TED

10 years of TED Fellows: Notes from the Fellows Session of TEDSummit 2019

TED Fellows celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the program at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 22, 2019 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

The event: TEDSummit 2019, Fellows Session, hosted by Shoham Arad and Lily Whitsitt

When and where: Monday, July 22, 2019, 9am BST, at the Edinburgh Convention Centre in Edinburgh, Scotland

Speakers: Carl Joshua Ncube, Suzanne Lee, Sonaar Luthra, Jon Lowenstein, Alicia Eggert, Lauren Sallan, Laura Boykin

Opening: A quick, witty performance from Carl Joshua Ncube, one of Zimbabwe’s best-known comedians, who uses humor to approach culturally taboo topics from his home country.

Music: An opening from visual artist and cellist Paul Rucker of the hauntingly beautiful “Criminalization of Survival,” a piece he created to explore issues related to mass incarceration, racially motivated violence, police brutality and the impact of slavery in the US.

And a dynamic closing from hip-hop artist and filmmaker Blitz Bazawule and his band, who tells stories of the polyphonic African diaspora.

The talks in brief:

Laura Boykin, computational biologist at the University of Western Australia

Big idea: If we’re going to solve the world’s toughest challenges — like food scarcity for millions of people living in extreme poverty — science needs to be more diverse and inclusive. 

How? Collaborating with smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, Laura Boykin uses genomics and supercomputing to help control whiteflies and viruses, which cause devastation to cassava crops. Cassava is a staple food that feeds more than 500 million people in East Africa and 800 million people globally. Boykin’s work transforms farmers’ lives, taking them from being unable to feed their families to having enough crops to sell and enough income to thrive. 

Quote of the talk: “I never dreamt the best science I would ever do would be sitting on a blanket under a tree in East Africa, using the highest tech genomics gadgets. Our team imagined a world where farmers could detect crop viruses in three hours instead of six months — and then we did it.”


Lauren Sallan, paleobiologist at the University of Pennsylvania

Big idea: Paleontology is about so much more than dinosaurs.

How? The history of life on earth is rich, varied and … entirely too focused on dinosaurs, according to Lauren Sallan. The fossil record shows that earth has a dramatic past, with four mass extinctions occurring before dinosaurs even came along. From fish with fingers to galloping crocodiles and armored squid, the variety of life that has lived on our changing planet can teach us more about how we got here, and what the future holds, if we take the time to look.

Quote of the talk: “We have learned a lot about dinosaurs, but there’s so much left to learn from the other 99.9 percent of things that have ever lived, and that’s paleontology.”


“If we applied the same energy we currently do suppressing forms of life towards cultivating life, we’d turn the negative image of the urban jungle into one that literally embodies a thriving, living ecosystem,” says Suzanne Lee. She speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 22, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Suzanne Lee, designer, biofabricator

Big idea: What if we could grow bricks, furniture and even ready-made fabric for clothes?

How? Suzanne Lee is a fashion designer turned biofabrication pioneer who is part of a global community of innovators who are figuring how to grow their own materials. By utilizing living microbial organisms like bacteria and fungi, we can replace plastic, cement and other waste-generating materials with alternatives that can help reduce pollution.

Quote of the talk: If we applied the same energy we currently do suppressing forms of life towards cultivating life, we’d turn the negative image of the urban jungle into one that literally embodies a thriving, living ecosystem.”


Sonaar Luthra, founder and CEO of Water Canary

Big idea: We need to get better at monitoring the world’s water supplies — and we need to do it fast.

How? Building a global weather service for water would help governments, businesses and communities manage 21st-century water risk. Sonaar Luthra’s company Water Canary aims to develop technologies that more efficiently monitor water quality and availability around the world, avoiding the unforecasted shortages that happen now. Businesses and governments must also invest more in water, he says, and the largest polluters and misusers of water must be held accountable.

Quote of the talk: “It is in the public interest to measure and to share everything we can discover and learn about the risks we face in water. Reality doesn’t exist until it’s measured. It doesn’t just take technology to measure it — it takes our collective will.”


Jon Lowenstein shares photos from the migrant journey in Latin America at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders. July 22, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Dian Lofton / TED)

Jon Lowenstein, documentary photographer, filmmaker and visual artist

Big idea: We need to care about the humanity of migrants in order to understand the desperate journeys they’re making across borders.

How? For the past two decades, Jon Lowenstein has captured the experiences of undocumented Latin Americans living in the United States to show the real stories of the men and women who make up the largest transnational migration in world history. Lowenstein specializes in long-term, in-depth documentary explorations that confront power, poverty and violence. 

Quote of the talk: “With these photographs, I place you squarely in the middle of these moments and ask you to think about [the people in them] as if you knew them. This body of work is a historical document — a time capsule — that can teach us not only about migration, but about society and ourselves.”


Alicia Eggert’s art asks us to recognize where we are now as individuals and as a society, and to identify where we want to be in the future. She speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 22, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Alicia Eggert, interdisciplinary artist

Big idea: A brighter, more equitable future depends upon our ability to imagine it.  

How? Alicia Eggert creates art that explores how light travels across space and time, revealing the relationship between reality and possibility. Her work has been installed on rooftops in Philadelphia, bridges in Amsterdam and uninhabited islands in Maine. Like navigational signs, Eggert’s artwork asks us to recognize where we are now as individuals and as a society, to identify where we want to be in the future — and to imagine the routes we can take to get there.

Quote of the talk: “Signs often help to orient us in the world by telling us where we are now and what’s happening in the present moment. But they can also help us zoom out, shift our perspective and get a sense of the bigger picture.”

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Anthropo Impact: Notes from Session 2 of TEDSummit 2019

Radio Science Orchestra performs the musical odyssey “Prelude, Landing, Legacy” in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 22, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Session 2 of TEDSummit 2019 is all about impact: the actions we can take to solve humanity’s toughest challenges. Speakers and performers explore the perils — from melting glaciers to air pollution — along with some potential fixes — like ocean-going seaweed farms and radical proposals for how we can build the future.

The event: TEDSummit 2019, Session 2: Anthropo Impact, hosted by David Biello and Chee Pearlman

When and where: Monday, July 22, 2019, 5pm BST, at the Edinburgh Convention Centre in Edinburgh, Scotland

Speakers: Tshering Tobgay, María Neira, Tim Flannery, Kelly Wanser, Anthony Veneziale, Nicola Jones, Marwa Al-Sabouni, Ma Yansong

Music: Radio Science Orchestra, performing the musical odyssey “Prelude, Landing, Legacy” in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing (and the 100th anniversary of the theremin’s invention)

… and something completely different: Improv maestro Anthony Veneziale, delivering a made-up-on-the-spot TED Talk based on a deck of slides he’d never seen and an audience-suggested topic: “the power of potatoes.” The result was … surprisingly profound.

The talks in brief:

Tshering Tobgay, politician, environmentalist and former Prime Minister of Bhutan

Big idea: We must save the Hindu Kush Himalayan glaciers from melting — or else face dire, irreversible consequences for one-fifth of the global population.

Why? The Hindu Kush Himalayan glaciers are the pulse of the planet: their rivers alone supply water to 1.6 billion people, and their melting would massively impact the 240 million people across eight countries within their reach. Think in extremes — more intense rains, flash floods and landslides along with unimaginable destruction and millions of climate refugees. Tshering Togbay telegraphs the future we’re headed towards unless we act fast, calling for a new intergovernmental agency: the Third Pole Council. This council would be tasked with monitoring the glaciers’ health, implementing policies to protect them and, by proxy, the billions of who depend of them.

Fun fact: The Hindu Kush Himalayan glaciers are the world’s third-largest repository of ice (after the North and South poles). They’re known as the “Third Pole” and the “Water Towers of Asia.”


Air pollution isn’t just bad for the environment — it’s also bad for our brains, says María Neira. She speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 22, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

María Neira, public health leader

Big idea: Air pollution isn’t just bad for our lungs — it’s bad for our brains, too.

Why? Globally, poor air quality causes seven million premature deaths per year. And all this pollution isn’t just affecting our lungs, says María Neira. An emerging field of research is shedding a light on the link between air pollution and our central nervous systems. The fine particulate matter in air pollution travels through our bloodstreams to our major organs, including the brain — which can slow down neurological development in kids and speed up cognitive decline in adults. In short: air pollution is making us less intelligent. We all have a role to play in curbing air pollution — and we can start by reducing traffic in cities, investing in clean energy and changing the way we consume.

Quote of the talk: “We need to exercise our rights and put pressure on politicians to make sure they will tackle the causes of air pollution. This is the first thing we need to do to protect our health and our beautiful brains.”


Tim Flannery, environmentalist, explorer and professor

Big idea: Seaweed could help us drawdown atmospheric carbon and curb global warming.

How? You know the story: the blanket of CO2 above our heads is driving adverse climate changes and will continue to do so until we get it out of the air (a process known as “drawdown”). Tim Flannery thinks seaweed could help: it grows fast, is made out of productive, photosynthetic tissue and, when sunk more than a kilometer deep into the ocean, can lock up carbon long-term. If we cover nine percent of the ocean surface in seaweed farms, for instance, we could sequester the same amount of CO2 we currently put into the atmosphere. There’s still a lot to figure, Flannery notes —  like how growing seaweed at scale on the ocean surface will affect biodiversity down below — but the drawdown potential is too great to allow uncertainty to stymie progress.

Fun fact: Seaweed is the most ancient multicellular life known, with more genetic diversity than all other multicellular life combined.


Could cloud brightening help curb global warming? Kelly Wanser speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 22, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED

Kelly Wanser, geoengineering expert and executive director of SilverLining

Big idea: The practice of cloud brightening — seeding clouds with sea salt or other particulates to reflect sunshine back into space — could partially offset global warming, giving us crucial time while we figure out game-changing, long-term solutions.

How: Starting in 2020, new global regulations will require ships to cut emissions by 85 percent. This is a good thing, right? Not entirely, says Kelly Wanser. It turns out that when particulate emissions (like those from ships) mix with clouds, they make the clouds brighter — enabling them to reflect sunshine into space and temporarily cool our climate. (Think of it as the ibuprofen for our fevered climate.) Wanser’s team and others are coming up with experiments to see if “cloud-brightening” proves safe and effective; some scientists believe increasing the atmosphere’s reflectivity by one or two percent could offset the two degrees celsius of warming that’s been forecasted for earth. As with other climate interventions, there’s much yet to learn, but the potential benefits make those efforts worth it. 

An encouraging fact: The global community has rallied to pull off this kind of atmospheric intervention in the past, with the 1989 Montreal Protocol.


Nicola Jones, science journalist

Big idea: Noise in our oceans — from boat motors to seismic surveys — is an acute threat to underwater life. Unless we quiet down, we will irreparably damage marine ecosystems and may even drive some species to extinction.

How? We usually think of noise pollution as a problem in big cities on dry land. But ocean noise may be the culprit behind marine disruptions like whale strandings, fish kills and drops in plankton populations. Fortunately, compared to other climate change solutions, it’s relatively quick and easy to dial down our noise levels and keep our oceans quiet. Better ship propellor design, speed limits near harbors and quieter methods for oil and gas prospecting will all help humans restore peace and quiet to our neighbors in the sea.

Quote of the talk: “Sonar can be as loud as, or nearly as loud as, an underwater volcano. A supertanker can be as loud as the call of a blue whale.”


TED curator Chee Pearlman (left) speaks with architect Marwa Al-Sabouni at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders. July 22, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

Marwa Al-Sabouni, architect, interviewed by TED curator Chee Pearlman

Big idea: Architecture can exacerbate the social disruptions that lead to armed conflict.

How? Since the time of the French Mandate, officials in Syria have shrunk the communal spaces that traditionally united citizens of varying backgrounds. This contributed to a sense of alienation and rootlessness — a volatile cocktail that built conditions for unrest and, eventually, war. Marwa Al-Sabouni, a resident of Homs, Syria, saw firsthand how this unraveled social fabric helped reduce the city to rubble during the civil war. Now, she’s taking part in the city’s slow reconstruction — conducted by citizens with little or no government aid. As she explains in her book The Battle for Home, architects have the power (and the responsibility) to connect a city’s residents to a shared urban identity, rather than to opposing sectarian groups.

Quote of the talk: “Syria had a very unfortunate destiny, but it should be a lesson for the rest of the world: to take notice of how our cities are making us very alienated from each other, and from the place we used to call home.”


“Architecture is no longer a function or a machine for living. It also reflects the nature around us. It also reflects our soul and the spirit,” says Ma Yansong. He speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders. July 22, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

Ma Yansong, architect and artist

Big Idea: By creating architecture that blends with nature, we can break free from the “matchbox” sameness of many city buildings.

How? Ma Yansong paints a vivid image of what happens when nature collides with architecture — from a pair of curvy skyscrapers that “dance” with each other to buildings that burst out of a village’s mountains like contour lines. Yansong embraces the shapes of nature — which never repeat themselves, he notes — and the randomness of hand-sketched designs, creating a kind of “emotional scenery.” When we think beyond the boxy geometry of modern cities, he says, the results can be breathtaking.

Quote of talk: “Architecture is no longer a function or a machine for living. It also reflects the nature around us. It also reflects our soul and the spirit.”

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It’s not about privacy — it’s about power: Carole Cadwalladr speaks at TEDSummit 2019

Three months after her landmark TED Talk, Carole Cadwalladr is back at TED. In conversation with curator Bruno Giussani, Cadwalladr discusses the latest on her reporting on the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal and what we still don’t know about the transatlantic links between Brexit and the 2016 US presidential election.

“Who has the information, who has the data about you, that is where power now lies,” Cadwalladr says.

Cadwalladr appears in The Great Hack, a documentary by Karim Amer and TED Prize winner Jehane Noujaim that explores how Cambridge Analytica has come to symbolize the dark side of social media. The documentary was screened for TEDSummit participants today. Watch it in select theaters and on Netflix starting July 24.

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Weaving Community: Notes from Session 1 of TEDSummit 2019

Hosts Bruno Giussani and Helen Walters open Session 1: Weaving Community on July 21, 2019, Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

The stage is set for TEDSummit 2019: A Community Beyond Borders! During the opening session, speakers and performers explored themes of competition, political engagement and longing — and celebrated the TED communities (representing 84 countries) gathered in Edinburgh, Scotland to forge TED’s next chapter.

The event: TEDSummit 2019, Session 1: Weaving Community, hosted by Bruno Giussani and Helen Walters

When and where: Sunday, July 21, 2019, 5pm BST, at the Edinburgh Convention Centre in Edinburgh, Scotland

Speakers: Pico Iyer, Jochen Wegner, Hajer Sharief, Mariana Lin, Carole Cadwalladr, Susan Cain with Min Kym

Opening: A warm Scottish welcome from raconteur Mackenzie Dalrymple

Music: Findlay Napier and Gillian Frame performing selections from The Ledger, a series of Scottish folk songs

The talks in brief:

“Seeming happiness can stand in the way of true joy even more than misery does,” says writer Pico Iyer. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Pico Iyer, novelist and nonfiction author

Big idea: The opposite of winning isn’t losing; it’s failing to see the larger picture.

Why? As a child in England, Iyer believed the point of competition was to win, to vanquish one’s opponent. Now, some 50 years later and a resident of Japan, he’s realized that competition can be “more like an act of love.” A few times a week, he plays ping-pong at his local health club. Games are played as doubles, and partners are changed every five minutes. As a result, nobody ends up winning — or losing — for long. Iyer has found liberation and wisdom in this approach. Just as in a choir, he says, “Your only job is to play your small part perfectly, to hit your notes with feeling and by so doing help to create a beautiful harmony that’s much greater than the sum of its parts.”

Quote of the talk: “Seeming happiness can stand in the way of true joy even more than misery does.”


Jochen Wegner, journalist and editor of Zeit Online

Big idea: The spectrum of belief is as multifaceted as humanity itself. As social media segments us according to our interests, and as algorithms deliver us increasingly homogenous content that reinforces our beliefs, we become resistant to any ideas — or even facts — that contradict our worldview. The more we sequester ourselves, the more divided we become. How can we learn to bridge our differences?

How? Inspired by research showing that one-on-one conversations are a powerful tool for helping people learn to trust each other, Zeit Online built Germany Talks, a “Tinder for politics” that facilitates “political arguments” and face-to-face meetings between users in an attempt to bridge their points-of-view on issues ranging from immigration to same-sex marriage. With Germany Talks (and now My Country Talks and Europe Talks) Zeit has facilitated conversations between thousands of Europeans from 33 countries.

Quote of the talk: “What matters here is not the numbers, obviously. What matters here is whenever two people meet to talk in person for hours, without anyone else listening, they change — and so do our societies. They change, little by little, discussion by discussion.”


“The systems we have nowadays for political decision-making are not from the people for the people — they have been established by the few, for the few,” says activist Hajer Sharief. She speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 21, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

Hajer Sharief, activist and cofounder of the Together We Build It Foundation

Big Idea: People of all genders, ages, races, beliefs and socioeconomic statuses should participate in politics.

Why? Hajer Sharief’s native Libya is recovering from 40 years of authoritarian rule and civil war. She sheds light on the way politics are involved in every aspect of life: “By not participating in it, you are literally allowing other people to decide what you can eat, wear, if you can have access to healthcare, free education, how much tax you pay, when can you retire, what is your pension,” she says. “Other people are also deciding whether your race is enough to consider you a criminal, or if your religion or nationality are enough to put you on a terrorist list.” When Sharief was growing up, her family held weekly meetings to discuss family issues, abiding by certain rules to ensured everyone was respectful and felt free to voice their thoughts. She recounts a meeting that went badly for her 10-year-old self, resulting in her boycotting them altogether for many years — until an issue came about which forced her to participate again. Rejoining the meetings was a political assertion, and it helped her realize an important lesson: you are never too young to use your voice — but you need to be present for it to work.

Quote of talk: “Politics is not only activism — it’s awareness, it’s keeping ourselves informed, it’s caring for facts. When it’s possible, it is casting a vote. Politics is the tool through which we structure ourselves as groups and societies.”


Mariana Lin, AI character designer and principal writer for Siri

Big idea: Let’s inject AI personalities with the essence of life: creativity, weirdness, curiosity, fun.

Why? Tech companies are going in two different directions when it comes to creating AI personas: they’re either building systems that are safe, flat, stripped of quirks and humor — or, worse, they’re building ones that are fully customizable, programmed to say just what you want to hear, just how you like to hear it. While this might sound nice at first, we’re losing part of what makes us human in the process: the friction and discomfort of relating with others, the hard work of building trusting relationships. Mariana Lin calls for tech companies to try harder to truly bring AI to life — in all its messy, complicated, uncomfortable glory. For starters, she says, companies can hire a diverse range of writers, creatives, artists and social thinkers to work on AI teams. If the people creating these personalities are as diverse as the people using it — from poets and philosophers to bankers and beekeepers — then the future of AI looks bright.

Quote of the talk: “If we do away with the discomfort of relating with others not exactly like us, with views not exactly like ours — we do away with what makes us human.”


In 2018, Carole Cadwalladr exposed Cambridge Analytica’s attempt to influence the UK Brexit vote and the 2016 US presidential election via personal data on Facebook. She’s still working to sound the alarm. She speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 21, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

Carole Cadwalladr, investigative journalist, interviewed by TED curator Bruno Giussani

Big idea: Companies that collect and hoard our information, like Facebook, have become unthinkably powerful global players — perhaps more powerful than governments. It’s time for the public hold them accountable.

How? Tech companies with offices in different countries must obey the laws of those nations. It’s up to leaders to make sure those laws are enforced — and it’s up to citizens to pressure lawmakers to further tighten protections. Despite legal and personal threats from her adversaries, Carole Cadwalladr continues to explore the ways in which corporations and politicians manipulate data to consolidate their power.

Quote to remember: “In Britain, Brexit is this thing which is reported on as this British phenomenon, that’s all about what’s happening in Westminster. The fact that actually we are part of something which is happening globally — this rise of populism and authoritarianism — that’s just completely overlooked. These transatlantic links between what is going on in Trump’s America are very, very closely linked to what is going on in Britain.”


Susan Cain meditates on how the feeling of longing can guide us to a deeper understanding of ourselves, accompanied by Min Kym on violin, at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders. July 21, 2019, Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Susan Cain, quiet revolutionary, with violinist Min Kym

Big idea: Life is steeped in sublime magic that you can tap into, opening a whole world filled with passion and delight.

How? By forgoing constant positivity for a state of mind more exquisite and fleeting — a place where light (joy) and darkness (sorrow) meet, known to us all as longing. Susan Cain weaves her journey in search for the sublime with the splendid sounds of Min Kym on violin, sharing how the feeling of yearning connects us to each other and helps us to better understand what moves us deep down.

Quote of the talk: “Follow your longing where it’s telling you to go, and may it carry you straight to the beating heart of the perfect and beautiful world.”

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Getting ready for TEDSummit 2019: Photo gallery

TEDSummit banners are hung at the entrance of the Edinburgh Convention Centre, our home for the week. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

TEDSummit 2019 officially kicks off today! Members of the TED community from 84 countries — TEDx’ers, TED Translators, TED Fellows, TED-Ed Educators, past speakers and more — have gathered in Edinburgh, Scotland to dream up what’s next for TED. Over the next week, the community will share adventures around the city, more than 100 Discovery Sessions and, of course, seven sessions of TED Talks.

Below, check out some photo highlights from the lead-up to TEDSummit and pre-conference activities. (And view our full photostream here.)

It takes a small (and mighty) army to get the theater ready for TED Talks.

(Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

(Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

(Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

TED Translators get the week started with a trip to Edinburgh Castle, complete with high tea in the Queen Anne Tea Room, and a welcome reception.

(Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

(Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

(Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

A bit of Scottish rain couldn’t stop the TED Fellows from enjoying a hike up Arthur’s Seat. Weather wasn’t a problem at a welcome dinner.

(Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

(Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

(Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

TEDx’ers kick off the week with workshops, panel discussions and a welcome reception.

(Photo: Dian Lofton / TED)

(Photo: Dian Lofton / TED)

(Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

It’s all sun and blue skies for the speaker community’s trip to Edinburgh Castle and reception at the Playfair Library.

(Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

(Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

(Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

(Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

Cheers to an amazing week ahead!

(Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

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