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Making fun of Ted talks

This never gets old . . .

Palko points to this news article by Ed Yong, which contains the quote, “Ten years ago today, at a TED conference, a neuroscientist claimed that he could simulate the human brain in ten years. And, er, that didn’t happen. Here’s a look at why, and whether the goal even makes any sense.”

But that’s not even the best quote from Yong’s piece, which is this:

In 2014, I [Yong] attended TED’s main Vancouver conference and watched the opening talk, from the MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte. In his closing words, he claimed that in 30 years, “we are going to ingest information. You’re going to swallow a pill and know English. You’re going to swallow a pill and know Shakespeare. And the way to do it is through the bloodstream. So once it’s in your bloodstream, it basically goes through it and gets into the brain, and when it knows that it’s in the brain, in the different pieces, it deposits it in the right places.”

I’ve written about the problems with the “push-a-button, take-a-pill model of science,” but . . . I’ve never seen it taken so literally!

As long as there are people out there making such claims, and other people applauding these claims, and yet other people paying the bills for all this, I’m glad that there are also people like Ed Yong who are willing to point out that the emperor has no clothes.

Mockery is our superpower.


  1. D Kane says:

    > Ed Yong who are willing to point out that the emperor has no clothes.

    Ed Yong is only willing to do that for emperors with whom he disagrees. (Which is a useful service!) Show him an emperor with ideological pleasing raiment, and Yong will be the first to praise his sartorial tastes. Yong continues to refuse to correct this nonsense.

  2. Witold says:

    While it does mention funding and governance structure, I feel the Ed Yong story barely scratches the surface. Here is another (2016, while Yong’s is from 2019) article on this:

    Two choice quotes:

    Despite skepticism in the neuroscience community, Markram won over the people who really mattered: funders at the European Commission, who seem to have looked less closely at the proposal’s scientific feasibility than at its potential economic and political payoff. “The project’s genesis was that politicians wanted to do something for European industry to catch up,” Ebell says. In 2009, driven by fear of falling further behind the U.S. in computers, digital services and other technologies, what is now the European Commission’s Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology began creating a competition for “flagship” projects funded with at least €1 billion each. As much industrial policy as science, these initiatives were to “enable Europe to take the lead” in future and emerging technologies, according to a 2009 European Commission paper. Markram’s brain on a supercomputer—and his promises of what it would achieve for neuroscience, medicine, robotics and computer technology—was a good fit for a bureaucracy that believed a 10-year, top-down plan for “disruptive” innovation was possible.


    Inexplicably, the European Commission failed to insist on the usual checks and balances in the management of the HBP as it was being set up in 2013. According to the mediation report, the project’s governance has been riddled with conflicts of interest. The report says that not only did Markram and two other scientists control the board of directors and thus the distribution of funds among the consortium of 112 institutions but that Markram’s and several other board members’ projects were the beneficiaries of their own funding decisions. “Furthermore,” the report states that Markram is “a member of all the advisory boards and reports to them at the same time.”

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