Marcia McNutt, President of the National Academy of Sciences, opens TED@NAS at The National Academy of Sciences on November 1, 2019, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Science catalyzes progress. It allows us to explore our biggest questions, generate new ideas and seek out solutions. At TED@NAS, 19 speakers and performers explored how science is igniting change and fueling our way forward — through radical collaboration, quantum leaps and bold thinking.
The event: TED@NAS, for which The National Academy of Sciences, The Kavli Foundation and the Simons Foundation partnered with TED to offer an exciting day of original TED Talks, hosted by TED’s David Biello and Briar Goldberg
When and where: Friday, November 1, 2019, at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC
Special performance: A poetry reading by Marilyn Nelson
Opening and closing remarks: Courtesy of Marcia McNutt, President of the National Academy of Sciences; Robert Conn, President of Kavli Foundation; and Marilyn Simons and Jim Simons, cofounders of the Simons Foundation
The talks in brief:
Jim Hudspeth, ear enthusiast
Big idea: Meet “hair cells”: the beautiful and mysterious cells in your inner ear, which allow you to hear the world around you.
Why: Jim Hudspeth has spent the last 45 years studying hair cells, the tiny biological powerhouses that make hearing possible (and that, despite their name, have nothing to do with the kind of hair that grows on your head). On top of each hair cell are “stereocilia”: microscopic rods that twitch back and forth in response to sound, turning vibrations into electrical signals that your brain can interpret. The louder the sound, the more they tremble — with a response time that’s fully a thousand times faster than our other senses. Hudspeth and his team are working to decipher the molecular strategy of hair cells in the hopes of finding a way to reverse hearing problems.
Fun fact: In a very quiet environment, such as a sound chamber, 70 percent of normally hearing people emit sound from their ears!
Paul McEuen and Marc Miskin, micro-roboticists
Big idea: Paul McEuen, Marc Miskin and their colleagues create tiny robots to navigate microscopic worlds. Someday scientists hope to “train” these robots to study (and potentially battle) crop diseases, cancer cells and a host of other microbial menaces.
How: McEuen and Miskin enlist existing semiconductor components and new, innovative materials to create laser-programmable, remotely piloted “robots” with folding platinum legs and brains 1/10,000th the size of a smartphone. These robots could someday revolutionize our understanding of an unseen universe.
Quote of the talk: “Instead of just watching the micro-world, we as humans can now build technology to shape it, to interact with it, to engineer it. In 30 years, when my son is my age, what will we do with that ability?”
Amanda Schochet, ecologist, micro-museum maven
Big Idea: Many large-scale solutions to the world’s problems are simply too slow. To help speed things up, we need to think small.
How? As an ecologist in Southern California, Amanda Schochet studied how bumblebees interacted with “habitat fragments,” small patches of native plants thriving in barren landscapes. Taken together, these fragments made up a vast network of resources, helping bumblebees adapt to environmental change. This gave Schochet an idea: to create “social habitat fragments” for humans in order to cultivate stronger communities and solve our own problems. Thus, the MICRO museum was born: tiny, dense information hubs that can be installed anywhere, from hospital lobbies to libraries, helping people in underprivileged spaces connect and grow. Schochet offers four tips for designing your own micro-solution: zoom in to see how systems interact; look for resources gaps; collaborate with other habitat fragments; and transform your fragment. By building tiny pockets of opportunity, we can knit together community networks that are resilient and expansive.
Quote of the talk: “There are habitat fragments everywhere: passionate individuals and groups of all sizes building toward a system with more equal access … One by one, together, we are filling gaps, strengthening systems that we all depend on.”
By studying oxylipin — a chemical “language” spoken by both phytoplankton in the ocean and the immune cells in our bodies — we can gain a deeper understanding of the planet and ourselves, says oceanographer Bethanie Edwards. She speaks at TED@NAS at The National Academy of Sciences on November 1, 2019, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Bethanie Edwards, oceanographer
Big idea: By studying oxylipin — a chemical “language” spoken by both phytoplankton in the ocean and the immune cells in our bodies — we can gain a deeper understanding of the planet and ourselves.
How? Chemicals speak several “dialects,” such as those spoken by hormones, pheromones and toxins. Oxylipin is another such dialect, spoken when fatty acids break down. In the ocean, phytoplankton cells that speak oxylipin have powerful effects on their predators — warding off hungry mouths or even causing devastating mutations in their offspring. Amazingly, cells in the human immune system speak oxylipin, too — communicating with each other to recognize bacteria and heal infected areas. By continuing to investigate how this language works, Edwards hopes we can gain new insight into how our bodies heal.
Quote: “We can think about oxylipins like death cries — they are the last words of phytoplankton.”
Karin Öberg, space chemist
Big idea: The chemical cocktail for a living planet is simple — just add water! (and hydrogen cyanide) — and now easier than ever to identify from light-years away.
How? Rather than looking for these molecules in planets that already exist, it’s better practice to observe the material before it becomes one, explains Öberg. With the help of ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter and sub-millimeter Array), a telescope comprised of 66 satellite dishes working in unison, Öberg searches for and identifies hotbeds of molecular activity where planets eventually form. By mapping these intergalactically fertile locations, it may be possible to pinpoint life-sustaining planets like Earth.
Fun fact: Hydrogen cyanide, while an extremely deadly poison, is also a fundamental ingredient for newly forming planets.
“Within the next couple years, some astronomer somewhere will find a faint point of light slowly moving across the sky and triumphantly announce the discovery of a new — and quite possibly, not the last — real planet of our solar system,” says planetary astronomer Mike Brown. He speaks at TED@NAS at The National Academy of Sciences on November 1, 2019, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Mike Brown, planetary astronomer
Big idea: There’s an unknown planet in our solar system — and we’re on the verge of finding it.
How? Our telescopes aren’t powerful enough to identify unknown objects in the far reaches of our solar system, but they are powerful enough to track the rings of icy bodies that orbit known planets. Mike Brown and his research group discovered one such icy body, called Sedna, in 2004 — it was the most distant known object in the solar system at the time. By studying Sedna’s unusual, elongated orbit, Brown and his team deduced the existence of a distant, unknown, giant planet, which they’re calling Planet 9. At six times the mass of Earth, Planet 9 would become the fifth largest in the entire solar system. It could take years to identify Planet 9’s location with our telescopes, but Brown thinks it’s already hiding in the data. Now, he’s combing through old data for unrecognized images that may show a faint, moving planet — and finally give us a glimpse of Planet 9.
Quote of the talk: “Within the next couple years, some astronomer somewhere will find a faint point of light slowly moving across the sky and triumphantly announce the discovery of a new — and quite possibly, not the last — real planet of our solar system.”
SPHERES, a live VR experience created by writer/director Eliza McNitt
Big idea: For millennia, humans have been drawn to worlds beyond our own. Could cutting-edge VR technology help us translate the invisible waves coming from deep space into sights and sounds we can actually perceive?
How: Performed by Eliza McNitt with Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein (soundtrack artists of Stranger Things), SPHERES blends 360-degree video with live sound (and the voices of Jessica Chastain, Millie Bobby Brown and Patti Smith) to map the unseeable mysteries of interstellar space — from the songs of black holes to the whistles of comets.
Quote of the performance: “Space is not silent: in fact, it’s full of sounds.”
Kelsey Johnson, astronomer
Big Idea: Light pollution is a serious threat for virtually all species, including humans. Kelsey Johnson has a plan for preserving the dark night sky.
Why? Have you ever laid on your back at night, staring up at the star-studded sky? That experience is at risk of disappearing, says Kelsey Johnson. The threat comes from light pollution, or excessive artificial light at night time, which creates a “smog of light” and cloaks our view of space. This affects species in a range of ways: for instance, dog whelks — a type of sea snail — are almost twice as likely to hang out below the water level with a predator in the presence of artificial light. Our own health is at risk, too, Johnson says: by disrupting our circadian rhythms, we may be at a greater risk of breast cancer and obesity. So what can we do? Johnson lays out a series of steps you can take every day: limit your light usage (or don’t use any at all, if you don’t need it); keep light pointed away from the sky; choose warm lights, when possible; and speak up, advocating for the wellbeing of your window to the galaxy, both in your community and on a federal level.
Quote of the talk: “If you have never seen a truly dark night sky, I want you to go out and experience one for yourself because, if you don’t, you don’t know what you’re missing and what humanity is losing.”
Risa Wechsler, physicist, dark matter researcher
Big idea: Dark matter is the most mysterious and massive feature of our universe — and we’re just starting to learn about it.
How? Everything we see can with telescopes — galaxies, planets, stars, dust, gas, us — makes up 15 percent of the total mass of the universe. The other 85 percent is dark matter — which doesn’t emit or absorb light, and can’t be seen with eyes or detected with radio waves. The only reason we know it exists is because we can detect its influence on stars and galaxies. So what exactly is dark matter, and what does it have to do with our existence? Risa Wechsler and teams of physicists are getting creative to figure that out, creating model universes in computers to see what life would look like in the absence of dark matter; building detectors deep underground to try to catch a trace of its passage; and smashing particles together to try and make it in the lab. We’re still far from understanding dark matter, Wechsler says, but studying it could unlock a whole new understanding of physics and our place in the universe.
Fun fact: Dark matter is probably on your body right now. It doesn’t bump into you — it goes right through you.
“Think about how something works, then take it apart to test it. Manipulate something and prove some physical principle to yourself. Put the human back in the technology. You’ll be surprised at the connections you make,” says experimentalist Nadya Mason. She speaks at TED@NAS at The National Academy of Sciences on November 1, 2019, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Nadya Mason, experimentalist
Big Idea: By doing hands-on experiments that help us better understand how our everyday devices work, we can reconnect to the physical world.
How? Our everyday devices are shrouded in mystery — most of us don’t know how a touchscreen works, and few of us are compelled to find out. Nadya Mason thinks that we lose understanding and connection to the world when we don’t try to figure out how things work. Experimenting is intuitive to us: babies learn about the world by interacting with it. At some point, though, we’re taught to simply accept the information given to us — but by experimenting, we can rediscover that instinct of curiosity. Hands-on experimentation and testing allows us to use our senses to learn, encouraging us to make new connections and discoveries, Mason says. The research backs this up: hands-on learning improves retention, understanding and well-being. By pursuing that tingle of curiosity and experimenting, we can demystify our surroundings, regain agency over our devices — and have fun.
Quote of the talk: “Think about how something works, then take it apart to test it. Manipulate something and prove some physical principle to yourself. Put the human back in the technology. You’ll be surprised at the connections you make.”
Molly Webster, sex chromosome editor
Big Idea: It’s time to let go of the belief that the X and Y chromosomes define biological sex as a binary — and start celebrating the nuances of science and the diversity of our bodies.
How? While the X and Y chromosomes do determine some part of biological sex, the genes they carry have many other functions, says Molly Webster. For instance, only four percent of the nearly 1,100 genes on the X chromosome have to do with sex determination. The simplistic definition of the X and Y chromosomes misrepresents the actual science of what they do in our bodies, an impact that can ripple across society and pave the way for discrimination. In major sports and in the justice system, for example, people have used these ideas to justify mistreatment against people who have different chromosome orders. Webster calls for us to make room for more inclusive and informed science by incorporating a broader understanding of the X and Y chromosomes in our classrooms and research labs.
Quote of the talk: “We’re at this point where we’re thinking: How do we want to teach science? How do we want to fund science? Who do we want to be as a society? Shouldn’t we allow ourselves to think about the X and Y chromosomes a little more broadly … and if we do, what insights would we gain?”
“When we truly understand exactly how the mind comes from the brain, we will improve the lives of everyone who will have a mental illness in their lifetime … as well as everyone else with whom they share the world,” says neuroscientist Kay Tye. She speaks at TED@NAS at The National Academy of Sciences on November 1, 2019, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Kay Tye, neuroscientist
Big idea: It’s common knowledge that physical processes within the brain determine our state of mind: depression, anxiety and a host of other conditions are fundamentally linked to brain activity. Studying the link between the brain and the mind (or emotions) could help uncover effective treatments for mental disorders at their source.
How: By studying neural pathways, Kay Tye is shedding light on how neurons give rise to mental states. Her lab discovered that a region called the amygdala represents a “fork in the road” determining negative or positive emotional outcomes — and as their research continues, they’re identifying regions linked to overeating, anxiety and other negative behaviors. Tye believes that treatments targeting specific neural circuits could lead to a mental health revolution.
Quote of the talk: “When we truly understand exactly how the mind comes from the brain, we will improve the lives of everyone who will have a mental illness in their lifetime … as well as everyone else with whom they share the world.”
Angelicque White, biological oceanographer
Big idea: Angelicque White studies the base of the Pacific Ocean’s food web: microbes. This “forest of the sea” is composed of the most important organisms on the planet, whose health is directly linked to the health of the oceans.
How: Ocean microbes provide food for many of the ocean’s larger inhabitants and are a crucial barometer of marine chemistry. Rising marine temperatures are throwing this microbial ecosystem out of balance, leading to toxic algal blooms that ruin shellfish harvests and impact the lives of fish and marine mammals. By tracking the composition of our oceans over time, White and her colleagues hope to understand both marine health and how we might rejuvenate it.
Quote of the talk: “I personally believe that sustained observation of our oceans and our planet is the moral imperative for our generation of scientists. We are bearing witness to the changes that are being inflicted upon our natural communities, and by doing so, it provides us the opportunity to adapt and enact global change — if we’re willing.”
“How do you save one special, weird species from going extinct?” asks science journalist Victoria Gill. “You find people who know all about this animal, and you ask them, and you listen to them.” She speaks at TED@NAS at The National Academy of Sciences on November 1, 2019, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Victoria Gill, science journalist
Big idea: Science alone can’t save the world. To make big breakthroughs, we also need collaboration between scientists and local experts.
How? To save the axolotl — an exotic (and adorable) salamander found in the freshwater lakes of Mexico — scientists teamed up with the people who know this wonderfully weird amphibian best: the Sisters of the Immaculate Health. For centuries, these nuns have concocted a special axolotl medicine, gathering crucial information and building up wisdom about this rare species. Gill reminds us that unusual collaboration between traditional scientists and knowledgeable locals often results in a deeper, fuller understanding of our ecosystems and the creatures that live in them — leading to more successful solutions for all.
Quote: “How do you save one special, weird species from going extinct? … You find people who know all about this animal, and you ask them, and you listen to them.”
Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz, astrophysicist, stellar storyteller (and certified stellar mortician)
Big idea: We are all — fundamentally, universally, atomically — connected.
How? We’re connected by the birth, death and rebirth of stars: the iron in your blood, the oxygen you breathe and the silicon in your phone relies on the interstellar life cycle, Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz says. Atomic-grade supernovas transform lighter elements (hydrogen and helium, for example) into heavier ones (like iron) — one of the most important being oxygen. This continuous elemental recycle explains everything from the Big Bang to the air we breathe, inextricably intertwining cosmic and human history. Essentially, we are life forms evolved to inhale the waste products of plants but also supernova explosions — which means it’s technically accurate to say that you’ve shared oxygen molecules with the world’s greatest minds.
Quote of the talk: “Our atoms participated in an epic odyssey with time-spans from billions of years to mere centuries — all leading to you.”
We’re excited to announce the release of TED Masterclass — TED’s official public speaking course. Delivered via mobile app, the course is guided by TED’s Head Curator, Chris Anderson, and is designed to help you identify, develop and share your best ideas as a TED-style talk.
Based on Anderson’s book TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, the TED Masterclass app features 11 animated lessons that break down the techniques that speakers use to present their ideas from TED’s main stage. The lessons are taught using vivid animations, handpicked clips from celebrated TED Talks and exclusive insights from TED’s speaker coaches.
Developed by TED-Ed, the new app teaches people how to connect with an audience, explain complex ideas and give more persuasive presentations. The app also features a library of full-length TED Talks, including talks from Brené Brown, Bryan Stevenson, Susan Cain and many other TED speakers. Each talk featured in the app exemplifies and reinforces concepts introduced within the course.
You can complete the course at your own pace and can revisit each lesson as future public speaking opportunities arise. The app is free to download from both the Google Play Store and Apple App Store, and full access to the course is available as an in-app purchase.
Curated by Bruno Giussani, Jonathan Wells and CC Hutten, the short film selections at TEDSummit 2019 provided welcomed mental breaks in between talks.
TEDSummit gathers members of our global community for brainstorms, performances, workshops, outdoor activities, future-focused discussions. In addition to a diverse array of talks and performances, TEDSummit 2019 in Edinburgh featured a selection of short films that delighted the vibrant TED community and set the tone for sessions. Here’s the lineup of conference shorts screened at TEDSummit 2019.
“All That We Share”
In this unexpectedly unifying ad, strangers learn that familiarity is just one question away.
The creator: Asger Leth. Agency: &Co./NoA Copenhagen.
Shown during: Session 1, Weaving Community
This extra-short film is full of delightful and oddly satisfying symmetry.
The creators: Grazia Pompeo & Fulvio Pucciarelli (Tanello Films)
Shown during: Session 1, Weaving Community
“In a Nutshell”
This features exquisite sound design — a calming and surprising feast for the senses.
The creator: Fabio Friedli
Shown during: Session 2, Anthropo Impact
In this frustrating supercut of archetypal writers, well-known characters experience the purgatory of writer’s block.
The creators: Ivan Kander & Ben Watts
Shown during: Session 3, The Big Rethink
A righteous and vibrant animated poem written by Denice Frohman and created by our own team at TED-Ed.
The creator: Robertino Zambrano
Shown during: Session 3, The Big Rethink
This decorated feature showcases the raw and melancholy life of a stop-motion puppet.
The creator: Ainslie Henderson
Shown during: Session 3, The Big Rethink
“Pass the Salt”
An extremely unnecessary way to pass salt at the dinner table.
The creator: Joseph Herscher
Shown during: Session 4, Business Unusual
An unsettling, mesmerizing timelapse of a newt embryo.
The creator: Jan van IJken
Shown during: Session 5, Stages of Life
“Saturn in Progress”
Featuring real footage of Saturn, this grand short film makes viewers feel humbled by the vastness of our universe.
The creator: Rémi Forte
Shown during: Session 5, Stages of Life
“Beethoven’s Line Riders”
Ride along with these animated sledders in this pleasing and minimalist Fantasia-esque short.
The creator: Mark Robbins
Shown during: Session 6, Not All Is Broken
The TED Interview launches its newest season on October 9, 2019. Last season notably featured Bill Gates, Monica Lewinsky and Susan Cain — and you can expect another thoughtful lineup of scientists, thinkers and artists for the new season.
Season 3 features eight episodes, during which head of TED Chris Anderson will continue to inspire curiosity with in-depth conversations on our consciousness, the ways we navigate community and the power of embracing paradox.
During Season 3, Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert expands on his TED Talk concerning the science of happiness; Turkish-British author Elif Shafak deconstructs storytelling and global community; and Michael Tubbs, one of the world’s youngest mayors, makes a case for universal basic income.
With a diverse lineup of global thought leaders, TED’s podcasts are downloaded in more than 190 countries (nearly every place on Earth!). “Just like the ideas we explore, The TED Interview continues to grow with even more thoughtful and challenging conversations this season,” says Chris Anderson. “We’ve hit our stride and will be delving deeper into the minds of some of TED’s most remarkable speakers.”
TED’s content programming extends beyond its signature TED Talk format with six original podcasts. In August 2019, TED was ranked among Podtrac’s Top 10 Publishers in the US.
The TED Interview is proudly sponsored by Lexus, whose passion for brave design, imaginative technology and exhilarating performance enables the luxury lifestyle brand to create amazing experiences for its customers.
The TED Interview season 3
Transportation Teahouse at Huangjueping Street in Chongqing, China. (Photo: National Geographic Learning – Life as Lived)
Since its inception, TED has been zealous in its mission of spreading ideas that inspire. It was out of this passion that a partnership between National Geographic Learning emerged to create materials for the English language learning classroom — and help English learners to find their own voice.
National Geographic Learning’s goal is to bring the world to the classroom and the classroom to life. They create English programs that are inspiring, real and relevant. Students learn about their world by experiencing it through the stories, ideas, photography and video of both National Geographic and TED.
The language learning classroom is meant to be a safe place where learners can make mistakes and build confidence before going out into the world. But it can also be a place where learners can struggle to see a connection between the real world and the language they’re learning.
National Geographic Learning believes that if we want learners to understand the value of learning English — a language that connects them to the world — then we need to bring the real world into the classroom and show them the opportunity learning a language brings. The teaching and learning programs created by National Geographic Learning with TED Talks give learners of English (and their teachers) a way to talk about ideas that are relevant to them and help them develop a voice of their own in English.
This partnership has resulted in five textbook programs for the English language learning classroom so far. National Geographic Learning and TED have also collaborated to create a unique classroom supplement, Learn English with TED Talks — a language learning app with a difference.
For more information about all of the English language learning materials made with TED Talks please visit ELTNGL.com/TED.
Concerns are growing around privacy and government surveillance in today’s hyper-connected world. Technology is smarter and faster than ever — and so are government strategies for listening in. As a lawyer for the ACLU, Jennifer Granick (TED Talk: How the US government spies on people who protest — including you) works to demystify the murky legal landscape of privacy civil rights, protecting our freedom of privacy against government and private interests. We spoke with her about the battle against government surveillance, how you can keep your data safe and why legal transparency — and legal action — is vital.
In your talk at TEDxStanford, you detail some of the history and methods of government surveillance in the United States. Can you elaborate on how these methods have evolved as technology has advanced?
As Supreme Court Justice John Roberts put it, it’s the difference between “a ride on horseback [and] a flight to the moon.” The amount of information that’s available about us is exponentially more; the ease of accessing it and analyzing it, because of big data tools, storage and machine searching, is categorically different. At the same time, the laws that are intended to protect our privacy have been downgraded repeatedly, most recently in the name of the War on Terror. Everything is bigger; there’s just so much more out there.
In your talk, you mentioned that Section 702 of the FISA amendments (which allows US government agencies to surveil “foreign terrorist threats”) expired in 2017. What kind of impact will that have on the landscape of surveillance?
There was a long political battle about 702 and trying to amend it. What ended up happening is that Congress just reauthorized it, and passed it as part of a larger bill with no real reform. The movement to try to do something about it utterly failed. What it means is that right now, with more confidence than ever before, the intelligence community and [its] agencies can gather information in the name of targeting foreigners and store all of that information. So, they can search through conversations we’re having with people overseas. The news that’s happened since then shows that there are still mistakes and problems with the way these intelligence agencies are handling the information, and that they’re regularly breaking the rules. There was a recent story about the FBI violating the 702 rules. There’s no accountability to comply with the law; weak as it is, it’s basically not a concern.
What role do tech companies like Amazon and Facebook play in perpetuating these surveillance efforts?
Companies don’t want to comply with a whole bunch of legal processes, but when they do, they want it to be clear what they’re supposed to do, and they don’t want any liability for it. The companies have had some comments about wanting to restrain government surveillance to legitimate purposes to reassure their non-American users, and they’ve pushed for some sort of clarity and regularity in how surveillance is going to happen. They came out in favor of a more controlled exercise of 702, but no real reform. They also supported the Cloud Act which is a recent law that basically enables foreign governments to access information stored here in the US without meeting the higher standard of US legal process. They’re not consistently civil libertarians or privacy advocates.
If you care about any political issue — whether it’s tax reform or Black Lives Matter — we need to ensure these people can operate freely in the political world.
Facial recognition technology like Amazon’s “Rekognition” is being used by law enforcement across the country. What are the concerns and possible consequences around the use of this technology?
Face identification connected to surveillance cameras is particular dystopian, but the ACLU of Northern California’s test of Rekognition shows that even the more pedestrian uses of the technology are dangerous. In tests, the software incorrectly identified 28 members of Congress as people who have been arrested for a crime and disproportionately flagged members of the Congressional Black Caucus. The problem is both that the tool is inaccurate and discriminatory, and also that it gives unprecedented power to police.
In an always-connected world with smart tech in our homes, cars and pockets, how can we prepare for and avoid intrusive surveillance?
Number one: use encryption. Encrypting your data is getting easier and easier, and there are communications services out there that protect your communications. iMessage is one for iPhone users. There’s WhatsApp, too. I use Signal, which is a text messaging program. Encrypting your data is easier and easier. For many of us, one of the biggest challenges isn’t necessarily the government — it’s hackers, too, so always turn on multi-factor authentication. This is so that it’s not like somebody can bust into your account with a password; they will also need to have some other kind of hardware token. That’s a good thing to do, and it’s actually very little additional work.
This idea that you can be manipulated into seeing, believing, buying and thinking things that aren’t what you normally would do — and nobody knows about it because nobody knows what I see is different from what you see — is scary.
Don’t use technology that doesn’t need to be connected to the internet. If you don’t need that internet-connected baby thermometer, don’t buy it. It’s going to send your data to some company, and that company is going to sell it to marketers, and it’ll be a source of access for law enforcement. In particular, I don’t like those home assistants like the Alexa or Google Home because I think that eventually, those machines can be used to eavesdrop on people. Why would we invite a ready-made surveillance device into our home?
Everybody likes new, fun stuff — I know lots of people who have those in-home assistants. I have a cell phone, I love the internet and I use Facebook. I think one of the things people really should do is push for better laws. That’s what the law is there for. It’s supposed to protect us and allow us to participate in the modern economy.
At the end of your talk, you close by saying we need to demand transparency. What does transparency mean to you, and how we can reach it?
There’s so much we don’t know about surveillance right now. In the criminal context, we don’t know how many particular surveillance orders are issued. We don’t know what kind of information they’re getting with them. We don’t know what they’re forcing companies to do. We don’t know if they’re potentially subverting security measures in order to facilitate spying on us. It’s much worse in the intelligence context where we have this FISA court that operates and issues opinions behind closed doors. They’re supposed to be publishing these opinions, but we very rarely see them. Any new and novel interpretations of law are meant to be published, but ever since that edict went into law, we haven’t had any FISA court opinions declassified. We find out way after the fact about things, like the FBI’s most recent violation of Section 702 rules, which meant agents had access to data and information they weren’t supposed to see. We find out about these problems years later. There’s just so much that we don’t know.
Transparency is the first step, but it’s not an end unto itself. There’s a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, and that board has only recently confirmed members, and now there’s a quorum again. For a long time, that oversight board, which is expected to provide some narrow review of intelligence programs, wasn’t even in operation. We’re behind. Only a few senators and representatives care because the population isn’t coming forward and saying, “This is really important to us.” But they should be.
There’s no more obvious reason why you should care about surveillance than the Trump administration. In the past, people who have been blasé about surveillance had an assumption that if you weren’t doing anything wrong then you didn’t have anything to worry about — police would follow the rule of law, and everybody was operating with good faith. But today, you have the extremity of the immigration situation; today, you have the way that the Trump administration is punishing people who are coming to this country by kidnapping their children. There’s rampant sexism and anti-Semitism and racism, and this idea that people are “Black identity extremists” who should be surveilled — which just means the government is surveilling civil rights activists and communities of color. And so there’s this situation where this immense amount of technical power is in the hands of people who are operating in bad faith, based on the most base of motives.
What does it mean that all this information has been gathered and can be accessed, manipulated and sold? And how do you speak to those who aren’t concerned and believe they have nothing to hide?
There’s two things. One is that everybody has committed crimes. The amount of behavior that’s covered by criminal laws is huge — whether it’s smoking pot or lying on your taxes, there’s just so many ways that you can transgress the law. Nobody is 100 percent clean. If somebody wanted to go after you and they knew everything about you, there would be ample information to do that. It’s not just criminal stuff; it’s foolish things you’ve said in the past or people you were friends with who turned out to be crooked. There’s all kinds of things that can be used to tarnish your reputation with your employer or your friends or your spouse.
The second thing I tell people is that it’s not about you. You may be of no interest, but there are people out there who are challenging the status quo, and these people stick out in order to try to make change. And the powers that be don’t necessarily want change. They like the way things are because they’re the ones in control. So if you care about any political issue — whether it’s tax reform or Black Lives Matter — we need to ensure these people can operate freely in the political world. The ability to do that is greatly reduced if someone has to be afraid that the police are going to come after their undocumented relatives. People need to be concerned about information gathering on the private side because that’s one of the main avenues that information gets to law enforcement. There’s so much incentive on the private side to collect it. That incentive is based on the advertising model: the more that companies know about us, the more targeted the advertising can be and the more money they make.
The real thing to start worrying about is what we’re seeing in China, where they’re using face-surveillance to identify people, follow them out on the street and assign them a social score.
Once you have that much information, people can be manipulated against their best interest. [Social media] sites are designed to be addictive, and in order to keep people clicking, they keep showing you more and more outrageous stuff. This totally skews your sense of the world and skews your facts so you don’t know what’s actually going on in the world. It makes you associate only with like-minded people and puts you into this filter bubble. This idea that you can be manipulated into seeing, believing, buying and thinking things that aren’t what you normally would do — and nobody knows about it because nobody knows that what I see is different from what you see — is scary.
Once you have that data, there’s sociological or systemic problems, because there are certain decisions made based on that data about things, like who’s going to qualify for welfare benefits, what housing ads are shown to me based on my race, what job listings are shown to me based on my gender. These are other kinds of ways in which data can instantiate prejudice or discrimination. It’s not like there wasn’t prejudice or discrimination before big data — the fear is that it’s less obvious that it’s happening, and that makes it much more powerful.
What does the future of surveillance and privacy look like? Is something like Google’s Smart City neighborhood in Toronto going to be the norm?
I think that’s one possible outcome — that not just our communications data but data about our bodies, homes, relationships, shopping and more will be collected and will interact with each other far more than they are now. I think that’s definitely a trend. The real thing to start worrying about is what we’re seeing in China, where they’re using face-surveillance to identify people, follow them out on the street and assign them a social score, which is made up of factors like their law-abidingness, their job and their financials. This score that apparently dictates whether or not they’re good citizens follows them everywhere, enabling government and private entities to discriminate and make decisions about these people based on their rankings. That’s a really terrifying situation to have people be labeled and treated accordingly. That’s very Brave New World.
Hosts Rajesh Mirchandani and Chee Pearlman wave to “We The Future” attendees who watched the salon live from around the world through TED World Theater technology. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
At “We the Future,” a day of talks from TED, the Skoll Foundation and the United Nations Foundation at the TED World Theater in New York City, 18 speakers and performers shared daring ideas, deep analysis, cautionary tales and behavior-changing strategies aimed at meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the global goals created in partnership with individuals around the world and adopted at the United Nations in 2015.
The event: We the Future, presented by TED, the Skoll Foundation and the United Nations Foundation to share ingenious efforts of people from every corner of the globe
When and where: Tuesday, September 24, 2019, at the TED World Theater in New York, NY
Music: Queen Esther with Hilliard Greene and Jeff McGlaughlin, performing the jazzy “Blow Blossoms” and the protest song “All That We Are”
The talks in brief:
David Wallace-Wells, journalist
Big idea: The climate crisis is too vast and complicated to solve with a silver bullet. We need a shift in how we live: a whole new politics, economics and relationship to technology and nature.
Why? The climate crisis isn’t the legacy of our ancestors, but the work of a single generation — ours, says Wallace-Wells. Half of all the emissions from the burning of fossil fuels in the history of humanity were produced in the last 30 years. We clearly have immense power over the climate, and it’s put us on the brink of catastrophe — but it also means we’re the ones writing the story of our planet’s future. If we are to survive, we’ll need to reshape society as we know it — from building entirely new electric grids, planes and infrastructures to rethinking the way the global community comes together to support those hit hardest by climate change. In we do that, we just might build a new world that’s livable, prosperous and green.
Quote of the talk: “We won’t be able to beat climate change — only live with it and limit it.”
“When the cost of inaction is that innocent children are left unprotected, unvaccinated, unable to go to school … trapped in a cycle of poverty, exclusion and invisibility, it’s on us to take this issue out of darkness and into the light,” says legal identity expert Kristen Wenz. She speaks at “We The Future” on September 24, 2019, at the TED World Theater in New York, NY. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Kristen Wenz, legal identity expert
Big idea: More than one billion people — mostly children — don’t have legal identities or birth certificates, which means they can’t get vital government services like health care and schooling. It’s a massive human rights violation we need to fix.
How? There are five key approaches to ensuring children are registered and protected — reduce distance, reduce cost, simplify the process, remove discrimination and increase demand. In Tanzania, the government helped make it easier for new parents to register their child by creating an online registration system and opening up registration hubs in communities. The results were dramatic: the number of children with birth certificates went from 16 to 83 percent in just a few years. By designing solutions with these approaches in mind, we can provide better protection and brighter opportunities for children across the world.
Quote of the talk: “When the cost of inaction is that innocent children are left unprotected, unvaccinated, unable to go to school … trapped in a cycle of poverty, exclusion and invisibility, it’s on us to take this issue out of darkness and into the light.”
Don Gips, CEO of the Skoll Foundation, in conversation with TEDWomen curator and author Pat Michell
Big idea: Don Gips turned away from careers in both government and business and became CEO of the Skoll Foundation for one reason: the opportunity to take charge of investing in solutions to the most urgent issues humanity faces. Now, it’s the foundation’s mission to identify the investments that will spark the greatest changes.
By reaching deeper into communities and discovering and investing in social entrepreneurs and other changemakers, the Skoll Foundation supports promising solutions to urgent global problems. As their investments yield positive results, Gips hopes to inspire the rest of the philanthropic community to find better ways to direct their resources.
Quote of the interview: “We don’t tell the changemaker what the solution is. We invest in their solution, and go along on the journey with them.”
“By making aesthetic, some might say beautiful, arrangements out of the world’s waste, I hope to hook the viewer, to draw in those that are numb to the horrors of the world, and give them a different way to understand what is happening,” says artist Alejandro Durán. He speaks at “We The Future” on September 24, 2019, at the TED World Theater in New York, NY. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Alejandro Durán, artist
Big Idea: Art can spotlight the environmental atrocities happening to our oceans — leaving viewers both mesmerized and shocked.
Why? From prosthetic legs to bottle caps, artist Alejandro Durán makes ephemeral environmental artworks out of objects he finds polluting the waters of his native region of Sian Ka’an, Mexico. He meticulously organizes materials by color and curates them into site-specific work. Durán put on his first “Museo de La Basura or Museum of Garbage“ exhibition in 2015, which spoke to the horrors of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and he’s still making art that speaks to the problem of ocean trash. By endlessly reusing objects in his art, Durán creates new works that engage communities in environmental art-making, attempting to depict the reality of our current environmental predicament and make the invisible visible.
Quote of the talk: “By making aesthetic, some might say beautiful, arrangements out of the world’s waste, I hope to hook the viewer, to draw in those that are numb to the horrors of the world, and give them a different way to understand what is happening.”
Andrew Forrest, entrepreneur, in conversation with head of TED Chris Anderson
Big idea: The true — and achievable! — business case for investing in plastic recycling.
How? Since earning his PhD in marine ecology, Forrest has dedicated his time and money to solving the global plastic problem, which is choking our waterways and oceans with toxic material that never biodegrades. “I learned a lot about marine life,” he says of his academic experience. “But it taught me more about marine death.” To save ourselves and our underwater neighbors from death by nanoplastics, Forrest says we need the big corporations of the world to fund a massive environmental transition that includes increasing the price of plastic and turning the tide on the recycling industry.
Quote of the talk: “[Plastic] is an incredible substance designed for the economy. It’s the worst substance possible for the environment.”
Raj Panjabi, cofounder of medical NGO Last Mile Health
Big idea: Community health workers armed with training and technology are our first line of defense against deadly viral surges. If we are to fully protect the world from killer diseases, we must ensure that people living in the most remote areas of the planet are never far from a community health worker trained to throttle epidemics at their outset.
How? In December 2013, Ebola broke out in West Africa and began a transborder spread that threatened to wipe out millions of people. Disease fighters across Africa joined the battle to stop it — including Liberian health workers trained by Last Mile Health and armed with the technology, knowledge and support necessary to serve their communities. With their help, Ebola was stopped (for now), after killing 11,000 people. Panjabi believes that if we train and pay more community health workers, their presence in underserved areas will not only stop epidemics but also save the lives of the millions of people threatened by diseases like malaria, pneumonia and diarrhea.
Quote of the talk: “We dream of a future when millions of people … can gain dignified jobs as community health workers, so they can serve their neighbors in the forest communities of West Africa to the fishing villages of the Amazon; from the hilltops of Appalachia to the mountains of Afghanistan.”
“Indigenous people have the answer. If we want to save the Amazon, we have to act now,” says Tashka Yawanawá, speaking at “We The Future” with his wife, Laura, on September 24, 2019, at the TED World Theater in New York, NY. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Tashka and Laura Yawanawá, leaders of the Yawanawá in Acre, Brazil
Big idea: To save the Amazon rainforest, let’s empower indigenous people who have been coexisting with the rainforest for centuries.
Why? Tashka Yawanawá is chief of the Yawanawá people in Acre, Brazil, leading 900 people who steward 400,000 acres of Brazilian Amazon rainforest. As footage of the Amazon burning shocks the world’s consciousness, Tashka and his wife, Laura, call for us to transform this moment into an opportunity to support indigenous people who have the experience, knowledge and tools to protect the land.
Quote of the talk: “Indigenous people have the answer. If we want to save the Amazon, we have to act now.”
Alasdair Harris, ocean conservationist
Big idea: To the impoverished fishers that rely on the sea for their food, and who comprise 90 percent of the world’s fishing fleet, outside interference by scientists and marine managers can seem like just another barrier to their survival. Could the world rejuvenate its marine life and replenish its fish stocks by inspiring coastal communities rather than simply regulating them?
How? When he first went to Madagascar, marine biologist Alasdair Harris failed to convince local leaders to agree to a years-long plan to close their threatened coral reefs to fishing. But when a contained plan to preserve a breeding ground for an important local species of octopus led to rapid growth in catches six months later, the same elders banded together with leaders across Madagascar to spearhead a conservation revolution. Today, Harris’s organization Blue Ventures works to help coastal communities worldwide take control of their own ecosystems.
Quote of the talk: “When we design it right, marine conservation reaps dividends that go far beyond protecting nature — improving catches, driving waves of social change along entire coastlines, strengthening confidence, cooperation and the resilience of communities to face the injustice of poverty and climate change.”
Bright Simons, social entrepreneur and product security expert
Big idea: A global breakdown of the trustworthiness of markets and regulatory institutions has led to a flurry of counterfeit drugs, mislabeled food and defective parts. Africa has been dealing with counterfeit goods for years, and entrepreneurs like Bright Simons have developed myriad ways consumers can confirm that their food and drug purchases are genuine. Why are these methods ignored in the rest of the world?
How? Bright Simons demonstrates some of the innovative solutions Africans use to restore trust in their life-giving staples, such as text hotlines to confirm medications are real and seed databases to certify the authenticity of crops. Yet in the developed world, these solutions are often overlooked because they “don’t scale” — an attitude Simons calls “mental latitude imperialism.” It’s time to champion “intellectual justice” — and look at these supposedly non-scalable innovations with new respect.
Quote of the talk: “It just so happens that today, the most advanced and most progressive solutions to these problems are being innovated in the developing world.”
“Water is life. It is the spirit that binds us from sickness, death and destruction,” says LaToya Ruby Frazier. She speaks at “We The Future” on September 24, 2019, at the TED World Theater in New York, NY. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
LaToya Ruby Frazier, artist
Big Idea: LaToya Ruby Frazier’s powerful portraits of women in Flint, Michigan document the reality of the Flint water crisis, bringing awareness to the ongoing issue and creating real, positive change.
How? Frazier’s portraits of the daily lives of women affected by the Flint water crisis are striking reminders that, after all the news crews were gone, the people of Flint still did not have clean water. For one photo series, she closely followed the lives of Amber Hasan and Shea Cobb — two activists, poets and best friends — who were working to educate the public about the water crisis. Frazier has continued collaborating with Hasan and Cobb to seek justice and relief for those suffering in Flint. In 2019, they helped raise funds for an atmospheric water generator that provided 120,000 gallons of water to Flint residents.
Quote of the talk: “Water is life. It is the spirit that binds us from sickness, death and destruction. Imagine how many millions of lives we could save if [the atmospheric water generator] were in places like Newark, New Jersey, South Africa and India — with compassion instead of profit motives.”
Cassie Flynn, global climate change advisor
Big idea: We need a new way to get citizen consensus on climate change and connect them with governments and global leaders.
How? The United Nations is taking on an entirely new model of reaching the masses: mobile phone games. Flynn shares how their game “Mission 1.5” can help people learn about their policy choices on climate change by allowing them to play as heads of state. From there, the outcomes of their gameplay will be compiled and shared with their national leaders and the public. Flynn foresees this as a fresh, feasible way to meet citizens where they are, to educate them about climate change and to better connect them to the people who are making those tough decisions.
Quote of the talk: “Right now, world leaders are faced with the biggest and most impactful decisions of their entire lives. What they decide to do on climate change will either lead to a riskier, more unstable planet or a future that is more prosperous and sustainable for us all.”
Wanjira Mathai, entrepreneur
Big Idea: Corruption is a constant threat in Kenya. To defeat it there and anywhere, we need to steer youth towards integrity through education and help them understand the power of the individual.
Why? In 1989, the Karura Forest, a green public oasis in Nairobi, Kenya, was almost taken away by a corrupt government until political activist Wangari Maathai, Nobel Prize recipient and founder of the Greenbelt Movement, fought back fiercely and won. Continuing Maathai’s legacy, her daughter Wanjira explains how corruption is still very much alive in Kenya — a country that loses a third of its state budget to corruption every year. “Human beings are not born corrupt. At some point these behaviors are fostered by a culture that promotes individual gain over collective progress,” she says. She shares a three-pronged strategy for fighting corruption before it takes root by addressing why it happens, modeling integrity and teaching leadership skills.
Quote of the talk: “We cannot complain forever. We either decide that we are going to live with it, or we are going to change it. And if we are going to change it, we know that today, most of the world’s problems are caused by corruption and greed and selfishness.”
Seema Bansal hosts Session 2 of TED@BCG: Unlock — a day of talks and performances exploring how we can reach our full potential — at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai on September 24, 2019 in Mumbai, India. (Photo: Amit Madheshiya / TED)
To succeed in the next decade and beyond, we can’t just optimize what we know. We need to keep learning, imagining, inventing. In a day of talks and performances, 16 speakers and performers explored how we can unlock our full potential — human, technological and natural — to accomplish things we never thought possible.
The event: TED@BCG, the eighth time TED and BCG have partnered to bring leaders, innovators and changemakers to the stage to share ideas for solving society’s biggest challenges. Hosted by TED’s Corey Hajim and BCG’s Seema Bansal.
When and where: Tuesday, September 24, 2019, at the Grand Hyatt in Mumbai, India
Music: Performances by Gingger Shankar and Dee MC
Open and closing remarks: Rich Lesser, CEO of BCG
The talks in brief:
“Look around and find the people that inspire you to co-conspire. I promise you that your empathy and your courage will change someone’s life and may even change the world,” says Ipsita Dasgupta. She speaks at TED@BCG at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai on September 24, 2019 in Mumbai, India. (Photo: Amit Madheshiya / TED)
Ipsita Dasgupta, co-conspirator
Big idea: The world needs “co-conspirators”: people willing to bend or break the rules and challenge the status quo and societal norms.
Why? In the face of constant change and complexity, we need unconventional people making decisions at the table. These co-conspirators — which Dasgupta shares through three exemplary stories, including a mother insistent on forgoing some traditional gender roles — can help create new ways of thinking, acting and questioning why we do and how we do it.
Quote of the talk: “To achieve great heights or change the world, no matter how smart we are, we all need people.”
Jean-Manuel Izaret, pricing strategist
Big idea: Because of their huge per-patient cost, medications that could drastically reduce rates of deadly diseases like hepatitis C are often reserved for only the sickest patients, while many others go untreated. Is there a way to pay for these drugs so that every patient can get them, and drug companies can still finance their development?
How? The pricing model for pharmaceuticals is typically based on the cost per patient treated — and it’s a broken model, says Izaret. He explains that a subscription-like payment system (similar to the one pioneered by Netflix) could distribute costs over time and across an entire population of patient subscribers. By combining the savings of early treatment with the lower costs of a larger patient pool, healthcare providers could improve outcomes and remain profitable.
Quote of the talk: “I think we don’t really have a price point problem — I think we have a pricing model problem. I think the problem is not the number, but the unit by which we price.”
Sougwen Chung, artist and researcher
Big Idea: The future of creative collaboration between humans and machines is limitless — with beauty latent in our shared imperfections.
Why? As the world strives towards precision and perfection, Chung creates collaborative art with robots that explores what automation means for the future of human creativity. Through machine learning, Chung “taught” her own artistic style to her nonhuman collaborator, a robot called Drawing Operations Unit: Generation (DOUG). DOUG’s initial goal was to mimic her line as she drew, but they made an unexpected discovery along the way: robots make mistakes too. “Our imperfections became what was beautiful about the interaction,” Chung says. “Maybe part of the beauty of human and machine systems is their inherent, shared fallibility.” Chung recently launched a lab called Scilicet, where artists and researchers are welcome to join her in contributing to the future of human and AI creativity.
Quote of the talk: “By teaching machines to do the work traditionally done by humans, we can explore and evolve our criteria of what’s made possible by the human hand — and part of that journey is embracing the imperfections, recognizing the fallibility of both human and machine, in order to expand the potential of both.”
Kavita Gupta thinks a global, decentralized currency would lead us to “true financial and economic inclusivity, where every citizen in this world has the same choice, same dignity and same opportunity.” She speaks at TED@BCG at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai on September 24, 2019 in Mumbai, India. (Photo: Amit Madheshiya / TED)
Kavita Gupta, currency globalist
Big idea: The world should share one stable, decentralized currency.
How, and why? Blockchain and cryptocurrencies could provide better data privacy than anything we use today. They would be immune to global disruptions incited by local unrest or inefficient politicians while offering a global marketplace that “would not just be a way for the elite to diversify their portfolio, but also for the average person to increase sustainable wealth,” Gupta says. With real-world examples that root her perspective in the possible and achievable, she weaves a framework for a united future.
Quote of the talk: “All of this inches us toward a more stable, secure place — to true financial and economic inclusivity, where every citizen in this world has the same choice, same dignity and same opportunity.”
Markus Mutz, supply chain hacker
Big idea: We need clarity on how consumer products are made and where they come from in order to make ethical and informed decisions before purchase.
How? Over the past two years, Mutz and his team founded OpenSC (SC = supply chain) and partnered with the World Wide Fund for Nature to bring transparency and traceability to the supply chain process. Together, Mutz believes their efforts will help revolutionize the way we buy and create products. It’ll happen with three straightforward steps: by verifying production claims, tracing products throughout their supply chains and sharing information that will allow consumers to make decisions more aligned with their values — all with the aid of blockchain.
Quote of the talk: “If we have reliable and trustworthy information, and the right systems that make use of it, consumers will support those who are doing the right thing by producing products in a sustainable and ethical way.”
“I firmly believe that if there is any public system in any country that is in inertia, then you have to bring back the motivation. And a great way to trigger motivation is to increase transparency to the citizen,” says public sector strategist Abhishek Gopalka. He speaks at TED@BCG at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai on September 24, 2019 in Mumbai, India. (Photo: Amit Madheshiya / TED)
Abhishek Gopalka, public sector strategist
Big Idea: How do we motivate people working in public sectors like healthcare to feel accountable for providing quality care? With transparency.
Why? Internal, data-driven reviews aren’t enough to keep people accountable, says Gopalka. Instead, we need to move people to do better by sparking their competitive sides — making actions transparent so they either shine or fail in the public eye. In Rajasthan, a state in India that’s home to more than 80 million people, Gopalka has helped to significantly improve the public health system in just two years. How? Public health centers now publicly promise to provide citizens with free care, medicine and diagnosis, resulting in an increase in doctor availability, readily available drugs and, ultimately, patient visits. If applied elsewhere, transparency could benefit many broken systems. Because the first step to solving any complex issue is motivation.
Quote of the talk: “Motivation is a tricky thing. If you’ve led a team, raised a child or tried to change a personal habit, you know that motivation doesn’t just appear. Something needs to change to make you care. And if there’s one thing that all of us humans care about, it’s an inherent desire to shine in front of society.”
Gaby Barrios, marketing expert
Big Idea: By focusing less on gender when marketing products to consumers, we can build better brands — and a better world.
How? Companies often advertise to consumers by appealing to gender stereotypes, but this kind of shortcut isn’t just bad for society — it’s bad for business, says Barrios. Research shows that gender doesn’t drive choice nearly as much as companies assume, yet many still rely on outdated, condescending stereotypes to reach consumers. By looking at variables outside of gender, like location and financial status, companies can develop more nuanced campaigns, grow their brands and reach the customers they want.
Quote of the talk: “Growth is not going to come from using an outdated lens like gender. Let’s stop doing what’s easy and go for what’s right. At this point, it’s not just for your business — it’s for society.”
Sylvain Duranton, AI bureaucracy buster
Big idea: Artificial intelligence can streamline businesses, but it can also miss human nuances in disastrous ways. To avoid this, we need to use AI systems alongside humans, not instead of them.
How? For companies, deploying AI alongside human teams can be harder and more expensive than relying on AI alone. But this dynamic is necessary to ensure that business decisions take human needs and ethics into account, says Duranton. AI bases decisions on data sets and strict rules, but it can’t quite tell the difference between “right” and “wrong” — which means that AI mistakes can be severe, even fatal. By pairing AI with human teams, we can use AI’s efficiency and human knowledge to create business strategies that are successful, smart and ethical.
Quote of the talk: “Winning organizations will invest in human knowledge, not just AI and data.”
Akiko Busch, author
Big idea: In a world where transparency and self-promotion are glorified, let’s not forget the power and beauty of invisibility.
Why? Invisible cloaks, invisible ink, invisible friends — from the time we’re kids, invisibility gives us a sense of protection, knowledge and security. Akiko Busch thinks it’s time for us to reconsider the power of invisibility. When we disappear into nature, listen without responding, lose ourselves in the primal collectivity of concerts — in all cases, we become more creative and feel more connected to each other and ourselves. In an age where “visibility rules the day,” she says, there is beauty in stepping out of the spotlight, disappearing and existing — if only briefly — invisibly.
Quote of the talk: “Being unseen takes us from self-interest to a larger sense of inclusion in the human family.”
Evolutionary biologist Toby Kiers shares what fungi networks and relationships reveal about human economies — and what they can tell us about how extreme inequalities grow. She speaks at TED@BCG at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai on September 24, 2019 in Mumbai, India. (Photo: Amit Madheshiya / TED)
Toby Kiers, evolutionary biologist
Big idea: By studying fungi networks and relationships, we can learn more about how human economies work and how extreme inequalities grow.
How? Extreme inequality is one of humanity’s greatest challenges — but it’s not a uniquely human phenomenon. Like us, fungi can “strategically” trade, steal and withhold resources (though they do all this without cognitive thought, of course). Whereas human systems are built with an understanding of morals, fungi networks have evolved to be ruthless and solely opportunistic. The parallels are remarkable: for example, Kiers found that supply-and-demand economics still held true in fungi relationships. Examining these relationships gives us the chance to better diagnose problems within our own systems and even borrow solutions from the fungi. Kiers’s team is now studying the parallels between fungal network flow patterns and computer algorithms — and there’s even more ahead.
Quote of the talk: “The [fungal] trade system provides us with a benchmark to study what an economy looks like when it’s been shaped by natural selection for hundreds of millions of years, in the absence of morality, when strategies are just based on the gathering and processing of information.”
Chris Kutarna, writer and philosopher
Big idea: Facebook, Twitter and their disruptive cousins have upended our notions of truth. Social media’s assault on simple veracity has led many to cry for its regulation — but philosopher Chris Kutarna believes that we should “let social media run wild, because the truths it breaks … need to be broken.”
How? Kutarna argues that it was the age of mass media that birthed the notion that truth exists in concise, marketable chunks — and this idea does not mirror reality. Promoting a concept like “globalization” as an unassailable axiom rather than as a complex idea with many conflicting currents is reductive and dangerous. If we were to embrace social media’s multiplicity of voices and perspectives rather than enforce a single standard for truth, we could initiate a search for truths too complex for a single perspective to contain.
Quote of the talk: “What is truth? I don’t know. I can’t know because truth is supposed to be the reality that is bigger than ourselves. To find truth, we need to get together and go and search for it together. Without that search … we’re trapped in our own perspective.”
“Leaders should not impose their will; leaders should act by shaping the context rather than control,” says management consultant Fang Ruan. She speaks at TED@BCG at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai on September 24, 2019 in Mumbai, India. (Photo: Amit Madheshiya / TED)
Fang Ruan, management consultant
Big idea: Influenced by ancient Chinese philosophy, Chinese businesses are shifting towards management techniques that foster more collaborative, spontaneous environments.
How? Enjoying a delicious plate of dumplings one night, Fang Ruan was intrigued as she watched how the business was run. To her surprise, she found a “two hat” strategy: front-line managers were given new responsibilities beyond their current scope, and ideas were welcomed from people at all steps of the career ladder. This approach varies from China’s dominant, Confucianism-influenced business strategy, which values authority and seniority and has served as a time-tested formula for precise execution at a large scale. Now, as tech companies disrupt traditional industries and millennials make up a larger share of the workforce, new ways of management have emerged, Ruan says. Unconventional management is on the rise — characterized by more collaborative, innovative strategies that resemble the philosophy of Taoism, which believes things work to perfection when their natural state is supported rather than controlled.
Quote of the talk: “Leaders should not impose their will; leaders should act by shaping the context rather than control.”
Amane Dannouni shares what digital marketplaces in the developing world can teach us about how to preserve jobs and local economies. He speaks at TED@BCG at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai on September 24, 2019 in Mumbai, India. (Photo: Amit Madheshiya / TED)
Amane Dannouni, digital business strategist
Big idea: Disruptive startups like Uber, Amazon and Airbnb have reinvented entire industries. Their digital disruption of existing services has provided game-changing benefits for their users and affiliates — but it’s also led to big losses for those whose livelihoods depended on the old, physical business models. Amane Dannouni believes that digital marketplaces in the developing world can teach us valuable lessons about how to preserve jobs and local economies.
How? Companies like Gojek in Indonesia, Jumia in Nigeria and Grab in Singapore have reinvigorated the economic landscapes that spawned them, and in the process energized their surrounding communities. They did this not by ignoring their competitors but by integrating community businesses into their own platforms, and by giving their users support — like insurance and online education — that go above and beyond simply linking providers to their patrons.
Quote of the talk: “What all these [online marketplaces] have in common is that they transition this basic functionality of matching sellers and buyers from the physical world to the digital world and, by doing so, they can find better matches, do it faster, and ultimately unlock more value for everyone.”
Lorna Davis, business leader
Big idea: We need to break our obsession with heroes. Real change can only happen when we work together.
How? “In a world as complex and interconnected as the one we live in, the idea that one person has the answer is ludicrous,” says Davis. What we really need is “radical interdependence,” shaped by leaders who set different goals and ask others to help them solve big problems. Here’s the difference: whereas “hero” leaders see everyone else as a competitor or a follower, interdependent leaders understand that they need others and genuinely want input. Likewise, heroes set goals that can be delivered through individual results, while interdependent leaders set goals that one person or organization cannot possibly achieve alone. At TED@BCG, Davis sets an “interdependent” goal of her own — calling on the world to help her in her work to end rhino poaching.
Quote of the talk: “We don’t need heroes. We need radical interdependence — which is just another way of saying: we need each other.”
This satellite image shows marine clouds off the Pacific West Coast of the United States. The streaks in the clouds are created by the exhaust from ships, which include both greenhouse gases and particulates like sulfates that mix with clouds and temporarily make them brighter. Brighter clouds reflect more sunlight back to space, cooling the climate.
As we recklessly warm the planet by pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, some industrial emissions also produce particles that reflect sunshine back into space, putting a check on global warming that we’re only starting to understand. In her talk at TEDSummit 2019, “Emergency medicine for our climate fever,” climate activist Kelly Wanser asked: Can we engineer ways to harness this effect and reduce the effects global warming?
This idea, known as “cloud brightening,” is seen as controversial. After her talk, Wanser was joined onstage by environmentalist Tim Flannery — who gave a talk just moments earlier about the epic carbon-capturing abilities of seaweed — to discuss cloud brightening and how it could help restore our climate to health. Check out their exchange below.
Hosts Briar Goldberg and David Biello open TED@DuPont at The Fillmore, September 12, 2019, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Transformation starts with the spark of something new. In a day of talks and performances about transformation, 16 speakers and performers explored exciting developments in science, technology and beyond — from the chemistry of everyday life to innovations in food, “smart” clothing, enzyme research and much more.
The event: TED@DuPont: Transform, hosted by TED’s David Biello and Briar Goldberg
When and where: Thursday, September 12, 2019, at The Fillmore in Philadelphia, PA
Music: Performances by Elliah Heifetz and Jane Bruce and Jeff Taylor, Matt Johnson and Jesske Hume
The talks in brief:
“The next time you send a text or take a selfie, think about all those atoms that are hard at work and the innovation that came before them,” says chemist Cathy Mulzer. She speaks at TED@DuPont at The Fillmore, September 12, 2019, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Cathy Mulzer, chemist and tech shrinker
Big idea: You owe a big thank you to chemistry for all that technology in your pocket.
Why? Almost every component that goes into creating a superpowered device like a smartphone or tablet exists because of a chemist — not the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs that come to most people’s minds. Chemistry is the real hero in our technological lives, Mulzer says — building up and shrinking down everything from vivid display screens and sleek bodies to nano-sized circuitries and long-lasting batteries.
Quote of talk: “The next time you send a text or take a selfie, think about all those atoms that are hard at work and the innovation that came before them.”
Adam Garske, enzyme engineer
Big Idea: We can harness the power of new, scientifically modified enzymes to solve urgent problems across the world.
How? Enzymes are proteins that catalyze chemical reactions — turning milk into cheese, for example. Through a process called “directed evolution,” scientists can carefully edit and design the building blocks of enzymes for specific functions — to help treat diseases like diabetes, reduce CO2 in our laundry, break down plastics in the ocean and more. Enzyme evolution is already changing how we tackle health and environmental issues, Garske says, and there’s so much more ahead.
Quote of the talk: “With enzymes, we can edit what nature wrote — or write our own stories.”
Henna-Maria Uusitupa, bioscientist
Big idea: Our bodies host an entire ecosystem of microorganisms that we’ve been cultivating since we were babies. And as it turns out, the bacteria we acquire as infants help keep us healthier as adults. Henna-Maria Uusitupa wants to ensure that every baby grows a healthy microbiome.
How? Babies must acquire the right balance of microbes in their bodies, but they must also receive them at the correct stages of their lives. C-sections and disruptions in breastfeeding can throw a baby’s microbiome out of balance. With a carefully curated blend of probiotics and other chemicals, scientists are devising ways to restore harmony — and beneficial microbes — to young bodies.
Quote of the talk: “I want to contribute to the unfolding of a future in which each baby has an equal starting point to be programmed for life-long health.”
Leon Marchal, innovation director
Big Idea: Animals account for 50 to 80 percent of antibiotic consumption worldwide — a major contributing factor to the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance. To combat this, farmers can adopt a number of practices — like balanced, antibiotic-free nutrition for animals — on their farms.
Why: The UN predicts that antimicrobial resistance will become our biggest killer by 2050. To prevent that from happening, Marchal is working to transform a massive global industry: animal feed. Antibiotics are used in animal feed to keep animals healthy and to grow them faster and bigger. They can be found in the most unlikely places — like the treats we give our pets. This constant, low-dose exposure could lead some animals to develop antibiotic-resistant bugs, which could cause wide-ranging health problems for animals and humans alike. The solution? Antibiotic-free production — and it all starts with better hygiene. This means taking care of animal’s good bacteria with balanced nutrition and alterations to the food they eat, to keep their microbiomes more resilient.
Quote of the talk: “We have the knowledge on how to produce meat, eggs and milk without or with very low amounts of antibiotics. This is a small price to pay to avoid a future in which bacterial infections again become our biggest killer.”
Physical organic chemist Tina Arrowood shares a simple, eco-friendly proposal to protect our freshwater resources from future pollution. She speaks at TED@DuPont at TED@DuPont at The Fillmore, September 12, 2019, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Tina Arrowood, physical organic chemist
Big idea: Human activity is a threat to freshwater rivers. We can transform that risk into an environmental and economic reward.
How? A simple, eco-friendly proposal to protect our precious freshwater resources from future pollution. We’ve had technology that purifies industrial wastewaters for the last 50 years. Arrowood suggests that we go a step further: as we clean our rivers, we can sell the salt byproduct as a primary resource — to de-ice roads and for other chemical processing — rather than using the tons of salt we currently mine from the earth.
Fun fact: If you were to compare the relative volume of ocean water to fresh river water on our planet, the former would be an Olympic-sized swimming pool — and the latter would be a one-gallon jug.
“Why not transform clothing and make it a part of our digitized world, in a manner that shines continuous light into our health and well-being?” asks designer Janani Bhaskar. She speaks at TED@DuPont at The Fillmore, September 12, 2019, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Janani Bhaskar, smart clothing designer
Big Idea: By designing “smart” clothing with durable technologies, we can better keep track of health and well-being.
How? Using screen-printing technology, we can design and attach biometric “smart stickers” to any piece of clothing. These stickers are super durable, Bhaskar says: they can withstand anything our clothing can, including workouts and laundry. They’re customizable, too — athletes can use them to track blood pressure and heart rate, healthcare providers can use them to remotely monitor vital signs, and expecting parents can use them to receive information about their baby’s growth. By making sure this technology is affordable and accessible, our clothing — the “original wearables” — can help all of us better understand our bodies and our health.
Quote of the talk: “Why not transform clothing and make it a part of our digitized world, in a manner that shines continuous light into our health and well-being?”
Camilla Andersen, neuroscientist and food scientist
Big idea: We can create tastier, healthier foods with insights from people’s brain activity.
How? Our conscious experience of food — how much we enjoy a cup of coffee or how sweet we find a cookie to be, for example — is heavily influenced by hidden biases. Andersen provides an example: after her husband started buying a fancy coffee brand, she conducted a blind taste test with two cups of coffee. Her husband described the first cup as cheap and bitter, and raved about the second — only to find out that the two were actually the same kind of coffee. The taste difference was the result of his bias for the new, fancy coffee — the very kind of bias that can leave food scientists in the dark when testing out new products. But there’s a workaround: brain scans that can access the raw, unfiltered, unconscious taste information that’s often lost in people’s conscious assessments. With this kind of information, Andersen says, we can create healthier foods without sacrificing taste — like creating a zero-calorie milkshake that tastes just like the original.
Fun fact: The five basic tastes are universally accepted: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. But, based on evidence from Andersen’s EEG experiments, there’s evidence of a new sixth basic taste: fat, which we may sense beyond its smell and texture.
“Science is an integral part of our everyday lives, and I think we’re only at the tip of the iceberg in terms of harnessing all of the knowledge we have to create a better world,” says enzyme scientist Vicky Huang. She speaks at TED@DuPont at The Fillmore, September 12, 2019, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Vicky Huang, enzyme scientist
Big idea: Enzymes are unfamiliar to many of us, but they’re far more important in our day-to-day lives than we realize — and they might help us unlock eco-friendly solutions to everything from food spoilage to household cleaning problems.
How? We were all taught in high school that enzymes are a critical part of digestion and, because of that, they’re also ideal for household cleaning. But enzymes can do much more than remove stains from our clothes, break down burnt-on food in our dishwashers and keep our baguettes soft. As scientists are able to engineer better enzymes, we’ll be able to cook and clean with less energy, less waste and fewer costs to our environment.
Quote of the talk: “Everywhere in your homes, items you use every day have had a host of engineers and scientists like me working on them and improving them. Just one part of this everyday science is using enzymes to make things more effective, convenient and environmentally sustainable.”
Geert van der Kraan, microbe detective
Big Idea: We can use microbial life in oil fields to make oil production safer and cleaner.
How? Microbial life is often a problem in oil fields, corroding steel pipes and tanks and producing toxic chemicals like dihydrogen sulfide. We can transform this challenge into a solution by studying the clues these microbes leave behind. By tracking the presence and activity of these microbes, we can see deep within these undergrounds fields, helping us create safer and smoother production processes.
Quote of the talk: “There are things we can learn from the microorganisms that call oil fields their homes, making oil field operations just a little cleaner. Who knows what other secrets they may hold for us?”
Lori Gottlieb, psychotherapist and author
Big idea: The stories we tell about our lives shape who we become. By editing our stories, we can transform our lives for the better.
How? When the stories we tell ourselves are incomplete, misleading or just plain wrong, we can get stuck. Think of a story you’re telling about your life that’s not serving you — maybe that everyone’s life is better than yours, that you’re an impostor, that you can’t trust people, that life would be better if only a certain someone would change. Try exploring this story from another point of view, or asking a friend if there’s an aspect of the story you might be leaving out. Rather than clinging to an old story that isn’t doing us any good, Gottlieb says, we can work to write the most beautiful story we can imagine, full of hard truths that lead to compassion and redemption — our own “personal Pulitzer Prize.” We get to choose what goes on the page in our minds that shapes our realities. So get out there and write your masterpiece.
Quote of the talk: “We talk a lot in our culture about ‘getting to know ourselves,’ but part of getting to know yourself is to unknow yourself: to let go of the one version of the story you’ve told yourself about who you are — so you can live your life, and not the story you’ve been telling yourself about your life.”
“I’m standing here before you because I have a vision for the future: one where technology keeps my daughter safe,” says tech evangelist Andrew Ho. He speaks at TED@DuPont at The Fillmore, September 12, 2019, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Andrew Ho, tech evangelist
Big idea: As technological devices become smaller, faster and cheaper, they make daily tasks more convenient. But they can also save lives.
How? For epilepsy patients like Andrew Ho’s daughter Hilarie, a typical day can bring dangerous — or even fatal — challenges. Medical devices currently under development could reduce the risk of seizures, but they’re bulky and fraught with risk. The more quickly developers can improve the speed and portability of these devices (and other medical technologies), the sooner we can help people with previously unmanageable diseases live normal lives.
Quote of the talk: “Advances in technology are making it possible for people with different kinds of challenges and problems to lead normal lives. No longer will they feel isolated and marginalized. No longer will they live in the shadows, afraid, ashamed, humiliated and excluded. And when that happens, our world will be a much more diverse and inclusive place, a better place for all of us to live.”
“Learning from our mistakes is essential to improvement in many areas of our lives, so why not be intentional about it in our most risk-filled activity?” asks engineer Ed Paxton. He speaks at TED@DuPont at The Fillmore, September 12, 2019, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Ed Paxton, aircraft engineer and safety expert
Big idea: Many people fear flying but think nothing of driving their cars every day. Statistically, driving is far more dangerous than flying — in part because of common-sense principles pilots use to govern their behavior. Could these principles help us be safer on the road?
How? There’s a lot of talk about how autonomous vehicles will make traffic safer in the future. Ed Paxton shares three principles that can reduce accidents right now: “positive paranoia” (anticipating possible hazards or mishaps without anxiety), allowing feedback from passengers who might see things you don’t and learning from your mistakes (near-misses caused by driving while tired, for example).
Quote of the talk: “Driving your car is probably the most dangerous activity that most of you do … it’s almost certain you know someone who’s been seriously injured or lost their life out on the road … Over the last ten years, seven billion people have boarded domestic airline flights, and there’s been just one fatality.”
Jennifer Vail, tribologist
Big idea: Complex systems lose much of their energy to friction; the more energy they lose, the more power we consume to keep them running. Tribology — or the study of friction and things that rub together — could unlock massive energy savings by reducing wear and alleviating friction in cars, wind turbines, motors and engines.
How? By studying the different ways surfaces rub together, and engineering those surfaces to create more or less friction, tribologists can tweak a surprising range of physical products, from dog food that cleans your pet’s teeth to cars that use less gas; from food that feels more appetizing in our mouth to fossil fuel turbines that waste less power. Some of these changes could have significant impacts on how much energy we consume.
Quote of the talk: “I have to admit that it’s a lot of fun when people ask me what I do for my job, because I tell them: ‘I literally rub things together.'”
Hosts Anne Milgram and Juan Enriquez kick off the evening at TEDSalon: Border Stories at the TED World Theater in New York City on September 10, 2019. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Immigration can be a deeply polarizing topic. But at heart, immigration policies and practices reflect no less than our attitude towards humanity. At TEDSalon: Border Stories, we explored the reality of life at the US-Mexico border, the history of the US immigration policy and possible solutions for reform — and investigated what’s truly at stake.
The event: TEDSalon: Border Stories, hosted by criminal justice reformer Anne Milgram and author and academic Juan Enriquez
When and where: Tuesday, September 10, 2019, at the TED World Theater in New York City
Speakers: Paul A. Kramer, Luis H. Zayas, Erika Pinheiro, David J. Bier and Will Hurd
A special performance: Poet and thinker Maria Popova, reading an excerpt from her book Figuring. A stunning meditation on “the illusion of separateness, of otherness” — and on “the infinitely many kinds of beautiful lives” that inhabit this universe — accompanied by cellist Dave Eggar and guitarist Chris Bruce.
“There are infinitely many kinds of beautiful lives,” says Maria Popova, reading a selection of her work at TEDSalon: Border Stories. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
The talks in brief:
Paul A. Kramer, historian, writer, professor of history
Luis H. Zayas, social worker, psychologist, researcher
Immigration lawyer Erika Pinheiro discusses the hidden realities of the US immigration system. “Seeing these horrors day in and day out has changed me,” she says. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Erika Pinheiro, nonprofit litigation and policy director
David J. Bier, immigration policy analyst
“Building a 30-foot-high concrete structure from sea to shining sea is the most expensive and least effective way to do border security,” says Congressman Will Hurd in a video interview with Anne Milgram at TEDSalon: Border Stories. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Will Hurd, US Representative for Texas’s 23rd congressional district
Juan Enriquez, author and academic
TED Fellows celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the program at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 22, 2019 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Every year, TED begins a new search looking for the brightest thinkers and innovators to be part of the TED Fellows program. With nearly 500 visionaries representing 300 different disciplines, these extraordinary individuals are making waves, disrupting the status quo and creating real impact.
Through a rigorous application process, we narrow down our candidate pool of thousands to just 20 exceptional people. (Trust us, this is not easy to do.) You may be wondering what makes for a good application (read more about that here), but just as importantly: What exactly does it mean to be a TED Fellow? Yes, you’ll work hand-in-hand with the Fellows team to give a TED Talk on stage, but being a Fellow is so much more than that. Here’s what happens once you get that call.
1. You instantly have a built-in support system.
Once selected, Fellows become part of our active global community. They are connected to a diverse network of other Fellows who they can lean on for support, resources and more. To get a better sense of who these people are (fishing cat conservationists! space environmentalists! police captains!), take a closer look at our class of 2019 Fellows, who represent 12 countries across four continents. Their common denominator? They are looking to address today’s most complex challenges and collaborate with others — which could include you.
2. You can participate in TED’s coaching and mentorship program.
To help Fellows achieve an even greater impact with their work, they are given the opportunity to participate in a one-of-a-kind coaching and mentoring initiative. Collaboration with a world-class coach or mentor helps Fellows maximize effectiveness in their professional and personal lives and make the most of the fellowship.
The coaches and mentors who support the program are some of the world’s most effective and intuitive individuals, each inspired by the TED mission. Fellows have reported breakthroughs in financial planning, organizational effectiveness, confidence and interpersonal relationships thanks to coaches and mentors. Head here to learn more about this initiative.
3. You’ll receive public relations guidance and professional development opportunities, curated through workshops and webinars.
Have you published exciting new research or launched a groundbreaking project? We partner with a dedicated PR agency to provide PR training and valuable media opportunities with top tier publications to help spread your ideas beyond the TED stage. The TED Fellows program has been recognized by PR News for our “PR for Fellows” program.
In addition, there are vast opportunities for Fellows to hone their skills and build new ones through invigorating workshops and webinars that we arrange throughout the year. We also maintain a Fellows Blog, where we continue to spotlight Fellows long after they give their talks.
Over the last decade, our program has helped Fellows impact the lives of more than 180 million people. Success and innovation like this doesn’t happen in a vacuum — it’s sparked by bringing Fellows together and giving them this kind of support. If this sounds like a community you want to join, apply to become a TED Fellow by August 27, 2019 11:59pm UTC.
First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon spoke at TEDSummit on Wednesday in Edinburgh about her vision for making collective well-being the main aim of public policy and the economy. (Watch her full talk on TED.com.) That same morning, Boris Johnson assumed office as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the latest episode of the Brexit drama that has engulfed UK politics. During the 2016 referendum, Scotland voted against Brexit.
After her talk, Chris Anderson, the Head of TED, joined Sturgeon, who’s been vocally critical of Johnson, to ask a few questions about the current political landscape. Watch their exchange below.
Raconteur Mackenzie Dalrymple regales the TEDSummit audience with a classic Scottish story. He speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 25, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
In the final session of TEDSummit 2019, the themes from the week — our search for belonging and community, our digital future, our inextricable connection to the environment — ring out with clarity and insight. From the mysterious ways our emotions impact our biological hearts, to a tour-de-force talk on the languages we all speak, it’s a fitting close to a week of revelation, laughter, tears and wonder.
The event: TEDSummit 2019, Session 6: Not All Is Broken, hosted by Chris Anderson and Bruno Giussani
When and where: Thursday, July 25, 2019, 9am BST, at the Edinburgh Convention Centre in Edinburgh, Scotland
Speakers: Johann Hari, Sandeep Jauhar, Anna Piperal, Eli Pariser, Poet Ali
Interlude: Mackenzie Dalrymple sharing the tale of an uncle and nephew competing to become Lord of the Isles
Music: Djazia Satour, blending 1950s Chaabi (a genre of North African folk music) with modern grooves
The talks in brief:
Johann Hari, journalist
Big idea: The cultural narrative and definitions of depression and anxiety need to change.
Why? We need to talk less about chemical imbalances and more about imbalances in the way we live. Johann Hari met with experts around the world, boiling down his research into a surprisingly simple thesis: all humans have physical needs (food, shelter, water) as well as psychological needs (feeling that you belong, that your life has meaning and purpose). Though antidepressant drugs work for some, biology isn’t the whole picture, and any treatment must be paired with a social approach. Our best bet is to listen to the signals of our bodies, instead of dismissing them as signs of weakness or madness. If we take time to investigate our red flags of depression and anxiety — and take the time to reevaluate how we build meaning and purpose, especially through social connections — we can start to heal in a society deemed the loneliest in human history.
Quote of the talk: “If you’re depressed, if you’re anxious — you’re not weak. You’re not crazy. You’re not a machine with broken parts. You’re a human being with unmet needs.”
“Even if emotions are not contained inside our hearts, the emotional heart overlaps its biological counterpart in surprising and mysterious ways,” says cardiologist Sandeep Jauhar. He speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 21-25, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Sandeep Jauhar, cardiologist
Big Idea: Emotional stress can be a matter of life and death. Let’s factor that into how we care for our hearts.
How? “The heart may not originate our feelings, but it is highly responsive to them,” says Sandeep Jauhar. In his practice as a cardiologist, he has seen extensive evidence of this: grief and fear can cause profound cardiac injury. “Takotsubo cardiomyopathy,” or broken heart syndrome, has been found to occur when the heart weakens after the death of a loved one or the stress of a large-scale natural disaster. It comes with none of the other usual symptoms of heart disease, and it can resolve in just a few weeks. But it can also prove fatal. In response, Jauhar says that we need a new paradigm of care, one that considers the heart as more than “a machine that can be manipulated and controlled” — and recognizes that emotional stress is as important as cholesterol.
Quote of the talk: “Even if emotions are not contained inside our hearts, the emotional heart overlaps its biological counterpart in surprising and mysterious ways.”
“In most countries, people don’t trust their governments, and the governments don’t trust them back. All the complicated paper-based formal procedures are supposed to solve that problem. Except that they don’t. They just make life more complicated,” says e-governance expert Anna Piperal. She speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 25, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Anna Piperal, e-governance expert
Big idea: Bureaucracy can be eradicated by going digital — but we’ll need to build in commitment and trust.
How? Estonia is one of the most digital societies on earth. After gaining independence 30 years ago, and subsequently building itself up from scratch, the country decided not only to digitize existing bureaucracy but also to create an entirely new system. Now citizens can conduct everything online, from running a business to voting and managing their healthcare records, and only need to show up in person for literally three things: to claim their identity card, marry or divorce, or sell a property. Anna Piperal explains how, using a form of blockchain technology, e-Estonia builds trust through the “once-only” principle, through which the state cannot ask for information more than once nor store it in more than one place. The country is working to redefine bureaucracy by making it more efficient, granting citizens full ownership of their data — and serving as a model for the rest of the world to do the same.
Quote of the talk: “In most countries, people don’t trust their governments, and the governments don’t trust them back. All the complicated paper-based formal procedures are supposed to solve that problem. Except that they don’t. They just make life more complicated.”
Eli Pariser, CEO of Upworthy
Big idea: We can find ways to make our online spaces civil and safe, much like our best cities.
How? Social media is a chaotic and sometimes dangerous place. With its trolls, criminals and segregated spaces, it’s a lot like New York City in the 1970s. But like New York City, it’s also a vibrant space in which people can innovate and find new ideas. So Eli Pariser asks: What if we design social media like we design cities, taking cues from social scientists and urban planners like Jane Jacobs? Built around empowered communities, one-on-one interactions and public censure for those who act out, platforms could encourage trust and discourse, discourage antisocial behavior and diminish the sense of chaos that leads some to embrace authoritarianism.
Quote of the talk: “If online digital spaces are going to be our new home, let’s make them a comfortable, beautiful place to live — a place we all feel not just included, but actually some ownership of. A place we get to know each other. A place you’d actually want not just to visit, but to bring your kids.”
“Every language we learn is a portal by which we can access another language. The more you know, the more you can speak. … That’s why languages are so important, because they give us access to new worlds,” says Poet Ali. He speaks at at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 25, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
Poet Ali, architect of human connection
Big idea: You speak far more languages than you realize, with each language representing a gateway to understanding different societies, cultures and experiences.
How? Whether it’s the recognized tongue of your country or profession, or the social norms of your community, every “language” you speak is more than a lexicon of words: it also encompasses feelings like laughter, solidarity, even a sense of being left out. These latter languages are universal, and the more we embrace their commonality — and acknowledge our fluency in them — the more we can empathize with our fellow humans, regardless of our differences.
Quote of the talk: “Every language we learn is a portal by which we can access another language. The more you know, the more you can speak. … That’s why languages are so important, because they give us access to new worlds.”
Yilian Cañizares rocks the TED stage with a jubilant performance of her signature blend of classic jazz and Cuban rhythms. She performs at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 24, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
The penultimate session of TEDSummit 2019 had a bit of everything — new thoughts on aging, loneliness and happiness as well as breakthrough science, music and even a bit of comedy.
The event: TEDSummit 2019, Session 5: Stages of Life, hosted by Kelly Stoetzel and Alex Moura
When and where: Wednesday, July 24, 2019, 5pm BST, at the Edinburgh Convention Centre in Edinburgh, Scotland
Speakers: Nicola Sturgeon, Sonia Livingstone, Howard Taylor, Sara-Jane Dunn, Fay Bound Alberti, Carl Honoré
Opening: Raconteur Mackenzie Dalrymple telling the story of the Goodman of Ballengeich
Music: Yilian Cañizares and her band, rocking the TED stage with a jubilant performance that blends classic jazz and Cuban rhythms
Comedy: Amidst a head-spinning program of big (and often heavy) ideas, a welcomed break from comedian Omid Djalili, who lightens the session with a little self-deprecation and a few barbed cultural observations
The talks in brief:
“In the world we live in today, with growing divides and inequalities, with disaffection and alienation, it is more important than ever that we … promote a vision of society that has well-being, not just wealth, at its very heart,” says Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland. She speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 24, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland
Big idea: It’s time to challenge the monolithic importance of GDP as a quality-of-life metric — and paint a broader picture that also encompasses well-being.
How? In 2018, Scotland, Iceland and New Zealand established the Wellbeing Economy Governments group to challenge the supremacy of GDP. The leaders of these countries — who are, incidentally, all women — believe policies that promote happiness (including equal pay, childcare and paternity rights) could help decrease alienation in its citizens and, in turn, build resolve to confront global challenges like inequality and climate change.
Quote of the talk: “Growth in GDP should not be pursued at any and all cost … The goal of economic policy should be collective well-being: how happy and healthy a population is, not just how wealthy a population is.”
Sonia Livingstone, social psychologist
Big idea: Parents often view technology as either a beacon of hope or a developmental poison, but the biggest influence on their children’s life choices is how they help them navigate this unavoidable digital landscape. Society as a whole can positively impact these efforts.
How? Sonia Livingstone’s own childhood was relatively analog, but her research has been focused on how families embrace new technology today. Changes abound in the past few decades — whether it’s intensified educational pressures, migration, or rising inequality — yet it’s the digital revolution that remains the focus of our collective apprehension. Livingstone’s research suggests that policing screen time isn’t the answer to raising a well-rounded child, especially at a time when parents are trying to live more democratically with their children by sharing decision-making around activities like gaming and exploring the internet. Leaders and institutions alike can support a positive digital future for children by partnering with parents to guide activities within and outside of the home. Instead of criticizing families for their digital activities, Livingstone thinks we should identify what real-world challenges they’re facing, what options are available to them and how we can support them better.
Quote of the talk: “Screen time advice is causing conflict in the family, and there’s no solid evidence that more screen time increases childhood problems — especially compared with socio-economic or psychological factors. Restricting children breeds resistance, while guiding them builds judgment.”
Howard Taylor, child safety advocate
Big idea: Violence against children is an endemic issue worldwide, with rates of reported incidence increasing in some countries. We are at a historical moment that presents us with a unique opportunity to end the epidemic, and some countries are already leading the way.
How? Howard Taylor draws attention to Sweden and Uganda, two very different countries that share an explicit commitment to ending violence against children. Through high-level political buy-in, data-driven strategy and tactical legislative initiatives, the two countries have already made progress on. These solutions and others are all part of INSPIRE, a set of strategies created by an alliance of global organizations as a roadmap to eliminating the problem. If we put in the work, Taylor says, a new normal will emerge: generations whose paths in life will be shaped by what they do — not what was done to them.
Quote of the talk: “What would it really mean if we actually end violence against children? Multiply the social, cultural and economic benefits of this change by every family, every community, village, town, city and country, and suddenly you have a new normal emerging. A generation would grow up without experiencing violence.”
“The first half of this century is going to be transformed by a new software revolution: the living software revolution. Its impact will be so enormous that it will make the first software revolution pale in comparison,” says computational biologist Sara-Jane Dunn. She speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 24, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Sara-Jane Dunn, computational biologist
Big idea: In the 20th century, computer scientists inscribed machine-readable instructions on tiny silicon chips, completely revolutionizing our lives and workplaces. Today, a “living software” revolution centered around organisms built from programmable cells is poised to transform medicine, agriculture and energy in ways we can scarcely predict.
How? By studying how embryonic stem cells “decide” to become neurons, lung cells, bone cells or anything else in the body, Sara-Jane Dunn seeks to uncover the biological code that dictates cellular behavior. Using mathematical models, Dunn and her team analyze the expected function of a cellular system to determine the “genetic program” that leads to that result. While they’re still a long way from compiling living software, they’ve taken a crucial early step.
Quote of the talk: “We are at the beginning of a technological revolution. Understanding this ancient type of biological computation is the critical first step. And if we can realize this, we would enter into the era of an operating system that runs living software.”
Fay Bound Alberti, cultural historian
Big idea: We need to recognize the complexity of loneliness and its ever-transforming history. It’s not just an individual and psychological problem — it’s a social and physical one.
Why? Loneliness is a modern-day epidemic, with a history that’s often recognized solely as a product of the mind. Fay Bound Alberti believes that interpretation is limiting. “We’ve neglected [loneliness’s] physical effects — and loneliness is physical,” she says. She points to how crucial touch, smell, sound, human interaction and even nostalgic memories of sensory experiences are to coping with loneliness, making people feel important, seen and helping to produce endorphins. By reframing our perspective on this feeling of isolation, we can better understand how to heal it.
Quote of talk: “I am suggesting we need to turn to the physical body, we need to understand the physical and emotional experiences of loneliness to be able to tackle a modern epidemic. After all, it’s through our bodies, our sensory bodies, that we engage with the world.”
Fun fact: “Before 1800 there was no word for loneliness in the English language. There was something called: ‘oneliness’ and there were ‘lonely places,’ but both simply meant the state of being alone. There was no corresponding emotional lack and no modern state of loneliness.”
“Whatever age you are: own it — and then go out there and show the world what you can do!” says Carl Honoré. He speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 24, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
Carl Honoré, writer, thinker and activist
Big idea: Stop the lazy thinking around age and the “cult of youth” — it’s not all downhill from 40.
How? We need to debunk the myths and stereotypes surrounding age — beliefs like “older people can’t learn new things” and “creativity belongs to the young.” There are plenty of trailblazers and changemakers who came into their own later in life, from artists and musicians to physicists and business leaders. Studies show that people who fear and feel bad about aging are more likely to suffer physical effects as if age is an actual affliction rather than just a number. The first step to getting past that is by creating new, more positive societal narratives. Honoré offers a set of simple solutions — the two most important being: check your language and own your age. Embrace aging as an adventure, a process of opening rather than closing doors. We need to feel better about aging in order to age better.
Quote of the talk: “Whatever age you are: own it — and then go out there and show the world what you can do!”
ELEW and Marcus Miller blend jazz improvisation with rock in a musical cocktail of “rock-jazz.” They perform at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 24, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Dian Lofton / TED)
To keep pace with our ever-changing world, we need out-of-the-box ideas that are bigger and more imaginative than ever. The speakers and performers from this session explore these possibilities, challenging us to think harder about the notions we’ve come to accept.
The event: TEDSummit 2019, Session 4: Business Unusual, hosted by Whitney Pennington Rodgers and Cloe Shasha
When and where: Wednesday, July 24, 2019, 9am BST, at the Edinburgh Convention Centre in Edinburgh, Scotland
Speakers: Margaret Heffernan, Bob Langert, Rose Mutiso, Mariana Mazzucato, Diego Prilusky
Music: A virtuosic violin performance by Min Kym, and a closing performance by ELEW featuring Marcus Miller, blending jazz improvisation with rock in a musical cocktail of “rock-jazz.”
The talks in brief:
“The more we let machines think for us, the less we can think for ourselves,” says Margaret Heffernan. She speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 24, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Dian Lofton / TED)
Margaret Heffernan, entrepreneur, former CEO and writer
Big idea: The more we rely on technology to make us efficient, the fewer skills we have to confront the unexpected. That’s why we must start practicing “just-in-case” management — anticipating the events (climate catastrophes, epidemics, financial crises) that will almost certainly happen but are ambiguous in timing, scale and specifics.
Why? In our complex, unpredictable world, changes can occur out of the blue and have outsize impacts. When governments, businesses and individuals prioritize efficiency above all else, it keeps them from responding quickly, effectively and creatively. That’s why we all need to focus on cultivating what Heffernan calls our “unpredictable, messy human skills.” These include exercising our social abilities to build strong relationships and coalitions; humility to admit we don’t have all the answers; imagination to dream up never-before-seen solutions; and bravery to keep experimenting.
Quote of the talk: “The harder, deeper truth is that the future is uncharted, that we can’t map it until we get there. But that’s OK because we have so much capacity for imagination — if we use it. We have deep talents for inventiveness and exploration — if we apply them. We are brave enough to invent things we’ve never seen before. Lose these skills and we are adrift. But hone and develop them, and we can make any future we choose.”
Bob Langert, sustainability expert and VP of sustainability at McDonald’s
Big idea: Adversaries can be your best allies.
How? Three simple steps: reach out, listen and learn. As a “corporate suit” (his words), Bob Langert collaborates with his company’s strongest critics to find business-friendly solutions for society. Instead of denying and pushing back, he tries to embrace their perspectives and suggestions. He encourages others in positions of power to do the same, driven by this mindset: assume the best intentions of your critics; focus on the truth, the science and facts; and be open and transparent in order to turn critics into allies. The worst-case scenario? You’ll become better, your organization will become better — and you might make some friends along the way.
Fun fact: After working with NGOs in the 1990s, McDonald’s reduced 300 million pounds of waste over 10 years.
“When we talk about providing energy for growth, it is not just about innovating the technology: it’s the slow and hard work of improving governance, institutions and a broader macro-environment,” says Rose Mutiso. She speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 24, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Dian Lofton / TED)
Rose Mutiso, energy scientist
Big Idea: In order to grow out of poverty, African countries need a steady supply of abundant and affordable electricity.
Why? Energy poverty, or the lack of access to electricity and other basic energy services, affects nearly two-thirds of Sub-Saharan Africa. As the region’s population continues to grow, we have the opportunity to build a new energy system — from scratch — to grow with it, says Rose Mutiso. It starts with naming the systemic holes that current solutions (solar, LED and battery technology) overlook: we don’t have a clear consensus on what energy poverty is; there’s too much reliance on quick fixes; and we’re misdirecting our climate change concerns. What we need, Mutiso says, is nuanced, large-scale solutions with a diverse range of energy sources. For instance, the region has significant hydroelectric potential, yet less than 10 percent of this potential is currently being utilized. If we work hard to find new solutions to our energy deficits now, everybody benefits.
Quote of talk: “Countries cannot grow out of poverty without access to a steady supply of abundant, affordable and reliable energy to power these productive sectors — what I call energy for growth.”
Mariana Mazzucato, economist and policy influencer
Big idea: We’ve forgotten how to tell the difference between the value extractors in the C-suites and finance sectors and the value producers, the workers and taxpayers who actually fuel innovation and productivity. And recently we’ve neglected the importance of even questioning what the difference between the two.
How? Economists must redefine and recognize true value creators, envisioning a system that rewards them just as much as CEOs, investors and bankers. We need to rethink how we value education, childcare and other “free” services — which don’t have a price but clearly contribute to sustaining our economies. We need to make sure that our entire society not only shares risks but also rewards.
Quote of the talk: “[During the bank bailouts] we didn’t hear the taxpayers bragging that they were value creators. But, obviously, having bailed out the biggest ‘value-creating’ productive companies, perhaps they should have.”
Diego Prilusky demos his immersive storytelling technology, bringing Grease to the TED stage. He speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 24, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
Diego Prilusky, video pioneer
Big idea: Get ready for the next revolution in visual storytelling: volumetric video, which aims to do nothing less than recreate reality as a cinematic experience.
How? Movies have been around for more than 100 years, but we’re still making (and watching) them in basically the same way. Can movies exist beyond the flat screen? Yes, says Diego Prilusky, but we’ll first need to completely rethink how they’re made. With his team at Intel Studios, Prilusky is pioneering volumetric video, a data-intensive medium powered by hundreds of sensors that capture light and motion from every possible direction. The result is like being inside a movie, which you could explore from different perspectives (or even through a character’s own eyes). In a live tech demo, Prilusky takes us inside a reshoot of an iconic dance number from the 1978 hit Grease. As actors twirl and sing “You’re the One That I Want,” he positions and repositions his perspective on the scene — moving, around, in front of and in between the performers. Film buffs can rest easy, though: the aim isn’t to replace traditional movies, he says, but to empower creators to tell stories in new ways, across multiple vantage points.
Quote of the talk: “We’re opening the gates for new possibilities of immersive storytelling.”
Marco Tempest and his quadcopters perform a mind-bending display that feels equal parts science and magic at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 23, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
In an incredible session, speakers and performers laid out the biggest problems facing the world — from political and economic catastrophe to rising violence and deepfakes — and some new thinking on solutions.
The event: TEDSummit 2019, Session 3: The Big Rethink, hosted by Corey Hajim and Cyndi Stivers
When and where: Tuesday, July 23, 2019, 5pm BST, at the Edinburgh Convention Centre in Edinburgh, Scotland
Speakers: George Monbiot, Nick Hanauer, Raghuram Rajan, Marco Tempest, Rachel Kleinfeld, Danielle Citron, Patrick Chappatte
Music: KT Tunstall sharing how she found her signature sound and playing her hits “Miniature Disasters,” “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” and “Suddenly I See.”
The talks in brief:
“We are a society of altruists, but we are governed by psychopaths,” says George Monbiot. He speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 23, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
George Monbiot, investigative journalist and self-described “professional troublemaker”
Big idea: To get out of the political mess we’re in, we need a new story that captures the minds of people across fault lines.
Why? “Welcome to neoliberalism, the zombie doctrine that never seems to die,” says George Monbiot. We have been induced by politicians and economists into accepting an ideology of extreme competition and individualism, weakening the social bonds that make our lives worth living. And despite the 2008 financial crisis, which exposed the blatant shortcomings of neoliberalism, it still dominates our lives. Why? We haven’t yet produced a new story to replace it — a new narrative to help us make sense of the present and guide the future. So, Monbiot proposes his own: the “politics of belonging,” founded on the belief that most people are fundamentally altruistic, empathetic and socially minded. If we can tap into our fundamental urge to cooperate — namely, by building generous, inclusive communities around the shared sphere of the commons — we can build a better world. With a new story to light the way, we just might make it there.
Quote of the talk: “We are a society of altruists, but we are governed by psychopaths.”
Nick Hanauer, entrepreneur and venture capitalist.
Big idea: Economics has ceased to be a rational science in the service of the “greater good” of society. It’s time to ditch neoliberal economics and create tools that address inequality and injustice.
How? Today, under the banner of unfettered growth through lower taxes, fewer regulations, and lower wages, economics has become a tool that enforces the growing gap between the rich and poor. Nick Hanauer thinks that we must recognize that our society functions not because it’s a ruthless competition between its economically fittest members but because cooperation between people and institutions produces innovation. Competition shouldn’t be between the powerful at the expense of everyone else but between ideas battling it out in a well-managed marketplace in which everyone can participate.
Quote of the talk: “Successful economies are not jungles, they’re gardens — which is to say that markets, like gardens, must be tended … Unconstrained by social norms or democratic regulation, markets inevitably create more problems than they solve.”
Raghuram Rajan shares his idea for “inclusive localism” — giving communities the tools to turn themselves around while establishing standards tp prevent discrimination and corruption — at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 23, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Raghuram Rajan, economist and former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India
Big idea: As markets grow and governments focus on solving economic problems from the top-down, small communities and neighborhoods are losing their voices — and their livelihoods. But if nations lack the tools to address local problems, it’s time to turn to grass-roots communities for solutions.
How? Raghuram Rajan believes that nations must exercise “inclusive localism”: giving communities the tools to turn themselves around while establishing standards tp prevent discrimination and corruption. As local leaders step forward, citizens become active, and communities receive needed resources from philanthropists and through economic incentives, neighborhoods will thrive and rebuild their social fabric.
Quote of the talk: “What we really need [are] bottom-up policies devised by the community itself to repair the links between the local community and the national — as well as thriving international — economies.”
Marco Tempest, cyber illusionist
Big idea: Illusions that set our imaginations soaring are created when magic and science come together.
Why? “Is it possible to create illusions in a world where technology makes anything possible?” asks techno-magician Marco Tempest, as he interacts with his group of small flying machines called quadcopters. The drones dance around him, reacting buoyantly to his gestures and making it easy to anthropomorphize or attribute personality traits. Tempest’s buzzing buddies swerve, hover and pause, moving in formation as he orchestrates them. His mind-bending display will have you asking yourself: Was that science or magic? Maybe it’s both.
Quote to remember: “Magicians are interesting, their illusions accomplish what technology cannot, but what happens when the technology of today seems almost magical?”
Rachel Kleinfeld, democracy advisor and author
Big idea: It’s possible to quell violence — in the wider world and in our own backyards — with democracy and a lot of political TLC.
How? Compassion-concentrated action. We need to dispel the idea that some people deserve violence because of where they live, the communities they’re a part of or their socio-economic background. Kleinfeld calls this particular, inequality-based vein of violence “privilege violence,” explaining how it evolves in stages and the ways we can eradicate it. By deprogramming how we view violence and its origins and victims, we can move forward and build safer, more secure societies.
Quote of the talk: “The most important thing we can do is abandon the notion that some lives are just worth less than others.”
“Not only do we believe fakes, we are starting to doubt the truth,” says Danielle Citron, revealing the threat deepfakes pose to the truth and democracy. She speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 23, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Danielle Citron, professor of law and deepfake scholar
Big idea: Deepfakes — machine learning technology used to manipulate or fabricate audio and video content — can cause significant harm to individuals and society. We need a comprehensive legislative and educational approach to the problem.
How? The use of deepfake technology to manipulate video and audio for malicious purposes — whether it’s to stoke violence against minorities or to defame politicians and journalists — is becoming ubiquitous. With tools being made more accessible and their products more realistic, what becomes of that key ingredient for democratic processes: the truth? As Danielle Citron points out, “Not only do we believe fakes, we are starting to doubt the truth.” The fix, she suggests, cannot be merely technological. Legislation worldwide must be tailored to fighting digital impersonations that invade privacy and ruin lives. Educational initiatives are needed to teach the media how to identify fakes, persuade law enforcement that the perpetrators are worth prosecuting and convince the public at large that the future of democracy really is at stake.
Quote of the talk: “Technologists expect that advances in AI will soon make it impossible to distinguish a fake video and a real one. How can truths emerge in a deepfake ridden ‘marketplace of ideas?’ Will we take the path of least resistance and just believe what we want to believe, truth be damned?”
“Freedom of expression is not incompatible with dialogue and listening to each other, but it is incompatible with intolerance,” says editorial cartoonist Patrick Chappatte. He speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 23, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Patrick Chappatte, editorial cartoonist and graphic journalist
Big idea: We need humor like we need the air we breathe. We shouldn’t risk compromising our freedom of speech by censoring ourselves in the name of political correctness.
How? Our social media-saturated world is both a blessing and a curse for political cartoonists like Patrick Chappatte, whose satirical work can go viral while also making them, and the publications they work for, a target. Be it a prison sentence, firing or the outright dissolution of cartoon features in newspapers, editorial cartoonists worldwide are increasingly penalized for their art. Chappatte emphasizes the importance of the art form in political discourse by guiding us through 20 years of editorial cartoons that are equal parts humorous and caustic. In an age where social media platforms often provide places for fury instead of debate, he suggests that traditional media shouldn’t shy away from these online kingdoms, and neither should we. Now is the time to resist preventative self-censorship; if we don’t, we risk waking up in a sanitized world without freedom of expression.
Quote of the talk: “Freedom of expression is not incompatible with dialogue and listening to each other, but it is incompatible with intolerance.”
Three months after her landmark talk, Carole Cadwalladr is back at TED. In conversation with curator Bruno Giussani, Cadwalladr discusses the latest on her reporting on the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal and what we still don’t know about the transatlantic links between Brexit and the 2016 US presidential election.
“Who has the information, who has the data about you, that is where power now lies,” Cadwalladr says.
Cadwalladr appears in The Great Hack, a documentary by Karim Amer and TED Prize winner Jehane Noujaim that explores how Cambridge Analytica has come to symbolize the dark side of social media. The documentary was screened for TEDSummit participants today. Watch it in select theaters and on Netflix starting July 24.
Learn more about how you can support Cadwalladr’s investigation into data, disinformation and democracy.
Radio Science Orchestra performs the musical odyssey “Prelude, Landing, Legacy” in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 22, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Session 2 of TEDSummit 2019 is all about impact: the actions we can take to solve humanity’s toughest challenges. Speakers and performers explore the perils — from melting glaciers to air pollution — along with some potential fixes — like ocean-going seaweed farms and radical proposals for how we can build the future.
The event: TEDSummit 2019, Session 2: Anthropo Impact, hosted by David Biello and Chee Pearlman
When and where: Monday, July 22, 2019, 5pm BST, at the Edinburgh Convention Centre in Edinburgh, Scotland
Speakers: Tshering Tobgay, María Neira, Tim Flannery, Kelly Wanser, Anthony Veneziale, Nicola Jones, Marwa Al-Sabouni, Ma Yansong
Music: Radio Science Orchestra, performing the musical odyssey “Prelude, Landing, Legacy” in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing (and the 100th anniversary of the theremin’s invention)
… and something completely different: Improv maestro Anthony Veneziale, delivering a made-up-on-the-spot TED Talk based on a deck of slides he’d never seen and an audience-suggested topic: “the power of potatoes.” The result was … surprisingly profound.
The talks in brief:
Tshering Tobgay, politician, environmentalist and former Prime Minister of Bhutan
Big idea: We must save the Hindu Kush Himalayan glaciers from melting — or else face dire, irreversible consequences for one-fifth of the global population.
Why? The Hindu Kush Himalayan glaciers are the pulse of the planet: their rivers alone supply water to 1.6 billion people, and their melting would massively impact the 240 million people across eight countries within their reach. Think in extremes — more intense rains, flash floods and landslides along with unimaginable destruction and millions of climate refugees. Tshering Togbay telegraphs the future we’re headed towards unless we act fast, calling for a new intergovernmental agency: the Third Pole Council. This council would be tasked with monitoring the glaciers’ health, implementing policies to protect them and, by proxy, the billions of who depend of them.
Fun fact: The Hindu Kush Himalayan glaciers are the world’s third-largest repository of ice (after the North and South poles). They’re known as the “Third Pole” and the “Water Towers of Asia.”
Air pollution isn’t just bad for the environment — it’s also bad for our brains, says María Neira. She speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 22, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
María Neira, public health leader
Big idea: Air pollution isn’t just bad for our lungs — it’s bad for our brains, too.
Why? Globally, poor air quality causes seven million premature deaths per year. And all this pollution isn’t just affecting our lungs, says María Neira. An emerging field of research is shedding a light on the link between air pollution and our central nervous systems. The fine particulate matter in air pollution travels through our bloodstreams to our major organs, including the brain — which can slow down neurological development in kids and speed up cognitive decline in adults. In short: air pollution is making us less intelligent. We all have a role to play in curbing air pollution — and we can start by reducing traffic in cities, investing in clean energy and changing the way we consume.
Quote of the talk: “We need to exercise our rights and put pressure on politicians to make sure they will tackle the causes of air pollution. This is the first thing we need to do to protect our health and our beautiful brains.”
Tim Flannery, environmentalist, explorer and professor
Big idea: Seaweed could help us drawdown atmospheric carbon and curb global warming.
How? You know the story: the blanket of CO2 above our heads is driving adverse climate changes and will continue to do so until we get it out of the air (a process known as “drawdown”). Tim Flannery thinks seaweed could help: it grows fast, is made out of productive, photosynthetic tissue and, when sunk more than a kilometer deep into the ocean, can lock up carbon long-term. If we cover nine percent of the ocean surface in seaweed farms, for instance, we could sequester the same amount of CO2 we currently put into the atmosphere. There’s still a lot to figure, Flannery notes — like how growing seaweed at scale on the ocean surface will affect biodiversity down below — but the drawdown potential is too great to allow uncertainty to stymie progress.
Fun fact: Seaweed is the most ancient multicellular life known, with more genetic diversity than all other multicellular life combined.
Could cloud brightening help curb global warming? Kelly Wanser speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 22, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED
Kelly Wanser, geoengineering expert and executive director of SilverLining
Big idea: The practice of cloud brightening — seeding clouds with sea salt or other particulates to reflect sunshine back into space — could partially offset global warming, giving us crucial time while we figure out game-changing, long-term solutions.
How: Starting in 2020, new global regulations will require ships to cut emissions by 85 percent. This is a good thing, right? Not entirely, says Kelly Wanser. It turns out that when particulate emissions (like those from ships) mix with clouds, they make the clouds brighter — enabling them to reflect sunshine into space and temporarily cool our climate. (Think of it as the ibuprofen for our fevered climate.) Wanser’s team and others are coming up with experiments to see if “cloud-brightening” proves safe and effective; some scientists believe increasing the atmosphere’s reflectivity by one or two percent could offset the two degrees celsius of warming that’s been forecasted for earth. As with other climate interventions, there’s much yet to learn, but the potential benefits make those efforts worth it.
An encouraging fact: The global community has rallied to pull off this kind of atmospheric intervention in the past, with the 1989 Montreal Protocol.
Nicola Jones, science journalist
Big idea: Noise in our oceans — from boat motors to seismic surveys — is an acute threat to underwater life. Unless we quiet down, we will irreparably damage marine ecosystems and may even drive some species to extinction.
How? We usually think of noise pollution as a problem in big cities on dry land. But ocean noise may be the culprit behind marine disruptions like whale strandings, fish kills and drops in plankton populations. Fortunately, compared to other climate change solutions, it’s relatively quick and easy to dial down our noise levels and keep our oceans quiet. Better ship propellor design, speed limits near harbors and quieter methods for oil and gas prospecting will all help humans restore peace and quiet to our neighbors in the sea.
Quote of the talk: “Sonar can be as loud as, or nearly as loud as, an underwater volcano. A supertanker can be as loud as the call of a blue whale.”
TED curator Chee Pearlman (left) speaks with architect Marwa Al-Sabouni at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders. July 22, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
Marwa Al-Sabouni, architect, interviewed by TED curator Chee Pearlman
Big idea: Architecture can exacerbate the social disruptions that lead to armed conflict.
How? Since the time of the French Mandate, officials in Syria have shrunk the communal spaces that traditionally united citizens of varying backgrounds. This contributed to a sense of alienation and rootlessness — a volatile cocktail that built conditions for unrest and, eventually, war. Marwa Al-Sabouni, a resident of Homs, Syria, saw firsthand how this unraveled social fabric helped reduce the city to rubble during the civil war. Now, she’s taking part in the city’s slow reconstruction — conducted by citizens with little or no government aid. As she explains in her book The Battle for Home, architects have the power (and the responsibility) to connect a city’s residents to a shared urban identity, rather than to opposing sectarian groups.
Quote of the talk: “Syria had a very unfortunate destiny, but it should be a lesson for the rest of the world: to take notice of how our cities are making us very alienated from each other, and from the place we used to call home.”
“Architecture is no longer a function or a machine for living. It also reflects the nature around us. It also reflects our soul and the spirit,” says Ma Yansong. He speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders. July 22, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
Ma Yansong, architect and artist
Big Idea: By creating architecture that blends with nature, we can break free from the “matchbox” sameness of many city buildings.
How? Ma Yansong paints a vivid image of what happens when nature collides with architecture — from a pair of curvy skyscrapers that “dance” with each other to buildings that burst out of a village’s mountains like contour lines. Yansong embraces the shapes of nature — which never repeat themselves, he notes — and the randomness of hand-sketched designs, creating a kind of “emotional scenery.” When we think beyond the boxy geometry of modern cities, he says, the results can be breathtaking.
Quote of talk: “Architecture is no longer a function or a machine for living. It also reflects the nature around us. It also reflects our soul and the spirit.”
TED Fellows celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the program at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 22, 2019 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
The event: TEDSummit 2019, Fellows Session, hosted by Shoham Arad and Lily Whitsitt
When and where: Monday, July 22, 2019, 9am BST, at the Edinburgh Convention Centre in Edinburgh, Scotland
Speakers: Carl Joshua Ncube, Suzanne Lee, Sonaar Luthra, Jon Lowenstein, Alicia Eggert, Lauren Sallan, Laura Boykin
Opening: A quick, witty performance from Carl Joshua Ncube, one of Zimbabwe’s best-known comedians, who uses humor to approach culturally taboo topics from his home country.
Music: An opening from visual artist and cellist Paul Rucker of the hauntingly beautiful “Criminalization of Survival,” a piece he created to explore issues related to mass incarceration, racially motivated violence, police brutality and the impact of slavery in the US.
And a dynamic closing from hip-hop artist and filmmaker Blitz Bazawule and his band, who tells stories of the polyphonic African diaspora.
The talks in brief:
Laura Boykin, computational biologist at the University of Western Australia
Big idea: If we’re going to solve the world’s toughest challenges — like food scarcity for millions of people living in extreme poverty — science needs to be more diverse and inclusive.
How? Collaborating with smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, Laura Boykin uses genomics and supercomputing to help control whiteflies and viruses, which cause devastation to cassava crops. Cassava is a staple food that feeds more than 500 million people in East Africa and 800 million people globally. Boykin’s work transforms farmers’ lives, taking them from being unable to feed their families to having enough crops to sell and enough income to thrive.
Quote of the talk: “I never dreamt the best science I would ever do would be sitting on a blanket under a tree in East Africa, using the highest tech genomics gadgets. Our team imagined a world where farmers could detect crop viruses in three hours instead of six months — and then we did it.”
Lauren Sallan, paleobiologist at the University of Pennsylvania
Big idea: Paleontology is about so much more than dinosaurs.
How? The history of life on earth is rich, varied and … entirely too focused on dinosaurs, according to Lauren Sallan. The fossil record shows that earth has a dramatic past, with four mass extinctions occurring before dinosaurs even came along. From fish with fingers to galloping crocodiles and armored squid, the variety of life that has lived on our changing planet can teach us more about how we got here, and what the future holds, if we take the time to look.
Quote of the talk: “We have learned a lot about dinosaurs, but there’s so much left to learn from the other 99.9 percent of things that have ever lived, and that’s paleontology.”
“If we applied the same energy we currently do suppressing forms of life towards cultivating life, we’d turn the negative image of the urban jungle into one that literally embodies a thriving, living ecosystem,” says Suzanne Lee. She speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 22, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Suzanne Lee, designer, biofabricator
Big idea: What if we could grow bricks, furniture and even ready-made fabric for clothes?
How? Suzanne Lee is a fashion designer turned biofabrication pioneer who is part of a global community of innovators who are figuring how to grow their own materials. By utilizing living microbial organisms like bacteria and fungi, we can replace plastic, cement and other waste-generating materials with alternatives that can help reduce pollution.
Quote of the talk: “If we applied the same energy we currently do suppressing forms of life towards cultivating life, we’d turn the negative image of the urban jungle into one that literally embodies a thriving, living ecosystem.”
Sonaar Luthra, founder and CEO of Water Canary
Big idea: We need to get better at monitoring the world’s water supplies — and we need to do it fast.
How? Building a global weather service for water would help governments, businesses and communities manage 21st-century water risk. Sonaar Luthra’s company Water Canary aims to develop technologies that more efficiently monitor water quality and availability around the world, avoiding the unforecasted shortages that happen now. Businesses and governments must also invest more in water, he says, and the largest polluters and misusers of water must be held accountable.
Quote of the talk: “It is in the public interest to measure and to share everything we can discover and learn about the risks we face in water. Reality doesn’t exist until it’s measured. It doesn’t just take technology to measure it — it takes our collective will.”
Jon Lowenstein shares photos from the migrant journey in Latin America at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders. July 22, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Dian Lofton / TED)
Jon Lowenstein, documentary photographer, filmmaker and visual artist
Big idea: We need to care about the humanity of migrants in order to understand the desperate journeys they’re making across borders.
How? For the past two decades, Jon Lowenstein has captured the experiences of undocumented Latin Americans living in the United States to show the real stories of the men and women who make up the largest transnational migration in world history. Lowenstein specializes in long-term, in-depth documentary explorations that confront power, poverty and violence.
Quote of the talk: “With these photographs, I place you squarely in the middle of these moments and ask you to think about [the people in them] as if you knew them. This body of work is a historical document — a time capsule — that can teach us not only about migration, but about society and ourselves.”
Alicia Eggert’s art asks us to recognize where we are now as individuals and as a society, and to identify where we want to be in the future. She speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 22, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Alicia Eggert, interdisciplinary artist
Big idea: A brighter, more equitable future depends upon our ability to imagine it.
How? Alicia Eggert creates art that explores how light travels across space and time, revealing the relationship between reality and possibility. Her work has been installed on rooftops in Philadelphia, bridges in Amsterdam and uninhabited islands in Maine. Like navigational signs, Eggert’s artwork asks us to recognize where we are now as individuals and as a society, to identify where we want to be in the future — and to imagine the routes we can take to get there.
Quote of the talk: “Signs often help to orient us in the world by telling us where we are now and what’s happening in the present moment. But they can also help us zoom out, shift our perspective and get a sense of the bigger picture.”
Hosts Bruno Giussani and Helen Walters open Session 1: Weaving Community on July 21, 2019, Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
The stage is set for TEDSummit 2019: A Community Beyond Borders! During the opening session, speakers and performers explored themes of competition, political engagement and longing — and celebrated the TED communities (representing 84 countries) gathered in Edinburgh, Scotland to forge TED’s next chapter.
The event: TEDSummit 2019, Session 1: Weaving Community, hosted by Bruno Giussani and Helen Walters
When and where: Sunday, July 21, 2019, 5pm BST, at the Edinburgh Convention Centre in Edinburgh, Scotland
Speakers: Pico Iyer, Jochen Wegner, Hajer Sharief, Mariana Lin, Carole Cadwalladr, Susan Cain with Min Kym
Opening: A warm Scottish welcome from raconteur Mackenzie Dalrymple
Music: Findlay Napier and Gillian Frame performing selections from The Ledger, a series of Scottish folk songs
The talks in brief:
“Seeming happiness can stand in the way of true joy even more than misery does,” says writer Pico Iyer. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Pico Iyer, novelist and nonfiction author
Big idea: The opposite of winning isn’t losing; it’s failing to see the larger picture.
Why? As a child in England, Iyer believed the point of competition was to win, to vanquish one’s opponent. Now, some 50 years later and a resident of Japan, he’s realized that competition can be “more like an act of love.” A few times a week, he plays ping-pong at his local health club. Games are played as doubles, and partners are changed every five minutes. As a result, nobody ends up winning — or losing — for long. Iyer has found liberation and wisdom in this approach. Just as in a choir, he says, “Your only job is to play your small part perfectly, to hit your notes with feeling and by so doing help to create a beautiful harmony that’s much greater than the sum of its parts.”
Quote of the talk: “Seeming happiness can stand in the way of true joy even more than misery does.”
Jochen Wegner, journalist and editor of Zeit Online
Big idea: The spectrum of belief is as multifaceted as humanity itself. As social media segments us according to our interests, and as algorithms deliver us increasingly homogenous content that reinforces our beliefs, we become resistant to any ideas — or even facts — that contradict our worldview. The more we sequester ourselves, the more divided we become. How can we learn to bridge our differences?
How? Inspired by research showing that one-on-one conversations are a powerful tool for helping people learn to trust each other, Zeit Online built Germany Talks, a “Tinder for politics” that facilitates “political arguments” and face-to-face meetings between users in an attempt to bridge their points-of-view on issues ranging from immigration to same-sex marriage. With Germany Talks (and now My Country Talks and Europe Talks) Zeit has facilitated conversations between thousands of Europeans from 33 countries.
Quote of the talk: “What matters here is not the numbers, obviously. What matters here is whenever two people meet to talk in person for hours, without anyone else listening, they change — and so do our societies. They change, little by little, discussion by discussion.”
“The systems we have nowadays for political decision-making are not from the people for the people — they have been established by the few, for the few,” says activist Hajer Sharief. She speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 21, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
Hajer Sharief, activist and cofounder of the Together We Build It Foundation
Big Idea: People of all genders, ages, races, beliefs and socioeconomic statuses should participate in politics.
Why? Hajer Sharief’s native Libya is recovering from 40 years of authoritarian rule and civil war. She sheds light on the way politics are involved in every aspect of life: “By not participating in it, you are literally allowing other people to decide what you can eat, wear, if you can have access to healthcare, free education, how much tax you pay, when can you retire, what is your pension,” she says. “Other people are also deciding whether your race is enough to consider you a criminal, or if your religion or nationality are enough to put you on a terrorist list.” When Sharief was growing up, her family held weekly meetings to discuss family issues, abiding by certain rules to ensured everyone was respectful and felt free to voice their thoughts. She recounts a meeting that went badly for her 10-year-old self, resulting in her boycotting them altogether for many years — until an issue came about which forced her to participate again. Rejoining the meetings was a political assertion, and it helped her realize an important lesson: you are never too young to use your voice — but you need to be present for it to work.
Quote of talk: “Politics is not only activism — it’s awareness, it’s keeping ourselves informed, it’s caring for facts. When it’s possible, it is casting a vote. Politics is the tool through which we structure ourselves as groups and societies.”
Mariana Lin, AI character designer and principal writer for Siri
Big idea: Let’s inject AI personalities with the essence of life: creativity, weirdness, curiosity, fun.
Why? Tech companies are going in two different directions when it comes to creating AI personas: they’re either building systems that are safe, flat, stripped of quirks and humor — or, worse, they’re building ones that are fully customizable, programmed to say just what you want to hear, just how you like to hear it. While this might sound nice at first, we’re losing part of what makes us human in the process: the friction and discomfort of relating with others, the hard work of building trusting relationships. Mariana Lin calls for tech companies to try harder to truly bring AI to life — in all its messy, complicated, uncomfortable glory. For starters, she says, companies can hire a diverse range of writers, creatives, artists and social thinkers to work on AI teams. If the people creating these personalities are as diverse as the people using it — from poets and philosophers to bankers and beekeepers — then the future of AI looks bright.
Quote of the talk: “If we do away with the discomfort of relating with others not exactly like us, with views not exactly like ours — we do away with what makes us human.”
In 2018, Carole Cadwalladr exposed Cambridge Analytica’s attempt to influence the UK Brexit vote and the 2016 US presidential election via personal data on Facebook. She’s still working to sound the alarm. She speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 21, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
Carole Cadwalladr, investigative journalist, interviewed by TED curator Bruno Giussani
Big idea: Companies that collect and hoard our information, like Facebook, have become unthinkably powerful global players — perhaps more powerful than governments. It’s time for the public hold them accountable.
How? Tech companies with offices in different countries must obey the laws of those nations. It’s up to leaders to make sure those laws are enforced — and it’s up to citizens to pressure lawmakers to further tighten protections. Despite legal and personal threats from her adversaries, Carole Cadwalladr continues to explore the ways in which corporations and politicians manipulate data to consolidate their power.
Quote to remember: “In Britain, Brexit is this thing which is reported on as this British phenomenon, that’s all about what’s happening in Westminster. The fact that actually we are part of something which is happening globally — this rise of populism and authoritarianism — that’s just completely overlooked. These transatlantic links between what is going on in Trump’s America are very, very closely linked to what is going on in Britain.”
Susan Cain meditates on how the feeling of longing can guide us to a deeper understanding of ourselves, accompanied by Min Kym on violin, at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders. July 21, 2019, Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Susan Cain, quiet revolutionary, with violinist Min Kym
Big idea: Life is steeped in sublime magic that you can tap into, opening a whole world filled with passion and delight.
How? By forgoing constant positivity for a state of mind more exquisite and fleeting — a place where light (joy) and darkness (sorrow) meet, known to us all as longing. Susan Cain weaves her journey in search for the sublime with the splendid sounds of Min Kym on violin, sharing how the feeling of yearning connects us to each other and helps us to better understand what moves us deep down.
Quote of the talk: “Follow your longing where it’s telling you to go, and may it carry you straight to the beating heart of the perfect and beautiful world.”
TEDSummit banners are hung at the entrance of the Edinburgh Convention Centre, our home for the week. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
TEDSummit 2019 officially kicks off today! Members of the TED community from 84 countries — TEDx’ers, TED Translators, TED Fellows, TED-Ed Educators, past speakers and more — have gathered in Edinburgh, Scotland to dream up what’s next for TED. Over the next week, the community will share adventures around the city, more than 100 Discovery Sessions and, of course, seven sessions of TED Talks.
Below, check out some photo highlights from the lead-up to TEDSummit and pre-conference activities. (And view our full photostream here.)
It takes a small (and mighty) army to get the theater ready for TED Talks.
(Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
(Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
(Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
TED Translators get the week started with a trip to Edinburgh Castle, complete with high tea in the Queen Anne Tea Room, and a welcome reception.
(Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
(Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
(Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
A bit of Scottish rain couldn’t stop the TED Fellows from enjoying a hike up Arthur’s Seat. Weather wasn’t a problem at a welcome dinner.
(Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
(Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
(Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
TEDx’ers kick off the week with workshops, panel discussions and a welcome reception.
(Photo: Dian Lofton / TED)
(Photo: Dian Lofton / TED)
(Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
It’s all sun and blue skies for the speaker community’s trip to Edinburgh Castle and reception at the Playfair Library.
(Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
(Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
(Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
(Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
Cheers to an amazing week ahead!
(Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Curators David Biello and Chee Pearlman host TED Salon: Trailblazers, in partnership with The Macallan, at the TED World Theater in New York City on June 27, 2019. (Photo: Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
The event: TED Salon: Trailblazers, hosted by TED design and arts curator Chee Pearlman and TED science curator David Biello
When and where: Thursday, June 27, 2019, at the TED World Theater in New York City
The partner: The Macallan
Music: Sammy Rae & The Friends
The talks in brief:
Marcus Bullock, entrepreneur and justice reform advocate
“It’s always better to collaborate with different communities rather than trying to speak for them,” says fashion designer Becca McCharen-Tran. She speaks at TED Salon: Trailblazers, in partnership with The Macallan, at the TED World Theater, June 27, 2019, New York, NY. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Becca McCharen-Tran, founder and creative director of bodywear line CHROMAT
Amy Padnani, editor at the New York Times (or, as some of her friends call her, the “Angel of Death”)
Sam Van Aken shares the work behind the “Tree of 40 Fruit,” an ongoing series of hybridized fruit trees that grow multiple varieties of stone fruit. He speaks at TED Salon: Trailblazers, in partnership with The Macallan, at the TED World Theater, June 27, 2019, New York, NY. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Sam Van Aken, multimedia contemporary artist, art professor at Syracuse University in New York and creator of the Tree of 40 Fruit
Removing his primetime-ready makeup, Lee Thomas shares his personal story of living with vitiligo. He speaks at TED Salon: Trailblazers, in partnership with The Macallan, at the TED World Theater, June 27, 2019, New York, NY. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Lee Thomas, broadcast journalist
June 28, 2019, marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, when LGBTQ people and allies fought back in a six-night riot against a police raid on The Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City. Stonewall was not the first time that LGBTQ people took a stand against oppression or police harassment, but it was a major turning point in the global fight for queer liberation and civil rights.
As a twenty-something gay person living in New York — where, as the sign in Stonewall claims, “Pride began” — I’ve been thinking about how to properly mark the occasion and what exactly Pride celebrations mean to me. What I know for sure, especially after my conversation with Dave Isay, StoryCorps founder and 2015 TED Prize winner, is that one of the most important things we can do this Pride Month is listen to the older LGBTQ people in our lives and document their stories.
“It has been 50 years since Stonewall, and the people who were living that history are now in their 70s, 80s and 90s,” Isay told me. “Recording interviews takes emotional energy; it takes time. We’re asking people to record these LGBTQ stories now as an act of public service, because the totality of these stories is American history. We must collect them before they are lost forever.”
Since 2003, StoryCorps has invited people to interview each other and record their exchanges. The organization’s mission is “to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.” These stories are then shared by StoryCorps and preserved in the Library of Congress for future generations to learn from.
Stonewall OutLoud is a new initiative from StoryCorps that is focused on collecting LGBTQ stories from Americans in order to capture this important but sometimes overlooked aspect of our country’s history. These stories can help inform the next generation of LGBTQ-affirming relatives, mentors, activists and community leaders.
Historically, Pride has been a time to be loud. It’s a time for queer people to be visible and for all people to advocate for equality and justice. As we commemorate this landmark anniversary of Stonewall, it’s also become clear to me that it’s a time to listen to LGBTQ experiences from the past as well. That way, we’ll all know exactly why we’re shouting in the streets and what kind of future we’re marching for.
Here’s how to get involved:
Since launching the TED Fellows program ten years ago, we’ve gotten to know and support some of the brightest, most ambitious thinkers, change-makers and culture-shakers from nearly every discipline and corner of the world. The numbers speak for themselves:
Whether it’s discovering new galaxies, leading social movements or making waves in environmental conservation, with the support of TED, our Fellows are dedicated to making the world a better place through their innovative work. And you could be one of them.
What’s in it for you?
What are the requirements?
What do you have to lose?
The deadline to apply is August 27, 2019 at 11:59pm UTC. To learn more about the TED Fellows program and apply, head here. Don’t wait until the last minute! We do not accept late applications. Really.
From the Castle that dominates the skyline to Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano with hiking trails offering panoramic views of the city. Having lived here for most of my adult life, I am still discovering captivating and quirky places to explore. You probably won’t find the sites listed below on the typical “top things to do in Edinburgh” rundowns, but I recommend them to people coming for the upcoming TEDSummit 2019 who love the idea of experiencing this lovely city through a different lens.
Originally built in 1762 by the University of Edinburgh’s Music Society, this was Scotland’s first venue intentionally built to be a concert hall. Its Music Museum has an impressive collection of musical instruments from around the globe, and it’s claimed to be the only place in the world where you can listen to 18th-century instruments played in an 18th-century setting — some of its ancient harpsichords are indeed playable. Learn how keyboards were once status symbols, and how technology has changed the devices that humans use to make sounds. The museum is open to the public, and the hall regularly hosts concerts and other events.
This 19th-century former railway tunnel runs beneath the city for 1,696 feet (about 520 meters). One of the first railway tunnels in the United Kingdom and part of the first public railway tunnel in Scotland, it was in use from 1831 until 1968. Today it’s open to walkers and cyclists and connects to a lovely outdoor cycleway. The origin of its name is a mystery, but one theory is that it alludes to the fact that no fatal accidents occurred during its construction. Visitors, however, will find that walking through the tunnel doesn’t feel quite so benign — it’s cold and the wind whistles through.
This free library dedicated to one subject and one subject only: the human behavior and historical patterns that led to world-shaking financial mistakes. It contains research materials, photos and relics that tell the stories of the bad decisions that shaped our world. Yes, you can read about well-known wrongdoers such Charles Ponzi, but there are plenty of lesser-known schemes and people to discover. For instance, you can learn about the story behind the line “bought and sold for English gold” from the poem by Scotsman Robert Burns. While the library is free and open to the public, viewing is strictly by appointment so you’ll need to book ahead.
Just off the Royal Mile is Blair Street, which leads to an underground world of 19 cavernous vaults. These lie beneath the bridge that was built in 1788 to connect the Southside of the city with the university area. The archways were once home to a bustling marketplace of cobblers, milliners and other vendors. But it was taken over by less salubrious forces. Its darkness made it an attractive place for anyone who didn’t want to be seen, including thieves and 19th-century murderers William Burke and William Hare, who hid corpses there — there was a convenient opening that led directly to the medical school where they sold the bodies for dissection. Sometime in the 19th century, the vaults were declared too dangerous for use and the entryway was bricked up. Today they can be visited by tour. A warning that paranormal activity has been reported there.
At the foot of the Royal Mile lies Abbey Strand, which leads down to the gates of Holyrood Palace (the Queen’s primary royal residence in Scotland). Look carefully on the road at Abbey Strand, and you will see three stones marked with a golden “S” on them. These stones mark part of what used to be a five-mile radius known as Abbey Sanctuary, where criminals could seek refuge from civil law under the auspices of Holyrood Abbey. In the 16th century, when land came under royal control, sanctuary was reserved for financial debtors. In 1880, a change in law meant debtors could no longer be jailed, so the sanctuary was no longer needed. As you walk the Royal Mile, be sure to appreciate these remnants of Scotland’s history. The Abbey, now a scenic ruin, can be accessed through Holyrood Palace.
This may look like an ordinary store — and yes, you can purchase clothes, home goods and gifts here — until you head upstairs to the 10 fitting rooms. Open the door to your cubicle and instead of the usual unflattering mirror and bad lighting, you’ll find individually themed rooms. From a 1940s kitchen pantry stocked with cans of gravy and marrowfat peas to a room filled with cuddly toys, these are fitting rooms that you’ll actually want to spend time in (there is room for you to try on clothes). Most of the rooms were designed by AMD Interior Architects, but a few were winning designs from a school competition. The crafty should take a break in the “meet and make” area where they can enjoy arts and crafts while sipping tea from vintage teacups.
Just 10 miles outside of Edinburgh, Jupiter Artland is a sculpture park set among hundreds of acres of gardens and woodlands. It’s located on the grounds of Bonnington House, a 17th-century Jacobean Manor house. While visitors are provided with a map of different artworks, there is no set route to follow. Turn left, turn right, go backwards, go forwards. Look out for the peacocks and geese. Be amazed, be delighted, be stunned. A visit to Jupiter Artland is a mini-adventure in itself.
TEDGlobal 2013 in Edinburgh, Scotland. June 12-15, 2013. Photo: Bret Hartman
If we want to do things differently, where do we begin? Curators Corey Hajim and Alex Moura host TED Salon: “Rethink,” in partnership with Brightline Initiative at the TED World Theater in New York City on June 6, 2019. (Photo: Dian Lofton / TED)
The event: TED Salon: “Rethink,” hosted by TED business curator Corey Hajim and TED tech curator Alex Moura
When and where: Thursday, June 6, 2019, at the TED World Theater in New York City
The partner: Brightline Initiative, with Brightline executive director Ricardo Vargas warming up the audience with opening remarks
Music: Dark pop bangers from the Bloom Twins
The Bloom Twins, sisters Anna and Sofia Kuprienko, perform their special brand of “dark pop” at TED Salon: “Rethink,” in partnership with Brightline Initiative. (Photo: Jasmina Tomic / TED)
The talks in brief:
Heidi Grant, social psychologist, chief science officer of the Neuroleadership Institute and associate director of Columbia University’s Motivation Science Center
Stuart Oda, urban farm innovator, cofounder and CEO of Alesca Life
Efosa Ojomo researches global prosperity, analyzing why and how corruption arises. He discusses how we could potentially eliminate it by investing in businesses focused on wiping out scarcity. (Photo: Jasmina Tomic / TED)
Efosa Ojomo, global prosperity researcher and senior fellow at Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation
Shannon Lee, podcaster and actress
When’s the last time you ate more, and exercised less, than you should? Dan Ariely explores why we make certain decisions — and how we can change our behavior for the better. (Photo: Dian Lofton / TED)
Dan Ariely, behavioral economist and author of Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations
Faith Osier speaks during Fellows Session at TED2018 – The Age of Amazement in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED
The TED community is brimming with new projects and updates. Below, a few highlights.
Malaria vaccine begins wide-scale testing in Malawi. RTS,S — the only malaria vaccine to successfully pass clinical trials — will be made available to 360,000 children in Kenya, Malawi and Ghana in the first round of implementation testing. Immunologist Faith Osier spoke to the Sierra Leone Times about the process and next steps for her work, tracking the efficacy and potential side effects of the vaccine, the results of which are expected in 3-5 years. “While we wait, the scientific effort to develop a more effective vaccine will continue as vigorously as ever,” she said. “Researchers like myself are energized by the limited success of the current vaccine and are convinced that we can do better.” (Watch Osier’s TED Talk.)
A new set of clean standards for the final frontier. Space environmentalist Moriba Jah and space engineer Danielle Wood will join an international team of scientists to design the Space Sustainability Rating (SSR), a new system to help reduce space debris. The SSR plans to create and distribute guidelines and models to space tech manufacturers to encourage low-waste production and highlight the importance of sustainability. “We need to ensure that the environment around Earth is as free as possible from trash left over from previous missions,” Wood said in a statement. “Creating the Space Sustainability Rating with our collaborators is one key step to ensure that all countries continue to increase the benefits we receive from space technology.” (Watch Wood’s TED Talk.)
TEDsters honored at 2019 Webby Awards. Climate change advocate Greta Thunberg and anti-bullying activist Monica Lewinsky were among those honored by this year’s Webby Awards. Lewinsky received the Webby Award for Best Influencer Endorsements on behalf of her campaign, #DefyTheName. Thunberg was given the Special Achievement Webby Social Movement of the Year to recognize her work in climate activism, including her #FridaysForFuture campaign, School Strike for Climate and for “igniting a global movement for climate justice led by youth activists, and for using the Internet to draw the world’s attention to the urgent issue of climate change,“ according to a statement on the Webby Awards website. (Check out the full lineup of winners and watch Thunberg’s and Lewinsky’s TED Talks.)
Meet 2019’s Stephen Hawking Science Medal Awardee. For his work promoting and furthering space travel, entrepreneur Elon Musk has been awarded the Stephen Hawking Science Medal by biennial science festival STARMUS. Other 2019 honorees include musician Brian Eno and the film Apollo 11. Musk will be presented the award by astrophysicist and Queen guitarist Brian May for “his astounding accomplishments in space travel and for humanity.” The winners will receive their medals in June at the STARMUS Science Communications Festival in Zurich. (Watch Musk’s latest TED Talk.)
Vanity Fair profiles Brené Brown. On the heels of her groundbreaking Netflix special, vulnerability researcher Brené Brown spoke to Vanity Fair about how success has changed her life — and how she wants to help change yours. Brown’s TED Talks, books and new Netflix special encourage people to embrace vulnerability as vital superpowers, instead of bottling it up in fear. (Watch Brown’s TED Talks on vulnerability and on shame.)
Have a news item to share? Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org and you may see it included in this round-up.
At TEDSummit 2019, more than 1,000 members of the TED community will gather for five days of performances, workshops, brainstorming, outdoor activities, future-focused discussions and, of course, an eclectic program of TED Talks — curated by TED Global curator Bruno Giussani, pictured above. (Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED)
With TEDSummit 2019 just two months away, it’s time to unveil the first group of speakers that will take to the stage in Edinburgh, Scotland, from July 21-25.
Three years ago, more than 1,000 members of the TED global community convened in Banff, Canada, for the first-ever TEDSummit. We talked about the fracturing state of the world, the impact of technology and the accelerating urgency of climate change. And we drew wisdom and inspiration from the speakers — and from each other.
These themes are equally pressing today, and we’ll bring them to the stage in novel, more developed ways in Edinburgh. We’ll also address a wide range of additional topics that demand attention — looking not only for analysis but also antidotes and solutions. To catalyze this process, half of the TEDSummit conference program will take place outside the theatre, as experts host an array of Discovery Sessions in the form of hands-on workshops, activities, debates and conversations.
Check out a glimpse of the lineup of speakers who will share their future-focused ideas below. Some are past TED speakers returning to give new talks; others will step onto the red circle for the first time. All will help us understand the world we currently live in.
Here we go! (More will be added in the coming weeks):
Anna Piperal, digital country expert
Bob Langert, corporate changemaker
Carl Honoré, author
Carole Cadwalladr, investigative journalist
Diego Prilusky, immersive media technologist
Eli Pariser, organizer and author
Fay Bound Alberti, historian
George Monbiot, thinker and author
Hajer Sharief, youth inclusion activist
Howard Taylor, children safety advocate
Jochen Wegner, editor and dialogue creator
Kelly Wanser, geoengineering expert
Ma Yansong, architect
Marco Tempest, technology magician
Margaret Heffernan, business thinker
María Neira, global public health official
Mariana Lin, AI personalities writer
Mariana Mazzucato, economist
Marwa Al-Sabouni, architect
Nick Hanauer, capitalism redesigner
Nicola Jones, science writer
Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland
Omid Djalili, comedian
Patrick Chappatte, editorial cartoonist
Pico Iyer, global author
Poet Ali, Philosopher, poet
Rachel Kleinfeld, violence scholar
Raghuram Rajan, former central banker
Rose Mutiso, energy for Africa activist
Sandeep Jauhar, cardiologist
Sara-Jane Dunn, computational biologist
Sheperd Doeleman, black hole scientist
Sonia Livingstone, social psychologist
Susan Cain, quiet revolutionary
Tim Flannery, carbon-negative tech scholar
Tshering Tobgay, former Prime Minister of Bhutan
With them, a number of artists will also join us at TEDSummit, including:
Djazia Satour, singer
ELEW, pianist and DJ
KT Tunstall, singer and songwriter
Min Kym, virtuoso violinist
Radio Science Orchestra, space-music orchestra
Yilian Cañizares, singer and songwriter
Registration for TEDSummit is open for active members of our various communities: TED conference members, Fellows, past TED speakers, TEDx organizers, Educators, Partners, Translators and more. If you’re part of one of these communities and would like to attend, please visit the TEDSummit website.
TED returns with the second season of The TED Interview, a long-form podcast series that features Chris Anderson, head of TED, in conversation with leading thinkers. The podcast is an opportunity to reconnect with renowned speakers and dive deeper into their ideas within a different global climate. This season’s guests include Bill Gates, Monica Lewinsky, Tim Ferriss, Susan Cain, Yuval Noah Harari, David Brooks, Amanda Palmer, Kai-Fu Lee, Sylvia Earle, Andrew McAfee and Johann Hari. Plus, a bonus episode with Roger McNamee that was recorded live at TED2019.
In its first season, The TED Interview played host to extraordinary conversations — such as the writer Elizabeth Gilbert on the death of her partner, Rayya Elias; Sir Ken Robinson on the education revolution; and Ray Kurzweil on what the future holds for humanity.
Season two builds on this success with new ideas from some of TED’s most compelling speakers. Listeners can look forward to hearing from Bill Gates on the future of technology and philanthropy; musician Amanda Palmer on how the future of creativity means asking for what you want; Susan Cain on introversion and other notable past speakers.
“Ideas are not static — they don’t land perfectly formed in an unchanging world,” said Chris Anderson. “As times change, opinions shift and new research is published, ideas must be iterated on. The TED Interview is a remarkable platform where past speakers can further explain, amplify, illuminate and, in some cases, defend their thinking. Season two listeners can expect a front-row seat as we continue to explore the theory behind some of TED’s most well-known talks.”
The TED Interview launches today and releases new episodes every Wednesday. It is available on Apple Podcasts, the TED Android app or wherever you like to listen to podcasts. Season 2 features 12 episodes, each being roughly an hour long. Collectively the Season Two speakers have garnered over 100 million views through their TED Talks.
The TED Interview is proudly sponsored by Klick Health, the world’s largest independent health agency. They use data, technology and creativity to help patients and healthcare professionals learn about and access life-changing therapies.
TED’s content programming extends beyond its signature TED Talk format with six original podcasts. Overall TED’s podcasts were downloaded over 420 million times in 2018 and have been growing 44% year-over-year since 2016. Among others, The TED Interview joins notable series like Sincerely, X, where powerful ideas are shared anonymously, which recently launched its second season exclusively on the Luminary podcast app.
TED2019 may be past, but the TED community is busy as ever. Below, a few highlights.
Amplifying 2 million women across the U.S. Activist Ai-jen Poo, Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza and Planned Parenthood past president Cecile Richards have joined forces to launch Supermajority, which aims to train 2 million women in the United States to become activists and political leaders. To scale, the political hub plans to partner with local nonprofits across the country; as a first step, the co-founders will embark on a nationwide listening tour this summer. (Watch Poo’s, Garza’s and Richards’ TED Talks.)
Sneaker reseller set to break billion-dollar record. Sneakerheads, rejoice! StockX, the sneaker-reselling digital marketplace led by data expert Josh Luber, will soon become the first company of its kind with a billion-dollar valuation, thanks to a new round of venture funding. StockX — a platform where collectible and limited-edition sneakers are bought and exchanged through real-time bidding — is an evolution of Campless, Luber’s site that collected data on rare sneakers. In an interview with The New York Times, Luber said that StockX pulls in around $2 million in gross sales every day. (Watch Luber’s TED Talk.)
A move to protect iconic African-American photo archives. Investment expert Mellody Hobson and her husband, filmmaker George Lucas, filed a motion to acquire the rich photo archives of iconic African-American lifestyle magazines Ebony and Jet. The archives are owned by the recently bankrupt Johnson Publishing Company; Hobson and Lucas intend to gain control over them through their company, Capital Holdings V. The collections include over 5 million photos of notable events and people in African American history, particularly during the Civil Rights Movement. In a statement, Capital Holdings V said: “The Johnson Publishing archives are an essential part of American history and have been critical in telling the extraordinary stories of African-American culture for decades. We want to be sure the archives are protected for generations to come.” (Watch Hobson’s TED Talk.)
10 TED speakers chosen for the TIME100. TIME’s annual round-up of the 100 most influential people in the world include climate activist Greta Thunberg, primatologist and environmentalist Jane Goodall, astrophysicist Sheperd Doeleman and educational entrepreneur Fred Swaniker — also Nancy Pelosi, the Pope, Leana Wen, Michelle Obama, Gayle King (who interviewed Serena Williams and now co-hosts CBS This Morning home to TED segment), and Jeanne Gang. Thunberg was honored for her work igniting climate change activism among teenagers across the world; Goodall for her extraordinary life work of research into the natural world and her steadfast environmentalism; Doeleman for his contribution to the Harvard team of astronomers who took the first photo of a black hole; and Swaniker for the work he’s done to educate and cultivate the next generation of African leaders. Bonus: TIME100 luminaries are introduced in short, sharp essays, and this year many of them came from TEDsters including JR, Shonda Rhimes, Bill Gates, Jennifer Doudna, Dolores Huerta, Hans Ulrich Obrest, Tarana Burke, Kai-Fu Lee, Ian Bremmer, Stacey Abrams, Madeleine Albright, Anna Deavere Smith and Margarethe Vestager. (Watch Thunberg’s, Goodall’s, Doeleman’s, Pelosi’s, Pope Francis’, Wen’s, Obama’s, King’s, Gang’s and Swaniker’s TED Talks.)
Meet Sports Illustrated’s first hijab-wearing model. Model and activist Halima Aden will be the first hijab-wearing model featured in Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit issue, debuting May 8. Aden will wear two custom burkinis, modestly designed swimsuits. “Being in Sports Illustrated is so much bigger than me,” Aden said in a statement, “It’s sending a message to my community and the world that women of all different backgrounds, looks, upbringings can stand together and be celebrated.” (Watch Aden’s TED Talk.)
Scotland post-surgical deaths drop by a third, and checklists are to thank. A study indicated a 37 percent decrease in post-surgical deaths in Scotland since 2008, which it attributed to the implementation of a safety checklist. The 19-item list created by the World Health Organization is supposed to encourage teamwork and communication during operations. The death rate fell to 0.46 per 100 procedures between 2000 and 2014, analysis of 6.8 million operations showed. Dr. Atul Gawande, who introduced the checklist and co-authored the study, published in the British Journal of Surgery, said to the BBC: “Scotland’s health system is to be congratulated for a multi-year effort that has produced some of the largest population-wide reductions in surgical deaths ever documented.” (Watch Gawanda’s TED Talk.) — BG
And finally … After the actor Luke Perry died unexpectedly of a stroke in February, he was buried according to his wishes: on his Tennessee family farm, wearing a suit embedded with spores that will help his body decompose naturally and return to the earth. His Infinity Burial Suit was made by Coeio, led by designer, artist and TED Fellow Jae Rhim Lee. Back in 2011, Lee demo’ed the mushroom burial suit onstage at TEDGlobal; now she’s focused on testing and creating suits for more people. On April 13, Lee spoke at Perry’s memorial service, held at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank; Perry’s daughter revealed his story in a thoughtful instagram post this past weekend. (Watch Lee’s TED Talk.) — EM
Gx patches at Sweat It Out, sponsored by Gatorade at TED2019: Bigger Than Us. April 15 – 19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Dian Lofton / TED
Imagine if, after your next workout, you could see not only how much you sweat, but what you sweat — and how to replenish what’s missing. That’s the promise of a new sweat analysis patch from Gatorade, shown in preview form at TED2019.
How it works: You place the small, flexible patch on your arm before a workout. Then the microfluidics inside the patch get to work. As Tucker Fort, a partner at Gatorade collaborator Smart Design, explains: “It measures what your sweat rate is, and the electrolyte content of your sweat.” The channels in the patch turn color to indicate what they’re sensing. (The microfluidics tech is developed in collaboration with Epicore Biosystems.) Afterwards, you snap a picture of the patch with the Gx app, which uses image processing to interpret the data for you.
“With those data points in your profile,” says Fort, “we’re able to make recommendations for you based on how your body performs, and suggest what you should drink before and during your workout, and to recover.” Recommendations will change day to day, based on factors like the weather and the duration of your workout.
What to do with this data? Well, Gatorade’s got you covered. Once you’ve got your patch data, the Gx app — set to be available in 2020 — will help you select a personalized Gatorade hydration plan that recommends the right amount of fluid, electrolytes and carbohydrates that match your data. The personalized drink options are contained in small pods of concentrated Gatorade, each about the size of a tangerine. You pick your personalized pod of concentrate, pierce it onto a special reusable water bottle, and mix the concentrate with 30 ounces of fresh water. As Fort says. “It’s a totally new form factor for delivering a sports drink.”
You can’t get this patch+pod system just yet as a consumer, says Fort; “we’re going through the final scientific tests with sports scientists before we scale commercially.” But all week during TED, lucky attendees could try the patches during morning fitness events presented by Gatorade, ranging from early-morning runs to yoga, tai chi and an active class called, appropriately, Sweat It Out.Click to view slideshow.
Small but mighty speakers from Meyer Sound helped bring rich sound to the sonically challenging front-row seats of TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 15–19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED
Given John Meyer’s roots in the Bay Area’s 1960s radio and music scenes, and his innovations for just about every acoustic application — electronically dampening ambient noise in loud rooms, building 3D Cirque du Soleil soundscapes, and helping develop the Grateful Dead’s revolutionary “Wall of Sound” — it’s not surprising to spot his team behind the scenes at TED. With his state-of-the-art audio production platforms and speaker systems, Meyer and his colleagues at Meyer Sound have significantly improved TED’s music and voice reproduction game, and opened the door to a world of new sonic possibilities at TED’s events — including an on-site audio refuge at TED2019 to provide conference-goers with a serene space to digest heavy ideas.
Meyer is a living legend, and accordingly, I caught up with him as he’s revisiting one of his most legendary projects: the sound design of Apocalypse Now, which first toured the US in 1979 using Meyer’s subsonic speaker system. Director Francis Ford Coppola wanted audiences to literally feel every explosion in the film, and he tapped Meyer to provide special subwoofers that would reach to 30 cycles per second (or Hz) — well below the range of human hearing — to provide that impact. For the film’s 40th-anniversary screening at the Beacon Theatre in New York City, Meyer’s speakers sunk even lower to a gut-rumbling 13 Hz.
“Sound can change your emotion more than any other tool that’s ever existed,” Meyer says. “The movie people know this, because they change the sound to change the mood of a scene. They’ve known this for 50 years; neuroscience is just studying this now. And we know that low frequencies — which we’re doing for Apocalypse Now — create emotion.”
This exploratory and thoughtful approach to sound and all its possibilities forms the cornerstone of Meyer Sound (which Meyer and his wife, Helen, founded in Berkeley in 1979), and it’s enshrined in their motto: “Thinking sound.” “‘Thinking sound’ embodies our philosophy of making sound something that matters for everyone in all situations,” Meyer explains. “Sound is a crucial contributor to quality of life, because it is all around us all of the time.” By developing new technologies, Meyer Sound constantly seeks to “create audio solutions that heighten the quality and enjoyment of each of these kinds of sonic experiences.”
Meet Mina Sabet, TED’s director of production/video operations. It’s her job to make TED’s custom-built theater look and sound better year after year. TED2019: Bigger Than Us. April 15–19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Dian Lofton / TED
If this kind of thinking sounds familiar, it’s because it dovetails perfectly with the values of TED’s production team, for whom sound and video are equal ingredients in an ideal conference experience. Mina Sabet, TED’s Director of Production and Video Operations, sought to up the ante of TED’s audio production — and Meyer Sound was a “clear choice” to reboot the sound system for the 2019 Vancouver conference.
Building a PA system that blends into the background, doesn’t block anyone’s view of the stage, and yet still provides adequate sound coverage is a daunting task. According to Sabet, “One specific red flag we noticed when sitting in the theater was that our front rows” — specifically couches arranged at the front of the theater — “did not have a full audio experience.” The existing speakers were high overhead, creating a sonic void at the front of the hall. Loudspeakers must compete with lighting rigs and video projectors for ceiling real estate, and they had lost that battle. Speakers in the aisles are both hazardous and, well, ugly.
The solution was both innovative and comically obvious — hide speakers under the furniture. Sabet says that Meyer Sound’s “UP4-Slim speaker could fit nicely under the couch, face the people in the couches, and never be visible to the audience or our cameras. It was a perfect fit.” From there, the team optimized the rest of the room — as Meyer’s business manager John Monitto says, “making sure that we had equal coverage between all the seats, and just really making it a dynamic space… completely blanketing the seats with sound.”
This quiet simulcast room became a chillout lounge between sessions of talks, thanks to a tranquil sound environment from Meyer Sound. TED2019: Bigger Than Us. April 15–19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Dian Lofton / TED
Once Meyer Sound had conquered the challenges in the main theater, they rewired the simulcast rooms to provide relaxed, uncrowded viewing spaces away from the main theater. As they explored the theme of relaxation, the teams began to wonder — how could they design a space that is not only a great place to listen to the conference, but also a meditative environment where attendees could really lose themselves and quietly observe the torrent of ideas they’d just experienced? More important, how could the production team exploit Meyer Sound’s powerful sound design suites — which can enable small halls to sound like cathedrals or caverns, or muffle echoes to make large spaces sound tiny — to their fullest potential?
As Monitto tells it, “TED had brought us the idea of a room that has two purposes: one, it’s a simulcast space [where] you can watch a talk happening live. [Two], between those sessions, when there’s not somebody on a stage or they’re not presenting material, there’s a place to go to be able to just chill out. And that’s what this room was all about. They brought us a theme of ‘Under the stars,’ and they wanted us to run with it.” And so the “Under the stars” room was born, centered around an interactive ceiling installation that would display the constellations of different cultures with the wave of a baton.
Monitto continues: “We did something really creative — creating an outdoor theme, with an audio soundscape that allowed you to just kind of chill out and relax.” By manipulating high-quality recordings of wind, water, insects and birds flying overhead with Spacemap — an audio matrix that maps up to 288 input sources to output locations — the Meyer Sound team created the illusion of an outdoor cinema under the stars, with sounds not only drifting between speakers, but also soaring overhead and far away. “It just was a real nice place to hang out,” Monitto says.
Leveraging sound to redefine spaces and moods within the conference venue is just the beginning — TED and Meyer Sound have a wide spectrum of challenges and possibilities ahead of them. Using their boundless curiosity, ingenuity, and creativity, both teams seek to redefine the aesthetic boundaries of their events — and seeking to master data-driven tools to achieve this is perhaps the most daunting task of all. As John Meyer puts it, “We [can analyze sound], but it’s like analyzing food — it’s hard. Analyzing whiskey or anything like that with chemistry is hard to figure out. Does it taste good?” As they enter their multi-year partnership, TED and Meyer hope to deliver complex, rich, and five-star flavors to audiences in their theater and in rooms at TED’s flagship conference in Vancouver for years to come.
A meditative soundscape and a ceiling full of stars turned this simulcast space into a calm, relaxing environment, thanks to sound design from Meyer Sound. TED2019: Bigger Than Us. April 15–19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Dian Lofton / TED
Mina Sabet, TED's director of production/video operations
This tranquil simulcast room became a chillout lounge between sessions, with sound environment from Meyer Sound.
A meditative soundscape and a ceiling full of stars turned this simulcast space into a calm, relaxing environment, thanks to sound design from Meyer Sound.
Attendees line up to vote on where great ideas are born: at the office, or in the shower? (Spoiler: see headline.) They’re interacting with a data portals installation, presented by Brightline Initiative at TED2019: Bigger Than Us. April 15–19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED
TED2019 opened in Vancouver on April 15 with the ambitious theme of “Bigger than us.” For the next five days, attendees were treated to a lively buffet of topics and speakers, with more than 70 talks, Q&As, performances, workshops and discovery sessions. And that was just the official schedule.
As any attendee can tell you, the conversations inspired by the events are just as smart and stimulating, and they’re a major draw for the people who return year after year to the conference. Brightline Initiative, a TED partner, wondered: Could they create an installation that could highlight this important aspect and provide a playful peek inside TEDsters’ minds?
Their answer to this question took shape in two dynamic pieces. Scattered around the Vancouver Convention Center (VCC) were three sets of data-collection portals. Each set consisted of a pair of side-by-side gates, similar to the security gates found at an airport. Every day, a different question was posted above each set of gates — three questions a day x 5 days meant 15 different questions were posed during the week.
The most popular question of the conference was “Where are great ideas born?” Choices: “in the shower” and “at the office.” Shower got 518 votes; office, 98. People voted by stepping up to the gate of their preferred answer, and as they walked through, a counter advanced — to the pleasing sound of plastic dots clicking — and a new total appeared atop the front of the gate.
The tallies from the three sets of portals were shown on a scoreboard at the Brightline main exhibit on the VCC’s ground floor. But those scores were just a garnish to the centerpiece of the space: a supernaturally glowing wall, or “moodbeam.” This eye-catching piece, and the gates too, were built by Domestic Data Streamers, a Barcelona-based data communication firm, in collaboration with Brightline Initiative.
Next to the moodbeam were clear plastic tiles in three colors, which conveyed three distinct feelings. Yellow meant “I’m optimistic”; orange, “I’m hopeful but we better start now”; and blue, “I’m concerned.” Attendees chose a tile that corresponded with how they felt, wrote on it the subject on their minds or the action they were taking on an issue, and slotted it into the backlit wall.
How the “moodbeam” works: pick an idea, decide if you’re optimistic, guardedly hopeful or pessimistic, and cast your vote. It’s part of a project from Domestic Data Streamers, presented by Brightline Initiative at TED2019: Bigger Than Us. April 15 – 19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Dian Lofton / TED
The moodbeam was filled in from left to right over the course of the conference, serving as a giant mood ring for TED2019. By the end, “I’m optimistic” finished on top, with “I’m hopeful but we better start now” close behind and “I’m concerned” a bit further behind.
Qingqing Han, head of partnerships at Brightline, says, “The reason we’re doing the social space is to help people better reflect” — on the talks and speakers, on the gates’ questions, and on how people compare to other attendees. She adds, “It’s also a way to help people remind themselves that action is important,” something that is central to Brightline’s mission (“from thinking to doing” is one of the initiative’s taglines).
Attendee Fajir Amin adds an idea to the “moodbeam” installation at TED2019. The board was designed by Domestic Data Streamers and presented by Brightline Initiative at TED2019: Bigger Than Us. April 15–19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Lawrence Sumulong / TED
“Our installation here is a dialogue with TED attendees,” says Miquel Santasusana, chief operations officer at Domestic Data Streamers. Their company first used the gates at a Spanish music festival, where concertgoers were given light-hearted choices such as Khaleesi or Jon Snow, Dumbledore or Gandalf. “You can’t stop anyone in the festival and ask them something; you have to do it in a way that is fast and simple,” he says. “So we decided to use the flows of the people from one stage to another.”
The TED Conference is another fast-moving crowd that flows among venues and spaces, and voting via the gates wouldn’t require extra time or effort from them. In fact, says Domestic Data Streamers CEO Pau Garcia (watch his TEDxBarcelona talk), “I’ve seen people here going through the gates in a circle because they didn’t want to decide — so they chose both of them.” As a result, “this shouldn’t be taken as statistically significant information to analyze TEDsters,” says Santasusana. “At the end, it’s not the numbers that matter; it’s about starting a discussion.”
Here are the highly unscientific results to the five most-answered gates questions (after the shower vs. office one); they’re listed in ascending order of popularity:
5. There’s more wisdom in …
the Internet, 93
4. Who do you share ideas with?
Trusted circle, 199
3. The world needs more …
2. The future of humanity is in …
1. The ideas at TED inspire me to …
Think deeper, 238
Take action, 231
Casting a decisive vote for heart-driven decisionmaking, an attendee steps through a data Portal, presented by Brightline Initiative at TED2019, Brightline at TED2019: Bigger Than Us. April 15–19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Dian Lofton / TED
Attendees line up to vote on where great ideas are born: at the office or in the shower. Guess who won.
How the "moodbeam" works: pick an idea, decide if you're optimistic, guardedly hopeful or pessimistic, and cast your vote. It's part of a project from Domestic Data Streamers, presented by Brightline Initiative
Attendee Fajir Amin adds an idea to the "moodbeam" installation at TED2019. The board was designed by Domestic Data Streamers and presented by Brightline Initiative.
Casting a decisive vote for heart-driven decisionmaking, an attendee steps through a data portal, presented by Brightline Initiative at TED2019
Harry Marks’ career happened at the intersection of typography, technology and television. His vision has influenced the look of modern video — picture those fluidly moving, 3D letters that fly over the TV screen to introduce a news broadcast or pop a sports score onto the screen. His influence on this field is absolutely foundational; it’s the headline in his obituary this week in The Hollywood Reporter.
But within Marks’ rich creative life was the seed of another influential cultural moment: He is the co-founder of the TED Conference, which is now a global movement of idea sharing, shared in hundreds of languages among millions of people every day.
In the video above from Lynda.com/LinkedIn Learning, Marks tells the story of how he came up with the idea for a conference about technology, entertainment and design while developing title sequences for television using then-new tools of computer graphics:
“I worked with musicians. I worked with artists. I worked with designers. I worked with scientists. I worked with engineers. And it struck me at one point that we were … bringing these very divergent technologies together. I came up with this idea that I wanted to do a conference, but I didn’t know how to do a conference.
“So Richard came and visited … and I said: ‘Let’s go for a walk.’ I said, ‘I have this idea for a conference that’s technology, entertainment and design, and how they relate to each other, hence TED. Would you help me to do a conference, or would you show me how to do it?’
“He said, ‘Yeah, I’ll help you. Just give me half. We’ll do it together, we’ll be partners.’ And he brought in Frank Stanton, a wonderful man, with huge credentials. So the three of us did the first TED in 1984. …
“And it totally worked, in principle. It didn’t work financially for us at all, but it worked in principle.”
The next TED didn’t happen until six years later, in 1990. Below is a delightful piece of archive video from TED2, in which Marks looks back on what those six years have brought.
“What we used to call high technology has gone from the lab to the living room. It’s creating hundreds of new ideas every day, new devices, new languages, new industries, new millionaires — and a new environment that forces all of us to reassess the components of our everyday lives and the viability of thinking of anything in a traditional way.
“Some of the things that we talked about and introduced at TED1 seemed esoteric six years ago, and now they’re on our desk at the office, or more likely at home, or even more likely both. Those of you who were in this room in 1984 will remember one of the first public showings of the Macintosh and of the compact disc. You’ve seen, in that short time, the long-playing record has become virtually obsolete. And how many of us thought that terms like ‘desktop publishing’ and ‘desktop video’ would become embedded in our vocabularies?”
But as you’ll see in the video, this thoughtful agenda-setting essay was followed by a giant digital prank — a delightful misuse of cutting-edge tech to both underscore and puncture the point Marks was making. It’s genuinely silly. As Russell Preston Brown, of Adobe, wrote to us today:
I think what I remember most about Harry and the TED2 conference was his love of all things over-the-top INSANE
As I recall, Tom Rielly and I suggested that we should create a 3D TED-zilla movie for the closing ceremonies at TED2.
Harry encouraged us both to go CRAZY and we use an early version of Adobe Premiere to create this INSANE bit of video for the show.
We passed out 3D glasses to everyone, and the audience went crazy, and asked for a resounding encore.
I remember that Harry was laughing so hard and had a smile from ear to ear.
We both had another good laugh that Timothy Leary was in the audience and we even made him trip out as well.
Such good times. I will truly miss those early, early days with Harry at the TED Conferences.
We’re just back from the … 35th? annual TED Conference last week, and while much about TED has changed, this vision still holds — of bold looks into the future, an occasional trip-out, and a healthy dash of silliness. All of us at TED remain grateful for this founding vision.
Twelve mainstage sessions, two rocking sessions of talks from TED Fellows, a special session of TED Unplugged, a live podcast recording and much more amounted to an unforgettable week at TED2019. (Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED)
If we learned anything at TED2019, it’s that life doesn’t fit into simple narratives, and that there are no simple answers to the big problems we’re facing. But we can use those problems, our discomfort and even our anger to find the energy to make change.
Twelve mainstage sessions, two rocking sessions of talks from TED Fellows, a special session of TED Unplugged, a live podcast recording and much more amounted to an unforgettable week. Any attempt to summarize it all will be woefully incomplete, but here’s a try.
What happened to the internet? Once a place of so much promise, now a source of so much division. Journalist Carole Cadwalldr opened the conference with an electrifying talk on Facebook’s role in Brexit — and how the same players were involved in 2016 US presidential election. She traced the contours of the growing threat social media poses to democracy and calls out the “gods of Silicon Valley,” naming names — one of whom, Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, sat down to talk with TED’s Chris Anderson and Whitney Pennington Rodgers the following day. Dorsey acknowledged problems with harassment on the platform and explained some of the work his team is doing to make it better.
Hannah Gadsby broke comedy. Her words, and she makes a compelling case in one of the most talked-about moments of the conference. Look for her talk release on April 29.
Humanity strikes back! Eight huge Audacious Project–supported ideas launched at TED this year. From a groundbreaking project at the Center for Policing Equity to work with police and communities and to collect data on police behavior and set goals to make it more fair … to a new effort to sequester carbon in soil … and more, you can help support these projects and change the world for good.
10 years of TED Fellows. Celebrating a decade of the program in two sessions of exuberant talks, the TED Fellows showed some wow moments, including Brandon Clifford‘s discovery of how to make multi-ton stones “dance,” Arnav Kapur‘s wearable device that allows for silent speech and Skylar Tibbits‘s giant canvas bladders that might save sinking islands. At the same time, they reminded us some of the pain that can exist behind breakthroughs, with Brandon Anderson speaking poignantly about the loss of his life partner during a routine traffic stop — which inspired him to develop a first-of-its-kind platform to report police conduct — and Erika Hamden opening up about her team’s failures in building FIREBall, a UV telescope that can observe extremely faint light from huge clouds of hydrogen gas in and around galaxies.
Connection is a superpower. If you haven’t heard of the blockbuster megahit Crazy Rich Asians, then, well, it’s possible you’re living under a large rock. Whether or not you saw it, the film’s director, Jon M. Chu, has a TED Talk about connection — to his family, his culture, to film and technology — that goes far beyond the movie. The theme of connection rang throughout the conference: from Priya Parker’s three easy steps to turn our everyday get-togethers into meaningful and transformative gatherings to Barbara J. King’s heartbreaking examples of grief in the animal kingdom to Sarah Kay’s epic opening poem about the universe — and our place in it.
Meet DigiDoug. TED takes tech seriously, and Doug Roble took us up on it, debuting his team’s breakthrough motion capture tech, which renders a 3D likeness (known as Digital Doug) in real time — down to Roble’s facial expressions, pores and wrinkles. The demo felt like one of those shifts, where you see what the future’s going to look like. Outside the theater, attendees got a chance to interact with DigiDoug in VR, talking on a virtual TED stage with Roble (who is actually in another room close by, responding to the “digital you” in real time).
New hope for political leadership. There was no shortage of calls to fix the broken, leaderless systems at the top of world governments throughout the conference. The optimists in the room won out during Michael Tubbs’s epic talk about building new civic structures. The mayor of Stockton, California (and the youngest ever of a city with more than 100,000 people), Tubbs shared his vision for governing strategies that recognize systems that place people in compromised situations — and that view impoverished and violent communities with compassion. “When we see someone different from us, they should not reflect our fears, our anxieties, our insecurities, the prejudices we have been taught, our biases. We should see ourselves. We should see our common humanity.”
Exploring the final frontier. A surprise appearance from Sheperd Doeleman, head of the Event Horizon Telescope — whose work produced the historic, first-ever image of a black hole that made waves last week — sent the conference deep into space, and it never really came back. Astrophysicist Juna Kollmeier, head of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, shared her work mapping the observable universe — a feat, she says, that we’ll complete in just 40 years. “Think about it. We’ve gone from arranging clamshells to general relativity in a few thousand years,” she says. “If we hang on 40 more, we can map all the galaxies.” And in the Fellows talks, Moriba Jah, a space environmentalist and inventor of the orbital garbage monitoring software AstriaGraph, showed how space has a garbage problem. Around half a million objects, some as small as a speck of paint, orbit the Earth — and there’s no consensus on what’s in orbit or where.
Go to sleep. A lack of sleep can lead to more than drowsiness and irritability. Matt Walker shared how it can be deadly as well, leading to an increased risk of Parkinson’s, cancer, heart attacks and more. “Sleep is the Swiss army knife of health,” he says, “It’s not an optional lifestyle luxury. Sleep is a non-negotiable biological necessity. It is your life support system, and it is mother nature’s best effort yet at immortality.”
The amazing group of speakers who shared their world-changing ideas on the mainstage at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 15 – 19, 2019 in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
In her breakout role in Real Women Have Curves, actor America Ferrera played an iconic character who resonated with her true self. Why aren’t there more roles like that? She speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED
“My identity is not an obstacle — it’s my superpower,” says America Ferrera onstage at TED2019.
As an Emmy-award winning actor, director and producer, Ferrera crafts characters and stories that are multi-dimensional and deeply human. It hasn’t been easy — Hollywood wasn’t eager to cast her in full, genuine roles, instead giving her flimsy cliches to play. But we all lose out when our media doesn’t reflect the world, Ferrera says, and it’s the duty of directors, producers and actors to take representation seriously in their casting decisions.
Over and over through her career, America Ferrera heard she was either too Latina or not Latina enough for roles. But what does that even mean? She is Latina — so how could she be the wrong kind? She soon realized that directors and producers weren’t interested in the fullness of her talent but, rather, in filling stereotypes. She pushed back against roles like “Gangbanger’s Girlfriend” and “Pregnant Chola #2” and tried to land roles that were complex and challenging. But for the most part, they just didn’t exist. Directors claimed diversity was a financial risk, that there wasn’t an audience for her voice, or that she was just too brown for their films.
Ferrera tried to become what the industry wanted — straightening her hair, slathering on sunscreen — until she realized that she wanted to exist in her work as her own true self, not the industry’s version of her. Finally, in her breakthrough hits Real Women Have Curves and Ugly Betty, Ferrera brought her authentic self to her work, leading to critical, cultural and financial success. Ugly Betty premiered to 16 million viewers in the US and was nominated for 11 Emmys in its first season. Shows like Ugly Betty gave people around the world their first chance to see themselves on screen — for example, Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai named Ugly Betty as one of her inspirations for becoming a journalist.
“I wanted to play people who existed in the center of their own lives, not cardboard cutouts that stood in the background of someone else’s,” she says, “Who we see thriving in the world teaches us how to see ourselves, how to think about our own value, how to dream about our futures.”
Across the world, people resonated with the characters and narrative of Ferrera’s work. “In spite of what I’d been told my whole life,” she says, “I saw firsthand that my ‘unrealistic expectations’ to see myself authentically represented in the culture were other people’s expectations too.”
But not much changed. Even though the audience was hungry for more, there wasn’t a slew of new films and shows highlighting diverse narratives. Privately, directors and producers would praise inclusion efforts … but that support didn’t extend to their own projects. The entertainment industry as a whole didn’t seem much different — and to this day, Ferrera is the only Latina to ever win an Emmy in a lead category.
That has to change — and it’s beginning to. There is a rising momentum of inclusive representation in mainstream media and it is vital we keep it going. Presence creates possibility, Ferrera says, and its impact is reverberating and profound. Directors and other authorities in media need to take representative casting out of theoreticals and put it into action.
“Change will come when each of us has the courage to question our own fundamental values and beliefs,” Ferrera says, “and see to it that our actions lead to our best intentions.”
Ultimately, if we commit to crafting stories that truly reflect the world we live in, we can create media that honors all of our voices.
Directors and other authorities in media need to take representative casting out of theoreticals and put it into action, says America Ferrera at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED
America Ferrera speaks at TED2019
At TED2019, as we explored concepts, research findings and insights bigger than us (you see what we did there?), these conference shorts cleansed our mental palettes between TED Talks and helped playfully introduce sessions throughout the week.
Enjoy these hand-picked videos from curators CC Hutten and Jonathan Wells that capture the kaleidoscopic and often humorous perspectives on being human — or a mermaid, or robot …
The short: “Shit in Space.” One astronaut’s um, trash, is another earthling’s treasure.
The creators: Directed by Mathias & Matias; Agency: Try-Oslo
Shown during: Session 1, Truth
The short: Chaka Khan “Like Sugar.” A playfully sweet music video accented with spicy dance moves guaranteed to get you in the mood to groove.
The creator: Directed by Kim Gehrig
The short: “How to Be a Mermaid.” A brief PSA on what mythology gets wrong about maidens of the sea.
The creator: Nur Casadevall
Shown during: Session 2, Power
The short: “The Dream.” There’s nothing quite like the excitement of saving up for your biggest dreams … even when life throws obstacles in your path.
The creators: Directed by Teerapol Suneta; Agency: Ogilvy Bangkok
Shown during: Session 3, Knowledge
The short: “Love Train.” Kids all over the US sing and dance with famous artists, musicians and dancers.
The creators: Playing for Change and Turnaround Arts
Shown during: Session 4, Audacity
The short: “Phones are good.” A humorous tour through history that proves life is actually better with smartphones.
The creators: Directed by Ian Pons Jewell; Agency: Wieden Kennedy London
Shown during: Session 5, Mindshift
The short: “Benches.” How to get the best seat for the greatest show on Earth.
The creator: Daniel Koren
Shown during: Session 5, Mindshift
The short: “Ari Fararooy: A Video.” Zoom out, zoom in, turn around, glide, rotate, repeat — in stop motion.
The creator: Ari Fararooy
Shown during: Session 6, Imagination
The short: “Furry Alphabet.” What kind of imaginative monsters would you make from A to Z?
The creator: Bernat Casasnovas
Shown during: Session 6, Imagination
The short: “One Breath Around the World.” A otherworldly short film that captures the journey of one man as he explores the great peaks, valleys, cliffs and life of the deep ocean — all in one amazing breath.
The creator: Guillaume Néry
Shown during: Session 7, Possibility
The short: “Hydrophytes.” A mesmerizing choreography of futuristic plants in movement.
The creator: Nicole Hone
Shown during: Session 8, Mystery
The short: “Smart House.” Voice-activated everything seems appealing until that pesky dentist visit.
The creator: Directed by Andreas Riiser; Agency: Try-Oslo
Shown during: Session 8, Mystery
The short: “Tony Stands on an Egg.” It seems standing on an egg isn’t all it’s cracked up to be after all.
The creator: Kathleen Docherty
Shown during: Session 8, Mystery
The short: “The Most Complicated Trickshot Ever.” Home is where the heart is … if your heart happens to be a Rube Goldberg machine.
The creator: Cree
Shown during: Session 9, Play
The short: “The Lying Robot.” Clever robots come one step closer to world domination.
The creator: UR5 Universal Robot at Ara Institute of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand
Shown during: Session 9, Play
The short: Flight of the Conchords “Father & Son.” Two different perspectives on changes taking place within a small family, discussed in song.
The creators: Footage from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert
Shown during: Session 10, Connection
The short: “Absence.” A brief, absurd pondering about what we do in the shadow of absence.
The creator: Alex Goddard
Shown during: Session 10, Connection
The short: “An excerpt from TEDxKakumaCamp.” A behind-the-scenes look at making of a prolific TEDx event.
The creator: TEDx
Shown during: Session 10, Connection
The short: “Influencers.” A bright, geometrically playful imagining of the world, not as we know it, but as it might be.
The creator: Foam Studio
Shown during: Session 11, Wonder
The short: “A Chair at the Beach.” An increasingly existential meditation on what it means to take a seat.
The creator: Bridge Stuart
Shown during: Session 11, Wonder
The short: “Eating Machine.” A cute reimagining of what happens in your mouth when you eat an apple.
The creators: Design & Animation: Richie Thompson; Music: Dan Livesey
Shown during: Session 11, Wonder
The short: Max Frost “Good Morning.” A catchy ode to early hours of the day and the possibility they bring.
The creators: Directed by Miles & AJ
Shown during: Session 12, Meaning
The short: George Ezra “Shotgun.” A summer-y tune that blasts through time, space and place.
The creators: Directed by Nelson De Castro and Carlos Lopez Estrada
Shown during: Session 12, Meaning
Eric Liu asks us to commit to being active citizens — wherever we are. He speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 19, 2019, in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED
The final session of TED2019 was a spectacle. From powerful calls to civic engagement and ancestorship to stories of self and perseverance, the session wrapped an incredible week and soared through the end with an unforgettable, totally improvised wrap-up.
The event: Talks and performances from TED2019, Session 12: Meaning, hosted by TED’s Chris Anderson, Helen Walters and Kelly Stoetzel
When and where: Friday, April 19, 2019, 9am, at the Vancouver Convention Centre in Vancouver, BC
Speakers: Eric Liu, Yeonmi Park, Suleika Jaouad, David Brooks, America Ferrera, Bina Venkataraman
Music: Richard Bona on guitar
Mindblowing, completely improvised wrap-up covering the whole week: Freestyle Love Supreme: Anthony Veneziale, Chris Jackson, Chris “Shockwave” Sullivan, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Arthur Lewis
The talks in brief:
Eric Liu, author and CEO of Citizen University
Yeonmi Park, human rights activist
David Brooks, political and cultural commentator, New York Times Op-Ed columnist
Suleika Jaouad speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us. April 15 – 19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED
Suleika Jaouad, cancer survivor and author of the soon-to-be-published memoir Between Two Kingdoms
America Ferrera, actor, director and activist
Bina Venkataraman, writer and futurist
The TED2019 theme, Bigger Than Us, promises to be larger than life — big ideas, monumental insights, out-of-this-world discoveries, and more! — so naturally, the session art must deliver that sense of awe too, and does.
Colours & Shapes, a Vancouver-based design firm, has created larger-than-life environments for TED since the conference moved to its custom-built Vancouver theater in 2014. Their immersive and transportive designs, splashed across three massive screens, whisk TEDsters away to rich, hyper-visual playgrounds.
We caught up with them this year to learn about what happened behind the screens.
Q: Take me through the creative process, from receiving the prompts to fruition.
This year took shape in a unique way. We were tasked with not only creating all of the session environments, speaker bumpers and conference opener but to redesign the stage from the ground up. This was an opportunity to rethink the TED stage, leaning into the themes for this year and how to create a powerful experience for each person in the theater.
The TED team had a desire to do something really big with video and extending the visual canvas across the entire stage. All the moving parts and technical factors play into what is possible within a custom-designed theater with multiple performance acts, specific broadcast needs and more. We really wanted to bring more depth and dimension to the stage; we knew we had our work cut out for us.
The process is always very collaborative with the whole TED team to find just the right look to elevate and support each session. The magic really starts to appear when we get to the point where we can translate early concepts to actual looks in the theatre — when stage design and artwork come together to create a unique space for each session.
Q: How many people work on making this happen? How many hours?
One of our favorite aspects of working on a project of this scale is the opportunity to hand-pick a team of creative collaborators, animators, illustrators and artists to bring the creative direction to life. All in all, a team of 13 people spent over 750 hours creating all of the screen content for TED2019. It’s a massive undertaking, but we love being able to create something beautiful with so many incredibly talented people.
Q: What were you most excited about when you heard this year’s theme was Bigger Than Us?
“Bigger Than Us” sparked so many fun points of inspiration for our team. Scale, multiplicity and a deep emotional sense of being part of something big were all themes that surfaced early. Additionally, once we saw Jordan Awan’s beautifully playful illustrations that made up the theme for this year, we were drawn toward embracing a more warm illustrated aesthetic.
Q: The turnaround for some sessions can be a bit tight. Were there any this year that really came down to wire?
TED is so committed to curating the best content in the world, and that means that certain things can change late in the game as the full picture of themes, talks and what fits best and where is constantly being reassessed and tweaked — right up until the event. Based on this reality and the complexity of the creation and builds of some of our environments, we are typically refining artwork right up until the start of TED. Play is one session that had a lot of moving pieces to pull together to make it work just right on the stage, but it looks really fun! There really are little tweaks and improvements that we dial in on all the pieces once we are in the room, so yes — we’re proud of all of them :).
Q: The art for each session is based on the session title — any secret inspirations?
Yes, absolutely! Truth is really about a sense of searching for truth in community. So we imagined a group of explorers searching a mysterious cave-like space for gems of truth in the darkness. We start TED2019 with this sense of curiosity and wonder. Matt Chinworth’s richly textured illustration style perfectly captured the inspiration on this one.
Possibility brought to mind the sense an artist feels while looking at a blank canvas, just before filling it with colour.
Mystery was fun. We imagined a vibrant otherworldly jungle environment filled with camouflaged creatures. There is something there, but we never really get to see. We knew we wanted to work with Nick Ladd on this since he has created some really beautiful artwork with a unique VR illustration technique. Nick created this beautiful environment, painting the whole world in VR that we could then fly through and explore.
Q: Which sessions are you most excited to see play out on the TED screen?
We love the artwork our incredible team created for every session, so it’s hard to pick. Here are four moments that stand out:
The TED2019 opener. We knew that Jordan Awan’s playful illustration just had to have an equally playful animation style. Ryan Woolfolk’s animation and John Poon’s music and sound design make us smile! We think TEDsters in the theater will agree.
Mindshift: A 3D world of humanoid objects trying to learn and build, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing. Nick Counter and Mike Ellis design such a fun and interesting world that feels right at home with the architectural forms on the TED stage.
Imagination: This is probably the earliest clear concept we developed for this year. We imagined a beautiful but forgotten performance space filled with mirrors. In an impossibly serendipitous moment, we see a butterfly land on stage and create a colourful kaleidoscope of reflections and light throughout the scene. It’s a beautiful imagined moment that sparks a sense of wonder. Eleena Bakrie’s gorgeous illustration style really makes the stage sing.
Possibility: We actually built a scale model of the TED stage in studio for this one. We ended up strategically pouring gallons of paint all over it, letting color slowly overtake the entire stage. The flowing paint you see is all real and physically interacts with the forms on the stage as it travels down.
Q: What do you want the audience to experience while watching your art?
Everything we do ties back to our “why” as a creative studio: create powerful experiences that matter. Really, we want to create a space that feels incredibly beautiful and sparks wonder in the audience. TED is already brilliant at accomplishing this goal, so our aim is really to come alongside and help create a space and an environment that thoughtfully and intentionally ties into the theme of each session and each talk at TED2019.
We really value the opportunity and the challenges that come with creating something special with TED each year. This year was no exception and the added components of re-imagining the design of the TED stage in addition to the 100+ content deliverables was something that required long hours, a thorough design process and deep collaboration, putting this years theme into practice = Bigger than us.
Production Design & Stage visuals
COLOURS & SHAPES
Illustration & Animation
Illustration & Animation
Illustration & Animation
The stage visuals for the Knowledge session.
The stage visuals for the Wonder session.
The stage visuals for the Knowledge session.
The stage visuals for the Mystery session.
The stage visuals for the Possibility session.
The stage visuals for the Meaning session.
TED Fellow and maker David Lang, at right, helps attendees navigate Monterey Bay through the eyes of a Trident underwater drone. Check out the starfish! (Photo: Dian Lofton / TED)
It’s a foggy day in Vancouver — dense, white clouds hang over the North Shore Mountains, just barely visible through the high glass walls of Vancouver Convention Center. A light rain falls. But in Oahu, Hawaii, it’s sunny, bright and clear. The connection? At TED2019, the Trident underwater drone patrols the water in Oahu, and attendees are at the wheel.
Created by TED Fellow and maker David Lang (watch the 2013 TED Talk where he shared the kernel of this idea), the Trident offers what used to be reserved only for those with access to multimillion-dollar submersibles: the ability to capture one-of-a-kind underwater videos, anywhere in the world.
“Our mission is to democratize the ocean and make it more accessible,” Lang says. “We’re at TED to show the progress we’ve made — and what’s becoming possible.”
Through the Science Exploration Education (S.E.E.) initiative, anyone can get their hands on one of the drones, empowering citizen scientists, educators, nonprofits, researchers and students to monitor and protect marine environments. Apply for one through National Geographic’s Open Explorer program.
Charles Cross pilots a Trident underwater drone in real-time, giving one attendee a glimpse at underwater worlds in Monterey Bay, Indonesia and Oahu, Hawaii. (Photo: Dian Lofton / TED)
Controlling the Trident drone feels a lot like playing a video game — if the video game was live, underwater and happening thousands of miles away.
The 1080p feed from the drones projected onscreen creates the experience of swimming through the water. Connected by a tether to a boat where an operator waits, the Trident is powered by two propellers and swims like a fish, diving down to depths of up to 100 meters, with up to three hours of dive time and a top speed of two meters per second.
Throughout the week, attendees used Tridents throughout the world to explore kelp fields in Monterey Bay, meet reef fish in Indonesia and even glimpse a sea turtle in Oahu. Beyond the transportive ideas shared on stage, it’s spaces like these that make TED special.
Legendary artist and stage designer Es Devlin takes us on a tour of the mind-blowing sets she’s created for Beyoncé, Adele, U2 and others. She speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 18, 2019 in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
Day 4 of TED2019 played on some of the more powerful forces in the world: mystery, play, connection, wonder and awe. Some themes and takeaways from a jam-packed day:
Sleep is the Swiss Army knife of health. The less you sleep, the shorter your life expectancy and the higher your chance of getting a life-threatening illness like Alzheimer’s or cancer, says sleep scientist Matt Walker. It’s all about the deep sleep brain waves, Walker says: those tiny pulses of electrical activity that transfer memories from the brain’s short-term, vulnerable area into long-term storage. He shares some crazy stats about a global experiment performed on 1.6 billion people across 70 countries twice a year, known to us all as daylight savings time. In the spring, when we lose an hour of sleep, we see a 24 percent increase in heart attacks that following day, Walker says. In the autumn, when we gain an hour of sleep, we see a 21 percent reduction in heart attacks.
Video games are the most important technological change happening in the world right now. Just look at the scale: a full third of the world’s population (2.6 billion people) find the time to game, plugging into massive networks of interaction, says entrepreneur Herman Narula. These networks let people exercise a social muscle they might not otherwise exercise. While social media can amplify our differences, could games create a space for us to empathize? That’s what is happening on Twitch, says cofounder Emmett Shear. With 15 million daily active users, Twitch lets viewers watch and comment on livestreamed games, turning them into multiplayer entertainment. Video games are a modern version of communal storytelling, says Shear, with audiences both participating and viewing as they sit around their “virtual campfires.”
We’re heading for a nutrition crisis. Plants love to eat CO2, and we’re giving them a lot more of it lately. But as Kristie Ebi shows, there’s a hidden, terrifying consequence — the nutritional quality of plants is decreasing, reducing levels of protein, vitamins and nutrients that humans need. Bottom line: the rice, wheat and potatoes our grandparents ate might have contained more nutrition than our kids’ food will. Asmeret Asefaw Berhe studies the soil where our food grows — “it’s just a thin veil that covers the surface of land, but it has the power to shape our planet’s destiny,” she says. In a Q&A with Ebi, Berhe connects the dots between soil and nutrition: “There are 13 nutrients that plants get only from soil. They’re created from soil weathering, and that’s a very slow process.” CO2 is easier for plants to consume — it’s basically plant junk food.
Tech that folds and moves. Controlling the slides in his talk with the swipe on the arm of his jean jacket, inventor Ivan Poupyrev shows how, with a bit of collaboration, we can design literally anything to be plugged into the internet — blending digital interactivity with everyday analog objects like clothing. “We are walking around with supercomputers in our pockets. But we’re stuck in the screens with our faces? That’s not the future I imagine.” Some news: Poupryev announced from stage that his wearables platform will soon be made available freely to other creators, to make of it what they will. Meanwhile Jamie Paik shows folding origami robots — call them “robogami” — that morph and change to respond to what we’re asking them to do. “These robots will no longer look like the characters from the movies,” she says. “Instead, they will be whatever you want them to be.”
Inside the minds of creators. Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt has gotten more than his fair share of attention in his acting career (in which, oddly, he’s played two TED speakers: tightrope walker Philippe Petit and whistleblower Edward Snowden). But as life has morphed on social media, he’s found that there’s a more powerful force than getting attention: giving it. Paying attention is the real essence of creativity, he says — and we should do more of it. Legendary artist and stage designer Es Devlin picks up on that theme of connection, taking us on a tour of the mind-blowing sets she’s created for Beyoncé, Adele, U2 and others; her work is aimed at fostering lasting connections and deep empathy in her audience. As she quotes E.M. Forster: “Only connect!”
We can map the universe — the whole universe. On our current trajectory, we’ll map every large galaxy in the observable universe by 2060, says astrophysicist Juna Kollmeier, head of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). “Think about it. We’ve gone from arranging clamshells to general relativity to SDSS in a few thousand years,” she says, tracing humanity’s rise in a sentence. “If we hang on 40 more, we can map all the galaxies.” It’s a truly epic proposition — and it’s also our destiny as a species whose calling card is to figure things out.
Over the week of TED, artist Milt Klingensmith co-created a mural featuring the images of TEDsters interacting in a sports-inflected workplace inspired by Steelcase. Klingensmith and co-artist Jody Williams worked at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 15–19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED
Every day at every workplace around the world, employees engage in a ballet. Each of us has a role to play, and we alternate between solo moments and collaborative interludes, between scripted choreography and improv. While the members and the steps may change over time, as long as the business continues, the ballet goes on.
Well, if work is a dance, then you might think of Steelcase — a US company that creates furniture for offices, hospitals and classrooms — as a production designer. To the people at Steelcase, the workplace is not a static setting but one that’s as dynamic as the employees themselves. They’re always asking: “What are the patterns, rhythms and trends emerging in the business world?” and “How can we take this information and use it to help people perform at their best?”
For its 2019 Active Collaboration Study, the company spent more than two years surveying and observing over 3,000 office workers in Australia, France, Germany, Japan, UK and US. Respondents told them they spent half their time in group interactions but felt constrained: 72 percent said they want to move when collaborating but only 53 percent can; 54 percent want to rearrange their furniture, yet just 38 percent can.
For TED2019 in Vancouver, Steelcase has created an exhibit that captures an idealized solution to these difficulties and goes one delightful step further: it places attendees in this imaginary world. However, unlike the Vulcan Holodome (also at the conference) which puts people into Monet paintings thanks to advanced 4K projectors, this is a strictly analog affair. Starting with the opening of the conference on Monday, Michigan artists Jody Williams and Milt Klingensmith have been painting a mural to which they’re adding willing TEDsters.
The painting is a colorful fusion of streamlined Scandinavian design, the humanity-filled feel of folk art, and athletic tropes — it’s as if Grandma Moses and Eero Saarinen got married and became rabid sports fans. Steelcase has been a TED partner for 25 years, and brand events manager Cindy McDonagh says, “We always like to interact with attendees in very personal ways. Given that everyone is at some point involved in teaming or collaboration, we decided to engage them in the story visually and make it very personal to them.”
Interestingly, while collaboration was chosen by Steelcase to be the theme of the mural, it’s taken on a life of its own. For starters, the attendees and artists must constantly interact. TEDsters sit or stand for a minute or so — all that Klingensmith needs to sketch them — and later they return to look for themselves in the piece. While Klingensmith has never done this kind of live work before, he used to regularly walk to a cafe near his home and do on-the-spot drawings of passersby. “I just love drawing human forms,” he says. “This has been a dream job.”
People happily chat as they’re being sketched, and a few have had specific requests. One person wanted to be depicted standing on a table; another asked that his painted self look heavier (!). The artists have noticed the mural is bringing people together off the canvas, since attendees like to come in groups.
Then there’s the synergy between the artists. While Klingensmith is focused on capturing the people, Williams is filling in the setting. The two are actually old friends from college, but they hadn’t spoken for a decade until Williams was hired for the project and thought that Klingensmith would be the ideal teammate. Williams says, “Milt and I have been getting together for the last few Saturdays to discuss questions like, How are we going to do this? What colors of paint should we use?”
The mural is infused with whimsy — for example, this workplace has bleachers and a soccer field, a nod to the theme. Says Steelcase senior communication specialist Audra Hartges, “Work today is more like a soccer game where it’s really dynamic, there are lots of moving parts, and there’s lots of interactivity between people.” Yet it has realistic elements, with plenty of individual desks and coworking spaces. Look closely, and you’ll see a scattering of Steelcase pieces, such as the Oculus chair and the Umami bench, throughout. (In response to the opinions captured in its study, Steelcase has just launched some real-life products including Flex, a line of moveable desks, tables, whiteboards, carts, space dividers and accessories, and a Roam stand for Microsoft’s Surface Hub2S.)
While the mural will be taken down and rolled up when TED2019 concludes, it may go on to have a second life. There’s the possibility of it being displayed at Steelcase HQ in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where it can serve as a sweet, graphic reminder of this moment of teamwork and the inspiring backdrop of collaborations to come.
Our writer, Daryl Chen, finds her own image in the Steelcase mural at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 15–19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Dian Lofton / TED
Multi-instrumental genius, Grammy winner and songwriter Richard Bona held the audience spellbound at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 18, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED
Session 11 of TED2019 amazed, enriched, inspired and dazzled — diving deep into the creative process, exploring what it’s like to be a living artwork and soaring into deep space.
The event: Talks and performances from TED2019, Session 11: Wonder, hosted by TED’s Helen Walters and Kelly Stoetzel
When and where: Thursday, April 18, 2019, 5pm, at the Vancouver Convention Centre in Vancouver, BC
Speakers: Beau Lotto with performers from Cirque du Soleil, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jon Gray, Daniel Lismore, Richard Bona, Es Devlin and Juna Kollmeier
Music: Multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Richard Bona, mesmerizing the audience with his “magic voodoo machine” — weaving beautiful vocal loops into a mesh of sound
Beau Lotto, neuroscientist, accompanied by performers and artists from Cirque du Soleil
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, actor, filmmaker and founder of HITRECORD
“We decided the world needed some Bronx seasoning on it”: The founder of Ghetto Gastro, Jon Gray, speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us. April 18, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED
Jon Gray, designer, food lover, entrepreneur and cofounder of Ghetto Gastro
“These artworks are me”: Daniel Lismore talks about his life as a work of art, created anew each morning. He speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us. April 15 – 19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED
Daniel Lismore, London-based artist who lives his life as art, styling elaborate ensembles that mix haute couture, vintage fabrics, found objects, ethnic jewelry, beadwork, embroidery and more
“So much of what I make is fake. It’s an illusion. And yet every artist works in pursuit of communicating something that’s true.” Artist and stage designer Es Devlin speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 18, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED
Es Devlin, artist and stage designer
Juna Kollmeier, astrophysicist
“Stars are exploding all the time. Black holes are growing all the time. There is a new sky every night”: Astronomer Juna Kollmeier speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 18, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED
Jon Gray speaks at TED2019
Daniel Lismore speaks at TED2019
Es Devlin speaks at TED2019
Juna Kollmeier speaks at TED2019
When you see others as partners in creation, that’s when the magic begins, says Joseph Gordon-Levitt at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 18, 2019, at Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
“I’m an actor, so I’m a bit of an expert on … well, nothing really,” says Joseph Gordon-Levitt onstage at TED2019.
Jokes aside, there’s one thing he does know really well: what it feels like to get attention. He’s gotten a lot of it — since he played Dougie on Family Ties in the late ’80s through to his roles in Batman and beyond — and it’s a powerful feeling. He admits that. But the thing he’s come to crave — like, really crave — is sort of the opposite: it’s paying attention.
To explain, he paints us a picture of what it’s like on set: “I’ve heard the sequence so many times, it’s become like a pavlovian magic spell: rolling, speed, marker (clap), set, and action. Something happens to me, I can’t even help it. My attention narrows. And everything else in the world, anything else that might be bothering me, or that might otherwise grab my attention, it all goes away. And I’m just there.”
“If you’re looking for creative fulfillment, that’s the feeling you want to be going after,” he says.
Compare this to creativity on social media, where the platforms are fueled by getting attention, and more and more people are becoming experts at it. In essence, creativity is becoming a means to an end — and that end is to rack up likes, gain followers, get attention. “If your creativity is driven by a desire to get attention, you’re never going to be creatively fulfilled,” he says.
Gordon-Levitt is by no means immune. He does his best work when he’s collaborating — when he’s really locked in on another actor, really paying attention. He’s known that for a while. Yet 10 years ago, something happened: a little thing called Twitter. And he got hooked. He began obsessively checking his follower count, wondering what people would say about this movie or that show, instead of focusing on the work itself.
Let’s be clear: he’s no Luddite. He’s not saying social media is the enemy of creativity. He still loves social media, actually. He even started the collaboration platform HITRECORD, where people gather to create and swap ideas.
But he’s calling for a shift in how we think about creativity, how we make art. How to do it? He’s got a couple ideas. First: try not to see your fellow creatives as competitors. Everybody brings their own experience to the scene — or to the page, or the stage, or whatever your pursuit might be — so you don’t have to worry about being special. You can just be honest. And second: collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. “This, more than anything else, is what helps me really pay attention,” he says. “As long as I can focus my attention on them, I don’t have to think about myself or anything else, I just react to what they’re doing, and they react to what I’m doing, and we can just keep each other in it, together.”
So, get out there, meet some people and start creating. If you can do that, well, that’s where the magic happens.
Neuroscientist Beau Lotto (second from left) stands with performers from Cirque du Soleil after they together created a shared experience of awe onstage at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 18, 2019, in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED
“You have to start with an interesting question,” says neuroscientist Beau Lotto. We’re talking over Skype with collaborator Geneviève Laurendeau, the corporate PR manager at Cirque du Soleil, to discuss their year-long science project: an experiment to measure awe. When and how do we feel awe? And: Why does it matter?
One great place to find awe is a Cirque du Soleil live show. That’s why, a few months ago at one of the company’s long-running shows, O, in Las Vegas, you could find 20 members of the Lab of Misfits, Lotto’s creative neuroscience group, running an “experiential experiment.” With the help of a clown and a zebra from the Cirque cast, they asked audience members whether they’d volunteer to wear an EEG helmet while researchers watched their brain activity, then take some tests to measure what awe does to them.
As Laurendeau says: “O is an iconic show that generates strong audience reaction and emotional connection. We have audience members who are going back to this specific show every year over and over, and the feeling is the same.” O was a great platform for research, both for its stability (it has its own purpose-built theater, versus being in a traveling circus tent) and for its sheer astonishment factor: the show combines circus arts with dreamlike performances in and around 1.5 million gallons of water. As Lotto puts it, O creates an environment where people feel “brought elsewhere.”
Of working with Cirque, Lotto says, “It was a true co-creation and collaboration.” Which started, as many great things do, with a lot of meetings. “It took about one year to plan,” he says, to Laurendeau’s agreement.
The people behind Cirque were as eager as Lotto to learn the results of the experiment. As Laurendeau says, “For over 35 years now, our audience, they can’t describe what they felt. They say, ‘wow!’ — that’s how they describe what they felt. Is that the only way they can really identify or really share what they experienced? That’s what we were curious to know.”
Geneviève Laurendeau, left, of the Cirque du Soleil takes a question from host Helen Walters, right, about Cirque’s collaboration with neuroscientist Beau Lotto and his Lab of Misfits, during TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 18, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED
Lotto says, “The experiments themselves ran over 10 shows, two shows a night. So we were in Vegas for roughly 10 days, but we were running experiments for about five, six days of that. And it was constant, completely continuous. And it’s super high-energy. Exhausting. But beautiful, beautiful. And we can’t complain; I mean, look at the performers, they’re doing two shows a night forever.”
As acrobats, dancers, clowns and swimmers performed during the 90-minute show, lab members monitored the data that streamed from the EEG helmets, and collected self-reported reactions before and after the show. They measured 23 specific “awe moments” identified in the show, from a collective 280 audience members, over the course of the experiment.
The team found some surprising results around a specific brain wave signature that’s associated with a feeling of awe — and their tests drew connections between awe and some core human feelings: a sense of connection, a desire to take risk, and our impressions of the future and the past. The results are shared in a white paper; Lotto is discussing his initial findings today, onstage at TED, with help from Cirque performers and other artists.
“A lot of what we discovered isn’t known yet,” Lotto says. “There is some research on wonder, but not much on awe. A great deal of it comes out of professor Dacher Keltner’s lab at Berkeley, where they’ve demonstrated an effect of pro-social behavior, which we can confirm, but no one has been able to get into the brain. People thought maybe awe is created by a social effect. And we’re saying, no, actually it’s something far deeper.“
Lotto surmises that awe evolved as a way to help humans try new things that scare them. “It’s maybe evolution’s solution that enabled us to go to the very place that we evolved to avoid, which is the north, is the unknown.”
The experiment has stimulated more questions at the Lab of Misfits, of course. “We want to explore the pro-social impact,” says Lotto, “how awe connects people, how it facilitates growth and expansion in others. It really gives you energy to continue.”
As Lotto says: “When you can truly unite science and art, you’ll see they’re the same thing.”
Genevieve Laurendeau and Beau Lotto speak with host Helen Walters
“For those who can and choose to, may you pass on this beautiful thing called life with kindness, generosity, decency and love,” says Wajahat Ali at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 18, 2019, at Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Sometimes it feels like the world is fraying. Like our long-hold truths turn out, in an instant, to be figments of the imagination. Amid this turmoil, how can we strengthen connection, create more fulfilling lives? Speakers from Session 10 offer a range of provocative answers.
The event: Talks from TED2019, Session 10: Connection, hosted by TED’s head of curation, Helen Walters, and assistant curator Zachary Wood
When and where: Thursday, April 18, 2019, 2:30pm, at the Vancouver Convention Centre in Vancouver, BC
Speakers: Kishore Mahbubani, Wajahat Ali, Priya Parker, Barbara J. King and Jon M. Chu
The talks in brief:
Kishore Mahbubani, author and public policy expert
Wajahat Ali, journalist and lawyer
Priya Parker teaches us how we can gather better at home, at work, over holiday dinners and beyond. She speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 18, 2019, at Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Priya Parker, conflict mediator and author
Barbara J. King, biological anthropologist and writer
Jon M. Chu makes up stories for a living. On the heels of the breakout success of his film Crazy Rich Asians, he reflects on the origin of his artistic inspiration at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 18, 2019, at Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
Jon M. Chu, filmmaker, director of Crazy Rich Asians
On the heels of the breakout success of his film Crazy Rich Asians, Jon M. Chu reflects on what drives him to create inspiration. He speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 18, 2019, at Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
If you haven’t heard of the blockbuster megahit Crazy Rich Asians, then, well, it’s possible you’re living under a large rock. But whether or not you saw it, the film’s director, Jon M. Chu, has a TED Talk that goes far beyond the movie.
Speaking onstage at TED2019, Chu reflects on the importance of representation onscreen and the experiences that propelled him to create such a groundbreaking hit. Spoiler alert: it all comes down to human connection.
“My story is only possible because of a collection of connections that happened throughout my life,” Chu says. “And maybe through my little stories, others may find their path as well.”
As Chu starts off, it becomes clear that his connection to his family, his culture, to film and technology – each one of those ingredients – made him who he is today.
But first, back to the beginning: Chu grew up with immigrant parents, in a family that never felt “normal,” he says. Why not? Because his family didn’t look like the families they saw on TV and in movies. That was his “normal.”
The first shift in that narrative happened on a family vacation when Chu was young. His father put him in charge of the video recorder, so he tried his hand at stitching together a highlight reel of the vacation. He anxiously showed it to his family — and what happened next changed the trajectory of his life.
“Something extraordinary happened,” Chu says. “They cried and cried. Not because it was the most amazing home video edit ever, but because they saw our family as a normal family that fit in and belonged. Like from the movies they worshipped and the TV shows that they named us after.”
After that, Chu’s future crystallized in his own mind. He went to USC School of Cinematic Arts and built up a career in Hollywood, hitching a number of successful films under his belt. (Remember Believe, that uber-popular Justin Bieber doc from 2012? Or The LXD?)
And yet, despite his successes, Chu was at a creative loss a couple years ago. Spurred in part by the Twitter firestorm around the Academy Awards’ lack of diversity, Chu realized: he could be a part of the solution. He was already inside the Hollywood circle, after all, with power that few possessed.
“I realized I was not just lucky to be here, but I had the right to be here – I earned the right to be here,” he says. “And to not just have a voice, but to have something to say. To tell my story with people who looked liked me and had a family like mine.”
He wasn’t alone in his efforts, he says. A vibrant community on social media backed him every step of the way, ultimately driving him toward Kevin Kwan’s bestselling novel Crazy Rich Asians — and the breakthrough film we know today.
Lest we forget: there was no guarantee Chu’s movie would do well. In fact, many signs pointed toward failure. But, with the help of “a grassroots uprising” of Chu fans online, he says, Asian representation in the arts started to hit headlines. “This swell of support allowed a conversation to be had between us — Asian Americans defining how we saw the future of our own representation,” Chu says.
And then the movie was out in theaters, and it exploded. Chu was overwhelmed with pride — a familiar sensation from all those years ago when he sat surrounded by his family, the sounds of his vacation highlight reel washing over them. Seeing people in the theater enjoying his film – well, that was “the ultimate prize,” he says.
The takeaway? It all circles back to connection, to those that offered breadcrumbs of connection along the way: kindness, love, and generosity. Closing out his talk, he makes an offering to us all: a breadcrumb of connection, of inspiration.
“I realized once you start listening to those silent beats in the messy noise all around you … you realize there is a beautiful symphony already written for you and it can give you a direct line to your destiny – to your superpowers.”
These two plants are part of the Data Garden Quartet, a collection of potted plants that wear special sensors to measure their conductivity — and turn it into music. Data Garden appeared at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 15–19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED
Barreling through the high-visibility, high-tech exhibits on the TED2019 circuit, you’d be forgiven for mistaking The Data Garden for just another chillout zone, with its oasis of potted houseplants and people lying draped, spaced out, across bean bags. Yet an arresting sound beckons from this unassuming island – a soothing patter of gently percussive gongs, like a harmonious array of meditation bowls or a gamelan, with a variety of textures and tones.
Nothing unusual here – except that if you look closely, the plants have white sensors attached to the leaves, wired into speakers. Wait – is this music coming from the plants?
It is. “We’re listening to Data Garden Quartet – a quartet of plants all playing music together,” says Los Angeles-based sound artist Joe Patitucci. Each plant is fitted with a MIDI Sprout, a device invented by Patitucci and partner Jon Shapiro that translates plant biofeedback into sounds. The white sensors, it turns out, are electrical probes that send a 4.5 volt signal through the plant to measure variations in the plant’s conductivity, which changes according to the amount of water moving through it.
“It’s very similar to technology used in a lie detector,” says Patitucci. “If you imagine the wave in a lie-detector readout, we translate that into pitch in a musical scale. Changes in the waves also control various textural aspects of the sounds, or ‘instruments.’”
Patitucci conceived the idea of Data Garden Quartet in 2012 out of a sense of exploration as a musician. “I’d hear about people who could reached this flow state, where it was like universe was expressing itself through them. I was never able to get to that state – but I’d get my inspiration by going out into nature and bringing the feeling back into the studio and then composing.” So rather than making his body the channel – “instead of expressing itself through my body on my fingertips on a guitar” – Patitucci cut the middleman and wired his source of inspiration directly into the instrument, working with an engineer. Meanwhile, Patitucci designed the sound set – a palette from which the plant selects every single note in real time.
“Big influences are Brian Eno, generative ambient music in general, and the plant biofeedback experiments of the 1970s, and cellular automata – the mathematical principle that simple rule sets expressed over time can become complex systems,” says Patitucci.
The installation not only proved popular at festivals and museums, soon artists and musicians began demanding the hardware itself. In 2014, he and Shapiro launched a Kickstarter for a version of the hardware, which they dubbed MIDI Sprout, made specifically for artists, which plugs directly into a synthesizer so they can create their own sound sets. (Could I, for example, attach little samples of Prince songs to the plant’s dataset? “Prince Remix by DJ Plant,” Patitucci affirms.)
Inevitably, demand snowballed to ordinary consumers who wanted MIDI Sprout in their home – in their yoga class, meditation studios, and so on. For them, MIDI Sprout is now available as an iOS app with a custom-made sound palette that includes harp, flute, and bass. Now anyone can turn a houseplant into an ambient music generator.
In case you’re wondering, MIDI Sprout doesn’t only work on plants. You can hold the electrodes and get sonic feedback on your own biorhythms. “If you can really relax and have a steady pressure on the probes, you can get it to play one note,” says Patitucci. “You can even get it to stop. It takes some practice.”
As for the question I know is burning in readers’ minds: “Can I put a MIDI Sprout on my cat?” The answer is here.
Data Garden Quartet at TED2019: Bigger Than Us. April 15 – 19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED
Data Garden Quartet at TED2019
Jamie Paik unveils robogamis: folding robots that can morph and reshape themselves as the situation demands. She speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 18 at Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
The more we look, the more our digital and analog worlds are blending. What is this future we are entering? In Session 9 of TED2019, we peer into the thrilling, sometimes frightening, often hilarious world of technology.
The event: Talks and tech demos from TED2019, Session 9: Play, hosted by head of TED Chris Anderson and poet Sarah Kay
When and where: Thursday, April 18, 2019, 11:15am, at the Vancouver Convention Centre in Vancouver, BC
Speakers: Emmett Shear, Anthony Veneziale, Janelle Shane, Ivan Poupyrev, Jamie Paik and Herman Narula
… and now, for something completely different: Master improver Anthony Veneziale took to the TED stage for a truly off-the-cuff performance. Armed with an audience-suggested topic (“stumbling into intimacy”) and a deck of slides he’d never seen before, Veneziale crafted a profoundly humorous meditation about the human experience at the intersection of intimacy, connection and … avocados?
The talks in brief:
In a live conversation with a Twitch gamer, Emmett Shear (who cofounded TwitchTV) presents his vision for the future of interactive entertainment. He speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 18, 2019, at Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
Emmett Shear, cofounder of Justin.tv and TwitchTV and part-time partner at Y Combinator
Janelle Shane, AI humorist
Ivan Poupyrev, inventor, scientist, designer of interactive products
Jamie Paik, founder and director of the Reconfigurable Robotics Lab
Herman Narula, entrepreneur, gamer, cofounder and CEO of Improbable
Sarah Kay announces season two of TED’s original podcast series Sincerely, X. The new season premieres May 6, 2019 with Kay as its host. She speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 18, 2019, at Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)