Filmmaker Jen Brea gets a Sundance fellowship, Pamela Ronald makes the case for engineered rice, and more

Behold, your recap of TED-related news:

A new Sundance grant helps indie films get seen. Making a film is hard enough — but getting the film seen by an audience can be just as difficult, especially in this era of non-stop media shifts. To help, Sundance just launched the Creative Distribution Fellowship — and among the first recipients is TED Fellow Jennifer Brea, whose documentary Unrest premiered at Sundance in January 2017. The fellowship offers resources, support and mentorship to find creative new ways to reach audiences. In the press release, Keri Putnam, executive director of Sundance, said: “This entrepreneurial approach to marketing, distribution and audience building empowers independent filmmakers to release their own films, on their own terms, while retaining their rights.” (Watch Jen’s TED Talk)

Dance that’s accessible to all. Wayne McGregor has partnered with Sense, a charity that supports people who are deafblind or have sensory impairments, to create an “educational dance resource … to make dance and movement classes accessible to people with disabilities.” Making Sense of Dance, available free online, is a downloadable booklet and videos with lessons, ideas and games to help people lead movement sessions for people of all abilities. (Watch Wayne’s TED Talk)

The case for engineering rice. Growing rice can be a gamble, especially in the face of climate change-induced droughts. That’s why Pamela Ronald and her lab at UC Davis are engineering rice to be more resilient, in hopes of safeguarding the crop against droughts while protecting food security and the livelihood of farmers who could be devastated by climate change in southeast Asia and sub-saharan Africa. Ronald continues to emphasize the importance of using genetic tools to protect both crops and people. “This focus on genes in our food is a distraction from the really, really important issues,” she told the MIT Technology Review. “We need to make policy based on evidence, and based on a broader understanding of agriculture. There are real challenges for farmers, and we need to be united in using all appropriate technologies to tackle these challenges.” (Watch Pamela’s TED Talk)

How to prepare workers for global trade. As trade becomes more globalized, with production scattered across many countries, how should we educate our kids in the skills they will need? That’s the focus of the OECD’s Skills Outlook 2017 report: it suggests that nations around the world should focus on diversifying their population’s skills, to gain advantage in globalized industries. “Countries increasingly compete through the skills of their workers. When workers have a mix of skills that fit with the needs of technologically advanced industries, specialising in those industries means a comparative advantage,” explains the OECD’s Andreas Schleicher. (Watch Andreas’ TED Talk)

New additions to the Academy of Sciences. Three of our TEDsters have just been elected to the National Academy of Sciences! Sangeeta Bhatia, Esther Duflo and Gabriela González have all been recognized for “distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.” Bhatia is the director of MIT’s Laboratory for Multiscale Regenerative Technologies, which engineers nanotechnologies to improve human health. Also hailing from MIT, as the co-founder and co-director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), Esther Duflo aims to eradicate poverty by informing policies with scientific research. Gabriela González, who spoke at the TED en Español session at TED2017, contributed to the detection of gravitational waves, as predicted by Einstein, through her research with LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory. (Watch Sangeeta’s TED Talk and Esther’s TED Talk)

New books of note from TED Talks speakers. Lidia Yuknavitch channels Joan of Arc in her exploration of a world torn apart by unending violence, and Manuel Lima takes us on a tour of circles and the history of information design behind that shape, while James Stavridis navigates the reading habits and libraries of more than 200 four-star military officers. (Watch Lidia’s TED Talk, Manuel’s TED Talk, and James’ TED Talk)

Have a news item to share? Write us at contact@ted.com and you may see it included in this weekly round-up.


We asked 3 experts: How will AI change our lives in the near future?

Imagine a world where your car drives itself, your fridge does the grocery shopping, and robots work alongside you. Rapid advances in artificial intelligence are turning that world into a near-future possibility. But what will that future really look like, and how will it change our lives?

We spoke with three artificial intelligence experts at TED2017 in Vancouver, at a dinner on the future of AI, hosted by Toyota. Here are their thoughts on how AI will change our lives in the coming years:

When we talk about AI transforming our lives, what will that really look like? How will it change life as we know it?

One of the more transformative changes I see coming is the mobility network: an internet of “physical” things, if you will. Everything is going to be able to move around the world autonomously, and we’re going to see an incredible number of different services running on this network. — Michael Hanuschik, CEO of a stealth-mode startup

AI will continue to provide a set of tools to people that expand their horizons and enhance their ability to work and play. — Janet Baker, founder of Dragon Systems

Do you think AI will help people make decisions and enhance our lives, or are we basically programming ourselves into oblivion? What will the role of humans become in the future?

I certainly don’t believe we’ll program ourselves into oblivion any time soon. AIs are specialized tools. Very powerful tools, but tools nonetheless. AIs are great at making statistical guesses based on enormous data sets, but they have no real understanding or comprehension of the tasks they are performing. — Hanuschik

Powerful technologies will be used and abused. Sophisticated AI-based technology for pattern recognition can be used to recognize the words we speak, faces in crowds, cancer cells in images, or protective radar signal analysis. It can also enable the automated surveillance of vast quantities of audio and visual materials, and unprecedented profiling and tracking through the collection and convergence of personal data. We must be aware and take active roles in advancing our capabilities and protecting ourselves from harm––including the harm from escalating prejudices we foster by isolating ourselves from differing ideas (e.g., with polarized news feeds) and productive discourse about them.  — Baker

AI will enhance and augment the human experience. Historically, humans have formed strong bonds — even relationships — with their automobiles (machines). The bond between humans and human-support robots may well prove to be even stronger. — James Kuffner, roboticist and CTO at Toyota Research Institute

There’s a lot of talk about how AI will affect the workplace. Do you think robots will take our jobs, or free us to perform new ones?

Jobs based on fairly simple and repetitive tasks will probably continue to disappear, but anything more complex is likely to be around for quite some time. I haven’t seen evidence that a true AI, with the ability to understand and reason, will be seen in our lifetimes. — Hanuschik

This is not a dichotomy. AI will replace workers, including many presently highly paid professionals, and it will provide a means for new jobs. As always, adaptation is the key for survival and success. — Baker

Humans and robots working together, each with their own strengths, will be more productive and more efficient than either one on its own. — Kuffner

As we develop more sophisticated AI technology — like self-driving cars or intelligent weapons — we put our lives in the hands of machines. Should we trust these systems, and how should we react when they fail?

I think it’s less about trusting the machines and more about trusting regulatory agencies to require implementation of best practices for developing safe, highly complex, electromechanical systems. An “inconvenient truth” is that humans love the convenience provided by technology and will choose that convenience even if it puts them in harm’s way. An example of this is the smartphone, which is the likely culprit for a 14% uptick in deadly car accidents since 2014. Even with those staggering statistics, no one is going to recall them. And where technology created a problem, technology will also solve it, probably with self-driving vehicles that will be able to significantly reduce the number of deaths every year … eventually to zero. — Hanuschik

People already put their lives in the hands of technology: planes, trains, etc. Autonomous vehicles are just the next step. Nothing is fail-proof, and we know it. Convenience and economics, along with safeguards, will drive the adoption of this new technology. — Baker

Photo: iStock


In memory of Benjamin Barber

Benjamin Barber spoke at TED Global 2013. Photo by James Duncan Davidson.

Nation states are failing miserably on some of the more urgent global challenges of the modern age — especially climate change, predatory capitalism, terrorism and forced migration. Nations are increasingly closed, parochial and outdated, slow to respond to the pressures of a fast changing world. The three and a half long century experiment is rapidly coming to an end.

The good news is that cities are stepping-up to fill the gap. And not a moment too soon. Mayors of some of the world’s largest cities are agitating for a new urban agenda. And while many nation states succumb to reactionary nationalism and dangerous populism, more and more cities are calling for openness, interdependency and pluralism.

Every once in a while a scholar comes along who predicts the big trends before the rest of us. Benjamin Barber was such a person. His 2013 TED talk — Why Mayors Should Rule the World — was a clarion call to action. It also led, late last year, to the creation of the world’s first Global Parliament of Mayors which today empowers city leaders from around the world not just to talk about our problems, but to deliver solutions.

Benjamin was a democratic futurist. His thinking was big, bold, and bombastic. His 1984 Strong Democracy: Politics for a New Age — urged readers to embrace the politics of the local. His celebrated Jihad versus McWorld came out six years before 9/11. And his most recent books — If Mayors Ruled the World (2013) and Cool Cities (2017) — are manifestos for a progressive politics of urban governance.

Benjamin was an indefatigable urban activist. He did more than shout from the rooftops. He got down into the trenches and led the way. Benjamin spent the better part of the past decade recruiting mayors to the cause. He convinced them that cities don’t just have the responsibility to confront our most urgent global challenges, but the right to do so. He radiated optimism and suffered no fools.

Benjamin was a fighter to the end. His last tweet in April ended with a reference to #globalcities and #localresistance to Trump. His life embodies all that is great about TED — the sharing of transformation ideas and the conviction to see them put into the service of the public good. He will be dearly missed, though his tireless efforts to build a better world will live on in his words and deeds.

Benjamin Barber died of pancreatic cancer at age 77 on April 24, 2017. 


A celebrated building turns 50…and other TED news

Behold, your recap of TED-related news:

Habitat turns 50! First conceptualized in 1961 as part of architect Moshe Safdie’s thesis at McGill University, Habitat 67 has gone on to inspire several generations of architects. Combining high-rise living with community connection, Habitat’s concrete cluster of homes challenged the contemporary notions of apartment complexes and Brutalist architecture. Each of the 354 concrete boxes maintains an individual feel while stacking on top of each other to create an elaborate frame of community housing. Habitat was exhibited at Montreal’s 1967 World Expo when Safdie was just 28. Fifty years later, Safdie still feels “as though it was built yesterday.” (Watch Moshe’s TED Talk)

Panama Papers project nabs Pulitzer. Published a year ago, the Panama Papers have sparked outrage and global investigations into offshore tax havens and national political leaders. On April 10, they also sparked praise, winning a Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Reporting. The ICIJ, the consortium of reporters who led the global effort to unpack the trove of data, were commended by the Prize Board for their collaborative feat, using 400 journalists from six continents to coordinate reporting on the largest data leak in history. “We believe collaboration is the wave of the future in global journalism,” said the director of the ICIJ, Gerard Ryle. (Watch Gerard’s TED Talk)

Racial bias may begin earlier than we thought. Kang Lee and his colleagues published two studies providing evidence that racial bias may emerge as early as six months old. In the first of two separate experiments, Lee and his team examined whether infants ranging from three-to-ten months would associate happy or sad music with same-race faces and other-race faces. They found that, starting at six-to-nine months of age, infants exhibited a racial bias, looking longer at other-race faces when they heard sad music and same-race faces when they heard happy music. The second experiment examined how race impacted gaze following when infants were learning under uncertainty. In this experiment, six-to-eight month old infants were shown a series of videos. In the video, an adult looked at one of the four corners of the screen. In some cases, an animal appeared in the gazed at corner (a reliable gaze) and in others, the animal appeared in a different corner (unreliable gaze). The babies again exhibited a racial bias, preferring to follow a same-race gaze even when it was unreliable. While racial bias was previously thought to start later in a child’s development, these studies show an earlier adoption and that it can originate without experiences with people of other races. Lee explains that, “If we can pinpoint the starting point of racial bias, which we may have done here, we can start to find ways to prevent racial biases from happening.” (Watch Kang’s TED Talk)

A “game changing” diagnostic tool. Pardis Sabeti and her team have adapted the CRISPR protein Cas13a into a highly sensitive diagnostic tool that can be programmed to detect individual nucleic acids. This new method, called SHERLOCK (Specific High-sensitivity Enzymatic Reporter unlocking) targets RNA molecules with a sensitivity a million times greater than the previous method. This sensitivity allows for an astounding specificity in detecting cancerous mutations, antibiotic genes, and the presence of small traces of diseases such as Zika. Sabeti calls this advance “a game changer” not only for its unprecedented sensitivity, but also for its simplicity and ease of implementation. “One thing that’s especially powerful about SHERLOCK is its ability to start testing without a lot of complicated and time-consuming upstream experimental work,” she says, “This ability to take raw samples and immediately start processing could transform the diagnosis of Zika and a boundless number of other infectious diseases.” (Watch Pardis’ TED Talk)

Online learning enters the classroom. Khan Academy, the educational platform founded by Sal Khan, announced their biggest school partnership to date. The organization is joining forces with five of Southern California’s largest county offices of education to implement a new tool designed for the classroom. Among other features, the tool allows teachers across subjects to create and share digital assignments related to Khan Academy videos and content, allowing an educational resource that supports millions of students to become a more integrated part of the classroom experience. Khan hopes the tool will help teachers personalize learning and spot learning gaps in their students.

A new perspective on grief. Artist Taryn Simon invites viewers to virtually experience her installation An Occupation of Loss, which explores grief through a cultural lens. The film, titled The Creators: Taryn Simon, invites audiences to follow the artist through the exhibition’s recreated spaces. With professional mourners from Cambodia, Ghana, Venezuela, and other countries, the film highlights different rituals of loss from cultures around the world, but it also draws attention to the complicated process behind how the exhibition came together, and whether or not such an exhibition would even be possible in today’s political climate. In an email to The New York Times, Simon writes that, “In addition to a mountain of evidence and paperwork, each artist had a personal recommendation letter from a senator and house representative. Despite all that, we still had a number of groups that were denied entry. “In those denials,” she explains, “the U.S. government took on an active role in curating the work.” (Watch Taryn’s TED Talk)

Architecture accolades. MASS Design Group, co-founded by Michael Murphy, was honored as one of the winners of the 2017 Cooper Hewitt National Design Awards. Given to designers in eleven categories ranging from communication to landscape to fashion, this award recognizes individuals or organizations whose designs focus on positive societal impact. MASS Design Group’s commitment to designing buildings that promote well-being and social justice in the belief that “architecture is never neutral” makes their win in the category of Architectural Design well-earned. (Watch Michael’s TED Talk)

Crowdsourcing the news. What if there was a Wikipedia for news? Could this solve our fake news problem? Wiki co-founder Jimmy Wales thinks it could. His new initiative, Wikitribune, aims to replace the standard editorial process in which an editor assigns a story and works with a journalist to produce it. Instead, a small team of ten journalists will work in conjunction with the online community to produce stories that matter to the public and not just an editorial agenda. This new approach will allow communities to fact check, experts to provide updates or edits, and the public to help guide what kind of stories get covered. Professional journalists working for Wikitribune will be in charge of writing the stories and screening the edits the public submits (edits won’t appear live like in Wikipedia). Wales sees this new platform as a way to fight fake news, describing it as “news by the people and for the people.” (Watch Jimmy’s TED Talk)

Have a news item to share? Write us at contact@ted.com and you may see it included in this weekly round-up.


The TED2017 film festival: Shorts from the conference

Every year at TED, we curate a program of short films to play between speakers and set the mood. The massive screens in the TED2017 theater made for spectacular viewing. What we’re looking at here is our opening video, created by Alec Donovan. Photo: Marla Aufmuth/TED

TED is about speakers stepping on a stage and sharing an idea in 18 minutes or less. But throughout our annual conference, short films play a vital part in the program too — opening sessions and providing moments of pause, reflection and laughter between talks.

The short films shown during the conference are selected by Anyssa Samari and Jonathan Wells, who talk to filmmakers and scour the internet year-round to find the right pieces. “We’re looking for artful treatments of topics,” says Samari. “The films we show are usually around 60 seconds, so it has to communicate an idea visually in a small fraction of time.”

Below, the short films that showed over the course of TED2017.


The short: Desiigner’s “PANDA” featuring Taylor Hatala & Kyndall Harris. A duo of teenage dance prodigies slay a hip-hop performance.
The creators: Directed by Tim Milgram. Choreography by Antoine Troupe.
Shown during: Session 1, “One Move Ahead”


The short: Kraftwerk’s “The Robots.” The classic 1977 video from the band that blazed the trail in electronic music.
The creators: Kraftwerk
Shown during: Session 2, “Our Robotic Overlords”


The short: “Laws of Robotics.” The legendary sci-fi writer’s words prove eerily relevant in our debates on artificial intelligence today.
The creators: BBC Horizon
Shown during: Session 2, “Our Robotic Overlords”


The short: “Kenzo World.” A woman lets her inner dance machine lose in this viral Kenzo fragrance ad.
The creators: Directed by Spike Jonze
Shown during: Session 3, “The Human Response”


The short: “Simone Giertz and Her Ingenious Robot Helpers.” These dinky makeshift robots will surely add more time to your morning routine.
The creators: Directed by Simone Giertz
Shown during: Session 3, “The Human Response”


The short: Paralympics “We’re The Superhumans.” This 3-minute trailer for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games is a beautiful portrayal of endless determination.
The creators: Production Company, Blink. Directed by Dougal Wilson. Agency, 4Creative. Executive Creative Directors, Chris Bovill and John Allison.
Shown during: Session 4, “Health, Life, Love”


The short: “2D RUN – MMP 3 (Mixed Motion Project).” Parkour is amazing to watch any time you see it. But in this top-down view, it becomes a surreal, like a nonstop video game.
The creators: Stunts and direction by Ilko ‘ill’ Iliev
Shown during: Session 5, “Mind, Meaning”


The short: “Preposterous – A short about absurdity.” In these delightful scenes, things are not as you expect.
The creators: Directed by Florent Porta
Shown during: Session 5, “Mind, Meaning”


The short: “Pulse.” A stunning timelapse that captures the serenity and power of a storm.
The creators: Directed by Mike Olbinski
Shown during: Session 6, “Planet, Protection”


The short: Jain’s “Makeba.” Born in France and raised in the United Arab Emirates and The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Jain’s music video is an exploration of black and white.
The creators: Directed by Greg and Lio
Shown during: Session 7, “Connection, Community”


The short: “Despicable Me 2 — The Stars are Brighter!” How many minions does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Find out here.
The creators: Illumination Entertainment
Shown during: Session 7, “Connection, Community”


The short: Max Cooper’s “Order from Chaos.” An incredible explosion of color and shape, inspired by raindrops.
The creators: Directed by Maxime Causeret
Shown during: Session 8, “Bugs and Bodies”


The short: “Tadpole Development Time Lapse.” A tadpole zygote develops to the point where you can see its eyes and gills.
The creators: Francis Chee Films
Shown during: Session 8, “Bugs and Bodies”


The short: Samsung “Ostrich.” An ostrich sees the open skies via virtual reality, and becomes determined to take flight.
The creators: Directed by Matthijis Van Heinjningen. Production Company, MJZ. Agency, Leo Burnett Chicago.
Shown during: Session 8, “Bugs and Bodies”


The short: “Act of Love – Animal Courtships Performed by Humans.” What happens when people dance the intricate courtship dances of animals.
The creators: Directed by Koichiro Tanaka.
Shown in: Session 9, “It’s Personal”


The short: “Ten Meter Tower.” People face their fears at the top of the highest diving platform. Would you jump?
The creators: Directed by Maximilian Van Aertryck and Axel Danielson.
Shown during: Session 9, “It’s Personal”


The short: “Manta Ray” by J. Ralph & Anohni. The universe of plankton in a single teaspoon of ocean water.
The creators: By J. Ralph & Anohni. From the documentary Racing Extinction.
Shown during: Session 10, “Tales of Tomorrow”


The short: “Moonlight x Alvin Ailey.” A lyrical dance inspired by the film Moonlight.
The creators: Directed by Anna Rose Holmer. Choreographed by Robert Battle, Artistic Director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
Shown during: Session 10, “Tales of Tomorrow”


The short: “Danielle.” Don’t blink, or you’ll miss the aging process at work.
The creators: Directed by Anthony Cerniello. Onstage, it was accompanied by a live score from Paul Cantelon.
Shown during: Session 10, “Tales of Tomorrow”


The short: “2016 AICP Sponsor Reel.” An infectious dance from characters with unusual body compositions.
The creators: Concept, Design and Direction by Method Studios. Directed by Rupert Burton. Creative Director, Jon Noorlander Music: Major Lazer “Light it Up” (Remix).
Shown during: Session 11, “The Future Us”


The short: “BANDALOOP Takes Flight in Boston.” A vertical dance troupe dances on the clouds, as reflected in a Boston skyscraper.
The creators: BANDALOOP
Shown during: Session 11, “The Future Us”