FORTUNE -- Conferences are like live theater. With the human element, nothing's perfect, not even at TED, the eclectic conference taking place this week in Vancouver, British Columbia. But then magic happens, which reminds you why live events of any kind are special, worth the effort of attending, and impossible to commoditize.
Such a magical moment happened Wednesday at TED during a presentation about bionics by MIT professor Hugh Herr. A double amputee, Herr gave a mesmerizing talk about the science that went into his computer-assisted prosthetics, including a demonstration of how he can jump up and down in them. Watching him amble around the stage like any wandering speaker was a sight to behold, and he explained how bionics have come so far that in the not-so-distant future patients with healthy limbs may want bionics to augment their performance. "Machines attached to our bodies will make us stronger and faster," Herr said. But the magical moment came as Herr explained how he met Adrianne Haslet-Davis, a dancer who lost a limb in the Boston Marathon terror-bombing. His team at MIT's Media Lab studied the movements of ballroom dancers in order to program a new limb for Haslet-Davis. Then he introduced her and a dance partner to a stunned audience, as they performed a short number. It may be a little cliché to say, but there wasn't a dry eye in the house.
Less emotional but perhaps more impactful was a presentation by Rob Knight, a "microbial ecologist," who explained how "gut microbes" from a healthy patient could be mingled with the microbes of patients with severe diarrhea, resulting in the good bugs winning out over the bad ones and curing the patient. Knight also explained how research shows that babies born in natural childbirth have "vaginal microbes" at birth, while C-section babies have "skin microbes." The latter cohort are more susceptible to chronic problems like asthma and obesity, while the former appear to be healthier. Microbial manipulation as a form of treatment remains experimental, but Knight believes actual medicines may be as little as five years away.
Newscaster and talk show host Charlie Rose interviewed Google CEO Larry Page Wednesday on the TED stage. Page didn't break any new ground, and his faint voice due to a persistent medical condition was jarring to hear. But what emerged from Page was a portrait of an in-control, confident, strategic and industry-leading executive. He talked about Google's plans to build a "worldwide mesh" of balloons to bring the Internet to tough-to-serve areas -- and no one thought he sounded crazy. He reflected on his obsession with improving transportation, including Google's quest for self-driving cars, saying it dates to his hatred for waiting in the cold for buses in the wintertime when he was a college student in Michigan. Most interestingly, Page referred to the mathematical concept of "additionality," by way of explaining Google's penchant for what it likes to call moon shots. "We look at things no one else is working on," he said. It's hard to argue with that -- or that this mentality is what accounts for Google's impressive successes.
There's so much more to report from TED, but I'll save these things for my next dispatch. At the very end of the day Wednesday, TED head Chris Anderson announced that Rick Ledgett, deputy director of the National Security Agency, had agreed to be interviewed by video in order to respond to Anderson's interview on Tuesday with fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden. It will be fascinating to learn if Ledgett is willing to be as demonstrative in defending the NSA against Snowden's accusations as Snowden was in attacking the NSA -- and defending himself. The session is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. PDT.
In an interview with Fortune, Yuanqing Yang says that his company seeks to replicate its ThinkPad success with Motorola.
FORTUNE -- Fresh from signing a $2.91 billion deal with Larry Page to acquire Google's Motorola unit, Lenovo CEO Yuanqing Yang spoke to Motorola employees for 45 minutes at the latter company's headquarters outside of Chicago on Thursday. Immediately after that meeting, Yang discussed the deal and Lenovo's plans to compete in the MOREMiguel Helft, senior writer - Jan 30, 2014 4:01 PM ET
What the $3.2B Google paid says about Larry Page's ambitions -- and Tim Cook's focus.
FORTUNE -- The tech press went nuts Monday after Google (GOOG) announced that it had offered $3.2 billion to buy Nest Labs, purveyor of well-designed, wi-fi enabled thermostats and smoke alarms.
No surprise there. Three billion is a lot of money, and Nest has genuine Silicon Valley star power: It was co-founded by Tony Fadell, a top MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Jan 14, 2014 2:29 PM ET
Founder control has worked for the search giant. But that doesn't mean it is necessarily a better way.
FORTUNE -- You can't blame Google CEO Larry Page for not being consistent. As Google prepared to go public nine years ago, Page detailed in a letter to prospective investors the many ways in which Google would be unconventional. It would focus on users and on long-term results; it would have an unusual MOREMiguel Helft, senior writer - Jun 19, 2013 6:42 AM ET
The search giants collaborated with the feds after 9/11 on an electronic intelligence program.
By Tory Newmyer, writer
FORTUNE -- Google and Yahoo -- and the other tech giants stung by the recent news of their participation in government surveillance programs -- are in the midst of a public-relations offensive to steady suddenly wobbly reputations.
They're sounding a commiserating note, insisting they're just as confounded and concerned as many Americans by the MOREJun 17, 2013 11:41 AM ET
Google's CEO decried the negativity in the tech industry. Too bad the company's executives have a long history of trashing the competition.
By Verne Kopytoff
FORTUNE -- Larry Page, Google's chief executive, is fed up with the negativity in the technology industry and the news media that covers its every detail like a prizefight.
"Every story I read about Google is 'us versus some other company' or some stupid thing, and I MOREMay 16, 2013 7:03 AM ET
Also: Samsung unveils new Galaxy S IV; inside Microsoft's poor Surface tablet sales.
Dropbox buys Mailbox, an app with some buzz [THE WALL STREET JOURNAL]
"We felt we could help Mailbox reach a much different audience much faster," said Dropbox CEO Drew Houston, who said both companies shared the goal of making people's lives easier.
He said Dropbox will keep the Mailbox service running as a stand-alone app, and over time Dropbox will MOREJP Mangalindan, Writer - Mar 15, 2013 1:43 PM ET
Google appoints a new Android leader and shrinks its product groups from seven to five.
FORTUNE -- In my recent feature on Larry Page's successful tenure as CEO of Google, I noted that Page had presided over a remarkably stable management team.
That was then. In a matter of two days, Page shook up the "L-team" (short for Larry's team), shrinking Google's product groups to five from seven.
On Wednesday, Page announced that MOREMiguel Helft, senior writer - Mar 14, 2013 3:29 PM ET
Tech rivals Apple and Google have traded places. But for how long?
By Kevin Kelleher
FORTUNE -- In July 2012, the Presidential election was kicking into high gear, the Olympics were about to begin, and most people thought it was a matter of time before shares of Apple hit $1,000.
Google (GOOG), meanwhile, was just muddling along. After doubling during 2009, its stock had been treading water around $600 a share for MOREMar 7, 2013 12:28 PM ET
Google CEO Larry Page envisions a future in which computers plan your vacations, drive your cars, and anticipate your whims. Audacious? Maybe. But Page's dreams have a way of coming true.
Note: On Jan 3, as Fortune published this article, the Federal Trade Commission ended its investigation of Google's search practices saying it found no evidence that the company manipulated search results in violation of antitrust laws. The European Commission and MOREMiguel Helft, senior writer - Jan 3, 2013 5:00 AM ET
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