TEDxCMU showcases talent of Carnegie Mellon professors and performers

Credit: Anisha Padwekar/ Credit: Anisha Padwekar/ Credit: Anisha Padwekar/ Credit: Anisha Padwekar/ Credit: Anisha Padwekar/ Credit: Anisha Padwekar/

Organized and led by 16 Carnegie Mellon students, the second annual TEDxCMU: Pivot was held on April 1. The team of students brought nine speakers and two performance groups to the six-hour event, including professors, students at Carnegie Mellon, and guest speakers recommended by sponsors.

Carnegie Mellon president Subra Suresh opened the event with a speech about the modern Fourth Industrial Revolution. He noted that technological innovations such as the internet, data science, artificial intelligence, and automated systems have revolutionized human life in the past decades. He also urged the audience to look at the humanities aspect of technology. After illustrating the importance of studying the ethics of science and technologies from a historical perspective, he noted that the advancement of technology must be made in the context of human beings in order to benefit human life.

Other guests included Michael Senatore, who discussed the meaning of “going viral.” Senatore became an internet sensation in his senior year of high school because of a video of him flipping a water bottle at his high school talent show, which received over 70 million views on YouTube. He claimed that the viral effect on the internet has allowed “unqualified people to do amazing things.”
Molly Steenson, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Design, talked about design and how visualization could bring inspirations to the research and development of artificial intelligence.

Steven Chase, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon and a faculty expert at BrainHub, showed his research in developing a brain-computer interface, and demonstrated how measuring and simulating human neural activities could benefit disabled or paralyzed patients. He also discussed the challenges of building such an interface from the historical perspective and the development of artificial intelligence over the past 60 years.

Amy Blankson, a co-founder of Goodthink and an expert of positive psychology, broadly discussed the upsides and downsides of innovations in mobile technologies.

Rebecca Nugent, a teaching professor at Carnegie Mellon’s department of statistics, raised the underestimated issue of being “innumerate” and discussed how the concept is perceived in western culture. She noted that, while illiteracy is often regarded as the more obvious problem to solve, people’s attitude towards the subject of mathematics, statistics, and data science are often steered by the Western culture that labels mathematics as a “cold, hard, masculine,” and intimidating subjects.

Charlie White, the head of Carnegie Mellon’s School of Art, traced the history of photography to the early 20th century, and noted various trends within the photographs that reflected the societal changes over the century.

Dr. Jeff Schneider, the current engineering head of machine learning at Uber Advanced Technologies Group and a former research professor at Carnegie Mellon University, discussed the history and technology behind driverless vehicles. Not only did he outline the technology and challenges of artificial intelligence involved in this project, he also showed the benefits of driverless cars. He claimed that driverless technology can decrease automobile-related accidents, fully utilize cars, save parking spaces, and decrease the amount of time people “waste” nowadays on commuting.

Eric Cyphers, a renowned cellist and sophomore student studying neuroscience at Carnegie Mellon, was the only student selected to speak at TEDxCMU this year. Cyphers shared his experience of combining his academic interest in neuroscience and music. Prior to coming to Carnegie Mellon, Cyphers studied at Curtis Institute of Music and toured extensively around North America and Europe, working with musicians such as Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, and Lang Lang. His interdisciplinary interest in music and science had enriched his life and creativity. Two student groups also performed at TEDxCMU including the Exploded Ensemble, an electro-acoustic ensemble at Carnegie Mellon, and the K-Pop Dance Group.

“I consider this event as a huge success,” noted Yash Maheshwari, co-founder of TEDxCMU and a junior majoring in statistics and machine learning.
Around 400 students and guests attended the event, quadrupling the number of attendees from last year.

The team of 16 Carnegie Mellon students have been preparing for this event since October, and was entirely supported by sponsors without drawing funds from Joint Funding Committee at Carnegie Mellon. Due to successful marketing and the improved quality of speakers, all 450 tickets were sold out one week before the event.

This year’s theme, Pivot, was chosen to represent the idea that TEDxCMU is building upon the foundation of last year’s event. In response to a question about the future of TEDxCMU, Maheshwari said that it “should be an event that people on campus are looking forward to, like Tartan Hacks and Carnival.”