A prescription for… art?

It’s safe to say that, when we think about personalized medicine, one of the last things that comes to mind is music. But, should it? These days, music streaming apps aren’t only organized by genre; you can easily find curated playlists that are designed to put you in a certain mood, or help you reach a goal (how about some “Cure those Monday morning blues” or “Songs to wake up happy,” anyone?). Many of us regularly use music as a tool to help us focus on the task at hand, or to pump ourselves up before a challenging workout.

Image courtesy of ShutterstockThere’s nothing particularly surprising about the fact that music affects how we feel. But, do we really understand what it does to our brains and bodies? The physiological and neurological effects of music are largely a mystery – one that Ketki Karanam, Head of Science at The Sync Project, is eager to solve. The Sync Project – whose Advisory board members include artists like Peter Gabriel, as well as neuroscientists and machine learning experts – is designing the first large scale data collection and machine learning models to understand these effects. It will identify how music’s structural properties – like beat and tempo – can affect our biometric rhythms, such as heart rate, sleep patterns, and brain activity.

The goal of the initiative? To identify potential music therapeutics that would serve as an alternative to drugs for health issues like insomnia, pain, and anxiety. Like Ketki, the relationship between music and medicine has also been a lifelong interest for Richard Kogan, who has led a distinguished career as both a psychiatrist and a concert pianist. A professor at the Weill Cornell Medical College, Richard has developed a series of renowned lecture-recitals, in which he examines the influence of psychological and psychiatric factors on the creative work of great composers, like Schumann, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Gershwin. In part, Richard is motivated by a desire to destigmatize mental illness by highlighting savants with mental disorders, whose symptoms may have inspired their creative processes.

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Scarred for Life, Ted Meyer

For both Ketki and Richard, music and medicine are inseparable. But does the relationship between the two extend beyond music, to other forms of art? According to artist and curator Ted Meyer, it does. Having been diagnosed with Gaucher disease, a rare genetic illness, at age 6, Ted spent years in hospital rooms creating paintings that depicted the loneliness, fatigue, and pain he experienced. Decades later, after a new drug was discovered to treat those symptoms, the subject of Ted’s art has changed. Today, his 18 year old project, “Scarred for Life,” chronicles the trauma and courage of people who have lived through accidents and health crises. Using this mixture of personal stories and a love for art, Ted has set out to improve the doctor-patient relationship. As an Artist in Residence at the USC Keck School of Medicine, Ted curates patient-artists whose work ties to the medical curriculum; for example, an artist with asthma for a class on the respiratory system. Ted hopes to expand this program to other medical schools, with a goal of teaching future doctors to look at their patients beyond their diagnoses, and view them as complex, whole human beings.

We are delighted that Ketki, Richard, and Ted will each be speaking on the TEDMED 2016 stage, where they will share their discoveries and unique insights about the relationship between art and medicine. We invite you to join us this November 30-December 2, in Palm Springs, CA, to learn more from them and other extraordinary speakers.

Emotional Well-Being is the Missing Key to Better Health

This guest blog post is by Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy, the U.S. Surgeon General and TEDMED 2015 speaker. You can watch his TEDMED talk here.


Imagine if there was a force in your life that could reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke, that could help you live longer, that could make your children less likely to use drugs and engage in crime, and that could even help you lose weight.

It turns out, it is not a new prescription medication or medical procedure. The force I’m talking about is emotional well-being.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy speaking at TEDMED 2015.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy speaking at TEDMED 2015.

Emotional well-being is the often overlooked counterpart to physical well-being. Emotional well-being is about much more than the absence of mental illness in the same way that physical well-being is about more than the absence of injury or disease. Commonly thought of as happiness, emotional well-being is a powerful resource within each of us that can reduce our risk of illness, improve our performance, and enable us to be resilient in the face of adversity. Emotional well-being is what can make the difference between surviving and thriving.

It might be tempting to assume that emotional well-being is solely a consequence of our circumstances. We may tell ourselves that we’ll be happy if we get the promotion we want, make more money, or lose some weight. This is not to say that circumstances don’t matter. They do. In particular, external factors such as poverty, violence, and poor access to health care have a real impact on health and well-being – and we must do everything we can to address them. But science tells us that there are also internal factors that influence emotional well-being and that we can in fact proactively cultivate emotional well-being using tools that are surprisingly simple and relatively inexpensive.

We can cultivate emotional well-being with physical exercise, which research shows can improve mood and outlook as well as reduce depression. Contemplative practices like gratitude exercises and meditation have also been shown to improve emotional well-being, as has getting an adequate amount of sleep.

Perhaps one of the most powerful tools for improving emotional well-being is social connection – the presence of genuine, strong, relationships where one feels known and supported. Despite the ubiquity of social media, we are facing an epidemic of loneliness and social isolation. Helping people find and build meaningful relationships is one way to improve emotional well-being. The good news is there are a growing number of communities that have begun to invest in improving emotional well-being and are seeing remarkable results.

sg-visitacion-valley-msOne example is Visitacion Valley Middle School in California.  The school is located in a community where violence is prevalent.  The majority of the students come from economically-challenged families. Many have one or both parents in prison.  Several years ago, suspension rates were high, academic performance was low and anxiety and trauma were commonplace.  Desperate to do something, the school teamed up with the Center for Wellness and Achievement in Education to develop a voluntary “Quiet Time” program for students – that included the option to practice 15 minutes of meditation, twice a day. In the first year alone, there was a 45% reduction in suspensions, teacher absenteeism dropped by 30%, grades and test scores went up, and the students reported less anxiety and fewer sleep disturbances. The program has since been expanded to more schools, with promising results.

Emotional well-being is a relatively untapped resource that has the potential to transform our health. It can help us build resilience, enhance productivity, and shift our mindsets away from fear and pessimism toward peace and possibility – a shift that is increasingly necessary and urgent in today’s world.

Imagine if we prioritized emotional well-being as much as test scores in schools. Imagine if cultivating emotional well-being was seen as a priority in our workplaces. Imagine if emotional well-being was understood by all our policymakers to be the fuel that enables us to be healthy, productive, and strong.

The question is: can we make the cultivation of emotional well-being a priority that is reflected in our culture, our policies, and each of our lives? For the sake of our health and the health of future generations, we must ensure the answer is “yes.”

Announcing the TEDMED 2016 Speaker Illustrator: Gabriel Gutiérrez

There is an undeniable relationship between healing and art, not only for the audience, but also for the creator. For many, the act of creating can be therapeutic, providing respite from everyday challenges through cultivating the power of personal expression. The healing nature of art is an important feature of the TEDMED stage program that will be addressed by a number of our speakers, including the artistic patient advocate Ted Meyer, music-medicine connector Richard Kogan, and civic-minded composer Dan Visconti.

But we don’t only celebrate art on stage. Committed to multidisciplinary thinking, TEDMED carefully crafts every aspect of our annual event to capture the imagination, and art and design are core components of the overall TEDMED experience. To that end, every year, TEDMED selects an artist from its community to create vivid portraits of the TEDMED speakers. In the past, we’ve had the honor of working with internationally acclaimed artists and supporting young artists through programs at the Rhode Island School of Design whose unique talents resulted in captivating work.

When we began our search for the TEDMED 2016 Speaker Illustrator, we were dedicated to finding undiscovered talent. In February, we set out to crowdsource an artist from the wonderfully diverse TEDMED community. In the months that followed, we received dozens of applications from all over the world, including Russia and the Middle East, which showcased outstanding examples of creativity in action.

We are so very proud to announce this year’s speaker illustrator: Gabriel Gutiérrez. Hailing from Mexico, Gabriel is a 20-year-old film student passionate about different art forms, including drawing and writing. Not only will Gabriel’s speaker illustrations be featured in the TEDMED program guide and website, they’ll be reprinted, larger than life, to be enjoyed on-site at this year’s event in Palm Springs, CA.

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Gabriel Gutiérrez

Intrigued by Gabriel’s personal story and curious to learn more about his drive to create art, we reached out to him with a few questions. Read on to learn more…

blogGabriel, did you always know you wanted to be an artist?

Gabriel: Ever since I was young, I’ve always had a special attitude. My mom has told me that I was a very serious child, one who would rather observe
his surroundings instead of expressing himself with noises and actions. I’ve enjoyed drawing all my life, which has made me feel proud of calling myself an artist.

In addition to drawing, do you work in other media as well?

I happen to enjoy writing just as much as I do drawing and painting, because the act of making something out of nothings and everythings has no limit.

What roles have health and medicine played in your art?

When I was little, I was diagnosed with Gilles de la Tourette’s Syndrome, and it was a thing that I couldn’t manage to understand. I never felt even slightly different until I became self-aware that, somehow, maybe I was. However, after focusing on art for a few years, I was finally able to control my tics. It seemed as if they had disappeared.

Amazing. What do you think accounts for this?

I remember reading an article where it said that tics are similar to scratching and itch, where a person with GTS will repeat the tic until it feels just right. Maybe drawing did that for me, and maybe pouring so much time into the creative process didn’t leave any time for the mysterious itch.

Are your symptoms completely gone, then?

When I find myself trapped in nervousness or stress and am unable to let my artistic me out, I start blinking and sniffing and rolling my eyes again. It’s something about myself that I happen to enjoy, even if it might look silly.

What is your view on the connection between creativity and our emotional and physical health?

Creating is something that I love deeply, because it’s something that brings comfort in every situation.

Our deepest gratitude to Gabriel for sharing his talents with the TEDMED community.

Celebrating the life-saving act of caregiving

With each event, TEDMED draws special attention to caregivers and celebrates the invaluable roles they play in healthcare delivery. In past years, we’ve highlighted somewhat unconventional caregivers, such as the comedic duo Karen Stobbe and Mondy Carter, who draw upon the rules of improvisational acting to inject their caregiving with elements of openness and compassion. Yet again, caregiving is an important focus of the TEDMED stage program and Hive. At TEDMED 2016, we’ll be exploring new models for care delivery, particularly for the elderly, as well as honoring the unique relationships caregivers have with their patients.

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Image courtesy of The New York Times

Like Karen and Mondy, TEDMED 2016 speaker and mental health professional Cheryl Steed takes an unexpected approach to caregiving for people with dementia – but, in this case, what’s particularly unique is that the providers are convicted felons. As a clinical psychologist at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo, Cheryl leads the Gold Coat Program, through which prisoners are trained to provide support for ailing inmates suffering from cognitive impairments, such as brain injuries, strokes, and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Alzheimer’s Disease has grown to be a pressing public health challenge in the United States, with the population of Americans over 65 expected to nearly double to 84 million between now and 2050. This is especially true in prison populations, where the increasing rates of dementia are a fast-growing and under-reported issue that the majority of prisons are ill-equipped to handle. The Gold Coat Program is an inventive and resourceful effort to provide care for ailing inmates, who are often the most vulnerable members of the prison population. A Gold Coat’s job description is both physically and emotionally taxing, and includes helping inmates with intimate tasks such as showering, going to the bathroom, cleaning their cells, and eating. Yet, perhaps the most important aspect of the Gold Coat’s role is offering companionship to the inmates, through which they develop a trusting and caring bond. The experience is not only life-changing for the ailing inmate, but for their caregiver, as well.

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Image courtesy of Honor

Another unique approach to providing care for the elderly that will be featured at TEDMED 2016 is Honor, an ambitious new effort to modernize in-home care for senior citizens and allow them to live in their own homes with joy, comfort and grace. Currently, the home care industry employs 1.5 million caregivers for senior citizens; yet, finding a caregiver is often a convoluted and inefficient process, and workers are often underpaid, work part-time, or have limited control over their schedules. Through Honor, the process is simplified and caregivers can list their qualifications, skills, and job requirements on an online marketplace, where they will then be matched with elderly patients seeking care. By combining care professionals with smart, easy to use technology, Honor makes it easier for elderly to find the right care at the right time.

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Image courtesy of The American Nurse Project

According to Honor’s co-founder and TEDMED Hive entrepreneur, Sandy Jen, the company is aptly named as its mission is to honor the elderly with dignified care. Similarly, award-winning filmmaker and TEDMED 2016 speaker Carolyn Jones is driven by a mission to honor nurses for the integral role they play in the lives of their patients. As the creator of The American Nurse Project, Carolyn Jones is incredibly passionate about paying tribute to nurses across the country who have pledged their lives to caring for others. For Carolyn, this journey of appreciation was sparked by a close relationship she had with her nurse when undergoing chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer. The American Nurse Project has taken Carolyn across the country, where she’s documented the stories of fearless nurses serving on the frontlines of healthcare.

Together, these remarkable speakers and stories will shed light on new, innovative models of care, while deepening our appreciation for caregivers. At TEDMED 2016, Delegates will have the opportunity to learn more from their inspirational stories and insightful perspectives. We hope you’ll join us there.

A Beginner’s Guide to Insect Farming

This guest blog post is by TEDMED 2015 speaker Shobhita Soor, a founding member of the Aspire Food Group.

At Aspire, we often get inquiries about how to start and scale up insect farms. The truth is, starting up a never-been-created-before edible insect farm is an exciting but challenging task. There is so much research to do, and so many unknowns around scaling up farming of the insects, the market’s response to your product and price point, and packaging possibilities. At Aspire, we faced these hurdles as well as the adjustments to living in a new country!

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Edible insects can compliment delicious dishes or can simply be eaten on their own as snacks.

The crucial first step is to have an insect to market match. When choosing which insect to farm, our most basic question is: “Do people eat this already?” or “Will people even considering eating this?”. In Central and Southern Ghana, for example, the palm weevil larva is already consumed in a harvested form. Since the farmed version is almost identical but safer, we were sure it would be acceptable to consumers. In that case, an interesting nuance that we had to pull apart was whether buyers would be willing to pay for an otherwise harvested (and free!) product. We found that, since the supply in the wild had decreased due to increased use of pesticide in palm plantations, there was a strong desire for a steady supply of palm weevil larva. In the United States, however, it was a bit trickier. We had to look at analogous products and do some market testing to know whether segments in the American food market were ready for cricket powder and roasted crickets.

Once we have an insect that people are actually excited to eat (and willing to pay for!), we want to make sure that the insect species is amenable to large-scale farming in a cost-efficient manner. This can be a long process–we look at other existing edible insect farms, traditional livestock rearing, and methods with which to make this more efficient by collecting a lot of data on our farms. Early on, we also consider how to process and package insects. Since edible insects have often been harvested and eaten shortly thereafter, we find innovative ways of processing and packaging insects, so that they are not only attractive to the consumer but also safe for consumption.

The nutritional profile of the insect in question is also tantamount to our choice of insect – our goal is to choose an insect that matches the nutrition needs of the market. Take palm weevil larva, for instance – it’s rich in essential fatty acid and protein making. That means it’s well-positioned to address the problems of child stunting; it’s also high in zinc, which aids in preventing diarrhea. In the United States, we aim to farm crickets as a lean source of protein that is also resource-efficient. Our goal is to displace traditional sources of protein (that can wreak havoc on the environment) with alternatives that are healthy for our planet. Currently, there is little data on the resource consumption of edible insect production, and this is something that we try to consistently measure.

These are just a few of the considerations we take into account when starting up an insect farm ¬– yet another important factor is the political and economic climate of the country in question. Changing food culture is complex, as people’s food traditions tend to be strong traditions. That said, in the Western world, we’ve begun to see culture shift where insect consumption is becoming more popular. From cricket flour in consumer packaged goods to whole insects showing up on restaurant menus, people are beginning to embrace insects as a part of their normal diet. We’re so excited to see how these nutritious and sustainable sources of protein will improve our health, and the health of our planet. This is just the beginning!

Found in Translation – Kyoto style

By guest contributor and TEDMED 2015 Speaker Daria Mochly-Rosen, PhD and Rosanne Spector

This week I’m visiting Kyoto University to spark something similar to SPARK, the program at Stanford University that translates fundamental academic research into drugs and treatments to benefit patients.

I founded SPARK 10 years ago when I realized how hard it was for me, a professor at Stanford’s medical school, to get the world of drug developers interested in a discovery from my lab that I felt sure could improve patients’ lives. In my TEDMED talk last year, I talked about SPARK’s successes at promoting translational research. Among them: More than two dozen of the Stanford projects have launched start-ups or been licensed to existing companies. Meanwhile, other institutions inside and outside the United States are using SPARK as a template for programs of their own — which brings me to this week in Japan.

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Photo courtesy of http://kodo-kan.com/

After a very productive day with several professors at Kyoto University, my host, associate professor Tomoyoshi Koyanagi, PhD, took me to a very old tea house for a tea ceremony, hosted by Makoto Sarata. Sarata-san is an assistant manager in the Entrepreneur Nurturing Support Department of the Advanced Science and Technology Management Research Institute of Kyoto (a mouthful and yet incomplete title).

As I entered the beautiful tea house, surrounded by a manicured moss garden, I met Sarata-san, a strongly built man who had a huge smile and boundless energy. We sat on the tatami floor mat, drank the green foamy tea in large ceramic bowls, and talked. As you’ll see, the tea house turned out to be the perfect place to talk about translational research.

Sarata-san talked about design thinking and “smile value,” which are his tools to encourage entrepreneurship. Using these tools, he triggers participants to think creatively and positively by first identifying and choosing a problem and only then working on solutions and sorting through many of them to find the one to focus on. I contrasted these tools with our approach in SPARK, which has to include building on years of research that identified a lead (a beginning) for a solution. We talked about SPARK’s challenge, as the process depends on so many diverse types of expertise (medicine, chemistry, material science, pharmacology, etc) and how that generates language barriers.

As we continued, I also heard more about the ancient and beautiful tea tradition. Sarata-san told us that after finishing the tea, it’s the custom for guests to carefully inspect the bowl and admire it from all sides, as each bowl is unique. I immediately picked up my empty bowl from the tatami and held it high to show my appreciation. What a cultural faux pas! After a belly laugh, Sarata-san explained the mistake: The bowl was over 200 years old and I showed disrespect. The proper way is to bend down close to the tatami and elevate the bowl only slightly, so not to risk breaking it. Lost in translation?

As we were putting on our shoes, preparing to leave this ancient tea house, Sarata-sun, called out the tea house chairperson, Dr. Kanako Hamasaki. Hamasaki-san, a beautiful young woman, has a PhD in Kodo, the “way of fragrance.” I am not sure if I understood her explanation of her expertise on the effect of incense on the body. But the discussion was cut short when she exclaimed: “I have the same boots as yours!” We were just two women, sharing the same language – women’s love for shoes.


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Dr. Daria Mochly-Rosen is a professor of Chemical and Systems Biology at Stanford University and is the founder and director of Stanford’s SPARK program. In her TEDMED talk, Daria highlights the value of connecting academia and industry to enhance translational research. 

Announcing TEDMED 2016 Speakers: Invisible Threats

What if we could expose and confront invisible threats to health?

To the naked eye, sickness and health are distinct and opposing entities – we see symptoms of illness with the same ease as we notice healthy habits. But, what if our true health status is not what meets the eye? What if we are constantly vulnerable to insidious health threats on personal and global scales? With powerful insight and active foresight, speakers in a session called “Invisible Threats” prepare us to identify and defend against the world’s most pressing health disasters.

It is our privilege to present:


Bruce Schneier
Health Data Watchman

Bruce Asks: What if our health data could be both more accessible and more secure?

Named a “security guru” by The Economist, Bruce Schneier is a world renowned expert on cyber security. Acclaimed for his recent New York Times bestseller, Data and Goliath, Bruce explains how our online presence–texts, purchasing patterns, and Facebook updates–can reveal surprising facts about our health. Read More…


Emtithal “Emi” Mahmoud
Refugee Bard

Emi Asks: What if we could speak the unspeakable?

2015 Individual World Poetry Slam Champion Emtithal “Emi” Mahmoud was born in Sudan and came to the United States in 1998, escaping the Darfur genocide with her family. A 2016 graduate of Yale University, Emi speaks with a passion to alleviate structural disparities on maternal and child health in disadvantaged communities across the world. Read More…


Jeremy Farrar
Global Health Reformer

Jeremy Asks: What if the next deadly flu outbreak could be contained in a globally coordinated fashion?

Tropical medicine expert Jeremy Farrar is the Director of the Wellcome Trust, the world’s second largest global charitable foundation, dedicated to improving health. With 18 years of experience researching infectious diseases, tropical health, and emerging infections as Director of the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Vietnam, Jeremy brings global attention to the dangers of imminent pandemics. Read More…


Mona Hanna-Attisha
Pediatric Public Health Whistleblower

Mona Asks: What if the government did an optimal job of safeguarding child health?

Iraqi-born, Detroit-raised pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha is the whistleblower who exposed the dangerous levels of lead in Flint, Michigan’s drinking water after testing blood lead levels in its children. For revealing this threat on the national stage and founding the Flint Child Health and Development Fund, Mona is one of TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world for 2016. Read More…


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Richard Kogan
Music-Medicine Connector

Richard Asks: What if musical exposure could transform psychopathology into radiant mental health?

Richard Kogan has a distinguished career both as a concert pianist and as a physician. A graduate of Juilliard and Harvard Medical School, he is currently Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College and Artistic Director of the Weill Cornell Music and Medicine Program. Richard has gained international renown for his lecture/concerts that explore the role of music in healing. Read More…


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Sue Klebold
Activist Mom

Sue Asks: What if parents were better at detecting their children’s departure from brain health?

Sue Klebold is the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the two shooters at Columbine High School in 1999. After years of evading public scrutiny, in 2016, Sue published A Mother’s Reckoning: Living In the Aftermath of Tragedy, a powerful memoir in which she explores the crucial intersection between mental health and violence. Read More…


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Susie Baldwin
Human Rights Physician

Susie Asks: What if health professionals are positioned to provide life-changing support to trafficked people, but don’t know it?

Susie Baldwin is a Public Health and Preventive Medicine physician whose career has focused on sexual and reproductive health, women’s health, epidemiology, and supporting survivors of human trafficking. As Co-Founder and Board President of HEAL Trafficking, and Sexually Transmitted Disease Controller for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, Susie activates caregivers and communities to heal human trafficking. Read More…

Register today to save your spot at TEDMED 2016 this November 30 – December 2 in Palm Springs, CA. Stay tuned for our last session announcement by subscribing to our blog and signing up for our newsletter today!

Announcing TEDMED 2016 Speakers: Endgame?

What if we possess the knowledge to be the architects of our aging and eventual deaths?

As children, most of us counted down to our birthdays, eagerly anticipating the milestones that came with each new age. At some point in life, nostalgia for the past begins to replace our excitement for the future. Many of us are filled with fear and dread at the thought of aging into the unknown. What if we changed this narrative, embraced our childlike wonder, and revitalized our excitement for what lies ahead?

In a session called “Endgame?”, speakers from different walks of life will share personal discoveries and revelations that have shaped their lives. This session will challenge our personal and cultural perceptions of longevity, quality of life, caregiving, and death. Our insightful speakers include:


Caitlin Doughty
Progressive Mortician

Caitlin asks: What if we re-designed the funeral industry for an eco-friendly end of life?

With a proclivity for the macabre from an early age, atypical mortician Caitlin Doughty began her career in the funeral industry as a crematory operator. Currently a licensed funeral director and eco-friendly mortician in Los Angeles, Caitlin empower families to care for their dead and unites communities to prepare a death phobic culture for their inevitable mortality. Read More…


Cheryl Steed
Prison Psychologist

Cheryl asks: What if criminals could transform their identities after learning to become caregivers and patient advocates?

Clinical psychologist Cheryl Steed leads one of the Gold Coat Programs at the California Men’s Colony (CMC), a medium-security prison in central California. Through the program, Cheryl trains a select group of inmates–“Gold Coats”–to become caregivers to elderly or severely cognitively impaired inmates, including those with dementia. Read More…


Lucy Kalanithi
Caregiver

Lucy asks: What if we experienced death the way doctors do?

Stanford internist Lucy Kalanithi is the widow of neurosurgeon and writer Paul Kalanithi, who details his battle with Stage IV lung cancer at age 36 in his memoir When Breath Becomes Air. As a caregiver for her husband during all phases of his illness into his death, Lucy is dedicated to helping others choose the health care and end-of-life experiences that best align with their values. Read More…


Nir Barzilai
Longevity Scientist

Nir asks: What if a drug that targets the process of aging could help us live longer, higher quality lives?

Israeli internist Nir Barzilai has worked with a diversity of populations–from the Israeli Army, to a Cambodian refugee camp, to a Zulu village. Perhaps his most fascinating patient population is 600 centenarians, whom he has studied to understand the biology and genetics of exceptional longevity. Read More…


Tomás Ryan
Memory Detective

Tomás asks: What if the missing memories in amnesia were actually retrievable?

Tomás Ryan dedicates his work to understanding the neuroarchitecture of memory. Challenging conventional notions of memory storage, retrieval, and brain damage, his work sets the stage for potential memory recall in patients with amnesia due to trauma, stress, alcohol and drug abuse, dementia, and aging. Read More…

We will be announcing our final two sessions in the coming weeks! For more information about TEDMED, sign up for our newsletter and subscribe to our blog. Register today to join us at TEDMED 2016 from November 30 – December 2.

Announcing TEDMED 2016 Speakers: Truth and Beauty

What if we found beauty while confronting difficult truths?

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then why are there experiences that humans collectively consider “beautiful?” Perhaps, when we study individuals’ subjective perspectives as a whole, they can expose universal truths and a greater sense of beauty to which we can all relate.

At TEDMED 2016’s Truth and Beauty session, we will explore research, innovations, and actions that evoke beautiful new truths about health worldwide. In this session, our TEDMED 2016 speakers share the discoveries and experiences that have led them to find Truth and Beauty. With insights from state-of-the-art holographic technology, nurses’ perspectives on healing, the neurobiology of aesthetic pleasure, and emotionally evocative video games, this session expands our understanding of health, truth, and beauty.

Our captivating lineup includes:


Anjan Chatterjee
Neuroaesthetitician 

Anjan asks: What if appreciating beauty is not just pleasurable, but essential to our survival?

Cognitive neuroscientist Anjan Chatterjee seeks to answer a tantalizing question: why is beauty so gripping? In his recent book, The Aesthetic Brain: How We Evolved to Desire Beauty and Enjoy Art, Anjan explores neural responses to beauty, noting that the faces and places we find aesthetically pleasing may promote evolutionary success. Read More…


Carolyn Jones
Photographic Ethnographer

Carolyn asks: What if we could see the beauty of invisible populations?

Through her socially proactive photographs and documentary films, Carolyn Jones points our attention towards issues of global concern. Passionate about personal stories and their power to connect us all, Carolyn examines the dying experience through the eyes of American nurses in her new film, HOPE: Dying in America. Read More…


Dan Visconti
Innovative Civic-Minded Composer

Dan asks: What if video games are works of great public art?

Dan Visconti creates concert experiences that reimagine the arts as a form of cultural and civic service. A composer and concert curator who loves American vernacular musical traditions, Dan infuses his compositions with influences from jazz, rock, blues and beyond. Read More…


James Gordon
Global DIY Healing Teacher

Jim asks: What if simple self-care techniques could help free the world from the effects of trauma?

Psychiatrist, author, White House advisor, and Georgetown Medical School Clinical Professor James Gordon is a world-renowned expert in using mind-body medicine to heal depression, anxiety, and psychological trauma. A proponent of “self-care as the true primary-care,” Jim became Founder and Director of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine in 1991. Read More…


Kellee Santiago 
Evocative Game Developer

Kellee asks: What if video games are works of great public art?

Kellee Santiago designs video games that evoke emotional responses. With research focused on game design, interactive narrative, and physical and gestural interfaces for digital media, Kellee is pushing the communicative possibilities of video games as an artistic medium. Read More…


Partho Sengupta 
Physician Holographer

Partho asks: What if advancements in visualization technology could transform patient care?

Cardiologist Partho Sengupta’s hopes to revolutionize the way we approach heart disease. By harnessing the exponential growth of cardiac visualization technology, Partho uses holograms to detect early signs of cardiovascular disease and improve patient care in the US as well as low income countries. Read More…

Look out for more speaker announcements coming soon! Sign up for our newsletter and subscribe to our blog for the latest updates. Also, don’t miss your chance to register for TEDMED 2016 this November 30 – December 2 in Palm Springs, CA. Hope to see you there!

The Workforce of the Future

Vivienne Ming discusses our future workforce.

Vivienne speaking at TEDMED 2015.

“How can we make students robot-proof?”

This was the question posed to me a few years ago at the Department of Education. They were designing a 6-week job retraining program, but couldn’t divine which skills to teach that would still be employable 10 years from now. They were hoping I could help them devise a short program to teach some crucial knowledge or skill that we knew wouldn’t be displaced by artificial intelligence in the future. Here is the simple truth I shared with them: there is no skill or knowledge which is robot-proof.

Automation, Artificial Intelligence, and Why Automation Is Different This Time

The concerns of the Dept. of Ed. are well-founded. Quite apart from the hysteria surrounding general artificial intelligence – the existential threat posed by a fully aware computer that surpasses us in intelligence – they and many others are focused on a much more mundane problem: basic AI and other computerized automation will displace the world’s labor force, leaving few jobs for humans. The three largest employers in the world–agriculture, transportation, and natural resources–are all seeing huge advances in robotic automation. For example, precision farming involving drones, robotic weeders, and AI-driven irrigation produces more food but needs few humans. The productivity gain truly is a fundamental good, but what happens to the one billion agricultural workers worldwide?

Importantly, AI isn’t only replacing physical labor, but cognitive labor, and it’s doing so at an increasing rate. We now see automated systems outperforming or displacing humans in medical diagnostics, journalism, financial advising, and a vast array of other industries. A recent paper described a deep neural network that can read the technical specifications for software companies’ APIs (the rules that allow one computer system to interact with another), and can then automatically spit out a simple set of instructions for writing code using the API. It would be a rather minor additional step to have a basic AI write the code itself. Despite all the focus in recent years in teaching students to code, it seems unlikely to me that simple programming will be a viable skill 5 or 10 years from now in the same way it is today. I’ll simply “hire” an AI contractor, giving it a set of specifications and even having a conversation around the details. It will quickly and easily spit out prototypes and update them based on real-time feedback. While this sounds wonderful to me as an entrepreneur, software developers might feel like they bought a home just as the real estate bubble burst.

AI Workforce vs. Human Workforce?Techno-utopians may claim that AIs will free everyone to be artists and doctors. They imagine themselves freed of the burdens of rent and the need to take a job just for the paycheck, spending lives of purpose solving deep problems. Our schools and other social institutions, however, are simply not designed to produce a workforce full of problem-solvers. It is much more likely that we would have a world in which the labor of some is worth more than an AI, but the labor of the vast majority is worth less. What a profound divide that would be.

Craftsmen and Their Tools

Research has shown, rather dramatically, that knowledge and skills, and the grades, test scores, and degrees associated with them, are simply not predictive of employability and other life outcomes. Yet schools and so many job-training programs focus exactly on these: how to program, how to factor a polynomial, how to write a grammatically correct sentence, or how to sketch the human form. They are valuable skills, but only in the hands of someone empowered to make use of them. These are just the tools that craftsmen employ, not the craft itself. What predicts life outcomes is the quality of the craftsman. A large and growing body of research links success with qualities like general cognitive ability, metacognition, mindset, emotion regulation, and creativity. These are attributes which we have described as meta-learning–the deeper abilities that enable learning.

A further, fundamental problem is that no tool is robot-proof. There is no basic skill or knowledge which we cannot eventually build an AI to perform more economically than a human. Tools neither differentiate people from one another, nor protect them from robots. Instead of trying to guess which skills kids need to know 20 years from now, we should build craftsmen who can master any tool. A craftsman without their tools is hobbled, but tools without a craftsman are entirely pointless. To robot-proof our kids, we must develop their meta-learning skills, producing a generation of problem-solvers.

A human story

With AI’s providing all of the tools, the future of work is the hyperinflation of work: you’ll show up in the morning, and it will be a different job by the end of the day. The only job description in the future will be that of a problem-solver, with every day posing a different problem (and it sounds damned exhausting). But imagine what a society full of such craftsmen could accomplish with a toolkit full of AI tools. What could be accomplished if we truly were a society of problem-solvers, of craftsmen?

I am a huge advocate of the potential of machine learning, AI, and even the eventual power of augmented intelligence and neuroprosthetics. They are a foundational part of a world in which I want to live. But this is fundamentally a human story, not a technological one. No one is going to stop the rise of AIs. We need to match it with the rise in social institutions built on the core principle that everyone can be amazing. But it takes years, even decades, to “build” an amazing person. If technology continues to outpace culture, the results will be catastrophic.

We don’t have to accept that outcome. While there’s no online course or six-week job retraining program for meta-learning, we know how to develop it over time. We know how to build into kids a belief that their hard work will pay off. The irony is that the solution to humanity’s place in a futuristic world of robots and AIs is as old as it gets. The things that will make us robot-proof are the very same things that are predictive of life outcomes of both kids and adults today, and have probably always have been throughout the history of humankind. The best way to robot-proof your kids is to make them all the more uniquely human.


VivienneMing
This guest blog post is by TEDMED 2015 speaker Vivienne Ming. You can watch Vivienne’s TEDMED talk here.