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Teleporting DNA, transplanting organs from a pig into a human to overcome organ shortage, and flying from New York to Shanghai in 39 minutes were just a handful of the mind-blowing ideas I saw at TED2018. Attending TED is like standing in front of a hose turned on at full pelt and being hit hard with ideas. Inevitably, some ideas are stickier than others. Here are five that stuck with me.
The big social media companies need a radical shift in strategy.
Polymath and computer scientist Jaron Lanier argued that social networks are actually behavioral modification empires. This caught my attention because I am deep in research on the effect such digital distractions are having on our working lives. Indeed, social networks train us and arguably trick us into spending more and more time on them. That is, they modify our behavior.
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Lanier suggested that these companies that make a living by spying on us need to rethink their business model. Similar to the Netflix model, where people pay for content and by doing so they receive better content, could the Facebooks of the world move to a paid user model? And if they don’t shift, then surely there is room for a new player to enter and do just that.
Artificial intelligence could make our world fantastic or horrific.
There were many talks about AI this year. Most were presented in a “look at this, isn’t this amazing” tone, but there were definitely some very creeped out audience members.
MIT Physicist Cesar Hidalgo spoke about using AI to automate democracy. He raised the issue of poor voter turnout and participation in voting in countries such as the U.S. and U.K. Hidalgo suggested we could make government more representative of people’s thoughts and preferences through automating the whole process.
Hidalgo spoke of creating software that would learn our preferences and personality and use this knowledge to cast votes. When he said that small-scale pilot programs would obviously be necessary, I think the audience breathed a collective sigh of relief.
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Pierre Barreau, CEO of AIVA, played us a piece of music that he has specifically composed for TED2018 called “The Age of Amazement” (the theme of the conference). When I say “he” composed it, I actually mean that artificial intelligence AIVA composed it.
We all closed our eyes and listened to a beautiful and moving classical piece of music that could easily have been written by a famous composer. But, it was not. I’m not sure I am a fan of software being able to manipulate my emotions by music, but I guess this is the world we are heading in to.
If you are in a job requiring empathy, you are probably safe from AI.
While much is said about creative and strategic jobs being safe from AI, Kai-Fu Lee (ex-head of Google China, turned venture capitalist), also spoke about how those in jobs requiring empathy, love and compassion will also be protected. Teachers, nurses, social workers and other roles where empathy is central will survive through the job transformation that will be happening over the next decade or two.
Harvard Business School professor Frances Frei pointed out that empathy is one of the three key ingredients of building trust (the other two are logic and authenticity). This made me wonder how we will ever trust robots, who are unable to demonstrate the same empathy as humans.
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The best leaders are humble narcissists.
While Wharton Professor Adam Grant’s talk was only a short one, it stuck with me. Grant presented research that showed when comparing “narcissistic leaders” versus “humble leaders,” those who possessed both qualities were the most effective. These are essentially people that believe they are special yet are also humble, in that they believe they don’t know it all and recognize their limitations.
It occurred to me that the TED audience was full of what Grant termed “humble narcissists.” TED brings together people with an insatiable curiosity about the world, about how things work and about how to be better. Yet, the TED audience that I hung out with in Vancouver is also full of people who have such faith in themselves and their abilities and have in many cases, changed the world.
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The other side of the world is going to get a whole lot closer.
In an interview with Chris Anderson, Gwynne Shotwell (president and COO of SpaceX) spoke not just about Mars, but also about work SpaceX is doing around improving transportation on Earth. Shotwell described a rocket they are working on that can fly from New York to Shanghai in 39 minutes. Getting a boat to the rocket take-off pad takes longer than the actual flight.
While Shotwell was hesitant to put a timeframe on this, she suggested that it would happen within a decade and would be around $2,000 for a ticket. After having traveled 20 long hours from Melbourne, Australia to attend TED in Vancouver, Canada, this was one of the personal highlights I heard at TED2018.