TED

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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Is geoengineering a good idea? A brief Q&A with Kelly Wanser and Tim Flannery

This satellite image shows marine clouds off the Pacific West Coast of the United States. The streaks in the clouds are created by the exhaust from ships, which include both greenhouse gases and particulates like sulfates that mix with clouds and temporarily make them brighter. Brighter clouds reflect more sunlight back to space, cooling the climate.

As we recklessly warm the planet by pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, some industrial emissions also produce particles that reflect sunshine back into space, putting a check on global warming that we’re only starting to understand. In her talk at TEDSummit 2019, “Emergency medicine for our climate fever,” climate activist Kelly Wanser asked: Can we engineer ways to harness this effect and reduce the effects global warming?

This idea, known as “cloud brightening,” is seen as controversial. After her talk, Wanser was joined onstage by environmentalist Tim Flannery — who gave a talk just moments earlier about the epic carbon-capturing abilities of seaweed — to discuss cloud brightening and how it could help restore our climate to health. Check out their exchange below.

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Transform: The talks of TED@DuPont

Hosts Briar Goldberg and David Biello open TED@DuPont at The Fillmore, September 12, 2019, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Transformation starts with the spark of something new. In a day of talks and performances about transformation, 16 speakers and performers explored exciting developments in science, technology and beyond — from the chemistry of everyday life to innovations in food, “smart” clothing, enzyme research and much more.

The event: TED@DuPont: Transform, hosted by TED’s David Biello and Briar Goldberg

When and where: Thursday, September 12, 2019, at The Fillmore in Philadelphia, PA

Music: Performances by Elliah Heifetz and Jane Bruce and Jeff Taylor, Matt Johnson and Jesske Hume

The talks in brief:

“The next time you send a text or take a selfie, think about all those atoms that are hard at work and the innovation that came before them,” says chemist Cathy Mulzer. She speaks at TED@DuPont at The Fillmore, September 12, 2019, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Cathy Mulzer, chemist and tech shrinker

Big idea: You owe a big thank you to chemistry for all that technology in your pocket.

Why? Almost every component that goes into creating a superpowered device like a smartphone or tablet exists because of a chemist — not the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs that come to most people’s minds. Chemistry is the real hero in our technological lives, Mulzer says — building up and shrinking down everything from vivid display screens and sleek bodies to nano-sized circuitries and long-lasting batteries.

Quote of talk: The next time you send a text or take a selfie, think about all those atoms that are hard at work and the innovation that came before them.”


Adam Garske, enzyme engineer

Big Idea: We can harness the power of new, scientifically modified enzymes to solve urgent problems across the world.

How? Enzymes are proteins that catalyze chemical reactions — they’re what turns milk into cheese, for example. Through a process called “directed evolution,” scientists can carefully edit and design the building blocks of enzymes for specific functions — to help treat diseases like diabetes, for instance, reduce CO2 in our laundry and even break down plastics in the ocean. Enzyme evolution is already changing how we tackle health and environmental issues — and there’s so much more ahead.

Quote of the talk: With enzymes, we can edit what nature wrote — or write our own stories.”


Henna-Maria Uusitupa, bioscientist

Big idea: Our bodies host an entire ecosystem of microorganisms that we’ve been cultivating since we were babies. And as it turns out, the bacteria we acquire as infants help keep us healthier as adults. Henna-Maria Uusitupa wants to ensure that every baby grows a healthy microbiome.

How? Babies must acquire the right balance of microbes in their bodies, but they must also receive them at the correct stages of their lives. C-sections and disruptions in breastfeeding can throw a baby’s microbiome out of balance. With a carefully curated blend of probiotics and other chemicals, scientists are devising ways to restore harmony — and beneficial microbes — to young bodies.

Quote of the talk: “I want to contribute to the unfolding of a future in which each baby has an equal starting point to be programmed for life-long health.”


Leon Marchal, innovation director 

Big Idea: Animals account for 50 to 80 percent of antibiotic consumption worldwide — a major contributing factor to the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance. To combat this, farmers can adopt microbiome-nourishing practices like balanced, antibiotic-free nutrition on their farms.

Why: The UN predicts that antimicrobial resistance will become our biggest killer by 2050. To prevent that from happening, Marchal is working to transform a massive global industry: animal feed. Antibiotics are used in animal feed to keep animals healthy and to grow them faster and bigger. They can be found in the most unlikely places — like the treats we give our pets. This constant, low-dose exposure could lead some animals to develop antibiotic-resistant bugs, which could cause wide-ranging health problems for animals and humans alike. The solution? Antibiotic-free production — and it all starts with better hygiene. This means taking care of animal’s good bacteria with balanced nutrition and alterations to the food they eat, to keep their microbiomes more resilient.

Quote of the talk: “We have the knowledge on how to produce meat, eggs and milk without or with very low amounts of antibiotics. This is a small price to pay to avoid a future in which bacterial infections again become our biggest killer.”


Physical organic chemist Tina Arrowood shares a simple, eco-friendly proposal to protect our freshwater resources from future pollution. She speaks at TED@DuPont at TED@DuPont at The Fillmore, September 12, 2019, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Tina Arrowood, physical organic chemist

Big idea: Human activity is a threat to freshwater rivers. We can transform that risk into an environmental and economic reward.

How? A simple, eco-friendly proposal to protect our precious freshwater resources from future pollution. We’ve had technology that purifies industrial wastewaters for the last 50 years. Arrowood suggests that we go a step further: as we clean our rivers, we can sell the salt byproduct as a primary resource — to de-ice roads and for other chemical processing — rather than using the tons of salt we currently mine from the earth.

Fun fact: If you were to compare the relative volume of ocean water to fresh river water on our planet, the former would be an Olympic-sized swimming pool — and the latter would be a one-gallon jug.


“Why not transform clothing and make it a part of our digitized world, in a manner that shines continuous light into our health and well-being?” asks designer Janani Bhaskar. She speaks at TED@DuPont at The Fillmore, September 12, 2019, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Janani Bhaskar, smart clothing designer

Big Idea: By designing “smart” clothing with durable technologies, we can better keep track of health and well-being.

How? Using screen-printing technology, we can design and attach biometric “smart stickers” to any piece of clothing. These stickers are super durable, Bhaskar says: they can withstand anything our clothing can, including workouts and laundry. They’re customizable, too — athletes can use them to track blood pressure and heart rate, healthcare providers can use them to remotely monitor vital signs, and expecting parents can use them to receive information about their baby’s growth. By making sure this technology is affordable and accessible, our clothing — the “original wearables” — can help all of us better understand our bodies and our health.

Quote of the talk: “Why not transform clothing and make it a part of our digitized world, in a manner that shines continuous light into our health and well-being?”


Camilla Andersen, neuroscientist and food scientist

Big idea: We can create tastier, healthier foods with insights from people’s brain activity.

How? Our conscious experience of food — how much we enjoy a cup of coffee or how sweet we find a cookie to be — is heavily influenced by hidden biases. Andersen provides an example: after her husband started buying a fancy coffee brand, she conducted a blind taste test with two cups of coffee. Her husband described the first cup as cheap and bitter, and raved about the second — only to find out that the two were actually the same kind of coffee. The taste difference was the result of his bias for the new, fancy coffee — the very kind of bias that can leave food scientists in the dark when testing out new products. But there’s a workaround: brain scans can access the raw, unfiltered, unconscious taste information that’s often lost in people’s conscious assessments. With this kind of information, Andersen says, we can create healthier foods without sacrificing taste — like creating a zero-calorie milkshake that tastes just like the original.

Fun fact: The five basic tastes are universally accepted: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. But, based on evidence from Andersen’s EEG experiments, there’s evidence of a new sixth basic taste: fat, which we may sense beyond its smell and texture. 


“Science is an integral part of our everyday lives, and I think we’re only at the tip of the iceberg in terms of harnessing all of the knowledge we have to create a better world,” says enzyme scientist Vicky Huang. She speaks at TED@DuPont at The Fillmore, September 12, 2019, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Vicky Huang, enzyme scientist

Big idea: Enzymes are unfamiliar to many of us, but they’re far more important in our day-to-day lives than we realize — and they might help us unlock eco-friendly solutions to everything from food spoilage to household cleaning problems. 

How? We were all taught in high school that enzymes are a critical part of digestion and, because of that, they’re also ideal for household cleaning. But enzymes can do much more than remove stains from our clothes, break down burnt-on food in our dishwashers and keep our baguettes soft. As scientists are able to engineer better enzymes, we’ll be able to cook and clean with less energy, less waste and fewer costs to our environment.

Quote of the talk: “Everywhere in your homes, items you use every day have had a host of engineers and scientists like me working on them and improving them. Just one part of this everyday science is using enzymes to make things more effective, convenient, and environmentally sustainable.”


Geert van der Kraan, microbe detective

Big Idea: We can use microbial life in oil fields to make oil production safer and cleaner.

How? Microbial life is often a problem in oil fields, corroding steel pipes and tanks and producing toxic chemicals like dihydrogen sulfide. We can transform this challenge into a solution by studying the clues these microbes leave behind. By tracking the presence and activity of these microbes, we can see deep within these undergrounds fields, helping us create safer and smoother production processes.

Quote of the talk: “There are things we can learn from the microorganisms that call oil fields their homes, making oil field operations just a little cleaner. Who knows what other secrets they may hold for us?”


Lori Gottlieb, psychotherapist and author

Big idea: The stories we tell about our lives shape who we become. By editing our stories, we can transform our lives for the better.

How? When the stories we tell ourselves are incomplete, misleading or just plain wrong, we can get stuck. Think of a story you’re telling about your life that’s not serving you — maybe that everyone’s life is better than yours, that you’re an impostor, that you can’t trust people, that life would be better if only a certain someone would change. Try exploring this story from another point of view, or asking a friend if there’s an aspect of the story you might be leaving out. Rather than clinging to an old story that isn’t doing us any good, Gottlieb says, we can work to write the most beautiful story we can imagine, full of hard truths that lead to compassion and redemption — our own “personal Pulitzer Prize.” We get to choose what goes on the page in our minds that shapes our realities. So get out there and write your masterpiece.

Quote of the talk: “We talk a lot in our culture about ‘getting to know ourselves,’ but part of getting to know yourself is to unknow yourself: to let go of the one version of the story you’ve told yourself about who you are — so you can live your life, and not the story you’ve been telling yourself about your life.”


“I’m standing here before you because I have a vision for the future: one where technology keeps my daughter safe,” says tech evangelist Andrew Ho. He speaks at TED@DuPont at The Fillmore, September 12, 2019, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Andrew Ho, tech evangelist

Big idea: As technological devices become smaller, faster and cheaper, they make daily tasks more convenient. But they can also save lives.

How? For epilepsy patients like Andrew Ho’s daughter Hilarie, a typical day can bring dangerous — or even fatal — challenges. Medical devices currently under development could reduce the risk of seizures, but they’re bulky and fraught with risk. The more quickly developers can improve the speed and portability of these devices (and other medical technologies), the sooner we can help people with previously unmanageable diseases live normal lives.

Quote of the talk: Advances in technology are making it possible for people with different kinds of challenges and problems to lead normal lives. No longer will they feel isolated and marginalized. No longer will they live in the shadows, afraid, ashamed, humiliated, and excluded. And when that happens, our world will be a much more diverse and inclusive place, a better place for all of us to live.”


“Learning from our mistakes is essential to improvement in many areas of our lives, so why not be intentional about it in our most risk-filled activity?” asks engineer Ed Paxton. He speaks at TED@DuPont at The Fillmore, September 12, 2019, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Ed Paxton, aircraft engineer and safety expert

Big idea: Many people fear flying but think nothing of driving their cars every day. Statistically, driving is far more dangerous than flying — in part because of common-sense principles pilots use to govern their behavior. Could these principles help us be safer on the road?

How? There’s a lot of talk about how autonomous vehicles will make traffic safer in the future. Ed Paxton shares three principles that can reduce accidents right now: “positive paranoia” (anticipating possible hazards or mishaps without anxiety), allowing feedback from passengers who might see things you don’t and learning from your mistakes (near-misses caused by driving while tired, for example).

Quote of the talk:  “Driving your car is probably the most dangerous activity that most of you do … it’s almost certain you know someone who’s been seriously injured or lost their life out on the road … Over the last ten years, seven billion people have boarded domestic airline flights, and there’s been just one fatality.”


Jennifer Vail, tribologist

Big idea: Complex systems lose much of their energy to friction; the more energy they lose, the more power we consume to keep them running. Tribology — or the study of friction and things that rub together — could unlock massive energy savings by reducing wear and alleviating friction in cars, wind turbines, motors and engines.

How? By studying the different ways surfaces rub together, and engineering those surfaces to create more or less friction, tribologists can tweak a surprising range of physical products, from dog food that cleans your pet’s teeth to cars that use less gas; from food that feels more appetizing in our mouth to fossil fuel turbines that waste less power. Some of these changes could have significant impacts on how much energy we consume.

Quote of the talk: “I have to admit that it’s a lot of fun when people ask me what I do for my job, because I tell them: ‘I literally rub things together.’”

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Border Stories: Talks on immigration, justice and freedom from the TED World Theater

Hosts Anne Milgram and Juan Enriquez kick off the evening at TEDSalon: Border Stories at the TED World Theater in New York City on September 10, 2019. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Immigration can be a deeply polarizing topic. But at heart, immigration policies and practices reflect no less than our attitude towards humanity. At TEDSalon: Border Stories, we explored the reality of life at the US-Mexico border, the history of the US immigration policy and possible solutions for reform — and investigated what’s truly at stake.

The event: TEDSalon: Border Stories, hosted by criminal justice reformer Anne Milgram and author and academic Juan Enriquez

When and where: Tuesday, September 10, 2019, at the TED World Theater in New York City

Speakers: Paul A. Kramer, Luis H. Zayas, Erika Pinheiro, David J. Bier and Will Hurd

Music: From Morley and Martha Redbone

A special performance: Poet and thinker Maria Popova, reading an excerpt from her book Figuring. A stunning meditation on “the illusion of separateness, of otherness” — and on “the infinitely many kinds of beautiful lives” that inhabit this universe — accompanied by cellist Dave Eggar and guitarist Chris Bruce.

“There are infinitely many kinds of beautiful lives,” says Maria Popova, reading a selection of her work at TEDSalon: Border Stories. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

The talks in brief:

Paul A. Kramer, historian, writer, professor of history

  • Big idea: It’s time we make the immigration conversation to reflect how the world really works.
  • How? We must rid ourselves of the outdated questions, born from nativist and nationalist sentiments, that have permeated the immigration debate for centuries: interrogations of usefulness and assimilation, of parasitic rhetoric aimed at dismantling any positive discussions around immigration. What gives these damaging queries traction and power, Kramer says, is how they tap into a seemingly harmless sense of national belonging — and ultimately activate, heighten and inflame it. Kramer maps out a way for us to redraw those mental, societal and political borders and give immigrants access to the rights and resources that their work, activism and home countries have already played a fundamental role in creating.
  • Quote of the talk: “[We need] to redraw the boundaries of who counts — whose life, whose rights and whose thriving matters. We need to redraw … the borders of us.”

Luis H. Zayas, social worker, psychologist, researcher

  • Big idea: Asylum seekers — especially children — face traumatizing conditions at the US-Mexico border. We need compassionate, humane practices that give them the care they need during arduous times.
  • Why? Under prolonged and intense stress, the young developing brain is harmed — plain and simple, says Luis H. Zayas. He details the distressing conditions immigrant families face on their way to the US, which have only escalated since children started being separated from their parents and held in detention centers. He urges the US to reframe its practices, replacing hostility and fear with safety and compassion. For instance: the US could open processing centers, where immigrants can find the support they need to start a new life. These facilities would be community-oriented, offering medical care, social support and the fundamental human right to respectful and dignified treatment.
  • Quote of the talk: “I hope we can agree on one thing: that none of us wants to look back at this moment in our history when we knew we were inflicting lifelong trauma on children, and that we sat back and did nothing. That would be the greatest tragedy of all.”

Immigration lawyer Erika Pinheiro discusses the hidden realities of the US immigration system. “Seeing these horrors day in and day out has changed me,” she says. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Erika Pinheiro, nonprofit litigation and policy director

  • Big idea: The current US administration’s mass separations of asylum-seeking families at the Mexican border shocked the conscience of the world — and the cruel realities of the immigration system have only gotten worse. We need a legal and social reckoning.
  • How? US immigration laws are broken, says Erika Pinheiro. Since 2017, US attorneys general have made sweeping changes to asylum law to ensure fewer people qualify for protection in the US. This includes all types of people fleeing persecution: Venezuelan activists, Russian dissidents, Chinese Muslims, climate change refugees — the list goes on. The US has simultaneously created a parallel legal system where migrants are detained indefinitely, often without access to legal help. Pinheiro issues a call to action: if you are against the cruel and inhumane treatment of migrants, then you need to get involved. You need to demand that your lawmakers expand the definition of refugees and amend laws to ensure immigrants have access to counsel and independent courts. Failing to act now threatens the inherent dignity of all humans.
  • Quote of the talk: “History shows us that the first population to be vilified and stripped of their rights is rarely the last.”

David J. Bier, immigration policy analyst

  • Big idea: We can solve the border crisis in a humane fashion. In fact, we’ve done so before.
  • How? Most migrants who travel illegally from Central America to the US do so because they have no way to enter the US legally. When these immigrants are caught, they find themselves in the grips of a cruel system of incarceration and dehumanization — but is inhumane treatment really necessary to protect our borders? Bier points us to the example of Mexican guest worker programs, which allow immigrants to cross borders and work the jobs they need to support their families. As legal opportunities to cross the border have increased, the number of illegal Mexican immigrants seized at the border has plummeted 98 percent. If we were to extend guest worker programs to Central Americans as well, Bier says, we could see a similar drop in the numbers of illegal immigrants.
  • Quote of the talk: “This belief that the only way to maintain order is with inhumane means is inaccurate — and, in fact, the opposite is true. Only a humane system will create order at the border.”

“Building a 30-foot-high concrete structure from sea to shining sea is the most expensive and least effective way to do border security,” says Congressman Will Hurd in a video interview with Anne Milgram at TEDSalon: Border Stories. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Will Hurd, US Representative for Texas’s 23rd congressional district

  • Big idea: Walls won’t solve our problems.
  • Why? Representing a massive district that encompasses 29 counties and two times zones and shares an 820-mile border with Mexico, Republican Congressman Will Hurd has a frontline perspective on illegal immigration in Texas. Legal immigration options and modernizing the Border Patrol (which still measures their response times to border incidents in hours and days) will be what ultimately stems the tide of illegal border crossings, Hurd says. Instead of investing in walls and separating families, the US should invest in their own defense forces — and, on the other side of the border, work to alleviate poverty and violence in Central American countries.
  • Quote of the talk: “When you’re debating your strategy, if somebody comes up with the idea of snatching a child out of their mother’s arms, you need to go back to the drawing board. This is not what the United States of America stands for. This is not a Republican or a Democrat or an Independent thing. This is a human decency thing.”

Juan Enriquez, author and academic

  • Big idea: If the US continues to divide groups of people into “us” and “them,” we open the door to inhumanity and atrocity — and not just at our borders.
  • How? Countries that survive and grow as the years go by are compassionate, kind, smart and brave; countries that don’t govern by cruelty and fear, says Juan Enriquez. In a personal talk, he calls on us to realize that deportation, imprisonment and dehumanization aren’t isolated phenomena directed at people crossing the border illegally but instead things are happening to the people who live and work by our sides in our communities. Now is the time to stand up and do something to stop our country’s slide into fear and division — whether it’s engaging in small acts of humanity, loud protests in the streets or activism directed at enacting legislative or policy changes.
  • Quote of the talk: “This is how you wipe out an economy. This isn’t about kids and borders, it’s about us. This is about who we are, who we the people are, as a nation and as individuals. This is not an abstract debate.”

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