With a theme of Possibility and a good news report to kick off the conference, optimism was in the air at TED2023.
The annual conference, which took place in Vancouver this week, was the mind and heart-changing event it always is, filled with innovative solutions from scientists and entrepreneurs and nuanced conversations about technology and advancement.
While TED is always a place for exciting ideas aimed at making the world a better place, this year’s conference felt particularly geared toward good.
But that wasn’t necessarily the goal, Head of TED Chris Anderson said in an interview with Good Good Good Editor-in-Chief, Branden Harvey.
“The intention isn’t specifically to do good news,” he said. “It’s to understand the world as it really is. Part of the problem with narratives we normally have is that, for two reasons, they turn out more negative than they should be. One, we’re evolved to pay more attention to threats and the dark, and the other is that [good] things take longer to come together.”
While Anderson said he loves exploring the chaos and entropy of the world, he wanted this year’s conference to be “a deliberate attempt to look more deeply at the world.”
“And it turns out that when you do that,” he said, “That much of the news actually really is good.”
That deeper look at reality, at embracing optimism as a means to learn more, is what attracts speakers and audience members to TED. They’re the people getting things done.
“The phrase I’ve heard people use is this idea of ‘determined optimism,’” Anderson said. “The key recognition is that the future isn’t predetermined; it’s created by people. The reason people come to TED is to understand what future possibilities are.”
So, as the world’s most creative minds convened to talk about ideas that are far-out and far-reaching, TED maintains its foundation in finding the good — in making more room for possibility.
“Our theme this year has been possibility, but TED has always been, fundamentally, about possibility. That is what creativity is for, it’s to increase the amount of possibility in the world,” Anderson said. “And then, hopefully, to find in those possibility spaces, something that is beautiful and worth collectively seizing.”
To embrace all those beautiful possibilities, we’ve collected some stand-out moments of good news and collective creativity from TED2023:
The best good news shared from the stage of TED2023
The Audacious Project invested a record $1 billion in ideas that will change the world.
The Audacious Project, which is a collaborative funding enterprise housed at TED, has awarded a record $1 billion in grants to organizations and endeavors that aim to change the world.
The goal of the project is to close equity gaps and support social entrepreneurs who have solutions at the ready for areas like climate solutions, tech for change, health for all, social safety net, social justice, and breakthrough science.
This year’s cohort of grantees include organizations that will restore African forests, provide accessible contraceptive care across the United States, improve the foster care system, use genetic technology to save lives — and the planet — and more.
→ Read more about 2023’s 10 Audacious Project grant recipients.
Groundbreaking genetic technology is being used to save lives — and the planet.
One of the Audacious Project grantees is the Innovative Genomics Institute, which works on groundbreaking genome technology designed to majorly impact healthcare and climate action.
Jennifer Doudna, the founder and chair of the Innovative Genomics Institute’s governance board, shared these breakthroughs on the TED stage, walking viewers through the tech behind metagenomics and CRISPR.
These genetic innovations can reduce and eliminate methane in the gut biome, which can reduce emissions in the atmosphere, as well as help manage and cure diseases like Alzheimer’s and asthma.
The institute will use its funding from The Audacious Project to work on two key projects: using a noninvasive treatment that would eliminate asthma-producing molecules in children at risk for asthma, and curbing agricultural methane emissions.
“We’re bringing together these two breakthrough technologies — metagenomics and CRISPR — to create a brand new field of science, called precision microbiome editing,” Doudna said in her TED Talk.
“This will allow us to discover links between dysfunctional microbiomes and disease or greenhouse gas emissions. We can develop modified and improved microbiome editors to show that they’re safe and effective. And then we can deploy these optimized solutions that will be transformative in the future.”
An environmental data scientist reminded us that it’s maybe not actually the end of the world.
Hannah Ritchie, an environmental data scientist with Our World In Data, shared her expertise in exploring how environmental issues intersect with others like poverty, global health, and education.
And while she knows that addressing climate change is urgent, she thinks we need to clear up some misconceptions first.
She explained how the world has never truly been sustainable, and that this generation is the first one that can achieve both a long, healthy life for all humans and an opportunity to improve the health of the planet. Both of these are required to reach true sustainability.
By looking at the data from the past decades, Ritchie pointed to the truth that many of the most unsettling statistics about climate change have already reached their peak and are now improving.
For instance: Her carbon footprint is half of her grandparents, the price of batteries have fallen by 98% in a very short time, and child mortality and extreme poverty are down across the globe.
Her thesis? That data can be used to inspire us — not paralyze us in fear.
“We need to reframe sustainability as an opportunity because it is an opportunity,” Ritchie said.
“It’s an opportunity to provide clean, abundant energy for everyone, whether that’s power in cities or countries, or getting rural communities connected for the very first time. It’s about not being at the whims of fossil fuel markets, or having millions pulled into fuel poverty when dictators invade neighboring countries. It’s about breathing clean air. Stopping people from dying is not a sacrifice.”
A group of stakeholders created a coalition to help cities transition from linear to circular economies.
Garry Cooper started his company, Rheaply, to be a hub for repurposing resources. His goal? To swap our traditional, linear economies with circular economies that shrink landfills, decrease greenhouse gas emissions, and create jobs — especially in cities.
His vision for scaled circular cities requires building a digital infrastructure where people have universal access to available things, operational and logistical infrastructure that helps repurpose and refurbish resources, and incentives that encourage every person and business in a community to participate.
While his business is built on these concepts, he doesn’t want to be the only one. Cooper, along with a number of other stakeholders, has created the Circular City Coalition. The coalition works to facilitate multi-sector relationships and provide adaptive funding that make circular cities possible.
“Cities are ground zero in the fight against global climate change. In that fight, we’re all neighbors; not competitors,” Cooper said.
“We need each other in whatever city or town we reside in. If we all participate in sharing resources locally, a net zero future is possible.”
Scientists have invented solar power panels that can provide wireless energy from space.
Ali Hajimiri spent his TED Talk exploring his work at the Space Solar Power Project, which includes the development of a modular, lightweight, foldable device that collects sunlight in space, converts it into electric power, and wirelessly sends that power back to Earth.
Aside from the simple everyday uses of this power, Hajimiri hopes to use this easy-to-dispatch power to support people in crisis. Whether it’s climate disaster, war and conflict, or a lack of power infrastructure, this space solar power has the potential to transform — and save — human lives.
“Now that we know we can send energy wirelessly, the question is: how far can we go?” Hajimiri asked from the TED stage. “Really, how far can we go?”
→ Read more about Ali Hajimiri and the Space Solar Power Project’s work
Scientists are genetically modifying crops to accelerate photosynthesis and provide more food to people in need.
Crop sustainability scientist Steve Long built upon a concept many of us learned in elementary school: Photosynthesis.
Long’s work includes the genetic engineering of crops to accelerate photosynthesis, improving crop yields so people across the globe who are food insecure can better access the food they need to thrive.
An example he outlined was cowpea, a crop similar to soybeans that grows in West Africa. Together with a number of other scientists, a version of cowpea has been created that is both insect-resistant and has the potential to provide a higher yield through photosynthesis improvements.
Long shared that this technology has the power to “reduce the risk of food insufficiency, protect the environment without moving onto more land to produce more food — and maybe even remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”
He called it a “21st century green revolution.”
A suicide prevention advocate asked every attendee to shout the name of someone they love and adore and can’t imagine life without.
Gus Worland, an Australian TV and radio personality, founded Gotcha4Life after losing a dear friend to suicide. His TED Talk was vulnerable, emotional, and beautiful, as he explored the power of connection and compassion in decreasing the suicide epidemic across the globe.
He said that he knows global suicide prevention can feel like “too big a task,” and urged audience members to focus on the people in their own close circles, in their own communities, who need extra support to confront the pain and exhaustion that comes with mental health conditions.
The first way to do that?
“Shut your eyes for me, and think of someone you adore and could never imagine life without.”
Members of the TED audience did just that — and then were asked to simultaneously shout out the name of the person they thought of.
The last part of the assignment? To send the following text to that special person:
“I love you. I miss you. I’ll see you soon. Xoxo”
Worland was adamant everyone do this — even if it felt awkward, even if it spurred a vulnerable conversation — and he planned to follow up with everyone he engaged with throughout the rest of the conference to make sure they sent that message.
“I want everyone to have a little connection to the person that is most important to you,” he said. “It’s all about connection.”
Millions of hectares of land are being restored in Africa by local environmentalists.
Wanjira Maathai is the daughter of the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize: Mangari Maathai, for founding the Green Belt Movement. The organization is a woman-led, grassroots initiative that has empowered women across African communities through the act of planting trees.
It was this work that led to Wanjira’s own passion to protect African lands, too. She now leads the Restore Local project, which helps advance forest protection by investing in local restoration projects that already exist across the continent.
Under AFR100, Africa-wide initiative to restore 100 million hectares of land by 2030, and with the help of The Audacious Project, Restore Local will spend the coming years restoring three main regions: The Lake Kivu and Rusizi River Basin, Kenya’s Great Rift Valley, and Ghana’s Cocoa Belt.
“All my life I was made acutely aware of just how precious green vegetation truly is. Nature is the source of everything good, my mother would tell me all the time,” Wanjira said.
“The vision we have to re-green the African continent, it’s not only possible; it is vital.”
Doctors are reimagining pain with the simple technology of cold and vibration.
Initially designed to help children with a fear of needles more comfortably get their vaccines, Dr. Amy Baxter’s Buzzy is a device that combines cold and vibration to help alleviate pain.
But Baxter’s work goes beyond Buzzy — she hopes to completely change the way we think about pain. Shifting from a goal of being “pain-free” to a goal of increased comfort for individuals, Baxter’s work centers solutions that decrease our dependence on opioids and instead targets how pain registers in the brain.
Her current research focuses on creating a drug-free solution to lower back pain and implementing new scales of pain and nausea in pediatric environments to better meet the needs of young patients.
“What if pain isn’t an alarm to silence, but a learning system for survival?” she asked.
→ Read more about Baxter’s work to fight pain as we know it
Millions of U.S. residents will have their records expunged in the next six years.
Sheena Meade, the CEO of The Clean Slate Initiative, has led the charge to implement Clean Slate legislation in 10 states — and she’s not slowing down any time soon.
Clean Slate laws are laws that allow someone’s record to be automatically cleared after they have remained crime-free for a set period of time — and they are a major contrast to current legislation that requires time, money, and resources to clear records that many folks simply do not have.
With the help of The Audacious Project, the Clean Slate Initiative will target 15 more states close to passing these laws, which will clear the records of up to 14 million Americans in the coming years.
“That’s millions of people who no longer have to walk around with stigma and shame attached to their name,” Meade said. “It’s like, with the stroke of a governor’s pen, we were able to unlock dreams for millions.”
→ Read more about Meade and The Clean Slate Initiative
Good Good Good is in Vancouver this week covering TED2023. This article is part of our ongoing, exclusive coverage of the conference, with more interviews and stories to come. Follow along here all week, or on social media with our hashtag #GGGatTED.
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Header photo: Photo courtesy of Gilberto Tadday / TED (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)