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Power poses, idea technologies and the Internet’s birthday: A recap of “Where are we now?” All-Stars Session 3 at TED2014

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Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Photo: Bret Hartman

Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Photo: Bret Hartman

By Liz Jacobs and Ben Lillie

Taking stock of our moment in history helps us better understand ourselves, our societies and the present moment itself  — which often gets lost in the temptation to look backwards or forwards. And at TED2014: The Next Chapter we’re doing plenty of both. But we’re also designating this All-Stars session to the here and now, which happens to be pretty incredible. These are speakers who stand on the front lines of education, justice, the environment and more, sharing their portions of the work that defines our times.

Below, read a detailed recap of each talk given in this session:

The session kicks off with Salman Khan, whose Khan Academy has rocked the world since it launched in 2006 (he talked about its amazing rise at TED2011). His online learning tool — which now has has 150 million users who have completed 1,912,559,000+ math problems in 200,000 classrooms across the globe — flips the classroom to give students the resources and tools to teach themselves at their own pace. For his next trick, Khan Academy is partnering with the College Board to develop test prep for the revamped SAT that will launch in 2016. But Khan’s set his sights even higher: what if we can teach 100% of the population to understand complex concepts like genetics, computer science and robotics? Let’s turn access to this knowledge into a fundamental human right.

As the creator of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim-Berners Lee has a lot to say about the future of the Internet. He believes that many good things have happened. To start, usage of the Web has grown from 5% of the world population in 2000 to 40% today. On that Web, people can find education, commerce, government, health information, and ways to connect with those they care about. But there are other things as well, from the recent revelations of surveillance, to the eroding neutrality, to corporate centralizations, and the emergence of filter bubbles. He believes that we need to think very hard about what sort of Internet we want, and then fight to make sure we get it. He wants to use the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the web to crowd-source a Magna Carta for the web. “Do me a favor,” he said, “fight for it for me.”

Amy Cuddy. Photo: Bret Hartman

Amy Cuddy. Photo: Bret Hartman

Since giving her blockbuster talk on body language at TEDGlobal 2012, social psychologist Amy Cuddy has heard from people around the world that her talk has helped them realize their full potential. She shares the stories from across the globe — of a girl in Bangladesh who learned to overcome the cultural norms of femininity and take more space; of a clinical psychologist in Johannesburg, South Africa who uses power posing in her therapy; of high school teacher in the U.S. who coached his volleyball team to power pose to win their match; of a homeless man in California who has harnessed his self-worth through his body language. Her latest research has revealed that imagining yourself in the power pose for two minutes is as effective as actually doing it. She leaves the stage with a reminder from Maya Angelou: “Stand up straight!”

Last year at TED2013, Allan Savory gave a striking and controversial talk on his idea for holistic landscape management as a way of reversing climate change. He returned to have a short conversation with TED Curator Chris Anderson, who asked what has happened since. Savory replied that the idea is taking off, so much that they’ve lost count of the acreage managed under his system. When asked about the criticisms, Savory replied that it’s “100% based on solid science, it has been working for 50 years, and all of that is from successful people spreading the word.” He went on to say that there have been specific criticisms — about the amount of methane produced, whether the land affected can actually absorb enough carbon, and whether people actually eat that much meat — but that, “Even if you assume these issues are wrong, we still have no option, we have to address climate change, we have to address desertification, and only livestock, properly managed, can do that.”

It’s high time we find a smarter way to fix global warming, says economist Bjorn Lomborg. We need to shift our focus away from subsidies towards innovation. Let’s take the lessons we’ve learned from other industries: the whaling industry innovated by creating kerosene, not controlling the consumption of whales. The transportation industry innovated by creating cars, not subsidizing horses. When India was struck with famine, the government did not subsidize food, but rather supported the Green Revolution to support long-term food production for India’s hungry. So, Lomborg says, let’s stop with the green subsidies and instead support green innovation.

Amanda Palmer gives the audience a choice between two songs: a new one that’s depressing, or a shorter one that’s light-hearted. It’s a tie, broken by Neil Gaiman, who (a bit surprisingly) suggested the light one. Palmer introduces the song by explaining, “There was an argument on the internet about whether Lady Gaga is a real artist, and it remains relevant, especially in the face of Miley Cyrus.” Watch “Gaga, Palmer, Madonna.” After, she talked about the effect her talk has had. “I’m now known more for giving my TED Talk than for being a musician, which is kind of weird.” She is also now writing a book about the talk, so look forward to that.

Are we entering a world where it’s harder to be an autocracy, but it’s also harder to be a democracy? Social media theorist Clay Shirky looks at two recent political movements that offer both hope and worry. From the 2013 protests in Istanbul, we can see the empowerment of citizens through social media: “There is no authoritarian government in the world that regards the spread of social media as anything other than a mortal threat,” he says. But from the 2010 Red Shirt Uprising in Bangkok, we see an example of the insurgency inherent in democracy, and the dangers of symmetric anti-power. The Red Shirts successfully staged an uprising in 2010, only to face counter-protests by the Yellow Shirted opposition the following year. Democracy and social media empower citizens to push back against business as usual, but does it also present a “nightmare scenario” where two groups can bring each other to a halt, with no government in charge? I’m not sure, jokes Shirky: With a five-minute talk, you can raise questions, but you can’t provide answers.

David Brooks, pundit for the New York Times, has been thinking about the difference between résumé virtues and eulogy virtues. Which do we think are more important, and which do we spend the most time thinking about? He is reminded of a notion from Soloveitchik about two parts of our nature, Adam 1 and Adam 2. Adam 1 is the worldly, ambitious side of our nature. Adam 2 is the humble side of our nature. The two are at war with each other. Brooks says: “We live in a society that favors Adam 1, and that turns you into a shrewd animal … and you’re not earning the kind of eulogy you want.” He goes on to say that Adam 1 is built by building on your strengths, while Adam 2 is built by fighting your weaknesses. “You find a sin, you wrestle with that sin, and a depth of character is constructed,” says Brooks — a skill that isn’t taught in our society. He closes with a wonderful quote from Reinhold Neibuhr.

Barry Schwartz’s talk really changed the way I thought about decisions and choice,” says Chris Anderson as he brings this next speaker to the stage. Schwartz lays out the concept of idea technology — ideas that fundamentally shape who we are, and the world we live in. False ideas are a dangerous thing, warns Schwartz: “false ideas about human beings will not go away if people believe they are true — people create ways of living consistent with these ideas.” For an example, Schwartz examines the current capitalistic model of work that evolved from Adam Smith’s vision of the factory system. It’s a model of work where you get nothing out of your day’s work except the pay. But this is just a false idea creating circumstance, says Schwartz, and the power to design our reality lies plainly in our hands. “What kind of human nature do you want to help design?”

(L-R) Chris Anderson and Bryan Stevenson. Photo: Bret Hartman

(L-R) Chris Anderson and Bryan Stevenson. Photo: Bret Hartman

Two years ago, Bryan Stevenson gave a stunning talk on one of the deepest problems in American culture — the mass incarceration of African Americans. He returns for a conversation with Chris Anderson to update the TED audience. Since then, the Supreme Court has declared that the death penalty for minors is unconstitutional. His group, EJI, has extended that work, and is now trying to end the practice of putting children into adult prisons, and having children as young as 9 or 10 or 11 tried as adults. He also says that while the fight is mostly at the state level, a conversation needs to be had at the national level. On the state level: California eliminated Three Strikes laws, the prison population saw a slight decrease for the first time in many years, and people are starting to have conversations about being smart about crime. He has also started a wider conversation about race in the United States, as a way of addressing the “legacy of racial injustice that we’ve never really dealt with, the myths that came about with slavery.”

Offering heartfelt lessons learned from a friend lost, Lawrence Lessig closes the session with his impassioned vision for a U.S. government free from the strangling tentacles of corruption. 96% of Americans believe it’s important to reduce the role of money in politics, but 91% feel that there’s nothing they can do to reform campaign finance. That’s why Lessig walked 185 miles across New Hampshire this past January — to give hope to citizens who want to see change. He was joined by 200 people, and his plan for next year is to be joined 1,000 people. In January 2016, just before the U.S. presidential primary, he envisions 10,000 people descending on Concord, New Hampshire. To equalize campaign finance, he’s launching MayOne, the SuperPAC to end all SuperPACs. He evokes the spirit of the late open-data activist Aaron Swartz. “May the ideals of one boy unite one nation behind one critical idea that we are one people, the people who were promised to be dependent upon the people alone,” says Lessig. “The people, who as Madison told us, are not the rich more than the poor … Join this movement because you are a citizen.”