Tag Archive | "TED"

2015 Speaker Spotlight: Brian Magerko

Brian Magerko

“Without creativity we wouldn’t have anything. It’s what moves us forward as a species and makes us a better one,” says Brian Magerko.

As an associate professor of digital media and head of the Adaptive Digital Media (ADAM) Lab at Georgia Institute of Technology, Magerko works with his students in the inter-disciplines of human creativity, cognition and computing.

“We are treating creativity as a formal process – trying to de-mystify it, de-magic it – and understanding how this formal process helps design technologies that can support creativity or even make something creative themselves through artificial intelligence,” the Michigan native explains.

According to Magerko, human creativity is simply somebody creating something new that has some kind of personal or societal value. And the one characteristic all creative people share is that they’re very knowledgeable and really informed about their fields. Expertise is the most important thing.

Even as STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) studies become more popular, it’s actually STEAM (STEM + Art & Design) studies that Magerko says will really educate successful, prosperous students who can transform our economy in the 21st century.

“By integrating science and technology with the arts we can learn more about the world than without that integration. Putting them together in a meaningful manner opens up an array of studies for students, particularly for engaging the underrepresented ones who view STEM topics as being uncool or daunting.”

Though Magerko was always interested in computers, it wasn’t his first love. Music and improvisation were. He played trombone in his high school marching band, and at Carnegie Mellon University he DJ’d at the school’s radio station and acted in a local improv group.

And he never forgot his love of music and the aesthetics even while he was taking computing and psychology classes. It all came together his senior year at college when he studied with Herbert Simon, a pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence.

“I got this idea that I would do a cognitive study on jazz improvisation. Simultaneously, I took a mobile robot planning class, where I focused on building an improve robot comedy troop. Both projects worked in parallel to give me a formal understanding of creativity from a cognition point of view and a computing point of view.”

Today, Magerko is exactly where he wants to be: at the crossroads of learning, computing and aesthetics. His creation (in collaboration with Georgia Tech colleague Jason Freeman) of EarSketch, an integrated approach to teaching computer science through computational music remixing, is used by thousands of high school students annually in the U.S.

And he’s still occasionally performing, most recently with The Imperial Opa Circus house band as the resident accordionist and trombonist.

But if he decides one day to chuck academics, he’d love to be a Disney Imagineer. “It’s an interesting combination of technology, arts and entertainment. What a supercool and fun job that would be.”


Rosemary Taylor, writer and digital content strategist at rosemary@prfocus.net

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2015 Speaker Spotlight: Richard Wright

All of us have the capacity to commit a crime,” says Richard Wright, criminologist and TEDxPeachtree 2015 presenter.

“Imagine restraint as a cup. When overwhelming pressures and needs intersect with opportunity the cup overflows. The size of your cup, what fills it and what you carry around in your brain everyday determines your actions.”

This belief has propelled Wright to study urban street crime in the U.S. and England for the last 25 years. As a sociologist, he finds understanding the minds of burglars, armed robbers and drug dealers a continuously fascinating subject.

“How do criminals move from a non-motivated state to a motivated one? Why does a person walk past a jewelry store ten times and then one day all of a sudden breaks the window and steals a bracelet? I want to know why.”

A California native, Wright’s interest in crime began as a sophomore studying history at the University of California at Irvine. As serendipity would have it, one day he strikes up a conversation with a professor while they were both standing in line to handle paperwork. That professor turned out to be renowned criminologist Gilbert Geis. Wright thought he was so interesting he decided to take one of his classes. Before he knew it he was changing majors, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Richard Wright

He pursued graduate studies at Cambridge University, which ultimately led to his current position as Professor and Chair of the Criminal Justice and Criminology Department in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University.

All the while, Wright continued his research into the behaviors of street criminals, doing hundreds of interviews and visiting scenes of crimes with the perpetrators. For ethical reasons he’s never witnessed crimes actually being committed, but he’s often infiltrated crime rings in his pursuit of understanding why they do what they do.

“If you want to study the hunting strategies of lions you don’t go to a zoo. People are animals like any other animals and you want to study them in their natural setting. I’m interested in how people think and act in real life circumstances.”

Crime is obviously an interesting topic for the rest of us, as well. Just turn on your TV. Of all of the crime shows, however, only two British productions make Wright’s favorites list: “Prime Suspect” and “Criminal Justice.”

Asked what he would do if he wasn’t a criminologist, Wright says he’d be a hairdresser. “Hair salons are fascinating places. People say things they wouldn’t anyplace else. They reveal themselves, what they aspire and what kind of person they want to be.”

What better place for someone fascinated with people’s behavior?


Rosemary Taylor is a freelance writer and content strategist at PR Focus.





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Stress Is Your Friend

I recently watched a brilliant TED talk by Kelly McGonigal, a popular health psychologist. What I learned has largely changed the way I think, not only about stress, but also about my everyday worries and habits.

One of Kelly’s points is related to a recent stress study conducted by the University of Wisconsin that tracked 30,000 adults in the US over a period of 8 years. Researchers asked how much stress people perceived in their lives, and whether or not they thought that experiencing stress was harmful for their health.

“Here’s the bad news”, McGonigal says “people who experienced a lot of stress had a 43% increased risk of dying…but that was only true for the people who also believed that stress was harmful to their health. People who experienced stress, but did not believe that it was bad for their health, did not have any increased risk of death. In fact, their risk of death was lower than those who had little to no stress in their lives.”

The rest of the talk was also brilliant, and you should certainly take 15 minutes today to watch it. This particular point, though, is the one that stuck with me.

What we believe dictates what our body does.

What we believe impacts our daily thoughts and actions in a very practical way.

What we believe can be the difference between life and death.

This makes me rethink the actions, thoughts, and beliefs that I carry around every day. What do my daily reactions to stress and circumstance tell me about what I believe?

Watch the full talk below:

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TED Gets Personal

About a month ago, my boyfriend suffered a stroke. Strokes are normally caused by either clotting or hemorrhaging, but in his case, he had both. This complicated the decisions the doctors needed to make about how to help him, but in the end they removed the clot, and then removed more clots and even put in a stent, all the while monitoring the hemorrhage to make sure the blood thinners they gave him didn’t make it worse. And that was all on the first day.

All told, Lawrence spent over two weeks in the hospital including about a week in the ICU. He’s since been moved to a rehab center for about three weeks. He’s there now, as I write this.

In the days after he had his stroke, I recalled Jill Bolte Taylor’s powerful TED talk and rewatched it. She is a neuroscientist who viewed her own massive stroke as an opportunity to do research. I remembered that from when it was screened at a TEDxPeachtree a number of years ago. But what I had forgotten was that it took her eight years to recover. Eight.

Lawrence’s was called a moderate stroke. His damage was all on the right side of the brain, affecting the left side of his body to varying degrees. It also led to different cognitive issues than he would’ve experienced had the damage been on the left side of his brain. Lawrence’s speech was initially difficult to understand and he was very sleepy, but neither impacted his ability to connect meaning and language. In fact, when I pulled out a pad and pen and asked him – while still in the ICU – if he thought he could write, he did — “I haven’t had any problems organizing thoughts or writing messages.”

But at the same time, as I’ve alluded to in the daily blog I’ve been keeping on his progress, he’s had moments of confusion. Truth is, he is sometimes convinced he is at home, and when I show him he is not, he understands logically, but…

I wanted to find other TED or TEDx talks that could help explain. And what I found was interesting. But it also pointed out how much more there is to learn.

In Vilayanur Ramachandran’s talk on three clues on understanding your brain he gives examples of what we’ve learned from specific kinds of damage. What he found out about phantom limbs (that they’re actually learned paralysis following the period of time of non-movement before the limb is removed) and that visual input has a critical role, actually has an application for stroke, and I’m wondering how I can apply his findings to my boyfriend’s as yet unresponsive left arm, that magically moves whenever he yawns.

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In Iain McGilchrist’s presentation on the divided brain, (above) he dispels the myth of reason vs emotion residing in different halves of the brain, but makes the point that the left brain is more connected to the concrete and specific and the right to relationships and how we fit into the world. I am not clear on how what is happening to Lawrence works with this, but found it fascinating nonetheless.

I understand that the moments Lawrence is experiencing should go away within a few months as the brain “rewires” itself, but I had no idea how amazingly adaptable the brain is. Michael Merzenich’s talk on the growing evidence of brain plasticity spends most of the time explaining how the brain adapts for each of the specific skills we gain and how that makes us unique, but also shows how damage and natural age-related deterioration can be staved off by exercising our brain more. Hmmm…that got me thinking…just how much we could all gain by watching more TED talks and by attending this year’s TEDxPeachtree.


Wendy Kalman attended the 2009 TEDxPeachtree event and became hooked, volunteering each year ever since. By day, she works as a Proposal Manager, and by night, her alter ego as involved parent, engaged volunteer, music lover, and Facebook addict emerges.

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