As the story goes, in 1984, a group of “deep thinkers” along with Bill Gates of Microsoft notoriety, and of course his philanthropy, gathered to discuss how to engage the global community in collaborative conversation of powerful ideas worth sharing; witnessed, the birth of “TED Talks”. TED Talks, (technology, entertainment, and design), began as a conference of powerful short lectures, around 18 minutes of less, covering a host of varied topics from science to business to global issues. TED’s agenda “was to make great ideas accessible and spark conversation” by bringing “the authority on the topic” to the worldwide audience (1). Since its inception, the business of TED, has grown into a diverse nonprofit, nonpartisan foundation offering a broad platform of media spreading “great ideas”. Now a global community, the business of TED, has branched into: TED.com, an index of free knowledge from the world’s most inspired thinkers; TED Talks, live conferences currently available in person, via the World Wide Web as a video library, or to eager listening audiences on select public radio stations; TEDx, independently run local community events; and TED Studies, offering a deeper understanding of structured educational topics in the form of TED-Ed lesson series and TED Books. Currently, an expanded version of TED Studies is available by license for academic settings designed to help students, professors, and self-guided learners explore important, timely ideas.
What drew my attention to TED.com and TED Talks (from here forward simply known as TED), when faced with a discussion of “media comparison”, is the notion that TED is acting as a “double agent”; a double medium, if you will. The first, is as a collective media, store housing “free knowledge from the world’s most inspired thinkers”(1). Because of TED’s unbiased selection of ideas from a broad spectrum of science, business, and global issues, in over 100 languages from around the world, it can narrow its collective works to those ideas shared by the authorities working in those areas. Much like the “digital self” archived online in Watson’s Studying the Digital Self (2), TED, as a collective media, utilizes the World Wide Web to archive its vast store house of powerful ideas from across the global community.
The second form of medium is as a distributive medium. TED takes advantage of multiple avenues of distribution; the most far-reaching and timely of course being the internet, free access to powerful information by anyone with a personal computer or a local library. TED is also available in person as local TEDx events, in a more intimate medium as TED Books, and as a structured, instructional medium as TED Studies. TED’s multiple avenues of access make it a quick and easy source of up-to-date information on the topic at hand. For example, recent in class discussion of the OkCupid(3) dating site and online dating in general had me searching “online love” in the TED search box. First up, The Mathematics of Love, by mathematician Hannah Frey; in her TED Talk and TED Book she explored the role of mathematics in successful online dating. In fact, she cites OkCupid and the fact that it was started by a group of mathematicians and how math plays into the success of dating and even more importantly how it may give us insight into avoiding divorce.
In another class, we discussed the role of robots as a replacement for love and companionship prompted by the reading Alone Together (4). In Alone Together, Sherry Turkle (4) explores the idea of robots as companions but she also developed the idea of robots as a necessity to the care of future elderly. Until recently, assistance of the elderly was merely an idea; but, according to Ken Goldberg (5) of Berkeley, a roboticist, in a TED Talk: 4 lessons from robots about being human, thanks to cloud computing it is now possible to control mobility and manipulation of robots. Difficult tasks, such as, picking up an object without crushing it were impossible prior to the processing power of cloud computing. In fact, thanks to the development of an extraordinary algorithm called “deep learning” by Geoffrey Hinton from the University of Toronto (6), computer driven robots are learning by doing and one major step closer to near human performance. But deep learning has its negative aspects; as it turns out, it is only as good as the initial information put into the algorithm. Left alone, the initial inputs may not be enough to lead deep learning down a safe and productive path. This can be demonstrated today in “deep learning” computer’s, during analysis of cancerous tissue samples, failure to correctly diagnose cancer possibilities because of the computer’s inability to question subtle discrepancies it may or may not document. And just for argument’s sake, let’s say computer driven robots meet and exceed human performance what will become of the human services jobs replaced by deep learning robots? We will be better off as a society by having caretakers of our aging population replaced by robots? Or, will this answer the projected caretaker shortage of the future?
4. Turkle, Sherry. (2011). Alone Together. New York, NY: Basic Books.