Technology, Entertainment, and Design. In 1984, a conference focusing on these areas began. This would eventually become the organisation TED, a nonprofit dedicated to the spreading of ideas. (In fact, their slogan is “ideas worth spreading.”)
TED is most known for its iconic TED Talks, which are relatively short presentations that are given at live TED conferences, and captured and distributed in video form. If you’re reading this, chances are pretty good that you’ve watched or listened to a TED talk. At the time of this writing, there are more than 2600 TED Talks available to freely access on TED.com. And millions of people all across the globe have watched these talks.
With all these incredible ideas being spread, it’s certain that there is knowledge, insight, and inspiration in abundance. But of all the TED Talks that have been given, which ones have been most impacting? Which Talks have sparked new ideas, especially in the fields of technology and design?
We decided to look into this a bit further, to bring you a list of 10 of the most influential TED Talks of all time. While there are so many fascinating topics now covered in TED Talks, this list especially highlights those in the technology and communications arenas. If one thing’s for sure: these are worth watching.
Hugh Herr is an engineer, biophysicist, and rock climber. By the age of 17, Herr was considered a rock climbing prodigy. But in 1982, he nearly saw the end of his climbing career. Herr was caught in a blizzard with a fellow climber, and as a result, suffered severe frostbite. Ultimately, both of his legs required amputation below the knees.
But Herr’s achievements since then have only grown more impressive. Not only has he continued to break boundaries in the climbing world, but his career has skyrocketed. Now, he is head of the MIT Media Lab's Biomechatronics group, working on amazing developments. In his TED Talk, he showcased his own bionic limbs, talking through the technology that made them possible. He demonstrates running, and with the help of a fellow amputee, dancing. This TED Talk is incredibly inspirational and definitely helps to show the power of technology to help humans move beyond disabilities.
While many people still express fear in the potential power of artificial intelligence, venture capitalist and tech expert Kai-Fu Lee believes that AI is in fact serendipitous. There are so many ways to make the best of AI and use it to our human advantage. In this TED Talk, he discusses how deep learning is at the core of AI, and how humans and AI can work together in harmony. In one moving moment, Kai-Fu Lee says, “Why we exist is love. When we hold our newborn baby, love at first sight, or when we help someone in need, humans are uniquely able to give and receive love, and that's what differentiates us from AI.”
With nearly 9 million views, this TED Talk definitely deserves a spot on the list. Art Benjamin, a self-titled “mathemagician,” performs feats of remarkable mental math, including quickly---and accurately---guessing birth date information of various audience members. In this fast-paced, entertaining talk, Benjamin beats even the example calculators with his own mathemagic. Without a doubt, this is an extremely unique presentation, and its power can be seen in the words of one video commenter: “I've never been more motivated to learn math than I am at this moment.”
Having been viewed an astounding 17 million times, this talk from Pranav Mistry at TEDIndia remains one of the most popular in the organisation’s history.
Driven by a desire to study the interaction of the digital world with the physical, Mistry shows off some of his simple inventions; simple objects with enormous potential. As a graduate student at MIT, Mistry created SixthSense, wearable technology that allows interactions between the real world and the world of data. At the end of the talk, Mistry reveals that he’s allowing this technology to become open source, so others can create and benefit.
This quote by Mistry highlights his ideas: “I think the imagination is the only limit of what you can think of when this kind of technology merges with real life.”
Since this talk was given in 2008, Jill Bolte Taylor has become one of the most well-known and well-respected TED speakers. Taylor experienced a stroke, but as a brain scientist, she was able to actually watch this happen in real time, observing as elements of her brain shut down one by one. This was no doubt both terrifying and fascinating, but for Taylor, it lead her career in an entirely new direction, especially because for her, the stroke resulted in an excess of creativity as her right brain truly blossomed. In this talk, she shares her astonishing story (complete with a display of a real human brain).
Jeremy Howard is a data scientist and CEO of Enlitic, an advanced machine learning company based in San Francisco. In this talk, he discusses the ability of computers to acquire and retain new information through deep learning. And he asks the question “what does it mean, now that computers can see?” Not only can they see, but they can do so much more. This is a fascinating video with principles and examples that are easy to grasp, and it’s definitely worthwhile for anyone who thinks about the future.
While the information in this TED Talk may not be particularly revolutionary or groundbreaking, it’s a valuable video that brings both humour and logic to the topic of efficiency in tech. In this short video, technology columnist David Pogue shares some simple tricks for using the Internet more fluidly and easily, and although you likely already know about many of these tips, it’s worth the watch for a clever presentation on hacks. And after all, these are definitely “ideas worth spreading.”
This is a riveting TED Talk that dives into the inner workings of autonomous vehicles. Once only the stuff of science fiction novels, driverless cars and increasingly gaining attention, and in many cases, even hitting the roads. That makes this talk by Chris Urmson more relevant than ever.
Urmson, a roboticist and engineer, starts his presentation off by discussing the most unreliable element in the automobile: the driver. What follows is a deep dive into how this car can see the world and move through the streets. This video is a must for anyone who wants a better understanding of this technology.
Are emotions and technology linked? According to neuroscientist Poppy Crum, the answer is yes. In this popular TED Talk from 2018, Crum showcases how "empathetic technology" can observe and analyse physical signals (such as body temperature and the chemical composition of breath) to draw conclusions about our emotional state. She performs some real-time displays that involve the audience. You’re definitely going to come away from this video with something to think about.
Journalist and venture capitalist Jason Pontin tackles a significant question in this TED Talk: “can technology solve our big problems?” He begins by talking about the moon landing in 1969, and other similar “big problems” that technology addressed. But things seem to be different now. He says, “blithe optimism about technology's powers has evaporated as big problems we had imagined technology would solve, such as going to Mars, creating clean energy, curing cancer, or feeding the world have come to seem intractably hard.” What is Pontin’s final conclusion? You’ll have to watch to find out.
These 10 TED Talks represent just a small snippet of the amazing ideas that are shared and spread at every TED event. If you haven’t delved into the thousands of beneficial presentations, there’s no time like the present. And there are TED Talks on virtually an endless number of topics. Want to be even more inspired? A few other of the most meaningful and beloved TED Talks include Do schools kill creativity, by Sir Ken Robinson, The history of our world in 18 minutes, by David Christian, and The power of introverts, by Susan Cain.
What’s your favourite TED Talk