TED Talks of 2015

The way we think about work is broken

You may be asking yourselves that very question. Now, I know of course, we have to make a living, but nobody in this room thinks that that's the answer to the question, "Why do we work?" For folks in this room, the work we do is challenging, it's engaging, it's stimulating, it's meaningful. And if we're lucky, it might even be important.

So, we wouldn't work if we didn't get paid, but that's not why we do what we do. And in general, I think we think that material rewards are a pretty bad reason for doing the work that we do. When we say of somebody that he's "in it for the money," we are not just being descriptive.


Think your email is private? Think again

Now, many of us probably think, well, one email, there's nothing in there, right? But if you consider a year's worth of emails, or maybe even a lifetime of email, collectively, this tells a lot. It tells where we have been, who we have met, and in many ways, even what we're thinking about. And the more scary part about this is our data now lasts forever, so your data can and will outlive you. What has happened is that we've largely lost control over our data and also our privacy.

Let's take a look at one of the most widely used forms of communication in the world today: email. Before the invention of email, we largely communicated using letters, and the process was quite simple. You would first start by writing your message on a piece of paper, then you would place it into a sealed envelope, and from there, you would go ahead and send it after you put a stamp and address on it. Unfortunately, today, when we actually send an email, we're not sending a letter. What you are sending, in many ways, is actually a postcard, and it's a postcard in the sense that everybody that sees it from the time it leaves your computer to when it gets to the recipient can actually read the entire contents.

So, the solution to this has been known for some time, and there's many attempts to do it. The most basic solution is to use encryption, and the idea is quite simple. First, you encrypt the connection between your computer and the email server. Then, you also encrypt the data as it sits on the server itself. But there's a problem with this, and that is, the email servers also hold the encryption keys, so now you have a really big lock with a key placed right next to it. But not only that, any government could lawfully ask for and get the key to your data, and this is all without you being aware of it.


The first secret of design is ... noticing

So there's a good reason why our brains habituate things. If we didn't, we'd notice every little detail, all the time. It would be exhausting, and we'd have no time to learn about new things. But sometimes, habituation isn't good. If it stops us from noticing the problems that are around us, well, that's bad. And if it stops us from noticing and fixing those problems, well, then that's really bad.

Comedians know all about this. Jerry Seinfeld's entire career was built on noticing those little details, those idiotic things we do every day that we don't even remember. He tells us about the time he visited his friends and he just wanted to take a comfortable shower. He'd reach out and grab the handle and turn it slightly one way, and it was 100 degrees too hot. And then he'd turn it the other way, and it was 100 degrees too cold. He just wanted a comfortable shower. Now, we've all been there, we just don't remember it. But Jerry did, and that's a comedian's job.

Almost every product back then did that. When it had batteries in it, you had to charge it before you used it. Well, Steve noticed that and he said, "We're not going to let that happen to our product." So what did we do? Typically, when you have a product that has a hard drive in it, you run it for about 30 minutes in the factory to make sure that hard drive's going to be working years later for the customer after they pull it out of the box. What did we do instead? We ran that product for over two hours. Why? Well, first off, we could make a higher quality product, be easy to test, and make sure it was great for the customer. But most importantly, the battery came fully charged right out of the box, ready to use. So that customer, with all that exhilaration, could just start using the product. It was great, and it worked. People liked it.


Take back control of your personal data

Whether buying a bottle of wine, making an online purchase or going to a movie, most of us share far more information than is necessary: birthdates, credit card numbers, addresses. At a time when our personal information is at risk every day, cryptographer Dr. Maria Dubovitskaya is part of a team which has designed a system that shares only what's absolutely necessary while closely guarding the rest.