Technology

4 Must-See Tech-Related TED Talks That Excite and Scare Us About the Future

With every passing year, the world witnesses a fresh batch of brilliant tech innovations, each often better and more mind-boggling than the last. 

From virtual reality experiences that combat prejudices, to social robots that act like our friends, to cars that drive themselves and beyond, the Year of the Sheep gave rise to some of the coolest technological advances yet. Many of them deservingly captured the spotlight on TED Talk stages across the globe.

To give you a glimpse of the cool and creepy gadgets, machinery and systems that will very likely shape our immediate future, here are four must-see technology-related TED Talks. All of them edified our minds and sparked our imaginations this year. We hope they do the same for you.

1. Chris Milk: How Virtual Reality Can Create the Ultimate Empathy Machine

In his inspiring 10-minute talk, filmmaker Chris Milk shows and tells how virtual reality (VR) can offer a dynamic, multisensory window into other people’s lives -- what they love, what they fear and what they hope for. He says the stories we watch unfold with the mind-bending interactive technology strapped to our faces build compassion for our fellow humans -- something we could use a lot more of these days.

In addition to sharing clips from his recent VR collaborations with Arcade Fire and Kanye West, Milk tells the timely story of how he filmed Sidra, a 12-year-old girl living in a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. Experiencing Sidra’s stormy world in a 360-degree virtual view, he posits, enables the viewer to see the world as she sees it.

“And because of that,” Milk says, “you feel her humanity in a deeper way. You empathize with her in a deeper way.”

Related: Will You Be Ready for the Virtual Reality Future?

2. Nick Bostrom: What Happens When Our Computers Get Smarter Than We Are?

Here, Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom picks apart the frightening inevitability of artificial intelligence becoming as smart as humans -- and eventually overtaking us. In his 16-minute stunner, he asks some of humanity’s biggest and toughest questions: Are people threats that stand in the way of superintelligent A.I. machines? How can we ensure that machines don’t turn on us and ultimately obliterate humanity?

Echoing recent and repeated warnings from tech visionaries such as Elon Musk, Steve Wozniak and Bill Gates, Bostrom argues that, starting now, we must learn to carefully control A.I. so that it doesn’t control us.

“The point here is that we should not be confident in our ability to keep a superintelligent genie locked up in its bottle forever,” Bostrom says. “Sooner or later, it will [get] out.”

Yeah, this one isn’t for the faint of heart.

Related: Elon Musk: Artificial Intelligence Is Humanity's 'Biggest Existential Threat'

3. Dr. Joseph DeSimone: What If 3-D Printing Was 100X Faster?

If you liked the action-thriller classic Terminator 2 -- and you’re into 3-D printing -- you’ll get a kick out of Dr. Joseph DeSimone's turn on the TED Talk stage. In his upbeat 10-minute speech, well, more like a product pitch, the co-founder and CEO of Carbon3D shows off a breakthrough his company recently made in “additive manufacturing.”

Spoiler alert: It’s a mesmerizing, T-1000-inspired printer that DeSimone claims prints objects 25 to 100 times faster than traditional 3-D printers. Watching his futuristic contraption form a smooth, bright red geometric ball from pools of liquid resin within minutes is a trip you might want to watch more than once. We did. Check it out up close at the 4:35, 5:38, 7:13 marks.

Related: This Startup's Mission: A 3-D Printer in Every Home

4. Chris Urmson: How a Driverless Car Sees the Road

Chris Urmson has a vested interest in the mass acceptance of autonomous vehicles, specifically those made by Google. That’s because he’s the director of the tech giant’s self-driving cars unit. In his 15-minute talk, he passionately positions driverless cars as a markedly safer alternative to traditional human-steered vehicles. After all, even if they’ve been ensnarled in a baker’s dozen or so crashes, self-driving whips aren’t distractible, not like we flawed, smartphone-addicted humans. They might not be as perceptive as us either, though.

Be prepared to get “fire-hosed” with a lot of information, including, of course, the many ways Google has tweaked and fine-tuned its self-driving fleet over the years. By 2025, some 20 million autonomous vehicles are projected to be on the road, so you should probably start getting used to the idea of letting go of the steering wheel.

Related: Driverless Cars Won't Make Roadways Perfectly Safe
Edition: December 2016

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