9 TED talks tackling our digital future

Lori Castle
New York 40° 42' 52.38" N, -74° 0' 25.632" E

Soon everything physical will become digital, said our CEO in a recent blog post. Others who see this future are also transforming industries and lives. Check out these nine visionary TED talks, which present our world through the new lens of digital.

Digital dark age

Let's get this one out of the way. What's a discussion about futuristic technology without a bit of apocalyptic discourse? Danny Hillis, inventor, scientist, author, engineer and MIT PhD believes we need a "plan b" to protect ourselves from a digital dark age.

Making digital physical

It's the digital chicken or the egg. While everything physical will become digital; how do we make digital into physical in order to render it more comprehensible? Fabian Hemmert, professor for interface and user experience design at the University of Wuppertal brings the idea to life with a shape shifting mobile phone. He wants to make us digitally feel the weight of a Harry Potter book.

Digital now

Hurricane Sandy caused writer Abha Dawesar to wonder if life is too digital, as she and many other New Yorkers roamed the streets in the aftermath of the storm searching for power and plugs to charge their devices. "Nature had just reminded us that it was stronger than all our technology" she said, "and yet here we were, obsessed about being wired." From there she realized how digital has altered time and that it's our choice to let it fragment or enhance the flow.


Before bitcoin there were Rai stones, gold and direct deposit. All these things were (and some still are) considered money, something valuable to be transacted, but that's only because we've decided it's so. These are simply stories we tell ourselves, according to Neha Narula, Director of the Digital Currency Initiative at the MIT Media Lab, "a collective fiction." The future of money, is programmable, she says, and starts with cryptocurrencies.

Always have something to wear

Don't have a thing to wear? No need to shop, just print out your creation; that's what Danit Peleg does. She created the first 3-D printed fashion collection using home printers. She started out not knowing a thing about 3-D printing and now sees it as a path to design freedom. "Fashion is also a very physical thing. And I wonder what our world will look like when our clothes will be digital, just like this skirt is."

Choi's anatomy

Patients surely don't want surgeons to practice on them, but how do they get experience? The traditional way is through cadaver dissection, but they are expensive for learning institutions and not always easily available. That's why Jack Choi came up with the Anatomage Table which enables virtual dissection in a way that's not possible with human bodies. The digital body is one-to-one life-sized and physicians consider it to be "eye candy."

Virtual government

Founder Jennifer Phalka calls Code for America the "Peace Corps for geeks." Selected fellows work in the government for a year to show what technology today can do, quickly and efficiently, saving boatloads of money and restoring personal responsibility and community. She's envisioning and trying to enable the government to run like the Internet, which is permissionless, open and generative. She sees digital technology as the means to empower citizens and make the government a crowdsourced platform.

Digital farm

Food is in crisis in certain regions -- too little, too much, genetically altered, affected by pollution and so on. The practice of farming and outlier intuition is disappearing. Caleb Harper, director of the Open Agriculture Initiative at the MIT Media Lab, asks: "What if we could grow delicious, nutrient-dense food, indoors anywhere in the world?" He envisions a future where computers grow our food (sort of). By the way, the apple you get from the grocery store is, on average, 11 months old.

It's like magic

We started with science and end with magic. Marco Tempest considers himself a cyber illusionist. There are no tricks up his sleeve, just digital technology and magic. He's looking to create a more collaborative practice amongst peers.

Topics: Big Data, Features, Smart cities