TEDGlobal 2007: Session 4: Kwabena Boahen

Session 4 is entitled: Emergent Design

Kwabena Boahen PhDKwabena Boahen, PhD, is a Ghanian bioengineer working at Stanford University. He received his first computer while growing up in Accra, Ghana. He starts out his presentation with a famous quote by Alan Turing, the father of modern computing, “In 30 years, it would be as easy to ask a computer a question as to ask a person.” But the question remains why can’t the computers we use not challenge the brain. This is the focus of his ongoing research.

The fastest computer in the world is currently IBM Blue Gene. It holds the #1 and #3 positions in the top 10 list in the world. This machine has 120, 000 processors and has a peak speed of 360 Teraflops. It’s power consumption is that of approximately 1,200 households, while the brain only uses about 10 watts – this is similar to how much electricity your laptop uses. This is 100 times less energy consumption! He then referred to the PBS documentary, The Secret Life of the Brain.

The problem is seem is in the design. The brain is designed as a network. So there is always a form of redundancy that takes place. And currently the way that processing takes place inside the CPU of a computer it operates in serial mode i.e. one instruction processed at a time; and so even if multiple processors are used it takes longer. He quoted musician Brian Eno as saying there is not enough Africa in Computers.

This presentation was followed by a 3 minute talk by Marisa Fick-Jordaan talking about her project at ZenZulu. She spoke about how she has been working with groups of weavers to help them increase their output. The products they produced are now available in Donna Karan shops. Here’s a short video podcast I did with Marisa during lunch time:


Author: RJ Thomas

RJ Thomas is an International Relationship Builder. He was born in South Africa, and moved to China in 2013.