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TED2008

Jay Walker: My library of human imagination

February 29, 2008

Jay Walker, curator of the Library of Human Imagination, conducts a surprising show-and-tell session highlighting a few of the intriguing artifacts that backdropped the 2008 TED stage.

Jay Walker - Entrepreneur
Jay Walker is fascinated by intellectual property in all its forms. His firm, Walker Digital, created Priceline and many other businesses that reframe old problems with new IT. In his private life, he's a bibliophile and collector on an epic scale. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
These rocks have been hitting our earth for about three billion years,
00:18
and are responsible for much of what’s gone on on our planet.
00:22
This is an example of a real meteorite,
00:25
and you can see all the melting of the iron
00:27
from the speed and the heat when a meteorite hits the earth,
00:29
and just how much of it survives and melts.
00:33
From a meteorite from space,
00:36
we’re over here with an original Sputnik.
00:38
This is one of the seven surviving Sputniks that was not launched into space.
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This is not a copy.
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The space age began 50 years ago in October,
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and that’s exactly what Sputnik looked like.
00:48
And it wouldn’t be fun to talk about the space age
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without seeing a flag that was carried
00:53
to the moon and back, on Apollo 11.
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The astronauts each got to carry
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about ten silk flags in their personal kits.
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They would bring them back and mount them.
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So this has actually been carried to the moon
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and back.
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So that’s for fun.
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The dawn of books is, of course, important.
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And it wouldn’t be interesting to talk about the dawn of books
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without having a copy of a Guttenberg Bible.
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You can see how portable and handy it was to have your own Guttenberg
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in 1455.
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But what’s interesting about the Guttenberg Bible, and the dawn of this technology,
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is not the book.
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You see, the book was not driven by reading.
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In 1455, nobody could read.
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So why did the printing press succeed?
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This is an original page of a Guttenberg Bible.
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So you’re looking here at one of the first printed books
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using movable type in the history of man,
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550 years ago.
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We are living at the age here at the end of the book,
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where electronic paper will undoubtedly replace it.
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But why is this so interesting? Here’s the quick story.
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It turns out that in the 1450s,
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the Catholic Church needed money,
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and so they
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actually hand-wrote these things called indulgences,
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which were forgiveness’s on pieces of paper.
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They traveled all around Europe
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and sold by the hundreds or by the thousands.
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They got you out of purgatory faster.
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And when the printing press was invented
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what they found was they could print indulgences,
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which was the equivalent of printing money.
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And so all of Western Europe started buying printing presses in 1455 --
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to print out thousands,
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and then hundreds of thousands,
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and then ultimately millions
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of single, small pieces of paper
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that got you out of middle hell and into heaven.
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That is why the printing press succeeded,
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and that is why Martin Luther
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nailed his 90 theses to the door:
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because he was complaining that the Catholic Church had gone amok
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in printing out indulgences and selling them
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in every town and village and city in all of Western Europe.
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So the printing press, ladies and gentlemen,
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was driven entirely by the printing of forgivenesses
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and had nothing to do with reading.
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More tomorrow. I also have pictures coming of the library
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for those of you that have asked for pictures.
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We’re going to have some tomorrow.
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(Applause)
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Instead of showing an object from the stage
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I’m going to do something special for the first time.
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We are going to show, actually, what the library looks like, OK?
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So, I am married to the most wonderful woman in the world.
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You’re going to find out why in a minute,
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because when I went to see Eileen,
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this is what I said I wanted to build.
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This is the Library of Human Imagination.
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The room itself is three stories tall.
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In the glass panels are 5,000 years of human imagination
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that are computer controlled.
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The room is a theatre. It changes colors.
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And all throughout the library are different objects, different spaces.
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It’s designed like an Escher print.
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Here is some of the lower level of the library,
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where the exhibits constantly change.
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You can walk through. You can touch.
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You can see exactly how many of these types of items would fit in a room.
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There’s my very own Saturn V.
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Everybody should have one, OK? (Laughter)
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So you can see here in the lower level of the library
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the books and the objects.
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In the glass panels all along is sort of the history of imagination.
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There is a glass bridge that you walk across
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that’s suspended in space.
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So it’s a leap of imagination.
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How do we create?
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Part of the question that I have answered is,
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is we create by surrounding ourselves with stimuli:
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with human achievement, with history,
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with the things that drive us and make us human --
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the passionate discovery, the bones of dinosaurs long gone,
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the maps of space that we’ve experienced,
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and ultimately the hallways that stimulate our mind and our imagination.
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So hopefully tomorrow I’ll show
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one or two more objects from the stage,
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but for today I just wanted to say thank you
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for all the people that came and talked to us about it.
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And Eileen and I are thrilled to open our home
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and share it with the TED community.
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(Applause)
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TED is all about patterns in the clouds.
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It’s all about connections.
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It’s all about seeing things
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that everybody else has seen before
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but thinking about them in ways that nobody has thought of them before.
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And that’s really what discovery and imagination is all about.
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For example, we can look
05:04
at a DNA molecule model here.
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None of us really have ever seen one,
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but we know it exists because we’ve been taught
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to understand this molecule.
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But we can also look at an Enigma machine
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from the Nazis in World War II
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that was a coding and decoding machine.
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Now, you might say, what does this have to do with this?
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Well, this is the code for life,
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and this is a code for death.
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These two molecules
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code and decode.
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And yet, looking at them, you would see a machine and a molecule.
05:35
But once you’ve seen them in a new way,
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you realize that both of these things really are connected.
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And they’re connected primarily because of this here.
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You see, this is a human brain model, OK?
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And it’s rare, because we never really get to see a brain.
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We get to see a skull. But there it is.
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All of imagination -- everything that we think,
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we feel, we sense -- comes through the human brain.
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And once we create new patterns in this brain,
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once we shape the brain in a new way,
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it never returns to its original shape.
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And I’ll give you a quick example.
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We think about the Internet;
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we think about information that goes across the Internet.
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And we never think about the hidden connection.
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But I brought along here a lump of coal --
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right here, one lump of coal.
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And what does a lump of coal have to do with the Internet?
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You see, it takes the energy in one lump of coal
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to move one megabyte of information across the net.
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So every time you download a file,
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each megabyte is a lump of coal.
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What that means is, a 200-megabyte file
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looks like this, ladies and gentlemen. OK?
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So the next time you download a gigabyte,
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or two gigabytes, it’s not for free, OK?
06:48
The connection is the energy it takes to run the web ,
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and to make everything we think possible, possible.
06:57
Thanks, Chris.
07:00
(Applause)
07:02

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Jay Walker - Entrepreneur
Jay Walker is fascinated by intellectual property in all its forms. His firm, Walker Digital, created Priceline and many other businesses that reframe old problems with new IT. In his private life, he's a bibliophile and collector on an epic scale.

Why you should listen

It's befitting that an entrepreneur and inventor so prolific and acclaimed would curate a library devoted, as he says, to the astonishing capabilities of the human imagination. TIME twice named him one of the "50 most influential business leaders in the digital age," and he holds more than 200 patents. Jay Walker's companies -- under Walker Digital -- have alone served tens of millions of people and amassed billions in value. 

A chunk of his net worth went into building this enchanting library space, whose exhibits (please touch!) go back, roughly, to the point our species learned to write, with a slight post-moveable type bias. Brimming with exquisitely illustrated books and artifacts (Enigma machine; velociraptor skeleton), the library itself is a marvel. Is it the glowing etched glass panels, or the Vivaldi piped from hidden speakers that gives it that je ne sais quoi? Maybe it's Walker himself, whose passion for the stuff just glows. It's apparent to those lucky enough to snag a tour.

At the 2008 TED Conference, Walker lent many of his priceless and geeky artifacts to decorate the stage -- including a real Sputnik artificial satellite, a Star Wars stormtrooper helmet and a Gutenberg bible. After you've watched his talk, the WIRED article is a must-read.

The original video is available on TED.com
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