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Five Takeaways from TED 2017


This past week, I was very fortunate to attend my 7th TED Conference entitled “The Future You”. While the future me is uncertain, one thing I know is that it will no longer be attending TED due to a 42% price hike on top of an already steep fee.

It is painful to know that the amazing experience of TED is in in the past. In the future the videos, the blogs and summaries provided by TED and attendees will have to suffice. To read key summaries of key talks and other blogs from this years conference please visit here.    I have utilized  some key summary points of some talks  from the blog and they appear in italics below.

My key takeaways from this year.

1.Reality Intrudes


This was the least optimistic and most realistic TED I have attended.

It felt quieter, uncertain, and more humble.

The surprising rise of Trump, the attack on facts and science, and the realization that algorithms and advancing technology were not just pointing to a  better future but were also slashing the fabric of many peoples present, seeded doubt.

The opening session ” One Move Ahead” featured a talk by Anab Jain who tries to make us face our future by imagining and bringing to life what a tomorrow may look like with drones, genetic driven insurance decision making and increased carbon dioxide.

Her TED talk has not been posted yet but you can get a flavor of her work in this video.


There were at least two talks on Basic Income the concept of paying people ( a negative tax) to both alleviate poverty and to address the reality as more jobs are lost to machines increased joblessness could reduce demand and therefore put the economy into a tail spin.

Garry Kasparov who had been beaten by Deep Blue in 1997 gave a stirring talk on how the future will not be man against machine but man plus machine. As he noted Machines have objectivity and humans have passion. 

But will the machines only enhance those already well trained like Kasparov while replacing most others ?  Noriko Arai of Japan has trained a robot to beat 80 percent of the students applying to the University of Tokyo and this is not just in multiple tests but in putting together essays.

2. Algorithm Anxiety.


“Algorithms are opinions embedded in code” warned Cathy O’Neil who also called them “weapons of math destruction”. She has rightfully asked for more transparency into the dark box of big data and algorithms that determine what we see, how we are evaluated, how are attention is monetized. Read this cry for justice in the age of big data.

A UX designer told Manoush Zomorodi that “the only people who refer to their customers as ‘users’ are drug dealers and technologists.” Our attention is valuable, and we’re feeling the effects of competition for it. “A decade ago we shifted our attention about every three minutes. Now we shift it about every 45 seconds,” says Zomorodi, host of the radio show “Note to Self.” The problem: we’re never bored. Thus, we’ve lost our most creative mode.

Net, the use of technology and addiction to phones in particular, made us less happy, less connected while multi billion dollar businesses from Facebook to Netflix  fine tune algorithms that ensure continuous never ending optimized feed that keep us chained to our screens like cows that are being milked and monetized.

3. The Other is Us.


One of the most impactful talks was by Coach Luma Mufleh who was a refugee and who runs the first school for refugees in the United States. There are over 65.3 million refugees and as Ms Mufleh emotionally noted refugees are not terrorists. The reality is that the “other is us” and David Miliband a political leader in the UK remined us both his parents were refugees in a compelling talk on ” the duty we owe to strangers

Speaker after speaker noted that it was key that we see things from other perspectives, discuss other perspectives and respect other perspectives.

A visual manifestation of how all around the world people of the same socio-economic class are closer in the way they live to each other than those of other socio-economic classes is brought to life by this amazing site which shows household items and the way people live around the world depending on income. It will open your eyes.

The site developed by  Anna Rosling Rönnlund pictured above and accessible  here a is one I strongly urge you to check it out.

The ” other” that will be us is old people, since we will all age.

In a screed against ‘Ageism” that brought the house down Ashton Applewhite   author of  “This Chair Rocks” used to fear getting old, “ending up drooling in some grim institutional hallway.” But a fact surprised her: the percentage of Americans over 65 in nursing homes is only 4 percent. “We tend to think of everyone in a retirement home as the same age — ‘old’ — when they can span four decades,” she says. Why? Because we’re guilty of ageism. It’s not our fault. Negative messages about old age have bombarded us from all directions, yet it’s strange — because this is a prejudice against our future selves. Ageism feeds on the idea that there’s a binary between young and old. So what can we do? For people over 60, who “can be the most ageist of all because we’ve had a lifetime to internalize these messages,” it’s about stopping the “senior moment” jokes and rejecting the thought that they should simply “shuffle offstage.” For employers, it’s respecting people’s experience as a resource and as a vital component of diversity. And for young people, it’s not coddling or othering those who happen to be older. “Everyone — all races, all genders, all nationalities — is old or future old,” says Applewhite. “Aging is not a problem to be ‘fixed’ or a disease to be ‘cured.’ It is a powerful, natural, lifelong process that unites us all.”

All in all whether a refugee or an old person or someone with our standard of living in a country far away the “other is us” and to deplore the other or not understand other peoples perspectives is to deplore and not understand ourselves.

4. Art and Emotion Rule.


With few exceptions the most compelling and moving talks were not about scientific breakthroughs, demos of hardware from robots to drones but poets, artists and story tellers.

Yes there were robots and self transporting devices and human propelled airplanes but they all seemed so blah.

But when the artists and story tellers and humanists came on the place hummed and rocked.

It just was not the talk of compassion and inclusion  from the Pope  or a moving talk by the Indian Superstar Shar Rukh Khan but how art has over the years hidden away minorities and we need to amend and append and see art in new ways.

One of the most compelling pieces was a new kind of TED talk and performance by OK Go on how they come across and discover rather than come up with ideas. Check out this coverage of their talk which is master class on creativity.

5. Meaning and Human Relationships Key.


Emily Esfahani Smith has spent  five years investigating meaning and has found the most meaningful lives have four pillars

The first is belonging. “True belonging springs from love. It lives in moments among individuals,” she says. “And it’s a choice.” Belonging doesn’t only take place with friends and family members; it can happen in any relationship where people treat each other with care and attention.  

The second pillar is purpose. “Purpose is less about what you want than about what you give,” says Esfahani Smith. “The key is using your strengths to serve others.” Purpose is frequently found at work, which means not having work can have negative consequences. Purpose can also be found outside of work from parenting to passions.

The third pillar is transcendence. “Transcendent states are those rare moments when you’re lifted above the hustle and bustle of daily life, your sense of self fades away, and you feel connected to a higher reality,” she explains. You might experience transcendence when seeing art, being in nature, going to church or immersing yourself in a creative project, for instance.

The fourth pillar is storytelling, specifically the story you tell about yourself and one you can edit, interpret or re-tell at any time. Psychologist Dan McAdams researches personal narratives, and he’s learned “people leading meaningful lives … tend to tell stories defined by redemption, growth and love.” 

 “Happiness comes and goes,” she declares. “But when life is really good and when things are really bad, having meaning in life gives you something to hold onto.”

This quest for meaning also drove the TED Prize winner Raj Panjabi of Last Mile Health who is giving back to the country of Liberia where  he grew up but is also inspired by a line that his father told him that has given great meaning to his quest which is ” Nothing is permanent”

How do you live a long life?
Psychologist Susan Pinker starts with a fact you might have heard: across the developed world, women live an average of six to eight years longer than men. She traveled to a place where that isn’t true — the so-called “Blue Zone” of Sardinia, an Italian island in the Mediterranean. Here, there are six times as many centenarians as on the mainland, a mix of men and women. Centenarians here don’t eat a low-fat or gluten-free diet. (Pinker notes their love of pasta.) They don’t all have a sunny disposition. (She mentions Giovanni, “the grumpiest person I’ve ever met.”) But they do constantly have people dropping by to spend time with them. Pinker sees these social connections as the secret to their longevity, as well as the reason why women tend live to longer than men. “Women are more likely to prioritize and groom face-to-face relationships over their lifetime,” she says. Close relationships and high social integration are key predictors of longevity, she explains.

This realization is what is now driving the co-housing movement and designing cities with places where people can interact. Connecting in real is better than connecting online.

In Sum

This TED was less about technology entertainment and design but more about truth emotion and duality ( the two sides of advancement). There was a lot of entertainment which was primarily the great videos that were sprinkled in the show and which you can see here.

And if you want to see the future you spend two minutes watching this video where you see a baby become an old person here


3 comments on “Five Takeaways from TED 2017

  1. RoysRambling says:

    Your insights into the insights of others makes for great reading – thank you.

  2. Marcus Glover says:

    Excellent summary. Thank you for providing.

  3. Mitch Barns says:

    Great write-up, Rishad. Thanks!

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