As a child, what did you imagine the future would look like? Cities with flying cars? Teleportation? People living on Mars? Technology is getting us closer to all of these realities and some that we never even dreamed about. In the next decade, our lives might look a lot like the science-fiction books we read as kids.
We’ve rounded up a collection of TED Talks from inventors, chemists, engineers, and scientists who have pushed against the limits of technology to create breakthroughs that have practical applications for our daily lives.
Watch these talks to get a glimpse into our near term future in which a trip around the world could take only 30 minutes and machines strapped to our bodies could make us stronger, faster, more efficient versions of ourselves.
[ What's next in AI? Read also: 10 TED Talks on AI and machine learning. ]
Speaker: Shohini Ghose
“If you are confused by quantum, don’t worry – you’re getting it,” jokes quantum physicist Shohini Ghose in her TED Talk. She uses a simple coin game analogy to describe how the capabilities of a quantum computer far exceed the computers we all know and use today. She also explains why she is excited about the future of quantum and three practical future applications of the breakthrough technology – from unbreakable encryption, to drug development, to teleportation of information. Watch this talk is you want a quick primer on a difficult topic.
Speakers: Gwynne Shotwell and Chris Anderson
How does a rocket ship work? What are SpaceX’s thoughts on reducing “space junk” in orbit? When will humans get a chance to ride on a space ship – either to Mars or the other side of the world? What’s it really like to work for Elon Musk? Head of TED Chris Anderson sits down with president and COO of SpaceX to ask these and more questions. She describes her long-term vision to explore not just Mars – a “fixer upper” planet, as she calls it – but other galaxies far, far away.
Speaker: Wanis Kabbaj
Self-described transportation geek Wanis Kabbaj believes the future of our daily commute could learn a lot from the transportation of blood through our veins. “Our city’s vascular system is getting clogged, it’s getting sick. Our current way of thinking is not working,” he warns. Kabbaj peeks ahead and what traffic might look like with 100 percent driverless vehicles. It could flow as efficiently through the streets as blood through our veins. “By a strange paradox, the more robotized our traffic grid will be, the more organic and alive its movement will feel,” he says.
Speaker: Hugh Herr
The incredible world of bionics can bridge the gap between disability and ability, says bionics designer High Herr. In his talk, Herr shows off the three extreme interfaces in his own bionic legs: mechanical, or how they are attached to his body; dynamic, how they move like flesh and bone; and electric, how they communicate with his nervous system. Throughout, he also talks about how the future of machines attached to our bodies can make us stronger, faster, more efficient versions of ourselves.
Speaker: Joseph DeSimone
Chemist and inventor Joseph DeSimone opens his talk by showing off what appears to be a simple red ball. He then describes why its complex design is only possible with a 3D printer. But the 3D printing technology we have today is limited – it’s extremely slow (“There are mushrooms that grow faster than 3D printed parts,” DeSimone quips), it produces objects that are mechanically weak, and there aren’t many material choices. DeSimone talks about how his team was inspired a scene in Terminator 2, where an object takes shape and arises from a puddle of material. Incredibly, he makes another red ball in a similar fashion on stage and describes the technology at work.
Speak: Keith Kirkland
Keith Kirkland builds products that communicate information through touch. Touch is intuitive for people. We’ve been using touch as a way to better understand the world for our entire lives, says Kirkland. But there isn’t much being done with touch within our current devices outside of buzz notifications. Haptic design can expand what our devices are able to communicate as well as the human ability to sense and respond to our environments, Kirkland says.
Speaker: Meron Gribetz
The technology we all have in our pockets allow us to do incredible things in a virtual world. Yet, in the physical world, we are all hunched over small screens, separated from the people around us. Instead, we should be using machines that bring our work back into the world, says Meta founder Meron Gribetz. On stage, he demos his company’s augmented reality headset and discusses the practical applications the technology could have in the future – from architecture to neuroscience.
Speaker: Raffaello D'Andrea
In just a few years, drone technology has improved dramatically, and autonomous systems experts like Raffaello D'Andrea will make sure that flying machines continue to get better. In this talk, D’Andrea shows off several drones he helped to develop, showcasing not only their potential, but also their beauty. Keep watching until the end for a dreamy display of tiny, firefly-like drones dancing above the audience.
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