Let’s face it: If you want to spend a career in any field related to tending to technology, you will need to adopt to change, perhaps in a more rapid pace than any other humans in history. All the while, seasoned technologists everywhere know that the scope of computers as tools is expanding and that the lines between IT and operational technology like control systems is changing with the Internet of Things.
To help you embrace a fast moving world, we’ve collected some brilliant talks from the TED conference and associated events. We’ve chosen to focus on talks that point out the ramifications of certain trends in science and technology.
Yes, we know: the rhetorical tendencies of TED talks do sometimes lend the whole concept to parody. Some even voice criticism over the way the TED talk concept oversimplifies and imposes impossible infotainment standards on hard problems, even in academia, research and funding drives.
But we think there are quite a few valuable TED talks out there and we’ve picked some, including a few from independently organized TEDx events. The latter tend to have locally focused speakers who are more close to ordinary humans and less annoyingly polished than the Nobel price winning crowd speaking at main TED events.
So here it goes. We link to the Youtube versions primarily for speed and reliability on more devices. Youtube also has subtitles in many languages for many of the talks. Each talk officially featured by TED does however have a page on TED.com with things like downloadable versions, transcripts and other notes, so we link back to the mothership as well.
What is tech?
Let’s start out with a million mile perspective. What is technology? To paraphrase Wired Magazine founder Kevin Kelly, it’s an extension of life in a fight against entropy. As a whole, Kelly argues, technology is the most powerful force and the most energy dense thing known to humankind. Watch this talk for a thorough and thought provoking voyage through a basic fact of life: we humans wouldn’t survive a day without our ingenuity applied towards tools.
Computers and math run the world
We’ve already entered an age of high frequency trading, dynamic e-commerce pricing and Netflix recommendations during which countless algorithms work in tandem to make civilization tick on. MIT professor and media expert Kevin Slavin takes on the huge job of deconstructing how algorithmic efficiency is reshaping our world economically, culturally and logistically. There are no easy answers or panicking about Skynet from the ‘Terminator’ movies. Slavin merely points out the realization that our world is increasingly circling around incentives weighed by algorithms very few people understand, even in part.
All kinds of people can learn to program
At the risk of repeating ourselves: yes, code runs the world. We know there are lots of big and scary questions that tend to pop up in the security related talks in our selection. Luckily programmer and children’s book author Linda Liukas takes a different approach. As in her crowdfunded smash hit ‘Hello Ruby!’, Liukas exclaims a beaming sense of wonder about code and self expression. But Liukas’ message is firm: we need more programmers of diverse backgrounds and there’s nothing except methodology and culture stopping us. Little girls don’t know they’re not supposed to like computers!
Tech is human, not neutral
Journalist Andreas Ekström has a simple request. Dismayed by a growing tendency to see systems such as Google’s search ranking as unbiased, Ekström would like us all to remember that algorithms are defined by humans that make judgemets based on values.
More info on TED.com.
Airborne drone acrobatics
As this presentation by academic and robotics entreprenour Raffaello D’Andrea demonstrates, quadcopter drones rigged up to algorithms is a fantastic preview into what robotics and advanced algorithms will bring to the table. D’Andrea makes his quadcopters dance in an artful display of the technological wizardry that can make robots seem athletic and approachable to the point of catching balls or seemingly floating around in the air to be easy to grab.
AI is here, finally
More than half a century into the great quest of modern computing, humanity is rapidly arriving at usable “artificial intelligence” through rapid advancements in just a few years. In his TED talk, Jeremy Howard walks us through some of the breakthrough concepts in machine learning that have started to show great results: letting computers analyze and learn from large quantities of data. From self driving cars to automated medical diagnosis and computers stealing our busywork, Howard draws us a map of what to expect going forward. After all, new methods of teaching computers to learn by themselves has in a short time come to power many commercial services from major tech companies.
Functioning security is an unintuitive compromise
IT security expert and cryptologist Bruce Schneier is an often quoted entity in matters related to the safety of our interconnected world. In this TED talk however, he gives a walkthrough of the unintuitive aspects of understanding threats and making tradeoffs for security. This talk is an easily understandable must-watch both for knowledgeable IT people and folks whose interests and expertise are completely separate.
How to hack your way out of single life
Few things are more human and potentially lonely than a grown-up’s wish to start a family with the right kind of hard-to-find person. Stuck with online dating services that produced terrible matches, journalist, writer and futurist Amy Webb decided to salvage her reproductive years by reverse engineering modern dating. By approaching algorithm based recommendation systems with the kind of duct tape approach to science that makes ‘The Martian’ enjoyable, Webb lived to tell the heartwarming tale of not only a happier personal life. She has uncovered a data-aware citizen’s guide to exploring systems that normally harvest our data in return for lukewarm results.
Friendly robots as colleagues and assistants
Like it or not, the industrialized world is growing old and the logistical challenges of climate change are upon us. Rodney Brooks takes a softer view on how automation will change the job market. He insists that we all will benefit greatly from easy program and control robots to help us in our daily lives. Brooks is optimistic about the friendliness of robotics but make no mistake: he thinks we’re in a hurry if we’re to automate the world sufficiently.
Powerful tech means potent crime
Police veteran Mark Goodman doesn’t mess around when he talks about tech/cybercrime. Why? Because he has seen the asymmetry of criminal threats versus society not only as an undercover cop, but in how Mexican Narcos have a nation wide, encrypted radio communications network while he himself can’t get good cell reception. Goodman is eager to tell us that computers are everywhere and that the rising wave of precise biotech will make populations vulnerable to weaponized contagions and eliminate privacy though easy access to DNA testing. This may be too heavy to take in, but in his talk, Goodman insists that we all just need to start preparing for great technological promise that is countered by the destructive forces of humanity.
Did we miss your favorite talk? Let us know in the comments section below!