At TEDxCambridge, big ideas in the search for terrorists and the search for alien life collide

One of the go-to experts on the Edward Snowden story and an MIT researcher focused on finding extraterrestrial life will highlight the presenters scheduled to speak Friday night at TEDxCambridge.

The event, to be held at the Broad Institute in Kendall Square, will be the first independently organized rendition of the popular TEDTalk brand in Cambridge in two years.

While previous TEDxCambridge events have been full-day affairs, this year’s marks a shift in how organizers will approach the idea-sharing platform moving forward. The event will feature eight speakers in 90 minutes, according to spokesman and co-organizer Todd Van Hoosear. The goal is to shift the Cambridge TEDx events from annual to quarterly affairs.


“It will make it more approachable, less overwhelming,’’ Van Hoosear said.

Only eight speakers are scheduled, but Van Hoosear said they were winnowed down from a group of more than 100 the organizers originally reached out to.

Digital security expert and author Bruce Schneier has been making the media rounds over the past few months as a go-to source on the NSA-Edward Snowden situation. His talk will touch on themes similar to the dialog surrounding the controversy but will not delve into it.

“TED talks are less about events in the news’’ and more about the ideas that underlie them, Schneier said.

Instead, he will speak to how forces like the hacker activist group Anonymous develop power and influence in the digital space, and how they conflict and mesh with more traditional authorities online.

MIT professor Sara Seager will also present at the event. Seager will explain the vast body of research on exoplanets, or planets that orbit a star other than the sun, and how that research will be used in the search for life in space.

“Every single star should have at least one planet,’’ Seager said, previewing her talk. “The next step is to find planets with signs of life … How are we going to do this?’’


Other scheduled speakers include MIT Sloan School of Management professor Zeynep Ton, human genome and robotics expert Manolis Kellis, and Ariel Diaz, the chief executive of Boston-based digital textbook startup Boundless.

Van Hoosear said Cambridge’s innovation and education economy provides ample opportunity for both quality presenters and engaged audience members. At least 650 people are expected in attendance Friday, Van Hoosear said. Attendees will be split between the Broad Institute’s auditorium and an outdoor viewing section at Technology Square Courtyard.

But Schneier – who has given one TED Talk before – said he expects the collective intelligence of the audience to come with some challenge. While it’s easy to speak to the audience, he said, speakers must take into account that many more people will ultimately access the video online. Videos from previous TEDxCambridge events have been viewed online more than 2.5 million times.

“Having a really smart audience makes it harder,’’ Schneier said. “You have to make the talk accessible. You can’t optimize it to the people sitting in the room.’’

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