Impact of Ideas TED Talks

7 times TED Talks anticipated history

TED’s river of ideas is a constant flow — and sometimes vital topics make their way onto our site far before they head into the mainstream. As part of the 10th birthday of TED Talks, we highlight seven Talks that foresaw big trends when they were only ripples in the pond.

Wikipedia: Is it really a thing?

At TEDGlobal 2005, Jimmy Wales gave a talk about his relatively new initiative, Wikipedia, and imagined its potential for growth. At the time, many were still skeptical at the legitimacy and reliability of an online encyclopedia, run by volunteers, that anyone could edit. Wales took to the TED stage to say that Wikipedia and open knowledge had a place in the Wild West digital climate of the mid-2000s.

Today, Wikipedia is the Internet’s encyclopedia, a go-to source for a quick informational deep dive on almost any topic imaginable (although >caveat emptor). It’s even referenced as a source in legal proceedings around the world. In fact, TED has recently teamed up with Wikipedia to create even more open, accessible knowledge.

The jaw-dropping multi-touch screen

A little over a year after Jeff Han demonstrated this mind-blowing tech of multi-touch interface at TED2006, Apple released the first iPhone — and the rest is history.

Smartphones take over our lives

In 2007, Jan Chipchase called out the coming revolution of the mobile phone (the word “smartphone” hadn’t really caught on yet). From his research on human behavior, Chipchase predicted that our needs would come to intertwine with our ever-better phones in ways never imagined before. Our devices could begin to support us in pursuit of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — anytime, anywhere. The convenience of things like banking and international money-lending through mobiles were still so novel and astounding to our flip-phone brains.

Currently, more than half of the global population owns a smartphone. (You’re probably reading this on a smartphone right now.) Isn’t that cool?

Real progress on protecting oceans

When oceanographer Sylvia Earle won the TED Prize in 2009, only 1 percent of the world’s oceans were protected. At the time, global support for marine protected areas (MPAs) wasn’t prominent, and the conversation on humanity’s impact on the climate hadn’t hit critical mass. By choosing Earle to receive the Prize, TED helped give her a platform to start that conversation and ignite assistance internationally. Fast forward to 2016 and that initial number of MPAs has jumped to 4%; still, there’s a long way to go — you can help Earle’s organization Mission Blue and join the fight of restoring our oceans.

Twitter: Is it really a thing?

Twitter co-founder Evan Williams came to the TED2009 stage on the heels of massive growth in his company — but before Twitter became so integral to our media lives. Twitter secured its global legitimacy as a place for open communication in the Internet Age two years after the talk in 2011, when it was one of the main means of communication for those in the Egyptian Revolution.

At one point during his talk, Williams shares that “there are 47 members of Congress who have Twitter accounts.” Today, there are 570 members who share their thoughts in tweet form. Twitter has proven itself an integral part of the news cycle, and a vital tool for protest and online community-building.

Inequality matters

At TEDGlobal in the summer of 2011, public health researcher Richard Wilkinson relayed some startling statistics on inequality — and its insidious role in health and happiness. His talk shattered perceptions and laid bare our societies’ deepening economic inequality and its real, detrimental effects, before it hit the mainstream news cycle in a big way, kicked off by the Occupy movement later that same year.

A few years later, in 2014, Nick Hanaeur — from his perspective as a venture capitalist — warned that if this rift between the rich and the poor continues, things could get a little medieval.

Follow the money trail of corruption

The TED Prize in 2014 was awarded to Charmian Gooch, an anti-corruption activist whose wish was to lift the shroud of mystery surrounding anonymous companies and the individuals they protected … two years before the Panama Papers leaked. (Global Witness campaign leader Robert Palmer gave a talk in response to the controversy via Skype — a first in TED’s history — to get on the record about such a historic leak and its ripple effects.)