Mystery: Notes from Session 8 of TED2019

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“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.”
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“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

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Play: Notes from Session 9 of TED2019

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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)

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The secret life of plant music

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Data Garden Quartet at TED2019

These two plants are part of the Data Garden Quartet, a collection of potted plants that wear special sensors to measure their conductivity — and turn it into music. Data Garden appeared at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, April 15–19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED

Barreling through the high-visibility, high-tech exhibits on the TED2019 circuit, you’d be forgiven for mistaking The Data Garden for just another chillout zone, with its oasis of potted houseplants and people lying draped, spaced out, across bean bags. Yet an arresting sound beckons from this unassuming island – a soothing patter of gently percussive gongs, like a harmonious array of meditation bowls or a gamelan, with a variety of textures and tones.

Nothing unusual here – except that if you look closely, the plants have white sensors attached to the leaves, wired into speakers. Wait – is this music coming from the plants?

Listen here >>

It is. “We’re listening to Data Garden Quartet – a quartet of plants all playing music together,” says Los Angeles-based sound artist Joe Patitucci. Each plant is fitted with a MIDI Sprout, a device invented by Patitucci and partner Jon Shapiro that translates plant biofeedback into sounds. The white sensors, it turns out, are electrical probes that send a 4.5 volt signal through the plant to measure variations in the plant’s conductivity, which changes according to the amount of water moving through it.

“It’s very similar to technology used in a lie detector,” says Patitucci. “If you imagine the wave in a lie-detector readout, we translate that into pitch in a musical scale. Changes in the waves also control various textural aspects of the sounds, or ‘instruments.’”

Patitucci conceived the idea of Data Garden Quartet in 2012 out of a sense of exploration as a musician. “I’d hear about people who could reached this flow state, where it was like universe was expressing itself through them. I was never able to get to that state – but I’d get my inspiration by going out into nature and bringing the feeling back into the studio and then composing.” So rather than making his body the channel – “instead of expressing itself through my body on my fingertips on a guitar” – Patitucci cut the middleman and wired his source of inspiration directly into the instrument, working with an engineer. Meanwhile, Patitucci designed the sound set – a palette from which the plant selects every single note in real time.

“Big influences are Brian Eno, generative ambient music in general, and the plant biofeedback experiments of the 1970s, and cellular automata – the mathematical principle that simple rule sets expressed over time can become complex systems,” says Patitucci.

The installation not only proved popular at festivals and museums, soon artists and musicians began demanding the hardware itself. In 2014, he and Shapiro launched a Kickstarter for a version of the hardware, which they dubbed MIDI Sprout, made specifically for artists, which plugs directly into a synthesizer so they can create their own sound sets. (Could I, for example, attach little samples of Prince songs to the plant’s dataset? “Prince Remix by DJ Plant,” Patitucci affirms.)

Inevitably, demand snowballed to ordinary consumers who wanted MIDI Sprout in their home – in their yoga class, meditation studios, and so on. For them, MIDI Sprout is now available as an iOS app with a custom-made sound palette that includes harp, flute, and bass. Now anyone can turn a houseplant into an ambient music generator.

In case you’re wondering, MIDI Sprout doesn’t only work on plants. You can hold the electrodes and get sonic feedback on your own biorhythms. “If you can really relax and have a steady pressure on the probes, you can get it to play one note,” says Patitucci. “You can even get it to stop. It takes some practice.”

As for the question I know is burning in readers’ minds: “Can I put a MIDI Sprout on my cat?” The answer is here.

Data Garden Quartet at TED2019

Data Garden Quartet at TED2019: Bigger Than Us. April 15 – 19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED

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Connection is a superpower: Jon M. Chu speaks at TED2019

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On the heels of the breakout success of his film Crazy Rich Asians, Jon M. Chu reflects on what drives him to create inspiration. He speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 18, 2019, at Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

If you haven’t heard of the blockbuster megahit Crazy Rich Asians, then, well, it’s possible you’re living under a large rock. But whether or not you saw it, the film’s director, Jon M. Chu, has a TED Talk that goes far beyond the movie.

Speaking onstage at TED2019, Chu reflects on the importance of representation onscreen and the experiences that propelled him to create such a groundbreaking hit. Spoiler alert: it all comes down to human connection.

My story is only possible because of a collection of connections that happened throughout my life,” Chu says. “And maybe through my little stories, others may find their path as well.”

As Chu starts off, it becomes clear that his connection to his family, his culture, to film and technology – each one of those ingredients – made him who he is today.

But first, back to the beginning: Chu grew up with immigrant parents, in a family that never felt “normal,” he says. Why not? Because his family didn’t look like the families they saw on TV and in movies. That was his “normal.”

The first shift in that narrative happened on a family vacation when Chu was young. His father put him in charge of the video recorder, so he tried his hand at stitching together a highlight reel of the vacation. He anxiously showed it to his family — and what happened next changed the trajectory of his life.

“Something extraordinary happened,” Chu says. “They cried and cried. Not because it was the most amazing home video edit ever, but because they saw our family as a normal family that fit in and belonged. Like from the movies they worshipped and the TV shows that they named us after.”

After that, Chu’s future crystallized in his own mind. He went to USC School of Cinematic Arts and built up a career in Hollywood, hitching a number of successful films under his belt. (Remember Believe, that uber-popular Justin Bieber doc from 2012? Or The LXD?)

And yet, despite his successes, Chu was at a creative loss a couple years ago. Spurred in part by the Twitter firestorm around the Academy Awards’ lack of diversity, Chu realized: he could be a part of the solution. He was already inside the Hollywood circle, after all, with power that few possessed.

“I realized I was not just lucky to be here, but I had the right to be here – I earned the right to be here,” he says. “And to not just have a voice, but to have something to say. To tell my story with people who looked liked me and had a family like mine.”

He wasn’t alone in his efforts, he says. A vibrant community on social media backed him every step of the way, ultimately driving him toward Kevin Kwan’s bestselling novel Crazy Rich Asians — and the breakthrough film we know today.

Lest we forget: there was no guarantee Chu’s movie would do well. In fact, many signs pointed toward failure. But, with the help of “a grassroots uprising” of Chu fans online, he says, Asian representation in the arts started to hit headlines. “This swell of support allowed a conversation to be had between us — Asian Americans defining how we saw the future of our own representation,” Chu says.

And then the movie was out in theaters, and it exploded. Chu was overwhelmed with pride — a familiar sensation from all those years ago when he sat surrounded by his family, the sounds of his vacation highlight reel washing over them. Seeing people in the theater enjoying his film – well, that was “the ultimate prize,” he says.

The takeaway? It all circles back to connection, to those that offered breadcrumbs of connection along the way: kindness, love, and generosity. Closing out his talk, he makes an offering to us all: a breadcrumb of connection, of inspiration.

“I realized once you start listening to those silent beats in the messy noise all around you … you realize there is a beautiful symphony already written for you and it can give you a direct line to your destiny – to your superpowers.”

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Connection: Notes from Session 10 of TED2019

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“For those who can and choose to, may you pass on this beautiful thing called life with kindness, generosity, decency and love,” says Wajahat Ali at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 18, 2019, at Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Sometimes it feels like the world is fraying. Like our long-hold truths turn out, in an instant, to be figments of the imagination. Amid this turmoil, how can we strengthen connection, create more fulfilling lives? Speakers from Session 10 offer a range of provocative answers.

The event: Talks from TED2019, Session 10: Connection, hosted by TED’s head of curation, Helen Walters, and assistant curator Zachary Wood

When and where: Thursday, April 18, 2019, 2:30pm, at the Vancouver Convention Centre in Vancouver, BC

Speakers: Kishore Mahbubani, Wajahat Ali, Priya Parker, Barbara J. King and Jon M. Chu

The talks in brief:

Kishore Mahbubani, author and public policy expert

  • Big idea: The West needs to adapt its strategy for working with the growing Asian economy.
  • How? Asia has, Mahbubani says, experienced three silent revolutions in recent decades that powered its growth as a global power: one in economics, one in outlook and a third in improved governance. While he believes these have been, at least in part, due to the spread of “Western wisdom,” he feels the West became distracted while Asia rose. Mahbubani recommends that the West adopt a strategy of minimalist intervention in other societies and embrace multilateral collaboration — especially as it makes up only 12 percent of the global population.
  • Quote of the talk: “Clearly minimalism can work. The West should try it out.”

Wajahat Ali, journalist and lawyer

  • Big idea: Falling birth rates around the world will have catastrophic effects. By increasing access to health and child care, we can make it easier — and cheaper — to have children.
  • How? Having children is expensive and difficult, but it’s necessary for the sake of our future. Our planet’s challenge moving forward isn’t overpopulation, Ali says, but underpopulation: Young people aren’t having enough kids — and this is a nearly universal problem. In China and Europe, for instance, shrinking populations could lead to labor shortages, catalyzing economic calamity. Aging populations have always relied on younger generations to care for them — we lose this, too, when we don’t have children. So, what’s stopping people from having kids? Mostly, it’s the cost. Governments need to provide child care, health care and paid parental leave so that more people can have kids and we can secure the future.
  • Quote of the talk: “Babies have always represented humanity’s best, boldest, most beautiful infinite possibilities. If we opt out and don’t invest in present and future generations, then what’s the point?”

Priya Parker teaches us how we can gather better at home, at work, over holiday dinners and beyond. She speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 18, 2019, at Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Priya Parker, conflict mediator and author

  • Big idea: In our multicultural, intersectional society, we can change our everyday get-togethers (parties, dinners, holidays) into meaningful and transformative gatherings.
  • How? With just three straightforward, yet playful, steps: embrace a specific purpose, cause good controversy and create a thoughtful set of one-time rules for attendees to follow. It may sound odd, but when diverse groups are temporarily allowed to change and harmonize their behavior, something amazing happens: people find a way into each other without discomfort. Collective meaning is attainable in modern life, Parker says, when we’re intentional about how and why we interact.
  • Quote of the talk: “The way we gather matters, because how we gather is how we live.”

Barbara J. King, biological anthropologist and writer

  • Big idea: Animals grieve, much like humans do. Once we accept that grief — and the love from which it emerges — doesn’t belong to humans alone, we can make a better, kinder world for animals.
  • How? After losing a family or tribe member, animals may rock, pace or wail. They often withdraw socially, fail to eat and sleep — as happened with the orca Tahlequah, who made global headlines for mourning the loss of her offspring. Many scientists still dispute animal grief, claiming its the work of our own anthropomorphism. Yet by comparing animals’ pre- and post-death behavior, King sees undeniable proof that some animals do indeed grieve. Will science one day report on bereaved bees? Likely not. On toads who mourn? King doesn’t expect so, since the ability to form meaningful, one-to-one relationships is the key to animal grief, and not all species do it. But in knowing, for example, that orcas feel deeply and elephants love, we can fight the mistreatment of the creatures we share this planet with — and create a kinder, safer world for all.
  • Quote of the talk: “Animals don’t grieve like we do, yet it’s just as real: it’s searing. We can see it if we choose.”

Jon M. Chu makes up stories for a living. On the heels of the breakout success of his film Crazy Rich Asians, he reflects on the origin of his artistic inspiration at TED2019: Bigger Than Us, on April 18, 2019, at Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

Jon M. Chu, filmmaker, director of Crazy Rich Asians

  • Big idea: Film offers us the power of connection to something bigger than ourselves.
  • How? The son of immigrant parents, Chu remembers that his family never felt “normal” – mostly because they never saw themselves represented on screen. But after his father equipped him with a video recorder on their family vacation, everything changed. He showed his family the footage afterward, and they cried — finally, they felt like they belonged. In the decades since, Chu made a number of Hollywood hits, but found himself at creative loss a couple years ago. That’s when Crazy Rich Asians came along — and the rest is history. Millions of people just like his family saw themselves represented on the big screen, feeling pride in their existence and story. He credits his success to connections he’s made throughout life — the ones that were sparked by generosity, kindness and hope. Read more about Jon M. Chu’s TED Talk.
  • Quote of the talk: “Once you start listening to those silent beats in the messy noise all around you … you realize there is a beautiful symphony already written for you, and it can give you a direct line to your destiny – to your superpowers.”

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