Edward Snowden: Here’s how we take back the Internet

Speakers: Ed Snowden – a CIA & NSA computer specialist who came to notoriety when he released internal documents to the public, which showed evidence of spying on USA citizens and foreigners. Currently in exile in Russia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Snowden

Interviewed by Chris Anderson – curator and current owner of TED talks with a background in journalism.


Ed Snowden, currently exiled to Russia for releasing many documents showing evidence of NSA spying on citizens and foreign governments, appears by webcam robot to discuss his decisions to release the documents. An interview style of ‘talk’, rather than the more conventional lecture. Recommended for it’s thought-provoking style and discussion of the ideas of privacy vs security.

Ed as a sysadmin in Hawaii was uncomfortable with the sort of data he discovered, which was being taken in secret without oversight. He released this data to the journalists to encourage the freedom of the press to analyse and release it responsibly. The NSA says most of the things held are ‘metadata’, however PRISM program includes true content as well. When corporate America resisted handing over the content, they were taken to a secret court without oversight or coverage. Most of the main tech giants have given data to PRISM via warrants, but Ed also accuses the NSA of ‘hacking’ into Google’s internal servers to intercept data. For this reason, Ed wants the tech giants to enable encrypted browsing to prevent intelligence services from intercepting your browsing habits.

He talks about an NSA program called ‘Boundless Intelligence’, which intercepts more data from within USA than Russians intercept within Russia – a claim the US should not like to make. The chairman of the senate intelligence committee has minimal oversight of these interceptions, having not even seen audit reports before the Washington Post wanted comment on them.

Chris asked Ed why people should be scared if they have nothing to hide. Ed said this came to the rights of the individual – you shouldn’t give them up just because you might not need them. He said it is too much of an invasion of privacy to give access to all human interaction to all governments.

They then discussed Dick Cheney and some other government comments about this being the worse betrayal in US history, about the dire consequences. Ed countered that they are conflating public interest and national interest – that going to war in places that are no threat to the US does not serve the public interest. He also said that after a year we have seen no dire impacts from his releases.

Bullrush is a program where NSA influences companies to adopt standards which allow them (and other governments) backdoors to access the data. The goal is to weaken security of these companies. This will also weaken USA’s defence against foreign agents. NSA says the goal of these programs is to counter terrorism, but the government has said it has no value. Terrorism is an emotive word, and September 11 attacks were used as a secret justification to begin programs like Bullrush which were previously discussed and believed to be of minimal value.

The talk ends with introducing Tim Berners-Lee to the stage – the inventor of the internet. They discuss a magna carta for the internet- to encode the values of the digital generation into the internet. The ask whether the internet has increased the power of ‘Big Brother’ and their ease of surveillance, or of the public for fighting unlawful invasion of privacy.

When asked whether he would return to the US, he said he’d like to, but not if it would involve betraying his journalistic sources or watering down his message. The last year has been a reminder that democracy may die behind closed doors, but individuals are also born behind those doors. We don’t have to give up our privacy to have good government. We don’t need to give up our liberty to have security.

Ed Yong: Suicidal wasps, zombie roaches and other parasite tales

Speaker: Ed Yong– Ed Yong is a science writer. Full Bio at http://www.ted.com/speakers/ed_yong


Ed talks through tales of Parasites taking control of other creatures, showing sometimes when humans interpret an animal’s actions they may not always be in complete control of them. Ed is fascinated by parasites, because they eschew simple stories – the reasons behind something involving a parasite are not always obvious.

  • Artemia and Tapeworm – when Artemia (tiny Bring shrimp) are infected by tapeworm, they change in many ways. When hijacked they are castrated, live longer, become bright red, and swim in packs. This makes them more visible, and more tempting targets for flamingos. Artemia are simply a vehicle to get a tapeworm inside a flamingo, and by swimming in packs they are not being sociable or safety in numbers, they are exposing themselves more for the benefit of their parasite.
  • Suicidal Cricket infected by horsehair worm. The worm grows to adulthood inside a cricket, but needs to get to water to mate. It addles the cricket’s brain to drive it to behave erratically and eventually drown in water.
  • A caterpillar is attacked by a parasitic wasp, and continues guarding the larvae of the wasps inside its cocoon.
  • A cockroach infected by a wasp has venom injected directly to the brain. This overrides the cockroach’s wanting to escape, and it instead follows the wasp to the lair where it gets injected with embryos. Eventually the embryos kill their host and burst from it.
  • Toxoplasma Gondii (Toxo) can infect many mammals, but can only reproduce in a cat. If it gets into a rodent, the rat will run towards a cat (against normal rat instincts), get eaten, and allow toxo to reproduce.

Humans also attempt manipulation of others, but their attempts are crude compared to the perfect chemicals of the insects. However, the widespread use of parasites in nature makes you wonder if we are ourselves being manipulated. Toxo for example infects 1 in 3 humans, and while they show no overt symptoms these people can score slightly different results in personality tests. Toxo infected humans also show  increased rates of schizophrenia.

While humans are different, there’s no reason to think that we are the only animal NOT to be influenced by parasites.

Chris Hadfield: What I learned from going blind in space


Chris Hadfield  is a retired Canadian astronaut who was the first Canadian to walk in space. An Engineer and former Royal Canadian Air Force fighter pilot, Hadfield has flown two space shuttle missions and served as commander of the International Space Station.


Colonel Chris Hadfield starts his talk with a question for the audience. What is the scariest, most dangerous thing you’ve ever done and why did you do it?

For Chris, it was going into space. The odds of crashing during the first shuttle launches were 1/9. When you wake up on launch day, you know that at the end of the day you’ll either be floating or you’ll be dead. After takeoff there’s 8min and 40sec of intense, intense pressure, equivalent to someone pouring cement on you. And then you’re weightless. For Chris it was worth the risk. At age 9, watching other people walk on the moon, he made the decision to become an astronaut.

While in space, Chris went out on his first spacewalk, watching the earth “roar silently with colors and textures”. Suddenly his left eye slammed shut, but he ignored it and kept working. But because tears don’t fall in space, the ball of residue and tears slowly moved across the bridge of his nose and into his right eye. His right eye slammed shut. He was completely blind, standing outside, floating through space.

Once again, Chris humorously asks, what is the scariest thing you’ve ever done?

A lot of people are afraid of spiders, he says. Take the brown recluse, for example. Definitely scary, but is it dangerous? In Canada, only 1 of the 729 species of spiders are venomous. And that species has bright colored markings and builds its webs on the ground for your convenience. So when we flail around after walking into a spider web, what is the justification? The spider is likely no more of a threat to you than a ladybug. The danger is entirely different than the fear. So next time you see a spiderweb, walk through it. Walk through 100 more spiderwebs and Chris guarantees you’ll fundamentally change your behavioral pattern.

Now apply that logic to everything else you’re afraid of. In training for spacewalks, Chris went through every possible scenario that could happen, effectively eliminating the instinctive response to panic. Instead Chris just went through the possibilities and was easily able to communicate to his partner to pull him back.  By understanding the difference between perceived danger and actual danger, you can go to places and see things that otherwise would be denied to you. In preparing to accomplish his goal of space travel, Chris learned how to reprogram his primal fears..

Chris ends his talk by playing and singing a part from the David Bowie song “Space Oddity”.

Pattie Maes (and Pranav Mistry): Unveiling game-changing wearable tech


Pattie Maes is a professor in MIT’s Program in Media Arts and Sciences. She founded and directed the MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces group. Previously, she founded and ran the Software Agents group. She currently acts as the associate Department Head for the Media, Arts and Sciences Department. Prior to joining the Media Lab, Maes was a visiting professor and a research scientist at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab. She holds bachelor’s and PhD degrees in computer science from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium.


Pattie talked about the limitations of current computer technology – that it is impractical to Google a person or product every time you see it. Wearable technology can do this for you. She showed off an array of items that cost less than $350, including a camera, wearable projector, mirror, phone, and colourful caps on fingers. Using this, you can walk up to any wall and begin using a computer – with the camera tracking any gestures they make by recognising their fingernails. Even without a wall, you can project onto your hand – eg as a simple dialling pad for a phone.

Pattie shows some examples of

  • shopping for paper towels, with reviews and product information projected to each one.
  • Buying a book, you can see a total star review on the front cover. When turning the page you can see user comments, when turning again you can see annotations from professionals.
  • When talking to someone, a ‘tag cloud’ can be projected onto their Tshirt. This can show traits that person is known for, or information from blogs associated with them.
  • by looking at your boarding pass you can see if the flight is delayed or gate changed
  • draw on your wrist to project the time

Pranav Mistry: The thrilling potential of SixthSense technology


Pranav Mistry is a PhD student in the Fluid Interfaces Group at MIT’s Media Lab. Before his studies at MIT, he worked with Microsoft as a UX researcher; he’s a graduate of IIT. Mistry is passionate about integrating the digital informational experience with our real-world interactions.


Gestures are everything, and come naturally to us. Pranav asks why we can’t interact with computers in the same we we interact. He experimented with different input systems for computers

  • a hacked mouse was turned into a glove – allowing the computer read hand movements
  • sticky notes that could be written and read by the computer, then either sent on as sms or treated as an input to the computer.
  • A pen that can draw in 3 dimensions
  • A computer map built into a table

People are interested in information, not necessarily the computers or pixels that show them. His next step was to try to eliminate the computer. SixthSense is a helmet mounted computer projected to a wall, that tracks your fingers using a camera. You can make gestures at any wall to use the computer. One gesture immediately takes a photo, another allows sending it as an email. Some extra features, acting as an interface between physical and digital world are

  • can recognise an object such as a book, and project a review onto it (3star etc)
  • can project videos or images onto newspapers
  • looking at a boarding pass and seeing if the flight is delayed
  • playing pong on the ground with your feet
  • can project onto a piece of paper and use it as a touch screen (play racing games, draw with finger, browse web)
  • ‘copy and paste’ from physical world onto the paper screen

SixthSense has the potential to keep us more connected to the physical world, and keep us human rather than a machine in front of another machine.

At the end of the video, he announced the software will be made open source for others to experiment with. The hardware is relatively cheap at ~$300.

May El-Khalil: Making peace is a marathon


May El-Khaliil is the founder of the Beirut Marathon, the largest running event in the Middle East. She was inspired to start organizing marathons after her own marathon training was cut short by a near fatal accident.


 For the past 10 year, Lebanon has been raging with war, violence, and political turmoil. But once a year, everyone ignores their differences and runs alongside each other in a marathon. May El-Khalil used to run in marathons herself, but a tragic accident nearly killed her and she spent two years recovering in the hospital. During those two years she began to dream up a marathon that would be held in Lebanon. She used the marathon as a way to focus on something other than the pain and it gave her an objective to strive for. 

She started travelling across the country sharing her story and convincing people to participate in this marathon. Her passion, honesty and transparency, brought people together. Even though Lebanon was a nation at war and some of these people had never heard of marathons before, the country rallied behind her. In 2003, 6000 runners took their place at the start line and ran for a better future.

When the Prime Minister was assassinated in 2005, a 5k run was held and 60,000 people showed up, setting aside politics and ran wearing plain white t-shirts.  Without fail, the marathons have been taking place every year. Last year there were 33,000 participants, both Lebanese and international, that ran through the rain under the umbrella of peace.

Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action

Speaker: Simon Sinek – Simon is author of “Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action” http://www.ted.com/speakers/simon_sinek

Length: 18:34


What gives the great leaders their edge? Why were Martin Luther King, Wright Brothers, & Steve Jobs successful when others have access to similar resources and conditions? The thing these leaders have in common is summarised in the ‘Golden Circle’.

  1. What – every organisation should know this
  2. How – some know this – their differentiating values, or intellectual property
  3. Why – only the best know this – why their organisation exists beyond a profit

The best organisations can explain and sell the ‘why’ first, and use this to inspire others. People don’t buy what you do, but why you do it. Using Apple as an example, their sales statements starts with their “why” – they design differently to push the boundary. Once you accept their why, you trust them to build anything for you – a computer, an MP3 player, phone. Other quality electronics companies known for 1 product (eg Dell computers) struggle to sell anything else, because they are only known for what they make not why.

The most central parts of the brain control behaviour – this is what people speak to when they answer ‘why’. Answering ‘what’ deals with fact, figures, but still might not feel right on gut feeling.

Simon gives the example of the Wright brothers against Samuel Pierpont Langley. Samuel had all the usually be the recipes to success on his side – money, market conditions, and a well educated and connected team. But while Samuel was driven by wealth and power, the Wright brother’s team were motivated by the idea of changing the course of history with powered flight. The Wright brothers achieved flight first, and Samuel immediately quit once the goal of being first was out of reach.

Different people are comfortable to adopt new technology at different times. The early adopters take up the first 15-18%, with the mainstream being the next 68%. The mainstream need the early adopters to try it first, on gut instinct. This makes hitting 20% market share vital – hitting the tipping point where the mainstream will start to take up quickly. Early adopters are sold everything on the ‘why’ – they will adopt a poor quality product if they like the idea behind it.

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Jill Bolte Taylor’s stroke of insight

Speaker: Jill Bolte Taylor – a neuroanatomist interested in how the human brain relates to schizophrenia and severe mental illness. She is also an author, having published books on her stroke “My Stroke of Insight” and ranked by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Full Bio at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jill_Bolte_Taylor

Length: 20:11


Note this talk is an animated story of Jill’s experiences during a stroke – where one hemisphere of her brain was ‘switched off’. This summary cannot do the full talk justice – if it interests you, watch the full video.

Jill Bolte Taylor starts by trying to work out what makes her brain different from her brother’s – who is schizophrenic. She elaborates by bringing a real human brain to the stage – showing it is divided into 2 distinct halves, with minimal connection between the two. Each half functions differently:

  • Right Hemisphere is a parallel processor. It focusses on the current moment, using pictures and learns through kinaesthetic movement. It is well connected to senses to build an understanding of what is happening at the moment. It connects us with the world around it.
  • Left Hemisphere acts as a serial processor. It thinks linearly and methodically, looking at the past and future. It picks through the details of the current time – arranging and sorting these, and connecting them to the events of the past and future. It thinks in language and words. It looks as us as an individual, isolating us from the world.

Jill had a stroke which disabled the left side of her brain – waking up to a throbbing pain behind her eyes similar to ice cream headache. She used an exercise machine while on a stroke, and focussed on how strange her body looked – as if she was out of her body. She noticed that every movement was slower, laboriously focussing to execute every movement. She couldn’t work out where her body ended and the rest of the world began, thinking about the energy of the world around her. Soon her left hemisphere recovered and started to realise that she was in danger, before dropping out again. During the stroke, she was disconnected from her normal brain chatter – the stress and emotional baggage.

When she realised she was having a stroke, she decided to study her brain from the inside. She tried to read her business card, but her vision as broken to ‘pixels’ – and she couldn’t differentiate it from the background. She was having difficulty picking out objects in vision – couldn’t read the numbers, couldn’t keep track of the numbers she had dialled. When she eventually got the phone working, she couldn’t understand the other end, nor speak clearly herself. Eventually an ambulance was called, and she blacked out.

When she woke, she was alive and the stroke was over. She thought back on the stroke as a moment of Nirvana – where she felt connected to the world, and that her spirit was larger than her body. She started to wish everyone could have that moment where their left brain switched off.

Russell Foster: Why do we sleep?

Speaker: Russell Foster

Length: 21:46


Sleep is the single most important behavioral experience we have. But the perception and role of sleep in our society has shifted from importance to a waste of precious time. Shakespeare referred to sleep as “nature’s soft nurse”, but Edison thought it was a “heritage from our cave days.” People often feel similarly to the latter, but it’s usually because they don’t understand the purpose of sleep.

The reality is that our brain doesn’t shut down during sleep. The most popular theory for why we sleep is that sleep controls our brain function. Sleep deprivation is shown to cause poor memory, increased impulsiveness, and poor creativity. But that’s not even the worst part. Sleep is strongly connected to serious health problems like cardiovascular disease and mental illnesses. Sleep deprivation can cause a 50% higher rate of obesity, brought about by excess release of the hormone, ghrelin, which triggers your hunger.  Sustained stress, another result of sleep deprivation, suppresses your immune system.

Foster spends the second half of his talk on the genetic ties between sleep disruption and schizophrenia. A discovery was made that stabilizing sleep also helped reduce symptoms of paranoia. From all the different examples and study’s he cites you can draw 3 conclusions.

  1. Sleep and mental illness are tied together
  2. Sleep disruption can be used as an early warning signal for illnesses
  3. Sleep centers are a new therapeutic target for solving other problems

The question you might be wondering now is, how do I know if I’m getting enough sleep?

If you need an alarm clock to wake up, are grumpy and irritable, or need a cup of coffee to do anything: you are probably sleep deprived. The key is to listen to your body. You might need 6 hours of sleep or you might need 10 hours. There is actually no correlation between waking up early and having better health (or more wealth). To get a good nights sleep, make sure that you’re room is as dark as possible and slightly cool. Reducing light exposure/electronics use during the 30 minutes prior will also help.

tl:dr Take sleep seriously.