Since Ted talks began, many science and technology leaders have participated in the program. Science giants such as James D. Watson, Richard Dawkins, and Craig Venter have presented, as well as technology leaders like Bill Gates. Here are the top 10 leading science and technology TED talks thus far.
1. Big Questions About the Universe – Stephen Hawking
In 2008, Stephen Hawking addressed some of the biggest, unsolved questions in the universe, such as: How did life begin? Are we alone? How did the universe form? He not only asked these questions, but also gave some of the best answers science has yet produced. He cautioned about extraterrestrial threats, including the dangers of space. However, Hawking felt that man should keep exploring the universe. The theoretical physicist and cosmologist also proclaimed he believes there is life outside of the Milky Way galaxy.
2. Debunking Third-World Myths with Statistics– Hans Rosling
In his first TED talk, professor of global health, Hans Rosling, discusses common myths about developing countries using live data. In his talk, Rosling demonstrates that there is a popular misconception that the western world is far more technologically advanced than the rest of the developing world. His talk disproves that theory using tremendous animated graphs from 1960 – the present day, showing that developing countries had made large improvements in terms of life expectancy. His graphs also illustrated the rising global middle class and diverse data collections from Africa. Rosling’s goal is to provide the average person with more accurate information in order to get a better understanding of how we view the world.
3. Earth in Its Final Century? – Sir Martin Rees
Sir Martin Rees, British cosmologist, discusses the history and future of the Earth. Over the length of 4 billion years, the planet has gradually changed, but since the birth of man, there has been rapid development over the past 2000 years. For example, Sir Martin Rees talks about the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has begun to rise, radio waves are radiating from Earth, and metallic objects have begun to float in Earth’s orbit. The future of Earth is uncertain, but with 6 billion years left to come, Sir Martin Rees concludes the advice of Albert Einstein will be needed to prevent global chaos.
4. String Theory – Brian Greene
Physicist Brian Greene introduces string theory in his TED talk. He first begins by telling the story of Theodor Kaluza, German mathematician and physicist, who proposed there might be more than three-dimensional space seen in the physical world. Later, Greene’s talk introduces the theory of 10 possible dimensions. Greene concludes his talk by proclaiming experiments are being carried out to prove other dimensions exist.
5. Discovering DNA – James Watson
In his TED talk, James Watson tells the extraordinary story of how he and his colleague, Francis Crick, discovered DNA in 1953. His talk highlights some of the points made in his bestselling book The Double Helix, but basic knowledge of genetics and DNA may help viewers to better understand his speech. Even without this knowledge, Watson engages the audience with a taste of scientific discovery. Watson closes his talk by examining more recent discovers in the field of genetics, particularly genes that are thought to influence autism, schizophrenia, and others.
6. Does the World Need Nuclear Energy? – Steward Brand and Mark Z. Jacobson
Though brief, this debate examines the pros and cons of nuclear energy. Environmentalist and Whole Earth Catalog editor Brand presents his supportive opinion of nuclear energy. Brand believes nuclear power minimizes the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by coal plants. Mark Z. Jacobson, Stanford environmental engineering professor, argues for using renewable sources of energy rather than nuclear energy. Jacobson also provides data on wind and solar alternatives, as well as the dangers of nuclear power.
7. Saving Life on Earth – E.O. Wilson
In 2007, biologist E.O. Wilson discusses the vast array of species on Earth, the majority of which have yet to be discovered. Even in the smallest creatures, Wilson sees beauty and variation due to his intense studies of insects. However, Wilson cautions that human actions are endangering thousands of animal and plant species. By the end of the century, he warns, over half of existing species will be destroyed, as well as countless unknown species. He attributes the cause of such extinctions by H.I.P.P.O.: habitat destruction, invasive species, pollution, population expansion, and over-harvesting. A vast amount of resources and potential life forms will be lost if H.I.P.P.O. continues. In his conclusion, Wilson wishes an online encyclopedia will be created so that researchers around the globe can catalog their knowledge and help more people appreciate the Earth’s abundance.
8. How Technology Will Transform Us – Ray Kurzweil
Ray Kurzweil, a popular futurist and leading technological thinker, examines the burgeoning industry of technology and the possible future it is embracing. From mobile cell phones, tablets, and nanotechnology, Kurzweil explains machinery is narrowing into a “technological singularity.” Indeed, his TED talk issues a brief, interesting glimpse into what the future holds for technology.
9. On the Verge of Creating Synthetic Life – Craig Venter
Craig Venter, famous for his role in the Human Genome Project, is one of the leading geneticists of the decade. His TED talk demonstrates life with a synthetic genome, which he created in 2010 with a self-replicating, semi-synthetic bacterial cell. His talk primarily highlights their effort to create synthetic life. In an attempt to explain their mission, Venter argues that artificial life is key to developing new forms of energy that convert carbon dioxide to fuel, hence eliminating the need for the petro-chemical industry.
10. The Next Web Innovation – Jeff Bezos
Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon.com, take’s an in depth review of the history of the Internet and its past developments. His talk begins by relating the gold rush of the 19th century to the Internet. Initially, people were skeptical about the riches, but at a certain point in time, everyone wanted a part of it. Both had a dramatic bust, but alas, the Internet remained resilient to tragedy. Afterward, Bezos compared Internet to electricity. Bezos explains that he feels we are just now discovering the possibilities we can achieve with the Internet, just as people once did when electricity was brought to their homes.