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Aujourd’hui — 21 juillet 2019TED Blog

Getting ready for TEDSummit 2019: Photo gallery

Par Brian Greene

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)



À partir d’avant-hierTED Blog

Trailblazers: A night of talks in partnership with The Macallan

Par Daryl Chen

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

  • Big idea: Over his eight-year prison sentence, Marcus Bullock was sustained by his mother’s love — and her photos of cheeseburgers. Years later, as an entrepreneur, he asked himself, “How can I help make it easier for other families to deliver love to their own incarcerated loved ones?”
    Communicating with prisoners is notoriously difficult and dominated by often-predatory telecommunications companies. By creating Flikshop — an app that allows inmates’ friends and families to send physical picture postcards into prison with the ease of texting — Marcus Bullock is bypassing the billion-dollar prison telecommunications industry and allowing hundreds of thousands of prisoners access to the same love and motivation that his mother gave him.
  • Quote of the talk: “I stand today with a felony, and just like millions of others around the country who also have that ‘F’ on their chest, just as my mom promised me many years ago, I wanted to show them that there was still life after prison.”

“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

  • Big idea: Fashion designers have a responsibility to create inclusive designs suited for all gender expressions, ages, ability levels, ethnicities and races — and by doing so, they can shatter our limited definition of beauty.
    From day one in school, fashion designers are taught to create for a certain type of body, painting “thin, white, cisgender, able-bodied, young models as the ideal,” says fashion designer Becca McCharen-Tran. This has made body-shaming a norm for so many who strive to assimilate to the illusion of perfection in fashion imagery. McCharen-Tran believes creators are responsible for reimagining and expanding what a “bikini body” is. Her swimwear focused clothing line CHROMAT celebrates beauty in all its forms. They unapologetically counter the narrative through inclusive, explosive designs that welcome all of the uniqueness that comes with being a human.
  • Quote of the talk: “Inclusivity means nothing if it’s only surface level … who is making the decisions behind the scenes is just as important. It’s imperative to include diverse decision-makers in the process, and it’s always better to collaborate with different communities rather than trying to speak for them.”

Amy Padnani, editor at the New York Times (or, as some of her friends call her, the “Angel of Death”)

  • Big idea: No one deserves to be overlooked in life, even in death.
    Padnani created “Overlooked,” a New York Times series that recognizes the stories of dismissed and marginalized people. Since 1851, the newspaper has published thousands of obituaries for individuals like heads of state and celebrities, but only a small amount of those obits chronicled the lives of women and people of color. With “Overlooked,” Padnani forged a path for the publication to right the wrongs of the past while refocusing society’s lens on who’s considered important. Powerful in its ability to perspective-shift and honor those once ignored, “Overlooked” is also on track to become a Netflix series.
  • Fun fact: Prior to Padnani’s breakout project, the New York Times had yet to publish obituaries on notable individuals in history such as Ida B. Wells, Sylvia Plath, Ada Lovelace and Alan Turing.

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

  • Big idea: Many of the fruits that have been grown in the US were originally brought there by immigrants. But due to industrialization, disease and climate change, American farmers produce just a fraction of the types available a century ago. Sam Van Aken has hand-grafted heirloom varieties of stone fruit — peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines and cherries — to make the “Tree of 40 Fruit.” What began as an art project to showcase their multi-hued blossoms has become a living archive of rare specimens and their histories; a hands-on (and delicious!) way to teach people about conservation and cultivation; and a vivid symbol of the need for biodiversity in order to ensure food security. Van Aken has created and planted his trees at museums and at people’s homes, and his largest project to date is the 50-tree Open Orchard — which, in total, will possess 200 varieties originated or historically grown in the region — on Governor’s Island in New York City.
  • Fun fact: One hundred years ago, there were over 2,000 varieties of peaches, nearly 2,000 varieties of plums, and nearly 800 named apple varieties grown in the United States.
  • Quote of the talk: “More than just food, embedded in these fruit is our culture. It’s the people who cared for and cultivated them, who valued them so much that they brought them here with them as a connection to their homes, and it’s the way they passed them on and shared them. In many ways, these fruit are our story.”

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

  • Big idea: Despite having a disease that left him vulnerable to stares in public, Lee Thomas discovered he could respond to ignorance and fear with engagement and dialogue.
    As a news anchor, Lee Thomas used makeup to hide the effects of vitiligo, an autoimmune disorder that left large patches of his skin without pigmentation. But without makeup, he was vulnerable to derision — until he decided to counter misunderstanding with eye contact and conversation. Ultimately, an on-camera story on his condition led him to start a support group and join others in celebrating World Vitiligo Day.
  • Quote of the talk: “Positivity is something worth fighting for — and the fight is not with others, it’s internal. If you want to make positive changes in your life, you have to consistently be positive.”



One great way to celebrate Pride Month: Document LGBTQ history before it’s lost

Par Michael Ryan

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: 

  • Make a pledge to record an LGBTQ story.
  • Record it with by using the StoryCorps App, which provides start-to-finish tools for the process.
  • Use the app to listen to Stonewall OutLoud stories.
  • Spread the word about Stonewall OutLoud on your networks using the #StonewallOutLoud.



Apply to be a TED2020 Fellow

Par TED Staff

Apply to be a TED2020 Fellow

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:

  • 472 Fellows covering a vast array of disciplines, from astrophysics to the arts
  • 96 countries represented
  • More than 1.3 million views per TED Talk given by Fellows (on average)
  • At least 90 new businesses and 46 nonprofits fostered within the program

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.

Apply now to be a TED Fellow by August 27, 2019.

What’s in it for you?

  • The opportunity to give a talk on the TED mainstage
  • Career coaching and speaker training
  • Mentorship, professional development and public relations guidance
  • The opportunity to be part of a diverse, collaborative community of more than 450 thought leaders
  • Participation in the global TED2020 conference in Vancouver, BC

What are the requirements?

  • An idea worth spreading!
  • A completed online application consisting of general biographical information, short essays on your work and three references (It’s short, fun, and it’ll make you think…)
  • You must be at least 18 years old to apply.
  • You must be fluent in English.
  • You must be available to be in Vancouver, BC from April 17 to April 25, 2020.

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.

TED2020 Fellow


7 things you can do in Edinburgh and nowhere else

Par Ellen Maloney

Edinburgh, Scotland will host TEDSummit this summer, from July 21-25. The city was selected because of its special blend of history, culture and beauty, and for its significance to the TED community (TEDGlobal 2011, 2012 and 2013 were all held there). We asked longtime TEDster Ellen Maloney to share some of her favorite activities that showcase Edinburgh’s unique flavor.


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.

St. Cecilia’s Hall and Music Museum

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.

Innocent Railway Tunnel

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.

The Library of Mistakes

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.

Blair Street Vaults

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.  

Sanctuary Stones and Holyrood Abbey

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.

White Stuff fitting rooms

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.

Jupiter Artland

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.

TEDSummit is a celebration of the different communities and people that make up TED and help spread its world-changing ideas. Learn more about TEDSummit 2019. And to find even more to do in Edinburgh and Scotland, visit


TEDGlobal 2013 in Edinburgh, Scotland. June 12-15, 2013. Photo: Bret Hartman


Rethink: A night of talks in partnership with Brightline Initiative

Par Daryl Chen

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  

  • Big idea: Asking for help can be awkward and embarrassing, but we all need to get comfortable with doing it.
    The most important thing about asking for help is to do it — out loud, explicitly, directly. Grant provides four tips to ensure that your ask will get a yes. First, be clear about what kind of help you need. No one wants to give “bad” help, so if they don’t understand what you’re looking for, they probably won’t respond. Next, avoid disclaimers, apologies and bribes — no prefacing your ask with, “I really hate to do this” or offering to pay for assistance, which makes others feel uneasy and self-conscious. Third, don’t ask for help over email or text, because it’s too easy for someone to say “no” electronically; do it face-to-face or in a phone call. And last, follow up after and tell the other person exactly how their help benefited you.
  • Quote of the talk: “The reality of modern work and modern life is that nobody does it alone. Nobody succeeds in a vacuum. More than ever, we actually do have to rely on other people, on their support and their collaboration, in order to be successful.”

Stuart Oda, urban farm innovator, cofounder and CEO of Alesca Life

  • Big idea: The future of farming is looking up — literally.
    Recent innovations in food production technology allows us to grow up — 40 stories, even — rather than across, like in traditional farming. The efficiency of this vertical method lessens the amount of soil, water, physical space and chemical pesticides used to generate year-round yields of quality vegetables, for less money and more peace of mind. Oda shares a vision for a not-too-distant future where indoor farms are integrated seamlessly into cityscapes, food deserts no longer exist, and nutrition for all reigns supreme.
  • Fun fact: In 2050, our global population is projected to reach 9.8 billion. We’ll need to grow more food in the next 30 to 40 years than in the previous 10,000 years combined to compensate.

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

  • Big idea: We can eliminate corruption by investing in innovative businesses that target scarce products.
    Conventional thinking about reducing corruption goes like this: in order to eliminate it, you put laws in place, development inspires investment, and the economy booms. Prosperity researcher Efosa Ojomo thinks we have this equation backwards. Through years of researching what makes societies prosperous, he’s found that the best way to stem corruption is to encourage investment in businesses that can wipe out the scarcity that spurs coercion, extortion and fraud. “Corruption, especially for most people in poor countries, is a workaround. It’s a utility in a place where there are fewer options to solve a problem. It’s their best solution to the problem of scarcity,” Ojomo says. Entrepreneurs who address scarcity in corruption-ridden regions could potentially eliminate it across entire sectors of markets, he explains. Take, for example, Mo Ibraham, the founder of mobile telecommunications company Celtel. His highly criticized idea to create an African cellular carrier put affordable cell phones in several sub-Saharan African countries for the first time, and today nearly every country there has its own carrier. It’s “market-creating innovations” like these that ignite major economic progress — and make corruption obsolete.
  • Quote of talk: “Societies don’t develop because they’ve reduced corruption; they’re able to reduce corruption because they’ve developed.”

Shannon Lee, podcaster and actress

  • Big idea: Shannon Lee’s famous father Bruce Lee died when she was only four years old, yet she still treasures his philosophy of self-actualization: how to be yourself in the best way possible.
    Our lives benefit when we can connect our “why” (our passions and purpose) to our “what” (our jobs, homes and hobbies). But how to do it? Like a martial artist, Lee says: by finding the connecting “how” that consistently and confidently expresses our values. If we show kindness and love in one part of our life yet behave harshly in another, then we are fragmented — and we cannot progress gracefully from our “why” to our “what.” To illustrate this philosophy, Lee asks the audience to consider the question, “How are you?” Or rather, “How can I fully be me?”
  • Quote of the talk: “There were not multiple Bruce Lees: there was not private and public Bruce Lee, or teacher Bruce Lee and actor Bruce Lee and family-man Bruce Lee. There was just one, unified, total Bruce Lee.”

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

  • Big idea: To change people’s behavior, you can’t just give them information on what they should do. You have to actually change the environment in which they’re making decisions.
    To bridge the gap between a current behavior and a desired behavior, you must first reduce the friction, or remove the little obstacles and annoyances between those two endpoints. Then you need to think broadly about what new motivations you could bring into that person’s life. Financial literacy is great, for instance, but the positive impact of such information wears off after a few days. What else could be done to help people put more away for a rainy day? You could ask their kids to send a weekly text reminding them to save money, or you could give them some kind of visual reminder — perhaps a coin — to help even more. There’s a lot we can do to spark behavioral change, Ariely says. The key is to get creative and experiment with the ways we do it.
  • Quote of the talk: “Social science has made lots of strides, and the basic insight is … the right way is not to change people — it’s to change the environment.”



A new malaria vaccine begins testing in Malawi and more TED news

Par Yasmin Belkhyr

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 and you may see it included in this round-up.



A first glimpse at the TEDSummit 2019 speaker lineup

Par TED Staff

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 original podcast The TED Interview kicks off Season 2

Par TED Staff

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.

Listen to the first episode with Bill Gates now on Apple Podcasts.

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.



A new mission to mobilize 2 million women in US politics … and more TED news

Par Yasmin Belkhyr

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



Previewed at TED: Microfluidics sweat analysis from Gatorade

Par TED Staff

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.

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Meyer Sound at TED, from the stage to the stars

Par Emily McManus
Small but mighty speakers from Meyer Sound helped bring sound into the front rows at TED2019

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.”

Mina Sabet, TED's director of production/video operations

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 tranquil simulcast room became a chillout lounge between sessions, with sound environment from Meyer 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.

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.

TEDsters are optimists who get great ideas in the shower: the Brightline data experience at TED2019

Par Daryl Chen
Attendees line up to vote on where great ideas are born: at the office or in the shower. Guess who won.

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

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.

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
Traditions, 290

4. Who do you share ideas with?
Everyone, 219
Trusted circle, 199

3. The world needs more …
Artists, 284
Engineers, 148

2. The future of humanity is in …
Creating, 271
Adapting, 168

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

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

Remembering Harry Marks, co-founder of the TED Conference

Par Emily McManus

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 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.



In Case You Missed It: Highlights from TED2019

Par Brian Greene

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)



“Presence creates possibility”: America Ferrera at TED2019

Par Yasmin Belkhyr
America Ferrera speaks at TED2019

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.

America Ferrera speaks at TED2019

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

The TED2019 film festival: Conference shorts

Par Reid Catlett

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



Meaning: Notes from Session 12 of TED2019

Par Daryl Chen
Eric Liu speaks at TED2019

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

  • Big idea: Instead of feeling despair at the state of the world, we need to commit to living as active, responsible citizens of our societies.
  • How? At a time when the free world seems leaderless, Liu says that we should seek hope not in leadership but in each other. His proposal: that we learn to practice “civic religion” and commit to being active in our citizenship. In pursuit of this, Liu started Civic Saturdays in 2016. These take a similar format to faith-based gatherings, with songs and sermons, but they all stem from shared ideals and a desire for fellowship. Participants then work together to organize rallies, register voters and improve their communities. Liu hopes this can counter the emerging culture of hyperindividualism, where “we are realizing now that a free-for-all is not the same as freedom for all,” and instead build community where we feel empowered to bring about, and not wait for, meaningful change.
  • Quote of the talk:Power without character is a cure worse than the disease.”

Yeonmi Park, human rights activist

  • Big idea: Everything must be taught, even the fundamentals we sometimes take for granted: freedom, compassion, love.
  • How? Right vs. wrong, justice vs. injustice — these aren’t concepts we inherently understand, says human rights activist Yoenmi Park. Telling her story of escape from North Korea, Park says that life there is “a totally different planet.” She gives an unsettling example: there’s only one definition of love in North Korea — “love for the Dear Leader.” Romantic love doesn’t exist as a concept or possibility. And for most North Koreans, neither does freedom. Now a US citizen, Park calls for us to fight for North Koreans — for all oppressed people around the world — who cannot speak for themselves. Freedom is fragile, she says. Who will fight for us when we’re not free?
  • Quote of the talk: “Nothing is forever in this world, and that’s why we have every reason to be hopeful.”

David Brooks, political and cultural commentator, New York Times Op-Ed columnist

  • Big idea: Our society is not only sinking into economic, environmental and political crises — we’re also mired in a deepening social crisis, trapped in a valley of isolation and fragmentation. How do we find our way out of this valley?
  • How? Society tells us that success is everything, that those with less success are less important, and that we can bootstrap ourselves to happiness without the help of other people. All of these maxims, says David Brooks, are lies. Brooks believes that those he calls “weavers” — community workers who re-knit social bonds on a local level — will create a “cultural and relational revolution” that leads each of us out of loneliness and into a new world of joy and social connection.
  • Quote of the talk: “We need a cultural and relational revolution … My theory of social change is that society changes when a small group of people find a better way to live, and the rest of us copy them.”

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

  • Big idea: As we start to live longer, we will spend more of our lives navigating between being sick and well. We need to break down the idea that the two are wholly separate.
  • How? Jaouad’s recovery from leukemia in her mid-20s is best described in her own words: “The hardest part of my cancer experience began once the cancer was gone. That heroic journey of the survivor we see in movies and watch play out on Instagram? It’s a myth. It isn’t just untrue; it’s dangerous, because it erases the very real challenges of recovery.” Nothing about being ill had prepared her for re-entering the world of the well. So Jaouad calls on us to break down the boundary between the two. “If we can all accept that we are not either ‘well’ or ‘sick’ but sometimes in between, sometimes forever changed by our experiences, we can live better.”
  • Quote of the talk: “You can be held hostage by the worst thing that’s ever happened to you and allow it you hijack your remaining days, or you can find a way forward.”

America Ferrera, actor, director and activist

  • Big idea: By putting representation into practice in our media, we can honor the extraordinary richness of humanity.
  • How? 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. She gave voice to multi-dimensional characters typically uncentered in media, allowing them to “exist in the center of their own lives.” But that wasn’t enough: though directors and producers would privately praise diversity efforts, the entertainment industry was slow to change. This was frustrating because shows like Ugly Betty gave people around the world — including Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai — their first chance to see themselves onscreen. But if we stay courageous and ensure our actions follow our intentions, Ferrera says, we can create media that reflects the world we live in and honors the genuine humanity of all.
  • Quote of the talk: “Change will come when each of us has the courage to question our own fundamental values and beliefs and see to it that our actions lead to our best intentions.”

Bina Venkataraman, writer and futurist

  • Big idea: As both descendants and ancestors of civilization, we must step out of our culture of immediacy and fight the allure of everyday minutiae, and think of generations to come.
  • How? Own up to the mistakes we’ve made and redesign the communities, businesses and institutions that fail at helping us prepare for things to come. What we measure, reward and fail to imagine keeps us from making strides toward shared, significant success as a species. Our foresight is impaired — in order to fix it, we need to shift and see the world and the people in it as a part of a shared resource, where the progress we make now can make be passed down to our collective children and grandchildren.
  • Quote of the talk: When we think about the future, we tend focus on predicting exactly what’s next; whether we’re using horoscopes or algorithms to do that, we spend a lot less time imagining all the possibilities the future holds.”



Bigger than us: The art on screen at TED2019

Par Reid Catlett

The stage visuals for the Knowledge session.

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.

The stage visuals for the Wonder 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 :).

The stage visuals for the Knowledge session.

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.

The stage visuals for the Mystery session.

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.


The stage visuals for the Possibility session.

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.

The stage visuals for the Meaning session.


Production Design & Stage visuals


Anthony Diehl
Creative Director

Gordie Cochran

Arielle Ratzlaff

Matt Chinworth

Mike Ellis

Nick Counter
Illustration & Animation

Nick Ladd
Illustration & Animation

Jordan Bergren
Illustration & Animation

Stephanie Stromenger

Eleena Bakrie

John Poon
Sound Design

Ryan Woolfolk

Jonathan Bostic



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.

Anyone can be an underwater explorer: Trident underwater drone at TED2019

Par Brian Greene

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.



In Case You Missed It: Highlights from day 4 of TED2019

Par Brian Greene

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.



Steelcase at TED2019: A colorful mural spreads an inspiring message of collaboration

Par Daryl Chen

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



Wonder: Notes from Session 11 of TED2019

Par Daryl Chen
Richard Bona performs at TED2019

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

  • Big idea: Awe is more than an experience; it’s a physiological state of mind, one that could positively influence how we approach conflict and uncertainty.
  • How? Humans possess a fundamental need for closure that, when unmet, often turns to conflict-heavy emotions like fear and anger. The antidote may be one of our most profound perceptual experiences: awe. Lotto and his team recorded the brain activity of 280 people before, during and after watching a Cirque du Soleil performance, discovering promising insights. In a state of awe, research shows that humans experience more connection to others and more comfort with uncertainty and risk-taking. These behaviors demonstrate that a significant shift in how we approach conflict is possible — with humility and courage, seeking to understand rather than convince. Read how this talk was co-created by Beau Lotto’s Lab of Misfits and the Cirque du Soleil.
  • Quote of the talk: “Awe is neither positive nor negative. What’s really important is the context in which you create awe.”

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, actor, filmmaker and founder of HITRECORD

  • Big idea: If your creativity is driven by a desire to get attention, you’re never going to be creatively fulfilled. What drives truly fulfilling creativity? Paying attention.
  • How? Social media platforms are fueled by getting attention, and more and more people are becoming experts at it — turning creativity from a joyous expression into a means to an end. But while Joseph Gordon-Levitt certainly knows what it feels like to get attention — he’s been in show business since he was 6, after all — he realized that the opposite feeling, paying attention, is the real essence of creativity. He describes the feeling of being locked in with another actor — thinking about and reacting only to what they’re doing, eliminating thoughts about himself. So get out there and collaborate, he says. Read more about Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s talk here.
  • Quote of the talk: “It’s 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, or that might otherwise grab my attention, it all goes away.”
Jon Gray speaks at TED2019

“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

  • Big idea: We can bring people together, connect cultures and break stereotypes through food.
  • How? Jon Gray is a founder of Ghetto Gastro, a collective based in the Bronx that works at the intersection of food, art and design. Their goal is to craft products and experiences that challenge perceptions. At first, Gray and his co-creators aimed to bring the Bronx to the wider world. Hosting an event in Tokyo, for example, they served a Caribbean patty made with Japanese Wagyu beef and shio kombu — taking a Bronx staple and adding international flair. Now Ghetto Gastro is bringing the world to the Bronx. The first step: their recently opened “idea kitchen” — a space where they can foster a concentration of cultural and financial capital in their neighborhood.
  • Quote of the talk: “Breaking bread has always allowed me to break the mold and connect with people.”
Daniel Lismore speaks at TED2019

“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

  • Big idea: We can all make ourselves into walking masterpieces. While it takes courage — and a lot of accessories — to do so, the reward is being able to express our true selves.
  • How? Drawing from a massive, 6,000-piece collection that occupies a 40-foot container, three storage units and 30 IKEA boxes, Lismore creates himself anew every day. His materials range from beer cans and plastic crystals to diamonds, royal silks and 2,000-year-old Roman rings. And he builds his outfits from instinct, piling pieces on until — like a fashion-forward Goldilocks — everything feels just right.
  • Quote of the talk: “I have come to realize that confidence is a concept you can choose. I have come to realize that authenticity is necessary and it’s powerful. I have spent time trying to be like other people; it didn’t work. it’s a lot of hard work not being yourself.”
Es Devlin speaks at TED2019

“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

  • Big idea: Art is about communication and expression, and designers have the power to foster lasting connections and deep empathy with their work.
  • How? Es Devlin weaves boundless thinking into her stunning stage designs, emphasizing empathy, intimacy and connection for the performers and the audience. As a set designer for some of the world’s most iconic performers and events — including Beyoncé’s Formation tour, Adele’s first live concert in five years, U2 and Kanye West, among many others — Devlin dives into the heart of each performer’s work. She sculpts visual masterpieces that reflect the shape and sound of each artist she works with. Audiences come to shows for connection and intimacy, Devlin says, and it’s the task of set designers, directors and artists to deliver it for the fans.
  • Quote of the talk: “Most of what I’ve made over the last 25 years doesn’t exist anymore — but our work endures in memories, in synaptic sculptures in the minds of those who were once present in the audience.”

Juna Kollmeier, astrophysicist

  • Big idea: Mapping the observable universe is … a pretty epic proposition. But it’s actually humanly achievable.
  • How? We’ve been mapping the stars for thousands of years, but the Sloan Digital Sky Survey is on a special mission: to create the most detailed three-dimensional maps of the universe ever made. Led by Kollmeier, the project divides the sky into three “mappers” that it documents: galaxies, black holes and stars. Our own Milky Way galaxy has 250 billion(ish) stars. “That is a number that doesn’t make practical sense to pretty much anybody,” says Kollmeier. We’re not going to map all of those anytime soon. But galaxies? We’re getting there. On our current trajectory, we’ll map every large galaxy in the observable universe by 2060, she says.
  • Quote of the talk: “Black holes are among the most perplexing objects in the universe. Why? Because they are literally just math incarnate in a physical form that we barely understand.”
Juna Kollmeier speaks at TED2019

“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

The key to creativity? Start paying attention: Joseph Gordon-Levitt speaks at TED2019

Par Oliver Friedman

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.



Co-creating an “experiential experiment” to measure awe

Par Emily McManus
Beau Lotto + Cirque du Soleil performs at TED2019

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.”

Genevieve Laurendeau and Beau Lotto speak with host Helen Walters

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

Connection: Notes from Session 10 of TED2019

Par Mary Halton

“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

  • Big idea: The West needs to adapt its strategy for working with the growing Asian economy.
  • How? Asia has, Mahbubani says, experienced three silent revolutions in recent decades that powered its growth as a global power: one in economics, one in outlook and a third in improved governance. While he believes these have been, at least in part, due to the spread of “Western wisdom,” he feels the West became distracted while Asia rose. Mahbubani recommends that the West adopt a strategy of minimalist intervention in other societies and embrace multilateral collaboration — especially as it makes up only 12 percent of the global population.
  • Quote of the talk: “Clearly minimalism can work. The West should try it out.”

Wajahat Ali, journalist and lawyer

  • Big idea: Falling birth rates around the world will have catastrophic effects. By increasing access to health and child care, we can make it easier — and cheaper — to have children.
  • How? Having children is expensive and difficult, but it’s necessary for the sake of our future. Our planet’s challenge moving forward isn’t overpopulation, Ali says, but underpopulation: Young people aren’t having enough kids — and this is a nearly universal problem. In China and Europe, for instance, shrinking populations could lead to labor shortages, catalyzing economic calamity. Aging populations have always relied on younger generations to care for them — we lose this, too, when we don’t have children. So, what’s stopping people from having kids? Mostly, it’s the cost. Governments need to provide child care, health care and paid parental leave so that more people can have kids and we can secure the future.
  • Quote of the talk: “Babies have always represented humanity’s best, boldest, most beautiful infinite possibilities. If we opt out and don’t invest in present and future generations, then what’s the point?”

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

  • Big idea: In our multicultural, intersectional society, we can change our everyday get-togethers (parties, dinners, holidays) into meaningful and transformative gatherings.
  • How? With just three straightforward, yet playful, steps: embrace a specific purpose, cause good controversy and create a thoughtful set of one-time rules for attendees to follow. It may sound odd, but when diverse groups are temporarily allowed to change and harmonize their behavior, something amazing happens: people find a way into each other without discomfort. Collective meaning is attainable in modern life, Parker says, when we’re intentional about how and why we interact.
  • Quote of the talk: “The way we gather matters, because how we gather is how we live.”

Barbara J. King, biological anthropologist and writer

  • Big idea: Animals grieve, much like humans do. Once we accept that grief — and the love from which it emerges — doesn’t belong to humans alone, we can make a better, kinder world for animals.
  • How? After losing a family or tribe member, animals may rock, pace or wail. They often withdraw socially, fail to eat and sleep — as happened with the orca Tahlequah, who made global headlines for mourning the loss of her offspring. Many scientists still dispute animal grief, claiming its the work of our own anthropomorphism. Yet by comparing animals’ pre- and post-death behavior, King sees undeniable proof that some animals do indeed grieve. Will science one day report on bereaved bees? Likely not. On toads who mourn? King doesn’t expect so, since the ability to form meaningful, one-to-one relationships is the key to animal grief, and not all species do it. But in knowing, for example, that orcas feel deeply and elephants love, we can fight the mistreatment of the creatures we share this planet with — and create a kinder, safer world for all.
  • Quote of the talk: “Animals don’t grieve like we do, yet it’s just as real: it’s searing. We can see it if we choose.”

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

  • Big idea: Film offers us the power of connection to something bigger than ourselves.
  • How? The son of immigrant parents, Chu remembers that his family never felt “normal” – mostly because they never saw themselves represented on screen. But after his father equipped him with a video recorder on their family vacation, everything changed. He showed his family the footage afterward, and they cried — finally, they felt like they belonged. In the decades since, Chu made a number of Hollywood hits, but found himself at creative loss a couple years ago. That’s when Crazy Rich Asians came along — and the rest is history. Millions of people just like his family saw themselves represented on the big screen, feeling pride in their existence and story. He credits his success to connections he’s made throughout life — the ones that were sparked by generosity, kindness and hope. Read more about Jon M. Chu’s TED Talk.
  • Quote of the talk: “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.”



Connection is a superpower: Jon M. Chu speaks at TED2019

Par Samantha Resnik

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.”



The secret life of plant music

Par Karen Frances Eng
Data Garden Quartet at TED2019

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?

Listen here >>

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

Data Garden Quartet at TED2019: Bigger Than Us. April 15 – 19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED



Data Garden Quartet at TED2019

Play: Notes from Session 9 of TED2019

Par Mary Halton

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 and TwitchTV and part-time partner at Y Combinator

  • Big idea: Video games are a modern version of communal storytelling, with audiences both participating and viewing as they sit around their virtual campfires.
  • How? As on-demand entertainment becomes more accessible via the internet, consuming broadcast media has become a solitary and sometimes isolating activity. But interactive gaming — and, believe it or not, watching other people play video games — is reversing this trend, and helping to build new communities. Platforms like Twitch allow millions of viewers to view and comment on games, turning livestreamed gaming into multiplayer entertainment.
  • Quote of the talk: “Picture millions of campfires … huge, roaring bonfires with hundreds of thousands of people around them. Some of them are smaller, more intimate community gatherings where everyone knows your name.”

Janelle Shane, AI humorist

  • Big idea: The danger of AI is not that it’s too smart — but that it’s not smart enough.
  • How? Shane runs with blog AI Weirdness, a collection of the (often hilarious) antics of AI algorithms as they try to imitate human datasets. (Examples: AI-generated ice cream flavors and a recipe for horseradish brownies.) Despite the widespread celebration of AI, the truth is they don’t yet measure up to the versatile, free-associating human brain. And sometimes, the consequences can be dire, as with a self-driving car trained to identify the back of a truck on a highway — but not what it looks like sideways, leading to a fatal accident. So we need to separate science fiction from reality, Shane says, to be skeptical about AI claims that seem too good to be true. Surely, this tech will get better — but if we trust the answers it currently gives us without checking, it can be dangerous.
  • Quote of the talk: “AI can be really destructive and and not know it.”

Ivan Poupyrev, inventor, scientist, designer of interactive products

  • Big idea: Keyboards and touchscreens shouldn’t be the only way we access computing power. With a bit of collaboration, we can design literally anything to be plugged into the internet — blending digital interactivity with everyday analog objects.
  • How? The world of things is much vaster than the world of computers. If designers of objects had a simple way to build internet connectivity into their creations, even non-engineers could build interactive devices. Poupyrev invents tech — including an interface called Tag — that makes it possible for any object to connect to the cloud, opening the door to things like smart running shoes and interfaces in your clothes.
  • Quote of the talk: “We are walking around with supercomputers in our pockets. How amazing is that? So it’s disappointing that the way we use computers — the way we interact with them — hasn’t changed. We’re stuck in the screens with our faces, not seeing the world around us? That’s not the future I imagine.”

Jamie Paik, founder and director of the Reconfigurable Robotics Lab

  • Big idea: Robots of the future shouldn’t just be built to serve one function. Instead, they should be highly adaptable — and we can take our design cues from origami.
  • How? Paik realized early in her career that truly useful robots would need to look different from the humanoids she’d been working on. Those best adapted to help humanity would be much closer to Transformers: capable of adapting to any environment and task on Earth … or off. Taking design cues from origami, Paik and her team created robogamis: folding robots made out of a thin, paper-like material that can morph and reshape themselves as the situation demands. This makes them cheaper and more efficient to launch into space — and even land on another planet. When paired with a haptic interface, they could train medical students by re-creating the precise sensation of doing surgery. “These robots will no longer look like the characters from the movies,” Paik says. “Instead, they will be whatever you want them to be.”
  • Quote of the talk: “For robogamis, there’s no one fixed shape or task. They can transform into anything, anytime, anywhere.”

Herman Narula, entrepreneur, gamer, cofounder and CEO of Improbable

  • Big idea: The most important technological change happening in the world right now isn’t AI, space travel or biotech. It’s video games.
  • How? Video games are more than entertainment. Just look at the scale of gamers: a full third of the world’s population (2.6 billion people) find the time to game, plugging into massive networks of interaction. These networks let people exercise a social muscle they might not otherwise exercise. And this is sorely needed: while social media seems to amplify our differences, games create a space for us to empathize with one another. Their economic impact will be profound: as long as you can access a cell phone, the chance to create and contribute to the gaming universe is yours for the taking. The future of gaming, in Narula’s eyes, means working together and understanding one another — despite deep divisions and differences.
  • Quote of the talk: “The reality is there are worlds you can build right here, right now, that can transform people’s lives. Let’s engage. Let’s actually try to make this something we shape in a positive way.”

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)



Mystery: Notes from Session 8 of TED2019

Par Brian Greene

“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

  • Big idea: We have the power — and responsibility — to steer digital conversation away from noxious conspiracies and toward an open, equal world.
  • How? The internet isn’t inherently toxic or wholesome — after all, it’s shaped by us, every day. Andrew Marantz would know: he’s spent three years interviewing the loudest, cruelest people igniting conversation online. He discovered that people can be radicalized to hate through social media, messaging boards and other internet rabbit holes because these tools maximize their algorithms for engagement at all costs. And what drives engagement? Intense emotion, not facts or healthy debate. Marantz calls for social media companies to change their algorithms — and, in the meantime, offers three ways we can help build a better internet: Be a smart skeptic; know that “free speech” is only the start of the conversation; and emphasize human decency over empty outrage. The internet is vast and sometimes terrible, but we can make little actions to make it a safer, healthier and more open place. So, keep sharing cute cat memes!
  • Quote of the talk: “We’ve ended up in this bizarre dynamic online where some people see bigoted propaganda as being edgy, and see basic truth and human decency as pearl-clutching.”

“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

  • Big idea: Climate change is affecting the foods we love — and not in a good way. The time to act is now.
  • How? As we continue to burn fossil fuels, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere rises. This much we know. But Ebi’s team is discovering a new wrinkle in our changing climate: all this CO2 is altering the nutritional quality of some key global staples, like rice, potatoes and wheat. Indeed, the very chemistry of these crops is being modified, reducing levels of protein, vitamins and nutrients — which could spell disaster for the more than two billion people who subsist on rice, for instance, as their primary food source. But we don’t have to sit by and watch this crisis unfold: Ebi calls for large-scale research projects that study the degradation of our food and put pressure on the world to quit fossil fuels.
  • Quote of the talk: “It’s been said that if you think education is expensive, try ignorance. Let’s not. Let’s invest in ourselves, in our children and in our planet.”

Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, scientist and “dirt detective” studying the impact of ecological change on our soils

  • Big idea: The earth’s soil is not only necessary for agriculture — it’s also an under-appreciated resource in the fight against climate change.
  • How? Human beings tend to treat soil like, well, dirt: half of the world’s soil has been degraded by human activity. But soil stores carbon — 3,000 billion metric tons of it, in fact, equivalent to 315 times the amount entering our atmosphere (and contributing to climate change) every year. Picture this: there’s more twice as much carbon in soil as there is in all of the world’s vegetation — the lush tropical rainforests, giant sequoias, expansive grasslands, every kind of flora you can imagine on Earth — plus all the carbon currently up in the atmosphere, combined. If we treated soil with more respect, Berhe says, it could be a valuable tool to not only fight, but also eventually reverse, global warming.
  • Quote of the talk: “Soil is just a thin veil that covers the surface of land, but it has the power to shape our planet’s destiny… [it] represents the difference between life and lifelessness in the earth’s system.”

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

  • Big idea: CO2 is basically junk food for plants. As plants consume more and more CO2 from the air, they’re drawing up fewer of the trace nutrients from the soil that humans need to eat. What can we do to make sure plants stay nutritious?
  • How? Yes, we’re grateful to the plants that capture carbon dioxide from the air — but as Kristie Ebi notes, in the process, they’re taking up fewer nutrients from the soil that humans need. As Asmeret says: “There are 13 nutrients that plants get only from soil. They’re created from soil weathering, and that’s a very slow process.” To solve these interlocking problems — helping rebuild the soil, helping plants capture carbon, and helping us humans get our nutrients — we need all hands on deck, and many approaches to the problem. But as Joanne Chory, from the audience, reminds us, “I think we can get the plants to help us; they’ve done it before.”
  • Quote of the talk: Kristie Ebi: “Plants are growing for their own benefit. They’re not growing for ours. They don’t actually care if you don’t get the nutrition you need; it’s not on their agenda.”

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

  • Big idea: An obsession with efficiency can actually make us less efficient. What we need is “inspired inefficiency.”
  • How? Our pursuit of more for less can cause us to get in our own way. Switching to electronic medical records made it easier to exchange information, for instance, but also left doctors filling out forms for hours — and feeling they have less time to spend with patients. Efficiency, Tenner says, is best served with a side of intuition, and a willingness to take the scenic route rather than cutting straight through to automation. Tenner’s advice: Allow for great things to happen by accident, embrace trying the hard way and seek security in diversity. “We have no way to tell who is going to be useful in the future,” he says. “We need to supplement whatever the algorithm tells us … by looking for people with various backgrounds and various outlooks.”
  • Quote of the talk: “Sometimes the best way to move forward is to follow a circle.”

Matt Walker, sleep scientist

  • Big idea:  If you want to live a longer and healthier life, get more sleep. And beware, the opposite holds true: the less your sleep, the shorter your life expectancy and the higher chance you have of getting a life-threatening illness.
  • How? Walker has seen the results of a good night’s sleep on the brain – and the frightening results of a bad one. Consider one study: the brains of participants who slept a full night lit up with healthy learning-related activity in their hippocampi, the “informational inbox” of the brain. Those who were sleep-deprived, however, showed hippocampi that basically shut down. But why, exactly, is a good night’s sleep so good for the brain? 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. These findings have vast potential implications on aging and dementia, our education system and our immune systems. Feeling tired? Listen to your body! As Walker says: “Sleep is the Swiss Army knife of health.”
  • Quotes from the talk: “Sleep, unfortunately, is 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.”

Karen Lloyd, microbiologist

  • Big idea: Deep in the Earth’s crust, carbon-sucking microbes have survived for hundreds of thousands of years. And we just might be able to use them to store excess CO2 — and slow down climate change.
  • How? Karen Lloyd studied microbes in hot springs and volcanoes in Costa Rica, and the results were astounding: as a side effect of its very slow survival, chemolithoautotroph — a kind of microbe that eats by turning rocks into other kinds of rocks — locks carbon deep in the Earth, turning CO2 into carbonate mineral. And it gets better: there are more CO2-reducing microbes laying in wait elsewhere in the Earth’s biosphere, from the Arctic to the mud in the Marianas Trench. We’re not sure how they’ll react to a rush of new carbon from the atmosphere, so we’ll need more research to illuminate possible negative (or positive!) results.
  • Quote of the talk: “It may seem like life buried deep within the Earth’s crust is so far away from our daily experiences, but this weird, slow life may actually have the answers to some of the greatest mysteries to life on Earth.”

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 Case You Missed It: Highlights from day 3 of TED2019

Par Brian Greene

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 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 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.



How Hannah Gadsby broke comedy

Par Emily McManus
Hannah Gadsby speaks at TED2019

“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.



Possibility: Notes from Session 7 of TED2019

Par Brian Greene
Judith Jamison + Members of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

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

  • Big idea: Dance elevates our human experience, communicating struggles, thrills and universal emotions that go beyond words.
  • How? Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater was founded in 1958 by the legendary dancer and choreographer Alvin Ailey. In the middle of the civil rights movement, the dance company put on bold works that presented the African-American experience in its fullness — and as an essential part of American culture. Just over 60 years later, Judith Jamison, the Theater’s artistic director emerita, reflects on Ailey’s visionary legacy and the enduring power of dance to turn history into art that thrills and excites global audiences — and, not infrequently, brings tears to their eyes.
  • Quote of the talk: “When you’re sitting in the dark, in the theater, having a personal experience, you don’t feel blocked or misunderstood. You feel open, alive … inspired.”

Rob Reid, entrepreneur and cyberthriller author

  • Big idea: We must act fast to build a global immune system that could fight off a massive biotech attack.
  • How? Rob Reid raises the unthinkable specter of suicidal mass murder on a global scale, using tools of synthetic biology to create weaponized biotech. What can we do to protect ourselves? It’s (probably) years away from being a possibility, but now’s the time to start thinking about it. A couple ideas: enlisting the experts and creating more experts (for every million-and-one bioengineers, Reid notes, at least a million of them are going to be on our side) and finding a way to safeguard our prosperity and privacy that doesn’t rely on government and industry.
  • Quote of the talk: “I have come to fear [synthetic biology] … but more than that, to revere its potential. This stuff will cure cancer, heal our environment, and stop our cruel treatment of other creatures. So how do we get all this without annihilating ourselves?”

Nick Bostrom, philosopher, technologist, author, researcher of existential risk

  • Big idea: The more technological power we invent, the more likely we are to create a “black ball” — the one breakthrough that could destroy us all.
  • How? It’s an uncomfortable dilemma: as tech accelerates, so too does the potential for a bad actor to use those very advancements to wipe out civilization. Consider synthetic biology: at the current rate of progress, in the not-too-distant future someone could theoretically cook up a city-destroying organism after an afternoon’s work in the kitchen. (Yikes.) So, what are we to do? In conversation with Chris Anderson, Bostrom outlines four possible responses: restrict tech development (not very feasible, he notes); eliminate bad actors (also unfeasible, considering the many obstacles to success); mass surveillance (uncomfortable, but potentially palatable if done right); and global governance (risky, but if we’re lucky, it could help us survive). In short: if we want power, we better figure out how to limit it.
  • Quote of the talk: “You could put me down as a frightened optimist.”
Ella Al-Shamahi speaks at TED2019

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

  • Big idea: Science has a geography problem.
  • How? We’re not doing frontline scientific exploration in a massive chunk of the world: the regions  governments have deemed too unstable. But many of these places, especially in Africa and the Middle East, have played a big role in the human journey. Al-Shamahi’s family is from Yemen, a place that’s so under-studied it’s akin to near-virgin territory. She can’t go there — but she did take an epic, risky journey to study Socotra, an island off Yemen known as the Galápagos of the Indian Ocean. Ninety percent of the reptiles and 30 percent of the plants there exist only, well, there — and the story of early humans there is barely told. Al-Shamahi is hoping to return to Socotra and, with the help of local collaborators, continue to explore.
  • Quote of the talk: “Science was about going out into the unknown. It was about truly global exploration even if there were risks. When did it become acceptable to make it difficult for science to happen in ‘unstable places?'”

Victor Vescovo, undersea explorer

  • Big idea: New submersible designs can let us explore depths of the world’s oceans that have never been seen before.
  • How? Vescovo joined TED’s science curator David Biello to discuss his experiences of deep sea exploration. Vescovo believes his team — packed into their two-person, self-designed submersible — is the very first to have dived to the bottom of the Southern Ocean, the expanse of water surrounding Antarctica that’s known for particularly hostile conditions. His submersible is engineered as a sphere, the shape best able to handle the immense pressure of deep sea dives; it’s built to make multiple journeys to the ocean floor. When you go that deep, Vescovo says, it’s possible to discover a whole lot of new species. He describes his project as “kind of the SpaceX of ocean exploration, but I pilot my own vehicles.” And if you hadn’t heard of the robust assfish before today? You’re welcome.
  • Quote of the talk: “There are only two rules to diving in a submarine. Number one is close the hatch securely. Number two is go back to rule number one.”

Hannah Gadsby, serious comedian

  • Big idea: Comedy has rules. Break them. Tell your story.
  • How? Gadsby was a “pathologically shy virtual mute with low self-esteem” when she first tried standup comedy. And “before I’d even landed my first joke, I knew I really liked stand-up and stand-up really liked me.” But it was only when she quit comedy, and broke its rules, that she could tell her own story and build a true connection with her audience — not as a mindless, laughing mob but as individuals who could carry her story along with her. Read more about Hannah Gadsby’s TED Talk.
  • Quote of the talk: “The point was not simply to break comedy, but to reshape it to better hold everything I wanted to share.”

“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

“It was no one’s job to ask: What could go wrong?” Roger McNamee speaks at TED2019

Par Brian Greene
Roger McNamee speaks at TED2019

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.'”

This interview was presented by Klick Health, sponsors of the TED Interview podcast, now heading into its second season.



Life in the Tech Playground at TED2019

Par Mary Halton

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.

Tech Playground

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 …

Tech Playground bedroom at TED2019

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.

DigiDoug at TED2019

Chatting with DigiDoug at TED2019: Bigger Than Us. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED



Tech Playground bedroom at TED2019

DigiDoug at TED2019

Imagination: Notes from Session 6 of TED2019

Par Abhimanyu Das
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy speaks 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

  • Big idea: Reading slowly is a simple, fulfilling way to counter the whiplash of technology and the speed of life today.
  • How? Take your sweet time, says Jacqueline Woodson. Stories should not only be honored but savored, too. They help us travel through place and time, through the fictional and real-life perspectives of those who have experienced the past (and, sometimes, the future). In the pages of well-imagined books and generations-old oral histories, storytelling weaves together communities, fosters understanding and allows us to look deeply at the world around us. All we need to do is give these narratives the space and time to flourish and take root in our lives.
  • Quote of the talk: “Isn’t that what it’s all about: finding a way at the end of the day to not feel alone in this world, and a way to feel like we’ve changed it before we leave?”

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, documentary filmmaker and storyteller

  • Big idea: Film can make positive change by exposing people to alternate views of the world, shifting how we think about ourselves, our cultures, our societies.
  • How? Obaid-Chinoy wanted to do something about violence against women in her native Pakistan. So she directed A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, which documents the country’s tradition of honor killings. It made waves globally, winning an Oscar and even inspiring Pakistan’s prime minister to denounce honor killings, but it wasn’t enough. Obaid-Chinoy took her film on the road, visiting small towns and villages with a mobile cinema. With a big screen plastered to the outside of a truck and a mini theater inside, the mobile cinema offered a safe space for women in segregated communities to watch. Side by side, through film, Obaid-Chinoy and her team encouraged conversation about the harmful traditional practice of honor killings.
  • Quote of the talk: “In small towns and villages across Pakistan, there is a revolution. Men are changing the way they interact with women; children are changing the way they see the world. One village at a time — through cinema.”

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

  • Big idea: The Internet can feel like a lonely, chaotic place. But in learning to be more vulnerable with each other online, we find that we are alone together.
  • How? Sun’s not here to tell you that social media is a force for unalloyed good. But it does have something important to offer us: each other. In sending jokes and endearing, misspelled, illustrated observations on the human condition “out to the void,” he has found that the void is often willing to talk back, reminding us of our shared human-ness, even if only for a moment. Read more about Jonny Sun’s talk here.
  • Quote of the talk: “If someone shares that they feel sad or afraid or alone … 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.”

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

  • Big idea: Art is a way to explore and express the wonders of the materials of our lives — along with their fragility and mutability.
  • How? Sze crafts immersive pieces — some as tall as buildings, splashed across walls or orbiting through galleries. They contain vast constellations of stuff as she plays with scale, time and memory and blurs the lines between what is art and what is everyday life. Just as our human experience is a visual palimpsest, a constantly redrawn sketch of all that we do, see and remember, Sze’s work strives to embody these actions and the tensions that exist among them.
  • Quote of the talk: “Female cheetahs are faster than male cheetahs and the reason is because, while they’re smaller, they have bigger hearts. That is a true fact and that may be the only true fact in here. The rest of it is art.”

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

  • Big idea: When it comes to designing cities, we’re obsessed with permanence and predictability. Yet by studying impermanent settlements, we can learn to build cities that are more adaptable, efficient and sustainable.
  • How? Every 12 years, a megacity springs up around the confluence of the India’s Yamuna and Ganges rivers. It houses 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. In studying this singular event, Mehrotra realized that our preoccupation with permanence is shortsighted, locking resources into “permanent” solutions to problems that could be irrelevant within a decade. The ideal future of urban design? Elastic settlements with flexible elements that can travel, evolve or even disappear as the situation demands, leaving the lightest possible footprint on this fragile planet.
  • Quote of the talk: “We need to make a shift in our imagination about cities. … We need to use our resources more efficiently to extend the expiry date of our planet. We need to change urban design cultures to think of the temporal, the reversible, the disassemblable.”

Bjarke Ingels, architect and designer

  • Big idea: By designing architecture that adapts and shifts, we can create stronger communities and better prepare for the changing climate.
  • How? From a toxin-free power plant (with a rooftop you can ski on!) to a floating ocean city powered by solar energy, Ingels is expanding architecture’s vision. By tapping into our human adaptability, he shows how we can design buildings and habitats that are beautiful, accessible and resilient to climate change. We need to imagine vibrantly and design flexibly, he says — and, in doing so, we can forge a sustainable future for all.
  • Quote of the talk: “This is our collective human superpower: that we have the power to adapt to change and we have the power to give form to our future.”



Jonny Sun: Making the internet a bit less lonely

Par Mary Halton
Jonny Sun speaks at TED2019

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.”



Vulcan Holodome at TED2019: An immersive 360-degree world… without a headset?

Par TED Staff

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

Vulcan Holodome at TED2019. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED



Pollution Pods: A tasting menu of our planet’s air quality, at TED2019

Par Emily McManus
Pollution Pods at TED2019

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.”

Pollution Pods at TED2019

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.

Pollution Pods at TED2019

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

Mindshift: Notes from Session 5 of TED2019

Par Oliver Friedman

“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)

  • Big idea: Psychedelics, when used responsibly, have the potential to alter our brain chemistry for the better and help us heal from psychological traumas such as PTSD and addiction.
  • How? Rick Doblin has led the crusade to lift the decades-old ban on psychedelic research. Psychotherapy paired with substances like LSD and MDMA (ecstasy) shows promise for the treatment of PTSD, depression, substance abuse and more. By reducing the activity in certain parts of the brain, psychedelics allow people to experience a shift in perspective that leads to a heightened sense of unity, shared humanity, altruism, emotional awareness and even spiritual connection. Doblin hopes that psychedelics, viewed through the lens of science and medicine, can help bring about a true global renaissance of positive, healing experiences.
  • New (old) word: “Psychedelic,” meaning mind-manifesting
  • Quote of the talk: “Humanity now is in a race between catastrophe and consciousness. The psychedelic renaissance is here to help humanity to triumph.”

Katie Hood, CEO of the One Love Foundation and relationship revolutionary

  • Big idea: There’s a crucial difference between healthy and unhealthy love, and there are sure-fire ways to recognize the difference.
  • How? There are five signs of unhealthy love: intensity, isolation, extreme jealousy, disrespect and volatility. Isolation could mean that your partner takes away your independence, pulling you away from your family and friends. Volatility within an unhealthy relationship can look like constant ups and downs, as well as unpredictable and shocking behavior. Katie Hood believes that there’s a way to combat these unhealthy behaviors — and it’s not as hard as we may think. To build and maintain healthy love, a few core elements must be present: open communication, mutual respect and trust. No one is perfect — we all have bad moments where we don’t treat those we love the way we should. But by practicing these core elements as much as possible, we can put ourselves on the path to better and healthier love.
  • Quote of the talk: “For too long, we’ve treated relationships as a soft topic, when relationship skills are actually one of the hardest and most important skills to master in life. Not only can knowledge about unhealthy signs help you avoid falling down the rabbit hole of unhealthy love, understanding and practicing the art of being healthy can improve nearly every aspect of your life.”

“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

  • Big idea: Humans have evolved to feel a boost of joy when we help others. We can lean into that joy by making a personal connection with those we help, amplifying our happiness and inspiring us to do more.
  • How? Elizabeth Dunn’s research revolves around how giving to others makes us happier, but she realized: she rarely felt happy donating to charity herself. That changed when Dunn helped support a family of Syrian refugees as they prepared to relocate to Canada. She saw how her time and resources helped the family settle into their new home and felt encouraged to do “whatever it took to help them be happy.” Instead of feeling like we’re donating into a distant void, we can nurture lasting relationships — and increase our happiness — by seeking a personal touch when we give back.
  • Quote of the talk: “If you’re running a charity, don’t reward your donors with pens and calendars. Reward them with the opportunity to see the impact that their generosity is having and to connect with the individuals and communities they’re helping.”

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

  • Big idea: We can halt the spread of untrustworthy, dangerous online content by coordinating a global network of internet users and organizations to rebuild our information commons.
  • How? Major tech companies are taking their best shot at solving the issue of misinformation, but let’s be honest: no one wants them to be the guardians of truth and fairness online (and neither do they). While governments are calling for regulation to clean up the information ecosystem, it’s struggling to keep up with tech’s pace of change. What’s the missing link? We, the citizens of the internet — everyday users, journalists, educators, software developers and beyond. Wardle offers one such way we could band together to accelerate solutions: by “donating” our social data, for instance, we could enable researchers gain a bigger view of this problem. Could people and organizations collaborate to build a new infrastructure for quality information, following the model of Wikipedia? This project would span the globe — and the very future of the internet could depend on it.
  • Quote of the talk: “Can we build out a coordinated, ambitious response that matches the scale and complexity of the problem? I really think we can. Together, let’s rebuild our information commons.”

Michael Tubbs, mayor of Stockton, California

  • Big idea: We can build new civic structures without the curse of racism — and built-in bad outcomes.
  • How? Once we view our neighbors as no different from ourselves, we can begin to restructure our societies. Through governing strategies that recognize the racist systems that place people in compromised situations — and that view impoverished and violent communities with compassion — Michael Tubbs is helping to lower Stockton’s per capita murder rate (which rivals Chicago’s) and raise the city’s economic prospects.
  • Quote of the talk: “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, but we should see ourselves. We should see our common humanity.”



Want to speak at TED2020? Enter our worldwide Idea Search

Par TED Staff
TED's own Cloe Shasha speaks at TED2019

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

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

In Case You Missed It: Highlights from day 2 of TED2019

Par Emily McManus

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 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.



Taking a welcome break in the n:ow machine at TED2019

Par Daryl Chen
DuPont n:ow dome at TED2019

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.

Inside the DuPont n:ow machine at TED2019

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

Audacity: 8 big, bold ideas for global change unveiled in Session 4 of TED2019

Par Kate Torgovnick May

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

  • Big idea: In the US, Black people are two to four times more likely than white people to be targets of police force. The problem, says Phillip Atiba Goff, is that we think of racism as contaminated hearts and minds — when racism is really about behaviors. “When we change the definition of racism from attitudes to behaviors, we transform that problem from impossible to solvable,” says Goff. “Because you can measure behaviors.” Like any other organization, police departments can set goals for more equitable behavior — and hold themselves accountable to reaching them.
  • The Audacious project: Goff and his team at the Center for Policing Equity work with police departments and communities, city by city, to collect data on police behavior and set goals to make it more fair. They’re building a CompStat for Justice — a data system that shows police departments where they’re going, who they’re arresting and much more. The data that CPE collects can help police chiefs develop strategies for changing their department’s behaviors, and to date, they’ve seen staggering results. So far, CPE has delivered products to 25 cities, leading to an average of 33 percent fewer force incidents. Over the next five years, the Center for Policing Equity hope to bring their tools to police departments that collectively serve 100 million people across the US, effectively reaching one in three Americans.
  • Quote of the talk: “I’ve experienced the fear of seeing an officer unclip their gun, and the panic of realizing someone might mistake my 13-year-old godson as old enough to be a threat. So when a chief — or a pastor or an imam or a mother — calls me after an officer shoots another unarmed Black child, I understand the pain in their voice.” See what you can do for this idea »

Joanne Chory, plant biologist and director of the Plant Biology Laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies

  • Big idea: To most of us, CO2 is a villain, the greenhouse gas responsible for rising global temperatures. But to Joanne Chory, one of the world’s most prominent plant biologists, CO2 is simply the thing that plants take in during photosynthesis, and convert into oxygen and sugars. For millions of years, plants have kept Earth’s CO2 levels in check — and Chory believes they can do it now, even as human beings release more CO2 into the atmosphere than ever before. Plants could help us fight climate change.
  • The Audacious project: Chory’s team at the Salk Institute wants to train plants to sequester carbon better, and for longer. They’re developing the science to create plants with more of a natural polymer called suberin in their roots, as this cork-like substance works as a stable carbon-storage device. They’re also looking to grow plants with deeper, more robust root systems, to really amplify their sequestering ability. Salk will start by creating these traits in model plants, and then will be able to transfer them to major crop plants like corn, soybean and cotton. If these superstar plants could occupy fields around the world, they could hold massive amounts of carbon in the ground, to achieve a 20 to 46 percent reduction of excess CO2 every year.
  • Quote of the talk: “I’ve come to appreciate plants as the amazing machines they are — they literally suck CO2 out of the air. They’ve been doing it for 500 million years, and they’re really good it!” See what you can do for this idea »

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

  • Big idea: Parasitic worms have been around for thousands of years, causing disease and limiting human potential. Today, more than 1.5 billion people in the world are at risk for worms, 600 million of them in Africa. And yet worms are very easy to treat — it takes just one to three pills, given once or twice a year. Ellen Agler and her team at the END Fund know that governments across Africa want to gain traction on this problem. By amplifying work already in progress, the END Fund thinks we can be the generation that ends disease from worm infections for good.
  • The Audacious Project: Over the next six years, the END Fund will deliver deworming treatment to 100 million people. But that’s really just the start. The END Fund looks at the problem of delivering deworming treatments through a systems lens, bringing together the right partners, lowering the cost of treatment, focusing on prevention, helping with monitoring and evaluation, and treating overlooked people, like young children and women of reproductive age. Every step of the way, the END Fund will support governments and nurture local leadership, creating a roadmap toward local ownership of deworming programs.
  • Quote of the video: “If the World Health Organization’s 2020 goals for worm control are met, African economies would see a $35 billion boost in productivity within ten years.” See what you can do for this idea »

Claudia Miner, historian, education entrepreneur and executive director of Waterford’s UPSTART project

  • Big idea: Fifty years ago, the United States achieved a watershed moment when it started bringing early education to low-income children through Head Start. Today, however, there are still 2.2 million children in the US — half of all 4-year-olds — who don’t have access to an early education program, because they live too far from one, speak another language or face a financial or logistical hardship. On day one of kindergarten, these children may already be years behind their peers. And they may not ever catch up.
  • The Audacious project: At, Claudia Miner and her team have created a kindergarten readiness project called UPSTART that bridges these access gaps. In just 15–20 minutes a day, children without access to in-person early education engage with personalized software that lets them learn at their own pace, from home. This isn’t mindless screen time — UPSTART lessons are educational and engaging, and the program coaches parents to take on the role of their children’s first teacher. UPSTART has a 90 percent completion rate, and a longitudinal study has shown that the gains students make last well into third and fourth grade. UPSTART has been piloted in 15 states so far, and several have opted to fund it because it’s been so effective. Over the next five years, Waterford will pilot UPSTART in all 50 states, serving a quarter of a million children, and make deep inroads toward state funding.
  • Quote of the talk: “Our Audacious idea is to make UPSTART available across the country — not to replace anything. We want to serve children who otherwise would not have access to early education.” See what you can do for this idea »

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

  • Big idea: “Proteins carry out all of the essential functions in our bodies,” says David Baker. These miniature machines digest our food, contract our muscles, fire our neurons and so, so much more. But proteins are also tricky. They’re built of long strings of amino acids that “fold up” into specific shapes that allow them to do their job. And because scientists haven’t been able to crack the code of how proteins fold, we’ve only been able to make small modifications to proteins that already exist. Being able to create new proteins would open up incredible possibility.
  • The Audacious project: Baker’s research team at the Institute for Protein Design has developed the ability to design new proteins. And they want to launch the protein design revolution. Their goal is to become the Bell Laboratories of this new field, doubling their faculty and attracting top talent to train the next generation of scientists. Specifically, IPD will work toward five grand challenges: (1) universal vaccines for flu, HIV and cancer, (2) advanced medications for chronic pain, (3) protein nano-containers that bring medicines to specific cells, (4) smart protein therapeutics that recognize unhealthy cells, and (5) next-generation nanoengineering for solar energy capture. They stand to change the world of medicine and so much more.
  • Quote of the talk: “Humans have only been able to harness the power of proteins by making very small changes to the amino acid sequences of the proteins we’ve found in nature. This is similar to the process that our Stone Age ancestors used to make tools and other implements from the sticks and stones they found around them.” See what you can do for this idea »

Mark Tercek, global environmental leader and CEO of The Nature Conservancy

  • Big idea: Island and coastal nations need to protect their waters in order for our oceans, globally, to stay healthy. But these countries hold high debt loads and often aren’t able to prioritize ocean protection over other needs. Mark Tercek and his team at The Nature Conservancy see a way to solve both problems at once. Their idea is to buy a nation’s debt at a discount and restructure it to give them lower debt payments, in exchange for the government’s commitment to protect 30 percent of its coastal areas.
  • How: The Nature Conservancy has been a pioneer in debt-for-nature conservation, working since 2001 to negotiate deals like this for the protection of tropical forests. In 2016, they tried this approach in the Seychelles, restructuring $22 million in debt in exchange for the protection of 400,000 square kilometers of ocean — an area the size of Germany. It’s been incredibly successful, but the deal took years to complete. Now The Nature Conservancy plans to build a team that can close these deals much more quickly. Over the next five years, they will negotiate deals in 20 island and coastal nations, and together create more than 4 million square kilometers of marine-protected areas.
  • Quote of the video: “If you refinance your house to take advantage of a better interest rate, maybe you use the savings to insulate your attic. That’s what Blue Bonds for Conservation do, for entire coastal countries.” See what you can do for this idea »

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

  • Big idea: Working in India, Safeena Husain has met girls named Aa chuki (“not wanted”), Antim Bala (“the last girl”) because that’s what her family hoped she’d be, and Naraz nath (“angry”) because her community was so angry she was born a girl. It’s not just poverty and cultural norms that bar girls from receiving an education: it’s collective mindsets. Even though girls’ education has been shown to have a long list of positive effects — it impacts nine of the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals –many girls in the world are still barred from receiving an education. India is home to one of the largest populations of out-of-school girls, with more than 4.1 million girls outside the classroom.
  • The Audacious project: Husain and her team at Educate Girls work in remote regions in India, going door-to-door to find all out-of-school girls. They do individual counseling with parents, and hold neighborhood and village meetings to change those mindsets. Their Team Balika (“team for the girl”) volunteers use an app to collect data — and their predictive model reveals that just five percent of India’s villages are home to 40 percent of the out-of-school girls. Their plan is to work specifically in these 35,000 villages for amplified impact. By doing this, they will enroll a staggering 1.6 million girls in school in the next five years. And they will work to keep them there.
  • Quote of the talk: “I believe that girls’ education is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet to help solve some of the world’s most difficult problems.” See what you can do for this idea »

“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

  • Big idea: Thorn works on a problem that isn’t easy to talk about: the sexual abuse of children in images and videos on the internet. This is clearly a human problem. But it’s also, says Julie Cordua, a technology problem. In the late 1980s, child pornography was nearly eliminated — because of tighter laws, it was too risky for abusers to trade it through the mail. But with the advent of the internet, both supply and demand skyrocketed. In 2018, there were 45 million reports of child sexual abuse content in the US alone — twice the number of reports of the year before. “Law enforcement focuses on just their jurisdiction. Companies look at just their platform,” says Cordua. “Whatever they learn along the way is rarely shared.” A unified response is necessary.
  • The Audacious project: Thorn is building technology to connect the dots between the law enforcement agencies, NGOs and tech companies who are the responders in this invisible crisis. Their tools collect the hashes of known sexual abuse content — essentially, the digital fingerprint of each file — and catalog it. As they collect more and more hashes of known content, it will allow law enforcement to spot new material quickly, and swing into action to try to find the child being abused. And the system will only get smarter — when a company sees a known hash posted, for example, they can scrub that user’s account and potentially discover hashes for other unknown material. Thorn’s goal is to be able to identify new material in seconds — which will open the door to eliminating this content from the internet altogether.
  • Quote of the talk: “The abusers win when we look at one piece of the puzzle at a time. … This Audacious project is a declaration of war against one of humanity’s darkest evils.” See what you can do for this idea »

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.



Short talks, big ideas: The talks of TED Unplugged at TED2019

Par Brian Greene

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

  • Big idea: Finding our tribe sometimes takes a deeper level of connection.
  • How? We need to look for the hooks — the secrets and struggles we share but don’t talk about — to connect with and get closer to each other.
  • Quote of the talk: “If you dig deep, you reach far.”

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)

  • Big idea: Space is where mission and magic come together.
  • How? The day after her 50th birthday, Cady Coleman climbed aboard a Russian rocket and was launched into space. During her time at the International Space Station, she did experiments that expanded the frontiers of science, seeking answers to questions we could never arrive at on earth.
  • Quote of the talk: “Space belongs to all of us. It’s a place that’s magic for all of us.”

Janet Iwasa, Molecular animator and TED Senior Fellow

  • Big idea: Try to visualize the things that can’t be seen.
  • How? By creating visualizations of molecules that are too small for even the most powerful microscopes to see, Janet Iwasa reveals the hidden mechanisms that power the world.
  • Quote of the talk: “Invisible molecular worlds are vast and largely unexplored. To me, these landscapes are just as exciting to explore as a natural world that’s visible all around us.”

“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

  • Big idea: Silicon Valley likes to talk about making the world a better place, but technologists can make a real impact by joining the government.
  • How? By doing things like moving government systems from paper to digital, Cutts and his team have been able to speed up processes to help people get what they need when they need it.
  • Quote of the talk: “These days I believe less in silver bullets and more in people who show up to help.”

Lucy Farey-Jones, Technology strategist

  • Big idea: Our willingness to accept AI in our lives is changing — radically.
  • How? Lucy Farey-Jones created a list of potential AI applications — from AI house cleaners and package deliverers to cyborgs, AI lawyers and even AI sex partners — and ranked them based on how comfortable people are with them. What she’s found is a growing comfortability with AI taking over.
  • Quote of the talk: “The trojan horse of AI is already in our living room.”

Bjarke Ingels, (Interplanetary) architect

  • Big idea: We should move to Mars.
  • How? Bjarke Ingels was challenged to design a city on Mars by 2117. If you strip away the biosphere, Mars and Earth are actually very similar, he says. What would we need to have in order to move there? Nutrients, water, a vegetarian diet and more than a bit of creativity. Ingels is starting with a prototype “city” in Dubai, exhibiting many of the technologies that would be necessary for life on Mars.
  • Quote of the talk: “Martians are vegan.”

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

  • Big idea: Parrotfish are absolutely amazing.
  • How? In five ways: they have a mouth shaped like a parrot’s beak that’s strong enough to chew coral; they poop fine white sand, over 380 kilograms of it each year; they have style: striped, teal, magenta and polka-dotted, with multiple “wardrobe changes” throughout their lives; most species have the ability to change from female to male over the course of their lives; and sometimes, when they cozy up into reefs, they secrete a mucous bubble that masks them from predators, protecting them throughout the night. But they’re under threat by overfishing and the destruction of coral reefs.
  • Quote of the talk: “I am never going to give up working to protect and restore this magnificent planet. I’m not motivated by hope — but rather by a desire to be useful.”

Rob Gore, Emergency room doctor

  • Big idea: There’s a joy in caring for others, but not at the expense of caring for self.
  • How? Toxic stress impacts the body in devastating ways. After the death of a friend brought on episodes of panic attacks, Rob Gore sought therapy, where he learned how to use stress as a tool and to empathize with people without taking their problems on.
  • Quote of the talk: “I wasn’t supposed to be invincible.”

Stefan Sagmeister, Designer

  • Big idea: Beautify isn’t in the eye of the beholder, and it isn’t only skin-deep.
  • How? Why should we bother chasing beauty if everyone has a different idea of what it is? Turns out, we agree on what’s beautiful more than we think. For example, almost everyone prefers a circle over a square. And by simply painting a neglected underpass in Brooklyn with the word “Yes,” Sagmeister and colleagues transformed the space into a hot spot for wedding photos.
  • Quote of the talk: “There’s wide agreement around the world, throughout different cultures and throughout different times, of what we find is beautiful.”

John Werner, TEDxBeaconStreet organizer

  • Big idea: We can work together for the betterment of all.
  • How? John Werner got 61 of his fellow students to not take a college final exam, taking their professor up on a prisoner’s-dilemma challenge where everyone could get an A if nobody took the exam. His class was the only one in 10 years to pull this off.
  • Quote of the talk: “If we organize and we set our minds to it, we can do extraordinary things and get A’s when things really matter.”

“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

  • Big idea: There’s nothing wrong with sexual pleasure and with having sex because it feels good.
  • How? Why don’t we know more about the clitoris? Probably because its only job is to experience pleasure, and we’re traditionally taught about sexuality solely in terms of reproduction.
  • Quote of the talk: “Everybody deserves access to information about their bodies and the organs inside their bodies — especially the ones that give us pleasure.”

David Kwong, Magician and cruciverbalist

  • Big idea: Failure is an illusion.
  • How? You can rely on your skillset to maintain control even when things go wrong — just like magicians whose tricks sometimes don’t go as planned. There’s always a Plan B.
  • Quote of the talk: “Success depends not on hiding missteps but using them to leverage the steps moving forward.”



Intelligence: Notes from Session 3 of TED2019

Par Mary Halton

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

  • Big idea: Within a few short centuries, humans have permanently transformed the Earth. Yet for billions of years, the rest of the cosmos has remained largely unchanged. Why is that? The answer lies in the one thing that fundamentally sets us apart: our ability to attain knowledge.
  • How? As humans, we can wrap our minds around just about any problem imaginable. (It’s why Einstein could predict the existence of black holes without ever seeing one, for instance.) Deutsch calls this unique skill of ours “explanatory knowledge,” and it’s driven the immense progress of the past few hundred years — inventions, new behaviors, novel ideas — along with the physical, large-scale changes we’ve left to the Earth. In other words: humans are small beings that can have a massive impact on big things. On the cosmic scale, however, it’s a different story: massive, powerful things strongly affect lesser things, and not vice versa. (A comet that hits the sun is vaporized, while the sun carries on as before.) The last 13 billion years have been dictated by this principle, leading to very few grand cosmological changes — i.e., little novelty — in the universe. Yet we have the power to buck that trend, Deutsch says: with our explanatory knowledge, we can push back against the “great monotony” of the universe, reshape the future of the galaxy — and start looking beyond.
  • Quote of the talk: “Humans are not playthings of cosmic forces. We are users of cosmic forces.”

David R. Liu, chemist, biologist, pioneer of genome editing

  • Big idea: We hear a lot about CRISPR, the chemical scissors with which we can cut genetic code. But what if we could use CRISPR to find flawed DNA sequences — and instead of snipping them out, simply correct them? Base editing could be that red editing pencil, and once fully developed, it could cure many genetically transmitted diseases.
  • How? Liu and his colleagues created chemically engineered proteins that correct sequence-scrambling mutations in DNA. Having made its corrections, this base editor then “tricks” the cell into building stable DNA out of the new sequence. For now, only a few editors exist, and have only been used in plants and animals. But once more are discovered — and scientists solve some formidable practical challenges — they could revolutionize genetic medicine.
  • Quote of the talk: “Thanks to a relentlessly dedicated group of students who were creative enough to engineer what we could design ourselves, and brave enough to evolve what we couldn’t, base editing has begun to transform that science fiction-like aspiration into an exciting new reality.”

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

  • Big idea: Confidence is key to pursuing our goals. How can we develop and maintain it — especially in the students who most need it as they grow? Prioritize three things — permission, community and curiosity.
  • How? As a teacher of low-income students of color, Packnett noticed that her students weren’t developing the confidence they needed to navigate the world. She realized that to build the muscles of confidence, you need three things: the permission to grow, a community to lean on and support you, and the curiosity to explore and grow in confidence. When we create environments that fulfill these three needs, Packnett says, we can boost our confidence — and accomplish our dreams.
  • Quote of the talk: “Confidence is the difference between being inspired and actually getting started, between trying and doing until it’s done. Confidence helps us keep going, even when we’ve failed.”

Roger Hanlon, marine biologist and expert on camouflaged deep-sea creatures

  • Big idea: Cephalopods, like squid, octopus and cuttlefish, evolved without vertebrae in the murky mystery of the deep. Their remarkable neurological systems may be evidence of an entirely new type of evolutionary intelligence.
  • How? These creatures have astonishing intellect and cognitive skills: decision-making, dynamic camouflaging, memorization — they even experience REM sleep (and potentially dream) — much of which is made possible by their advanced RNA. Cephalopods, they’re sort of like us! Hanlon and his team see huge potential in studying their big brains and marvelous, morphing skin (an octopus’s brain, for example, contains 35 lobes and 80 million neurons, while its skin is home to 300 million neurons). These evolutionary tricks might just lead to breakthroughs in AI, fabrics, cosmetics and beyond.
  • Fun fact: While on the hunt for prey, cephalopods can make more than 200 complex camouflaging decisions in the scope of two hours. And they do this multiple times a day.

Derren Brown, illusionist and mentalist

  • Big idea: Magic is a great analogy for how we dream up reality in our own heads, forming a story and then mistaking that story for the truth.
  • How? Brown’s talk includes a performance that … well, you’ll have to see it to believe it. He describes the practice of mentalism as “the dubious art of getting inside your head.” Humans are, he says, story-forming creatures: we live by the stories we tell ourselves, or the ones we inherit — that we need to be successful to be loved, perhaps, or that we have a terrible secret we must keep. They are, to us, utterly convincing. Brown’s job is also to tell us a story that we’ll believe, but performing reminds him to avoid reducing people to neat characters in the actual world and “to be more alive and alert to the complexity and subtlety of what’s real.”
  • Quote of the talk: “We’d worry a lot less about what other people think about us if we realized how seldom they do.”

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

  • Big idea: The future of motion capture is here and it looks … just like us.
  • How? The usual suspects: machine learning, deep neural networks and gargantuan amounts of data. Over a year of intense video recording, Roble offered all the facial expressions he could muster to create an exact digital rendering of himself. In an astonishing demo, he debuts the software in real time — for the first time ever outside his team’s LA studio — with a complete 3D character of his likeness, accurate down to his pores and wrinkles. The implications of this technology are, he admits, as far-reaching as they are fearsome. By transposing 3D fantastical film characters onto the big screen, the future of film could grow even brighter — but there’s also the threat of designing deepfakes indistinguishable from their real-life counterparts.
  • Fun fact: Roble’s team had to collect an immense of data — like, really, an immense amount. Learn more about part of that data-gathering process (the sphere of bright lights) as it was presented in Paul Debevec’s 2009 TED Talk, “Animating a photo-real digital face.”
  • Quote of the talk: “Why did we do this? First of all, it is just crazy cool.”



Power: Notes from Session 2 of TED2019

Par Chelsea Catlett

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

  • Big idea: Online protest travels fast. Justice can be delivered quickly — but the argument can also quickly devolve into a loud, angry mess. How do we mix activism and nuanced debate?
  • How? Rafael Casal tells the cautionary tale of a 2016 Twitter firestorm he helped spark. The hashtag he started — #MakeRoomForOak, a campaign for the actor Oak Onaudowan, who was asked to step down as the lead of a new Broadway show — blew up, kicking off a debate about representation and diversity in the arts. But within a week, the hashtag turned into an ugly shouting match, coopted by misinformation, threats and abuse. This, says Casal, is part of a massive cultural shift in what activism looks like. We’re still on the social media learning curve, and, sure, the nuance gets lost sometimes. But these debates are bringing long-unheard issues to center stage — and making impact. It’s on us to keep failing loud, teaching others to succeed and steadily arriving at justice.
  • Quote of the talk: “Our messy moments online are not just a mess, but evidence of work being done to protest the injustices that are long overdue for some volume.”

Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, CEO and chair of Square, and a cofounder of both

  • Big idea: Twitter was built around the concept of follows, likes and retweets. This focus has created a network culture that rewards what Chris Anderson calls the “eloquently obnoxious” — and harassment and political manipulation. Is it possible to rebuild Twitter to de-emphasize virality and encourage diversity, respect and healthy participation?
  • How? By identifying four key metrics for conversation health, Twitter can begin to discourage bad behavior and encourage learning and a diversity of opinions. But Twitter is also studying fundamental shifts to their platform, including deemphasizing statistics (followers, retweets) and allowing users to follow their interests rather than individual accounts — opening the door for a wider spectrum of opinions. Read a full recap of Jack’s interview with TED’s Chris Anderson and Whitney Pennington Rodgers here.
  • Quote of the talk: “We can’t build a business that is successful unless we have a diversity of perspective inside of our walls, that actually feel these issues every single day — and that’s not just with the team … it’s also within our leadership.”

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

  • Big idea: Capitalism is getting the blame for some of the world’s most entrenched problems, like income inequality and climate change. And yes, it’s far from perfect, but it’s the best option we have right now: a system that provides freedom and choice, and in return drives the economy forward.
  • How? Global markets let people put their money behind ideas that make society better, Friedman says. Since the public can buy a piece of companies, they have the chance to become partial owners and have a say in that company’s future. What’s more, new tech is causing new markets to form that could change our lives for the better. Imagine a micro-insurance policy where you could upload your personal data and get quotes for a plan. You’d be empowered to pick from competing offers from multiple sellers — and be able to control your personal data (and even reap benefits from it). Markets can help level the playing field, Friedman says — we just need to imagine more and new ways to do it.
  • Quote of the talk: “We can create markets of tomorrow for people, with people, for the benefit of more people.”

Peter Beck, engineer, CEO of Rocket Lab

  • Big idea: We’re in the dawn of a space revolution. If we leverage breakthrough tech (like tiny spacecraft and 3D-printed engines), we can dramatically increase access to space — and improve life for all of us on Earth.
  • How? Rocket Lab plans to launch thousands of rockets into space in the near future. But how to do it? By shrinking spacecraft to the size of a fingertip (obviously) and by ramping up launches to once every 72 hours. There’s bound to be technical and bureaucratic hurdles to overcome, Beck says — but we’ll be able to access space like never before. Soon, Rocket Lab will open up the search for extraterrestrial life, spark more learning about the solar system and help create a global internet network — on every millimeter of Earth.
  • Quote of the talk: “There’s a revolution in the space industry — not a revolution of the big, but of the small.”

Julius Maada Bio, president of Sierra Leone

  • Big idea: When Maada Bio first gained political power in 1996, he wanted to transform Sierra Leone into a country that would be secure, peaceful and fair — especially the disenfranchised youth. More than 20 years letter, he reflects on how he did just that.
  • How? To create a truly prosperous nation, Maada Bio realized that he’d need to invest in developing a skilled workforce. He traveled across the country, engaging citizens who had become disillusioned with the country’s politics. He talked to talented young people, who shared their knowledge and vision for a better future. The result? Maada Bio has helped launch a free education program, promote STEM scholarships for women and girls and, among other key investments, dedicate a percentage of the national budget toward health care for all citizens. Because in the end, he says, leadership is about having faith in his people — and championing the beauty of their big, bold ideas.
  • Quote of the talk: “So in my mind, this is what leadership is about: a mission to listen with empathy to the craziest ideas, the hopes and aspirations of a younger generation who are just looking for a chance to be better and to make our country better.”

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)



How Twitter shapes global public conversation: Jack Dorsey speaks at TED2019

Par Brian Greene

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.”



In Case You Missed It: Highlights from day 1 of TED2019

Par Daryl Chen

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, 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.



Truth: Notes from Session 1 of TED2019

Par Brian Greene

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

  • Big idea: What does it mean to embrace the beauty of life around us?
  • How? In a thoughtful and stirring spoken-word piece, Sarah Kay encourages us to welcome the beauty of the universe, however it may appear. From starlings bursting into flight to the enormous heart of a blue whale, the poetry of life is within our reach.
  • Quote of the talk: “Maybe it’s not my job to invent something new. Maybe, instead, it’s my job to listen to what the universe is showing me.”

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

  • Big idea: We have the first image of a black hole … and that’s awesome!
  • How? 100 years ago, Einstein predicted we would see a circle of bright light around a black hole, should we ever image one. Last week, Doeleman’s global team of 200 researchers across 60 countries announced just that. Using an international array of telescopes synced with atomic clocks, the Event Horizon Telescope imaged the supermassive black hole that lies at the center of a galaxy 55 million light years away. The ring of light we see in the image is the orbit of photons (particles of light) around the black hole. The dark region in the center is the event horizon, and our entire solar system would fit inside it. Doeleman discusses his team’s findings with TED’s Chris Anderson. (You can learn more about how this image was created from Katie Bouman, who created an algorithm central to the project’s success.)
  • Quote of the talk: Black holes really are the central mystery of our age because that’s where the quantum world and the gravitational world come together.”

Carole Cadwalladr, investigative journalist for the Guardian and Observer and Pulitzer Prize finalist

  • Big idea: Online platforms need to be accountable for their potential to influence voters.
  • How? Targeted Facebook ads played a decisive role in the Brexit referendum. But when Cadwalladr and her colleagues wanted to see what British voters saw in the leadup to the 2016 referendum, they found that while some people mentioned seeing “quite scary stuff about immigration” on Facebook, it was difficult to know what ads they had been shown, or how they had been targeted. Cadwalladr uncovered that a company called Cambridge Analytica used data illegally harvested from Facebook to target these ads at voters deemed most susceptible to influence. As she says: “It was the biggest electoral fraud in Britain for 100 years.” Cadwalladr calls for Mark Zuckerberg and other social media leaders to stand accountable for how their platforms can be used to influence democracy. Read a full recap of her talk here.
  • Quote of the talk: “It is not about left or right, or Leave or Remain, or Trump or not. It’s whether it’s actually possible to have a free and fair election ever again. As it stands … I don’t think it is.”

Frank Luntz, communications advisor, pollster and wordsmith whose work coining terms like “climate change” and the “death tax” helped to define contemporary American politics

  • Big idea: It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear. To effectively communicate, we need to change the words we use that alienate people we disagree with.
  • How? Luntz provides a list of words to lose and words to use — for those on both the left and right. For example, instead of saying “tolerance,” which implies mere acceptance without embracing, we should be talking about “mutual respect,” which says that you have something to learn from everyone. And instead of “human capital,” which communicates that people are just a profit center, we should be talking about “human talent,” which respects individuals. Luntz also calls on American presidential candidates in 2020 to commit to no-negativity campaigns, and he urges each of us listen, learn and use language to lead.
  • Quote of the talk: Populism is a great way to get elected, and it is a horrible way to govern.”

“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

  • Big idea: White supremacy isn’t confined to those who consciously believe it. It’s implicit in the structure of our society — from the police to white people who call the cops on people of color merely because they make them feel uncomfortable. But we can change that structure — by changing our narratives.
  • How? By making a game out of analyzing all-too-familiar headlines — e.g., “White Woman Calls Police on Eight-Year-Old Black Girl Selling Water” or “White Woman Calls Cops on Black Woman Waiting for Uber” — Thurston shows how African Americans are being punished for their mere existence. And by rewriting the headlines, we can imagine new outcomes for those narratives, change our behavior accordingly and, perhaps, begin to dismantle white supremacy.
  • Quote of the talk: 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. I am asking us to use our power to choose.”

Hamdi Ulukaya, founder and CEO of Chobani

  • Big idea: The CEO playbook that has powered corporate America for decades is broken. We need a new playbook — an “anti-CEO playbook” — that benefits employees and local communities, instead of making shareholders rich. And consumers can use their power to help create it.
  • How? There are four key values of the anti-CEO playbook: community, responsibility, gratitude and accountability. Companies can — and should — help build up struggling communities, instead of simply seeking out areas with tax breaks or incentives. That’s why Ulukaya built his second yogurt factory in a rural town in Idaho. Anti-CEOs should also hold themselves accountable to their consumers. After all, Ulukaya says, consumers have the buying power to support brands that treat their employees well. Taken together, when consumers refuse to buy from companies that put profit in front of people — and when CEOs follow the new playbook — we can create a better way of doing business.
  • Quote of the talk: “Today’s playbook says: business exists only to maximize profit and make shareholders rich. I think that’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard. The truth is: business should take care of employees first.”