5 TED Talks for the summer break

As we all know, TED Talks are a really easy way to get a fresh perspective on a topic to broaden your thinking. What better way to get some edutainment over the holidays?

I’ll give you five of my favourite talks in a sec but first a plug for how well organised the TED talk website is – it’s easy to forget what a difference some simple tagging and hyperlinking make. Search by topic here. Try emerging tech topics like AI, Augmented Reality, Blockchain and Biotech. Or you can find a playlist here – there are 100 playlists to choose from! How about How did the internet take over our lives? How to live with robots  The race for your attention   The pros and cons of screens   What happens when the robots take our jobs?  Tech breakthrough (talks with demos) and Talks to watch when the Internet is making you mad

So my list of 5 talks worth your time are:

Why the buildings of the future will be shaped by … you – Marc Kushner

This talk has a powerful message for all those working with the built environment. Marc is an architect and is really talking about the disruption of the work of the architect and how the public can have a much greater say in design due to new technology. As a planner I was most interested in his experience and observations around a project where his firm replaced an iconic community building which had been destroyed by fire. If you can’t watch the whole talk, check out this part of it from 6min30.

We’re building a dystopia just to make people click on ads – Zeynep Tufekci

This talk gets into the ‘dangers’ of artificial intelligence in a really accessible way. Zeynep is a techno-socialist and focuses on the impact of algorithms on our society. In this talk she addresses how algorithms are upping the impact of persuasion architectures on our lives and how this is shaping our lives. Another useful talk on this theme is Tristan Harris – How a handful of tech companies control billions of minds every day  I think it’s so vital as planners that we understand how these technologies are shaping and influencing the communities we work with and our broader society.

What we learned from 5 million books – Jean-Baptiste Michel and Erez Lieberman Aiden

This talk explains how Google Lab’s Ngram Viewer came about and what insights it gives us. The data in this tool is the contents of books from throughout human history. At the time of the talk, it included 5 million books resulting in 500 billion words. This data can be used to look at trends, such as when words came into existence or when they faded from popular usage or when one term took over from another. 

So for example, here is the pattern of usage for terms used to refer to our profession:

ngram planning terms

Image: screenshot from Google’s Ngram Viewer

The talk is really entertaining (and shorter than most TED Talks) but has a strong underlying message of what we can really do with computational analysis. In the old mindset a single human could not read everything but with tools such as this, we can access information never thought possible before.   

Let my dataset change your mindset – Hans Rosling

Hans has several talks all with amazing presentation of data – see his list of TED talks here for the one that most interests you. This particular talk is about challenging mindsets about global issues such as the concepts of a western world and a developing world. We should aspire to be such great presenters of data. It’s worth checking out the site he founded gapminder.org to play around with the data yourself too.

Can we create new senses for humans? – David Eagleman

This talk  is a real perspective changer. David is a neuroscientist and his talk is about how the biological senses we have been equipped with are what informs our sense of reality. Animals with different sensory organs perceive their realities based on what they have such as echolocation, infrared or electroreception. David speaks about how we now have the ability to play around with our sensory inputs not only to substitute these senses in people who may have lost their vision or hearing, but to actually add to our sensory abilities to allow us to process more information and gain more insights.

How does this relate to you and your productivity? The key message I took away is that we can totally play around with how we get inputs to our brain by how we use the senses we have. One of the key things I work with people on is how they use their tech hardware, to challenge assumptions around these daily habits. The screen, the keyboard, the mouse etc all exist merely to be intermediaries of a command from your brain to the ‘brain’ of the computer (or vice versa, the computer providing you with the information you requested it to provide). Making improvements in how these messages travel back and forth between you and your computer save you time everyday which adds up to some big time savings over the longer term. These improvements can include making better use of keyboard shortcuts, using voice commands or read aloud options, storing standard text in your device rather than repetitively typing similar phrases all week. It all starts with an awareness of this issue, and I found David’s talk very useful in my thinking more flexibly about this interface.

So, the summer break is a perfect time to explore some new habits in terms of how you use your devices. Try out voice commands, try read aloud, learn some shortcuts. Look at what doesn’t work so well and try to find an alternative. With the lull in work communications over the next month, it is a great time to have the headspace to try on some new tech habits.  You only need to do something for a week or so for it to start to carve some new neural pathways.



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