivittal’s talk received a standing ovation from the crowd.

There was a 30-minute-long break after the second segment for the attendees to interact with the speakers and have some food. The organizers had arranged for sandwiches to be served to all attendees and a full meal package to be served to the speakers, the food was delicious.

Segment III

The third segment of the event began with a clipping of a TED talk on education by Sir Ken Robinson, an education advisor.  He described education to be a tool which enabled us to grasp the future but criticized the current education system for completely depleting students of all creativity by only focusing on development of the brain. He talked about how modern schooling took away the fearlessness of children by making them afraid of making mistakes. He then explained the formation of a hierarchy of subjects based on their utility in industry and appealed for some changes to be made.

The first speaker in this segment was Rueben John who spoke on artificial intelligence. The talk covered the extent to which artificial intelligence affects our life today, what is its future and study in the field of AI. Reuben took the example of artificial general intelligence, which is basically a replication of human intelligence in a machine and how humans have managed to simulate certain parts of the brain individually but simulating the complete brain remains a distant dream. He then spoke about his experience with project MANAS which people joined with only some interest and not much knowledge of AI and machine learning and how MANAS went on to successfully attain level two autonomy. He appealed to beginners to take up AI because an inexperienced brain is free of knowledge which can cause certain prejudices. Such a brain can think of various innovative ideas which help move the field forward.

The second speaker in this segment was Sandhya Chandrasekharayya. She described her successful foray into entrepreneurship describing how she ended up as co-founder of India’s largest trekking company. Sandhya revealed that an entrepreneur doesn’t have to start something new, (s)he can join someone else and help take that institution forward. She emphasized on the fact that the most important factors in entrepreneurship are starting with who you know and what you have, setting your own standards and making strong bonds with many stakeholders as trust is a powerful motivator.

The third speaker of this segment and the final speaker of the event was Hayat Amiree. Hayat grew up in impoverished in Afghanistan, his family had next to nothing and he struggled to get an education. He described the challenge of convincing his parents to let him go to abroad to study and compared their approval to the final scene of DDLJ and even made use of the dialogue “Ja Simran Ja! Jee le apni Zindagi!” Hayat emphasized that what allows him to progress in life is his motto of being nicer, kinder and a better version of himself every day Hayat’s story serves as a source of inspiration to anyone who here’s it.

The event wasn’t over yet; all attendees were called again for a special dinner with the speakers organized by The Think Tank. This gave attendees a chance to interact personally with the speakers in a more informal setting.

What I loved about the event was how the organizing committee ensured that we as attendees were engaged at every point of time, even the breaks with fun polls such as “Would you rather you when you die or how you die?” And other fun activities. They wanted the attendees to interact personally with the speakers so as to boost their own knowledge and gain insight into the speakers’ ideologies. This emphasis on attendee-speaker interaction has been absent in all other TEDx events that I have attended in the past and why TEDx Manipal University stands a cut above the numerous other TEDx events held in our country.