Here Are 8 TED Talks That Will Make You Feel Smart This Weekend

January 17th 2015

Kathleen Toohill

Looking for ground-breaking, socially conscious TED talks? Here's a curated list of recent ones you may have missed:

1. How to overcome our biases? Walk boldly toward them. - Vernā Myers

In the wake of the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, Myers challenges our assumptions that we don’t have implicit racial biases. She instead asks us to reject color-blindness as an ideal, and issues a three-part call to action: 

1. Let go of denial when it comes to our biases (Think this doesn’t apply to you? Try taking this test.) 
2. Seek out disaffected people and get to know them rather then running away from them.
3. Speak up against the demonstrated biases of others.

Takeaway quotation: "Biases are the stories we make up about people before we know who they actually are."

2. The power of believing that you can improve. - Carol Dweck

Dweck cautions teachers and parents against rewarding intelligence and talent, and encourages them to praise the “process” instead. The importance of perseverance should be ingrained in children, Dweck says, rather than teaching children to need constant validation. By championing a “growth mindset” (even if I can’t solve this problem now, I’m learning by trying) over a “fixed mindset” (if I fail, I’m dumb) we can raise test scores for traditionally underperforming groups of students. 

Takeaway quotation: “Just the words ‘yet’ or ‘not yet,’ we're finding, give kids greater confidence, give them a path into the future that creates greater persistence.” 

3. Hidden cameras that film injustice in the world’s most dangerous places. - Oren Yakobovich

To expose injustice, Yakobovich provides hidden cameras to disenfranchised people in the developing world. He stresses the importance of the credibility and the verifiability of these images and says that the most important part of filming injustices is how the material is used. Brazilian journalist and activist Bruno Torturra gave a talk on a similar subject that was also featured on the TED homepage in December. 

Takeaway quotation: “Still today, with all the technology we have, less than half of the world's population has access to the Internet, and more than three billion people — I'm repeating the number — three billion people are consuming news that is censored by those in power.”

4. The small and surprisingly dangerous detail the police track about you. - Catherine Crump

Using small devices called Automatic License Plate Readers, which are mounted on police cars, local police departments take pictures of your car and track where you’re going, when, and with whom. Records are kept for every plate that passes police cars with these trackers. It has become increasingly cheap to store this data, Crump says, so police departments keep it "just in case,” and then the federal government compiles it into one giant database. Police have previously used this technology in New York City to keep track of who was attending mosques. 

Want to get involved? City councils can mandate that their local police departments discard data of ordinary citizens not suspected of wrongdoing.  

Takeaway quotation: "Just because you don't see it, doesn't mean it's not there."

5. The wonderful and terrifying implications of computers that can learn. - Jeremy Howard

Computers can see, read, and even write, Howard says, through machine learning. You’ve likely already seen this in action -- companies like Netflix and Facebook use machine learning to generate individual-specific recommendations. Howard wants to incorporate more data analysis into medicine, which could help with the deficiency of physicians in the developing world. But as machines continue to learn, they could put much of humanity out of work, and we're still not sure what the new jobs for humans will be. 

Takeaway quotation: "Computers right now can do the things that humans spend most of their time being paid to do, so now's the time to start thinking about how we're going to adjust our social structures and economic structures to be aware of this new reality.” 

6. How we used Christmas lights to fight a war. - Jose Miguel Sokoloff

Sokoloff is a Colombian ad executive who uses advertising to encourage the demobilization of the FARC guerrillas in Colombia. This group is responsible for 5 million displaced people and 220,000 deaths in the last 50 years. Sokoloff and his team have used Christmas lights, messages from mothers, and recorded stories of former guerrillas to encourage demobilization. In eight years, 17,000 guerillas have demobilized. 

Takeaway quotation: “We needed to step away from talking from government to army, from army to army, and we needed to talk about the universal values, and we needed to talk about humanity.”

7. Pimp my...trash cart? - Mundano

​Brazilian social activist and graffiti artist Mundano wants to raise the visibility and self-esteem of the unsung heroes of urban centers: catadores, workers who collect and sell recyclables. There are 20 million catadores worldwide, Mundano says, and his crowdfunded movement "Pimp My Carroça," involves painting the trash carts of these workers, often with social messages, and providing safety features such as horns, mirrors, and reflective tape. 

Takeaway quotation: “Try to see the world as one, without boundaries or frontiers.”

8. To the South Pole and back — the hardest 105 days of my life. - Ben Saunders

Ben Saunders is a self-proclaimed “expert in dragging heavy stuff around cold places." But not just any stuff, and not just any cold places: Saunders and partner Tarka L'Herpiniere dragged packs that weighed over 440 pounds, when they started off, through Antarctica on an 1,800 mile round trip that “broke the record for the longest human-powered, polar journey by more than 400 miles.” Everyone who had previously attempted the trek had died or failed to complete it. 

Takeaway quotation: “…happiness is not a finish line, that for us humans, the perfection that so many of us seem to dream of might not ever be truly attainable, and that if we can't feel content here, today, now, on our journeys amidst the mess and the striving that we all inhabit, the open loops, the half-finished to-do lists, the could-do-better-next-times, then we might never feel it.”