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Dotsub: Michael Smolens TEDxTaipei 2013

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Today, I am going to tell you something so regretful to hear about. Because, Mr. Wang Dan, about 2 months ago, when we invited him did not feel well because of health issues. But he was still longing to come to TEDxTaipei and sharing his stories with us. At that time, his vocal cord got hurt and he almost lost his voice. When we talked, sometimes he had to communicate with us by writing. He sent me an email yesterday and apologized that he was very sorry for not being able to be with us today. He was not able to come here because of health problems. So, I would apologize to you all. What I want to do now is to welcome another speaker. Next speaker is Michael Smolens. About five years ago, when I got to know Ted, my first job was—I was a voluntary translator. I began to translate TED's presentations. In 2009, TED developed an open translation project, which allowed people in all parts of the world who have the heart and were able to get involved in the TED platform for content translation can translate. So, everyone will see all the lectures on TED, including those in Taiwan, with multiple languages. Michael Smolens, is the partner for technological support to the open translating project. His thought and his vision toward the world, and what he wants to do is to let language, or his endeavor to make language no longer be a barrier for learning. I think we got to hear his story. Let’s welcome Michael Smolens. [applause] [Michael Smolen] Good afternoon. The first thing I'd like to do is deeply and profoundly apologize to you for not being able to speak to you in your native language, Mandarin. It took me 57 years of my life to find the vision and the passion that is driving me 24/7, which is all about culture and about language. So, I'm going to take a few minutes to run over 57 years to tell you how I got to the point where the rest of my life is being driven by what I learned. This is my business card right now. Dotsub up until recently was my 9th, and I thought last, start-up. And 2½ years ago I hired a CEO and his card was going to say "CEO" so I had to figure out a title to put on my card. So, very whimsically, I said, "I'll be a collector of puzzle pieces." As you can see, without a lot of thought, Founder, Chairman, Collector of Puzzle Pieces. My wife thought that was the stupidest thing she's ever seen! Many people that I gave my card to didn't understand it. Are you in the puzzle business? But let me show you what business I'm in. I am very privileged to have a home on the water in Long Island. And on the flag pole I have clips for 6 flags. And Jason was there with a bunch of other people for the project I'm going to explain. I always buy a flag of the country from which all of my house guests come. So, that day we had people from 5 countries at my house. And you have no idea how deep and profound the appreciation is. People come to the house, they see their flag and they cry. Because very few people really understand the importance of cultural communication and cultural awareness. And so, that's what my vision in life is, which I'll explain to you: to remove language as a barrier to cross-cultural communication. Something I've learned in the last day and a half is with my headphone on with most of the talks in Mandarin. I hear a lot of loud laughter in the room, but when I'm hearing the translation I don't understand what's funny. And these are the best interpreters in the world! It is really tough to communicate in another language. And with technology as it is, and with innovation as it is, and MOOCS and everything else, it is critically important that all 7 billion people of the world, in all 7000 languages, have the ability to profoundly and deeply learn the knowledge that is currently available with current technology. New technology does not need to be— the technology is there but we all have to have the cultural awareness. Now what I'd like to do, just as with Jason at my house 3 months ago, I'd like all of us to give him an amazing round of thanks for doing what he's done right now. [applause] From the time I was 10 until the time of 57, and I'm 66 right now, I would say I wandered the planet. When I was 10 years old for 4 years I studied Hebrew and I studied Latin. I have no idea why—Hebrew was because I was being bar mitzvahed. Latin because I guess it was the thing to do. Then in 10th grade, I started studying German and I was a fluent speaker in German. Then in college—I don't know why I did it— I signed up for a program in Mindanao Island in the southern Phillipines, and when I as 19 years old learned to speak Tagalog fluently. So my first trip outside of the United States on this journey was to Mindanao Island in the southern Phillipines, as being a visiting professor in mathematics. And at that time—and it took me 40 years to understand this— I was infected with the cross-cultural disease. Now today in the talks and yesterday, a lot of people half my age were talking about their vision and their life vision. I feel fortunate in one hand that I have it and I'm passionate about it, but I wish it had happened earlier. But I didn't have the luxury or the benefit of a mentor. Noone sat me down and told me what I should do or encouraged me. I just followed the wind and I had an amazing experience. I had one real job when I was 23. I quit it when I was 24. I started doing business in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, making hand-painted wooden toys. I had a factory there for 20 years. I had 4000 employees, it was the largest employer in the country. I was put out of business by President Bush, the father, in 1991 when he declared a trade embargo. I was the first American to privatize a company in Hungary after the Berlin wall— simultaneously set up a factory in Mexico before NAFTA. Then in Hungary I set up a joint venture in Romania. And I had 2500 employees in Hungary and 1500 employees in Romania making cotton t-shirts, successfully competing with China, delivering t-shirts from Hungary and Romania to every major capitol in Europe for Nike, Levi's, Gap, Russell Athletic. One day by truck, better quality, cheaper delivery than mainland China. Sold that business in 1996, went further in field to Azerbaijan, Russia, Jordan, Pakistan. Why I did this I have no idea. But it was just the opportunities presented myself. I was excited, I was able to do it, so I did it. And during this entire period of time, my wife said I was like exploring new areas and every time I did it I got a little bored and tried something else. Made some money but didn't have that life vision. So as you can see, I gathered a huge amount of cross-cultural understanding and awareness. And unfortunately, even though I'm an American, Americans have the title of 'Ugly American," and it's well deserved. Because they don't really understand other cultures. They don't have to deal with other languages. They think everyone has to speak English. But right now we're sitting in Asia, which absolutely for the next 20 years is going to be the explosive place for growth all over the world. In 2004, I was hit with a lightning bolt or the "ah-ha" moment when I saw the movie Fahrenheit 9/11. After I had experienced 9/11, I was in Washington, I couldn't get back to New York for 3 days. I left that movie and I said, "Wow, here is one documentary film in English, "that potentially could change a US presidential election." What would happen if I could create an easy, simple, and inexpensive browser-based technology that would enable any film or any video in any language to be made available in all of the world's languages? And more difficult and important, be able to be viewed on all video-enabled devices and platforms including mobile. This was my lightning bolt. This is what I'm spending my life, 24 hours a day doing. And I had no experience in anything that I attempted to do. I had never known anything about language, technology, video, or subtitling. But I intuitively knew that that was going to be the dominant way that the world was going to communicate, like Lakshmi said in "Tell Stories." So I started this vision in 2004. For the next 3 years I created Dotsub, which was what Jason said is the technology for Pangea day and the opening Ted translation program. We did a lot of work with major corporations from a browser-based tool. It grew quite rapidly. Here's a picture of a video that's available in 62 languages. And this picture was taken in southern Taiwan in partnership with Iron, a global organization. So I was moving along, doing well, business was growing, becoming profitable. And I really then realized when I turned 60, that I was spending my time trying to convince people that didn't get it that they should understand that language and culture were important. And the really seminal moment, without mentioning the name of a company which is well-known by everyone in the room in Silicon Valley, when I was sitting with the Senior Vice President he told me, "Michael, we don't need to spend any money on making our information available in every language, "because all of the important people of the world speak English." When he told me that, I realized I didn't want to waste any more of my time trying to convince people to see something that they couldn't see. That was for someone else to do. So I hired a CEO in March of 2011, came up with this title "Collector of puzzle pieces," and what that means is when I did that—and only when I did that— that sort of lit a rocket in my body. When I realized that I had the freedom to only speak with people that get it, and speak to all kinds of different people, my relationships exploded, the power of the people I met exploded. Because—as I'll tell you at the end of my talk— I let things go, as Lakshmi said, "I surrender to my vision." "I surrender to my passion." So when I meet people I explain who I am and what I'm doing. And very different than this wonderful man this morning, who is the ultra-marathoner, who is doing amazing things with 700 kilometers— 700 kilometers is a hell of a long run, but you finish it in 13 days. My vision to remove language as a barrier to cross-cultural communication through video, if everything works well and I plan to have 19 more active years in my life, traveling to Taipei without jet lag like I did 3 days ago, until I'm 85, we're just going to begin to have a little impact on the world because there's a huge amount of problems to have. So as a collector of puzzle pieces, I started realizing what are the large areas that need work: healthcare and pharmaceuticals, education and learning, conferences. There's 3.3 billion people on planet Earth that live in villages that not only have no access to the Internet, they couldn't afford to have high-speed bandwidth and they're not having smartphones, but they all have feature phones. And video is the way to emotionally connect with people, but it's very expensive and time-consuming for video. So I was conceiving an idea to come up with 5 new businesses. And they all started to happen simultaneously. And as I was meeting more and more people, and the young man Frederico that you heard speak yesterday, is the CEO of (Aceplorer). And one of these businesses Jason is going to be involved with. And as we were going forward, Kay Koplotivz, the founder of USA Networks in the United States, who brought satellite to broadcast television in 1974, who started Springboard Enterprises that has funded $6 billion of female entrepreneurs. When we were working with an organization in India that has a product called HealthPhone, that is delivering knowledge to pregnant women and mothers of children on feature phones with videos in native languages on micro-SD chips put in the back of the phone, because there's 330,000 babies a year that die on the first day of their life, because their mothers don't have the knowledge in their native language to do what is necessary to save their children. So when I was working with Nand Wadhwani on this project, I said, "Why can't we have all knowledge to all of these 3 billion people?" So we started a 4th project called "Video for Villages," to enable all knowledge to go to 3 billion people in the world that live in rural areas that for 5 or 10 years, if everything goes well, even if they have rudimentary smartphones, are not going to be able to pay for the bandwidth to deliver video. So as we were doing these 5 new projects, something became very obvious to me just 3 months ago. Why don't we join forces with all of these companies and create a consortium? So that's what we've done. Three months ago—a video without borders consortium. And interestingly enough, 7 years earlier on a Saturday night at my home in Sag Harbor, for a reason I do not understand, I bought the URL's for videos without borders. Seven years ago. And when I came up with this concept 3 months ago, I said, "Hey, that might be a good idea for that company." And so this business potentially hopes to empower a billion women that live in rural areas, who have no access to knowledge, and unfortunately, their husbands don't want to empower them. Because they like the power dynamic where the woman is in the home taking care of the kids, and they're going out. And if their wives become empowered, they're dynamic with their family changes. So we're trying to empower a billion women. And each of these businesses is set up with the metric and the goal to impact hundreds of millions of people. So if you want to talk about an audacious large idea, this is it. And so this is what I'm doing. And Jason, when you saw him with his arms up, and you see him in this picture, this was a 3-day meeting at our house to kick off this idea. And so when this is happening, this is something that is really driving our life. And Jason said, "Taiwan is changing what it wants to do. "It wants to institute innovation. "It wants to change the way that people are thinking. "I think I could introduce you to some really forward thinking people "in Taiwan that would want to be a part of that." So I am here in Taiwan, talking to a bunch of wonderful people before I go to the traditional venture capitalists in the United States. Because I don't want someone telling me that I can't help Lakshmi's people in India, because there's not going to be earnings in the next quarter. When you want to empower a billion women and when you want to impact hundreds of millions of people, you can't worry about next quarter's earnings. And we are a for-profit company. We're not a non-profit. But we're going to be doing a huge amount of things for free for very, very important people. So what are the lessons that I've learned? The most important thing is to have total complete clarity in what you want to do. This is not easy. This is not easy. But once you have this clarity, you can move forward in every aspect of your life, 24/7. You need to have unrelenting passion. Yesterday afternoon late, Lakshmi said, "I'm invited to a bar-b-que here in Taipei, would you like to go with me?" In the car I was talking about what I was doing to someone I had just met. Because that is what my life is about. You need to be fearless. When you do new stuff you're going to make mistakes. You cannot help but make mistakes. You're going to need to fall down, you need to get up, and you need to make more mistakes. Because if you're afraid of making mistakes, you should lock yourself into a room with pads on the wall, and you won't get hurt. But all of you are here at TedX Taipei, because you want to change your lives and you want to get out there in the world and feel good about making a difference. And the only way to do that is start stepping out, figuring out what you want to do and be fearless. And the last thing, which is the most difficult, is let go. And it's interesting that that was the last thing that Lakshmi said yesterday. She said, "Surrender." If you are clear about what you want to do, and you trust your gut, and you trust the environment, and you trust life, and it's sort of a Buddhist teaching—if you allow yourself to surrender to what your life is all about, you will be amazed at how powerful that is. And in the last 2 years, since I have become a collector of puzzle pieces, this entire world has exploded in a wonderful direction. So if there's any advice I would have to you, it's start your journey. Don't sit around and bitch and moan about how bad your life is. Do something, get out there. What feels right, start doing it until you find something. Have no fear. And then let go. Thank you very much. [applause]

Video Details

Duration: 21 minutes and 22 seconds
Country: Taiwan
Language: English
Producer: TEDxTaipei
Views: 352
Posted by: open on Sep 30, 2013

Dotsub: Michael Smolens TEDxTaipei 2013
Streamed live on Sep 29, 2013
【人生不設限】:你要如何定義你的人生?如果你只剩下 18 分鐘,你要對世界說什麼故事?人生的價值在不斷考驗中淬煉,拉出生命的廣度和厚度 。 詳細活動資訊,請前往活動網站閱讀

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