TED Talks of 2013

Grit: The power of passion and perseverance

What struck me was that IQ was not the only difference between my best and my worst students. Some of my strongest performers did not have stratospheric IQ scores. Some of my smartest kids weren’t doing so well. And that got me thinking. The kinds of things you need to learn in seventh grade math, sure, they’re hard: ratios, decimals, the area of a parallelogram. But these concepts are not impossible, and I was firmly convinced that every one of my students could learn the material if they worked hard and long enough.


How to escape education’s death valley

Have you come across this idea? It’s not true. I’ve traveled the whole length and breadth of this country. I have found no evidence that Americans don’t get irony. It’s one of those cultural myths, like, “The British are reserved.” - I don’t know why people think this. We’ve invaded every country we’ve encountered.

The second principle that drives human life flourishing is curiosity. If you can light the spark of curiosity in a child, they will learn without any further assistance, very often. Children are natural learners. It’s a real achievement to put that particular ability out, or to stifle it. Curiosity is the engine of achievement. Now the reason I say this is because one of the effects of the current culture here, if I can say so, has been to de-professionalize teachers. There is no system in the world or any school in the country that is better than its teachers. Teachers are the lifeblood of the success of schools. But teaching is a creative profession. Teaching, properly conceived, is not a delivery system. You know, you’re not there just to pass on received information. Great teachers do that, but what great teachers also do is mentor, stimulate, provoke, engage. You see, in the end, education is about learning. If there’s no learning going on, there’s no education going on. And people can spend an awful lot of time discussing education without ever discussing learning. The whole point of education is to get people to learn.


Reach into the computer and grab a pixel

First, I created this tool which penetrates into the digital space, so when you press it hard on the screen, it transfers its physical body into pixels. Designers can materialize their ideas directly in 3D, and surgeons can practice on virtual organs underneath the screen. So with this tool, this boundary has been broken. But our two hands still remain outside the screen. How can you reach inside and interact with the digital information using the full dexterity of our hands? At Microsoft Applied Sciences, along with my mentor Cati Boulanger, I redesigned the computer and turned a little space above the keyboard into a digital workspace. By combining a transparent display and depth cameras for sensing your fingers and face, now you can lift up your hands from the keyboard and reach inside this 3D space and grab pixels with your bare hands.


Science can answer moral questions

I’m going to speak today about the relationship between science and human values. Now, it’s generally understood that questions of morality – questions of good and evil and right and wrong – are questions about which science officially has no opinion. It’s thought that science can help us get what we value, but it can never tell us what we ought to value. And, consequently, most people – I think most people probably here – think that science will never answer the most important questions in human life: questions like, “What is worth living for?” “What is worth dying for?” “What constitutes a good life?”


The best stats you have ever seen

Let’s see. We start the world, eh? This is all UN statistics that have been available. Here we go. Can you see there? It’s China there, moving against better health there, improving there. All the green Latin American countries are moving towards smaller families. Your yellow ones here are the Arabic countries, and they get longer life, but not larger families. The Africans are the green here. They still remain here. This is India; Indonesia is moving on pretty fast.

So let’s move over to another way here in which we could display the distribution in the world of income. This is the world distribution of income of people. One dollar, 10 dollars or 100 dollars per day. There’s no gap between rich and poor any longer. This is a myth. There’s a little hump here. But there are people all the way. And if we look where the income ends up, this is 100 percent of the world’s annual income. And the richest 20 percent, they take out of that about 74 percent. And the poorest 20 percent, they take about two percent. And this shows that the concept of developing countries is extremely doubtful. We think about aid, like these people here giving aid to these people here. But in the middle, we have most of the world population, and they have now 24 percent of the income.


What will a future without secrets look like?

Back in the year 2000, about 100 billion photos were shot worldwide, but only a minuscule proportion of them were actually uploaded online. In 2010, only on Facebook, in a single month, 2.5 billion photos were uploaded, most of them identified. In the same span of time, computers’ ability to recognize people in photos improved by three orders of magnitude. What happens when you combine these technologies together: increasing availability of facial data; improving facial recognizing ability by computers; but also cloud computing, which gives anyone in this theater the kind of computational power which a few years ago was only the domain of three-letter agencies; and ubiquitous computing, which allows my phone, which is not a supercomputer, to connect to the Internet and do there hundreds of thousands of face metrics in a few seconds? Well, we conjecture that the result of this combination of technologies will be a radical change in our very notions of privacy and anonymity.

We may like to believe that the future with so much wealth of data would be a future with no more biases, but in fact, having so much information doesn’t mean that we will make decisions which are more objective. In another experiment, we presented to our subjects information about a potential job candidate. We included in this information some references to some funny, absolutely legal, but perhaps slightly embarrassing information that the subject had posted online. Now interestingly, among our subjects, some had posted comparable information, and some had not. Which group do you think was more likely to judge harshly our subject? Paradoxically, it was the group who had posted similar information, an example of moral dissonance.

Now you may be thinking, this does not apply to me, because I have nothing to hide. But in fact, privacy is not about having something negative to hide. Imagine that you are the H.R. director of a certain organization, and you receive résumés, and you decide to find more information about the candidates. Therefore, you Google their names and in a certain universe, you find this information. Or in a parallel universe, you find this information.