I feel very fortunate that I was able to attend my 21st consecutive TED Conference this year. I attended all 94 talks this year, and have attended more than 2,000 over the years, and watched many more. I find great inspiration in these talks, and get many new ideas.
You can see the whole program here:
You can see the TED Blog that summarizes all of the days this week here:
There were too many incredible moments to condense to a single post, but I have chosen to share the top 8 things I learned that really impacted me this year.
1. Robots of today and tomorrow - I learned a lot about robot progress this year at TED on many fronts. I finally am seeing robot actuation, manipulation, and navigation in the human environment being close to readily available. I say close, because the examples I saw were amazing, but still way too expensive. But the advances have been huge, and I see personal and automation robots making an exponential gain (and reduction in price) by the end of the decade. Here’s a picture of the Boston Robotics SpotMini “Robot Dog” climbing over an attendee at the conference.
Here’s a picture of SpotMini closer up.
And here’s a picture of Huang Yi “dancing” with a powerful but fluidly-moving industrial robot below. I was struck by the choreography and symbiotic motion, and it elicited in me strong feelings about a future cooperation between humans and machines that I had not quite felt before. Most of my previous views of machines have been as solo augmenters, but this example really made me see the collaboration potential that I believe we will see in full force next decade.
2. AI is here and it’s a game-changer – There were many talks at the event about AI, both hopeful and fearful. Chess champion Gary Kasparov spoke eloquently about his feelings again playing against computers. First, he showed us how in 1985 he played against 32 computers at once and won all 32 games.
Then, a mere 12 years later, with Moore’s law boosting processor power and reducing cost, a chess computer could finally look more moves again than he could, and finally beat the world’s best chess grandmaster.
He had a funny quip about his eventual loss in 1997. He said, “no one remembers that I WON the first match!” He felt that the machine triumph over him was really a human triumph, as it was the human creators of the machine that beat him. When he was playing Deep Blue, he was worried that he was no longer invincible. And he was sure that Deep Blue was NOT worrying about that! He ended by saying that he feels that AI has great potential for human/computer advancement, and that there’s only one thing that humans can uniquely do, and that’s dream, so he urges us to dream big.
I also saw AI expert Noriko Arai talk about how she’s building an AI that can take (and pass) the University of Tokyo entrance exam, including reading and writing essay questions.
Stuart Russell talked about how in a few years, we will probably have an AI that can read – and learn from – EVERYTHING the human race has EVER written. That’s just an amazing thought: that you could have ALL that we have ever written at your access.
3. A message of hope - TED worked for a year to arrange for the Pope to speak from the Vatican to the TED audience this past week, and his message of hope and inclusion was very strong and well received. His main message was that the only future worth building is one that includes everyone. I highly recommend his 18 minute talk, and you can watch it at the link below:
4. Coaching and continuous improvement – I learned from Atul Gawande, author of many great books including the Checklist Manifesto, how important it is to get coaching. No matter how much of an expert you are, or think you are, getting feedback from someone watching you always helps you perform better. He gave examples of surgeons, famous violinists (see Itzak Perlemen behind Atul in the photograph below), and others, and how they improved and improved primarily with listening and constant feedback.
I also learned from Tim Ferriss about a different form of self-improvement with a new way to face our fears and biggest decisions. When presented with big moments, we normally have two choices: act or avoid. Tim recommends diving deep by writing down our detailed anxieties, how they can be prevented, and how you can repair the damage if they come true, and also the cost of inaction. He argues that through this “premeditation of evils,” we can eliminate fear due to incomplete information, ending paralysis, and make better decisions.
5. Face-to-face contact improves our health – Susan Pinker gave a great talk showing how different parts of your brain light up with human contact, but only face-to-face contact and interaction engaged the brain that way. Passively watching a video didn’t do the same thing. She studied a small village in Sardinia where the population has an above-average number of centinarians, male and female, which she attributes in part to the constant/close personal interactions of the villagers.
She showed this graph of staying alive:
Social integration and close relationships topped the list, even above smoking, drinking, exercise, being overweight, and clean air! She said that genes account for 25% of the variance in longevity, and lifestyle accounts for 75%. She said that women live longer than men because they are more likely to prioritize close, in-person friendships. She urged people to “build your village, it’s actually a matter of life and death.”
6. Bet against the consensus – Successful hedge fund manager Ray Dalio gave a talk on how he runs his firm, but his advice that particularly resonated with me was, “in order to be a successful entrepreneur or investor, one has to bet against the consensus, and be right!” The betting against the consensus part is easy, but the being right part is hard. But I do love trying to follow that advice.
7. Helping others less fortunate – there were many moments throughout TED that really emphasized how important it is for us to help others less fortunate. Refugee advocate David Miliband gave a powerful talk about this, as did refugee activist Luma Mufleh. I can’t do their talks justice, but you should really try to watch them when they come online. They were both thoughtful, moving, and powerful. Rutger Bregman gave an amazing talk on the cycle of poverty, and how it could be ended that he also talks about in his book, “Utopia for Realists.”
He implored the audience to imagine how much talent we could unleash if we could get rid of poverty. He talked about how poverty is NOT a lack of character, it’s merely a lack of CASH. It was a powerful argument about the benefits of Universal Basic Income.
8. Other points of view – One of the biggest things I learned at TED this year was listening thoughtfully to other points of view, for 18 minutes, not just 18 seconds. Tristan Harris, former ethicist at Google, spoke eloquently about how “the Internet is not evolving at random, it’s a race to the bottom of the brainstem to see who can get the most attention.”
He talked about how you can precisely target a lie to people who are most susceptible. And because it’s so profitable, it’s going to get worse. I realized how much the targeting of information to me is part of the echo chamber. The Edelman Trust Barometer from this year showed this too. Facts matter less. 1 in 2 people would support a politician they “trust” even if they lie.
I felt that this year at TED, I found myself enjoying listening to thoughtful, longer arguments about things maybe I previously didn’t agree to, because it truly exercised my brain more, and I believe will lead me to think more critically about things going forward. It’s too easy to just stop a video or stop reading a story you don’t agree with, but after having transported yourself all the way to Vancouver, the benefit was that I stayed to listen to things I didn’t agree with, and sometimes that positively shaped and changed my views.
Because there were so many other great talks and moments of TED that I have not included here, I don’t want you to think this is a full summary. These are just 8 things that impacted me a lot. I urge you to watch the talks as they come online at TED.com – they were very inspiring and powerful.
I would love to hear your feedback and thoughts.