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Eniac’s Top 10 Takeaways from TED

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This year the Eniac Team descended upon Vancouver for Ted Age of Amazement. And the event really did live up to its name. It was a week of non-stop discovery.

It would take another week to speak to all the knowledge dropped, but in case you missed it, here are our Top 10 Takeaways from TED.

  1. There are so many transformative ideas to save the planet: From capturing energy from space, building CO2 capturing synthetic forests, electronic airplanes, and leveraging Prochlorococcus. One talk that stuck out was from Enric Sala, a marine ecologist, and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. He presented the idea of a creation of a giant high seas reserve to accelerate protection. He said that international waters are the Wild West, but now together satellite and machine learning can enable the tracking of boats, fishing, and revenue, holding companies and countries accountable.
  2. How we’re preserving the human body: The amount of innovation is unbelievable and the ability to live forever is being put into perspective. Luhan Yang took the stage to talk about ending the organ donation wait list and saving lives with pig to human organ transplant. Despite the major setbacks due to the threat of the PERV virus, Yang and her lab edited genes to create 30 pigs without the virus in its genome. She is hopeful it will be widely available within the decade.
  3. It is time to challenge the Internet: Scientist, writer, and technology guru Jaron Lanier detests the current revenue model most of the “free” internet uses — advertising. He believes it is largely modifying human behavior and challenged companies to look for new, creative ways to make money with a focus on credibility versus virality. He said, “We cannot have a society in which, if two people wish to communicate, the only way that can happen is if it’s financed by a third person who wishes to manipulate them.”
  4. How humans and AI can peacefully co-exist: Kai-Fu Lee’s powerful speech on the seriousness of the threat of humans losing the grasp of meaning and value. He said, “Because the work ethic in the Industrial Age has brainwashed us into thinking work is the reason we exist, that work defines the meaning of our lives.” He explained how we might harness human compassion — along with human creativity — to work with AI in a way that may help solve both the loss of jobs and the loss of meaning. This dovetails nicely with Eniac’s investment thesis over the last couple years which has driven a significant amount of AI focused investments.
  5. Climbing without a rope: Alex Honnold, the only person to summit Yosemite’s El Capitan without a rope, spoke about conquering his two-decade-long dream. Honnold prepared for a full year, practicing every minute physical move and facing any doubt he’d run into along the way. Whether at home or in the workplace, preparation and overcoming doubt are essential to finding success. He said, “Doubt is the precursor to fear, and I knew that I couldn’t experience my perfect moment if I was afraid.
  6. Is personal flight the new Uber? Rodin Lyasoff, CEO of A³ is fighting the many detriments of bumper-to-bumper traffic. He believes the solution is in the air because air travel will never be as congested as ground travel. Lyasoff envisions people using a vertiport, which takes you to an aircraft to be flown to the destination, and landing at a vertiport on the other side. A³ has already flown a prototype, called Vahana, and they are working to make it accessible and affordable — about $40 to travel 20 miles. He said personal air travel will be a reality in the not too distant future.
  7. Can technology make or break democracy? MIT physics professor César Hidalgo spoke about leveraging AI at the polls and the underlying weakness with representative democracy. He said as it stands now it is representative, can be manipulated and inefficient, and that while there is a long way to go, AI could be the starting point to a solution. His theory still lets people have control by training their algorithm to go on autopilot for all your decisions or offer the possibility to still approve every decision. He said, “Democracy has a very bad user interface, and if it can be improved, you might be able to use it more.
  8. Data, manipulation and the threat of dictatorship: In a similar vein on manipulation from Jaron Lanier, historian and author Yuval Noah Harari took the stage remotely as a hologram from Tel Aviv to speak on how technology and the age of information is a threat to democracy. AI and centralized data processing provide a perfect storm to enable dictatorships over what he called relatively decentralized democracies. He challenged engineers to find a new way to keep data out of the wrong hands and urged everyone to make educated decisions on personal data to avoid becoming complacent and manipulated. He said, “It’s the responsibility of all of us to get to know our weaknesses and make sure they don’t become weapons in the hands of enemies of democracy.
  9. Machine vs. Man — What can they really know? Poppy Crum, chief scientist at Dolby Laboratories, raised the thought-provoking question of do we actually have any control over what other people see, know and understand about us as individuals? Her work is focused on how machine learning can read a person’s signals and tell us about what is going on internally, such as using infrared thermal imaging to see changing stress levels, brain activity, and level of mental/physical engagement. What was amazing is that she did a real-time experiment with the TED attendees. She showed a scary movie clip, captured the CO2 change in the room (via tubes embedded in the theater) and presented the data visualization that pointed the exact timing when the people in the room collectively reacted. This experiment could be applied to countless situations, but the takeaway was how much do we want machines to know and will there be a line drawn to protect us from being monitored without consent.
  10. There is life beyond. There were we words we happily didn’t hear all week: Trump and Blockchain.

If interested in attending — we highly recommend it — applications close on Monday, April 30th. Apply now.

See you in Vancouver next year!



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Eniac Ventures

Eniac Ventures

We lead seed rounds in bold founders who use code to create transformational companies.