It wouldn’t be a TED conference without a session devoted to nerding out. Session 8 of TED2023 featured speakers covering the future of digital property rights and blockchain, new thinking on health and medicine, a deep look at the problems facing the oceans and how a few simple lines can evoke both life’s challenges and its wonder.
The event: Talks from Session 8 of TED2023: Possibility, hosted by TED current events curator Whitney Pennington Rodgers
When and where: Thursday, April 20, 2023, at the Vancouver Convention Centre in Vancouver, BC, Canada
Speakers: Yat Siu, Anna Greka, Jeff Chen, Amy Baxter, Nina Tandon, Tony Long, Liana Finck
What does it mean to own something online? Most of us spend hours each day online, but we own very little there. You don’t own your Instagram account or the data your TikTok usage creates — data that generates profit and feeds TikTok’s superior algorithm. Future-focused technologist Yat Siu believes the “open metaverse,” a decentralized version of the internet also known as web3, is laying the foundation for a freer, fairer, more prosperous internet by ensuring robust digital property rights. Around the world, the freest, wealthiest countries enjoy strong property rights — so should we be concerned that more and more of our lives are being mediated by a version of the internet that doesn’t guarantee those same rights to its users?
Molecular scientist Anna Greka studies the world’s rarest diseases using advanced technology to analyze billions of cells via millions of images. With hypothesis-driven research, or “molecular sleuthing,” as she calls it, Greka and her team have been able to determine the cause of a previously mysterious string of kidney failures — and even developed a promising treatment. Their work could lead to treatments for more than 50 different diseases plaguing humanity, from ALS to Alzheimer’s, underlining Greka’s belief that studying the most niche medical cases could really help us all.
What if there was an easy way to prove the effectiveness of natural products? With AI-driven, crowdsourced clinical trials, health tech entrepreneur and TED community member Jeff Chen believes these supplements can have their chance to prove efficacy with a diverse dataset that includes populations historically excluded from trials — and that’s exactly what he and his team at Radical Science are doing. By sending products directly to a diverse grouping of consumers for testing and collecting that data, they offer an avenue to bypassing the slow-moving process of FDA approval — while giving some of nature’s oldest medicines the chance to be put to the test.
What is pain, really? If you whack your thumb with a hammer, you might think, “The pain is in my thumb.” But the reality is that nerves are sending an alarm to your spine, and then pain happens in your brain … somewhere. It’s kind of vague, says pediatric emergency physician and pain management pioneer Amy Baxter. What we do know is that pain’s not in one place, but rather is a symphony of connections. This includes connections to areas of the brain that trigger things like fear, memory, meaning and control. (“The same punch on the arm hurts more from a bully than a buddy,” she says.) Baxter has used this insight to find alternative treatments to pain, in an effort to reduce use of addictive opioids like oxycontin. She explains how methods ranging from vibration and cold to distraction, counting and relaxation can help block pain — without the potentially fatal side effects of opioid use. We have power over our pain, she says: it just takes some practice.
As humans injure earlier and live longer than ever before, we need our implants to last as long as we do, says bioengineer and TED community member Nina Tandon. In both her 2011 and 2012 TED Talks, she championed the use of stem cells as an ingredient to grow spare parts for repairs on the human body. At TED2023, she gives an update on how far her organization has come in developing bone and cartilage replacements. (For the curious, it takes three weeks to engineer bone, and four for cartilage — plus they can do any of the 207 bones or 360 joints in the body.) As of 2021, they became the first biotech company greenlit by the FDA to use this approach. She asks: “Would we rather have spare parts made from metal, plastic and ceramic, or connect to our own internal fountain of cellular youth?”
Today, a fifth of all seafood is thought to be caught illegally, a crime worth up to 23.5 billion dollars per year. Pirate fishing threatens the health of our ocean and the well-being of millions of people — and it’s not the only crime at sea that goes undetected. Oil spills go unpunished, oil and gas exploration unmonitored. Why are Earth’s oceans such a Wild West? The problem is they’re vast, says Tony Long, president and CEO of Global Fishing Watch and 2023 Audacious Project grantee. You can’t manage the entire ocean from the decks of ships — but you can from space. Using machine learning and GPS data, Global Fishing Watch has built the first-ever livestream map to track the movements of industrial fishing fleets and made it freely available to the world — part of a plan to illuminate all human activity in the ocean and transform ocean management.
In an illustrated journey through an often-baffling world, cartoonist Liana Finck‘s drawings hold our hands through life’s most confusing predicaments (large and small): pondering what to make for dinner, how to leave a party without being rude. She also takes on more complex things that take many drawings, like creating her own version of God; think more human, less confident. After a breakup, Finck realized drawing from her own life not only helped her understand herself better — but also helped her connect to other people. With the power of pen and paper, she shows us we can navigate life’s complexities together with levity, humor and line.