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You Don’t Have To Be a Rocket Scientist To Be a Futurist | Harry Hamlin | TEDxLA


Translator: Ellen Maloney
Reviewer: Mile Živković I am not a rocket scientist. [The sexiest man alive] (Cheers) (Applause) But my father was. Now I am mainly known as a mature
stage-television-film actor, who’s had a pretty good run, from vanquishing the Kraken
in Clash of the Titans, to winning a bunch
of kooky cases in LA Law, to more recently, really running
an ad agency in AMC’s Mad Men. (Cheers) But truth be told, my real passion in life has much less to do
with my chosen profession, and more to do with science. You know, what I’m really trying to do
is fashion a solution to some of the world’s biggest problems. Alright. Now, here we have an everyday,
ordinary light switch, right? You flick it, and voila! I’m going to go out on a limb here
and I’m going to guess that a lot of you have switches like this
in your house and you use them everyday. Right? But here’s the thing: For about
75 per cent of you, or more, the electricity going through your house is coming from a coal
or gas-fired power plant. For about 15 per cent of you or less,
it’s coming from a nuclear power plant, and for about ten per cent
of you or much less, it’s coming from a renewable source
like wind, solar, or hydroelectric. The vast majority
of electricity in the world is produced by burning fossil fuels. Mainly coal. Which is indisputably spewing
massive amounts of CO2 into our thin atmosphere, and which most scientists agree,
is contributing to climate change. So, obviously we need
a new source of power. Something that will feed
the insatiable thirst for electricity in the world, without polluting our fragile planet. But what? Renewables, as they’re conceived today,
will only ever produce enough electricity to satisfy a small fraction
of the world’s needs. So, what’s it going to be? Well, about 25 years ago, I was somehow pulled into
the futuristic fray of alternative energy. Mainly because, as Forrest Gump says: “Life is like a box of chocolates.
You never know what you’re gonna get.” So, here’s the story: In the fall of 1971, when I was
a sophomore at UC Berkeley, the kid across the hall from me
burst into my room one day, clutching a letter from his father, who happened to work
for the National Science Foundation, studying the polar ice sheets
in Antarctica. Wide-eyed, he blurted out that his father
had made an earth-shattering discovery, but he couldn’t tell me what it was because the government
wanted to keep it top secret. So, he told me anyway. (Laughter) He said that his father and his team,
after studying the polar ice sheets, had determined, unequivocally,
that the world was on the brink of major climate change, and that there would be a warming period,
followed closely by an ice age. Jon Snow, where are you when we need you? This was back in the early 70s. Neil Young was singing some songs
about the environment, people were starting to talk about it, but no one was talking about
climate change. Now, I was blown away. And I remember that moment
like it was yesterday. Little did I know at the time
that that would be dot number one of three dots that would be connected
over the next couple of decades that would send me, quite improbably,
into the archane world of big science, alternative energy,
and advanced nuclear physics. Now, according to Malcolm Gladwell, the prolific author of ‘Tipping Point,’
‘Blink,’ and ‘Outliers, ‘ when you’re born can have a lot to do with
what you end up doing with your life. He cites Bill Gates and Steve Jobs,
both of whom were born in 1955, and who, because of their date of birth,
their friendships, and their location, changed the world by bringing us
the personal computer. Had they been born a few years earlier
or a few years later, they might have missed the tech
sweet spot altogether and become actors. (Laughter) Or ballet dancers, or hedge funders. Now like I said, my father
was a rocket scientist. He was born in 1905,
which was the sweet spot for speed. People back then were getting used
to going faster than a galloping horse, and you wanted to get attention,
you wanted to get noticed, you went fast. In either a car or a boat or whatever. High speed brought local fame,
and the attention, more importantly, to my father,
of the opposite sex. He was brought up on a lake
in the north east so his medium was water, and since the girl he was trying to get
was playing really hard to get, he went to MIT after college to learn
how to build the fastest boat in the world so he could get this girl. And he did. And not long after they were married, he won the world speed record for going
just under 90 miles an hour, in a homemade hydroplane
called “The Voodoo.” Aah, there’s dad! Unfortunately, a catastrophic accident
in The Voodoo around the same time destroyed his left arm,
and his boat-racing days came to an end. He was a one-armed speed demon,
an expert in aqua- and aerodynamics. Before and after the Second World War,
and casting around for something to do, when the government tapped him to work
in America’s nascent aerospace program. Because he knew how to make things go
astonishingly fast through liquid and air, he ended up working
with Dr Wernher von Braun on the Apollo program’s
Saturn five rocket. Somehow, my father went
from being a horny boat builder to a rocket scientist. (Laughter) Something he never intended to do. From changing his attention from,
what was a pretty narcissistic pursuit, to focusing on a futuristic
world-changing technology, that until then, had been just
the stuff of science fiction. So, how did this happen? Was it luck? Was it skill? Was it timing?
Was it just random? Well, the same sort of thing
happened to me so let’s take a look. I was born in 1951,
in Pasadena, California. I figure I missed
the computer-tech sweet spot by about three or four years,
relative to Gates and Jobs. No, I was a dyed-in-the-wool
post-war baby boomer, destined to grow my hair, don a pair
of sandals and identify as a hippy, doomed to a career in the humanities. (Laughter) For my generation,
the best way to get the girl was to learn how to play the guitar,
become a rock star. Or, learn how to act
and become a movie star. I chose the latter
and it kind of worked out for me. But because I play the guitar
and sing a little bit, I’ve always kept ‘rock star’
in my pocket as a back-up. I didn’t have to pull it out though,
because my career took off. And by 1980, I was making movies
and living part-time in Rome, Italy, where one day,
I was invited to a cocktail reception at the Swiss consulate where I met an impeccably dressed,
very handsome gentleman, who identified himself
as a Serbian-born nuclear physicist, who had a lab in Princeton, New Jersey, researching a new way to make electricity
that was clean and pollution free. He said he was working on a new way
to make nuclear fusion on Earth, that was non-radioactive
and environmentallyfriendly. This was 1980. I was wearing bell-bottoms. My hair was down to here. Nuclear fusion? What the heck is that? He explained that the very early
history of the universe, the first atoms to form were hydrogen. And that over billion of years, gravity pulled those
hydrogen atoms together to form gigantic spherical blobs
of hydrogen gas, hundreds and hundreds
of thousands of miles across. And at the very interior core
of those huge blobs of hydrogen gas, the pressure was so great
due to the force of gravity, that normally repellent
positively charged protons in the hydrogen nuclei
were forced together, fusing and releasing tremendous amounts
of energy in the form of charged alpha particles
and helium nuclei. I was still wearing bell bottoms. (Laughter) No, he realised that he wasn’t talking
to a rocket scientist, and he put it more simply. He said he was describing
the birth of a star, and that our sun was born
exactly the same way. He said that his project was about
creating a tiny, tiny miniscule star inside of a magnetic field
in a laboratory, and then harvesting the energy
from the reactions to make electricity. Even though I was still
wearing bell bottoms, I began to get the picture. He saw that I was curious
and he ended up, a few weeks later, sending me some of his published material. [High energy fusion: A quest for a small
environmentally acceptable power source] Two years later, in 1982,
I was invited to play Hamlet, at the famed McCarter Theatre
in Princeton, New Jersey, where this nuclear physicist had his lab. He saw my picture in the paper,
found me in the theater, took me to his lab
and outlined the steps he was he was going to have to take
to make a commercial fusion power plant. He said that his project was unique
because it was non-radioactive, and it would be an inexhaustible,
clean power source, for the world, forever. Well, at that moment,
the skeptic in me began to crawl out because this was sounding
way too good to be true. I finished the play, wished him
all the luck in the world, went back to my home
in southern California. But he was relentless, and he kept sending me updates
to his work for the next nine years. Then, in 1991, he moved his entire operation
to southern California to work with the head
of the physics department at UC Irvine, who happened to be working
on a similar kind of fusion. He said he started a company
to help fund the research and would I join the board of directors? (Laughter) Well, I was not a businessman,
and I wasn’t a nuclear physicist, and I certainly wasn’t a rocket scientist, so it must have been
the People Magazine thing that impressed him. (Laughter) I joined the board. At our very first board meeting, he introduced me enthusiastically
to my fellow board members. First, was Dr. Murray Gell-Mann, who won the Nobel prize
for discovering the quark. Then, there was Dr. Glenn Seaborg who won
the Nobel prize for discovering plutonium, and who had headed the Atomic Energy
Commission under four presidents. Then, there was Dr Edwin Buzz Aldrin. We all know what he did, right? My skepticism flew out the window, and for the next few years, I became
a kind of spokesperson for their project. I testified before congress, I lobbied
politicians in Washington D.C. I even went on P.B.S. to hawk
this new aneutronic fusion. Joining that board
was dot number two along the way. Unfortunately, that company didn’t make it
due to management problems, but the university was so excited about
its physics’ department’s work on this new aneutronic fusion, that they formed a special advisory board, to brainstorm a way forward
for the technology. They invited me to be on the board, and because of my public advocacy,
and because of my celebrity status, to reach out to politicians and rich guys, and quite certainly because
of my victory over the Kraken, (Laughter) they elected me chairman. Glenn Seaborg was made co-chairman; he had discovered plutonium
so he didn’t have to kill monsters to gain credibility. Now about that time, there was a lot of talk surfacing
about CO2 and greenhouse gases, and this new phrase “global warming”
had come into the conversation. I was determined to raise
some funds to start a project because I thought it just might be
the solution to some of these problems. I went to banks and billionaires, armed
only with my “sexiest man” status. I worked on my pitch. I would say that this new non-radioactive
fusion energy would feed the global grid for thousands of years, providing base load power
at industrial scale, at a very cheap price,
with no pollution at all. I would tell the investors
that the power plants, though nuclear, were non-radioactive
and they couldn’t blow up or melt down, and that the only bi-product
would be helium. So, we could open party stores,
and make balloons, right? Lots and lots of balloons. I mean, who wouldn’t whip out
their checkbook, right? Well, I might as well
have been hawking snake oil. I hit brick wall after brick wall. Then, in the fall of 1997,
Science Magazine, one of the most prestigious
scientific journals in the world, published its first paper
on this new aneutronic fusion, entitled “Colliding Beam Fusion Reactor” and it was authored by the head
of the physics department at UC Irvine and his collaborators. This lent credibility to the project, and the university quickly formed
a special session of the board of advisors to figure out what to do next. It was at that meeting,
which I co-chaired with Glenn Seaborg, that I hit on dot number three. Dr. Seaborg was ailing; he couldn’t make the meeting
so I acted as chairman. The room was filled
with some of the sharpest minds in physics and business and engineering, and somehow they all listened
to the chairman, who was neither a businessman
nor a nuclear physicist, nor a rocket scientist, but who had, nonetheless,
clad only in a loin cloth and red cape, slayed Medusa two decades earlier. (Laughter) Towards the end of the meeting, we heard proposals from a couple
of potential lead investors. One of them promised to write
a check for millions on the spot if we granted him the license. This, of course, made
the scientists sit up very straight. Nothing like big bucks
to make research scientists salivate. They wanted to make a deal, but I said, “Wait a minute,
woah, woah, woah! Hold your horses! Neither the university,
nor I, nor Dr. Seaborg have been able
to vet these people properly.” They had very suspicious backgrounds. I said, “If we take money from them, and then someday, we have to go
to another funding source, a reputable source like a big bank
or a venture capitalist, we’ll be turned away because
these people are involved.” They didn’t want to hear this at all. They wanted to go back
and keep talking about a deal, and that is the moment
I hit on dot number three. I had a brainstorm. I looked out at the group
and I said, “Wait. Listen.” I said, “We have to start our own company.
We have to do this ourselves. Because we all believe in the project,
we’re all successful in our own fields, and we have the connections
and networks of people to get enough money
to get this project going.” I said, “If we do it, and then someday
we have to go to another source, like Morgan Stanley or some
other venture capitalist, they won’t turn us away because it’s us.” The room fell very silent. They looked at me
like I was out of my mind. They went back to talking about the deal. I stood up, I had to take a stand. I stood up and I said, “Please, please
don’t take any money from these people. But if you do, I’m going to
have to resign from the board, I’m going to have to withdraw
my support for the project, because I know that it’ll be killed
before it’s ever born.” Well, this kind of got their attention, and they decided to,
at least, put on hold the idea of taking money
from these people for the time being. The meeting ended but I kept lobbying
for our own company for weeks, and finally, just the right guy
from the board called me up and said, “I get it, okay, let’s do it.” And on April 11th, 1998, the company
now known as “TRI ALPHA ENERGY” was born. Since then, we’ve been extremely fortunate
to have attracted just the right people, business people,
scientists, and engineers, who have brought every single milestone
in on budget and on schedule since the inception of the project, on their way to bringing
clean fusion power to the world. Nobel Laureate Arnold Penzias
who won the Nobel prize for discovering the background radiation
that proves the Big Bang studied the project in-depth. He concluded by saying, and I quote: “This may be the greatest discovery
for energy since fire.” Time magazine featured the project
in it’s fall 2015 cover story entitled, “Fusion; the sexiest energy alive.” (Laughter) Actually, “Unlimited energy
for everyone, forever. Fusion: It might actually work this time.” So, how is it that a post-war,
baby-boomer, hippy actor from Pasadena, got mixed up with advanced
nuclear physics and alternative energy? I guess I had to be in the right place
at the right time, but I also had to listen, I had to be curious, and I had to keep an open mind. I also had to connect some dots. I had to find the nexus
between ideas and events that, had they not been connected,
might have drifted off into oblivion. I think, most important, is to listen; to pay attention to the sights and sounds
in the present moment because they always give us the clue
to the story of our future. Obviously, you don’t have to be
a rocket scientist to be a futurist. [The sexiest man alive] If I can do it, anybody can. Thank you. (Applause)

10 Replies to “You Don’t Have To Be a Rocket Scientist To Be a Futurist | Harry Hamlin | TEDxLA”

  • Amazing. I never really thought of how being born in a different timeline could have such an effect on your life.It shows how anything is possible given the right time and place. We can all take a "little something" from this and make a difference. Anything is possible.

  • Well done Harry, to think I use to have a crush on you as an actor and now at 52 instead of a crush, I can simply respect and admire you for being a good man and a humanatarian. Those are the best legacy's we leave behind. Your Dad would be so proud of you. And yes we can be futurists, so thank you as it is people like yourself that motivate me to continue writing my book. So when it's complete I'll send you a copy. It will take a few years as I'm not a witer nor an actor, (wanted to be) but ended up being a nurse, which has led me to where I am today. I too am a humanitarian and I am hoping it will help humanity with the messages in it. I'm a small town gal in a tiny litle country in the middle of nowhere. It is not your run of the mill book but it will happen. I've titled it "The Universal Grid". By the way I found this TEDx by accident (or NOT) when I was listening to the Roberta Flack song Making love, which led me on to the film you starred in (which I will now try and find and watch it), which led me on to the various Interviews you were in, which led me on to this. Take care and all the best to you and your whanau (family) and the company too. Thank you for your inspiration.

  • This is interesting because in the 30s the sun will get a little weaker and we'll go through a mini ice age. Until recently mini ice ages was considered nothing more than a myth.

  • Harry it is so lovely to see you doing a TED TALK on very important global matters. That was an amazing story! Who knew you were a futurist? So am I and no I am not a rocket scientist either. I share your beliefs, concerns and love for humanity and the planet. Thank you for being another kindred spirit working to help restore our well being. There are so many awake and making contributions the best they know how. The greatest thing of all is coming from the space of the heart ♥️

    You did that in this talk! So many are right there with you and in alignment on this matter. Great love to you 🌍🙏🏾👏🤗🥰🙌

  • There are some really smart educated actors both male and female that should do TEDx Talks. As Hamlin shows that his vocation as an actor, has taught him to deliver a speech that not only keeps the audience interest but also his passion on the subject matter. Physics, nuclear fusion, renewable source of energy is all under the umbrella of what humanity has to address. Some in the present administration have people believing that global warming doesn’t exist. For those people well….I have no words! But, for the rest of us who want our children and grandchildren and future generations to inherit a planet that we would be proud to pass on we ALL need to put our words into action. Solar power is accessible to all if they have the money to do so, what about those who can not. We can rest assure this administration is in the business obliterating any past or future gains that scientists and experts have made. My hope is that our country will make it affordable, if not free, for every home in America run on renewable energy. We don’t need another 10 billion dollar plane to defend ourselves in conflict and war. The conflict has been staring us in the face and the war has to be now, because if don’t combat global warming there will be no planet to defend and save!

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