TED

The TED Interview podcast kicks off season 3

The TED Interview launches its newest season on October 9, 2019. Last season notably featured Bill Gates, Monica Lewinsky and Susan Cain — and you can expect another thoughtful lineup of scientists, thinkers and artists for the new season.

Season 3 features eight episodes, during which head of TED Chris Anderson will continue to inspire curiosity with in-depth conversations on our consciousness, the ways we navigate community and the power of embracing paradox.

During Season 3, Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert expands on his TED Talk concerning the science of happiness; Turkish-British author Elif Shafak deconstructs storytelling and global community; and Michael Tubbs, one of the world’s youngest mayors, makes a case for universal basic income.

Listen to the first episode with happiness expert Dan Gilbert on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

With a diverse lineup of global thought leaders, TED’s podcasts are downloaded in more than 190 countries (nearly every place on Earth!). “Just like the ideas we explore, The TED Interview continues to grow with even more thoughtful and challenging conversations this season,” says Chris Anderson. “We’ve hit our stride and will be delving deeper into the minds of some of TED’s most remarkable speakers.”

More speakers will be unveiled throughout the season, and you can listen to them on The TED Interview for free on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. New hour-long episodes air every Wednesday. 

TED’s content programming extends beyond its signature TED Talk format with six original podcasts. In August 2019, TED was ranked among Podtrac’s Top 10 Publishers in the US.

The TED Interview is proudly sponsored by Lexus, whose passion for brave design, imaginative technology and exhilarating performance enables the luxury lifestyle brand to create amazing experiences for its customers.

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Helping learners of English find their own voice

Transportation Teahouse at Huangjueping Street in Chongqing, China. (Photo: National Geographic Learning – Life as Lived)

Since its inception, TED has been zealous in its mission of spreading ideas that inspire. It was out of this passion that a partnership between National Geographic Learning emerged to create materials for the English language learning classroom — and help English learners to find their own voice.

National Geographic Learning’s goal is to bring the world to the classroom and the classroom to life. They create English programs that are inspiring, real and relevant. Students learn about their world by experiencing it through the stories, ideas, photography and video of both National Geographic and TED.

The language learning classroom is meant to be a safe place where learners can make mistakes and build confidence before going out into the world. But it can also be a place where learners can struggle to see a connection between the real world and the language they’re learning.

National Geographic Learning believes that if we want learners to understand the value of learning English — a language that connects them to the world — then we need to bring the real world into the classroom and show them the opportunity learning a language brings. The teaching and learning programs created by National Geographic Learning with TED Talks give learners of English (and their teachers) a way to talk about ideas that are relevant to them and help them develop a voice of their own in English.

This partnership has resulted in five textbook programs for the English language learning classroom so far. National Geographic Learning and TED have also collaborated to create a unique classroom supplement, Learn English with TED Talks — a language learning app with a difference.

For more information about all of the English language learning materials made with TED Talks please visit ELTNGL.com/TED.

Happy learning!

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The terrifying now of big data and surveillance: A conversation with Jennifer Granick

Jennifer Granick speaking at TEDxStandford.

Concerns are growing around privacy and government surveillance in today’s hyper-connected world. Technology is smarter and faster than ever — and so are government strategies for listening in. As a lawyer for the ACLU, Jennifer Granick (TED Talk: How the US government spies on people who protest — including you) works to demystify the murky legal landscape of privacy civil rights, protecting our freedom of privacy against government and private interests. We spoke with her about the battle against government surveillance, how you can keep your data safe and why legal transparency — and legal action — is vital. 

In your talk at TEDxStanford, you detail some of the history and methods of government surveillance in the United States. Can you elaborate on how these methods have evolved as technology has advanced?

As Supreme Court Justice John Roberts put it, it’s the difference between “a ride on horseback [and] a flight to the moon.” The amount of information that’s available about us is exponentially more; the ease of accessing it and analyzing it, because of big data tools, storage and machine searching, is categorically different. At the same time, the laws that are intended to protect our privacy have been downgraded repeatedly, most recently in the name of the War on Terror. Everything is bigger; there’s just so much more out there.

In your talk, you mentioned that Section 702 of the FISA amendments (which allows US government agencies to surveil “foreign terrorist threats”) expired in 2017. What kind of impact will that have on the landscape of surveillance?

There was a long political battle about 702 and trying to amend it. What ended up happening is that Congress just reauthorized it, and passed it as part of a larger bill with no real reform. The movement to try to do something about it utterly failed. What it means is that right now, with more confidence than ever before, the intelligence community and [its] agencies can gather information in the name of targeting foreigners and store all of that information. So, they can search through conversations we’re having with people overseas. The news that’s happened since then shows that there are still mistakes and problems with the way these intelligence agencies are handling the information, and that they’re regularly breaking the rules. There was a recent story about the FBI violating the 702 rules. There’s no accountability to comply with the law; weak as it is, it’s basically not a concern.

What role do tech companies like Amazon and Facebook play in perpetuating these surveillance efforts?

Companies don’t want to comply with a whole bunch of legal processes, but when they do, they want it to be clear what they’re supposed to do, and they don’t want any liability for it. The companies have had some comments about wanting to restrain government surveillance to legitimate purposes to reassure their non-American users, and they’ve pushed for some sort of clarity and regularity in how surveillance is going to happen. They came out in favor of a more controlled exercise of 702, but no real reform. They also supported the Cloud Act which is a recent law that basically enables foreign governments to access information stored here in the US without meeting the higher standard of US legal process. They’re not consistently civil libertarians or privacy advocates.

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If you care about any political issue — whether it’s tax reform or Black Lives Matter — we need to ensure these people can operate freely in the political world.

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Facial recognition technology like Amazon’s “Rekognition” is being used by law enforcement across the country. What are the concerns and possible consequences around the use of this technology? 

Face identification connected to surveillance cameras is particular dystopian, but the ACLU of Northern California’s test of Rekognition shows that even the more pedestrian uses of the technology are dangerous. In tests, the software incorrectly identified 28 members of Congress as people who have been arrested for a crime and disproportionately flagged members of the Congressional Black Caucus. The problem is both that the tool is inaccurate and discriminatory, and also that it gives unprecedented power to police.

In an always-connected world with smart tech in our homes, cars and  pockets, how can we prepare for and avoid intrusive surveillance? 

Number one: use encryption. Encrypting your data is getting easier and easier, and there are communications services out there that protect your communications. iMessage is one for iPhone users. There’s WhatsApp, too. I use Signal, which is a text messaging program. Encrypting your data is easier and easier. For many of us, one of the biggest challenges isn’t necessarily the government — it’s hackers, too, so always turn on multi-factor authentication. This is so that it’s not like somebody can bust into your account with a password; they will also need to have some other kind of hardware token. That’s a good thing to do, and it’s actually very little additional work.

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This idea that you can be manipulated into seeing, believing, buying and thinking things that aren’t what you normally would do — and nobody knows about it because nobody knows what I see is different from what you see — is scary.

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Don’t use technology that doesn’t need to be connected to the internet. If you don’t need that internet-connected baby thermometer, don’t buy it. It’s going to send your data to some company, and that company is going to sell it to marketers, and it’ll be a source of access for law enforcement. In particular, I don’t like those home assistants like the Alexa or Google Home because I think that eventually, those machines can be used to eavesdrop on people. Why would we invite a ready-made surveillance device into our home?

Everybody likes new, fun stuff — I know lots of people who have those in-home assistants. I have a cell phone, I love the internet and I use Facebook. I think one of the things people really should do is push for better laws. That’s what the law is there for. It’s supposed to protect us and allow us to participate in the modern economy.

At the end of your talk, you close by saying we need to demand transparency. What does transparency mean to you, and how we can reach it?

There’s so much we don’t know about surveillance right now. In the criminal context, we don’t know how many particular surveillance orders are issued. We don’t know what kind of information they’re getting with them. We don’t know what they’re forcing companies to do. We don’t know if they’re potentially subverting security measures in order to facilitate spying on us. It’s much worse in the intelligence context where we have this FISA court that operates and issues opinions behind closed doors. They’re supposed to be publishing these opinions, but we very rarely see them. Any new and novel interpretations of law are meant to be published, but ever since that edict went into law, we haven’t had any FISA court opinions declassified. We find out way after the fact about things, like the FBI’s most recent violation of Section 702 rules, which meant agents had access to data and information they weren’t supposed to see. We find out about these problems years later. There’s just so much that we don’t know. 

Transparency is the first step, but it’s not an end unto itself. There’s a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, and that board has only recently confirmed members, and now there’s a quorum again. For a long time, that oversight board, which is expected to provide some narrow review of intelligence programs, wasn’t even in operation. We’re behind. Only a few senators and representatives care because the population isn’t coming forward and saying, “This is really important to us.” But they should be. 

There’s no more obvious reason why you should care about surveillance than the Trump administration. In the past, people who have been blasé about surveillance had an assumption that if you weren’t doing anything wrong then you didn’t have anything to worry about — police would follow the rule of law, and everybody was operating with good faith. But today, you have the extremity of the immigration situation; today, you have the way that the Trump administration is punishing people who are coming to this country by kidnapping their children. There’s rampant sexism and anti-Semitism and racism, and this idea that people are “Black identity extremists” who should be surveilled — which just means the government is surveilling civil rights activists and communities of color. And so there’s this situation where this immense amount of technical power is in the hands of people who are operating in bad faith, based on the most base of motives.

What does it mean that all this information has been gathered and can be accessed, manipulated and sold? And how do you speak to those who aren’t concerned and believe they have nothing to hide?

There’s two things. One is that everybody has committed crimes. The amount of behavior that’s covered by criminal laws is huge — whether it’s smoking pot or lying on your taxes, there’s just so many ways that you can transgress the law. Nobody is 100 percent clean. If somebody wanted to go after you and they knew everything about you, there would be ample information to do that. It’s not just criminal stuff; it’s foolish things you’ve said in the past or people you were friends with who turned out to be crooked. There’s all kinds of things that can be used to tarnish your reputation with your employer or your friends or your spouse. 

The second thing I tell people is that it’s not about you. You may be of no interest, but there are people out there who are challenging the status quo, and these people stick out in order to try to make change. And the powers that be don’t necessarily want change. They like the way things are because they’re the ones in control. So if you care about any political issue — whether it’s tax reform or Black Lives Matter — we need to ensure these people can operate freely in the political world. The ability to do that is greatly reduced if someone has to be afraid that the police are going to come after their undocumented relatives. People need to be concerned about information gathering on the private side because that’s one of the main avenues that information gets to law enforcement. There’s so much incentive on the private side to collect it. That incentive is based on the advertising model: the more that companies know about us, the more targeted the advertising can be and the more money they make. 

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The real thing to start worrying about is what we’re seeing in China, where they’re using face-surveillance to identify people, follow them out on the street and assign them a social score.

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Once you have that much information, people can be manipulated against their best interest. [Social media] sites are designed to be addictive, and in order to keep people clicking, they keep showing you more and more outrageous stuff. This totally skews your sense of the world and skews your facts so you don’t know what’s actually going on in the world. It makes you associate only with like-minded people and puts you into this filter bubble. This idea that you can be manipulated into seeing, believing, buying and thinking things that aren’t what you normally would do — and nobody knows about it because nobody knows that what I see is different from what you see — is scary.

Once you have that data, there’s sociological or systemic problems, because there are certain decisions made based on that data about things, like who’s going to qualify for welfare benefits, what housing ads are shown to me based on my race, what job listings are shown to me based on my gender. These are other kinds of ways in which data can instantiate prejudice or discrimination. It’s not like there wasn’t prejudice or discrimination before big data — the fear is that it’s less obvious that it’s happening, and that makes it much more powerful.

What does the future of surveillance and privacy look like? Is something like Google’s Smart City neighborhood in Toronto going to be the norm?

I think that’s one possible outcome — that not just our communications data but data about our bodies, homes, relationships, shopping and more will be collected and will interact with each other far more than they are now. I think that’s definitely a trend. The real thing to start worrying about is what we’re seeing in China, where they’re using face-surveillance to identify people, follow them out on the street and assign them a social score, which is made up of factors like their law-abidingness, their job and their financials. This score that apparently dictates whether or not they’re good citizens follows them everywhere, enabling government and private entities to discriminate and make decisions about these people based on their rankings. That’s a really terrifying situation to have people be labeled and treated accordingly. That’s very Brave New World.

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We the Future 2019: Talks from TED, the Skoll Foundation and the United Nations Foundation

Hosts Rajesh Mirchandani and Chee Pearlman wave to “We The Future” attendees who watched the salon live from around the world through TED World Theater technology. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

At “We the Future,” a day of talks from TED, the Skoll Foundation and the United Nations Foundation at the TED World Theater in New York City, 18 speakers and performers shared daring ideas, deep analysis, cautionary tales and behavior-changing strategies aimed at meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the global goals created in partnership with individuals around the world and adopted at the United Nations in 2015.

The event: We the Future, presented by TED, the Skoll Foundation and the United Nations Foundation to share ingenious efforts of people from every corner of the globe

When and where: Tuesday, September 24, 2019, at the TED World Theater in New York, NY

Music: Queen Esther with Hilliard Greene and Jeff McGlaughlin, performing the jazzy “Blow Blossoms” and the protest song “All That We Are”

The talks in brief:


David Wallace-Wells, journalist

Big idea: The climate crisis is too vast and complicated to solve with a silver bullet. We need a shift in how we live: a whole new politics, economics and relationship to technology and nature.

Why? The climate crisis isn’t the legacy of our ancestors, but the work of a single generation — ours, says Wallace-Wells. Half of all the emissions from the burning of fossil fuels in the history of humanity were produced in the last 30 years. We clearly have immense power over the climate, and it’s put us on the brink of catastrophe — but it also means we’re the ones writing the story of our planet’s future. If we are to survive, we’ll need to reshape society as we know it — from building entirely new electric grids, planes and infrastructures to rethinking the way the global community comes together to support those most affected by climate change. In we do that, we just might build a new world that’s livable, prosperous and green.

Quote of the talk: “We won’t be able to beat climate change — only live with it and limit it.”


“When the cost of inaction is that innocent children are left unprotected, unvaccinated, unable to go to school … trapped in a cycle of poverty, exclusion and invisibility, it on us to take this issue out of darkness and into the light,” says legal identity expert Kristen Wenz. She speaks at “We The Future” on September 24, 2019, at the TED World Theater in New York, NY. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Kristen Wenz, legal identity expert

Big idea: Over one billion people — mostly children — don’t have legal identities or birth certificates, preventing them from accessing vital government services like healthcare and schooling. It’s a massive human rights violation we need to fix.

How? There are five key approaches to ensuring children are registered and protected — reduce distance, reduce cost, simplify the process, remove discrimination and increase demand. In Tanzania, the government resolved several of the barriers to registering a child that new parents face by creating an online registration system and implementing registration hubs in community spaces. The results were dramatic: the number of children with birth certificates went from 16 to 83 percent in just a few years. By designing solutions with these approaches in mind, we can provide better protection and brighter opportunities for children across the world.

Quote of the talk: “When the cost of inaction is that innocent children are left unprotected, unvaccinated, unable to go to school … trapped in a cycle of poverty, exclusion and invisibility, it on us to take this issue out of darkness and into the light.”


Don Gips, CEO of the Skoll Foundation, in conversation with TEDWomen curator and author Pat Michell

Big idea: Don Gips turned away from careers in both government and business and became CEO of the Skoll Foundation for one reason: the opportunity to take charge of investing in solutions to the most urgent issues humanity faces. Now, it’s the foundation’s mission is to identify the investments that will leverage the greatest changes.

How? By discovering the change-makers that will build new solutions to global problems, the Skoll Foundation reaches into the communities most in crisis and helps incubate and develop solutions, rather than simply throwing money at them. As their investments bear fruit, Gips hopes to inspire the rest of the philanthropic community to find better ways to direct their resources.

Quote of the interview: “We don’t tell the change-maker what the solution is. We invest in their solution, and go along on the journey with them.”


“By making aesthetic, some might say beautiful, arrangements out of the world’s waste, I hope to hook the viewer, to draw in those that are numb to the horrors of the world, and give them a different way to understand what is happening,” says artist Alejandro Durán. He speaks at “We The Future” on September 24, 2019, at the TED World Theater in New York, NY. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Alejandro Durán, artist

Big Idea: Art can be a tool to point to the environmental atrocities happening to our oceans — leaving viewers both mesmerized by the aesthetic and shocked by the circumstances they represent.

Why? From prosthetic legs to bottle caps, artist Alejandro Durán uses objects he finds polluting the waters of his native Sian Ka’an, Mexico to make ephemeral environmental artworks. He meticulously organizes materials by color and curates them into site-specific work. Durán put on his first “Museo de La Basura or Museum of Garbage exhibition in 2015, which spoke to the horrors of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and he’s still making art that speaks to the problem of ocean trash. By endlessly reusing objects in his art, Durán creates new works that engage communities in environmental art-making, attempting to depict the reality of our current environmental predicament and make the invisible visible.

Quote of the talk: “By making aesthetic, some might say beautiful, arrangements out of the world’s waste, I hope to hook the viewer, to draw in those that are numb to the horrors of the world, and give them a different way to understand what is happening.”


Andrew Forrest, entrepreneur, in conversation with head of TED Chris Anderson

Big idea: The true — and achievable! — business case for investing in plastic recycling.

How? Since earning his PhD in marine ecology, Forrest has dedicated his time and money to solving the global plastic problem, which is choking our waterways and oceans with toxic material that never biodegrades. “I learned a lot about marine life,” he says of his academic experience. “But it taught me more about marine death.” To save ourselves and our underwater neighbors from death by nanoplastics, Forrest says we need the big corporations of the world to fund a massive environmental transition that includes increasing the price of plastic and turning the tide on the recycling industry.

Quote of the talk: “[Plastic] is an incredible substance designed for the economy. It’s the worst substance possible for the environment.”


Raj Panjabi, cofounder of medical NGO Last Mile Health

Big idea: Community health workers armed with training and technology are our first line of defense against deadly viral surges. If we are to fully protect the world from killer diseases, we must ensure that people living in the most remote areas of the planet are never far from a community health worker trained to throttle epidemics at their outset.

How? In December 2013, Ebola broke out in West Africa and began a trans-border spread that threatened to wipe out millions of people. Disease fighters across Africa joined the battle to stop it — including Liberian health workers trained by Last Mile Health and armed with the technology, knowledge and support necessary to serve their communities. With their help, Ebola was stopped (for now), after killing 11,000 people. Panjabi believes that if we train and pay more community health workers, their presence in underserved areas will not only stop epidemics but also save the lives of the millions of people threatened by diseases like malaria, pneumonia, and diarrhea.

Quote of the talk:We dream of a future when millions of people … can gain dignified jobs as community health workers, so they can serve their neighbors in the forest communities of West Africa to the fishing villages of the Amazon; from the hilltops of Appalachia to the mountains of Afghanistan.”


“Indigenous people have the answer. If we want to save the Amazon, we have to act now,” says Tashka Yawanawá, speaking at “We The Future” with his wife, Laura, on September 24, 2019, at the TED World Theater in New York, NY. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Tashka and Laura Yawanawá, leaders of the Yawanawá in Acre, Brazil

Big idea: To save the Amazon rainforest, let’s empower indigenous people who have been coexisting with the rainforest for centuries.

Why? Tashka Yawanawá is chief of the Yawanawá people in Acre, Brazil, leading 900 people who steward 400,000 acres of Brazilian Amazon rainforest. As footage of the Amazon burning shocks the world’s conscious, Tashka and his wife, Laura, call for us to transform this moment into an opportunity to support indigenous people who have the experience, knowledge and tools to protect the land.

Quote of the talk: “Indigenous people have the answer. If we want to save the Amazon, we have to act now.”


Alasdair Harris, ocean conservationist

Big idea: To the impoverished fishers that rely on the sea for their food, and who comprise 90 percent of the world’s fishing fleet, outside interference by scientists and marine managers can seem like just another barrier to their survival. Could the world rejuvenate its marine life and replenish its fish stocks by inspiring coastal communities rather than simply regulating them?

How? When he first went to Madagascar, marine biologist Alasdair Harris failed to convince local leaders to agree to a years-long plan to close their threatened coral reefs to fishing. But when a contained plan to preserve a breeding ground for an important local species of octopus led to mushrooming catches six months later, the same elders banded together with leaders across Madagascar to spearhead a conservation revolution. Today, Harris’s organization Blue Ventures works to help coastal communities worldwide take control of their own ecosystems.

Quote of the talk: When we design it right, marine conservation reaps dividends that go far beyond protecting nature — improving catches, driving waves of social change along entire coastlines, strengthening confidence, cooperation, and the resilience of communities to face the injustice of poverty and climate change.”


Bright Simons, social entrepreneur and product security expert

Big idea: A global breakdown of the trustworthiness of markets and regulatory institutions has led to a flurry of counterfeit drugs, mislabeled food and defective parts. Africa has been dealing with counterfeit goods for years, and entrepreneurs like Bright Simons have developed myriad ways consumers can confirm that their food and drug purchases are genuine. Why are these methods ignored in the rest of the world?

How? Bright Simons demonstrates some of the innovative solutions Africans use to restore trust in their life-giving staples, such as text hotlines to confirm medications are real and seed databases to certify the authenticity of crops. Yet in the developed world, these solutions are often overlooked because they “don’t scale” — an attitude Simons calls “mental latitude imperialism.” It’s time to champion “intellectual justice” — and look at these supposedly non-scalable innovations with new respect.

Quote of the talk: “I am from that part of the world often euphemistically referred to as either the ‘Global South’ or the ‘developing world.’ But I’d like to be blunt about it: when we say those words, what we really mean is the poor world, those corners of the world with readymade containers full of hand-me-down ideas of other places and other people.”


“Water is life. It is the spirit that binds us from sickness, death and destruction,” says LaToya Ruby Frazier. She speaks at “We The Future” on September 24, 2019, at the TED World Theater in New York, NY. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

LaToya Ruby Frazier, artist 

Big Idea: LaToya Ruby Frazier’s powerful portraits of women in Flint, Michigan document the reality of the Flint water crisis, bringing awareness to the ongoing issue and creating real, positive change.

How? Frazier’s portraits of the daily lives of women affected by the Flint water crisis are striking reminders that after all the news crews were gone, the people of Flint still did not have clean water. For one photo series, she closely followed the lives of Amber Hasan and Shea Cobb — two activists, poets and best friends — who were working to educate the public about the water crisis. Frazier has continued collaborating with Hasan and Cobb to seek justice and relief for those suffering in Flint. In 2019, they helped raise funds for an atmospheric water generator that provided 120,000 gallons of water to Flint residents. 

Quote of the talk: “Water is life. It is the spirit that binds us from sickness, death and destruction. Imagine how many millions of lives we could save if [the atmospheric water generator] were in places like Newark, New Jersey, South Africa and India — with compassion instead of profit motives.”


Cassie Flynn, global climate change advisor

Big idea: We need a new way to get citizen consensus on climate change and connect them with governments and global leaders.

How? The United Nations is taking on an entirely new model of reaching the masses: mobile phone games. Flynn shares how their game Mission 1.5 can help people learn about their policy choices on climate change by allowing them to play as heads of state. From there, the outcomes of their gameplay will be compiled and shared with their national leaders and the public. Flynn foresees this as a fresh, feasible way to meet citizens where they are, to educate them about climate change and to better connect them to the people who are making those tough decisions.

Quote of the talk: “Right now, world leaders are faced with the biggest and most impactful decisions of their entire lives. What they decide to do on climate change will either lead to a riskier, more unstable planet or a future that is more prosperous and sustainable for us all.”


Wanjira Mathai, entrepreneur

Big Idea: Corruption is a constant threat in Kenya. To defeat it there and anywhere, we need to steer youth towards integrity through education and help them understand the power of the individual.

Why? In 1989, the Karura Forest, a green public oasis in Nairobi, Keya was almost taken away by a corrupt government, when political activist Wangari Maathai, Nobel Prize recipient and founder of the Greenbelt Movement, fought back fiercely and won. Continuing Maathai’s legacy, her daughter Wanjira paints a vivid picture of the corruption that is still very much alive in Kenya — a country that loses a third of its state budget to corruption every year. “Human beings are not born corrupt. At some point these behaviors are fostered by a culture that promotes individual gain over collective progress,” she says. She shares a three-pronged strategy for fighting corruption before it takes root by addressing why it happens, modeling integrity and teaching leadership skills.

Quote of the talk: “We cannot complain forever. We either decide that we are going to live with it, or we are going to change it. And if we are going to change it, we know that today, most of the world’s problems are caused by corruption and greed and selfishness.”

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Unlock: The talks of TED@BCG 2019

 

Seema Bansal hosts Session 2 of TED@BCG: Unlock — a day of talks and performances exploring how we can reach our full potential — at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai on September 24, 2019 in Mumbai, India. (Photo: Amit Madheshiya / TED)

To succeed in the next decade and beyond, we can’t just optimize what we know. We need to keep learning, imagining, inventing. In a day of talks and performances, 16 speakers and performers explored how we can unlock our full potential — human, technological and natural — to accomplish things we never thought possible.

The event: TED@BCG, the eighth year TED and BCG have partnered to bring leaders, innovators and changemakers to the stage to share ideas on how we can solve society’s biggest challenges

When and where: Tuesday, September 24, 2019, at the Grand Hyatt in Mumbai, India

Music: Performances by Gingger Shankar and Dee MC

Open and closing remarks: Rich Lesser, CEO of BCG

The talks in brief:

“Look around and find the people that inspire you to co-conspire. I promise you that your empathy and your courage will change someone’s life and may even change the world,” says Ipsita Dasgupta. She speaks at TED@BCG at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai on September 24, 2019 in Mumbai, India. (Photo: Amit Madheshiya / TED)

Ipsita Dasgupta, co-conspirator

Big idea: The world needs “co-conspirators”: people willing to bend or break the rules and challenge the status quo and societal norms.

Why? In the face of constant change and complexity, we need unconventional people making decisions at the table. These co-conspirators — which Dasgupta shares through three exemplary stories including a mother insistent on forgoing some traditional gender roles — can help pave the way to new ways of thinking, acting and questioning why we do and how we do it.

Quote of the talk: “To achieve great heights or change the world, no matter how smart we are, we all need people.”


Jean-Manuel Izaret, pricing strategist

Big idea: Because of their huge per-patient cost, medications that could drastically reduce rates of deadly diseases like hepatitis C are often reserved for only the sickest patients, while many others go untreated. Is there a way to pay for these drugs so that every patient can get them, and drug companies can still finance their development?

How: The pricing model for pharmaceuticals is typically based on the cost per patient treated — and it’s a broken model, says Izaret. He explains that a subscription-like payment system (similar to the one pioneered by Netflix) could distribute costs over time and across an entire population of patient subscribers. By combining the savings of early treatment with the lower costs of a larger patient pool, healthcare providers could improve outcomes and remain profitable.

Quote of the talk: “I think we don’t really have a price point problem — I think we have a pricing model problem. I think the problem is not the number, but the unit by which we price.”


Sougwen Chung, artist and researcher

Big Idea: The future of creative collaboration between humans and machines is limitless — with beauty latent in our shared imperfections.

Why? As the world strives towards precision and perfection, Chung creates collaborative art with robots that explores what automation means for the future of human creativity. Through machine learning, Chung “taught” her own artistic style to her nonhuman collaborator, a robot called Drawing Operations Unit: Generation (DOUG). DOUG’s initial goal was to mimic her line as she drew, but they made an unexpected discovery along the way: robots make mistakes too. “Our imperfections became what was beautiful about the interaction,” Chung says. “Maybe part of the beauty of human and machine systems is their inherent, shared fallibility.” Chung recently launched a lab called Scilicet, where artists and researchers are welcome to join her in contributing to the future of human and AI creativity.

Quote of the talk: “By teaching machines to do the work traditionally done by humans, we can explore and evolve our criteria of what’s made possible by the human hand — and part of that journey is embracing the imperfections, recognizing the fallibility of both human and machine, in order to expand the potential of both.”

“I started thinking maybe machines don’t need to be just tools, but they can function as nonhuman collaborators … maybe the future of the human creativity isn’t in what it makes, but in how it comes together to explore new ways of making.”

“I am exploring questions about where AI ends and ‘we’ begin, and where I develop processes that investigate potential sensory mixes of the future. I think it’s where philosophy and technology intersect.”


Kavita Gupta thinks a global, decentralized currency would lead us to “true financial and economic inclusivity, where every citizen in this world has the same choice, same dignity and same opportunity.” She speaks at TED@BCG at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai on September 24, 2019 in Mumbai, India. (Photo: Amit Madheshiya / TED)

Kavita Gupta, currency globalist

Big idea: The world should share one stable, decentralized currency.

How and why? Blockchain and cryptocurrencies could provide better data privacy than anything we use today. They would be immune to global disruptions incited by local unrest or inefficient politicians while offering a global marketplace that “would not just be a way for the elite to diversify their portfolio, but also for the average person to increase sustainable wealth,” Gupta says. With real-world examples that root her perspective in the possible and achievable, she weaves a framework for a united future.

Quote of the talk: “All of this inches us toward a more stable, secure place — to true financial and economic inclusivity, where every citizen in this world has the same choice, same dignity and same opportunity.”


Markus Mutz, supply chain hacker

Big idea: We need clarity on how consumer products are made and where they come from in order to make ethical and informed decisions before purchase.

How? Over the past two years, Mutz and his team founded OpenSC (SC = supply chain) and partnered with the World Wide Fund for Nature to bring transparency and traceability to the supply chain process. Together, Mutz believes their efforts will help revolutionize the way we buy and create products. It’ll happen with three straightforward steps: by verifying production claims, tracing products throughout their supply chains and sharing information that will allow consumers to make decisions more aligned with their values — all with the aid of blockchain.

Quote of the talk: “If we have reliable and trustworthy information, and the right systems that make use of it, consumers will support those who are doing the right thing by producing products in a sustainable and ethical way.”


“I firmly believe that if there is any public system in any country that is in inertia, then you have to bring back the motivation. And a great way to trigger motivation is to increase transparency to the citizen,” says public sector strategist Abhishek Gopalka. He speaks at TED@BCG at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai on September 24, 2019 in Mumbai, India. (Photo: Amit Madheshiya / TED)

Abhishek Gopalka, public sector strategist

Big Idea: How do we motivate people working in public sectors like healthcare to feel accountable for providing quality care? With transparency.

Why? Internal, data-driven reviews aren’t enough to keep people accountable, says Gopalka. Instead, we need to move people to do better by sparking their competitive sides — making actions transparent so they either shine or fail in the public eye. In Rajasthan, a state in India that’s home to more than 80 million people, Gopalka has helped to significantly improve the public health system in just two years. How? Public health centers now publicly promise to provide citizens with free care, medicine and diagnosis, resulting in an increase in doctor availability, readily available drugs and, ultimately, patient visits. If applied elsewhere, transparency could benefit many broken systems. Because the first step to solving any complex issue is motivation.

Quote of the talk: “Motivation is a tricky thing. If you’ve led a team, raised a child or tried to change a personal habit, you know that motivation doesn’t just appear. Something needs to change to make you care. And if there’s one thing that all of us humans care about, it’s an inherent desire to shine in front of society.”


Gaby Barrios, marketing expert

Big Idea: By focusing less on gender when marketing products to consumers, we can build better brands — and a better world.

How? Companies often advertise to consumers by appealing to gender stereotypes, but this kind of shortcut isn’t just bad for society — it’s bad for business, says Barrios. Research shows that gender doesn’t drive choice nearly as much as companies assume, yet many still rely on outdated, condescending stereotypes to reach consumers. By looking at variables outside of gender, like location and financial status, companies can develop more nuanced campaigns, grow their brands and reach the customers they want.

Quote of the talk: “Growth is not going to come from using an outdated lens like gender. Let’s stop doing what’s easy and go for what’s right. At this point, it’s not just for your business — it’s for society.”


Sylvain Duranton, AI bureaucracy buster

Big idea: Artificial intelligence can streamline businesses, but it can also miss human nuances in disastrous ways. To avoid this, we need to use AI systems alongside humans, not instead of them. 

How? For companies, deploying AI alongside human teams can be harder and more expensive than relying on AI alone. But this dynamic is necessary to ensure that business decisions take human needs and ethics into account, says Duranton. AI bases decisions on data sets and strict rules, but it can’t quite tell the difference between “right” and “wrong” — which means that AI mistakes can be severe, even fatal. By pairing AI with human teams, we can use AI’s efficiency and human knowledge to create business strategies that are successful, smart and ethical.

Quote of the talk: “Winning organizations will invest in human knowledge, not just AI and data.”


Akiko Busch, author

Big idea: In a world where transparency and self-promotion are glorified, let’s not forget the power and beauty of invisibility.

Why? Invisible cloaks, invisible ink, invisible friends — from the time we’re kids, invisibility gives us a sense of protection, knowledge and security. Akiko Busch thinks it’s time for us to reconsider the power of invisibility. When we disappear into nature, listen without responding, lose ourselves in the primal collectivity of concerts — in all cases, we become more creative and feel more connected to each other and ourselves. In an age where “visibility rules the day,” she says, there is beauty in stepping out of the spotlight, disappearing and existing — if only briefly — invisibly. 

Quote of the talk: Being unseen takes us from self-interest to a larger sense of inclusion in the human family.”


Evolutionary biologist Toby Kiers shares what fungi networks and relationships reveal about human economies — and what they can tell us about how extreme inequalities grow. She speaks at TED@BCG at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai on September 24, 2019 in Mumbai, India. (Photo: Amit Madheshiya / TED)

Toby Kiers, evolutionary biologist

Big Idea: By studying fungi networks and relationships, we can learn more about how human economies work and how extreme inequalities grow.

How? Extreme inequality is one of humanity’s greatest challenges — but it’s not a uniquely human phenomenon. Like us, fungi can strategically trade, steal and withhold resources; where human systems are built with an understanding of morals, fungi networks have evolved to be ruthless and solely opportunistic. The parallels are remarkable: for example, Kiers found that supply-and-demand economics still held true in fungi relationships. Examining these relationships gives us the chance to better diagnose problems within our own systems and even borrow solutions from the fungi. Kiers’s team is now studying the parallels between fungal network flow patterns and computer algorithms — and there’s even more ahead.

Quote of the talk: “The [fungal] trade system provides us with a benchmark to study what an economy looks like when it’s been shaped by natural selection for hundreds of millions of years, in the absence of morality, when strategies are just based on the gathering and processing of information.”


Chris Kutarna, writer and philosopher

Big idea: Facebook, Twitter and their disruptive cousins have upended our notions of truth. Social media’s assault on simple veracity has led many to cry for its regulation — but philosopher Chris Kutarna believes that we should “let social media run wild, because the truths it breaks … need to be broken.”

How? Kutarna argues that it was the age of mass media that birthed the notion that truth exists in concise, marketable chunks — and this idea does not mirror reality. Promoting a concept like “globalization” as an unassailable axiom rather than as a complex idea with many conflicting currents is reductive and dangerous. If we were to embrace social media’s multiplicity of voices and perspectives rather than enforce a single standard for truth, we could initiate a search for truths too complex for a single perspective to contain. 

Quote of the talk: “What is truth? I don’t know. I can’t know because truth is supposed to be the reality that is bigger than ourselves. To find truth, we need to get together and go and search for it together. Without that search … we’re trapped in our own perspective.”


“Leaders should not impose their will; leaders should act by shaping the context rather than control,” says management consultant Fang Ruan. She speaks at TED@BCG at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai on September 24, 2019 in Mumbai, India. (Photo: Amit Madheshiya / TED)

Fang Ruan, management consultant

Big idea: Influenced by ancient Chinese philosophy, Chinese businesses are shifting towards management techniques that foster more collaborative, spontaneous environments.

How? Enjoying a delicious plate of dumplings one night, Fang Ruan was intrigued as she watched how the business was run. To her surprise, she found a “two hat” strategy: front-line managers were given new responsibilities beyond their current scope, and ideas were welcomed from people at all steps of the career ladder. This approach varies from China’s dominant, Confucianism-influenced business strategy, which values authority and seniority and has served as a time-tested formula for precise execution at a large scale. Now, as tech companies disrupt traditional industries and millennials make up a larger share of the workforce, new ways of management have emerged, Ruan says. Unconventional management is on the rise — characterized by more collaborative, innovative strategies that resemble the philosophy of Taoism, which believes things work to perfection when their natural state is supported rather than controlled.

Quote of the talk: “A leader is best when people know that he barely exists. When work is done, people say: ‘We did it ourselves.’”


Amane Dannouni shares what digital marketplaces in the developing world can teach us about how to preserve jobs and local economies. He speaks at TED@BCG at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai on September 24, 2019 in Mumbai, India. (Photo: Amit Madheshiya / TED)

Amane Dannouni, digital business strategist

Big idea: Disruptive startups like Uber, Amazon and Airbnb have reinvented entire industries. Their digital disruption of existing services has provided game-changing benefits for their users and affiliates — but it’s also led to big losses for those whose livelihoods depended on the old, physical business models. Amane Dannouni believes that digital marketplaces in the developing world can teach us valuable lessons about how to preserve jobs and local economies.

How? Companies like Gojek in Indonesia, Jumia in Nigeria and Grab in Singapore have reinvigorated the economic landscapes that spawned them, and in the process energized their surrounding communities. They did this not by ignoring their competitors but by integrating community businesses into their own platforms, and by giving their users support — like insurance and online education — that go above and beyond simply linking providers to their patrons. 

Quote of the talk: “What all these [online marketplaces] have in common is that they transition this basic functionality of matching sellers and buyers from the physical world to the digital world and, by doing so, they can find better matches, do it faster, and ultimately unlock more value for everyone.”


Lorna Davis, business leader

Big idea: We need to break our obsession with heroes. Real change can only happen when we work together.

How? “In a world as complex and interconnected as the one we live in, the idea that one person has the answer is ludicrous,” says Davis. What we really need is “radical interdependence,” shaped by leaders who set different goals and ask others to help them solve big problems. Here’s the difference: whereas “hero” leaders see everyone else as a competitor or a follower, interdependent leaders understand that they need others and genuinely want input. Likewise, heroes set goals that can be delivered through individual results, while interdependent leaders set goals that one person or organization cannot possibly achieve alone. At TED@BCG, Davis sets an “interdependent” goal of her own — calling on the world to help her in her work to end rhino poaching.

Quote of the talk: “We don’t need heroes. We need radical interdependence — which is just another way of saying: we need each other.”

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