Invisible Cities of the Creative Mind – Xiao Xiao at TEDxSanDiego 2014

The mind is a mysterious place, and a place where psychologists have only begun to scratch the surface. There are several theories about how the mind works, not molecular but metaphorically. So how do we understand and perceive the world around us? How are our thoughts and understanding shaped each day?

Xiao Xiao, a TEDxSanDiego speaker this past year, offers a simple theory of her own; a method to help understand how we process information. Her explanation of the complex systems of our thoughts, memories, and behaviors come from a simple concept: the mind is like a network of invisible cities, which are linked together through roads (connections with others) and structures (ideas and thoughts). The explanation is so simple, it’s breathtaking.

Xiao draws you in by delivering charismatic and funny speeches across the nation about her theories of how the structure of the mind shares many similarities with the structure of the computer codes she has dedicated her life to learning and creating.

By combining her passion for music and technology, Xiao has begun to use her background in computer science to create new possibilities for musicians in the future. One project discussed was the possibility to explore the feeling of playing a duet with yourself-20 years in the past.

Xiao is a Chinese-American pianist, programmer, and designer, currently a PhD student in the Tangible Media Group of the MIT Media Lab. Her work in computer science is bridging the gap between psychology and engineering, tying in elements of her love of music and expression.

Psychologists and neuroscientists alike have been attempting to discover the answer to the fundamental question of why we do what we do since the 19th century. But maybe the question should begin to shift from why we do what we do, to how we do what we do.

Xiao begins to answer this question by explaining how she builds cities within her mind. Little factories account for the small, logical processes that occur almost instantaneously, like counting. These small factories begin to build upon each other in a series of connected networks, which serves as a parallel to problem solving with the usage of the basic codes which allow the brain to count, speak, debunk, and more.

As we attempt to use Xiao’s method to construct cities in our own minds to help us understand, remember, and connect, we are left with the question of how we can help each other build those roads and factories she so beautifully drew for the talk.

Xiao Xiao Website

Xiao Xiao on Twitter

Xiao Xiao on Facebook

Xiao Xiao on Vimeo

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TEDx Turns Five Years Old in 2014

The first TED Conference was held in Monterey, California in 1984, and in 2014 TED celebrated its 30th birthday. The TEDx concept, on the other hand, wasn’t launched until 2009 when TEDxUSC held the first TEDx event on March 23, 2009.  At the time no one could predict if the idea of hosting locally organized “TED-like” events would take off, but after five years the results are impressive, with over 11,000 events held and over 52,000 talks posted.

TEDx events by the numbers: 2014

  • 2,540 TEDx events happened around the world
  • 1,255 cities hosted one or more TEDx event
  • 137 countries hosted one or more TEDx event

TEDx events by the numbers: All time

  • 11,469 events have happened around the world
  • 2,594 cities around the world have hosted one or more TEDx event
  • 166 countries have hosted one or more TEDx event

Just like the main TED Conference, videos are created for each of the speakers and performers who take the stage at a local TEDx event, and these videos are freely shared around the world on the TEDx YouTube channel.

TEDx Talks by the numbers: 2014

  • 219,267,189 views of talks on the TEDxTalks YouTube channel
  • 15,603 talks added to the TEDxTalks YouTube channel
  • 38 talks featured on

TEDx Talks by the numbers: All time

  • 413,940,638 views of talks on the TEDxTalks YouTube channel
  • 52,480 talks on the TEDxTalks YouTube channel
  • 3,047 talks transcribed by volunteers in TED’s Open Translation Project
  • 6,831 talks translated by volunteers in TED’s Open Translation Project
  • 308 talks featured on

So how has TEDxSanDiego faired in the five years it’s been around?  To date we’ve featured 100 speakers, and their videos have been viewed over 2 million times.  We invite you to join us for TEDxSanDiego 2015, October 17th!

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Choosing a Venue for TEDxSanDiego 2014

While every TEDx organizer understands just how important the choice of venue is, it’s not uncommon for these same organizers to underestimate the time it actually takes to select the best venue for each event. Nearly 10,000 TEDx events have been produced over the past five years, and each one was designed to accommodate a unique set of needs, based on the local audience.  Smaller and more intimate, larger and more inclusive?  Elegant, charming, formal, cool, hip, rustic?  Auditorium, concert hall, meeting room, gymnasium, warehouse, theatre?

In the case of TEDxSanDiego, our first event was held at Anthology, a very cool, downtown music venue.

TEDxSanDiego 2010 Venue AnthologyTruly a one of a kind venue, with floor seating in front of the stage and along the south rail, booths along the wall, both on the first and second levels, with more seating on the third floor overlooking the crowd, and featuring a million dollar sound system. Supper club lighting added to the warmth and intimacy of Anthology, and as attendees shifted seats during the day they could enjoy the speakers and performers from a new perspective.

TEDxSanDiego 2011 Venue QualcommIrwin M. Jacobs Qualcomm Hall was home for TEDxSanDiego in 2011 and 2012, and offered something new in size, structure, and capability. The auditorium seating, with a capacity of 500+, and a larger stage greatly expanded the look and feel of the event. The venue also opened up to an expansive courtyard that made way for art installations, such as a globe rendition by 3D chalk artist Tracy Lee Stum, and provide outdoor seating during the breaks and lunch.

TEDxSanDiego 2013 Venue Calit2Shifting gears again, with the theme of re:THINK, the 2013 edition of TEDxSanDiego took place in the Calit2 Auditorium inside Atkinson Hall located on the UC San Diego campus. Once again the venue felt so intimate, as though you could reach out and touch the speakers and performers.  As you might expect, the audience felt right at home, and as with Qualcomm, the outdoor courtyard was ideal for enjoying the day with newfound friends.

What Venue to Select in 2014?

While there are many benefits to a smaller venue, they have a downside in that production and logistics costs remain about the same, as do travel costs for speakers and performers, and there are fewer seats available to generate the revenue required to put on first class show.  And with the popularity of TEDTalks soaring over the past few years, another issue in a large city like San Diego is that our TEDx events always sell out, which means that a lot of folks end up on a waiting list, or miss out on the experience entirely.

Symphony Hall From StageSo the thought for 2014 was to find a larger venue that could satisfy the insatiable demand for seats, yet was built as a performance space with elegance and proper acoustics.  The search for an ideal venue search took us back downtown, to where TEDxSanDiego began, and ended with the selection of Copley Symphony Hall.

We hope you’re as excited as we are about the new digs, and our program team is working diligently to find the perfect mix of speakers and performers to grace the stage on November 8, 2014.  Sign up for our Email Interest List and be the first to know when the registration process begins.

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