TED Talks often take place in huge auditoriums in front of thousands of people. But Washington D.C.-based artist and engineer Nima Veiseh decided to go for a more intimate approach, creating the first ever virtual reality talk from TED, filmed in 360 degree video. Titled, Tuning: A Talk on Memory, Art and Harmony, the 18-minute talk dives into memory and how people manage and express memories. Veiseh has a natural affinity for the topic as one of a tiny group of people in the world diagnosed with hyperthymesia, an extraordinary memory that enables him to recall nearly every day of his life with almost perfect detail and makes him a polymath.
"The TED organization said: 'Hey, how would you feel about doing a TED Talk in Greece, and I said I'd be honored to," Veiseh told me in an interview. "But, I had already committed to being a camp leader at Burning Man [during same time as the TEDx conference in Rhodes]."
TED Talks usually have no more than one remote video presentation, so Veiseh was offered that slot, but added his own twist. "I proposed the idea of the 360 video," Veiseh said. "[TED] gave me the freedom to engineer something technically innovative."
Veiseh's life encapsulates the mix of technology and art that a 360 video set in an art studio displays. He's an entrepreneur with dual master's degrees who's turned his paintings into "wearable art" in the DressAbstract clothing line. He is also a business consultant and PhD candidate at George Washington University in Economics & Technology Management.
"The challenge of a TED Talk is describing a story from many different angles," Veiseh said, pointing out that using 360 video does that quite literally. "I have many angles."
The resulting 18 minute video combines footage from four different cameras set in Veiseh's studio. Wearing a virtual reality headset, you can turn your head and look around as easily as if you were standing in the room. You can look around on a regular screen as well, although without the immersive aspect. It's not just a gimmick though; Veiseh interacts with the viewer as though he's talking to a person and not a camera, all in one long shot.
"I'm sitting there and talking, pointing to artifacts," Veiseh said. "[I talk about] memory and mindfulness and how they tie together and how I had to to teach myself to manage my own condition, a more extreme version of a normal experience."
Though his own condition is very rare, Veiseh said what he's learned as a result is universal in terms of teaching people how to manage their own memories and think in new ways. Veiseh compared it to how he tries to apply scientific thinking to design and artistic thinking to engineering.
"I work as an engineer. I design as an artist," Veiseh said. "Beauty can find itself amplified through harmony."