In Brief

Stacey Abrams’ State of the Union response and more updates from TED speakers

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The TED community is brimming with new projects and updates. Below, a few highlights.

Stacey Abrams responds to the US State of the Union. Politician Stacey Abrams spoke from Atlanta on behalf of the Democratic party following the State of the Union address. In her speech, she focused on the fight against bigotry, bipartisanship in a turbulent America and voter rights. The right to vote is especially important to Abrams — last November, she lost the Georgia gubernatorial election by 55,000 votes, a loss that some pundits have attributed to voter suppression. “The foundation of our moral leadership around the globe is free and fair elections, where voters pick their leaders, not where politicians pick their voters,” she said. “In this time of division and crisis, we must come together and stand for, and with, one another.” Watch the full speech on The New York Times website or read the transcript at USA Today. (Watch Abrams’ TED Talk.)

Remembering Emily Levine. The extraordinary humorist and philosopher Emily Levine has passed away following a battle with lung cancer. Reflecting on life and death, Levine said, “’I am just a collection of particles that is arranged into this pattern, then will decompose and be available, all of its constituent parts, to nature, to reorganize into another pattern. To me, that is so exciting, and it makes me even more grateful to be part of that process.” Read our full tribute to Levine on our blog. (Watch Levin’s TED Talk.)

Could you cut the tech giants from your life? In a new multimedia series from Gizmodo, journalist Kashmir Hill details her six-week experiment quitting Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Google — and shares surprising insights on how entwined these companies are in daily life. With help from technologist Dhruv Mehrotra, Hill blocked access to one company for a week at a time using a custom VPN (virtual private network), culminating with a final week of excluding all five tech companies. In just her first week of cutting out Amazon, Hill’s VPN logged over 300,000 blocked pings to Amazon servers! Check out the whole series on Gizmodo. (Watch Hill’s TED Talk.)

Exploring the historical roots of today’s biggest headlines. Alongside artist Masud Olufani, journalist Celeste Headlee will launch a new series at PBS called Retro Report that will explore current news stories, “revealing their unknown — and often surprising — connections to the past.” Each one-hour episode will trace the history of four news stories, including Colin Kaepernick’s NFL protests, modern-day drug approval laws and the US government’s wild horse care program. Retro Report will launch on PBS this fall. (Watch Headlee’s TED Talk.)

Customizable vegetables now for sale. Grubstreet has a new profile on Row 7, the seed company co-founded by chef Dan Barber that wants to change the way farmers, chefs and breeders collaborate and connect. Alongside breeder Michael Mazourek and seeds dealer Matthew Goldfarb, Barber hopes to design seeds that have the flavors chefs want, along with the qualities (like high yield and disease resistance) that farmers are looking for.  “We’re trying to deepen the context for the seeds, and this conversation between breeders and the chefs,” Barber said. By prioritizing taste and nutrition, Row 7 plans to engineer ever-evolving seed collections that meet the needs of both farmers and chefs. Row 7’s first seed collection is now available for purchase. (Watch Barber’s TED Talk.)

A promising new report on tobacco divestment. The Tobacco-Free Finance Pledge, led by oncologist Bronwyn King, has a new signatory: Genus Capital Investment, a leading Canadian fossil-free investment firm. Genus released a new report — based on a six-year study — about the financial impacts of divesting from tobacco stocks and removing tobacco from its portfolios. They found that over the past 20 years, tobacco divestment did not negatively affect index portfolios, and that in the past five years, portfolios that excluded tobacco actually outperformed the market. In a statement, King said, “This new research adds to a growing body of evidence demonstrating that investors do not need to invest in tobacco to achieve excellent returns.” Spearheaded by Tobacco Free Portfolios and the United Nations Environment Programme, the Tobacco-Free Finance Pledge was launched last year and has over 140 signatories and supporters. (Watch King’s TED Talk.)

An HBO feature on superhuman tech. On Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, bionics designer Hugh Herr presented his team’s latest prosthetics and explained why he thinks bionics will soon revolutionize sports. Herr spoke to Soledad O’Brien about a future of enhanced athletic ability, saying “There’s going to be new sports … power basketball, power swimming, power climbing. It’ll be a reinvention of sports and it’ll be so much fun.” In a teaser clip, O’Brien tried on a pair of lower-leg exoskeletons developed at Herr’s MIT lab; the full episode can be viewed on HBO. (Watch Herr’s TED Talk.)


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