TEDYouth: Made In The Future


Despite the blistering rain and chilly air, a group of young individuals were gathered in a place that is simply referred to as “The Hive”. This was no beehive. Or a technologically advanced laboratory. No, This is TEDYouth.

An initiative of TED, TEDYouth is more or less a day-long event for high school students with live speakers, hands-on activities and a time to get to know one another. The event coincides with more than 100 self-organized TEDxYouthDay events happening worldwide over a 48-hour period.

Photo credits: Ushan Gunasekera

Hamza Alibhoy was up first to talk about TEDYouth. He talks about “Ideas worth spreading” which is the primary concept of this gathering. The theme for this year’s TEDYouth is “Made In the Future” and revolves around what the world would be like in the year 2035.

The event starts off with a live stream from TEDYouth US hosted by Kelly Stoetzel and Rives. They attempt to operate a “stress ball slingshot” with humorous results.Sarah Parcak is up on screen first. She is a space archeologist.

“I have the coolest job ever”.

Indeed, she does. She talks about her work which involves scanning high-resolution satellite imagery to identify archeological sites. Portus, Petra, these are just some of the places that she has worked on.

Then next speaker for the live stream was Raymond Wang. A 13-year-old who has developed an air filtration system to detect and clean the air supply in airplanes to fight the spread of diseases.

Dr. Avi Rubin was next talking about how math can save the day. In today’s day and age, with the access to information, the wrong people can gain access to your data. These people are called hackers. Using mathematical equations, your data can be encrypted so that only those who have access to the data can access it. Things get a bit technical with equations and formulas being thrown in, but in the end, it all makes sense.

The next speaker was Danit Peleg, a fashion designer who uses 3D printing technology to come up with new designs from materials she literally prints from home.

Caleb Harper is the next speaker in the live stream. He shows off a Food Computer. Yes, you read that right a food computer. According to Caleb, farming will a global initiative where you can just download a recipe for food data and you can start growing it. .

Rommel Arunngam working his magic. (Photo credits: Ushan Gunasekera)

After the break, it’s Rommel Arunngam. Rommel, casually dressed in a t-shirt and jeans takes his place at a table with a PC hooked up to a large screen. On the screen is a 2D caricature of himself. While speaking, Rommel is also drawing and adding to the image shadows and colors. His talk is interesting. Metaphysics, time, travel all of these are a part of his talk. Cool stuff indeed. HE also talks about design trends and branding. For example, if you are to make a brand, it has to have a certain time to it. You can’t just do something because it’s pretty. It has to stand the strains of time.

Throughout the entire talk, Rommel paints away, filling in the gaps of his caricature. Sadly, though, his drawing and talk, is cut short because of a power interruption. This also teaches you to constantly save your work.

The next session was an interesting one. On screen, a notepad file is open. The makings of a crowdsourced song are on the horizon. Line by line, the audience expresses what’s on their mind. From food, to coffee to the weather. Line by line the audience takes part in singing the song. It bears a resemblance to the Hogwarts theme song with different tunes and timings.

Photo credits: Sachintha Rajapaksha

The song then breaks into an actual tune sung by a member of the audience with the rest of the crowd joining via clapping.

Next up was Carla Diana. She talks about her experience with Georgia Tech where they were testing two robots to interact with humans as humanly possible despite that they are just machines.Jen Ziemke was the next speaker. Her concept is simple in theory. Converting data into actual objects.

Another interesting session ensues. This time, the audience is asked to dance for a full 60 seconds. We ourselves get our groove on and shake and rock to the beat. The next session was a breakout session with none other than Rohan Jayaweera. His topic: Entrepreneurship.

Rohan Jayaweera giving his presentation (Photo credits: Ushan Gunasekera)
Rohan Jayaweera giving his presentation (Photo credits: Ushan Gunasekera)

Success is never an easy road, Rohan explains. Being an entrepreneur is no walk in the park either. He draws from life experience when he was 19 and he moved out of his house. From there, he learned not to take things for granted and also to fend for himself. Rohan then gets down to the brunt of the matter and explains according to him, the stages for a company.

He then shared 3 lessons he learned as an entrepreneur:

  1. Love thyself
  2. Patience and persistence
  3. Love your people deeply

He also encourages the audience that it’s never too late to start and that if you think you’re gonna fail, fail fast. That way you can move on and begin your next project.

Lonali Rodrigo conducting her session at TEDYouth (Photo credits: Sachintha Rajapaksha)
Lonali Rodrigo conducting her session at TEDYouth (Photo credits: Sachintha Rajapaksha)

In parallel to Rohan’s session was a session by Lonali Rodrigo on producing products in an ethical manner. She explains that an ethical product is one that maximizes social impact and has a minimal impact on the environment. Lonali then focused on T-shirts and explained that an ethical product should be:

  1. Locally made
  2. Environmentally friendly
  3. Traded fairly
  4. Respects animal rights
  5. Manufactured in ethical conditions
  6. Recyclable
Tilak Dissanayake giving his presentation (Photo credits: Ushan Gunasekera)
Tilak Dissanayake giving his presentation (Photo credits: Ushan Gunasekera)

The second speakers of the breakout session were Tilak Dissanayake and Aaranya Rajasingham. Tilak’s presentation was titled taking initiative for change. He opened his presentation by telling the audience the two reasons as to why we strive for change: reducing pain and increasing joy. Tilak then explained 6 steps that can be used to solve many problems:

  1. The Gap = Desired State – Current State
  2. Determine the root cause(s) of the problem
  3. Develop alternate solutions
  4. Select a solution
  5. Implement the solution
  6. Evaluate if the solution closes the gap

Apply these 6 steps and you can solve a variety of problems. In parallel to Tilak’s session was another by Aaranya Rajasingham on critical thinking.

Critical thinking is about looking at information from all perspectives – Aaranya Rajasingham

Aaranya’s session was the most practical one out of all the sessions we saw with many activities. The aim of these many activities was to introduce critical thinking to everyone in the audience.  Were they effective? Absolutely.

Following the breakout sessions, we saw our friend from Coco Veranda, Ragulan Ketheeswaran taking the stage. He shared an inspiring story of his life journey with all of us. The moral of his story was that one should always do what they love in life irrespective of what society says.

When you do great things you redefine the status quo – Ragulan Ketheeswaran

Following Ragulan’s session, it was time for the most interesting and refreshing session of the day: the coffee workshop.

Coco Isuru & Arfath standing by (Photo credits: Ushan Gunasekera)

As artists from Coco Veranda: Isuru and Arfath took the stage, the entire audience moved up front. The workshop began with an introduction to the history of coffee and a live demo on operating Coco’s mega coffee machine. Afterward, everyone in the audience was invited to make their own cup of coffee.Once the coffee workshop came to an end, Safra Anver took the stage to deliver the vote of thanks.

Photo credits: Ushan Gunasekera
Photo credits: Ushan Gunasekera

With that, TED Youth, another successful event under the TEDx Colombo banner came to an end.



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