TED

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

TED2019 may be past, but the TED community is busy as ever. Below, a few highlights.

Amplifying 2 million women across the U.S. Activist Ai-jen Poo, Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza and Planned Parenthood past president Cecile Richards have joined forces to launch Supermajority, which aims to train 2 million women in the United States to become activists and political leaders. To scale, the political hub plans to partner with local nonprofits across the country; as a first step, the co-founders will embark on a nationwide listening tour this summer. (Watch Poo’s, Garza’s and Richards’ TED Talks.)

Sneaker reseller set to break billion-dollar record. Sneakerheads, rejoice! StockX, the sneaker-reselling digital marketplace led by data expert Josh Luber, will soon become the first company of its kind with a billion-dollar valuation, thanks to a new round of venture funding.  StockX — a platform where collectible and limited-edition sneakers are bought and exchanged through real-time bidding — is an evolution of Campless, Luber’s site that collected data on rare sneakers. In an interview with The New York Times, Luber said that StockX pulls in around $2 million in gross sales every day. (Watch Luber’s TED Talk.)

A move to protect iconic African-American photo archives. Investment expert Mellody Hobson and her husband, filmmaker George Lucas, filed a motion to acquire the rich photo archives of iconic African-American lifestyle magazines Ebony and Jet. The archives are owned by the recently bankrupt Johnson Publishing Company; Hobson and Lucas intend to gain control over them through their company, Capital Holdings V. The collections include over 5 million photos of notable events and people in African American history, particularly during the Civil Rights Movement. In a statement, Capital Holdings V said: “The Johnson Publishing archives are an essential part of American history and have been critical in telling the extraordinary stories of African-American culture for decades. We want to be sure the archives are protected for generations to come.” (Watch Hobson’s TED Talk.)

10 TED speakers chosen for the TIME100. TIME’s annual round-up of the 100 most influential people in the world include climate activist Greta Thunberg, primatologist and environmentalist Jane Goodall, astrophysicist Sheperd Doeleman and educational entrepreneur Fred Swaniker — also Nancy Pelosi, the Pope, Leana Wen, Michelle Obama, Gayle King (who interviewed Serena Williams and now co-hosts CBS This Morning home to TED segment), and Jeanne Gang. Thunberg was honored for her work igniting climate change activism among teenagers across the world; Goodall for her extraordinary life work of research into the natural world and her steadfast environmentalism; Doeleman for his contribution to the Harvard team of astronomers who took the first photo of a black hole; and Swaniker for the work he’s done to educate and cultivate the next generation of African leaders. Bonus: TIME100 luminaries are introduced in short, sharp essays, and this year many of them came from TEDsters including JR, Shonda Rhimes, Bill Gates, Jennifer Doudna, Dolores Huerta, Hans Ulrich Obrest, Tarana Burke, Kai-Fu Lee, Ian Bremmer, Stacey Abrams, Madeleine Albright, Anna Deavere Smith and Margarethe Vestager. (Watch Thunberg’s, Goodall’s, Doeleman’s, Pelosi’s, Pope Francis’, Wen’s, Obama’s, King’s, Gang’s and Swaniker’s TED Talks.)

Meet Sports Illustrated’s first hijab-wearing model. Model and activist Halima Aden will be the first hijab-wearing model featured in Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit issue, debuting May 8. Aden will wear two custom burkinis, modestly designed swimsuits. “Being in Sports Illustrated is so much bigger than me,” Aden said in a statement, “It’s sending a message to my community and the world that women of all different backgrounds, looks, upbringings can stand together and be celebrated.” (Watch Aden’s TED Talk.)

Scotland post-surgical deaths drop by a third, and checklists are to thank. A study indicated a 37 percent decrease in post-surgical deaths in Scotland since 2008, which it attributed to the implementation of a safety checklist. The 19-item list created by the World Health Organization is supposed to encourage teamwork and communication during operations. The death rate fell to 0.46 per 100 procedures between 2000 and 2014, analysis of 6.8 million operations showed. Dr. Atul Gawande, who introduced the checklist and co-authored the study, published in the British Journal of Surgery, said to the BBC: “Scotland’s health system is to be congratulated for a multi-year effort that has produced some of the largest population-wide reductions in surgical deaths ever documented.” (Watch Gawanda’s TED Talk.) — BG

And finally … After the actor Luke Perry died unexpectedly of a stroke in February, he was buried according to his wishes: on his Tennessee family farm, wearing a suit embedded with spores that will help his body decompose naturally and return to the earth. His Infinity Burial Suit was made by Coeio, led by designer, artist and TED Fellow Jae Rhim Lee. Back in 2011, Lee demo’ed the mushroom burial suit onstage at TEDGlobal; now she’s focused on testing and creating suits for more people. On April 13, Lee spoke at Perry’s memorial service, held at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank; Perry’s daughter revealed his story in a thoughtful instagram post this past weekend. (Watch Lee’s TED Talk.) — EM

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Meyer Sound at TED, from the stage to the stars

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

Small but mighty speakers from Meyer Sound helped bring rich sound to the sonically challenging front-row seats of TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 15–19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED

Given John Meyer’s roots in the Bay Area’s 1960s radio and music scenes, and his innovations for just about every acoustic application — electronically dampening ambient noise in loud rooms, building 3D Cirque du Soleil soundscapes, and helping develop the Grateful Dead’s revolutionary “Wall of Sound” — it’s not surprising to spot his team behind the scenes at TED. With his state-of-the-art audio production platforms and speaker systems, Meyer and his colleagues at Meyer Sound have significantly improved TED’s music and voice reproduction game, and opened the door to a world of new sonic possibilities at TED’s events — including an on-site audio refuge at TED2019 to provide conference-goers with a serene space to digest heavy ideas.

Meyer is a living legend, and accordingly, I caught up with him as he’s revisiting one of his most legendary projects: the sound design of Apocalypse Now, which first toured the US in 1979 using Meyer’s subsonic speaker system. Director Francis Ford Coppola wanted audiences to literally feel every explosion in the film, and he tapped Meyer to provide special subwoofers that would reach to 30 cycles per second (or Hz) — well below the range of human hearing — to provide that impact. For the film’s 40th-anniversary screening at the Beacon Theatre in New York City, Meyer’s speakers sunk even lower to a gut-rumbling 13 Hz.

“Sound can change your emotion more than any other tool that’s ever existed,” Meyer says. “The movie people know this, because they change the sound to change the mood of a scene. They’ve known this for 50 years; neuroscience is just studying this now. And we know that low frequencies — which we’re doing for Apocalypse Now — create emotion.”

This exploratory and thoughtful approach to sound and all its possibilities forms the cornerstone of Meyer Sound (which Meyer and his wife, Helen, founded in Berkeley in 1979), and it’s enshrined in their motto: “Thinking sound.” “‘Thinking sound’ embodies our philosophy of making sound something that matters for everyone in all situations,” Meyer explains. “Sound is a crucial contributor to quality of life, because it is all around us all of the time.” By developing new technologies, Meyer Sound constantly seeks to “create audio solutions that heighten the quality and enjoyment of each of these kinds of sonic experiences.”

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

Meet Mina Sabet, TED’s director of production/video operations. It’s her job to make TED’s custom-built theater look and sound better year after year. TED2019: Bigger Than Us. April 15–19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Dian Lofton / TED

If this kind of thinking sounds familiar, it’s because it dovetails perfectly with the values of TED’s production team, for whom sound and video are equal ingredients in an ideal conference experience. Mina Sabet, TED’s Director of Production and Video Operations, sought to up the ante of TED’s audio production — and Meyer Sound was a “clear choice” to reboot the sound system for the 2019 Vancouver conference.

Building a PA system that blends into the background, doesn’t block anyone’s view of the stage, and yet still provides adequate sound coverage is a daunting task. According to Sabet, “One specific red flag we noticed when sitting in the theater was that our front rows” — specifically couches arranged at the front of the theater — “did not have a full audio experience.” The existing speakers were high overhead, creating a sonic void at the front of the hall. Loudspeakers must compete with lighting rigs and video projectors for ceiling real estate, and they had lost that battle. Speakers in the aisles are both hazardous and, well, ugly.

The solution was both innovative and comically obvious — hide speakers under the furniture. Sabet says that Meyer Sound’s “UP4-Slim speaker could fit nicely under the couch, face the people in the couches, and never be visible to the audience or our cameras. It was a perfect fit.” From there, the team optimized the rest of the room — as Meyer’s business manager John Monitto says, “making sure that we had equal coverage between all the seats, and just really making it a dynamic space… completely blanketing the seats with sound.”

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

This quiet simulcast room became a chillout lounge between sessions of talks, thanks to a tranquil sound environment from Meyer Sound. TED2019: Bigger Than Us. April 15–19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Dian Lofton / TED

Once Meyer Sound had conquered the challenges in the main theater, they rewired the simulcast rooms to provide relaxed, uncrowded viewing spaces away from the main theater. As they explored the theme of relaxation, the teams began to wonder — how could they design a space that is not only a great place to listen to the conference, but also a meditative environment where attendees could really lose themselves and quietly observe the torrent of ideas they’d just experienced? More important, how could the production team exploit Meyer Sound’s powerful sound design suites — which can enable small halls to sound like cathedrals or caverns, or muffle echoes to make large spaces sound tiny — to their fullest potential?

As Monitto tells it, “TED had brought us the idea of a room that has two purposes: one, it’s a simulcast space [where] you can watch a talk happening live. [Two], between those sessions, when there’s not somebody on a stage or they’re not presenting material, there’s a place to go to be able to just chill out. And that’s what this room was all about. They brought us a theme of ‘Under the stars,’ and they wanted us to run with it.” And so the “Under the stars” room was born, centered around an interactive ceiling installation that would display the constellations of different cultures with the wave of a baton.

Monitto continues: “We did something really creative — creating an outdoor theme, with an audio soundscape that allowed you to just kind of chill out and relax.” By manipulating high-quality recordings of wind, water, insects and birds flying overhead with Spacemap — an audio matrix that maps up to 288 input sources to output locations — the Meyer Sound team created the illusion of an outdoor cinema under the stars, with sounds not only drifting between speakers, but also soaring overhead and far away. “It just was a real nice place to hang out,” Monitto says.

Leveraging sound to redefine spaces and moods within the conference venue is just the beginning — TED and Meyer Sound have a wide spectrum of challenges and possibilities ahead of them. Using their boundless curiosity, ingenuity, and creativity, both teams seek to redefine the aesthetic boundaries of their events — and seeking to master data-driven tools to achieve this is perhaps the most daunting task of all. As John Meyer puts it, “We [can analyze sound], but it’s like analyzing food — it’s hard. Analyzing whiskey or anything like that with chemistry is hard to figure out. Does it taste good?” As they enter their multi-year partnership, TED and Meyer hope to deliver complex, rich, and five-star flavors to audiences in their theater and in rooms at TED’s flagship conference in Vancouver for years to come.

A meditative soundscape and a ceiling full of stars turned this simulcast space into a calm, relaxing environment, thanks to sound design from Meyer Sound.

A meditative soundscape and a ceiling full of stars turned this simulcast space into a calm, relaxing environment, thanks to sound design from Meyer Sound. TED2019: Bigger Than Us. April 15–19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Dian Lofton / TED

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Remembering Harry Marks, co-founder of the TED Conference

Harry Marks’ career happened at the intersection of typography, technology and television. His vision has influenced the look of modern video — picture those fluidly moving, 3D letters that fly over the TV screen to introduce a news broadcast or pop a sports score onto the screen. His influence on this field is absolutely foundational; it’s the headline in his obituary this week in The Hollywood Reporter.

But within Marks’ rich creative life was the seed of another influential cultural moment: He is the co-founder of the TED Conference, which is now a global movement of idea sharing, shared in hundreds of languages among millions of people every day.

In the video above from Lynda.com/LinkedIn Learning, Marks tells the story of how he came up with the idea for a conference about technology, entertainment and design while developing title sequences for television using then-new tools of computer graphics:

“I worked with musicians. I worked with artists. I worked with designers. I worked with scientists. I worked with engineers. And it struck me at one point that we were … bringing these very divergent technologies together. I came up with this idea that I wanted to do a conference, but I didn’t know how to do a conference.

“So Richard came and visited … and I said: ‘Let’s go for a walk.’ I said, ‘I have this idea for a conference that’s technology, entertainment and design, and how they relate to each other, hence TED. Would you help me to do a conference, or would you show me how to do it?’

“He said, ‘Yeah, I’ll help you. Just give me half. We’ll do it together, we’ll be partners.’ And he brought in Frank Stanton, a wonderful man, with huge credentials. So the three of us did the first TED in 1984. …

“And it totally worked, in principle. It didn’t work financially for us at all, but it worked in principle.”

The next TED didn’t happen until six years later, in 1990. Below is a delightful piece of archive video from TED2, in which Marks looks back on what those six years have brought.

“What we used to call high technology has gone from the lab to the living room. It’s creating hundreds of new ideas every day, new devices, new languages, new industries, new millionaires — and a new environment that forces all of us to reassess the components of our everyday lives and the viability of thinking of anything in a traditional way.

“Some of the things that we talked about and introduced at TED1 seemed esoteric six years ago, and now they’re on our desk at the office, or more likely at home, or even more likely both. Those of you who were in this room in 1984 will remember one of the first public showings of the Macintosh and of the compact disc. You’ve seen, in that short time, the long-playing record has become virtually obsolete. And how many of us thought that terms like ‘desktop publishing’ and ‘desktop video’ would become embedded in our vocabularies?”

But as you’ll see in the video, this thoughtful agenda-setting essay was followed by a giant digital prank — a delightful misuse of cutting-edge tech to both underscore and puncture the point Marks was making. It’s genuinely silly. As Russell Preston Brown, of Adobe, wrote to us today:

I think what I remember most about Harry and the TED2 conference was his love of all things over-the-top INSANE

As I recall, Tom Rielly and I suggested that we should create a 3D TED-zilla movie for the closing ceremonies at TED2.

Harry encouraged us both to go CRAZY and we use an early version of Adobe Premiere to create this INSANE bit of video for the show.

We passed out 3D glasses to everyone, and the audience went crazy, and asked for a resounding encore.

I remember that Harry was laughing so hard and had a smile from ear to ear.

We both had another good laugh that Timothy Leary was in the audience and we even made him trip out as well.

Such good times. I will truly miss those early, early days with Harry at the TED Conferences.

We’re just back from the … 35th? annual TED Conference last week, and while much about TED has changed, this vision still holds — of bold looks into the future, an occasional trip-out, and a healthy dash of silliness. All of us at TED remain grateful for this founding vision.

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In Case You Missed It: Highlights from TED2019

Twelve mainstage sessions, two rocking sessions of talks from TED Fellows, a special session of TED Unplugged, a live podcast recording and much more amounted to an unforgettable week at TED2019. (Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED)

If we learned anything at TED2019, it’s that life doesn’t fit into simple narratives, and that there are no simple answers to the big problems we’re facing. But we can use those problems, our discomfort and even our anger to find the energy to make change.

Twelve mainstage sessions, two rocking sessions of talks from TED Fellows, a special session of TED Unplugged, a live podcast recording and much more amounted to an unforgettable week. Any attempt to summarize it all will be woefully incomplete, but here’s a try.

What happened to the internet? Once a place of so much promise, now a source of so much division. Journalist Carole Cadwalldr opened the conference with an electrifying talk on Facebook’s role in Brexit — and how the same players were involved in 2016 US presidential election. She traced the contours of the growing threat social media poses to democracy and calls out the “gods of Silicon Valley,” naming names — one of whom, Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, sat down to talk with TED’s Chris Anderson and Whitney Pennington Rodgers the following day. Dorsey acknowledged problems with harassment on the platform and explained some of the work his team is doing to make it better.

Hannah Gadsby broke comedy. Her words, not ours, and she makes a compelling case in one of the most talked-about moments of the conference. Look for her talk release on April 29.

Humanity strikes back! Eight huge Audacious Project–supported ideas launched at TED this year. From a groundbreaking project at the Center for Policing Equity to work with police and communities and to collect data on police behavior and set goals to make it more fair … to a new effort to sequester carbon in soil … and more, you can help support these projects and change the world for good.

10 years of TED Fellows. Celebrating a decade of the program in two sessions of exuberant talks, the TED Fellows showed some wow moments, including Brandon Clifford‘s discovery of how to make multi-ton stones “dance,” Arnav Kapur‘s wearable device that allows for silent speech and Skylar Tibbits‘s giant canvas bladders that might save sinking islands. At the same time, they reminded us some of the pain that can exist behind breakthroughs, with Brandon Anderson speaking poignantly about the loss of his life partner during a routine traffic stop — which inspired him to develop a first-of-its-kind platform to report police conduct — and Erika Hamden opening up about her team’s failures in building FIREBall, a UV telescope that can observe extremely faint light from huge clouds of hydrogen gas in and around galaxies.

Connection is a superpower. If you haven’t heard of the blockbuster megahit Crazy Rich Asians, then, well, it’s possible you’re living under a large rock. Whether or not you saw it, the film’s director, Jon M. Chu, has a TED Talk about connection — to his family, his culture, to film and technology — that goes far beyond the movie. The theme of connection rang throughout the conference: from Priya Parker’s three easy steps to turn our everyday get-togethers into meaningful and transformative gatherings to Barbara J. King’s heartbreaking examples of grief in the animal kingdom to Sarah Kay’s epic opening poem about the universe — and our place in it.

Meet Digital Doug. TED takes tech seriously, and Doug Roble took us up on it, debuting his team’s breakthrough motion capture tech, which renders a 3D likeness (known as Digital Doug) in real time — down to Roble’s facial expressions, pores and wrinkles. The demo felt like one of those shifts, where you see what the future’s going to look like. Outside the theater, attendees got a chance to interact with Digital Doug in VR, talking on a virtual TED stage with Roble (who is actually in another room close by, responding to the “digital you” in real time).

New hope for political leadership. There was no shortage of calls to fix the broken, leaderless systems at the top of world governments throughout the conference. The optimists in the room won out during Michael Tubbs’s epic talk about building new civic structures. The mayor of Stockton, California (and the youngest ever of a city with more than 100,000 people), Tubbs shared his vision for governing strategies that recognize systems that place people in compromised situations — and that view impoverished and violent communities with compassion. “When we see someone different from us, they should not reflect our fears, our anxieties, our insecurities, the prejudices we have been taught, our biases. We should see ourselves. We should see our common humanity.”

Exploring the final frontier. A surprise appearance from Sheperd Doeleman, head of the Event Horizon Telescope — whose work produced the historic, first-ever image of a black hole that made waves last week — sent the conference deep into space, and it never really came back. Astrophysicist Juna Kollmeier, head of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, shared her work mapping the observable universe — a feat, she says, that we’ll complete in just 40 years.  “Think about it. We’ve gone from arranging clamshells to general relativity in a few thousand years,” she says. “If we hang on 40 more, we can map all the galaxies.” And in the Fellows talks, Moriba Jah, a space environmentalist and inventor of the orbital garbage monitoring software AstriaGraph, showed how space has a garbage problem. Around half a million objects, some as small as a speck of paint, orbit the Earth — and there’s no consensus on what’s in orbit or where.

Go to sleep. A lack of sleep can lead to more than drowsiness and irritability. Matt Walker shared how it can be deadly as well, leading to an increased risk of Parkinson’s, cancer, heart attacks and more. “Sleep is the Swiss army knife of health,” he says, “It’s not an optional lifestyle luxury. Sleep is a non-negotiable biological necessity. It is your life support system, and it is mother nature’s best effort yet at immortality.”

The amazing group of speakers who shared their world-changing ideas on the mainstage at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 15 – 19, 2019 in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

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

Legendary stage designer Es Devlin takes us on a tour of the mind-blowing sets she’s created for Beyoncé, Adele, U2 and others. She speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 18, 2019 in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

Day 4 of TED2019 played on some of the more powerful forces in the world: mystery, play, connection, wonder and awe. Some themes and takeaways from a jam-packed day:

Sleep is the Swiss Army knife of health. The less you sleep, the shorter your life expectancy and the higher your chance of getting a life-threatening illness like Alzheimer’s or cancer, says sleep scientist Matt Walker. It’s all about the deep sleep brain waves, Walker says: those tiny pulses of electrical activity that transfer memories from the brain’s short-term, vulnerable area into long-term storage. He shares some crazy stats about a global experiment performed on 1.6 billion people across 70 countries twice a year, known to us all as daylight savings time. In the spring, when we lose an hour of sleep, we see a 24 percent increase in heart attacks that following day, Walker says. In the autumn, when we gain an hour of sleep, we see a 21 percent reduction in heart attacks.

Video games are the most important technological change happening in the world right now. Just look at the scale: a full third of the world’s population (2.6 billion people) find the time to game, plugging into massive networks of interaction, says entrepreneur Herman Narula. These networks let people exercise a social muscle they might not otherwise exercise. While social media can amplify our differences, could games create a space for us to empathize? That’s what is happening on Twitch, says cofounder Emmett Shear. With 15 million daily active users, Twitch lets viewers watch and comment on livestreamed games, turning them into multiplayer entertainment. Video games are a modern version of communal storytelling, says Shear, with audiences both participating and viewing as they sit around their “virtual campfires.”

We’re heading for a nutrition crisis. Plants love to eat CO2, and we’re giving them a lot more of it lately. But as Kristie Ebi shows, there’s a hidden, terrifying consequence — the nutritional quality of plants is decreasing, reducing levels of protein, vitamins and nutrients that humans need. Bottom line: the rice, wheat and potatoes our grandparents ate might have contained more nutrition than our kids’ food will. Asmeret Asefaw Berhe studies the soil where our food grows — “it’s just a thin veil that covers the surface of land, but it has the power to shape our planet’s destiny,” she says. In a Q&A with Ebi, Berhe connects the dots between soil and nutrition: “There are 13 nutrients that plants get only from soil. They’re created from soil weathering, and that’s a very slow process.” CO2 is easier for plants to consume — it’s basically plant junk food.  

Tech that folds and moves. Controlling the slides in his talk with the swipe on the arm of his jean jacket, inventor Ivan Poupyrev shows how, with a bit of collaboration, we can design literally anything to be plugged into the internet — blending digital interactivity with everyday analog objects like clothing. “We are walking around with supercomputers in our pockets. But we’re stuck in the screens with our faces? That’s not the future I imagine.” Some news: Poupryev announced from stage that his wearables platform will soon be made available freely to other creators, to make of it what they will. Meanwhile Jamie Paik shows folding origami robots — call them “robogami” — that morph and change to respond to what we’re asking them to do. “These robots will no longer look like the characters from the movies,” she says. “Instead, they will be whatever you want them to be.”

Inside the minds of creators. Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt has gotten more than his fair share of attention in his acting career (in which, oddly, he’s played two TED speakers: tightrope walker Philippe Petit and whistleblower Edward Snowden). But as life has morphed on social media, he’s found that there’s a more powerful force than getting attention: giving it. Paying attention is the real essence of creativity, he says — and we should do more of it. Legendary stage designer Es Devlin picks up on that theme of connection, taking us on a tour of the mind-blowing sets she’s created for Beyoncé, Adele, U2 and others; her work is aimed at fostering lasting connections and deep empathy in her audience. As she quotes E.M. Forster: “Only connect!”

We can map the universe — the whole universe. On our current trajectory, we’ll map every large galaxy in the observable universe by 2060, says astrophysicist Juna Kollmeier, head of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). “Think about it. We’ve gone from arranging clamshells to general relativity to SDSS in a few thousand years,” she says, tracing humanity’s rise in a sentence. “If we hang on 40 more, we can map all the galaxies.” It’s a truly epic proposition — and it’s also our destiny as a species whose calling card is to figure things out.

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