Top 6 TED Talks About Computer Science

ted talks
ted talks

Innovators in the computer science field share their findings and thoughts during TED Talks. This talk series embodies the motto “ideas worth spreading” at events around the world. Thousands of videos about data science, software design, and technology show where computer science is heading.

Searching for the best computer science TED Talks can be a daunting task given an ever-growing library. We’ve compiled the top six computer science TED Talks showing the field’s present and future. The presentations summarized here show the deepening interactions between people and technology.

Accessibility Ignites Innovation

The energy required to bring new innovations into the world often comes from powerful personal experiences. IBM Fellow Chieko Asakawa went blind during an accident at 14 years old. Her computer science TED Talk from 2015 explains how she used this new challenge as motivation during her career.

Asakawa noted that her early experiences without sight relied on transcribed Braille textbooks. By the mid-1980s, she began work on a digital dictionary, editor, and library for Braille texts. The tech boom of the 1990s included the Home Page Reader she designed for IBM.

Home Page Reader’s introduction in 1997 connected blind people to Internet content. The text-to-voice program made it possible for the visually impaired to participate in an increasingly digital world. Asakawa was moved by users around the world who shared how her invention improved their lives.

Newcomers to the field see Asakawa’s lifelong commitment to accessibility during this computer science TED Talk. She spoke about her work on a smartphone app that navigates visually impaired users through cognitive assistance software. Computer scientists find challenges throughout their careers worthy of their attention and creativity.

Plugging Technology into the World Around Us

The brief history of computers has seen significant changes in speed and power. Methods of interacting with computers haven’t changed much as we still look at screens while using keyboard-equivalent devices.

Google’s Ivan Poupyrev has spent more than 20 years trying to answer, “Can the world be your interface?” His 2019 computer science TED Talk explores how our clothing, furniture, and even plants can connect us to the digital world. Poupyrev divides the challenge into three stages:

  1. From computer interfaces to things as interfaces
  2. From prototype to product
  3. From a product to a world of connected things

The journey toward a world of connected things started with a collaboration between Poupyrev and a Japanese textile designer creating a wearable touch pad. Poupyrev then worked with clothing company Levi Strauss to turn touch pads into a jean jacket. His wearable interface not only controlled his presentation slides but could play music or provide navigation during a commute.

In this world, manufacturers become service providers and engineers would be mindful of consumer preferences. Software developers balance their advanced technical skills with outside-the-box thinking as interfaces break away from computing technology. Poupyrev’s computer science TED Talk shows how innovators situate their thinking beyond the ordinary.

Opening the World with Predictive Analytics

Software engineer Max Hawkins felt he reached his dream life as a Google employee living in San Francisco. His life changed when he learned about the power of predictive analytics to shape our decisions. His 2017 computer science TED Talk explores two years of personal decisions guided by predictive algorithms.

Hawkins developed an app that used a month of his GPS data to decide where he should go next. The first foray with this app led to a San Francisco emergency psychiatric hospital. He followed the app further to explore parts of the city that he would not have found in his highly optimized life. 

Predictive analytics led him to create a random diet creator, a printer that selected activities at random, and a Facebook events selector. Hawkins tasked his app with selecting places around the world to live on his budget. Over two years, he moved from Slovenia to India and other places he would not have chosen on his own.

This computer science TED Talk leaves with an ellipses rather than a period or an exclamation point. Hawkins recognized that an algorithm-driven life is shaped by the digital context of his current location. Data scientists and software engineers use this experiment as fuel for their efforts to open the world for billions of people.

Keeping Machine Learning within Reach

Zeynap Tufecki uses her 2017 computer science TED Talk to raise questions about machine learning. The sociologist and former computer programmer notes that the still-evolving technology can be imbued with the prejudices of its designers. Her talk not only points out the limitations of technology but our understanding of how it works.

Tufecki argues machine learning used in hiring decisions and prison sentencing exhibits racial biases. Her struggle to find social media updates on protests in Missouri showed how machine learning controls access to information. She also pointed to a wildly inaccurate answer by IBM Watson during its appearance on the TV game show “Jeopardy.” 

This computer science TED Talk implores engineers and designers to keep ethics and accountability in mind. Tufecki underlined her presentation with the statement, “Artificial intelligence does not give us a get out of ethics free card.” Knowing how to design technology that improves lives without harm is a good approach for every computer scientist. 

Infusing Data Science with Empathy

The global population will produce an estimated 463 exabytes - or 463,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes - per day by 2025. No single protocol dictates how raw data is used by governments, corporations, and individuals. Information designer Giorgia Lupi advocates for data humanism as a ruling principle in her 2017 computer science TED Talk.

Lupi referred to recent election projections as a failure of data-based narratives. Filtering inputs from polling, historical results, and demographic data into a single statistic ignores stories at the ground level. She argues that data scientists and information experts need to keep people at the forefront of their work.

This computer science TED Talk includes an exercise entirely separated from the digital world. For one year, Lupi and a colleague sent hand-drawn visualizations to each other about their daily lives by mail to understand how data shapes relationships. Datasets on how often they checked their clocks or thanked people each day provided insights about their personalities.

Lupi doesn’t advocate for ditching computers and models for the laborious process of mailing data to each other. Rather, she believes current and future practitioners must avoid the tendency to turn complex data into definitive statements of fact. Data scientists should balance models with real-world experiences that add dimension to their studies.

Building a Better Connection between People and Computers

For decades, science fiction writers have written about the terrible consequences of computers run amok. A classic example is HAL 9000, an AI-enabled computer that achieves sentience in the 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. HAL 9000’s violent interactions with spaceship crew members have become templates for other works of fiction in the past 50 years.

Shyam Sankar sheds light on the real-world challenges of human-computer interactions in his 2012 computer science TED Talk. Computers are ideal for handling high-volume computations and projections based on past data, while humans can be creative and ingenuous in solving problems.

Shankar discusses a recent cooperative chess tournament won by two amateurs against computers and professionals. The significant processing power of the computers involved would seem to give technology the edge over people. The winning team, however, had a better process and effectively adapted to changing game states.

The stakes get higher as Shankar discusses the struggle to use computers to hunt down terrorists. Al-Qaeda leaders evaded capture by the military or death by missiles because they were driven by purpose. The data used in the search for Al-Qaeda was also flawed because it lacked sufficient activity from the past to draw accurate conclusions.

Shankar argues for considering what humans and computers do well when tightening connections between the two. Each side offers complementary skills that can achieve greatness with the right interface. This computer science TED Talk doesn’t advocate swapping HAL 9000 for Lieutenant Commander Data; it suggests we can make humans greater with better design.

Turning Bold Ideas into Real-World Solutions at Baylor University

Computer science TED Talks reveal the passion of the field’s leading minds to solve global problems. A bachelor’s degree in computer science and a commitment to innovation are harnessed for good through a graduate degree. Baylor University’s Masters in Computer Science online degree program builds advanced skills needed for the next generation of technological advancement.

Masters candidates start with six core courses covering topics like machine learning and data communications. Data science and software engineering tracks build in-demand skills in growing fields. Internationally recognized faculty members provide the best academic and industry insights into computer science.

U.S. News & World Report ranked Baylor University No. 25 in its Most Innovative Schools. The national publication also placed the university in the following categories:

  • No. 31 in Best Undergraduate Teaching
  • No. 47 in Best Colleges for Veterans
  • No. 76 in National Universities

The online Masters in Computer Science continues a commitment to academic excellence at Baylor University dating back to 1845. Graduate students motivated by computer science TED Talks also bring to life Baylor University’s mission to:

“...promote exemplary teaching, encourage innovative and original research, and support professional excellence in various specialized disciplines.”

Take the next step to joining the minds behind computer science TED Talks by speaking with a Baylor University Masters in Computer Science program advisor today.