My Top 10 Favorite TED talks

Screen shot from "Ursus Wehrli tidies up art"
Screen shot from “Ursus Wehrli tidies up art”

A friend of mine recommended the TED talk app. This is a great way to recruit new viewers to the TED world. TED talks are beautiful. They are amazing presentations that present interesting ideas in a relatable way. Presented visually, orally and in manageable chunks of twenty minutes, TED talks bring information to life. And sometimes, not-information. These bits of “not-information” are merely pieces of a puzzle to humanity and all of its strangeness. I call this intellectual peacocking. “Look at how clever I am,” they seem to say. And it works. I am mesmerized, inspired and rejuvenated. Watching TED talks helps refuel my passion for technology, entertainment and design.


Are we ready for neo-evolution? by Harvey Fineberg. I think the answer is definitely not. This talk is great because it explores all our desires as humans. Don’t we want to be more creative? Remember more? Live longer? What if we could change our genetics to make that happen? Should we? This talk raises a lot of questions that circle around one of the greatest scientific achievements so far: genetic modification.

I don’t think we’ll ever know all the ramifications of switching around a few cytosines. A translucent water flea has more genes than any other animal on the planet (zooplankton: 31,000 genes, the average human has about 20,000 to 25,000), but it’s not necessarily the number of genes. A theatrical play with four actors can be very complex.


Theo Jansen: My creations, a new form of life. This is a classic TED talk. There are a few more in a similar vein. Many makers create interesting bio-mimicking devices. They are beautiful because they are geometric and organic. They subtly propose a future of beauty and wonder, where machines walk. This particular invention– Janson calls them “Strandbeests”– are kinetic, made with recycled materials and present a method of one of the greatest hurdles our machines encounter: uneven terrain. (Other fascinating beasts: big dog, gecko, and robots)


Aimee Mullins: It’s not fair having 12 pairs of legs. This TED talk is representative of a recurring theme: Different is an advantage. Taking what others might perceive a weakness and making it a strength is powerful. For Aimee Mullins. The fact that she has prosthetic legs makes her an example of what the future of augmentation is. Augmentation is options. It’s the remarkable idea that when your legs give out. Your knee becomes too weak, just get another one. Get a pair of legs for every occasion. It’s fascinating because of the politics of disability. Can we exploit her for fashion by strapping on a pair of “art legs”? or is it empowering for her to be a symbol of beauty?


Jill Bolte Taylor’s stroke of insight. A psychonaut’s most interesting adventure. Jill Bolte Taylor had the interesting (albeit, not something we want to happen) experience. This particular stroke left her with the memory of its graduation. I love it when people explain how their brain happens to be. What it feels like. The details of revelation, understanding, confusion. Even the simple stuff like when people lament going into a room then forgetting why they are there. That stuff really gets me. Having stuff in common (and not in common) with these stories reminds me of how similar and how different our brains work. The concept of differing neurology intrigues me. It leads to better understanding and compassion.


Ursus Wehrli tidies up art. This is definitely one of those TED talks, a speaker presenting a series of art/design projects that are very clever and interconnected by some method/theme/ innovative use of materials (some other good ones: using fishing nets, ipads, chocolate). Wehrli is one of the funnier ones. Mostly for art nerds, but some non-art-nerds might recognize a few of the works.


Kevin Slavin: How algorithms shape our world. I’m tickled pink by anything that visualizes an algorithm. My favorite are the paths through grass where you can see how many people wanted to shave off a second or to off of their trek by cutting a corner. I love maps where it is colored by dots represented who tweeted about a thing. With our technology, we can make more trends visual. Communicating information takes on a new level.


Joshua Klein: The intelligence of crows. This is one of my favorites. I am a huge B.F. Skinner fan. If he was of this century, he would definitely be a TED speaker. This crow talk is a variation on the “pigeon dance” experiment. If you can make a pigeon “dance” using food as an incentive. Imagine what you can make the smarter bird do?


Temple Grandin: The world needs all kinds of minds. I relate to this talk a lot. My mother thought I was autistic as a child because I was a little late in talking. This is a TED talk about how an autistic-diagnosed person has a different perspective and in the case of many, including Temple Granin, this outsider view gives fresh insight into solving problems. It’s encouraging for people (like myself) that feel like they are in a very socially driven world, where extroverts get their opinons heard first because they are the loudest. (A great TED talk about the power of introverts might change your mind.)


Jane McGonigal: The game that can give you 10 extra years of life. Kind of a corny inspirational talk. She motivates the audience to shake hands with their neighbors and wave their arms in the air. But, the idea of “life is a game” really got to me. (I wrote about it after watching the video.) I think about that idea a lot, now. When I am sitting around, trying to tell myself it’s time to wash dishes or something. That it’s a game. If I get to them now I get extra points. Points that are uncounted for now. When I was little, my family had a system where chores were part of a game to earn pudding and that kind of stuff. My mother was big on budgeting games. Game contexts are a really helpful framework where you can interact with your friends and family in a way that’s empowering for them and for you.


Stefan Sagmeister: The power of time off. This talk represents a principle that many of the upcoming innovative firms incorporate into their businesses. It’s the idea that you are productive when you are not focused. New things come about by cross-polination, experimenting and having fun. This doesn’t have to be achieved by  year-long sabbaticals. Hack-a-thons and Google’s 20% time, we can have fun and make things that we want to make. Cultivating the spirit of creativity should always be considered a good use of company time.


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