The more we look, the more our digital and analog worlds are blending. What is this future we are entering? In Session 9 of TED2019, we peer into the thrilling, sometimes frightening, often hilarious world of technology.
The event: Talks and tech demos from TED2019, Session 9: Play, hosted by head of TED Chris Anderson and poet Sarah Kay
When and where: Thursday, April 18, 2019, 11:15am, at the Vancouver Convention Centre in Vancouver, BC
Speakers: Emmett Shear, Anthony Veneziale, Janelle Shane, Ivan Poupyrev, Jamie Paik and Herman Narula
… and now, for something completely different: Master improver Anthony Veneziale took to the TED stage for a truly off-the-cuff performance. Armed with an audience-suggested topic (“stumbling into intimacy”) and a deck of slides he’d never seen before, Veneziale crafted a profoundly humorous meditation about the human experience at the intersection of intimacy, connection and … avocados?
The talks in brief:
Emmett Shear, cofounder of Justin.tv and TwitchTV and part-time partner at Y Combinator
- Big idea: Video games are a modern version of communal storytelling, with audiences both participating and viewing as they sit around their virtual campfires.
- How? As on-demand entertainment becomes more accessible via the internet, consuming broadcast media has become a solitary and sometimes isolating activity. But interactive gaming — and, believe it or not, watching other people play video games — is reversing this trend, and helping to build new communities. Platforms like Twitch allow millions of viewers to view and comment on games, turning livestreamed gaming into multiplayer entertainment.
- Quote of the talk: “Picture millions of campfires … huge, roaring bonfires with hundreds of thousands of people around them. Some of them are smaller, more intimate community gatherings where everyone knows your name.”
Janelle Shane, AI humorist
- Big idea: The danger of AI is not that it’s too smart — but that it’s not smart enough.
- How? Shane runs with blog AI Weirdness, a collection of the (often hilarious) antics of AI algorithms as they try to imitate human datasets. (Examples: AI-generated ice cream flavors and a recipe for horseradish brownies.) Despite the widespread celebration of AI, the truth is they don’t yet measure up to the versatile, free-associating human brain. And sometimes, the consequences can be dire, as with a self-driving car trained to identify the back of a truck on a highway — but not what it looks like sideways, leading to a fatal accident. So we need to separate science fiction from reality, Shane says, to be skeptical about AI claims that seem too good to be true. Surely, this tech will get better — but if we trust the answers it currently gives us without checking, it can be dangerous.
- Quote of the talk: “AI can be really destructive and not know it.”
Ivan Poupyrev, inventor, scientist, designer of interactive products
- Big idea: Keyboards and touchscreens shouldn’t be the only way we access computing power. With a bit of collaboration, we can design literally anything to be plugged into the internet — blending digital interactivity with everyday analog objects.
- How? The world of things is much vaster than the world of computers. If designers of objects had a simple way to build internet connectivity into their creations, even non-engineers could build interactive devices. Poupyrev invents tech — including an interface called Tag — that makes it possible for any object to connect to the cloud, opening the door to things like smart running shoes and interfaces in your clothes.
- Quote of the talk: “We are walking around with supercomputers in our pockets. How amazing is that? So it’s disappointing that the way we use computers — the way we interact with them — hasn’t changed. We’re stuck in the screens with our faces, not seeing the world around us? That’s not the future I imagine.”
Jamie Paik, founder and director of the Reconfigurable Robotics Lab
- Big idea: Robots of the future shouldn’t just be built to serve one function. Instead, they should be highly adaptable — and we can take our design cues from origami.
- How? Paik realized early in her career that truly useful robots would need to look different from the humanoids she’d been working on. Those best adapted to help humanity would be much closer to Transformers: capable of adapting to any environment and task on Earth … or off. Taking design cues from origami, Paik and her team created robogamis: folding robots made out of a thin, paper-like material that can morph and reshape themselves as the situation demands. This makes them cheaper and more efficient to launch into space — and even land on another planet. When paired with a haptic interface, they could train medical students by re-creating the precise sensation of doing surgery. “These robots will no longer look like the characters from the movies,” Paik says. “Instead, they will be whatever you want them to be.”
- Quote of the talk: “For robogamis, there’s no one fixed shape or task. They can transform into anything, anytime, anywhere.”
Herman Narula, entrepreneur, gamer, cofounder and CEO of Improbable
- Big idea: The most important technological change happening in the world right now isn’t AI, space travel or biotech. It’s video games.
- How? Video games are more than entertainment. Just look at the scale of gamers: a full third of the world’s population (2.6 billion people) find the time to game, plugging into massive networks of interaction. These networks let people exercise a social muscle they might not otherwise exercise. And this is sorely needed: while social media seems to amplify our differences, games create a space for us to empathize with one another. Their economic impact will be profound: as long as you can access a cell phone, the chance to create and contribute to the gaming universe is yours for the taking. The future of gaming, in Narula’s eyes, means working together and understanding one another — despite deep divisions and differences.
- Quote of the talk: “The reality is there are worlds you can build right here, right now, that can transform people’s lives. Let’s engage. Let’s actually try to make this something we shape in a positive way.”