Name: TED (Visit TED)
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TED is a non-profit organization that brings you talks from industry experts on trending topics. This is a go-to source for intellectuals looking for quality videos. The videos are generally about 20 minutes each.
Cartier and TED believe in the power of bold ideas to empower local initiatives to have global impact. To celebrate Cartier’s dedication to launching the ideas of female entrepreneurs into concrete change, TED has curated a special session of talks around the theme “Bold Alchemy” for the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards, featuring a selection of favorite TED speakers.
Leading up to the session, TED talked with entrepreneur, designer and CEO of Barefoot College International, Meagan Fallone.
TED: Tell us who you are.
Meagan Fallone: I am an entrepreneur, a designer, a passionate mountaineer and a champion of women in the developing world and all women whose voices and potential remain unheard and unrealized. I am a mother and am grounded in the understanding that of all the things I may ever do in my life, it is the only one that truly will define me or endure. I am immovable in my intolerance to injustice in all its forms.
TED: What’s a bold move you’ve made in your career?
MF: I decided to leave the two for-profit companies I started and grow a nonprofit social enterprise.
TED: Tell us about a woman who inspires you.
MF: The women in my family who were risk-takers in their own individual ways: they are always with me and inspire me. My female friends who push me always to dig deeper within myself, to use my power and skills for ever bigger and better impact in the world. I am inspired always by every woman who has ever accepted to come to train with us at Barefoot College. They place their trust in us, leave their community and everyone they love to make an unimaginable journey on every level. It is the bravest thing I have ever seen.
TED: If you could go back in time, what would you tell your 18-year-old self?
MF: I would tell myself not to take myself so seriously. I would tell myself to trust that the world takes us exactly where we should be. It took me far too long to learn to laugh at how ridiculous I am sometimes. It took me even longer to accept that the path that was written for me was not exactly the one I envisaged for myself. Within the things I never imagined lay all the beauty and wonder of my journey so far — and the promise of what I have yet to impact.
The private TED session at Cartier takes place April 26 in Singapore. It will feature talks from a diverse range of global leaders, entrepreneurs and change-makers, exploring topics ranging from the changing global workforce to maternal health to data literacy, and it will include a performance from the only female double violinist in the world.
More than 100 speakers — activists, scientists, adventurers, change-makers and more — took the stage to give the talk of their lives this week in Vancouver at TED2018. One blog post could never hope to hold all of the extraordinary wisdom they shared. Here’s a (shamelessly inexhaustive) list of the themes and highlights we heard throughout the week — and be sure to check out full recaps of day 1, day 2, day 3 and day 4.
Discomfort is a proxy for progress. If we hope to break out of the filter bubbles that are defining this generation, we have to talk to and connect with people we disagree with. This message resonated across the week at TED, with talks from Zachary R. Wood and Dylan Marron showing us the power of reaching out, even when it’s uncomfortable. As Wood, a college student who books “uncomfortable speakers,” says: “Tuning out opposing viewpoints doesn’t make them go away.” To understand how society can progress forward, he says, “we need to understand the counterforces.” Marron’s podcast “Conversations With People Who Hate Me” showcases him engaging with people who have attacked him on the internet. While it hasn’t led to world peace, it has helped him develop empathy for his bullies. “Empathizing with someone I profoundly disagree with doesn’t suddenly erase my deeply held beliefs and endorse theirs,” he cautions. “I simply am acknowledging the humanity of a person who has been taught to think a certain way, someone who thinks very differently than me.”
The Audacious Project, a new initiative for launching big ideas, seeks to create lasting change at scale. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Audacious ideas for big impact. The Audacious Project, TED’s newest initiative, aims to be the nonprofit version of an IPO. Housed at TED, it’s a collaboration among some of the biggest names in philanthropy that asks for nonprofit groups’ most audacious dreams; each year, five will be presented at TED with an invitation for the audience and world to get involved. The inaugural Audacious group includes public defender Robin Steinberg, who’s working to end the injustice of bail; oceanographer Heidi M. Sosik, who wants to explore the ocean’s twilight zone; Caroline Harper from Sight Savers, who’s working to end the scourge of trachoma; conservationist Fred Krupp, who wants to use the power of satellites and data to track methane emissions in unprecedented detail; and T. Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison, who are inspiring a nationwide movement for Black women’s health. Find out more (and how you can get involved) at AudaciousProject.org.
Living means acknowledging death. Philosopher-comedian Emily Levine has stage IV lung cancer — but she says there’s no need to “oy” or “ohhh” over her: she’s OK with it. Life and death go hand in hand, she says; you can’t have one without the other. Therein lies the importance of death: it sets limits on life, limits that “demand creativity, positive energy, imagination” and force you to enrich your existence wherever and whenever you can. Jason Rosenthal’s journey of loss and grief began when his wife, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, wrote about their lives in an article read by millions of people: “You May Want to Marry My Husband” — a meditation on dying disguised as a personal ad for her soon-to-be-solitary spouse. By writing their story, Amy made Jason’s grief public — and challenged him to begin anew. He speaks to others who may be grieving: “I would like to offer you what I was given: a blank sheet of paper. What will you do with your intentional empty space, with your fresh start?”
“It’s the responsibility of all of us to get to know our weaknesses, and make sure they don’t become weapons in the hands of enemies of democracy,” says Yuval Noah Harari. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Can we rediscover the humanity in our tech? In a visionary talk about a “globally tragic, astoundingly ridiculous mistake” companies like Google and Facebook made at the foundation of digital culture, Jaron Lanier suggested a way we can fix the internet for good: pay for it. “We cannot have a society in which, if two people wish to communicate, the only way that can happen is if it’s financed by a third person who wishes to manipulate them,” he says. Historian Yuval Noah Harari, appearing onstage as a hologram live from Tel Aviv, warns that with consolidation of data comes consolidation of power. Fascists and dictators, he says, have a lot to gain in our new digital age; and “it’s the responsibility of all of us to get to know our weaknesses, and make sure they don’t become weapons in the hands of enemies of democracy,” he says. Gizmodo writers Kashmir Hill and Surya Mattu survey the world of “smart devices” — the gadgets that “sit in the middle of our home with a microphone on, constantly listening,” and gathering data — to discover just what they’re up to. Hill turned her family’s apartment into a smart home, loading up on 18 internet-connected appliances; her colleague Mattu built a router that tracked how often the devices connected, who they were transmitting to, what they were transmitting. Through the data, he could decipher the Hill family’s sleep schedules, TV binges, even their tooth-brushing habits. And a lot of this data can be sold, including deeply intimate details. “Who is the true beneficiary of your smart home?” he asks. “You, or the company mining you?”
An invitation to build a better world. Actor and activist Tracee Ellis Ross came to TED with a message: the global collection of women’s experiences will not be ignored, and women will no longer be held responsible for the behaviors of men. Ross believes it is past time that men take responsibility to change men’s bad behavior — and she offers an invitation to men, calling them in as allies with the hope they will “be accountable and self-reflective.” She offers a different invitation to women: Acknowledge your fury. “Your fury is not something to be afraid of,” she says. “It holds lifetimes of wisdom. Let it breathe, and listen.”
Wow! discoveries. Among the TED Fellows, explorer and conservationist Steve Boyes’ efforts to chart Africa’s Okavango Delta has led scientists to identify more than 25 new species; University of Arizona astrophysicist Burçin Mutlu-Pakdil discovered a galaxy with an outer ring and a reddish inner ring that was unlike any ever seen before (her reward: it’s now called Burçin’s Galaxy). Another astronomer, University of Hawaii’s Karen Meech saw — and studied for an exhilarating few days — ‘Oumuamua, the first interstellar comet observed from Earth. Meanwhile, engineer Aaswath Raman is harnessing the cold of deep space to invent new ways to keep us cooler and more energy-efficient. Going from the sublime to the ridiculous, roboticist Simone Giertz showed just how much there is to be discovered from the process of inventing useless things.
Walter Hood shares his work creating public spaces that illuminate shared memories without glossing over past — and present — injustices. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Language is more than words. Even though the stage program of TED2018 consisted primarily of talks, many went beyond words. Architects Renzo Piano, Vishaan Chakbrabarti, Ian Firth and Walter Hood showed how our built structures, while still being functional, can lift spirits, enrich lives, and pay homage to memories. Smithsonian Museum craft curator Nora Atkinson shared images from Burning Man and explained how, in the desert, she found a spirit of freedom, creativity and collaboration not often found in the commercial art world. Designer Ingrid Fetell Lee uncovered the qualities that make everyday objects a joy to behold. Illustrator Christoph Niemann reminded us how eloquent and hilarious sketches can be; in her portraits of older individuals, photographer Isadora Kosofsky showed us that visuals can be poignant too. Paul Rucker discussed his painful collection of artifacts from America’s racial past and how the artistic act of making scores of Ku Klux Klan robes has brought him some catharsis. Our physical movements are another way we speak — for choreographer Elizabeth Streb, it’s expressing the very human dream to fly. For climber Alex Honnold, it was attaining a sense of mastery when he scaled El Capitan alone without ropes. Dolby Laboratories chief scientist Poppy Crum demonstrated the emotions that can be read through physical tells like body temperature and exhalations, and analytical chemist Simone Francese revealed the stories told through the molecules in our fingerprints.
Kate Raworth presents her vision for what a sustainable, universally beneficial economy could look like. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
Is human growth exponential or limited? There will be almost ten billion people on earth by 2050. How are we going to feed everybody, provide water for everybody and get power to everybody? Science journalist Charles C. Mann has spent years asking these questions to researchers, and he’s found that their answers fall into two broad categories: wizards and prophets. Wizards believe that science and technology will let us produce our way out of our dilemmas — think: hyper-efficient megacities and robots tending genetically modified crops. Prophets believe close to the opposite; they see the world as governed by fundamental ecological processes with limits that we transgress to our peril. As he says: “The history of the coming century will be the choice we make as a species between these two paths.” Taking up the cause of the prophets is Oxford economist Kate Raworth, who says that our economies have become “financially, politically and socially addicted” to relentless GDP growth, and too many people (and the planet) are being pummeled in the process. What would a sustainable, universally beneficial economy look like? A doughnut, says Raworth. She says we should strive to move countries out of the hole — “the place where people are falling short on life’s essentials” like food, water, healthcare and housing — and onto the doughnut itself. But we shouldn’t move too far lest we end up on the doughnut’s outside and bust through the planet’s ecological limits.
Seeing opportunity in adversity. “I’m basically nuts and bolts from the knee down,” says MIT professor Hugh Herr, demonstrating how his bionic legs — made up of 24 sensors, 6 microprocessors and muscle-tendon-like actuators — allow him to walk, skip and run. Herr builds body parts, and he’s working toward a goal that’s long been thought of as science fiction: for synthetic limbs to be integrated into the human nervous system. He dreams of a future where humans have augmented their bodies in a way that redefines human potential, giving us unimaginable physical strength — and, maybe, the ability to fly. In a beautiful, touching talk in the closing session of TED2018, Mark Pollock and Simone George take us inside their relationship — detailing how Pollock became paralyzed and the experimental work they’ve undertaken to help him regain motion. In collaboration with a team of engineers who created an exoskeleton for Pollock, as well as Dr. Reggie Edgerton’s team at UCLA, who developed a way to electrically stimulate the spinal cord of those with paralysis, Pollock was able to pull his knee into his chest during a lab test — proving that progress is definitely still possible.
TED Fellow and anesthesiologist Rola Hallam started the world’s first crowdfunded hospital in Syria. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
Spotting the chance to make a difference. The TED Fellows program was full of researchers, activists and advocates capitalizing on the spaces that go unnoticed. Psychiatrist Essam Daod, found a “golden hour” in refugees’ treks when their narratives can sometimes be reframed into heroes’ journeys; landscape architect Kotcharkorn Voraakhom realized that a park could be designed to allow her flood-prone city of Bangkok mitigate the impact of climate change; pediatrician Lucy Marcil seized on the countless hours that parents spend in doctors’ waiting rooms to offer tax assistance; sustainability expert DeAndrea Salvador realized the profound difference to be made by helping low-income North Carolina residents with their energy bills; and anesthesiologist Rola Hallam is addressing aid shortfalls for local nonprofits, resulting in the world’s first crowdfunded hospital in Syria.
Reed Hastings, the head of Netflix, listens to a question from Chris Anderson during a sparky onstage Q&A on the final morning of TED2018, April 14, 2018. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED
What a week. We’ve heard so much, from dystopian warnings to bold visions for change. Our brains are full. Almost. In this session we pull back to the human stories that underpin everything we are, everything we want. From new ways to set goals and move business forward, to unabashed visions for joy and community, it’s time to explore what matters.
The original people of this land. One important thing to know: TED’s conference home of Vancouver is built on un-ceded land that once belonged to First Nations people. So this morning, two DJs from A Tribe Called Red start this session by remembering and honoring them, telling First Nations stories in beats and images in a set that expands on the concept of Halluci Nation, inspired by the poet, musician and activist John Trudell. In Trudell’s words: “We are the Halluci Nation / Our DNA is of earth and sky / Our DNA is of past and future.”
The power of why, what and how. Our leaders and our institutions are failing us, and it’s not always because they’re bad or unethical. Sometimes, it’s simply because they’re leading us toward the wrong objectives, says venture capitalist John Doerr. How can we get back on track? The trick may be a system called OKR, developed by legendary management thinker Andy Grove. Doerr explains that OKR stands for ‘objectives and key results’ – and setting the right ones can be the difference between success and failure. However, before you set your objective (your what) and your key results (your how), you need to understand your why. “A compelling sense of why can be the launch pad for our objectives,” he says. He illustrates the power of OKRs by sharing the stories of individuals and organizations who’ve put them into practice, including Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin. “OKRs are not a silver bullet. They’re not going to be a substitute for a strong culture or for stronger leadership, but when those fundamentals are in place, they can take you to the mountaintop,” he says. He encourages all of us to take the time to write down our values, our objectives, and our key results – and to do it today. “Let’s fight for what it is that really matters, because we can take OKRs beyond our businesses. We can take them to our families, to our schools, even to our government. We can hold those governments accountable,” he says. “We can get back on the right track if we can and do measure what really matters.”
What’s powering China’s tech innovation? The largest mass migration in the world occurs every year around the Chinese Spring Festival. Over 40 days, travelers — including 290 million migrant workers — take 3 billion trips all over China. Few can afford to fly, so railways strained to keep up, with crowding, fraud and drama. So the Chinese technology sector has been building everything from apps to AI to ease not only this process, but other pain points throughout society. But unlike the US, where innovation is often fueled by academia and enterprise, China’s tech innovation is powered by “an overwhelming need economy that is serving an underprivileged populace, which has been separated for 30 years from China’s economic boom.” The CEO of the China Morning Post, Gary Liu has a front-row seat to this transformation. As China’s introduction of a “social credit rating” system suggests, a technology boom in an authoritarian society hides a significant dark side. But the Chinese internet hugely benefits its 772 million users. It has spread deeply into rural regions, revitalizing education and creating jobs. There’s a long way to go to bring the internet to everyone in China — more than 600 million people remain offline . But wherever the internet is fueling prosperity, “we should endeavor to follow it with capital and with effort, driving both economic and societal impact all over the world. Just imagine for a minute what more could be possible if the global needs of the underserved become the primary focus of our inventions.”
Netflix and chill, the interview. The humble beginnings of Netflix paved the way to transforming how we consume content today. Reed Hastings — who started out as a high school math teacher — admits that making the shift from DVDs to streaming was a big leap. “We weren’t confident,” he admits in his interview with TED Curator Chris Anderson. “It was scary.” Obviously, it paid off over time, with 117 million subscribers (and growing), more than $11 billion in revenue (so far) and a slew of popular original content (Black Mirror, anyone?) fueled by curated algorithmic recommendations. The offerings of Netflix, Hastings says, is a mixture of candy and broccoli — and it allows people to decide what a proper “diet” is for them. “We get a lot of joy from making people happy,” he says. The external culture of the streaming platform reflects its internal culture as well: they’re super focused on how to run with no process, but without chaos. There’s an emphasis on freedom, responsibility and honesty (as he puts it, “disagreeing silently is disloyal”). And though Hastings loves business — competing against the likes of HBO and Disney — he also enjoys his philanthropic pursuits supporting innovative education, such as the KIPP charter schools, and advocates for more variety in educational content. For now, he says, it’s the perfect job.
“E. Pluribus Unum” — ”Out of many, one.” It’s the motto of the United States, yet few citizens understand its meaning. Artist and designer Walter Hood calls for national landscapes that preserve the distinct identities of peoples and cultures, while still forging unity. Hood believes spaces should illuminate shared memories without glossing over past — and present — injustices. To guide his projects, Hood follows five simple guidelines. The first — “Great things happen when we exist in each other’s world” — helped fire up a Queens community garden initiative in collaboration with Bette Midler and hip-hop legend 50 Cent. “Two-ness” — or the sense of double identity faced by those who are “othered,” like women and African-Americans — lies behind a “shadow sculpture” at the University of Virginia that commemorates a forgotten, buried servant household uncovered during the school’s expansion. “Empathy” inspired the construction of a park in downtown Oakland that serves office workers and the homeless community, side-by-side. “The traditional belongs to all of us” — and to the San Francisco neighborhood of Bayview-Hunter’s Point, where Hood restored a Victorian opera house to serve the local community. And “Memory” lies at the core of a future shorefront park in Charleston, which will rest on top of Gadsden Wharf — an entry point for 40% of the United States’ slaves, where they were then “stored” in chains — that forces visitors to confront the still-resonating cruelty of our past.
The tension between acceptance and hope. When Simone George met Mark Pollock, it was eight years after he’d lost his sight. Pollock was rebuilding his identity — living a high-octane life of running marathons and racing across Antarctica to reach the South Pole. But a year after he returned from Antarctica, Pollock fell from a third-story window; he woke up paralyzed from the waist down. Pollock shares how being a realist — inspired by the writings of Admiral James Stockdale, a Vietnam POW — helped him through bleak days after this accident, when even hope seemed dangerous. George explains how she helped Pollock navigate months in the hospital; told that any sensation Pollock didn’t regain in the weeks immediately after the fall would likely never come back, the two looked to stories of others, like Christopher Reeve, who had pushed beyond what was understood as possible for those who are paralyzed. “History is filled with the kinds of impossible made possible through human endeavor,” Pollock says. So he started asking: Why can’t human endeavor cure paralysis in his lifetime? In collaboration with a team of engineers in San Francisco, who created an exoskeleton for Pollock, as well as Dr. Reggie Edgerton’s team at UCLA, who had developed a way to electrically stimulate the spinal cord of those with paralysis, Pollock was able to pull his knee into his chest during a lab test, proving that progress is definitely still possible. For now, “I accept the wheelchair, it’s almost impossible not to,” says Pollock. “We also hope for another life — a life where we have created a cure through collaboration, a cure that we’re actively working to release from university labs around the world and share with everyone who needs it.”
The pursuit of joy, not happiness. “How do tangible things make us feel intangible joy?” asks designer Ingrid Fetell Lee. She pursued this question for ten years to understand how the physical world relates to the mysterious, quixotic emotion of joy. In turns out, the physical can be a remarkable, renewable resource for fostering a happier, healthier life. There isn’t just one type of joy, and its definition morphs from person to person — but psychologists, broadly speaking, describe joy as intense, momentary experience of positive emotion (or, simply, as something that makes you want to jump up and down). However, joy shouldn’t be conflated with happiness, which measure how good we feel over time. So, Lee asked around about what brings people joy and eventually had a notebook filled with things like beach balls, treehouses, fireworks, googly eyes and ice cream cones with rainbow sprinkles, and realized something significant: the patterns of joy have roots in evolutionary history. Things like symmetrical shapes, bright colors, an attraction to abundance and multiplicity, a feeling of lightness or elevation — this is what’s universally appealing. Joy lowers blood pressure, improves our immune system and even increases productivity. She began to wonder: should we use these aesthetics to help us find more opportunities for joy in the world around us? “Joy begins with the senses,” she says. “What we should be doing is embracing joy, and finding ways to put ourselves in the path of it more often.”
And that’s a wrap. Speaking of joy, Baratunde Thurston steps out to close this conference with a wrap that shouts out the diversity of this year’s audience but also nudges the un-diverse selection of topics: next year, he asks, instead of putting an African child on a slide, can we put her onstage to speak for herself? He winds together the themes of the week, from the terrifying — killer robots, octopus robots, genetically modified piglets — to the badass, the inspiring and the mind-opening. Are you not amazed?
A monumental part of what brings the TED conference to life is the speakers and the amazing ideas they share on the TED stage. But here’s a riddle: What also shares the spotlight with each person who spends their 3 to 18 minutes speaking on the red dot? The magnificent session art, of course!
TED has collaborated with design firm Colours & Shapes since 2014. They are the minds behind the mesmerizing animated art seen at the start and throughout each session, which is tailored specifically to that session’s theme.
We caught up with Colours & Shapes in their hometown of Vancouver, BC, to learn more about the process behind an integral part of what’s brought TED2018: The Age of Amazement to life.
A globally changing landscape forms the backdrop for Session 4, the Audacious Project. Over the course of the evening’s session, the light slowly fades onscreen.
Q: Tell us about your team and company:
Colours & Shapes was founded in 2012 by Gordie Cochran and Anthony Diehl. We actually sort of stumbled into it. We saw an opportunity to leverage our diverse backgrounds in film, events and tech to craft amazing, meaningful experiences. Our passion has really been to architect “moments” that stick with you; moments that resonate with that deep “why” behind any event or experience.
Q: Take us through the creative process: from receiving the prompts to fruition … were there technical considerations or concerns you had to troubleshoot?
The creative process has been really wonderful. We love how open the TED curation team is to some pretty “out there” visual ideas. Our process was really all about understanding the session themes and curation and finding ways to to unpack “amazement” in each. We started with really rough sketches and motifs. We gave particular consideration to how we could use projection on the stage and the beautiful wood cases. We knew from the start that we wanted to treat the entire stage and screens as one unified canvas for content. We worked really closely with Mina, Mike and Martha to find just the right tone for each session. Our looks moved pretty quickly from sketches and moodboards to illustration and animation.
The creative process really followed the development of the sessions. As we learned more about the speakers and topics, there was so much great inspiration to draw on visually. From the unique red laser light in Mary Lou Jepsen’s talk to ocean exploration and intimate storytelling, we wanted each session to feel like the perfect space to hear each TED Talk. Our team worked incredibly hard in the weeks leading up to TED to produce all these diverse session environments. And we worked in a lot of different mediums! Traditional animation, illustration, film, compositing, VFX … At one point we found ourselves smearing around a lot of tea, cream and sugar in macro videography for one session look (Session 5: Space to Dream).
Q: What were you most excited about when you heard this year’s theme was Age of Amazement?
Love the theme! We were immediately intrigued and drawn in when we starting talking about this year theme. Each session really has its own way that it interacts with the theme in a way that is really fun and interesting. The early creative motifs we developed were all about exploring “amazement” through a variety of lenses: emotions, optical illusions, perspective shifts, shadow play, etc.
Q: The art for each session is based on the session title — any secret inspirations? (A little birdy told me about song lyrics inspiring Session 5 … are there others like that?)
- There were a few sessions that we really wanted to tie into. The red laser light for Session 9: Body Electric is a nod to Mary Lou Jepsen’s talk.
- Nerdish Delight is a playful nod to the ubiquitous “sexy tech product reveal” video. It’s all cool sculpted lines, slick materials and studio lighting … except we never get to see just what the product is!
- “Wow. Just wow.” is an M.C. Escher-esque optical illusion. It’s all about the thrill of a perspective shift, that “wow” moment when you realize you are seeing something completely new and exciting.
- “Space to Dream” really started as we asked ourselves, “What do astrophysicist daydream about?” We imagined ourselves staring into a cup of tea and losing ourselves in a waking dream about beautiful unseen corners of the universe. In one of our creative meetings with the TED team the lyrics to the Blondie song “Dreaming” came up: “I’ll have a cup of tea and tell you of my dreaming …” It’s a beautiful deep space daydream that is built entirely from filmed elements like tea, sugar, cream and food coloring. No actual nebulae were harmed in the filming of that session.
Q: Any “easter eggs” we should look for?
The Blondie song connection above is a fun one.
Session 10, Personally Speaking, is a session all about little scenes and objects that suggest a story, but don’t quite give you all the info. Sort of like the opening line of a good short story. The wood cases on stage and “rooms” in the session environment shift and turn.
Q: What do you want the audience to experience while watching your art?
In a word? Amazement! Our hope is that each visual environment serves to support the deep, intentional and thoughtful curation that has gone into each session for TED 2018. In working closely with the team at TED, we have worked to extract as many insights, themes, inspirations for each session and then have endeavoured to create visual environments that effectively captures the DNA of each session in thoughtful, creative and whimsical ways.
The shifting panels and details of Session 2’s screen reflects the session title: “After the end of history …”
Q: What are you most proud of from this project?
Definitely our talented team members! Producing great experiences and beautiful creative takes a team that can bend and bow with evolving ideas and creative discovery. Getting to partner with the brilliant team at TED and come alongside and be able to visually bring big ideas to life in the theatre has been a really fantastic and creatively rich experience for C&S. Hard to pick favourites from the content but we really love how the conference opener came out. Jorge Canedo Estrada’s sumptuous animation is second to none. Also, seeing Mike Ellis’ gorgeous illustration come to life in a crazy shifting 3D world in “Wow. Just Wow.” is something we could watch all day!
Q: How many people work on making this happen?
We pulled together a team of multidisciplinary creatives to built out the visual worlds for TED2018. We have collaborated with a team of illustrators, designers, animators and composers, 13 people total.
Q: Any interesting or fun stories you’d like to share that happened during the process?
The intensity of taking everything on with a short timeline, and then throwing the opener into the mix weeks before the event. This led to some long nights in animation! But seeing it all come to life in the theatre was incredibly rewarding.
Q: Anything I’m missing? Anything you’d like to add?
Thank you to Chris, Mina, Mike, Martha and the TED team for having us along for the ride this year!
Bright colors and natural motifs tell the story of Session 11, “What matters.”
For the TED conference this year, we wanted to entertain attendees between talks — and support and encourage up-and-coming filmmakers. Meet TEDFilms, a new program for promoting the creation of original short films.
Executive-produced by Sinéad McDevitt and led up by TED’s director of Production and Video Operations, Mina Sabet, the short films acted as a creative palate-cleanser during the speaker program, a short blast of humor, beauty and awe.
Each film is less than two minutes, and genres range from experimental art and documentary to PSA and dark comedy. Enjoy!
As light passes through defective glass, beams split into color spectra, causing ‘diffraction grating’. For the first time ever in film, we get up close and personal with this visual phenomenon in a series of beautiful chromatic abstractions.
Director: Shane Griffin
Music: Gavin Little
With special thanks to:
Ed Bruce at Screenscene
Illusions for a Better Society
Could visual illusions be a cure for polarization?
Director of Photography: William Atherton
Production Design: Adam Pruitt
Creative Partner: SpecialGuest
Production Company: 1stAveMachine
Music: Bryn Bliska
It’s Not Amazing Enough
The pressures of having to make an amazing film sent this deadpan deep-voiced award winning filmmaker into a crippling spiral of self-doubt and comic indecision.
Director, Writer & Producer: Duncan Cowles
After 100 years of progress, AI bots have finally become too human for their own good.
Directors: Emerald Fennell & Chris Vernon
Director of Photography: Ben Kracun
Production Design: Jessica Sutton
VFX: Coffee & TV
Even in the Age of Amazement, sometimes you need a break between talks packed with fascinating science, tech, art and so much more. That’s where interstitials come in: short videos that entertain and intrigue, while allowing the brain a moment to reset and ready itself to absorb more information.
For this year’s conference, TED commissioned and premiered four short films made just for the conference. Check out those films here!
Mixed in with our originals, curator Anyssa Samari curated a week-long program of even more videos — animations, music, even cool ads — to play throughout the week. Here’s the program of shorts she found, from creative people all around the world:
The short: Jane Zhang: “Dust My Shoulders Off.” A woman having a bad day is transported a world of famous paintings where she has a fantastic adventure.
The creator: Outerspace Leo
Shown during: Session 2, After the end of history …
The short: “zoom(art).” A kaleidoscopic, visually compelling journey of artificial intelligence creating beautiful works of art.
The creator: Directed and programmed by Alexander Mordvintsev, Google Research
Shown during: Session 2, After the end of history …
The short: “20syl – Kodama.” A music video of several hands playing multiple instruments (and drawing a picture) simultaneously to create a truly delicious electronic beat.
The creators: Mathieu Le Dude & 20syl
Shown during: Session 3, Nerdish Delight
The short: “If HAL-9000 was Alexa.” 2001: A Space Odyssey seems a lot less sinister (and lot more funny) when Alexa can’t quite figure out what Dave is saying.
The creator: ScreenJunkies
Shown during: Session 3, Nerdish Delight
The short: “Maxine the Fluffy Corgi.” A narrated day in the life of an adorable pup named Maxine who know what she wants.
The creator: Bryan Reisberg
Shown during: Session 3, Nerdish Delight
The short: “RGB FOREST.” An imaginative, colorful and geometric jaunt through the woods set to jazzy electronic music.
The creator: LOROCROM
Shown during: Session 6, What on earth do we do?
The short: “High Speed Hummingbirds.” Here’s your chance to watch the beauty and grace of hummingbirds in breathtaking slow motion.
The creator: Anand Varma
Shown during: Session 6, What on earth do we do?
The short: “Cassius ft. Cat Power & Pharrell Williams | Go Up.” A split screen music video that cleverly subverts and combines versions of reality.
The creator: Alex Courtès
Shown during: Session 7, Wow. Just wow.
The short: “Blobby.” A stop motion film about a man and a blob and the peculiar relationship they share.
The creator: Laura Stewart
Shown during: Session 7, Wow. Just wow.
The short: “WHO.” David Byrne and St. Vincent dance and sing in this black-and-white music video about accidents and consequences.
The creator: Martin de Thurah
Shown during: Session 8, Insanity. Humanity.
The short: “MAKIN’ MOVES.” When music makes the body move in unnatural, impossible ways.
The creator: Kouhei Nakama
Shown during: Session 9, Body electric
The short: “The Art of Flying.” The beautiful displays the Common Starling performs in nature.
The creator: Jan van IJken
Shown during: Session 9, Body electric
The short: “Kiss & Cry.” The heart-rending story of Giselle, a woman who lives and loves and wants to be loved. (You’ll never guess who plays the heroine.)
The creators: Jaco Van Dormael and choreographer Michèle Anne De Mey
Shown during: Session 10, Personally speaking
The short: “Becoming Violet.” The power of the human body, in colors and dance.
The creator: Steven Weinzierl
Shown during: Session 10, Personally speaking
The short: “Golden Castle Town.” A woman is transported to another world and learns to appreciate life anew.
The creator: Andrew Benincasa
Shown during: Session 10, Personally speaking
The short: “Tom Rosenthal | Cos Love.” A love letter to love that is grand and a bit melacholic.
The creator: Kathrin Steinbacher
Shown during: Session 11, What matters
Three sessions of memorable TED Talks covering life, death and the future of humanity made the penultimate day of TED2018 a remarkable space for tech breakthroughs and dispatches from the edges of culture.
Here are some of the themes we heard echoing through the opening day, as well as some highlights from around the conference venue in Vancouver.
The future built on genetic code. DNA is built on four letters: G, C, A, T. These letters determine the sequences of the 20 amino acids in our cells that build the proteins that make life possible. But what if that “alphabet” got bigger? Synthetic biologist and chemist Floyd Romesberg suggests that the four letters of the genetic alphabet are not all that unique. He and his colleagues constructed the first “semi-synthetic” life forms based on a 6-letter DNA. With these extra building blocks, cells can construct hitherto unseen proteins. Someday, we could tailor these cells to fulfill all sorts of functions — building new, hyper-targeted medicines, seeking out and destroying cancer, or “eating” toxic materials. And maybe soon, we’ll be able to use that expanded DNA alphabet to teleport. That’s right, you read it here first: teleportation is real. Biologist and engineer Dan Gibson reports from the front lines of science fact that we are now able to transmit the most fundamental parts of who we are: our DNA. It’s called biological teleportation, and the idea is that biological entities including viruses and living cells can be reconstructed in a distant location if we can read and write the sequence of that DNA code. The machines that perform this fantastic feat, the BioXP and the DBC, stitch together both long and short forms of genetic code that can be downloaded from the internet. That means that in the future, with an at-home version of these machines (or even one worlds away, say like, Mars), we may be able to download and print personalized therapeutic medications, prescriptions and even vaccines.
“If we want to create meaningful technology to counter radicalization, we have to start with the human journey at its core,” says technologist Yasmin Green at Session 8 at TED2018: The Age of Amazement, April 13, Vancouver. (Photo: Jason Redmond / TED)
Dispatches from the fight against hate online. At Jigsaw (a division of Alphabet), Yasmin Green and her colleagues were given the mandate to build technology that could help make the world safer from extremism and persecution. In 2016, Green collaborated with Moonshot CVE to pilot a new approach, the “Redirect Method.” She and a team interviewed dozens of former members of violent extremist groups, and used what they learned to create targeted advertising aimed at people susceptible to ISIS’s recruiting — and counter those messages. In English and Arabic, the eight-week pilot program reached more than 300,000 people. “If technology has any hope of overcoming today’s challenges,” Green says, “we must throw our entire selves into understanding these issues and create solutions that are as human as the problems they aim to solve.” Dylan Marron is taking a different approach to the problem of hate on the internet. His video series, such as “Sitting in Bathrooms With Trans People,” have racked up millions of views, and they’ve also sent a slew of internet poison in his direction. He developed a coping mechanism: he calls up the people who leave hateful remarks, opening their chats with a simple question: “Why did you write that?” These exchanges have been captured on Marron’s podcast “Conversations With People Who Hate Me.” While it hasn’t led to world peace, he says it’s caused him to develop empathy for his bullies. “Empathizing with someone I profoundly disagree with doesn’t suddenly erase my deeply held beliefs and endorse theirs,” he cautions. “I simply am acknowledging the humanity of a person who has been taught to think a certain way, someone who thinks very differently than me.”
Is artificial intelligence actually intelligence? Not yet, says Kevin Frans. Earlier in his teen years (he’s now just 18) he joined the OpenAI lab to think about the fascinating problem of making AI that has true intelligence. Right now, he says, a lot of what we call intelligence is just trial-and-error on a massive scale — a machine can try every possible solution, even ones too absurd for a human to imagine, until it finds the thing that works best to solve a single discrete problem. Which really isn’t general intelligence. So Frans is conceptualizing instead a way to think about AI from a skills perspective — specifically, the ability to learn simple skills and assemble them to accomplish tasks. It’s early days for this approach, and for Kevin himself, who is part of the first generation to grow up as AI natives. Picking up on the thread of pitfalls of current AI, artist and technology critic James Bridle describes how automated copycats on YouTube mimic trusted videos by using algorithmic tricks to create “fake news” for kids. End result: children exploring YouTube videos from their favorite cartoon characters are sent down autoplaying rabbit holes, where they can find eerie, disturbing videos filled with very real violence and very real trauma. Algorithms are touted as the fix, but as Bridle says, machine learning is really just what we call software that does things we don’t understand … and we have enough of that already, no?
Chetna Gala Sinha tells us about a bank in India that meets the needs of rural poor women who want to save and borrow. (Photo: Jason Redmond / TED)
Listen and learn. Takemia MizLadi Smith spoke up for the front-desk staffer, the checkout clerk, and everyone who’s ever been told they need to start collecting information from customers, whether it be an email, zip code or data about their race and gender. Smith makes the case to empower every front desk employee who collects data — by telling them exactly how that data will be used. Chetna Gala Sinha, meanwhile, started a bank in India that meets the needs of rural poor women who want to save and borrow — and whom traditional banks would not touch. How does the bank improve their service? As Chetna says: simply by listening. Meanwhile, sex educator Emily Nagoski talked about a syndrome called emotional nonconcordance, where what your body seems to want runs counter to what you actually want. In an intimate situation, ahem, it can be hard to figure out which one to listen to, head or body. Nagoski gives us full permission and encouragement to listen to your head, and to the words coming out of the mouth of your partner. And Harvard Business School prof Frances Frei gave a crash course in trust — building it, keeping it, and the hardest, rebuilding it. She shares lessons from her stint as an embed at Uber, where far from listening to in meetings, staffers would actually text each other during meetings — about the meeting. True listening, the kind that builds trust, starts with putting away your phone.
Bionic man Hugh Herr envisions humanity soaring out of the 21st century. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)
A new way to heal our bodies … and build new ones. Optical engineer Mary Lou Jepsen shares an exciting new tool for reading what’s inside our bodies. It exploits the properties of red light, which behaves differently in different body materials. Our bones and flesh scatter red light (as she demonstrates on a piece of raw chicken breast), while our red blood absorbs it and doesn’t let it pass through. By measuring how light scatters, or doesn’t, inside our bodies, and using a technique called holography to study the resulting patterns as the light comes through the other side, Jepsen believe we can gain a new way to spot tumors and other anomalies, and eventually to create a smaller, more efficient replacement for the bulky MRI. MIT professor Hugh Herr is working on a different way to heal — and augment — our bodies. He’s working toward a goal that’s long been thought of as science fiction: for synthetic limbs to be integrated into the human nervous system. He calls it neural embodied design, a methodology to create cyborg function where the lines between the natural and synthetic world are blurred. This future will provide humanity with new bodies and end disability, Herr says — and it’s already happening. He introduces us to Jim Ewing, a friend who lost a foot in a climbing accident. Using the Agonist-antagonist Myoneural Interface, or AAMI, a method Herr and his team developed at MIT to connect nerves to a prosthetic, Jim’s bones and muscles were integrated with a synthetic limb, re-establishing the neural connection between his ankle and foot muscles and his brain. What might be next? Maybe, the ability to fly.
Announcements! Back in 2014, space scientist Will Marshall introduced us to his company, Planet, and their proposed fleet of tiny satellites. The goal: to image the planet every day, showing us how Earth changes in near-real time. In 2018, that vision has come good: every day, a fleet of about 200 small satellites pictures every inch of the planet, taking 1.5 million 29-megapixel images every day (about 6T of data daily), gathering data on changes both natural and human-made. This week at TED, Marshall announced a consumer version of Planet, called Planet Stories, to let ordinary people play with these images. Start playing now here. Another announcement comes from futurist Ray Kurzweil: a new way to query the text inside books using something called semantic search — which is a search on ideas and concepts, rather than specific words. Called TalkToBooks, the beta-stage product uses an experimental AI to query a database of 120,000 books in about a half a second. (As Kurzweil jokes: “It takes me hours to read a hundred thousand books.”) Jump in and play with TalkToBooks here. Also announced today: “TED Talks India: Nayi Soch” — the wildly popular Hindi-language TV series, created in partnership with StarTV and hosted by Shah Rukh Khan — will be back for three more seasons.
But would it be a dream to sit on? Steelcase showed off its SILQ Chair at TED2018: The Age of Amazement, April 10 – 14, 2018, Vancouver. Photo: Jason Redmond / TEDs
It’s only fitting that the chair which serves as the focal point of the Steelcase exhibit space at TED2018 was inspired, in part, by a TED Talk. Back at TED2009, Steelcase VP of Global Design and Product Engineering James Ludwig saw athlete and Paralympian Aimee Mullins speak about her different prostheses (TED Talk: My 12 pairs of legs). He was especially intrigued by her carbon-fiber “cheetah feet” and how they could store and release energy. He wondered: Could this wondrously light yet stiff yet flexible material — revolutionizing airplane, car and bicycle manufacturing — be used in a desk chair?
Carbon fiber hadn’t been used in mainstream furniture, but Ludwig was also bent on following a vision he’d had the previous year. The standard high-tech office chair had become what he calls “an exquisite machine” — consisting of up to 250 parts — but he’d tired of these contraptions. “I didn’t want to feel like I was sitting on a mechanical bull,” says Ludwig (can we get an amen?). He wanted to make a chair that was far simpler, so he sketched one that sat on “four leaf-like tendrils.” He had no idea how he’d build it, but that’s the task of industrial designers: envisioning what doesn’t exist — and then making it happen.
Mullins’s feet lingered in his mind, and he thought back to his dream seating and realized he might have found a solution. His next step was to see if a chair could even been made from carbon fiber. The result, which took him and his team several years to design and execute, was the LessThanFive, named because it weighs less than five pounds.
The game was on. In the Steelcase Innovation Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Ludwig found a corner space, papered the windows, gathered a handful of colleagues, and set to realizing the chair that he’d seen only in his mind. Six months later, he had a prototype. It was everything he wanted — responsive and streamlined — except for its price: it would be prohibitively expensive to produce. “Carbon fiber is a handicraft; it needs to be finished by hand,” explains Ludwig.
He told his engineers that they needed to figure out how to do it more cheaply. After some grumbling and sighing, they returned to work and created what Ludwig evasively refers to as a “proprietary fiber and material composition” — in other words, a patent-pending substance that was made from a high-performance polymer. Upholstery, molding and operations teams were called in, and 18 months later, Ludwig’s creation was released in January 2018: the SILQ chair.
He had a lofty mission: “I wanted it to look like Isamu Noguchi had an aerospace degree.” And with its soft curves and sculptural lines, it kind of does. It also drastically reduced the number of parts: just 30. The special polymer replaced many of the springs and hinges that provide flex and support in the typical desk chair. And in a welcome development to anyone who’s hit the wrong switch and made their chair plummet ridiculously during a meeting, it has only one lever that raises and lowers the seat.
But how does it feel? Well, when I sat in the SILQ, it felt like it was made for someone my size. In some sort of industrial-design wizardry, the back cradled my lower back and my head in the right spots — it was the opposite experience of sitting in an airplane seat where I always feel like I’m wearing someone else’s shoes. “This is a once-in-a-decade chair,” pronounces Ludwig.”It’s intuitive and material-based.” Maybe so, but to me, it was something much more special: comfortable.
What does an illustrator’s life look like? Well, says Christoph Niemann, most of the time: this. He spoke at TED2018 on April 13, 2018, in Vancouver. Photo: Jason Redmond / TED
Sketches that speak volumes. When illustrator Christoph Niemann wakes up after falling asleep on an airplane, he says, “I have the most terrible taste in my mouth that cannot be described with words … But it can be drawn.” Then he shows a spot-on sketch of an outstretched tongue with a dead-fish-rat-hybrid creature on it. Trying to recap his intensely visual talk in words resembles his struggle, because this talk speaks largely through witty, whimsical drawings. Niemann believes all people are bilingual, “fluent in the language of reading images,” and most of our fluency comes organically. For example, while you might remember learning to read the words “men” and “women,” can you recall anyone explaining to you what the symbols on the doors of the bathroom meant? You just figured it out. People share a rich and common visual vocabulary, so Niemann likes to take “images from remote cultural areas and bring them together” — hence his putting the words “ceci n’est pas une pipe” in cursive above white iPhone earbuds. Using this collective lexicon, Niemann and other artists can communicate information, satirize people and ideas, express empathy, and make us laugh — all without words. In that way, he says, as deft as his drawings are, they’d be nothing without an audience. He says, “The real magic happens in the mind of the viewer.”
“Once your appliances can talk, who else will they talk to?” Gizmodo writers Kashmir Hill and Surya Mattu survey the world of “smart devices” — the gadgets that “sit in the middle of our home with a microphone on, constantly listening,” and gathering data — to discover just what they’re up to. To do this, Kashmir turned her San Francisco apartment into a full-fledged smart home, loading up on 18 different internet-connected appliances — including a “smart bed” that calculated her nightly “sleep score” to let her know if she was well-rested or not. Her colleague Surya built a special router to figure out how often the devices connected, who they were transmitting to, what they were transmitting — and what of that data could be sold. The results were surprising — and a little creepy. By poring over Kashmir’s family’s data, Surya could decipher their sleep schedules, TV binges, tooth-brushing habits. And while many appliances connected only for updates, the Amazon Echo connected shockingly often — every three minutes. All of this data can tell companies how rich or poor you are, whether or not you’re an insurance risk, and — perhaps worst of all — the state of your sex life. (A digital vibrator company was caught “data-mining their customers’ orgasms.”) All this may lead you to ask, as Surya does, “Who is the true beneficiary of your smart home? You, or the company mining you?”
Embrace the diversity within. Rebeca Hwang has spent a lifetime juggling identities (Korean heritage, Argentinian upbringing, educated in the United States), and for a long time she had difficulty finding a place in the world to call home. Instead, one day, she had a pivotal realization: it was fruitless to search for total commonality with the people around her. Instead, she decided, she would embrace all the possible versions of herself — and the superpower it grants her to make connections with all kinds of people. Through thoughtful reinvention of her personhood, Hwang rid herself of constant anxiety, by “cultivating diversity within me and not just around me.” In the wake of her personal revolution, she’s continued to live a multifaceted life and accept the endless advantages it brings. She hopes to raise her children, who are already growing up with a unique combination of backgrounds, to help create a world where identities are used not to alienate others but to bring people together.
Life after loss. Jason Rosenthal’s journey of loss and grief began when his wife, Amy Krouse-Rosenthal (a best-selling children’s book author), wrote about their lives in a New York Times article read by millions of people. “You May Want to Marry My Husband” was a meditation on dying, disguised as a personal ad for her soon-to-be-solitary spouse. By writing their story, Amy made Jason’s grief public, and gave him an empty page on which he could inscribe the rest of his life. For Jason, “The key to my being able to persevere is Amy’s express and very public edict that I must go on.” But grief carries memories, especially of the process of dying itself. Amy chose home hospice, which gave her happiness — but Jason is honest about the complications it caused for the survivors, including the inevitable, indelible memory of when Jason carried a lifeless Amy “down our stairs, through our living and our dining room, to a waiting gurney to have her body cremated.” Jason’s salvation lay in Amy’s challenge to begin anew, which he shares with others who may be grieving: “I would like to offer you what I was given: a blank sheet of paper. What will you do with your intentional empty space, with your fresh start?”
An emotional reset. Many of us in the audience knew Amy Krouse Rosenthal, who had a key role in planning our TED Active conference; session co-host Juliet Blake asks for the house lights to dim for a moment to create some space for quiet reflection. Then the extraordinary violinist Lili Haydn steps onstage for a welcome musical interlude. Unaccompanied by a band, she performs an emotional and elegant piece of her original musical, called “The Last Serenade.”
Can we help every employee be GRACED? Over the years, poet and trainer Tamekia MizLadi Smith has met her share of Miz Margarets — the longtime front-desk employee at a medical office who knows her job perfectly well and doesn’t take kindly to change. So when new rules for data collection come down from the top, and that suddenly she needs to ask every patient to self-identify by gender (with 6 options!), by race (with even more options!) and nationality (with even more options still!!), it’s no wonder that Miz Margaret starts thinking about early retirement. But what if she knew that this data would be used to help her patients, not to stereotype them — to help the office speak more respectfully to people of all genders, to get research funding for under-served groups? Smith shares an acrostic poem on the letters G.R.A.C.E.D. that will inspire bosses, trainers and data collectors to think carefully about the front-line employees who’ll be asking for this data. Bottom line: Always let people know that (and how) their work matters.
A bank that helps women empower themselves. A few years after social entrepreneur Chetna Gala Sinha moved from Mumbai to a remote village in Maharashtra, India, she met a woman named Kantabai. She was a blacksmith who wanted to open a bank account to save her hard-earned money, but when Sinha accompanied her to the bank, she was turned down because they didn’t think her small savings rate was worth their effort or time. Sinha decided that if the bank wouldn’t open an account for poor women like Kantabai, she would start one that would – and the Mann Deshi Bank was born. Today, it has 100,000 accounts and has done over $20 million in business. Over the years, her women customers have consistently pushed Sinha to come up with better solutions to their needs, teaching her one of the biggest lessons she’s learned: “Never provide poor solutions to poor people.” She shares the stories of Kerabai, Sunita, and Sarita – other women like Kantabai who’ve inspired her over the years and profoundly influenced her work. “There are millions of women like Sarita, Kerabai, Sunita, who can be around you also, they can be all over the world, but at first glance, you may think that they do not have anything to say, they do not have anything to share. You would be so wrong,” she says. Encouraged by the women she works with, Sinha is now in the midst of creating the first fund for women micro entrepreneurs in India, and the first Small Finance Bank for women in the world.
Paging through the Chess Records catalog. “You can’t do Chuck Berry better than Chuck, or Fontella Bass better than Fontella,” says Elise LeGrow, but on her latest record, Playing Chess, the Canadian singer pays homage to these greats (and the American label Chess Records that produced them) with intimate, pared-down interpretations of their hits. On the TED stage, she and her band performed Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell,” “Over the Mountain,” first popularized by Johnnie and Joe, and a slinky cover of Fontella Bass’s sensational “Rescue Me.”
Truth comes from the collision of ideas. Legendary artistic director Oskar Eustis closes session 10 with a beautiful message about the place of theater in modern (and ancient) life. Theater and democracy were born together in Athens in the late sixth century BCE, when the idea that power should stem from the consent of the governed — from below to above, not the other way around — was reshaping the world. At the same time, people were exploring how the truth can best emerge from the conflict between two points of view. Through dialogue, empathy with characters and the experience of watching a performance together with others in the audience, the theater and democracy become parts of a whole. Fast-forward 2,500 years to when Joseph Papp founded The Public Theater. Papp wanted everyone in America to be able to experience theater — so he created free Shakespeare in the Park, based on the idea that the best art that we can produce should be available for everybody. Over the next decades, The Public brought art to the people with plays like The Normal Heart, Chorus Line and Angels in America, among many others. In 2005, when Eustis took over artistic direction, he took Shakespeare in the Park on the road, bringing theater to the people and making it about them. With Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda tapped into this idea of art for the people as well. “What Lin was doing is exactly what Shakespeare was doing — he was taking the language of the people, elevating it into verse and by doing so ennobling the language and ennobling the people who spoke the language.” But we need to go a step further on this form of inclusion, Eustis says, outlining his plan to reach (and listen to) people in places across the United States where the theater, like so many other institutions, has turned its back — like the de-industrialized Rust Belt. “Our job is to try to hold up a vision to America that shows not only who all of us are individually but that welds us back into the commonality that we need to be,” Eustis says.
Shah Rukh Khan hosts Season 1 of TED Talks India: Nayi Soch, which was just renewed for three more seasons on Star Plus. Photo: Amit Madheshiya / TED
New York, NY (April 13, 2018)—TED announced today that its highly acclaimed Star Plus TV prime-time series TED Talks India: Nayi Soch, a Hindi-language TV and digital series hosted by Shah Rukh Khan which premiered last fall, has been renewed for three more seasons.
The first season, which featured speakers delivering inspiring and informative talks in TED’s signature style of 18 minutes or less, drew an astounding 96 million viewers over its first season in fall 2017.
TED Talks India: Nayi Soch speakers deliver TED Talks in Hindi on topics as varied as science and social justice before a live studio audience, with professional subtitles in Hindi and in English provided for viewers at home. Almost every talk features a short Q&A between the speaker and Khan that dives deeper into the ideas shared onstage.
TED Talks India: Nayi Soch host and Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan said: “I believe passionately that India is brimming with brave and brilliant ideas—and that those ideas have never mattered more. This program features India’s finest storytellers in a surprising blend of entertainment, inspiration and intellectualism, and I‘m more committed than ever to spreading their ideas to my country and the rest of the world.”
TED’s Head of Television Juliet Blake, who executive-produced the series, said: “We’re incredibly proud of this show’s accomplishments breaking barriers to reach new audiences, and look forward to spending the next several seasons inspiring a nation to embrace ideas and curiosity.”
Star TV CEO and Chairman Uday Shankar said: “Star TV is committed to developing programming that goes beyond pure entertainment to inspire and educate our massive audience. Both the critical response and the tremendous viewer love for this series were key factors in our decision to bring Ted Talks India: Nayi Soch back for at least three more seasons.”
Head of TED Chris Anderson said: “Ultimately TED’s goal is to develop compelling new content formats that can make ideas available and relevant to billions of people we haven’t reached yet. This journey with Star TV and Shah Rukh Khan has allowed us to make significant progress spreading ideas.”
Here’s what audiences have had to say:
- “Amidst all the ruckus of daily soaps fighting for TRPs we’ve finally got a TV show that’s absolutely worth watching.” – Neeraj Chavan (via Quora)
- “#TEDTalksIndiaNayiSoch is one of the best initiatives ever, I loved watching @TEDTalks and now that idea and platform have been brought to India I am amazed to see that how much potential India has! –@Umangkelani (via Twitter)
- “This action-packed one hour show airing on Star Plus is definitely a great way to explore revolutionary ideas from Indians.” – Anuj Shikarkhane (via Quora)
- “It is clear from today’s scenario of world that number of problems are way more than the problem solvers and we need crowd support to solve them. This is where TED Talks India helps. It makes people aware about the issues and ways to address it. This is the need of the hour.” – Aayush Wadhwa (via Quora)
- “This show shows us that there are great undiscovered minds in our country and a [number] of unsung heroes. TED is like a light bulb in the dark field of the daily soaps which we experiencing for years.” – Rishabh Nayan (via Quora)
Here’s what reviewers have had to say:
- “[P]robably the best show to have premiered on Indian television, in recent times.” – First Post
- “The content is great with a host of speakers discussing ideas that leave people inspired and positive.” – India Today
- “The best part about the show is that you get to learn so much. It is enlightening to say the least.” – Bollywood Life
- “[S]omething absolutely must for Indian audiences.” – Chandigarh Metro
The TED Talks India: Nayi Soch audience stretches beyond television on TED.com/india and for TED mobile app users in India. Each episode has been conveniently broken out into individual TED Talks, one talk for each speaker on the program. Viewers can watch and share them on their own, or download them as playlists to watch one after another.
Host Shah Rukh Khan and TED’s head of television, Juliet Blake, wrap production of TED Talks India: Nayi Soch season 1. The show has been renewed after garnering 96 million viewers and sparkling reviews in its first season. Photo: Amit Madheshiya / TED
Here onstage at TED2018, futurist Ray Kurzweil has just formally announced a new way to query the text inside books using something called semantic search — which is a search on ideas and concepts, rather than specific words. Called TalkToBooks, the beta-stage product uses an experimental AI to query a database of 120,000 books in about a half a second. (As Kurzweil jokes: “It takes me hours to read a hundred thousand books.”)
Jump in and play with TalkToBooks »
Kurzweil suggests some questions to ask it:
How can I stop thinking and fall asleep?
What is the meaning of life?
How does eating fiber help you lose weight?
Why is the Turing test important?
Some answers are relevant, and others, while maybe not quite correct, intriguingly reveal the way the machine “thinks,” the kinds of connections it wants to make. If you want to dig further, read this blog post from Google’s Semantic Experiences group, and this detailed coverage from The Verge.
Authenticity is critical to trust, but “if those of us who are different give in to the temptation to hold back our authentic selves, then the most interesting thing about us — our difference — is muted,” says Harvard Business School professor Frances Frei at TED2018: The Age of Amazement on April 13, Vancouver. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED
“It’s my belief that trust is the foundation for everything we do,” says Harvard Business School professor Frances Frei, “and that if we can learn to trust on another more, we can have unprecedented human progress.”
What to do, then, when trust is broken? In companies, there are many reasons that a rupture can happen. Things like data breaches, a culture of bias and discrimination, a CEO caught disparaging an employee, even a technological error that costs human life. And all those things were happening at Uber. Which is why, in 2017, Frei embedded as a full-time employee at Uber to help them figure out how to rebuild trust after the company had so completely lost it. The sheer scale of the hole that Uber had fallen into is what attracted her. “My favorite trait is redemption,” she says, “I believe that there is a better version of us around every corner, and I have seen firsthand how organizations and communities and individuals change at breathtaking speed.”
A loss of trust is no different than most problems — before you can solve it, first you have to understand how it works. Trust has three components, say Frei: authenticity, logic and empathy. “When all three of these things are working, we have great trust,” she says, “but if any one of these three gets shaky, if any one of these three wobbles, trust is threatened.”
Frei believes the way to rebuild trust is to understand where you wobble — whether it’s authenticity, empathy or logic that generally gets in the way of someone trusting you — and learn strategies to correct that wobble.
“The most common wobble is empathy,” she says, because “people just don’t believe that we’re mostly in it for them, and they believe that we’re too self-distracted.” Due to the constant demands and distractions of daily life, it can be hard to create the time and space that empathy needs. The fix is pretty easy: “Identify where, when and to whom you are likely to offer your distraction,” says Frei. “That should trace pretty perfectly to when, where and to whom you are likely to withhold your empathy.” If you can truly listen to the people you’re with, you have a chance to fix the wobble.
Logic is a wobble either because your reasoning itself is shaky (in which case, Frei says, “I can’t really help you”) or your ability to communicate it is weak. If your tendency is the latter, consider changing the way you structure your communication. Instead of starting with a story and ending with your point, begin with your point in a crisp half sentence and then support your conclusion — rather than the other way around. Bonus to this approach: If you’re interrupted, you’ve already made your point!
The toughest of the three wobbles to correct is authenticity. While Frei’s prescription is simple — just be you — being your true self isn’t always easy, especially if you are different from the majority in any way. But remember this: Not being authentic damages trust, which can lead to all sorts of unintended consequences. “So, here’s my advice,” she says: “Wear whatever makes you feel fabulous. Pay less attention to what you think people want to hear from you and far more attention to what your authentic awesome self needs to say.” She urges leaders to make sure that their organizations are safe, welcome spaces for people to show up as themselves.
What was Uber’s wobble? “Empathy, logic, authenticity were all wobbling like crazy,” she says, “but we were able to find super-effective, super-quick fixes” for the first two. For example, it had become common practice at Uber meetings for people to text each other – about the meeting. “It did not create a safe, empathetic environment,” Frei smiles. The simple solution: Ask people to turn off their tech, and put it away while talking. When it came to logic, Uber had grown so rapidly that managers had been continuously promoted until they reached positions that outstripped their capabilities. “It was not their fault,” she says. The remedy: They brought in executive education that focused on logic, strategy and leadership.
The last wobble — authenticity — proved harder to change, which is common. “It is still much easier to coach people to fit in; it is still much easier to reward people when they say something that you were going to say.” But, she says, “when we figure out how to celebrate difference and how to let people bring the best version of themselves forward, well, holy cow, is that the world I want my sons to grow up in.”
In a post-talk Q&A with TED curator Helen Walters, Frei says she remains hopeful that trust can be rebuilt within our businesses and institutions, but it won’t happen right away: “I am super-optimistic that everyone can set the conditions to to be more empathic, to use more rigorous logic, to be their authentic selves.”
Mary Lou Jepsen demonstrates the ability of red light to scatter when it hits our bodies. Can we leverage this property to see inside ourselves? She speaks at TED2018 on April 13, 2018. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED
During the week of TED, it’s tempting to feel like a brain in a jar — to think on a highly abstracted, intellectual, hypertechnical level about every single human issue. But the speakers in this session remind us that we’re still just made of meat. And that our carbon-based life forms aren’t problems to be transcended but, if you will, platforms. Let’s build on them, explore them, and above all feel at home in them.
When red light means go. The last time Mary Lou Jepsen took the TED stage, she shared the science of knowing what’s inside another person’s mind. This time, the celebrated optical engineer shares an exciting new tool for reading what’s inside our bodies. It exploits the properties of red light, which behaves differently in different body materials. Our bones and flesh scatter red light (as she demonstrates on a piece of raw chicken breast), while our red blood absorbs it. By measuring how light scatters, or doesn’t, inside our bodies, and using a technique called holography to study the resulting patterns as the light comes through the other side, Jepsen believe we can gain a new way to spot tumors and other anomalies, and eventually to create a smaller, more efficient replacement for the bulky MRI. Her demo doubles as a crash course in optics, with red and green lasers and all kinds of cool gear (some of which juuuuust squeaked through customs in time). And it’s a wildly inspiring look at a bold effort to solve an old problem in a new way.
Floyd E. Romesberg imagines a couple new letters in DNA that might allow us to create … who knows what. Photo: Jason Redmond / TED
What if DNA had more letters to work with? DNA is built on only four letters: G, C, A, T. These letters determine the sequences of the 20 amino acids in our cells that build the proteins that make life possible. But what if that “alphabet” got bigger? Synthetic biologist and chemist Floyd Romesberg suggests that the letters of the genetic alphabet are not all that unique. For the problem of life, perhaps, “maybe we’re not the only solution, maybe not even the best solution — just a solution.” And maybe new parts can be built to work alongside the natural parts. Inspired by these insights, Romesberg and his colleagues constructed the first “semi-synthetic” life forms based on a 6-letter DNA. With these extra building blocks, cells can construct hitherto unseen proteins. Someday, we could tailor these cells to fulfill all sorts of functions — building new, hyper-targeted medicines, seeking out and destroying cancer, or “eating” toxic materials. Worried about unintended consequences? Romesberg says that his augmented 6-letter DNA cannot be replenished within the body. As the unnatural genetic materials are depleted, the semi-synthetic cells die off, protecting us against nightmarish sci-fi scenarios of rogue microorganisms.
On the slide behind Dan Gibson: a teleportation machine, more or less. It’s a “printer” that can convert digital information into biological material, and it holds the promise of sending things like vaccines and medicines over the internet. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED
Beam our DNA up, Scotty. Teleportation is real. That’s right, you read it here first. This method isn’t quite like what the minds behind Star Trek brought to life, but the massive implications attached are just as futuristic. Biologist and engineer Dan Gibson reports from the front lines of science fact, that we are now able to transmit not our entire selves, but the most fundamental parts of who we are: our DNA. Or, simply put, biological teleportation. “The characteristics and functions of all biological entities including viruses and living cells are written into the code of DNA,” says Gibson. “They can be reconstructed in a distant location if we can read and write the sequence of that DNA code.” The machines that perform this fantastic feat, the BioXP and the DBC, stitch together both long and short forms of genetic code that can be downloaded from the internet. That means that in the future, with an at-home version of these machines (or even one literally worlds away, say like, Mars), we may be able to download and print personalized therapeutic medications, prescriptions and even vaccines. The process takes weeks now, but could someday come down to 1–2 days. (And don’t worry: Gibson, his team and the government screen every synthesis order against a database to make sure viruses and pathogens aren’t being made.) He says: “For now, I will be satisfied beaming new medicines across the globe, fully automated and on-demand to save lives from emerging deadly infectious diseases and to create personalized cancer medicines for those who don’t have time to wait.”
In a powerful talk, sex educator Emily Nagoski educates us about emotional nonconcordance — when our body and our mind “say” different things in an intimate situation. Which to listen to? Photo: Ryan Lash / TED
Busting one of our most dangerous myths about sex. When it comes to pleasure, humans have something that’s often called “the reward center” — but, explains sex educator Emily Nagoski, that “reward center” is actually three intertwined, separate systems: liking, or whether it feels good or bad; wanting, which motivates us to move toward or away from a stimulus; and learning. Learning is best explained by Pavlov’s dogs, whom he trained to salivate when he rang a bell. Were the dogs hungry for the bell (wanting)? Did they find the bell delicious (liking)? Of course not: “What Pavlov did was make the bell food-related.” The separateness of these three things, wanting, liking and learning, helps explain a phenomenon called emotional nonconcordance, when our physiological response doesn’t match our subjective experience. This happens with all sorts of emotional and motivational systems, including sex. “Research over the last thirty years has found that genital blood flow can increase in response to sex-related stimuli, even if those sex-related stimuli are not also associated with a subjective experience of wanting and liking,” she says. The problem is that we don’t recognize nonconcordance when it comes to sex: in fact, there is a dangerous myth that even if someone says they don’t want it or don’t like it, their body can say differently, and the body is the one telling the “truth.” This myth has serious consequences for victims of unwanted and nonconsensual sexual contact, who are sometimes told that their nonconcordant genital response invalidates their experience … and who can even have that response held up as evidence in sexual assault cases. Nagoski urges all of us to share this crucial information with someone — judges, lawyers, your partners, your kids. “The roots of this myth are deep and they are entangled with some very dark forces in our culture, but with every brave conversation we have, we make the world that little bit better,” she says to one of the biggest standing Os in a standing-O-heavy session.
The musicians and songwriters of LADAMA perform and speak at TED2018. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED
Bringing Latin alternative music to Vancouver. Singing in Spanish, Portuguese and English, LADAMA enliven the TED stage with a vibrant, energizing and utterly danceable musical set. The multinational ensemble of women — Maria Fernanda Gonzalez from Venezuela, Lara Klaus from Brazil, Daniela Serna of Colombia, and Sara Lucas from the US — and their bass player collaborator combine traditional South American and Caribbean styles like cumbia, maracatu and joropo with pop, soul and R&B to deliver a pulsing musical experience. The group took attendees on a musical journey with their modern and soulful compositions, playing original songs “Night Traveler” and “Porro Maracatu.”
Hugh Herr lost both legs below the knee, but the new legs he built allow him once again to run, climb and even dance. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED
“The robot became part of me.” MIT professor Hugh Herr takes the TED stage, his sleek bionic legs conspicuous under his sharp grey suit. “I’m basically nuts and bolts from the knee down,” Herr says, demonstrating how his bionic legs — made up of 24 sensors, 6 microprocessors and muscle-tendon-like actuators — allow him to walk, skip and run. Herr builds body parts, and he’s working toward realizing a goal that has long been thought of as science fiction: for synthetic limbs to be integrated into the human nervous system. He calls it neural embodied design, a methodology to create cyborg function where the lines between the natural and synthetic world are blurred. This future will provide humanity with new bodies and end disability, Herr says — and it’s already happening. He introduces us to Jim Ewing, a friend of Herr’s who was in a climbing accident that resulted in the amputation of his foot. Using the Agonist-antagonist Myoneural Interface, a method Herr and his team developed at MIT to connect nerves to a prosthetic, Jim’s bones and muscles were integrated with a synthetic limb, re-establishing the neural connection between his ankle and foot muscles and his brain. “Jim moves and behaves as if the synthetic limb is part of him,” Herr says. And he’s even back climbing again. Taking a few moments to dream, Herr describes a future where humans have augmented their bodies in a way that fundamentally redefines human potential, giving us unimaginable physical strength — and, maybe, the ability to fly. “I believe humans will become superheroes,” Herr says. “During the twilight years of this century, I believe humans will be unrecognizable in morphology and dynamics from what we are today. Humanity will take flight and soar.”
Jim Ewing, left, lost a limb in a climbing accident; he partnered with MIT professor Hugh Herr, right, to build a limb that got him back up and climbing again. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED
Will Marshall and his company, Planet, has launched a fleet of small satellites to image the Earth every day, watching over changes both natural and human-made. At TED this week, he announced a way for all of us to play with this rich data set — 500 or so images of every location on Earth over time. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED
Back in 2014, Will Marshall took the TED stage to introduce us to his company, Planet, and their proposed fleet of tiny satellites. The goal: to image the planet every day, showing us how Earth changes in near-real time. In 2018, that vision has come good: Every day, a fleet of about 200 small satellites pictures every inch of the planet, taking 1.5 million 29mp images every day (about 6T of data daily), gathering data on changes both natural and human-made. The images are used by businesses, academics and other professionals to monitor our lovely planet.
This week at TED, Marshall announced a consumer version of Planet, called Planet Stories, to let ordinary people play with these images too. You can compare satellite images over time, at any location you choose, and produce time-lapse images that show change and movement. Watch a new neighborhood rise, see slow but dramatic changes in the environment, or watch the tides in a before-and-after comparison of seasonal change. It’s just a little bit addictive.
“If we want to create meaningful technology to counter radicalization, we have to start with the human journey at its core,” says technologist Yasmin Green at Session 8 at TED2018: The Age of Amazement, April 13, Vancouver. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED
The seven speakers lived up to the two words in the title of the session. Their talks showcased both our collective insanity — the algorithmically-assembled extremes of the Internet — and our humanity — the values and desires that extremists astutely tap into — along with some speakers combining the two into a glorious salad. Let’s dig in.
Artificial Intelligence = artificial stupidity. How does a sweetly-narrated video of hands unwrapping Kinder eggs garner 30 million views and spawn more than 10 million imitators? Welcome to the weird world of YouTube children’s videos, where an army of content creators use YouTube “to hack the brains of very small children, in return for advertising revenue,” as artist and technology critic James Bridle describes. Marketing ethics aside, this world seems innocuous on the surface but go a few clicks deeper and you’ll find a surreal and sinister landscape of algorithmically-assembled cartoons, nursery rhymes built from keyword combos, and animated characters and human actors being tortured, assaulted and killed. Automated copycats mimic trusted content providers “using the same mechanisms that power Facebook and Google to create ‘fake news’ for kids,” says Bridle. He adds that feeding the situation is the fact “we’re training them from birth to click on the very first link that comes along, regardless of where the source is.” As technology companies ignore these problems in their quest for ad dollars, the rest of us are stuck in a system in which children are sent down auto-playing rabbit holes where they see disturbing videos filled with very real violence and very real trauma — and get traumatized as a result. Algorithms are touted as the fix, but Bridle declares, “Machine learning, as any expert on it will tell you, is what we call software that does stuff we don’t really understand, and I think we have enough of that already,” he says. Instead, “we need to think of technology not as a solution to all our problems but as a guide to what they are.” After his talk, TED Head of Curation Helen Walters has a blunt question for Bridle: “So are we doomed?” His realistic but ungrim answer: “We’ve got a hell of a long way to go, but talking is the beginning of that process.”
Technology that fights extremism and online abuse. Over the last few years, we’ve seen geopolitical forces wreak havoc with their use of the Internet. At Jigsaw (a division of Alphabet), Yasmin Green and her colleagues were given the mandate to build technology that could help make the world safer from extremism and persecution. “Radicalization isn’t a yes or no choice,” she says. “It’s a process, during which people have questions about ideology, religion — and they’re searching online for answers which is an opportunity to reach them.” In 2016, Green collaborated with Moonshot CVE to pilot a new approach called the “Redirect Method.” She and a team interviewed dozens of former members of violent extremist groups and used that information to create a campaign that deployed targeted advertising to reach people susceptible to ISIS’s recruiting and show them videos to counter those messages. Available in English and Arabic, the eight-week pilot program reached more than 300,000 people. In another project, she and her team looked for a way to combat online abuse. Partnering across Google with Wikipedia and the New York Times, the team trained machine-learning models to understand the emotional impact of language — specifically, to predict comments that were likely to make someone leave a conversation and to give commenters real-time feedback about how their words might land. Due to the onslaught of online vitriol, the Times had previously enabled commenting on only 10 percent of homepage stories, but this strategy led it to open up all homepage stories to comments. “If we ever thought we could build technology insulated from the dark side of humanity, we were wrong,” Green says. “If technology has any hope of overcoming today’s challenges, we must throw our entire selves into understanding these issues and create solutions that are as human as the problems they aim to solve.” In a post-talk Q & A, Green adds that banning certain keywords isn’t enough of a solution: “We need to combine human insight with innovation.”
Living life means acknowledging death. Philosopher-comedian Emily Levine starts her talk with some bad news — she’s got stage 4 lung cancer — but says there’s no need to “oy” or “ohhh” over her: she’s okay with it. After all, explains Levine, life and death go hand in hand; you can’t have one without the other. In fact, therein lies the importance of death: it sets limits on life, limits that “demand creativity, positive energy, imagination” and force you to enrich your existence wherever and whenever you can. Levine muses about the scientists who are attempting to thwart death — she dubs them the Anti-Life Brigade — and calls them ungrateful and disrespectful in their efforts to wrest control from nature. “We don’t live in the clockwork universe,” she says wryly. “We live in a banana peel universe,” where our attempts at mastery will always come up short against mystery. She has come to view life as a “gift that you enrich as best you can and then give back.” And just as we should appreciate that life’s boundary line stops abruptly at death, we should accept our own intellectual and physical limits. “We won’t ever be able to know everything or control everything or predict everything,” says Levine. “Nature is like a self-driving car.” We may have some control, but we’re not at the wheel.
A high-schooler working on the future of AI. Is artificial intelligence actually intelligence? Not yet, says Kevin Frans. Earlier in his teen years — he’s now just 18 — he joined the OpenAI lab to think about the fascinating problem of making AI that has true intelligence. Right now, he says, a lot of we call intelligence is just trial-and-error on a massive scale — machines try every possible solution, even ones too absurd for a human to imagine, until it finds the thing that works best to solve a single discrete problem. That can create computers that are champions at Go or Q-Bert, but it really doesn’t create general intelligence. So Frans is conceptualizing instead a way to think about AI from a skills perspective — specifically, the ability to learn simple skills and assemble them to accomplish tasks. It’s early days for this approach, and for Kevin himself, who is part of the first generation to grow up as AI natives and think with these machines. What can he and these new brains accomplish together?
Come fly with her. From a young age, action and hardware engineer Elizabeth Streb wanted to fly like, well, a fly or a bird. It took her years of painful experimentation to realize that humans can’t swoop and veer like them, but perhaps she could discover how humans could fly. Naturally, it involves more falling than staying airborne. She has jumped through broken glass and toppled from great heights in order to push the bounds of her vertical comfort zone. With her Streb Extreme Action company, she’s toured the world, bringing the delight and wonder of human flight to audiences. Along the way, she realized, “If we wanted to go higher, faster, sooner, harder and make new discoveries, it was necessary to create our very own space-ships,” so she’s also built hardware to provide a boost. More recently, she opened Brooklyn’s Streb Lab for Action Mechanics (SLAM) to instruct others. “As it turns out, people don’t just want to dream about flying, nor do they want to watch people like us fly; they want to do it, too, and they can,” she says. In teaching, she sees “smiles become more common, self-esteem blossom, and people get just a little bit braver. People do learn to fly, as only humans can.”
Calling all haters. “You’re everything I hate in a human being” — that’s just one of the scores of nasty messages that digital creator Dylan Marron receives every day. While his various video series such as “Every Single Word” and “Sitting in Bathrooms With Trans People” have racked up millions of views, they’ve also sent a slew of Internet poison in his direction. “At first, I would screenshot their comments and make fun of their typos but this felt elitist and unhelpful,” recalls Marron. Over time, he developed an unexpected coping mechanism: he calls the people responsible for leaving hateful remarks on his social media, opening their chats with a simple question: “Why did you write that?” These exchanges have been captured on Marron’s podcast “Conversations With People Who Hate Me.” While it hasn’t led to world peace — you would have noticed — he says it’s caused him to develop empathy for his bullies. “Empathizing with someone I profoundly disagree with doesn’t suddenly erase my deeply held beliefs and endorse theirs,” he cautions. “I simply am acknowledging the humanity of a person who has been taught to think a certain way, someone who thinks very differently than me.” And he stresses that his solution is not right for everyone . In a Q & A afterward, he says that some people have told him that his podcast just gives a platform to those espousing harmful ideologies. Marron emphasizes, “Empathy is not endorsement.” His conversations represent his own way of responding to online hate, and he says, “I see myself as a little tile in the mosaic of activism.”
Rebuilding trust at work. Trust is the foundation for everything we humans do, but what do we do when it is broken? It’s a problem that fascinates Frances Frei, a professor at Harvard Business School who recently spent six months trying to restore trust at Uber. According to Frei, trust is a three-legged stool that rests on authenticity, logic, and empathy. “If any one of these three gets shaky, if any one of these three wobbles, trust is threatened,” she explains. So which wobbles did Uber have? All of them, according to Frei. Authenticity was the hardest to fix – but that’s not uncommon. “It is still much easier to coach people to fit in; it is still much easier to reward people when they say something that you were going to say,” Frei says, “but when we figure out how to celebrate difference and how to let people bring the best version of themselves forward, well, holy cow, is that the world I want my sons to grow up in.” You can read more about her talk here.
Assembled by our tech curator Alex Moura, six exhibits around the theater explore the hands-on, playful and human side of tech. Every exhibit is in some way touchable, relatable — not a piece of shiny gear in a plexiglas box but instead something to step into and be part of and play with. Meet our Tech Playground:
What are Victoria and M doing here? Well, if you could see what Victoria sees, she is interacting with a piece of sculpture with height, depth and a space to crawl into. As sculptor M Eifler describes it: “Their act of looking will reveal the size and position of the sculpture to the rest of us.” Learn more about Invisible Sculpture. Photo: Jason Redmond / TED
Have a minute for magic? How about 3 minutes, or 5? If you press one of these buttons, the Short Edition machine at TED2018 will print you a short story or a poem. It’s a small reminder to make and take art every day. Bonus: You can enter a short story contest this week, and maybe see your own short story in these printers as they roll out across North America this year. Photo: Jason Redmond / TED
Each of these scrolls contains a short story to read and share. Photo: Jason Redmond / TED
Spatial AR is a computing platform based on AR; imagine a 3D interface that turns your computer into a collaborative creative canvas. It’s being developed by interface gurus Jinha Lee and Anand Agarawala, whom you may know from their previous TED Talks about making smarter, better user interfaces. Photo: Lawrence Sumulong / TED
Root Robotics is on a mission to help people explore the amazing things you can do with your imagination and a little bit of code. Root’s app is designed for all ages, and uses music, art and adventure to teach coding in simple, colorful ways. Photo: Jason Redmond / TED
In the Mira Prism experience, attendees can collaborate to solve a series of challenges assisted by holographic work instructions, all powered by a smartphone and seen through the transparent lenses of the Mira Prism headset. Photo: Lawrence Sumulong / TED
This is Kuri, the autonomous robot designed with personality, awareness, and mobility. Kuri’s job is to capture life’s little moments while learning the rhythm of your household. She can wake you up in time for work and greet you when you come home at night. Her expressive eyes and robot language add to her uniquely adorable personality. Photo: Jason Redmond / TED
An attendee plays with an interface for exploring the possibilities of the mobile phone at the Samsung Social Space during TED2018: The Age of Amazement, in Vancouver. Photo: Lawrence Sumulong / TED
What do you imagine your phone doing for you in the future? Sure, you can take calls, send texts, use apps and surf the internet. But according to Samsung, the next corner for mobile engagement could turn your cell phone into a superhero (of sorts) in industries like public safety and healthcare. 5G technology will not only improve a company’s ability to deliver faster, higher quality services, but the “greater connectivity paves the way for data-intensive solutions like self-driving vehicles, Hi-Res streaming VR, and rich real-time communications.” Imagine a world where your Facetime or Skype call doesn’t drop mid-conversation, you never have to wait for a video to buffer, and connecting to Wi-Fi becomes the slower option compared to staying on data.
At their afternoon worksop during TED2018, Samsung provided a short list of real-world issues to guide thoughtful discussion among workshop groups on how the mobile economy can be a part of the big solutions. Scenarios included: data security in the an evolving retail world; hurricane preparedness; urban traffic management; and overburdened emergency rooms.
These breakout out sessions lead to fascinating conversation between those with different perspectives, background and skill sets. Architects and scientists weighed in with writers and business development professionals to dream up a vision of the future where everything works seamlessly and interacts like a well-conducted symphony.
After intense discussion, swapping ideas and possibilities, groups were encouraged to synthesize the conversation and share to the larger room. They didn’t just offer solutions, but posed fascinating questions on how we may unlock answers to the endless possibilities the next mobile economy will bring in the age of amazement.
A view of Samsung’s social space at TED2018, which featured mobile phone activities for exploring the next mobile economy (as well as delicious coffee). Photo: Lawrence Sumulong / TED
Altair’s exhibit gallery at TED2018 features a vintage car with 3D-printed insides, a helmet designed to reduce football-related head injuries and a Wilson golf driver challenge, among much more. (Photo: Jason Redmond / TED)
In a corner of the Vancouver Convention Center — set against a beautiful backdrop of Vancouver Harbour and the mountains of the North Shore, and right between a comfy simulcast lounge and a pop-up coffee and espresso shop — it’s hard to miss an eye-catching vintage red car. It’s the anchor of Altair’s exhibit gallery, showing off the possibilities of simulation-driven innovation.
Altair is a leading provider of enterprise-class engineering software enabling innovation from concept design to operation. Their simulation-driven approach is powered by a suite of software that optimizes performance while providing data analytics and true-to-life visualization and rendering. Altair products range from biomimicry software that unlocks the potential of industrial 3D-printing to personalized healthcare with machine learning enabled by the Internet of Things. At TED2018, they invited TEDsters to explore the intersection of human creativity and technology — and the extraordinary impact it has on shaping the world around us.
On display at their gallery: an IoT-enabled bodysuit from BioSerenity that records seizures to help diagnose epilepsy; a helmet designed to reduce football-related head injuries created in partnership VICIS, which is set to be used by Notre Dame in NCAA games this coming season; an advanced arm prosthetic … and a vintage car made up of a vintage frame with aluminum 3D-printed insides, created by Altair, APWORKS, csi entwicklungstechnik, EOS, GERG and Heraeus.
Altair is also hosting an interactive design experience where attendees can use their simulation software to design a custom Wilson golf driver. The person with the leading design — the one that hits the ball furthest (and yes, thanks to machine learning and Altair HyperWorks’ Virtual Wind Tunnel, there is a right answer to this) by the end of TED2018 will receive a golf driver as a prize. In the “Age of Amazement” — TED’s theme in 2018 — simulation and machine learning will drive innovation.
“Driving” this autonomous vehicle is as easy as using a microwave, discovered TED Ideas Editor Daryl Chen at the BMW Personal CoPilot Experience at TED2018: The Age of Amazement, April 10. Photo: Lawrence Sumulong / TED
“The ultimate sitting machine.”
Please be kind — this is only my first attempt at a tagline for the BMW autonomous vehicle which I just went for a test drive, er, test ride in.
Yes, I can proudly say that I’ve gone for a ride in the future — and it’s smooth enough to eat ramen in.
Wait, let me back up (just like a car, get it?). At TED2018, BMW has been treating attendees to rides in its i3 cars that have been kitted out with level 5 autonomous vehicle capability. It’s not exaggerating for me to call this vehicle the future. “You will not be able to buy this in the next three years, but today BMW is working on this technology,” says BMW’s US Technology Office Vice President Simon Euringer. “Normally, we don’t do that but because of all the noise about the autonomous vehicles, we think it makes sense to give people a preview.” Even though BMW has been relatively quiet about its self-driving plans compared to some of its rivals, there’s plenty of action happening behind the scenes. In fact, the company just opened an Autonomous Driving Campus near Munich that brings together 80 teams that are working on this effort. The number of people at BMW focused on self-driving cars is estimated by Euringer to be “way north of 1,000.” He adds, “This is one of the biggest investments in car industry; this is probably a bigger investment than electro-mobility.
Level 5 means there is no driver in the vehicle, no person behind the wheel. In fact, speculates Euringer, “the car would probably not have even a steering wheel.” BMW, like the other auto companies, foresees driverless cars being used by children and other people who don’t have driver’s licenses.
Before my ride, I decided to put the car to a series of tests; I wanted to see if I was able to accomplish three common activities that are challenging in a moving car. My first activity: reading a book. I am an avid reader, but I’m unable to do so in a traditional car because I get carsick. Novel in hand, I got into the backseat of the BMW in the basement of the Vancouver Convention Center. Then, I started the car. “Driving” this autonomous vehicle was like watching a video or using a microwave — I used a touchscreen to enter a destination, hit the “start here” button, and the car began moving. That’s it. Whenever I wanted to stop, I hit the “pause” button and it slowed to a halt. The vehicle glided right through my reading test — the ride was smooth enough that it felt like I was enjoying my book in a comfy leather armchair. I dove into my novel and didn’t emerge until it came time for my next challenge.
TED Ideas Editor Daryl Chen puts the vehicle to the all-important mascara test at the BMW Personal CoPilot Experience at TED2018: The Age of Amazement, April 10, Vancouver. Photo: Lawrence Sumulong / TED
My second activity was applying mascara. As anyone who has ever put on makeup in a traveling car can tell you, the results are often not so pretty, and mascara is among the most difficult cosmetics to handle. Unfortunately, I must report that self-driving capabilities did not make my task that much easier. While the ride was mercifully bump-free, the turns were still enough to make my wand hand shake and smudge; the process was also complicated by the lack of mirror in the backseat for me to use (note to BMW execs: can you fix this?).
Finally, I was ready for my third and final activity: eating noodles. Noodles are an important part of my diet — and in a conventional car, consuming them means spilling, splattering, and needing a change of clothing. Riding in the car, I took out my piping-hot cup of instant ramen and a pair of chopsticks. And I’m glad to say — for me, my dress, the vehicle, but most especially, for the worried BMW representative — that I did not drip a drop. I ate happily and neatly.
With a final tap of the touchscreen, I ended my ride.
Okay, I think I’ve figured out the perfect tagline for this autonomous vehicle: the ultimate noodle machine. What do you think, BMW?
Here are some of the themes we heard echoing through the opening day, as well as some highlights from around the conference venue in Vancouver.
Are we alone in the cosmos? The universe is 13.8 billion years old and contains billions of galaxies — in fact, there are probably a trillion planets in our galaxy alone. People have long thought a civilization like ours must exist or should have existed somewhere out there, but British astronomer Stephen Webb sees another possibility: we’re alone. Thinkers have speculated about all the barriers that a planet would need to house an alien civilization: it would need to be habitable; life would have to develop there; such life forms would need a certain technological intelligence to reach out; and they’d have to be able to communicate across space. Rather than viewing the situation with sorrow and the cosmos as a lonely place, “the silence of the universe is shouting: we’re the creatures who got lucky,” says Webb. One cosmic visitor we just recently met can confirm something else is definitely out there — ‘Oumuamua, the first known interstellar object to pass through the Solar System. University of Hawaii astrobiologist Karen Meech introduces us to the mysterious object, which she says is a package from the nearest star system 4.4 light years away, having traveled on a journey of more than 50,000 years. She believes it could be a chunk of rocky debris from a new star system; other researchers believe it may be something else altogether — evidence of extraterrestrial civilizations, or material cast off in the death throes of a star. “This unexpected gift has generated more questions than answers,” says Meech, “but we were the first to say hello to this visitor from our distant past.”
Penny Chisholm explains how an ancient, ocean-dwelling cyanobacterium — Prochlorococcus — could inspire us to break our dependency on fossil fuels. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
Ocean explorers. Prochlorococcus is an ancient ocean-dwelling cyanobacterium that Penny Chisholm, a biological oceanographer at MIT, discovered in the mid-1980s. It’s the most abundant photosynthetic cell on the planet and Chisholm believes that it could hold clues for sustainable energy in its genetic architecture. With a gene pool four times the size of the human genome but 1/100th the width of a human hair, this engineering masterpiece might inspire solutions to break our dependency on fossil fuel. If we hope to unlock the wonders of Prochlorococcus in the Age of Amazement, we’re going to need to protect the world’s waters first. Enric Sala, a marine ecologist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, proposes the creation of a giant high seas reserve. Falling outside of any single country’s jurisdiction, the high seas are the “Wild West” of the ocean and until recently, it was difficult to know who was fishing (and how much). Satellite technology and machine learning now enable the tracking of boats and revenue, revealing that practically the entire high seas fishing proposition is misguided. In response, Sala advocates for creating a reserve that would include two-thirds of the ocean, protecting the ecological, economic and social benefits of our waters.
Bridges reveal something about creativity, ingenuity; they even hint at our identity, says engineer Ian Firth. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
How we’re shaping (and reshaping) the built environment. TED is known for its fair share of tech wizardry, where innovation happens at the scale of microns. But our built environment is in need of some love in the Age of Amazement as well. Architect and Columbia University professor Vishaan Chakrabarti highlights the creeping sameness in many urban buildings and streetscapes throughout the world. This physical homogeneity — stemming from regulations, automobiles, accessibility and safety issues, and cost considerations, among other factors — has resulted in a social and mental one as well. Let’s strive to create cities of difference, magnetic places that embody an area’s cultural and local proclivities, exhorts Chakrabarti. One great way to beautify a city: an elegant, distinctive bridge! Ian Firth, an engineer who has designed spans all over the world, including the 3.3 kilometer-long suspension bridge over the Messina Strait in Italy, talks about the connectivity that makes them special pieces of infrastructure. “They reveal something about creativity, ingenuity; they even hint at our identity,” he explains. Although they fall into only a few types, depending on the nature of their structural support, bridges hold great potential for innovation and variety is tremendous. “Bridges need to be elegant, they need to be beautiful,” Firth says.
Angel Hsu shows us that real change is afoot in China’s, as the country’s energy initiatives have unexpectedly placed it at the vanguard of the fight against pollution and climate change. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)
Pollution problems — and solutions. Iconic images of skylines buried in clouds of smog ensured China’s notoriety as one of the world’s biggest polluters. But Angel Hsu shows us that real change is afoot in China’s, as the country’s energy initiatives have unexpectedly placed it at the vanguard of the fight against pollution and climate change. In 2011, when Hsu began conducting her research, China’s own environmental data — specifically for fine particulate matter, or PM2.5 — was kept secret. But thanks to citizen activism, pollution’s hazardous impacts on human health skyrocketed into China’s consciousness. The emerging zeitgeist grabbed the government’s attention. Recognizing China’s toxic reliance on fossil fuels, they pulled the plug on more than 300,000 coal plants, and began feverishly developing alternative energy. Although China must still address its coal problem abroad, its efforts at home (although uncertain) could impact global pollution — and China’s massive carbon footprint — in a major way. While cutting down on pollution is good, removing harmful greenhouse gases from the atmosphere would be even better. The concentration of CO2 in today’s atmosphere is a staggering 400ppm, but we’re still not cutting emissions as fast as we need to, according to chemical engineer Jennifer Wilcox. So we need to pull CO2 back out of the atmosphere — a strategy known as negative emissions. The technology to do this already exists: a device known as an air contactor uses CO2-grabbing chemicals in solid materials or dissolved in water to pull the gas out of the air, sort of like a synthetic forest. What makes this process tricky, though, is that it’s energy-intensive, which drives costs up or, depending on the type of energy used, ends up emitting more CO2 than is captured. Several companies are working on making the process more cost-effective using a variety of techniques, as well as solving other problems of carbon capture like how and where we should build these “synthetic forests.” And in a truly mind-blowing talk, applied engineer Aaswath Raman explains how the next great renewable resource might be … the cold of space. “What keeps me up at night is that the energy use for cooling is expected to grow six-fold by the year 2050,” he says. “The warmer the world gets, the more we are going to need cooling systems.” He’s exploring a potential solution that leverages a cool fact about infrared light and deep space.
Untraditional storytellers. Three TED speakers evoked storytelling in their talks — perhaps that’s not so unexpected, but what was surprising was there wasn’t a writer, musician or filmmaker among them. Game designer David Cage entreated the audience to think of videogames as more than pixelated shooting ranges or mindless time-fillers. “I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of recreating the notion of choice in fiction,” he says. “My dream is to put the audience in the shoes of the protagonist, let them make their own decisions, and by doing so, let them tell their own stories.” While playing, gamers also get the chance to enjoy two tremendously liberating qualities not usually found when reading a book: personal autonomy and flexibility. Veteran architect and Pritzker winner Renzo Piano — who is responsible for such indelible buildings such as Paris’s Centre George Pompidou, the New York Times building, and London’s The Shard — took audience members through his life’s work and his thinking. He too views himself as a storyteller. But while Cage concentrated on the narrative aspects of that role, Piano extolled the love, happiness and other emotional reactions that beautiful structures evoke in all of us. And the most surprising of today’s storytellers? Your fingerprints — or, more specifically, the molecules in your fingerprints, according to analytical chemist Simona Francese: “Molecules are the storytellers of who are we and what we’ve been up to. We just need to have the right technology to make them talk.” Francese and a team at her lab at the UK’s Sheffield Hallam University have spent nearly a decade perfecting the process to identify as much as 1,000 molecules in a single fingerprint — and this technology is now being used by the police in Europe to catch criminals.
Nora Atkinson invites us on a trip to Burning Man, to see the wonderful art that’s constructed and burned — and never sold — there each year. (Photo: Lawrence Sumulong / TED)
Love, actually. In 2017, Smithsonian American Art Museum craft curator Nora Atkinson went to Burning Man in Nevada for the first time, and what she found was an artistic experience like no other. Every August, more than 70,000 people trek to the desert and engage with 300+ installations, sculptures and structures. None of the pieces are for sale (all are burned or taken away at week’s end), and anyone can make art. As a result, creativity there is driven by passion, not profit. Burning Man art is “authentic and optimistic in a way we rarely see anywhere else,” and it encourages, even demands, interaction and investigation. “What is art for,” Atkinson asks, “if not this?” Love was also on the mind of speaker Kai-Fu Lee. The longtime technology investor and executive admits love was absent from his career-minded trajectory until he was diagnosed with cancer (but shares he is now in remission). He feels it’s been similarly overlooked in discussions about technology and the future. “Love is what differentiates us from AI,” he says. “Despite what science fiction movies may portray, I can tell you responsibly that AI programs cannot love.” Lee urges people to think of how human love, compassion and technological brilliance can co-exist and help us create better, more connected lives. Musician Luke Sital-Singh brought down the house — and made TED curator Chris Anderson wipe his eyes — by playing and singing a beautiful composition called “Killing Me.” He wrote the song from the point of view of his grandmother, who has had to figure out how to live without her soulmate, Sital-Singh’s late grandfather, even as she experiences the joys of her family and their new members and accomplishments. He sang, “Oh you won’t believe, the wonders I can see/This world is changing me, but I’ll love you faithfully.” And while soft-spoken climber Alex Honnold, the day’s final speaker, didn’t use the L-word, it came through loud and clear as he talked about his record-setting, free-solo climb of El Capitan in 2017. He spoke about his intense mental preparation for the feat — he took months to memorize every handhold and foot placement, so the climb would come naturally and automatically to him. Of that day, he recalled, “With six hundred feet to go, it felt like the mountain was offering me a victory lap. I climbed with a smooth precision and enjoyed the sounds of the birds swooping around the cliff. It all felt like a celebration.”
Workshops aplenty. TEDsters had 19 workshops to choose from on day 3. Adam Savage had attendees create armor helmets out of laser cut corrugated cardboard. Angelica Dass guided attendees through painting self portraits, asking people to revisit their childhood art class — specifically the moment they learned about the connections between the colors of their skin and their race. And OK Go led attendees to build an orchestra out of random objects around the room … like suitcases, wine bottles, cans and PVC pipes.