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Not Trending: Inventors and innovators you’ve never heard of

When we only pay attention to the things that are trending in our social networks, we may be missing some compelling stories. Carlos Watson, CEO of website Ozy, joins Gwen Ifill to share a few overlooked items, including efforts to create a working electronic model of the human brain, batteries that run on seawater that store clean energy and bending the rules of classical ballet.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Finally tonight, time for a look at some interesting reporting that's Not Trending.

    Gwen Ifill recently recorded our conversation.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    This week, we're looking at innovative thinkers you may not have heard of who are using advances in technology and science to chart important new paths. That includes an effort to create a kind of a bionic brain, a new way of building an eco-friendly battery made partially out of saltwater, and a choreographer attracting new ballet lovers via YouTube.

    Carlos Watson is the founder and CEO of OZY, which has stories about all of this on its site. And he joins me now.

    All the tech all the time, Carlos.

  • CARLOS WATSON, CEO, OZY:

    Why not? I mean, you told me basketball was off the table — or football, rather, was off the table. So let's go tech.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Let's — talking about this — the idea of creating a working electronic model of the brain.

  • CARLOS WATSON:

    It would be really interesting, would allow researchers to do all kinds of things to pursue cures for things like Alzheimer's and other things, instead of using mice brains and other things, if you had a really important and well-functioning simulated electronic brain.

    So, they're starting to make progress, Gwen. The U.S. has put $3 billion, Europe $2 billion, others, but still a little ways off.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    But what does that mean? How would it work? Exactly what are we talking about? An actual model that you plug in or something?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • GWEN IFILL:

    I don't know.

  • CARLOS WATSON:

    There's all kinds of forms it could take. And that's kind of one form, where it could live on a chip inside something that looks a little more friendly.

    You know what was interesting? One of the researchers in Manchester, the U.K., told me that in order to power that — so while it may come in a small case, whatever the case looks like, in order to power that, he says the computer power would take an airplane hangar. Like, that's how much power they would need in order to do that.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And the practical application is what?

  • CARLOS WATSON:

    So, two ones to think about.

    One idea is faster, better, more research, which hopefully brings us cures for things like Alzheimer's and other things. Number two, eventually — and again, a number of these things are decades away, not even years away, but they're not hundreds of years away — might be helping you with short-term or long-term memory lapses.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    What did you say? I'm sorry. I forgot what you said.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • CARLOS WATSON:

    You know what? You had a youthful moment, as we call them.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Yes, I did.

  • CARLOS WATSON:

    Yes.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    So, let's talk about this idea of a battery that is powered by saltwater?

  • CARLOS WATSON:

    Don't you love that?

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Yes.

  • CARLOS WATSON:

    Everything is going eco-friendly. It's not just Whole Foods anymore, right?

  • GWEN IFILL:

    That's right.

  • CARLOS WATSON:

    The idea was that the more we start tapping sun and wind power, right, whether it's panels on people's homes or all sorts of other things, it's great when the sun is out, but what about when the sun goes down? How do you store that energy and in fact being able to use it?

    And so a lot of folks have begun to look at different kinds of batteries, kind of big stable batteries, not the kind that go in your car or go in your computer, but kind of a battery that might be in your home or in a university.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Who is this guy Jay Whitacre?

  • CARLOS WATSON:

    You have got to like this Carnegie Mellon professor who a number of years ago said that there is a better way forward, that in fact can we create a batteries that store some of this sun and wind power, but they have got to not admit kind of toxic things?

    So, they have go to be, if you will, more eco-friendly? And in fact he wanted to prove that it was so eco-friendly and used saltwater to make it and all that, that, for an investor or two, he actually bit into one.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    You're kidding?

  • CARLOS WATSON:

    No, he's really not going to eat it, instead of the good stuff.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • GWEN IFILL:

    But he's proving that it is safe?

  • CARLOS WATSON:

    But he's proving that it is safer than the kind of toxic battery waste that you're used to thinking about.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And what would you use them for?

  • CARLOS WATSON:

    You would use them for everything.

    So, let's say you put solar panels on your house. You generate a lot of energy during the day, but you want to use some of that energy at night. These batteries may actually store it and allow you to use it at night, instead of using the electric grid.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    So, let's talk about another piece of this, which is a new venue promoting an old art, which is to say YouTube. Who is Guillaume Cote?

  • CARLOS WATSON:

    Well, he's a Quebecois, for those out there who are from Canada. He's a 33-year-old principal dancer at the National Ballet of Canada.

    And while that, in and of itself, is impressive, what's he's done is, he's kind of ushered in an era of ballet on the Web. And I know you're thinking, well, isn't everything on the Web?

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Yes.

  • CARLOS WATSON:

    And to some extent, it's been.

    But he did that was really special is he began to create these little two-minute films, these gorgeous films of him and in some cases others doing ballet, and really brought in not maybe 100 or 200 people.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And gorgeous films and a gorgeous man with the gorgeous films, which is why people — part of the reason people are watching. Right?

  • CARLOS WATSON:

    You know what?

    As he said to me — I was talking to him earlier. He said, the honest truth is that I'm dancing naked, right? He said, I have got little tights on. But the truth of the matter is, here's a fit athlete who, for two minutes in slow motion, with really clear facial expressions that you wouldn't normally get if you were sitting at the ballet.

    And so he's bringing in literally not hundreds of thousands, but millions of new fans, who, as he said himself, despite the fact he was one of the world's best dancers, didn't know him much before.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Is there an economic model to support reaching new audiences this way?

  • CARLOS WATSON:

    Not yet.

    And that worries him, because making some of these, even though they're only two minutes' long, sometimes he will spend $25,000, even $50,000 doing them. So, he's only made a couple, used a Kickstarter campaign. But he's hoping there's a way forward.

    Now, the exception to this are some of the big ballet companies like the New York City Ballet and others, who are smartly creating these kind of films as ways to get Gwen and Carlos to go to the ballet and to buy $800, $200, $300 — I know you do the nice tickets, do the nicer tickets.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    It's who I am.

  • CARLOS WATSON:

    That's who you are. So, who knows. Maybe there's a way that way.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Well, the brain, batteries and dance all in one place.

    Thank you very much, Carlos Watson.

  • CARLOS WATSON:

    Always good to be here.

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