5 TED talks about the future of tech that will make your jaw drop

By its very definition, the word “future” is filled with a sense of expectation, hope, and impending and irrevocable change.

One need only dig up a time capsule from the 1950s to see just how wildly inaccurate our predictions about the future are likely to be, but perhaps the age of technology gives us a bit more leverage to try and think about the future in a way that is more realistic.

To this end, TED has provided viewers and listeners around the world with access to big ideas about ourselves, the world around us, and about the way things will pan out in the years to come.

While we realise even the most adept experts in their fields also sometimes make mistakes in their hypotheses and predictions, these five TED talks about the future are jaw-dropping, even if things don’t turn out the way we expected.

1. The self-assembling computer chips of the future – Karl Skjonnemand

The transistors that power the phone in your pocket are unimaginably small: you can fit more than 3,000 of them across the width of a human hair. But to keep up with innovations in fields like facial recognition and augmented reality, we need to pack even more computing power into our computer chips — and we’re running out of space. In this forward-thinking talk, technology developer Karl Skjonnemand introduces a radically new way to create chips. “This could be the dawn of a new era of molecular manufacturing,” Skjonnemand says.

2. Re-imagine the future – Angela Oguntala

From flying cars to lab-grown food, we love thinking about what delights the future will bring. But futurist Angela Oguntala suggests that, in fact, these pop-culture benchmarks create a blinkered vision of the future. In her talk, Oguntala urges us to reach further and push for true innovation.

3. How to be “Team Human” in the digital future – Douglas Rushkoff

Humans are no longer valued for our creativity, says media theorist Douglas Rushkoff — in a world dominated by digital technology, we’re now just valued for our data. In a passionate talk, Rushkoff urges us to stop using technology to optimize people for the market and start using it to build a future centered on our pre-digital values of connection, creativity and respect. “Join ‘Team Human.’ Find the others,” he says. “Together let’s make the future that we always wanted.”

4. When technology can read minds, how will we protect our privacy? – Nita Farahany

Tech that can decode your brain activity and reveal what you’re thinking and feeling is on the horizon, says legal scholar and ethicist Nita Farahany. What will it mean for our already violated sense of privacy? In a cautionary talk, Farahany warns of a society where people are arrested for merely thinking about committing a crime (like in “Minority Report”) and private interests sell our brain data — and makes the case for a right to cognitive liberty that protects our freedom of thought and self-determination.

5. The radical possibilities of man-made DNA – Floyd E. Romesberg

Every cell that’s ever lived has been the result of the four-letter genetic alphabet: A, T, C and G — the basic units of DNA. But now that’s changed. In a visionary talk, synthetic biologist Floyd E. Romesberg introduces us to the first living organisms created with six-letter DNA — the four natural letters plus two new man-made ones, X and Y — and explores how this breakthrough could challenge our basic understanding of nature’s design.

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