Hold your deep fried mars bars and battered saveloys; Edinburgh’s back on top, fulfilling its role as epicenter of technology, thinking and enlightenment. As the TED Global machine eased into place, docking at the EIFF like a space shuttle of mind-bending ideas, the city took on a glow of hipness and international networking not usually seen outside the Festival.

Our very own TEDx Brussels Curator, Walter De Brouwer, was there to take it all in and report back on highlights and lowlights.

Q: So, Walter, who were the best speakers for you?

A: Some of the best talks were the ones engaging with hard science but adapting ideas from one field to another. For example Alain De Botton drew a compelling parallel between the global power structure of the Catholic Church, its ability to expand sustainably very rapidly and the need for business thinking to take on the same kind of global scalability. Be the Jesus of international business in other words! Svante Pääbo was amazing too. He’s a Swedish geneticist who’s been exploring how and why Neanderthal man died out. Turns out our previous thinking was wrong and they weren’t subject to some species destroying or climate event. They were basically bred out of existence by modern humans so their DNA can be traced to me and you. Perhaps the only enduring artefact of human existence will be these genetic traces of us in future humans.

Q: How about design?

A: There wasn’t that much of it to be honest, perhaps it should be renamed the political/philosophical part of the conference. But there was the amazing Transition flying car or Roadable Aircraft as its designer calls it. This thing is equally happy driving or flying and Anna Mracek Dietrich has taken an after dinner James Bond kind of idea and made it happen. More interesting for me to be honest is the work of people like Hasan Elahi who reversed the FBI surveillance mechanism placed on him by recording all his movements and activities and placing them publicly online or Harald Haas and his work transmitting 100mb per second of data through LEDs, it could be a world changing concept.

Q: What was the general atmosphere like?

A: Well there is an unusual ambience at a TED Global conference and you have to take it easy to get the most out of it. You can easily see the people who stay up drinking whiskey all night because they’re burnt out by day three! Apart from all the talks and side events and city tours etc. TED presents an amazing opportunity to meet people and get into some intense conversations. This year so many people wanted to talk about TEDx Kids@Brussels and there’s a real buzz about that project within the TED family and a lot of people looking forward to TEDx Brussels in November. So you know, we’re not doing so badly over here.

TEDx Brussels will be on November 22 2011 at Bozar TED Global was in Edinburgh 12 to 15 July 2011 TEDxKids@Brussels was on 1 June 2011

John Fass