One hallmark of TED talks, however, is that politics like this are left out: no easy task in a country at the centre of ongoing global antiterrorism efforts. One of the event’s speakers, 23-year-old Ibrahim Mothana, has been a vocal critic of the US drone campaign in Yemen, writing a New York Times opinion piece in June, titled, “How Drones Help Al Qaeda”. But, on stage, Mothana decided to avoid the topic, focusing instead on local communities and leadership.
“The theme of the conference was inspiring hope and talking about drones is rather depressing,” he said.
That doesn’t mean that TEDxSanaa was droneless. One of the more popular moments at the event was a replay of a videotaped TED 2012 talk by University of Pennsylvania Professor Vijay Kumar on swarming drones, titled “Robots that fly...and cooperate.”
Though Kumar’s talk focused on small civilian drones that could be used in situations such as earthquake recovery, divorcing drones from the reality of their political and military applications is hard, even at TED. The video’s closing scene pictured a tiny band of the flying robots performing the James Bond spy theme.