15 Inspiring TED Talks on Science and Technology

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Updated August 4, 2020

We've found 15 inspiring TED talks on science and technology, ranked according to the number of total views they received from a combination of outlets, including Ted.com and YouTube.

1. Meet the SixthSense Interaction – Patti Maes and Pranav Mistry

February 2009

Researcher Patti Maes and MIT grad student Pranav Mistry may have discovered a way we can live the scientific dream. Getting the time by drawing a watch on your hand, updating flight information by looking at your boarding pass, and finding reviews on the book you want to buy are just a few perks of this portable device. This wearable device with a projector interacts with your phone to bring up various information and project it on any available surface, including your hand.

2. Why Do We Sleep? – Russell Foster

June 2013

Circadian neuroscientist Russell Foster discusses the importance of the activity we spend over a third of our lives doing – sleeping. This informative talk stresses the important link between sleep and how well our brains function. Positive brain function is directly related to the amount and quality of our sleep. Foster discusses several topics, including what brain functions are enhanced with proper sleep and which brain functions are diminished with a lack of sleep. He even discusses the link between sleep disruption and mental illness.

3. Free or Cheap Wii Remote Hacks – Johnny Lee

February 2008

Researcher Johnny Lee took a simple $40 Wii remote and about $5 worth of items from his local electronic goods store to help hundreds of thousands of students. Using these everyday items, he transformed a simple surface into a smartboard that is about 80 percent efficient. Plus, he put all his findings and developments on the Internet for free. With his help, schools around the world have a better chance to help their students for little to no additional cost.

4. How Algorithms Shape Our World – Kevin Slavin

February 2008

In this amusing talk, algoworld expert Kevin Slavin introduces the idea of how computers are being used to help people make decisions. Algorithms, or computer programs designed to solve problems, are being used in everything as complex as your mortgage and the stock market to simple things such as determining which elevator to take based on your floor positioning. He points out that, unfortunately, algorithms sometimes contradict themselves. While one algorithm is taking a problem apart, a different algorithm on the same system is designed to put it back together. Algorithms are the future, but they need to be overseen by people and common sense.

5. Innovating to Zero! – Bill Gates

February 2010

Here Bill Gates covers a topic many would not associate with the computer icon. He discusses energy and climate and how it's affecting the world. From a financial perspective, reducing the cost of energy would help those in poverty most. On average, Americans produce about 20 tons of carbon dioxide per year. In this talk, he discusses and proposes a simple formula to bring that number down to zero. With an interesting approach including people, services, energy for those services, and the average CO2 usage for that specific unit of energy, he shares his ideas on how to improve the world we live in through a change in energy and how the world uses this resource.

6. Yup, I Built a Nuclear Fusion Reactor – Taylor Wilson

March 2012

Taylor Wilson proves that kids can change the world. At the young age of 14, he built a nuclear fusion reactor. At 17, he won international awards for his innovative contributions to science. He also had the opportunity to discuss his contributions to the Homeland Security system with the President. While Taylor's contributions are on a much larger scale than most people can imagine, he's living proof that everyone, no matter how young, can help make the world we live in a better place.

7. A Cyber-Magic Card Trick Like No Other – Marco Tempest

June 2012

Marco Tempest provides a very entertaining example of how he has combined the art of magic with the reality of scientific innovation. Demonstrating his reality glasses, he tells a fictional story while using every card in the deck. The illusionist's light-hearted and humorous talk is a great example of combining technology with showmanship.

8. Where Google's Going Next – Larry Page

March 2014

Larry Page, Google CEO and cofounder, sits down for an interview to discuss the future of the company. He begins by stating the mission of the company: "To organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." You would think they've done a remarkable job of that. But Page says even after 15 years, Google hasn't even come close to achieving that goal. He goes on to discuss various innovations such as voice recognition, recent acquisitions, and the interesting future of Google.

9. What Is So Special About the Human Brain? – Suzana Herculano-Houzel

June 2013

Even though the human brain only comprises approximately two percent of total body weight, it uses about 25 percent of the total energy consumed by the body every day. In a talk filled with interesting facts and figures, neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel details what makes the human brain so special and interesting. Early scientists hypothesized that the size of one's brain dictated the strength of the brain. This hypothesis was found to be untrue when the brains of both humans and elephants were weighed. It was discovered that an elephant's brain weighed up to three times that of a human brain.

10. How Giant Websites Design For You (and a Billion Others, Too) – Margaret Gould Stewart

March 2014

One of the single most viewed design elements ever created, Facebook's "like" button is seen 22 billion times a day and on over 7.5 million websites. To design on such a large scale, you must have two things – audacity and humility. Facebook's director of product design, Margaret Gould Stewart gives three best practices for designing at scale and emphasizes the fundamental importance of knowing who you are designing for. She shares the thrill of designing something so big and knowing it could change the world.

11. Hackers: The Internet's Immune System – Keren Elazari

March 2014

Hackers are the immune system for the information age, says cybersecurity expert Keren Elazari. "Sometimes they make us sick," she says, "but they also find those hidden threats in our world, and they make us fix it." This talk is filled with example of hackers, good and bad. But if we continue to portray hackers as the bad guys, how can we expect them to be heroes?

12. What if 3D Printing was 100X Faster? – Joseph DeSimone

March 2014

Chemist and inventor Joseph DeSimone discusses the three issues holding back 3D printing from being a manufacturing process. If you actually make a part that has the properties to be a final part, and you do it in game-changing speeds, you can transform manufacturing. During this ten minute talk, DeSimone reveals a printer 25 to 100 times faster than traditional 3D printers.

13. Why We Will Rely on Robots – Rodney Brooks

February 2013

We're already starting to see robots in our lives today, but robots will really help us in the future, says MIT professor and roboticist Rodney Brooks. As we get older, we can't do all the tasks we used to do. Brooks believes robotics gives people a chance to have dignity as they get older by having control of the robotic solution. In this talk, he introduces us to Baxter – a first wave of robot that ordinary people can interact with in an industrial setting.

14. Zombies Roaches and Other Parasite Tales – Ed Yong

March 2014

Science writer Ed Yong shares his excitement for science in this talk about parasites and how these creepy, crawly creatures control their hosts. To humans, the prospect of losing our free will and independence to forces unseen is a deep societal fear; this parallel is part of what makes parasites so sinister and compelling to Yong.

15. The Weird, Wonderful World of Bioluminescence – Edith Widder

February 2011

It's a little-appreciated fact that most of the animals in our ocean make light. They use it to find food, attract mates, and for defense against predators. In this talk, bioluminescence expert Edith Widder literally lights up the stage with her glowing friends and shows amazing videos of glowing undersea life. "It's a magical place filled with breathtaking light shows and bizarre and wondrous creatures, alien life forms that you don't have to travel to another planet to see."

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