(In 2012 I shared several meals with TED's owner/organizer, economist Chris Anderson — getting the inside scoop. Chris is the low-key guy who asks the brilliant questions at the end of many of these talks.)
What's the best website on the entire internet?
One answer is www.TED.com . (At least that was my original answer in 2007.)
TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design . Perhaps in 2007 you hadn't yet heard of TED. Now — in 2018 — you surely have.
TED is so good that I had to move one of my laptops permanently into the dining room. I watch TED videos while I eat: one or two fifteen minute TED videos per meal. (TV and newspapers are too ephemeral. A book can't be kept open while eating hummus dripping off a mushroom.)
There are frequently moments when the lecturer is so good, I have to stop eating. Would you eat during an exhortation from Gandhi to save India ?
In this list - just updated for 2018 - I'll start off with some of my old favorites and continue with some of the newer blockbusters cited elsewhere on my website. (The relatively new ones are listed at the bottom of this page. Don't miss Melinda Gates on birth control or the TED talks on nuclear war. They are more important than anything else on my entire website! (And certainly more important than anything that's not on PBS.)
Jimmy Wales, WIKIPEDIA founder
Jimmy is fantastic. If you haven't seen him before, watch this now (and learn how to be a better leader than you are). Why is Wikipedia important? Jimmy says it best: provide an encyclopedia (of ALL KNOWLEDGE) to every person on the planet - (in every language in every mud hut). Wikipedia is extremely interesting (and paradoxical): how is it possible to create a better encyclopedia than Britannica and spend no money and use a ragtag band of thousands of volunteers working in their bathrobes?
Jane Goodall, primatologist ... What Separates Us from the Apes?
Jane had just returned from Ecuador where she was visiting a primitive forest tribe that had just installed solar panels to run electric lights and a laptop for the chief. Her focus, of course, is on her famous work on chimpanzees in Tanzania. Chimps communicate, use tools, hunt cooperatively, draw upon their emotions, and have a sense of self. Chimps and other species are entitled to their lives. Her plaintiff cry is to allow their survival. A must see.
BTW, Jane Goodall is a board member of Nature and Culture International, the most important ecological NGO you've never heard of. (Harvard's E.O. Wilson is another board member.) NCI protects multi-million acre tracts of pristine rain forest in South America. It basically spends nothing for publicity and almost nothing for salaries in the United States. It is my main philanthropic target. (I assume humans may destroy themselves and all other large animals. I'm hoping some parts of the biosphere survive.)
John Doerr, celebrity venture capitalist: Kleiner Perkins, Salvation through Greentech
Doerr may not be a household name but he and Kleiner Perkins funded and nurtured several important companies: Google, Amazon, Compaq, Netscape, Symantec, and Sun Microsystems. At 1 billion in net worth John's got the ear of all the movers and shakers in Sacramento and in Washington, DC. In this highly moving piece he talks about Global Warming — the message basically is our goose is cooked. To have any chance of survival we need to start now to massively reduce CO2 emissions. John is a technologist, so his focus here is on GREENTECH and its adoption by corporate America. Even Wal-Mart's CEO Lee Scott is taking big steps to reduce his company's carbon footprint.
While we're talking about global warming ...
former Vice President Al Gore : has several important TED video, all worth watching. They deal with climate change, energy research policy, and greentech. See his photos of the North Polar Ice Cap (it is rapidly disappearing and could be gone in five years). Compare the temperatures on Venus (800 degrees F) to Earth (59 degrees F): the difference is largely due to CO2.
E. O. Wilson, Harvard Professor of Entomology, Build the Encyclopedia of life
Professor Wilson is one of the best know voices for conservation. This is an urgent plea to save our fellow living creatures. How unthinkable that we might permit the destruction of millions of Earth's species.
David Bolinsky Medical Illustrator, Fantastic Voyage Inside a Cell
David presents a stunning animation of what is happening in every one of your hundred trillion cells. Bolinsky got a phone call from Harvard asking his team of medical illustrators to bring cellular physiology to life. If biology bored you in school, watch this. (Bolinksy does not state it, but his animation is about how atherosclerosis occurs in our coronary arteries.)
Vilayanur Ramachandran Professor of neurobiology UCSD, Journey to the Center of Your Mind
My son and I first heard Ramachandran lecture at Stanford. A brilliant expositor of neurobiology he lectures on three very informative neurologic delusions including facial agnosias and synesthesias.
Steven Pinker, Professor of linguistics and cognitive science (Harvard), The History of Violence
Steve has several TED videos (all quite good). This one is a good place to start.. Violence is built into us. The notion of noble savages is wrong. Contrary to popular belief violence is decreasing (with large local deviations). World culture and laws have worked to civilize us. (Also see my photos of Steve when he was our guest star speaker on a CFI trip to the Amazon.)
Here are some of my other classic TED favorites:
Richard Dawkins on the God Delusion, Dean Kamen on prosthetic arms, Robert Full on animal movement, Murray Gell-Mann on the Laws of Physics, Craig Venter on Inventing Life, Bill Clinton on Building Rwanda, Chris Anderson (Technology's Long Tail). Basically, the list is endless.
Turn off your TV ... turn on TED.
OK, that's what I wrote around 2007. Now, I'll bring this up-to-date to 2018. Here I'm just going to link to several of the crucial new talks that I've cited elsewhere on this website.
Melinda Gates co-founder of the Gates Foundation, Let's put birth control back on the agenda
Melinda is engagingly clear on the crucial topic of birth control. Planet Earth has too many people (and we in the West consume far too much.) The poor women of Africa, Asia and elsewhere, once having had several children, desperately want birth control (particularly hormonal implants that their husbands can't veto.) Global family planning is being blocked by an unholy coalition of the short-sighted — the Catholic Church, Islamic ideology, and evangelicals and other right-wing fundamentalists in the United States.
Lord Martin Rees Astronomer Royal of Britain, Our Final Hour
Sir Martin lays out the 50:50 probability of human extinction this century. Global nuclear war has always topped the list. But there are a variety of other risks (long before you get to AIs going rogue.)
Brian Toon, atmospheric scientist, Nuclear War
He warns not only of the likelihood of nuclear war but the inevitable and equally destructive nuclear winter that would ensue.
Robert Green, nuclear submarine commander, The insanity of nuclear deterrence
He chronicles all the near-misses that occurred during his career (eg the Cuban Missle Crisis.) (In my opinion this could be the answer to the Fermi Paradox — civilizations like ours blow themselves up (full stop.)