A message from Ai Weiwei

The artist, dissident, and provocateur Ai Weiwei has been prohibited from leaving China since last April, when police held him in an isolation cell for 81 days. Passing the time was "impossible," he told me in an interview last year. "I really wished someone could beat me. Because at least that's human contact. Then you can see some anger. But to dismiss emotion, to be cut off from any reason, or anger, or fear, psychologically that's very threatening."

Since then Ai, who is a Foreign Policy  Global Thinker this year, has stayed mostly in his compound in Northeast Beijing, while his fame and his art have traveled the world. For Ai, who has more than 180,000 followers on Twitter, it's all about communication, about being able to speak out.

"My work in the past few years...relates to how to find a way to communicate in a very special circumstance" said Ai in a video he made exclusively for last night's Global Thinkers gala at the Hirshhorn museum in Washington, which is also currently hosting the first ever North American retrospective of his work.

Watch the video below:  


Google's Thrun: 'We're really dumbing down our children'

Google fellow and Stanford University computer scientist Sebastian Thrun -- who is ranked #4 on our Global Thinkers list for his work developing and promoting self-driving cars -- spoke during this afternoon's panel on "The New Economic Sources of Power." Thrun was withering in his assessment of the U.S. education system: 

The thing that pains me by far the most is education and the direction where we're going. I think we're going in exactly the opposite direction from where we should be going. We're really dumbing down our children. We're doing an increasingly lousy job with high schools. We have increasingly misguided policies in bills such as No Child Left Behind. If you look at the students at a place like Stanford and the international students we could draw from, I think we are neglecting the most important resource which is human capital.

He was equally critical of American higher education:

Right now, in the United States, if you attend college, your parents pay $4,000 per class if it’s an Ivy League school, if it’s the University of Pheonix, maybe $1,200, and the product you’re getting is about 1,000 years old. Sitting in a class with a professor costs a lot of money and is very inefficient and mediocre.

On transportation, Thrun mocked states for investing in high-speed rail, which he called a "19th-century technology" that will soon be overtaken by more efficient and intelligent car designs.