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 email@example.com 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
The eerie first impression of the Pollution Pods, a monumental installation at TED2019 that explores the qualities of air. Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED
You’ve walked into a cavernous, darkened concrete space. There, centered on the floor, looking a bit like an alien lander, is a glowing plastic multi-domed structure filled with swirling mist and light. Your first instinct, because you’re human, is to find a way inside.
Pass through a plastic curtain into the first of five geodesic domes, where you’re greeted by the artist who created it, Michael Pinsky, and a whiff of cool, crisp air with a hint of — is that tar?
What you’re experiencing is a simulation of the air in Tautra, Norway, on a winter day. As you expect, it’s clear and quite Norwegian. The hint of tar? It’s from the friction of tires on the roads; because the air is so clean, you can smell this faint effect. The scents have been created with help from International Flavors & Fragrances, while a filter from Airlabs is scrubbing the air at scale. The air quality index (AQI) — an international measurement index, used by collaborator Plume Labs — is in the single digits here in the Tautra dome (lower numbers are better).
Pass through a plastic curtain, walk through a plastic tunnel, pass through another curtain, and you’re in a misty, gray simulation of London on a February day, with an AQI rating of about 60–65. “There’s more pollution when it’s colder than warmer,” says Pinsky, who lives in London himself. “Hot air pushes the band of pollution up; cold air brings it down to street level.” This murky mist has a strong smell of diesel, which, Pinsky says, has been getting worse in London as drivers switch to diesel to hit 2020 targets for carbon dioxide emissions. “There’s little industry in London; if you got rid of combustion engines, that would end the pollution problem,” he says. “During the Anti-Brexit March, pollution fell to about 6.”
TED photo editor Elizabeth Zeeuw moves between the domes representing the air of different world cities, from the clean air of Tautra, Norway, to smoggy New Delhi, at the Pollution Pods installation at TED2019. Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED
You gratefully leave this cold mist only to stumble into the warm, smoky stew of New Delhi. “It’s basically the worst,” says Pinsky. “You’re smelling diesel, large particulates from the unsealed roads, and smoke from burning plastic. As well, you get smoke from crop burning nearby. Delhi has it all.”
Dome 4 is Beijing in November. What are we smelling in this chilly haze? “Coal and wood for domestic heating — most apartments don’t have central heating.” On the flip side, there’s less diesel in the air than there once was, says Pinsky. “China is slowly getting around to dealing with diesel.”
We end up in dome 5, which smells … unusual. This dome represents São Paulo, where the main transport fuel is ethanol, “a vinegary, fruity smell,” says Pinsky. On top of that, the city has high levels of ozone, which, you may be concerned to learn, “burns the fat off your nostril hairs that help you smell properly.” The air smells clean enough, but “if you were here for 20 minutes, you’d start to feel it,” says Pinsky.
Leaving each dome and entering the next feels like taking your first step into the open air after leaving the airport, when the smoke and smell of a new city hits you full force. The overall effect of the five-dome trip, Pinsky suggests, is a dégustation, a tasting menu of air quality from around the world, each with its own distinct character.
As you leave the domes, you’re presented with a second menu, of six things you can do to care for the planet — to help more of our cities be like Tautra and less like New Delhi. You may consider becoming a weekday vegetarian, buying fewer clothes and mending what you have, switching to an electric vehicle, eating locally grown food, becoming a master recycler, or committing to become a climate evangelist. After your tour of the planet’s air, it feels more important than ever to take a few steps toward a cleaner world.
By re-creating the mist, smog and smells of world cities, Pollution Pods makes the air quality crisis visceral — and offers some next steps to help make change. Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED
Watch artist Michael Pinsky’s TED Talk >>
Pollution Pods at TED2019
Pollution Pods at TED2019
“When we see someone different from us, they should not reflect our fears, our anxieties, our insecurities … but we should see ourselves. We should see our common humanity,” says Michael Tubbs, mayor of Stockton, California. He speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 17, 2019, in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED)
To kick off day 3 of TED2019, five speakers explored big shifts: challenging accepted wisdom on love, giving, leadership, truth — and illegal substances.
The event: Talks from TED2019, Session 5: Mindshift, hosted by TED’s Chris Anderson and Corey Hajim
When and where: Wednesday, April 17, 2019, 8:45am, at the Vancouver Convention Centre in Vancouver, BC
Speakers: Rick Doblin, Katie Hood, Elizabeth Dunn, Claire Wardle and Michael Tubbs
Also announced: The TED2020 Idea Search launches today! Have a great idea you want to share with the world? Learn more and apply today >>
Head of TED Chris Anderson and TED Business Curator Corey Hajim host Session 5 of TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 17, 2019 in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
The talks in brief:
Rick Doblin, psychedelics researcher and founder of the nonprofit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)
Katie Hood, CEO of the One Love Foundation and relationship revolutionary
“I’m completely convinced that while love is an instinct and emotion, the ability to love better is a skill we can all build and improve on over time,” says happiness researcher Elizabeth Dunn. She speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 17, 2019 in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
Elizabeth Dunn, happiness researcher and author
Misinformation expert Claire Wardle asks: But how do halt the spread of untrustworthy, sometimes dangerous content without quashing freedom of expression? She speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 17, 2019 in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED)
Claire Wardle, misinformation expert, executive chair of First Draft and head of CIVIC
Michael Tubbs, mayor of Stockton, California
Have a great idea you want to share? TED’s own Cloe Shasha launches the worldwide Idea Search for TED2020, onstage at TED2019: Bigger Than Us. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED
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.
The theme of TED2020 is UNCHARTED. The future is more uncertain than it’s ever been; we’re looking for people who will give us a clue as to where we’re heading — and how we’ll get there.
Are you working on an invention, design or vision that will really change the way things are done?
Do you have a thoughtful approach to the world’s shared frustrations?
Are you an explorer who’s discovered something strange and amazing?
If any of these questions resonate with you, apply today!
Wherever you are, whatever your time zone, you can beam in to the TED World Theater to share your idea during several upcoming events. Applications are open now, with the first deadline on May 29, 2019.
Want inspiration? Here are just a few speakers who were discovered during past talent searches:
Richard Turere: My invention that made peace with the lions (2.3m views)
Ashton Applewhite: Let’s end ageism (1.4m views)
OluTimehin Adegbeye: Who belongs in a city? (2.2m views)
Zak Ebrahim: I am the son of a terrorist. Here’s how I chose peace (5.2m views and a TED Book)
And some past Idea Search talks that went viral on TED.com:
Christopher Emdin: Teach teachers how to create magic (2.27 million views)
Lux Narayan: What I learned from 2,000 obituaries (1.65m views)
Lara Setrakian: 3 ways to fix a broken news industry (1.1m views)
Todd Scott: An intergalactic guide to using a defibrillator (1.1m views)
TED's own Cloe Shasha speaks at TED2019
Head of TED Chris Anderson and TED current affairs curator Whitney Pennington Rodgers talk with Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, about the future of one of the world’s most important messaging platforms. They speak at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 16, 2019 in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
Here’s what happened on Tuesday of TED2019. A few news-making highlights first:
Jack Dorsey proposed a new way Twitter could work — by following topics and not individual people and brands. Hmm. Also, fun fact: If he had it to do over again, he would not have built the Like button. Watch for Jack Dorsey’s Q&A with Chris Anderson and Whitney Pennington Rodgers on TED.com today.
Digital Domain’s Doug Roble showed, for the first time outside his studio, a jaw-dropping digital animation tool mapped to a live human actor. This avatar-creating wonder tool could revolutionize filmmaking … and also your next video chat.
The Audacious Project unveiled eight ambitious projects to change the world — from a data-backed approach to fighting racist activity, to a sweeping global drive to breed plants that are better for the planet. Between them — and thanks to a good old-fashioned fund drive last night — they raised a collective $283 million, and each project now has enough seed funding to launch. But they’re only halfway to a collective goal of — wait for it — $567m.
And some larger themes emerged …
Changing, fast and slow: In Chris’s indelible image, Twitter is a ship, Jack Dorsey is the captain, and a few of the passengers have come up from steerage to ask if Dorsey might consider, perhaps, turning away from the path of the iceberg. As Chris says: “You’re showing this extraordinary calm, but we’re all standing outside saying, Jack, turn the f*cking wheel.” Jack’s response: “Quickness will not get this job done.” He’s looking for deeper, systemic change (including a few suggested moves that some Twitter users did not love). Rafael Casal had the same question — “How fast should change happen?” — after he touched off a Twitter firestorm around an issue of racial unfairness. He made one brief point on the platform; it gained traction over a weekend; and it got ugly real fast. Now, he asks: Is social media just too quick on the trigger to allow for nuanced discussion of social change? Working at another timescale altogether, Safeena Husain spoke about a deep investment in the far future — by educating young girls today, starting with the 1.4 million girls in India who never go to school. Investing now, today, in the potential of these girls could have a material effect on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, aimed at creating a better world by 2030. Why not start now?
Playing with personas: As Doug Roble demos his jaw-dropping tool to create detailed, real-time digital renderings of a person — in this case, Doug himself, plus an alternate personality named Elbor — a thought arises: Will this next-gen avatar lead to more deepfakes, more fraudulent online personalities? (The likely answer: Yes, but honestly, what won’t?) Meanwhile, from the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Roger Hanlon told us about shape-shifting cephalopods who change their skin color and texture in a blink, to hide, to mate, to blow human minds. Hanlon suggests their smart skin, and their ability to deploy it in sophisticated ways and in a flash, is an alternative form of intelligence, driven by their strange and wonderful and very, very large brains.
Service and meaning: Matt Cutts worked at Google for almost 17 years, and he took what he thought would be a six-month break to join the US government’s digital service. Three-plus years later, he’s still in government, finding deep meaning and satisfaction in solving problems that affect real people’s lives. At TED Unplugged, he makes the case to his fellow technologists that if you want to really make an impact, you should leave Silicon Valley, wave goodbye to those crazy perks and free meals, and enter a world where office furniture isn’t a given — but the impact is. Julius Maada Bio, the president of Sierra Leone, offered his own take on the meaning of service. He first took power in a military coup, but his goal, he says, was always to return the country to democratic rule. His other major goal: “Sierra Leone must be a secure, peaceful and just society where every person can thrive and contribute.” Over the past decades, he’s moved steadily toward that objective. Plant biologist Joanne Chory is committed to an equally large and far-seeing goal: developing plants that capture carbon better and for longer than common crops do now which will help mitigate our planet’s creeping carbon levels. Her vision, her sense of mission and her nothing-can-stop-me persistence are genuinely inspiring.
Curiosity makes us human: Educator Brittany Packnett meditates on confidence, the hidden skill that powers many of our other skills. Confidence is what helps you put plans into action, and what helps you keep moving even after you fail. What builds confidence? One key factor, she says, is curiosity, the desire to push beyond who you are and what you know. Mentalist Derren Brown taps into the curiosity of the audience by guessing our innermost questions (and even one guy’s password). How did he do it? He’ll never tell. Appearing via robot, David Deutsch meditates on another force that moves us: the drive for new “explanatory knowledge.” As humans, we desire to understand things and explain them and change them and make them new. As he says: “From the human perspective, the only alternative to that living hell of static societies is continual creation of new ideas, behaviors, new kinds of objects.”
Watch the first TED Talk released from TED2019: Carole Cadwalladr.
Step inside the n:ow machine at TED2019 for a micro-meditative experience during the conference hustle. The dome is presented by DuPont at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 15–19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Dian Lofton / TED
I’ll admit it: I’m one of those annoying people who meditates, who likes to talk to non-meditators about meditation, who gets cranky when I don’t meditate, and who likes to talk to non-meditators about how cranky I get when I don’t meditate.
So the n:ow machine from DuPont beckoned to me like an oasis amid the busyness of TED2019, where it’s hard to find time to sit still, let alone meditate. Its tantalizing promise: Step inside this igloo-sized dome for 3 minutes and 14 seconds for a “4-D transformative meditative experience,” as Erica Jensen put it. Jensen is the director of tactile operations — an awe-inspiring job title befitting the n:ow machine — at R/GA, the ad agency that collaborated with DuPont to create the exhibit especially for this year’s TED conference in Vancouver.
Inside the dome are three recliners, each carefully positioned so that you’re facing the ceiling and not the other participants — it was like being in a mini-planetarium. The film started at what Jensen says is “the microbial level,” but the visuals reminded me more of the pulsing, orange-y-ness you see when you close your eyes against the sun.
Suddenly, I found myself in the ocean among hypnotically waving fronds of seaweed. From there, I traveled up to a city with skyscrapers and streets and cars (even an ice cream truck!) and ascended up into the sky until I reached something that looked like the International Space Station.
Haptics made my chair subtly vibrate. A soothing soundtrack played while a hushed woman’s voice — she sounds like she does voiceovers for commercials for cruises or bath products — said things like, “We’re about to travel vast distances to the most important place on earth. It’s not a location but a time: now.”
When I spoke to Jensen afterwards, she told me the settings in the short film were chosen to highlight parts of DuPont’s varied portfolio: the sea interlude showcased its sustainable seaweed program (the company is one of the world’s largest buyers of seaweed for its hydrocolloids, or gels); the city, its autonomous electric vehicle efforts, as well as its creation of emulsifiers and stabilizers that better preserve ice cream (who knew?); and the space station uses its tough, heat-resistant material Kevlar. In keeping with the overall theme of the machine, Jensen says, “These innovations and inventions are happening now; they’re not in the future.”
After TED2019, the n:ow machine will go on the road to other TED events, the DuPont office in Shanghai, and other locations, so as many people as possible can enjoy it. And while sitting in the n:ow machine wasn’t the same as meditation, it provided me with a shot of badly needed calm.
Is this the calmest place at TED2019 right now? Inside the n:ow machine, sponsored by DuPont, at TED2019: Bigger Than Us in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Dian Lofton / TED
DuPont n:ow dome at TED2019
Inside the DuPont n:ow machine at TED2019
Executive Director of the Audacious Project Anna Verghese and Head of TED Chris Anderson help unveil eight big, bold projects that are receiving the support of The Audacious Project in 2019. They speak at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 16, 2019 in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
In the program guide for Session 4 of TED2019, “Audacity,” a group of eight mysterious figures stands silhouetted in black. That’s because the speakers in this session were a total surprise — to those in TED audience and to those tuning in via Twitter Live from around the world. These eight speakers all have big, bold ideas for global change — and they’re representing eight projects that are receiving the support of The Audacious Project in 2019. Over the next three to six years, these ideas have the potential to change broken systems and impact millions of lives in a positive way. And each needs your support. After each idea, find out how you can get involved.
The event: Session 4 of TED2019, hosted by Chris Anderson, Head of TED, and Anna Verghese, Executive Director of the Audacious Project
When and where: Tuesday, April 16, 2019, 5pm, at the Vancouver Convention Centre in Vancouver, BC
Speakers: Phillip Atiba Goff, Joanne Chory, Claudia Miner, David Baker, Safeena Husain and Julie Cordua, with special videos on ideas from Ellen Agler and Mark Tercek
Music: Emeli Sandé singing three beautiful songs: “You Are Not Alone,” “Extraordinary Being” and “Read All About It Part III”
The talks in brief:
“When we change the definition of racism from attitudes to behaviors, we transform that problem from impossible to solvable,” says Phillip Atiba Goff, president of the Center for Policing Equity. He speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 16, 2019 in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Phillip Atiba Goff, behavioral scientist and president of the Center for Policing Equity
Joanne Chory, plant biologist and director of the Plant Biology Laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies
In this jar, there are 200 roundworms — because that’s the number that might be found in the belly of one child with an intestinal worm infection. Ellen Agler, the CEO of the END Fund, has a big plan to end disease from worms. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
Ellen Agler, public health leader, CEO of the END Fund and author of Under the Big Tree
Claudia Miner, historian, education entrepreneur and executive director of Waterford’s UPSTART project
At the Institute for Protein Design, biochemist David Baker and his team are working on five grand challenges: including developing a universal flu vaccine that you would only need to take once. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
David Baker, professor of biochemistry and director of the Institute for Protein Design at the University of Washington School of Medicine
Mark Tercek, global environmental leader and CEO of The Nature Conservancy
Safeena Husain, executive director of Educate Girls, plans to enroll a staggering 1.6 million girls in school in the next five years. She speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 16, 2019 in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
Safeena Husain, social entrepreneur and executive director of Educate Girls
“This Audacious project is a declaration of war against one of humanity’s darkest evils,” says Julie Cordua, social entrepreneur and CEO of Thorn. She speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 16, 2019 in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Julia Cordua, social entrepreneur and CEO of Thorn
And with these eight projects revealed, it’s time for the audience to get involved. Each project has a significant gap between what’s been committed to it so far and what’s needed to complete it. Anderson and Verghese called on the audience at the TED Conference and watching online to donate to the projects that most moved them, and pledges started rolling in, scrolling on the screens on stage.
Together, these eight projects will require $567 million in funding. And between presentations to donor groups earlier in the year and pledges made tonight, they have now raised $283,561,215. Each project is at least halfway funded, and will able to launch. Now … to watch them in action.
Hosts Chee Perlman and Anthony Veneziale keep the showing moving along swiftly, hosting TED Unplugged at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 16, 2019 in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
In a fast-paced session of talks curated by TED arts and design curator Chee Pearlman and hosted with improv leader Anthony Veneziale, 12 members of the TED community shared ideas in a special format: each had to keep their talks under six minutes, with auto-advancing, timed slides. And yes, the mic does cut after six minutes!
The talks in brief:
Entrepreneur Brickson Diamond shares his journey from feeling like a Martian as a kid to finding his tribe. He speaks during TED Unplugged at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 16, 2019 in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Brickson Diamond, entrepreneur and co-chair of the Blackhouse Foundation
Cady Coleman, astronaut who has flown on the Space Shuttle twice and lived on the International Space Station for almost 6 months (and delivered the first TED Talk given in space)
Janet Iwasa, Molecular animator and TED Senior Fellow
“These days I believe less in silver bullets and more in people who show up to help,” says software engineer and public servant Matt Cutts. He speaks during TED Unplugged at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 16, 2019 in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Matt Cutts, Software engineer and public servant
Lucy Farey-Jones, Technology strategist
Bjarke Ingels, (Interplanetary) architect
In an ode to parrotfish, marine biologist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson shares five ways that these reef fish are special. She speaks during TED Unplugged at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 16, 2019 in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, Marine biologist, launching the first think tank for ocean cities
Rob Gore, Emergency room doctor
Stefan Sagmeister, Designer
John Werner, TEDxBeaconStreet organizer
“Everybody deserves access to information about their bodies and the organs inside their bodies — especially the ones that give us pleasure,” says Andrea Barrica. She speaks during TED Unplugged at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 16, 2019 in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Andrea Barrica, Sex tech entrepreneur
David Kwong, Magician and cruciverbalist
Live from Oxford via remote-controlled robot, David Deutsch explains how our ability to attain knowledge could take us across galaxies. He speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us on April 16, 2019 in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED)
Session 3 featured a dazzling celebration of intelligence — from the knowledge coded in our DNA (and a new way we could rewrite it) to one of the most astonishing tech demos ever seen at TED. Let’s jump right in.
The event: Talks and performances from TED2019, Session 3: Intelligence, hosted by TED’s Chris Anderson.
When and where: Tuesday, April 16, 2019, 11:15am, at the Vancouver Convention Centre in Vancouver, BC.
Speakers: David Deutsch, David R. Liu, Brittany Packnett, Roger Hanlon, Derren Brown and Doug Roble
The talks in brief:
Physicist, author, Oxford professor and father of quantum computing David Deutsch, who delivered his talk via a remote-controlled robot
David R. Liu, chemist, biologist, pioneer of genome editing
Confidence invites us to perform with certainty, to operate differently when we’re sure we can win. Brittany Packnett lays out the three things you need to grow your confidence as she speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us on April 16, 2019 in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
Brittany Packnett, educator and activist
Roger Hanlon, marine biologist and expert on camouflaged deep-sea creatures
Derren Brown, illusionist and mentalist
Doug Roble debuts his team’s breakthrough motion capture tech, which renders a 3D likeness in real time — down to Roble’s facial expressions, pores and wrinkles. He speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us on April 16, 2019 in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
Doug Roble, senior director of software R&D at Digital Domain, the Academy Award–winning visual effects studio in Los Angeles, California
Rafael Casal sent a tweet that sparked a weeks-long online protest; he tells the story of what he learned at TED2019: Bigger Than Us on April 16, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED
Power drives everything. Whether it’s political, economic, online — power makes the rules and makes things move. At Session 2 of TED2019, we explore how different centers of global power are dramatically playing out across the world stage.
The event: Talks and performances from TED2019, Session 2: Power, hosted by TED’s Chris Anderson and Whitney Pennington Rodgers
When and where: Tuesday, April 16, 2019, 8:45am, at the Vancouver Convention Centre in Vancouver, BC.
Speakers: Rafael Casal, Jack Dorsey, Adena Friedman, Peter Beck and Julius Maada Bio
The talks in brief:
Rafael Casal, poet, filmmaker, actor (you know him from Blindspotting), activist, incorrigible Tweeter
Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, CEO and chair of Square, and a cofounder of both
As social media disrupts elections worldwide, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey answers tough questions about how to build a healthy network and encourage reflective conversation. He speaks with TED’s Chris Anderson and Whitney Pennington Rodgers during Session 2 of TED2019: Bigger Than Us on April 16, 2019 in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Adena Friedman, President and CEO of Nasdaq
Peter Beck, engineer, CEO of Rocket Lab
Julius Maada Bio, president of Sierra Leone
Hosts Whitney Pennington Rodgers, left, and Helen Walters open Session 2 of TED2019: Bigger Than Us on April 16, 2019 in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter and Square, speaks about Twitter’s impact on the global conversation at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 16, 2019, in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Jack Dorsey is a bit of an enigma. The CEO of Twitter and Square, Dorsey is known for his amazing sense of calm in turbulent times — while his network takes a serious chunk of the blame for the divisiveness seen around the world, both online and off.
At TED2019, head of TED Chris Anderson and TED current affairs curator Whitney Pennington Rodgers join Dorsey to discuss Twitter, the health of the global conversation and how the service could change what it incentivizes users to do — moving away from outrage and mob behavior and towards productive, healthy conversation. Online, users were asked to send in questions via Twitter using the hashtag #AskJackAtTED, and their questions were displayed live on screens behind the stage.
So to start: What worries Jack? “The health of the conversation,” he says. “Our purpose is to serve the public conversation, and we have seen a number of attacks on it. We’ve seen abuse, we’ve seen harassment, we’ve seen manipulation, automatic and human coordination, misinformation … What worries me most is our ability to address it in a systemic way that is scalable.”
And an undue portion of that abuse and harassment is directed toward people of color, specifically black women, Pennington Rodgers notes. How is Twitter creating a safe space for these people?
“It’s a pretty terrible situation when you’re coming to a service where, ideally, you want to learn something about the world, and you spend a majority of your time reporting abuse, receiving harassment,” Dorsey says. “Last year, we decided that we’re going to apply a lot more machine learning, a lot more deep learning to the problem, and try to be a lot more proactive, so we can take the burden off the victim completely.”
Dorsey says that, as of today, about 38 percent of abusive tweets are flagged by algorithms, so users don’t actually have to report them: “That’s up from 0 percent about a year ago.” But humans still review anything that’s flagged before taking it down.
Twitter is also focusing on representation within the company itself. “We can’t build a business that’s successful unless we have a diversity of perspective inside our walls that actually feel these issues every single day.”
What else could change to shift behavior on the platform, to combat harassment and the feeling that Twitter is some sort of gladiatorial combat zone, where harassment and insults reign supreme? “If I had to start the service again, I probably would not emphasize the follower count as much. I would not emphasize the ‘like’ count as much. I don’t think I would even create ‘like’ in the first place — because it doesn’t actually push what we believe now to be the most important thing, which is healthy contribution back to the network.”
Turning to Twitter’s role in elections, Dorsey describes a project to measure conversational health. The company worked with Cortico, a nonprofit affiliated with the MIT Media Lab, to create four measurable indicators of conversational health: shared attention, shared reality, receptivity and variety of perspective. “Implicit in all four of these is the understanding that, as they increase, the conversation gets healthier and healthier,” he says.
But the service needs help — not just indicators — fast. One of the questions flooding in from the online audience asks a question many are asking: What is Twitter doing to get rid of Nazis and other hate groups?
Dorsey says that the company is focused on conduct, like patterns of harassment, more than content. While Twitter has taken some action on the KKK, the American Nazi Party and others, he acknowledges there’s plenty of work left to do, and that people can’t do it alone.
“I don’t think our rules are very understandable,” Dorsey says. “We’re simplifying the rules so that they’re human-readable, so that people can actually understand, themselves, when something is against our terms and when something is not … Our big focus is on removing the burden of work from the victims — both the humans receiving the abuse and the ones having to review it.”
Looking ahead, Dorsey wants Twitter to be a place for reflective engagement, even if that means sacrificing time spent on the site — a major driver of ad revenue. “More relevance means less time on the service, and that’s perfectly fine,” he says.
That said, getting users (and keeping them) on the site every day is definitely important. “Our goal right now, the metric that’s most important, is one around daily active usage,” Dorsey says. “Are we actually delivering something that people value every single day?”
But that doesn’t necessarily mean people will see things they value every day. What about those who are drawn in by the outrage, by the chance to add fuel to the fire, pushing daily active usage — and anger — up?
“You can’t just optimize around one metric,” Dorsey admits. “Ultimately we want to get a metric that says: ‘I learned something from Twitter, and I’m walking away with something valuable.'”
Beyond metrics, how can Twitter dial up the urgency and move on the threats posed to democracy and culture by some of its users?
“We could do a bunch of superficial things, but we need the changes to last,” Dorsey says. “That means questioning how the system works and how the framework works and what is needed for the world today, given how quickly everything is moving … Quickness will not get the job done; it’s focus, it’s prioritization; it’s understanding the fundamentals of the network and building a framework that scales and that is resilient to change — and being open about where we are so we can continue to earn trust.”
Sheperd Doeleman, head of the Event Horizon Telescope, shares how the international collaboration helped us see the unseeable. He speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 15, 2019 in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
The theme of TED2019 is “Bigger than us,” and day 1 did not disappoint. Even though it had just three sessions, they were chock full of compelling ideas and calls for action. Here are seven takeaways:
We’re shining light into some really dark places. Sheperd Doeleman, head of the Event Horizon Telescope collaboration, takes us inside the new (and iconic) black hole image and the epic effort involved in making it. The petabytes (1 petabyte = 1 million GB) of data that were used to construct the image came from a network of telescopes operated by 200 people in 60 countries who, he says, “effortlessly sidestepped the issues that divide us.” (Here’s a thought: Let’s get competing political candidates to work on science projects … together!) And two TED Fellows showed documentary projects that exposed hidden truths: Taghi Amirani shares footage from his just-finished Coup 53, which reveals the British and American conspiracy that overthrew the Iranian government in 1953 and shaped the country’s fate (and his family’s), while Nanfu Wang speaks about One Child Nation, her film about the traumas caused by China’s one-child policy.
And some places still need illumination. British journalist Carole Cadwalladr describes her investigation into the Facebook ads that targeted people with lies prior to the 2016 Brexit vote, but most of the evidence of what occurred remains locked in the “black boxes” of Facebook, Google and Twitter. She urges them to release their data, saying: “It’s a crime scene, and you have the evidence.” Writer Baratunde Thurston shares examples of people in the US who had the police called on them because they were “living while black” — when they went to a swimming pool, donated food to the homeless or played golf, “concerned” observers phoned 911 to report them. Systemic racism underlies these 911 calls, and even though changing it may sound impossible, Thurston has hope. He believes that if we can see the humanity of people targeted by racism, we can change our actions; when we change our actions, we change the story; and when we change the story, we can change the system.
The words we use matter. We’re living in polarizing times, and many fractures occur during our conversations. By tweaking what we say, political pollster Frank Luntz shows how to keep our discussions open and respectful. One standout from his suggestions: instead of saying the passive “I’m listening,” try the active, empathic “I get it.”
Businesses need to look beyond balance sheets and focus on their people. TED Fellow Jess Kutch created coworker.org, a platform that helps employees organize. While it tends to scare executives, Kutch says corporate leaders should view organizing as a positive — it’s what she calls “productive conflict,” offering “an opportunity to build a better workplace, a stronger business and an economy that works for all of us.” (Besides, she notes, the people most passionate about changing their workplace tend to be the people who love their workplace the most.) … Creating a company that puts employees first is part of what Chobani founder Hamdi Ulukaya calls his “anti-CEO playbook.” Other actions in his playbook: Asking communities what they need instead of demanding tax breaks and concessions from them; being accountable to one’s customers rather than one’s shareholders; and taking sides on political issues — because, he says, businesses should use their power to make a difference.
Ethics shouldn’t be an afterthought. While Cadwalladr calls out the tech giants and Ulukaya calls for humanity in business, a slew of TED Fellows echo the theme of responsibility. MIT researcher Arnav Kapur demos a technology that can communicate a person’s thoughts — but he stressed it’s not mind reading. It picks up only “deliberate speech” while “control resides with the user.” … Cofounder and executive director of The Good Food Institute Bruce Friedrich says humans have a responsibility to the earth not to tax it with the consequences of meat consumption. He’s championing research and investment into plant-based and cell-based meat. … Finally, astrodynamicist Moriba Jah speaks about our planet’s responsibility to, well, the rest of the universe. There are more than 500,000 objects in space put there by humans — “most of us what we launch never comes back,” he says. The world’s nations should pool their efforts and data to track the trash.
Music can be used to teach history and biology. Teachers might want to take a lesson from these TED Fellows. Amma Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin shares a rousing excerpt from her in-progress musical At Buffalo, which examines black identity through the events of the 1901 World’s Fair in Buffalo, New York. And biologist Danielle N. Lee led the crowd in a version of Naughty by Nature’s “O.P.P.” to illustrate the concept of “extra-pair copulation.” (Trust us — it was amazing.)
Fishing cats are the cutest cat you’ve never heard of. Oh yes, they are.
That concludes this highly abbreviated rundown of the day’s doings, which also included walking Easter Island statues, innovative ways of creating new medications, a Kenyan music festival with the winning name of “Blankets and Wine” (sign us up!), an astrophysicist who is taking how she studies stellar explosions and applying them to city lights and the criminal justice system, restoring the Maldives with canvas “bladders,” spoken word from the sublime Sarah Kay and Marc Bamuthi Joseph, and much more.
Poet and educator Sarah Kay encourages us to welcome the beauty of the universe, however it may appear. She speaks during Session 1 of TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 15, 2019 in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
The world feels fragile these days, a bit wobbly. How do we figure out a way forward? At TED2019, we’re taking a painfully honest look at what’s going on, laying out shared values, exploring a common purpose — and seeing how we can build something meaningful together: an idea, vision, ambition that’s bigger than us.
The event: Talks and performances from TED2019, Session 1: Truth, hosted by TED’s Chris Anderson and Helen Walters.
When and where: Monday, April 15, 2019, 5pm, at the Vancouver Convention Centre in Vancouver, BC.
Speakers: Sarah Kay, Sheperd Doeleman, Carole Cadwalladr, Frank Luntz, Baratunde Thurston and Hamdi Ulukaya.
Music: Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit, performing three original songs: “King of the World,” “Nothing Has to Be True” and “My Silver Lining.”
The talks in brief:
Sarah Kay, poet and educator
How can you see the unseeable? Astrophysicist Sheperd Doeleman explains how his global team behind the Event Horizon Telescope captured the first-ever image of a black hole. He speaks with TED’s Chris Anderson during Session 1 of TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 15, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
Sheperd Doeleman, director of the Event Horizon Telescope project
Carole Cadwalladr, investigative journalist for the Guardian and Observer and Pulitzer Prize finalist
Frank Luntz, communications advisor, pollster and wordsmith whose work coining terms like “climate change” and the “death tax” helped to define contemporary American politics
“Systems are just collective stories we all buy into. When we change them, we write a better reality for us all to be a part of,” says writer and activist Baratunde Thurston. He speaks during Session 1 of TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 15, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED)
Baratunde Thurston, humorist, activist and writer of the New York Times bestseller How to Be Black
Hamdi Ulukaya, founder and CEO of Chobani