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)
“Soil is just a thin veil that covers the surface of land, but it has the power to shape our planet’s destiny,” says Asmeret Asefaw Berhe at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 18, 2019, at Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: (Bret Hartman / TED)
To kick off day 4 of TED2019, we give you (many more) reasons to get a good night’s sleep, plunge into the massive microbiome in the Earth’s crust — and much, more more.
The event: Talks from TED2019, Session 8: Mystery, hosted by head of TED Chris Anderson and TED’s science curator David Biello
When and where: Thursday, April 16, 2019, 8:45am, at the Vancouver Convention Centre in Vancouver, BC
Speakers: Andrew Marantz, Kristie Ebi, Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, Edward Tenner, Matt Walker and Karen Lloyd
The talks in brief:
Andrew Marantz, journalist, author who writes about the internet
“Free speech is just a starting point,” says Andrew Marantz onstage at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 18, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED
Kristie Ebi, public health researcher, director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment
Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, scientist and “dirt detective” studying the impact of ecological change on our soils
Host David Biello speaks with soil scientist Asmeret Asefaw Berhe and public health researcher Kristie Ebi during Session 8 of TED2019: Bigger Than Us. April 18, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED
Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, Kristie Ebi and Joanne Chory in conversation with TED’s science curator David Biello
Speaking from the audience, Joanne Chory joins the conversation with soil scientist Asmeret Asefaw Berhe and public health researcher Kristie Ebi at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 18, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED
Edward Tenner, writer and historian
Matt Walker, sleep scientist
Karen Lloyd, microbiologist
Before his talk, historian Edward Tenner reviews his notes one last time backstage at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 18, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Lawrence Sumulong / TED
In a powerful personal talk, illustrator, author and screenwriter Jonny Sun shares how social media can be an antidote to loneliness. He speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 17, 2019 in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
Day 3 of TED2019 featured three sessions of talks, a live podcast taping — and some world-changing ideas.
First, some news:
You could give the next best TED Talk. If you have an idea the world needs to hear, put your name forward to speak at next year’s TED conference! We’ve just opened applications in our TED2020 Idea Search, a worldwide hunt for the next great idea.
Can Twitter be saved? Jack Dorsey’s interview with TED’s Chris Anderson and Whitney Pennington Rodgers is live on TED.com. Hear from Jack about what worries him most about the messaging platform, which has taken a serious chunk of the blame for the divisiveness seen around the world, both online and off.
Inside the black hole image that made history. Also just published on TED.com: astrophysicist Sheperd Doeleman, head of the Event Horizon Telescope collaboration, speaks on the iconic, first-ever image of a black hole — and the epic, worldwide effort involved in capturing it.
Some larger themes that emerged from the day:
The spread of misinformation online is the great challenge of our time. We, the everyday users of the internet, might have to do what major tech companies and governments can’t: fight the misinformation we see every day in our feeds. Claire Wardle suggests we band together to accelerate a solution: for example, by “donating” our social data (instead of unwittingly handing it over to the tech giants), we could help researchers understand the scope of the problem. Could we build a new infrastructure for quality information, following the model of Wikipedia? In a special recording of The TED Interview, venture capitalist turned activist Roger McNamee picked up on the threat of misinformation, tracing the contours of Silicon Valley’s role in the 2016 US presidential election, Brexit and much more. After their conversation, Chris and Roger held a robust discussion with the audience, taking questions from Carole Cadwalladr, Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie and Sun Microsystems founder Bill Joy, among others.
But social media can also be a force for good. In a powerful personal talk, illustrator, author and screenwriter Jonny Sun shares how social media is his antidote to loneliness. By sending jokes and endearing, misspelled, illustrated observations on the human condition “out to the void” of social media, he’s found that the void is often willing to talk back — reminding us of our shared human-ness, even if only for a moment.
The new pursuit of happiness. Researcher Rick Doblin studies the use of psychedelics as medicine, including treatments that show promise against PTSD and depression. Used medically, he says, psychedelic drugs can heighten a patient’s emotional awareness and sense of unity — even create a spiritual connection. Psychologist Elizabeth Dunn studies how we can create more happiness by being more altruistic. The secret? You have to see the effects of your giving, and feel a true connection to the people you’re helping.
Exploring the unexplored. Science has a “geography problem,” says paleoanthropologist (and stand-up comedian) Ella Al-Shamahi. We’re not doing frontline scientific exploration in a massive chunk of the world, which governments have deemed too unstable — places that have played a big role in the human journey, like Africa and the Middle East. She takes us to Socotra, an island off Yemen known as the Galápagos of the Indian Ocean, where she joined the area’s first frontline exploration since 1999. Ninety percent of the reptiles and 30 percent of the plants there exist only, well, there. Al-Shamahi is hoping to return to Socotra and, with the help of local collaborators, continue to explore this alien land. A little further offshore, undersea explorer Victor Vescovo joins us fresh from an expedition to the bottom of the Indian Ocean — the fifth ocean bottom he’s seen. In conversation with TED science curator David Biello, Vescovo shares the technology powering his new submersible, designed to explore the deepest parts of the world’s oceans. He describes his project as “kind of the SpaceX of ocean exploration, but I pilot my own vehicles.”
Architecture doesn’t need to be permanent. When it comes to cities, we’re obsessed with permanence and predictability. But by studying impermanent settlements, we can learn to build cities that are more adaptable, efficient and sustainable, says architect Rahul Mehtrota. He takes us to the confluence of India’s Yamuna and Ganges rivers — where, every 12 years, a megacity springs up to house the seven million pilgrims who live there for the 55-day duration of the Kumbh Mela religious festival. The city is fully functional yet impermanent and reversible — built in ten weeks and completely disassembled after the festival. Studying the Kumbh Mela helped Mehrotra realize that our preoccupation with permanence is shortsighted. “We need to make a shift in our imagination about cities,” he says. “We need to change urban design cultures to think of the temporal, the reversible, the disassemblable.” And architect Bjarke Ingels takes us on a worldwide tour of his work — from much-needed flood-protection improvements around lower Manhattan (scheduled to break ground this year) to a toxin-free power plant in Copenhagen (with a rooftop you can ski on!) to a proposed floating ocean city (powered completely by solar energy — which could serve as a model for living on Mars.) We need to imagine vibrantly flexible habitats, he says — and, in doing so, we can forge a sustainable future for all.
“I’m bad at talking. I’m good at talking,” Hannah Gadsby says at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 17, 2019, at Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
“I don’t think I’m qualified to speak my own mind,” says Australian comic Hannah Gadsby. “I’m not so good at turning the thinking into the talking. And you’re wondering how someone who’s so bad at the chat could be a stand-up comedian?”
She starts off her TED Talk by promising the audience three ideas and three contradictions. Because of the length of her talk, she says, the people at TED had advised her to stick with one idea. “But I said no. What would they know?” So three ideas she will deliver, and three contradictions.
The first contradiction: “I’m bad at talking. I’m good at talking.” Gadsby was a “pathologically shy virtual mute with low self-esteem” when she first tried comedy. And “before I’d even landed my first joke, I knew I really liked stand-up, and stand-up really liked me. Why is it I can be so good at something I’m so bad at?”
One reason: Comedy has rules, like the rule of three. To demonstrate, she throws back to her opening joke, which at the time felt like a charming, disarming bit before the real talk. Here it is: “My name is Hannah, and that is a palindrome. Everyone in my family has a palindromic name, it’s a bit of a tradition. There’s Mum, Dad, Nan, Bob and my brother Kayak.” Hear it? It’s about lulling people into a pattern — and then breaking the pattern: “one, two, surprise, haha!” The rule of three is a fundamental of comedy — a contradiction of the binary, in a safe place, for laughs.
From this more traditionally joke-y bit, Gadsby shifts into another gear. She starts to tell the story of her family, and of her grandma, surrounded by her large family in the last days of her life. It’s not where you expect a comedy routine to go, and the rhythm is not that of comedy. But it’s intensely interesting, personal and raw. She’s building to an emotional point when —
— her headset mic goes out.
Hannah walks to the side of the stage, and someone hands her the handheld mic we keep there for just such an occasion, while our video editors frantically start to work out in their heads how they can possibly fix the continuity. Then Hannah is beckoned back to the side of the stage, and returns followed by our sound guy, who changes the batteries in her belt pack and takes away the handheld, leaving her alone on the stage again.
This shaky moment within the tightly choreographed whirl of TED should have let the air out of her talk. But everyone is drawn in by Hannah’s story now, we know there’s something coming, and we desperately need to know the other two ideas and the contradictions we were promised.
“Where was I?” she asks the crowd. She gets some useless answers, scrubs back and forth mentally to where she was interrupted, and she’s back.
The story she tells from these broken pieces takes us from the chatty letters she wrote her grandma from college, forward to the present day, to who she is now. She talks about the success of Nanette, her groundbreaking comedy-not-comedy-but-comedy. She makes a joke simply to make two specific people laugh (our video editors; I checked with them just now: they died, they love you, we all do). She tells us what she’s feeling, while admitting that she’s up there feeling almost nothing. It’s an astonishing performance, a brave and moving story wrapped in a comedy routine wrapped in a TED Talk wrapped in a contradiction, or two, or three.
Judith Jamison (seated) watches members of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater perform at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 17, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED
To close out day 3 of TED2019, we imagine different versions of the future — from the magical possibilities of deep-sea exploration to the dark future of humanity if something goes horribly wrong. Gulp.
The event: Talks and performances from TED2019, Session 7: Possibility, hosted by TED’s Helen Walters and Kelly Stoetzel
When and where: Wednesday, April 17, 2019, 5pm, at the Vancouver Convention Centre in Vancouver, BC
Speakers: Judith Jamison, Rob Reid, Nick Bostrom, Ella Al-Shamahi, Victor Vescovo and Hannah Gadsby
Opening: Members of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater perform “Wade in the Water” (from choreographer Alvin Ailey’s iconic 1960 work Revelations) and “Cry,” the solo piece Ailey created for his mother in 1971.
The talks in brief:
Judith Jamison, artistic director emerita of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Rob Reid, entrepreneur and cyberthriller author
Nick Bostrom, philosopher, technologist, author, researcher of existential risk
Paleoanthropologist Ella Al-Shamahi asks scientists to push harder to work in unstable areas. She speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 17, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED
Ella Al-Shamahi, paleoanthropologist and standup comedian
Victor Vescovo, undersea explorer
Hannah Gadsby, serious comedian
“I broke comedy,” Hannah Gadsby says at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 17, 2019, at Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Judith Jamison + Members of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Investor Roger McNamee sits in conversation with TED’s Chris Anderson during TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 17, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
Nine days before the 2016 US presidential election, Roger McNamee went to Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg — whom he’d introduced, back in 2007 — and told them they had a problem. He’d seen a Facebook group, associated notionally with the Bernie Sanders campaign, distributing misogynistic, viral memes in a way that looked like someone was paying for them to spread. And a corporation had recently been expelled from the platform for selling data on people who had expressed an interest in Black Lives Matter — selling that data to police departments.
Their response: “These are isolated things.”
Then the election happened. In the shadow of Brexit. And Facebook did the opposite of what McNamee, a venture capitalist and early investor in Facebook, prescribed: which was to embrace the victims and tell them exactly what political ads they had seen, when they saw them and who paid for them. And even after an internal investigation showed them the scope of Russian interference in the election — and how they had targeted a specific group of 126 million people in the last gasp of the election — Facebook was slow to act and opaque with their users.
“I don’t want to re-litigate 2016. What I’m worried about is that now anybody can do that,” McNamee says, speaking to Head of TED Chris Anderson during a live taping of the TED Interview podcast at TED2019. Their conversation covered Silicon Valley’s pursuit of attention and profit, monopolies, outrage, filter bubbles, surveillance and more.
“We live in a time where there are no rules and there’s no enforcement, and there are really smart people [using] all this unclaimed data and all this unclaimed opportunity,” McNamee says. “At the beginning, it seemed to throw off nothing but goodness. By the time the bad stuff hit, we were so deep into it that it was really hard to reverse field.”
The effect of bad actors online has spilled offline, McNamee says. “You did not need to be on Facebook in Myanmar to be dead. You just needed to be a Rohingya,” he says. “You did not need to be on Facebook or YouTube in Christchurch, New Zealand, to be dead. You just need to be in one of those mosques. This stuff is affecting people who are not on these platforms in ways we cannot recover from.”
And it’s not just Facebook, and there are things that are less serious than dead that are still serious and affecting people’s lives. “Do you know how [Google Maps and Waze] get route timing for all the different routes?” McNamee asks. “Some percentage of the people have to drive inferior routes in order for them to know what the timing is … That’s behavioral manipulation.”
So is there a fix to get us around the problems caused by the unchecked power of these tech giants — to put a check on the greed and cutthroat race for attention?
“It has to start with the people who use the products,” McNamee says. “At the end of the day, we’ve been willing to accept a deal that we do not understand. The actual thing that’s going on inside these companies is not that we’re giving a little bit of personal data and they’re getting better ad targeting. There is way more going on here than that. And the stuff that’s going beyond that is having an impact on people’s lives broadly.”
McNamee doesn’t believe that the people in charge of the tech giants are inherently bad. “[Mark Zuckerberg] is one good night’s sleep away from the epiphany where he wakes up and realizes he can do more good by fixing the business model of Facebook than he can with a thousand Chan Zuckerberg Initiatives.”
“I’m not talking about intent, I’m talking about action,” he continues. “What winds up happening, because of the way the incentives of the business model work, you wind up getting creepy outcomes … You can have unintended bad consequences for which you are are still responsible,” McNamee says.
Opening the conversation up to include the audience, journalist Carole Cadwalladr, Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie, Sun Microsystems founder Bill Joy and many others had a chance to share their thoughts on the problems — and some solutions.
McNamee ends on an optimistic note — emboldened, he says, by recent events like teacher labor actions that have worked, the air traffic controllers whose partial sick-out helped end the government shutdown and Elizabeth Warren’s introduction of an antitrust policy that had Republicans feeling jealous:
“What I find is that everybody I meet — whether they’re on Fox or MSNBC, whether they’re on conservative talk radio or NPR, whether I’m in Nashville, Austin, Atlanta, or I’m in San Francisco or New York — everybody sits there and goes: ‘I get it. There’s something wrong. And we all have a role to play in this.'”
The temi robot, a telepresence unit, home AI and media player, inhabits the living room of the Tech Playground at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 15–19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED
How much technology can you live with? In a series of playful exhibits at TED2019 curated by TED’s tech curator Alex Moura, you can explore how tech integrates with — and perhaps improves — your home. We start in a typical living room … or is it:
The Laughing Room: Welcome to a sitcom where you are the character! In this living room, microphones pick up your conversations — or punchlines, if you want to offer them — and route them through an AI that has been trained on hours of stand-up comedy routines. In the knowledge that machine learning is only as good as the data you train it on, the MIT team behind the project (which includes TED2019 speaker Jonny Sun) fed its AI routines from women and gender nonconforming comedians and comedians of color to eliminate sexist and racist jokes. After its algorithm determines how funny you are, you receive the appropriate amount of the canned laughter … or the silence of rejection! Test it out with the phrase “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” which is apparently hilarious every time.
temi: Meet temi — the little rolling robot who’s a personal assistant who’s also a home entertainment system. Having a robot follow you around might seem like a bit of a Black Mirror proposition, but temi is paired with Alexa voice recognition technology, so your companion can play music and podcasts for you as you walk around hands-free.
1000 Paintings in Your Pocket: Art consulting service Sugarlift want to help you find art for above the couch. Using an augmented reality app, you can browse work from emerging artists and photographers, and hold up your phone to preview how it’ll look on your own wall. Beyond the AR fabulousness, your purchase supports emerging artists and their careers.
Furniture: Rove Concepts
Next stop, the kitchen.
Brava: Brava’s countertop oven cooks with light, or to be precise, a highly controllable infrared heat. The oven expands what can be cooked in an oven — for instance, you can sear a steak (but still have it medium rare inside). At TED, you can sidle up to the Brava oven to try an 8-minute pizza.
Cooking with infrared energy, the Brava oven expands your cooking possibilities — including this 8-minute pizza — at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 15–19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED
We move to the bedroom, which is designed for comfort and sleep enhancement … but also includes a wild new gaming accessory that might keep you up nights:
MekaMon: With multiple modes and actions, the crablike crawler MekaMon aims to be the world’s first gaming robot. Battle enemies in AR environments with MekaMon’s mobile spider-like frame.
ChiliPad: Rather than wait for the air-conditioning to kick in, the ChiliPad takes a different approach to comfortable sleep. Like a mini-waterbed, it sits on top of a mattress and regulates the temperature of your bed with water circulated by a small plug-in unit.
Somnox Sleep Robot: While it may feel a bit weird to cuddle a soft, cushiony robot, the bean-shaped Somnox Sleep Robot’s slow breathing motions are designed to gradually regulate yours, helping you to relax.
AstroReality: AstroReality bring specially designed notebooks to life through augmented reality, so you can explore the solar system in 3D using your own digital device. Check out the Martian glaciers …
The bedroom of our Tech Playground is packed with sleep helpers, including a cooling mattress pad and a huggable robot that helps you relax and breathe. But! The floor is covered with robot spiders! Sleep tight! We’re at TED2019: Bigger Than Us. April 15–19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED
DigiDoug: Ever wake up from a bizarrely vivid dream that leaves you wondering what’s real and what’s not? Now you can experience that in your waking life by talking with DigiDoug, a live 3D digital manifestation of TED2019 speaker Doug Roble!
Don a VR headset and you’ll find yourself on a virtual TED stage with a 3D version of Roble. The difference between this and any other VR? Created with data gathered through a year of intense video recording, Roble’s digital self is mirroring his own actions in real time. Tucked away behind our Tech Playground bedroom, the actual Roble is wearing the kind of full body motion capture suit actors usually use for visual effects, and responding to you in… well, digital person.
Don’t look down though. As you haven’t put in the same level of data-intensive preparation, in DigiDoug’s universe you are simply a disembodied generic floating head.
Chatting with DigiDoug at TED2019: Bigger Than Us. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED
Tech Playground bedroom at TED2019
DigiDoug at TED2019
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy talks about her documentary film on honor killings — and the lengths she went to to get the film seen in her home of Pakistan, at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 17, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
What can we envision, together, to create a world with more joy, love, humanity? At Session 6 of TED2019, we take a deep dive into the world of imagination with some of the authors, designers, architects and filmmakers who are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible.
The event: Talks from TED2019, Session 6: Imagination, hosted by TED’s Helen Walters and Chee Pearlman
When and where: Wednesday, April 17, 2019, 11:15am, at the Vancouver Convention Centre in Vancouver, BC
Speakers: Jacqueline Woodson, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Jonny Sun, Sarah Sze, Rahul Mehrotra and Bjarke Ingels
The talks in brief:
Jacqueline Woodson, award-winning author and savorer of stories
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, documentary filmmaker and storyteller
Jonny Sun shares his moments of vulnerability on social media and, amazingly, the internet talks back. Turns out, we can all be alone together, he says at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 17, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
Jonny Sun, illustrator, author, screenwriter, all-round creative person
Sarah Sze, an artist who has worked in places like the Seattle Opera House and the NYC subway system and whose work encompasses painting, sculpture, video and installation
Rahul Mehrotra takes us on a journey to India’s Kumbh Mela religious festival, where an ephemeral megacity is seamlessly built and disassembled every 12 years. He speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 17, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
Rahul Mehrotra, architect, urban designer, professor of design
Bjarke Ingels, architect and designer
Writer, creator, cartoonist and online star Jonny Sun speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us on April 17, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED
“For many people,” says Canadian illustrator and author Jonny Sun, “the internet can feel like a lonely place.”
“A big endless, expansive void, where you can constantly call out to it, but no one’s listening. … But it turns out the void isn’t this endless, lonely expanse at all. Instead it’s full of all sorts of other people. Also staring out into it, and also wanting to be heard.”
Despite its problems — which he knows to be real and challenging and dangerous — Twitter has, for Sun, been a place of profound personal connection. A place to make friends.
“I think that’s partly because there’s this confessional nature to social media… it can feel like you’re writing in this personal, intimate diary that’s completely private. Yet at the same time you want everyone in the world to read it… The joy of that is that we get to experience things from perspectives of people who are completely different from ourselves. Sometimes that’s a nice thing.”
But it does require listening. And listening to the right people.
Seeing so many others tweet openly about going to therapy, and about its benefits, made Sun reflect that perhaps it could be an option for him too. It had been stigmatised offline, but became normalised when people talked about it online. Their vulnerability reached out to him.
“When someone shares that they’re sad or afraid or alone for example, it actually makes me feel less alone. Not by getting rid of any of my loneliness but by showing me that I am not alone in feeling lonely.”
As an artist and writer, Sun looks to make the “comfort of being vulnerable” a more accessible concept. When he moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to start his doctorate at MIT, Sun found himself in a new place and feeling a little… alien. So he began to draw a little alien. Called jomny. Soon, jomny’s misspelled and heartwarmingly honest adventures began to reach a wider and wider audience online.
Sometimes these are just short jokes that he tweets out: “if i could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, i would. i am very lonely”
Others are simple questions that generate profound responses, like: “How many people in your life have you already had your last conversation with?”
“I was thinking about my own friends who had moved away to different cities and different countries even, and how hard it would be for me to keep in touch with them. But other people started replying and sharing their own experiences. Somebody talked about a family member they had a falling-out with, someone talked about a loved one who had passed away quickly and unexpectedly. And something really nice started happening. Instead of just replying to me, people started replying to each other, to share their own experiences and comfort each other.”
“I feel silly and stupid sometimes for valuing these small moments of human connection in times like these,” he says, but “these little moments of humanness are not superfluous. They’re the reasons why we come to these spaces. They are important and vital.”
One day, feeling particularly hopeless about the world, he tweeted: “at this point, logging onto social media feels like holding someone’s hand at the end of the world.”
“And this time, instead of the void responding, it was people who showed up… and in these dangerous and unsure times, in the midst of it all, I think the thing that we have to hold on to is other people.”
Step up close to, and almost into, the work of Monet, a favorite artist of Vulcan founder Paul Allen. Vulcan brought their new Holodome environment to TED2019: Bigger Than Us, in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED
Have you ever loved a painting so much you wanted to step inside it? While the world of VR is usually utilised to take us to inaccessible locations like the depths of the ocean or the surface of the Moon, Vulcan’s Holodome offers the opportunity to enter the world of an impressionist painting in one of two experiences previewing at TED2019.
Unlike the usual headset-based VR experience, the Holodome is a fully immersive environment you can explore with your fellow adventurers, unhindered by wearable equipment. Inspired by a love of Monet’s works, the late chair of Vulcan, Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, wanted to create a way to step inside them. One where you can walk across the painter’s Poppy Field as it undulates around and beneath you, and Woman with a Parasol disappears over a nearby rise.
“With Holodome, our goal is to transport people into immersive adventures across real and imagined worlds, from the highest mountaintop to an impressionist landscape to the boundaries of space, without the need for mounted headgear,” says Kamal Srinivasan, Vulcan’s director of product management.
Back in the real world, there’s nothing like the disappointment of finally getting to see an artwork that you truly love and realizing that it is much smaller than you imagined, and obscured behind a crowd five deep at the gallery. Inside the Holodome, the rich colors and textures of Monet’s work are all-encompassing, almost tangible. Moving seamlessly through 12 of the painter’s works, the experience takes you soaring over a waterlily pond to greet cliffs where the sun slowly sets.
For those with motion sickness — yes, some of our team felt a little queasy, while others found it helpful that you can look down at a real floor and ground yourself. As with any 360-degree experience, it takes a little getting used to. Things are definitely best viewed from the center of the dome, but powered as it is by four 4k projectors, you don’t want to look directly up from this spot or you’ll be staring down some very bright lights.
Take a virtual trip to Everest inside the Vulcan Holodome at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED
The community aspect of the experience really kicks in with Mount Everest, where audiences travel with two climbers attempting to scale the mountain without bottled oxygen — a feat so far achieved by fewer than 200 people. Seeing others react as an avalanche barrels toward you, and turning at someone’s exclamation of surprise to take in the breathtaking vista of the Himalayas at your back, makes much more sense to experience as a group than alone in a headset. It’s also much easier to move around when you’re not worried about bumping into anyone or anything!
It is definitely worth choosing your experience carefully — Mount Everest is mostly shot following its protagonists on one side of the dome, documentary style, and you might sometimes turn to find yourself simply facing the inside wall of a tent, but Museum of Masters: Claude Monet makes it worth turning to see all that’s around you.
It’s easy to see where the Holodome will come into its own in the world of gaming. The ability to set out as a team, when you can all see and interact with each other and your environment without any communication delay, has us all asking, When’s the escape room experience coming?
While the technology is still being refined, its name seems to be no accident; the holodeck of Star Trek, where we can be bodily immersed in a world without the aid of wearable technology, may be closer than we think.
Vulcan Holodome at TED2019. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED