The TED2019 film festival: Conference shorts

At TED2019, as we explored concepts, research findings and insights bigger than us (you see what we did there?), these conference shorts cleansed our mental palettes between TED Talks and helped playfully introduce sessions throughout the week.

Enjoy these hand-picked videos from curators CC Hutten and Jonathan Wells that capture the kaleidoscopic and often humorous perspectives on being human — or a mermaid, or robot …


The short: “Shit in Space.” One astronaut’s um, trash, is another earthling’s treasure.

The creators: Directed by Mathias & Matias; Agency: Try-Oslo

Shown during: Session 1, Truth


The short: Chaka Khan “Like Sugar.” A playfully sweet music video accented with spicy dance moves guaranteed to get you in the mood to groove.

The creator: Directed by Kim Gehrig


The short: “How to Be a Mermaid.” A brief PSA on what mythology gets wrong about maidens of the sea.

The creator: Nur Casadevall

Shown during: Session 2, Power


The short: “The Dream.” There’s nothing quite like the excitement of saving up for your biggest dreams … even when life throws obstacles in your path.

The creators: Directed by Teerapol Suneta; Agency: Ogilvy Bangkok

Shown during: Session 3, Knowledge


The short: “Love Train.” Kids all over the US sing and dance with famous artists, musicians and dancers.

The creators: Playing for Change and Turnaround Arts

Shown during: Session 4, Audacity


The short: “Phones are good.” A humorous tour through history that proves life is actually better with smartphones.

The creators: Directed by Ian Pons Jewell; Agency: Wieden Kennedy London

Shown during: Session 5, Mindshift


The short: “Benches.” How to get the best seat for the greatest show on Earth.

The creator: Daniel Koren

Shown during: Session 5, Mindshift


The short: “Fireplace firefly.” If you love something, you’ve got to let it go.

Shown during: Session 5, Mindshift


The short: “Ari Fararooy: A Video.” Zoom out, zoom in, turn around, glide, rotate, repeat — in stop motion.

The creator: Ari Fararooy

Shown during: Session 6, Imagination


The short: “Furry Alphabet.” What kind of imaginative monsters would you make from A to Z?

The creator: Bernat Casasnovas

Shown during: Session 6, Imagination


The short: “One Breath Around the World.” A otherworldly short film that captures the journey of one man as he explores the great peaks, valleys, cliffs and life of the deep ocean — all in one amazing breath.

The creator: Guillaume Néry

Shown during: Session 7, Possibility


The short: “Hydrophytes.” A mesmerizing choreography of futuristic plants in movement.

The creator: Nicole Hone

Shown during: Session 8, Mystery

The short: “Smart House.” Voice-activated everything seems appealing until that pesky dentist visit.

The creator: Directed by Andreas Riiser; Agency: Try-Oslo

Shown during: Session 8, Mystery


The short: “Tony Stands on an Egg.” It seems standing on an egg isn’t all it’s cracked up to be after all.

The creator: Kathleen Docherty

Shown during: Session 8, Mystery


The short: “The Most Complicated Trickshot Ever.” Home is where the heart is … if your heart happens to be a Rube Goldberg machine.

The creator: Cree

Shown during: Session 9, Play


The short: “The Lying Robot.” Clever robots come one step closer to world domination.

The creator: UR5 Universal Robot at Ara Institute of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand

Shown during: Session 9, Play


The short: Flight of the Conchords “Father & Son.” Two different perspectives on changes taking place within a small family, discussed in song.

The creators: Footage from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Shown during: Session 10, Connection


The short: “Absence.” A brief, absurd pondering about what we do in the shadow of absence.

The creator: Alex Goddard

Shown during: Session 10, Connection


The short: “An excerpt from TEDxKakumaCamp.” A behind-the-scenes look at making of a prolific TEDx event.

The creator: TEDx

Shown during: Session 10, Connection


The short: “Influencers.” A bright, geometrically playful imagining of the world, not as we know it, but as it might be.

The creator: Foam Studio

Shown during: Session 11, Wonder


The short: “A Chair at the Beach.” An increasingly existential meditation on what it means to take a seat.

The creator: Bridge Stuart

Shown during: Session 11, Wonder


The short: “Eating Machine.” A cute reimagining of what happens in your mouth when you eat an apple.

The creators: Design & Animation: Richie Thompson; Music: Dan Livesey

Shown during: Session 11, Wonder


The short: Max Frost “Good Morning.” A catchy ode to early hours of the day and the possibility they bring.

The creators: Directed by Miles & AJ

Shown during: Session 12, Meaning


The short: George Ezra “Shotgun.” A summer-y tune that blasts through time, space and place.

The creators: Directed by Nelson De Castro and Carlos Lopez Estrada

Shown during: Session 12, Meaning


“Presence creates possibility”: America Ferrera at TED2019

America Ferrera speaks at TED2019

In her breakout role in Real Women Have Curves, actor America Ferrera played an iconic character who resonated with her true self. Why aren’t there more roles like that? She speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED

“My identity is not an obstacle — it’s my superpower,” says America Ferrera onstage at TED2019.

As an Emmy-award winning actor, director and producer, Ferrara crafts characters and stories that are multi-dimensional and deeply human. It hasn’t been easy — Hollywood wasn’t eager to cast Ferrara in full, genuine roles, instead giving her flimsy cliches to play. But we all lose out when our media doesn’t reflect the world, Ferrera says, and it’s the duty of directors, producers and actors to take representation seriously in their casting decisions.

Over and over through her career, America Ferrera heard she was either too Latina or not Latina enough for roles. But what does that even mean? She is Latina — so how could she be the wrong kind? She soon realized that directors and producers weren’t interested in the fullness of her talent but rather, in filling stereotypes. She pushed back against roles like “Gangbanger’s Girlfriend” and “Pregnant Chola #2” and tried to land roles that were complex and challenging. But for the most part, they just didn’t exist. Directors claimed diversity was a financial risk, that there wasn’t an audience for her voice, or that she was just too brown for their films.

Ferrara tried to become what the industry wanted — straightening her hair, slathering on sunscreen — until she realized that she wanted to exist in her work as her own true self, not the industry’s version of her. Finally, in her breakthrough hits Real Women Have Curves and Ugly Betty, Ferrara brought her authentic self to her work, leading to critical, cultural and financial success. Ugly Betty premiered to 16 million viewers in the US and was nominated for 11 Emmys in its first season. Shows like Ugly Betty gave people around the world their first chance to see themselves on screen — for example, Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai named Ugly Betty as one of her inspirations for becoming a journalist.

“I wanted to play people who existed in the center of their own lives, not cardboard cutouts that stood in the background of someone else’s,” she says, “Who we see thriving in the world teaches us how to see ourselves, how to think about our own value, how to dream about our futures.”

Across the world, people resonated with the characters and narrative of Ferrara’s work. “In spite of what I’d been told my whole life,” she says, “I saw first hand that my “unrealistic expectations” to see myself authentically represented in the culture were other people’s expectations too.”

But not much changed. Even though the audience was hungry for more, there wasn’t a slew of new films and shows highlighting diverse narratives. Privately, directors and producers would praise inclusion efforts … but that support didn’t extend to their own projects. The entertainment industry as a whole didn’t seem much different — and to this day, Ferrara is the only Latina to ever win an Emmy in a lead category.

That has to change — and it’s beginning to. There is a rising momentum of inclusive representation in mainstream media and it is vital we keep it going. Presence creates possibility, Ferrara says, and its impact is reverberating and profound. Directors and other authorities in media need to take representative casting out of theoreticals and put it into action.

“Change will come when each of us has the courage to question our own fundamental values and beliefs,” Ferrara says, “and see to it that our actions lead to our best intentions.”

Ultimately, if we commit to crafting stories that truly reflect the world we live in, we can create media that honors all of our voices.

America Ferrera speaks at TED2019

Directors and other authorities in media need to take representative casting out of theoreticals and put it into action, says America Ferrera at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED


In Case You Missed It: Highlights from day 3 of TED2019

In a powerful personal talk, illustrator, author and screenwriter Jonny Sun shares how social media can be an antidote to loneliness. He speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 17, 2019 in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

Day 3 of TED2019 featured three sessions of talks, a live podcast taping — and some world-changing ideas.

First, some news:

You could give the next best TED Talk. If you have an idea the world needs to hear, put your name forward to speak at next year’s TED conference! We’ve just opened applications in our TED2020 Idea Search, a worldwide hunt for the next great idea.

Can Twitter be saved? Jack Dorsey’s interview with TED’s Chris Anderson and Whitney Pennington Rodgers is live on TED.com. Hear from Jack about what worries him most about the messaging platform, which has taken a serious chunk of the blame for the divisiveness seen around the world, both online and off.

Inside the black hole image that made history. Also just published on TED.com: astrophysicist Sheperd Doeleman, head of the Event Horizon Telescope collaboration, speaks on the iconic, first-ever image of a black hole — and the epic, worldwide effort involved in capturing it.

Some larger themes that emerged from the day:

The spread of misinformation online is the great challenge of our time. We, the everyday users of the internet, might have to do what major tech companies and governments can’t: fight the misinformation we see every day in our feeds. Claire Wardle suggests we band together to accelerate a solution: for example, by “donating” our social data (instead of unwittingly handing it over to the tech giants), we could help researchers understand the scope of the problem. Could we build a new infrastructure for quality information, following the model of Wikipedia? In a special recording of The TED Interview, venture capitalist turned activist Roger McNamee picked up on the threat of misinformation, tracing the contours of Silicon Valley’s role in the 2016 US presidential election, Brexit and much more. After their conversation, Chris and Roger held a robust discussion with the audience, taking questions from Carole Cadwalladr, Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie and Sun Microsystems founder Bill Joy, among others.

But social media can also be a force for good. In a powerful personal talk, illustrator, author and screenwriter Jonny Sun shares how social media is his antidote to loneliness. By sending jokes and endearing, misspelled, illustrated observations on the human condition “out to the void” of social media, he’s found that the void is often willing to talk back — reminding us of our shared human-ness, even if only for a moment.

The new pursuit of happiness. Researcher Rick Doblin studies the use of psychedelics as medicine, including treatments that show promise against PTSD and depression. Used medically, he says, psychedelic drugs can heighten a patient’s emotional awareness and sense of unity — even create a spiritual connection. Psychologist Elizabeth Dunn studies how we can create more happiness by being more altruistic. The secret? You have to see the effects of your giving, and feel a true connection to the people you’re helping.

Exploring the unexplored. Science has a “geography problem,” says paleoanthropologist (and stand-up comedian) Ella Al-Shamahi. We’re not doing frontline scientific exploration in a massive chunk of the world, which governments have deemed too unstable — places that have played a big role in the human journey, like Africa and the Middle East. She takes us to Socotra, an island off Yemen known as the Galápagos of the Indian Ocean, where she joined the area’s first frontline exploration since 1999. Ninety percent of the reptiles and 30 percent of the plants there exist only, well, there. Al-Shamahi is hoping to return to Socotra and, with the help of local collaborators, continue to explore this alien land. A little further offshore, undersea explorer Victor Vescovo joins us fresh from an expedition to the bottom of the Indian Ocean — the fifth ocean bottom he’s seen. In conversation with TED science curator David Biello, Vescovo shares the technology powering his new submersible, designed to explore the deepest parts of the world’s oceans. He describes his project as “kind of the SpaceX of ocean exploration, but I pilot my own vehicles.”

Architecture doesn’t need to be permanent. When it comes to cities, we’re obsessed with permanence and predictability. But by studying impermanent settlements, we can learn to build cities that are more adaptable, efficient and sustainable, says architect Rahul Mehtrota. He takes us to the confluence of India’s Yamuna and Ganges rivers — where, every 12 years, a megacity springs up to house the seven million pilgrims who live there for the 55-day duration of the Kumbh Mela religious festival. The city is fully functional yet impermanent and reversible — built in ten weeks and completely disassembled after the festival. Studying the Kumbh Mela helped Mehrotra realize that our preoccupation with permanence is shortsighted. “We need to make a shift in our imagination about cities,” he says. “We need to change urban design cultures to think of the temporal, the reversible, the disassemblable.” And architect Bjarke Ingels takes us on a worldwide tour of his work — from much-needed flood-protection improvements around lower Manhattan (scheduled to break ground this year) to a toxin-free power plant in Copenhagen (with a rooftop you can ski on!) to a proposed floating ocean city (powered completely by solar energy — which could serve as a model for living on Mars.) We need to imagine vibrantly flexible habitats, he says — and, in doing so, we can forge a sustainable future for all.


Mystery: Notes from Session 8 of TED2019

“Soil is just a thin veil that covers the surface of land, but it has the power to shape our planet’s destiny,” says Asmeret Asefaw Berhe at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 18, 2019, at Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: (Bret Hartman / TED)

To kick off day 4 of TED2019, we give you (many more) reasons to get a good night’s sleep, plunge into the massive microbiome in the Earth’s crust — and much, more more.

The event: Talks from TED2019, Session 8: Mystery, hosted by head of TED Chris Anderson and TED’s science curator David Biello

When and where: Thursday, April 16, 2019, 8:45am, at the Vancouver Convention Centre in Vancouver, BC

Speakers: Andrew Marantz, Kristie Ebi, Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, Edward Tenner, Matt Walker and Karen Lloyd

The talks in brief:

Andrew Marantz, journalist, author who writes about the internet

  • Big idea: We have the power — and responsibility — to steer digital conversation away from noxious conspiracies and toward an open, equal world.
  • How? The internet isn’t inherently toxic or wholesome — after all, it’s shaped by us, every day. Andrew Marantz would know: he’s spent three years interviewing the loudest, cruelest people igniting conversation online. He discovered that people can be radicalized to hate through social media, messaging boards and other internet rabbit holes because these tools maximize their algorithms for engagement at all costs. And what drives engagement? Intense emotion, not facts or healthy debate. Marantz calls for social media companies to change their algorithms — and, in the meantime, offers three ways we can help build a better internet: Be a smart skeptic; know that “free speech” is only the start of the conversation; and emphasize human decency over empty outrage. The internet is vast and sometimes terrible, but we can make little actions to make it a safer, healthier and more open place. So, keep sharing cute cat memes!
  • Quote of the talk: “We’ve ended up in this bizarre dynamic online where some people see bigoted propaganda as being edgy, and see basic truth and human decency as pearl-clutching.”

“Free speech is just a starting point,” says Andrew Marantz onstage at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 18, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED

Kristie Ebi, public health researcher, director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment

  • Big idea: Climate change is affecting the foods we love — and not in a good way. The time to act is now.
  • How? As we continue to burn fossil fuels, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere rises. This much we know. But Ebi’s team is discovering a new wrinkle in our changing climate: all this CO2 is altering the nutritional quality of some key global staples, like rice, potatoes and wheat. Indeed, the very chemistry of these crops is being modified, reducing levels of protein, vitamins and nutrients — which could spell disaster for the more than two billion people who subsist on rice, for instance, as their primary food source. But we don’t have to sit by and watch this crisis unfold: Ebi calls for large-scale research projects that study the degradation of our food and put pressure on the world to quit fossil fuels.
  • Quote of the talk: “It’s been said that if you think education is expensive, try ignorance. Let’s not. Let’s invest in ourselves, in our children and in our planet.”

Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, scientist and “dirt detective” studying the impact of ecological change on our soils

  • Big idea: The earth’s soil is not only necessary for agriculture — it’s also an under-appreciated resource in the fight against climate change.
  • How? Human beings tend to treat soil like, well, dirt: half of the world’s soil has been degraded by human activity. But soil stores carbon — 3,000 billion metric tons of it, in fact, equivalent to 315 times the amount entering our atmosphere (and contributing to climate change) every year. Picture this: there’s more twice as much carbon in soil as there is in all of the world’s vegetation — the lush tropical rainforests, giant sequoias, expansive grasslands, every kind of flora you can imagine on Earth — plus all the carbon currently up in the atmosphere, combined. If we treated soil with more respect, Berhe says, it could be a valuable tool to not only fight, but also eventually reverse, global warming.
  • Quote of the talk: “Soil is just a thin veil that covers the surface of land, but it has the power to shape our planet’s destiny… [it] represents the difference between life and lifelessness in the earth’s system.”

Host David Biello speaks with soil scientist Asmeret Asefaw Berhe and public health researcher Kristie Ebi during Session 8 of TED2019: Bigger Than Us. April 18, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED

Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, Kristie Ebi and Joanne Chory in conversation with TED’s science curator David Biello

  • Big idea: CO2 is basically junk food for plants. As plants consume more and more CO2 from the air, they’re drawing up fewer of the trace nutrients from the soil that humans need to eat. What can we do to make sure plants stay nutritious?
  • How? Yes, we’re grateful to the plants that capture carbon dioxide from the air — but as Kristie Ebi notes, in the process, they’re taking up fewer nutrients from the soil that humans need. As Asmeret says: “There are 13 nutrients that plants get only from soil. They’re created from soil weathering, and that’s a very slow process.” To solve these interlocking problems — helping rebuild the soil, helping plants capture carbon, and helping us humans get our nutrients — we need all hands on deck, and many approaches to the problem. But as Joanne Chory, from the audience, reminds us, “I think we can get the plants to help us; they’ve done it before.”
  • Quote of the talk: Kristie Ebi: “Plants are growing for their own benefit. They’re not growing for ours. They don’t actually care if you don’t get the nutrition you need; it’s not on their agenda.”

Speaking from the audience, Joanne Chory joins the conversation with soil scientist Asmeret Asefaw Berhe and public health researcher Kristie Ebi at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 18, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED

Edward Tenner, writer and historian

  • Big idea: An obsession with efficiency can actually make us less efficient. What we need is “inspired inefficiency.”
  • How? Our pursuit of more for less can cause us to get in our own way. Switching to electronic medical records made it easier to exchange information, for instance, but also left doctors filling out forms for hours — and feeling they have less time to spend with patients. Efficiency, Tenner says, is best served with a side of intuition, and a willingness to take the scenic route rather than cutting straight through to automation. Tenner’s advice: Allow for great things to happen by accident, embrace trying the hard way and seek security in diversity. “We have no way to tell who is going to be useful in the future,” he says. “We need to supplement whatever the algorithm tells us … by looking for people with various backgrounds and various outlooks.”
  • Quote of the talk: “Sometimes the best way to move forward is to follow a circle.”

Matt Walker, sleep scientist

  • Big idea:  If you want to live a longer and healthier life, get more sleep. And beware, the opposite holds true: the less your sleep, the shorter your life expectancy and the higher chance you have of getting a life-threatening illness.
  • How? Walker has seen the results of a good night’s sleep on the brain – and the frightening results of a bad one. Consider one study: the brains of participants who slept a full night lit up with healthy learning-related activity in their hippocampi, the “informational in-box” of the brain. Those who were sleep-deprived, however, showed hippocampi that basically shut down. But why, exactly, is a good night’s sleep so good for the brain? 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. These findings have vast potential implications on aging and dementia, our education system and our immune systems. Feeling tired? Listen to your body! As Walker says: “Sleep is the Swiss army knife of health.”
  • Quotes from the talk: “Sleep, unfortunately, is 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.”

Karen Lloyd, microbiologist

  • Big idea: Deep in the Earth’s crust, carbon-sucking microbes have survived for hundreds of thousands of years. And we just might be able to use them to store excess CO2 — and slow down climate change.
  • How? Karen Lloyd studied microbes in hot springs and volcanoes in Costa Rica, and the results were astounding: as a side effect of its very slow survival, chemolithoautotroph — a kind of microbe that eats by turning rocks into other kinds of rocks — locks carbon deep in the Earth, turning CO2 into carbonate mineral. And it gets better: there are more CO2-reducing microbes laying in wait elsewhere in the Earth’s biosphere, from the Arctic to the mud in the Marianas Trench. We’re not sure how they’ll react to a rush of new carbon from the atmosphere, so we’ll need more research to illuminate possible negative (or positive!) results.
  • Quote of the talk: “It may seem like life buried deep within the Earth’s crust is so far away from our daily experiences, but this weird, slow life may actually have the answers to some of the greatest mysteries to life on Earth.”

Before his talk, historian Edward Tenner reviews his notes one last time backstage at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 18, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Lawrence Sumulong / TED


Play: Notes from Session 9 of TED2019

Jamie Paik unveils robogamis: folding robots that can morph and reshape themselves as the situation demands. She speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 18 at Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

The more we look, the more our digital and analog worlds are blending. What is this future we are entering? In Session 9 of TED2019, we peer into the thrilling, sometimes frightening, often hilarious world of technology.

The event: Talks and tech demos from TED2019, Session 9: Play, hosted by head of TED Chris Anderson and poet Sarah Kay

When and where: Thursday, April 18, 2019, 11:15am, at the Vancouver Convention Centre in Vancouver, BC

Speakers: Emmett Shear, Anthony Veneziale, Janelle Shane, Ivan Poupyrev, Jamie Paik and Herman Narula

… and now, for something completely different: Master improver Anthony Veneziale took to the TED stage for a truly off-the-cuff performance. Armed with an audience-suggested topic (“stumbling into intimacy”) and a deck of slides he’d never seen before, Veneziale crafted a profoundly humorous meditation about the human experience at the intersection of intimacy, connection and … avocados?

The talks in brief:

In a live conversation with a Twitch gamer, Emmett Shear (who cofounded TwitchTV) presents his vision for the future of interactive entertainment. He speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 18, 2019, at Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

Emmett Shear, cofounder of Justin.tv and TwitchTV and part-time partner at Y Combinator

  • Big idea: Video games are a modern version of communal storytelling, with audiences both participating and viewing as they sit around their virtual campfires.
  • How? As on-demand entertainment becomes more accessible via the internet, consuming broadcast media has become a solitary and sometimes isolating activity. But interactive gaming — and, believe it or not, watching other people play video games — is reversing this trend, and helping to build new communities. Platforms like Twitch allow millions of viewers to view and comment on games, turning livestreamed gaming into multiplayer entertainment.
  • Quote of the talk: “Picture millions of campfires … huge, roaring bonfires with hundreds of thousands of people around them. Some of them are smaller, more intimate community gatherings where everyone knows your name.”

Janelle Shane, AI humorist

  • Big idea: The danger of AI is not that it’s too smart — but that it’s not smart enough.
  • How? Shane runs with blog AI Weirdness, a collection of the (often hilarious) antics of AI algorithms as they try to imitate human datasets. (Examples: AI-generated ice cream flavors and a recipe for horseradish brownies.) Despite the widespread celebration of AI, the truth is they don’t yet measure up to the versatile, free-associating human brain. And sometimes, the consequences can be dire, as with a self-driving car trained to identify the back of a truck on a highway — but not what it looks like sideways, leading to a fatal accident. So we need to separate science fiction from reality, Shane says, to be skeptical about AI claims that seem too good to be true. Surely, this tech will get better — but if we trust the answers it currently gives us without checking, it can be dangerous.
  • Quote of the talk: “AI can be really destructive and and not know it.”

Ivan Poupyrev, inventor, scientist, designer of interactive products

  • Big idea: Keyboards and touchscreens shouldn’t be the only way we access computing power. With a bit of collaboration, we can design literally anything to be plugged into the internet — blending digital interactivity with everyday analog objects.
  • How? The world of things is much vaster than the world of computers. If designers of objects had a simple way to build internet connectivity into their creations, even non-engineers could build interactive devices. Poupyrev invents tech — including an interface called Tag — that makes it possible for any object to connect to the cloud, opening the door to things like smart running shoes and interfaces in your clothes.
  • Quote of the talk: “We are walking around with supercomputers in our pockets. How amazing is that? So it’s disappointing that the way we use computers — the way we interact with them — hasn’t changed. We’re stuck in the screens with our faces, not seeing the world around us? That’s not the future I imagine.”

Jamie Paik, founder and director of the Reconfigurable Robotics Lab

  • Big idea: Robots of the future shouldn’t just be built to serve one function. Instead, they should be highly adaptable — and we can take our design cues from origami.
  • How? Paik realized early in her career that truly useful robots would need to look different from the humanoids she’d been working on. Those best adapted to help humanity would be much closer to Transformers: capable of adapting to any environment and task on Earth … or off. Taking design cues from origami, Paik and her team created robogamis: folding robots made out of a thin, paper-like material that can morph and reshape themselves as the situation demands. This makes them cheaper and more efficient to launch into space — and even land on another planet. When paired with a haptic interface, they could train medical students by re-creating the precise sensation of doing surgery. “These robots will no longer look like the characters from the movies,” Paik says. “Instead, they will be whatever you want them to be.”
  • Quote of the talk: “For robogamis, there’s no one fixed shape or task. They can transform into anything, anytime, anywhere.”

Herman Nerula, entrepreneur, gamer, cofounder and CEO of Improbable Worlds

  • Big idea: The most important technological change happening in the world right now isn’t AI, space travel or biotech. It’s video games.
  • How? Video games are more than entertainment. Just look at the scale of gamers: a full third of the world’s population (2.6 billion people) find the time to game, plugging into massive networks of interaction. These networks let people exercise a social muscle they might not otherwise exercise. And this is sorely needed: while social media seems to amplify our differences, games create a space for us to empathize with one another. Their economic impact will be profound: as long as you can access a cell phone, the chance to create and contribute to the gaming universe is yours for the taking. The future of gaming, in Nerula’s eyes, means working together and understanding one another — despite deep divisions and differences.
  • Quote of the talk: “The reality is there are worlds you can build right here, right now, that can transform people’s lives. Let’s engage. Let’s actually try to make this something we shape in a positive way.”

Sarah Kay announces season two of TED’s original podcast series Sincerely, X. The new season premieres May 6, 2019 with Kay as its host. She speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 18, 2019, at Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)