Top 10 TED Talks About Data


It is most certainly the age of ‘big data’, with technology making it even easier to access a wealth of information. But what does all that data mean? What do we do with it? Luckily, there are plenty of people who are experts in data around the world. Many of whom are asked to give TED Talks on what they know (or don’t know). Here are the best TED talks about data you’ll ever see…

How I Hacked Online Dating – Amy Webb

What do you do if online dating isn’t going well for you and you’re a data lover? You start making a spreadsheet of course. You then go on to hack your dating life! Well, you do if you’re Amy Webb. This may be a slightly unusual way of going about things, but you’ll soon understand more about data and the human race throughout this TED Talk. This talk will have you laughing in places, crying in others, and scratching your head all the way through. Amy Webb, a digital strategist for the Webbmedia group and author of Data: A Love Story, manages to take data to a completely different level when taking on the weird and wonderful world of online dating.

Global Population Growth, Box by Box – Hans Rosling

You may see Hans Rosling pop up a few times throughout this list, simply because he is a data genius. Data just seems to work when put into the hands of Hans Rosling, which is probably why this TED Talk is one of the most viewed of all time. Using colorful new data technology, in the form of boxes, Hans wants to take on global population growth data. The world’s population is set to grow 9 billion over the next 50 years which could cause problems. Hans wants to prove, using his data and colorful boxes, that raising the living standards of the poorest is the best way to keep the global population growth under control. This is a truly mind-blowing TED Talk by a man often hailed as the king of data.

Who Controls the World? – James B. Glattfelder

If you like a mixture of global economy, data, and complex theories then James B. Glattfelder is your man. This TED Talk may have you scratching your head at times, but it all comes to one earth-shattering conclusion. James studies complexity in this talk, explaining how an interconnected system (such as a swarm of birds) is more than just the sum of the parts it is made up of. This complex theory also goes a long way to explaining how the modern economy works, focusing on how power in the hands of very few can leave the rest of the world vulnerable. This TED Talk will completely blow your mind and shatter your perceptions, all at once. You may want to take a lie down after being fed so much impressive big data knowledge by James B. Glattfelder.

The Beauty of Data Visualization – David McCandless

Creating something beautiful out of data may seem like a hard task, unless you’re David McCandless. In this TED Talk he wants to prove that data can be easily digested if we turn it into something visually appealing. David turns what seems to be complex data, such as worldwide military spending, into simply beautiful designs that go to show patterns and connections that were unseen before. He has since turned this idea into a number of books, including Information is Beautiful and Knowledge is Beautiful. By the time you have finished with this TED Talk you will feel more informed about data, and probably want to rush out and buy some of his books. Whoever said that data is boring clearly hasn’t met with David McCandless or seen any of his data diagrams.

How Economic Inequality Harms Societies – Richard Wilkinson

Here is another incredible TED Talk on the global economy and issues, this time thanks to Richard Wilkinson. What may have seemed like hard to digest data before has been easily broken down in this TED Talk, to further look at economic inequality. Using hard data, this public health researcher looks at what happens when there is such a huge gap between the rich and the poor. The data in this TED Talk can be quite hard to accept sometimes, especially if you’re not in the poorest category. Richard looks at the effects on health and lifespan, along with even the most basic of human values. This is a heart-wrenching but must-watch TED Talk which makes the most out of some big data on economic inequality.

Religions and Babies – Hans Rosling

We told you that Hans Rosling would rear his head several times within this list! Here he is again, turning big data into something more manageable to get his points across. This time he wants to look at the possible correlation between religion and babies; and the boxes are back. Hans wants to know whether some religions have a higher birth rate than others and whether this has an impact on the growth of the population. Using his boxes to map out data, this impressive TED talker reaches a rather surprising conclusion about fertility rates around the world. If you want to see big data done right then you have to watch this video by Hans Rosling at the TED Summit in 2012.

The Curly Fry Conundrum – Jennifer Golbeck

Jennifer Golbeck is a computer scientist who wants to show how data can be dangerous, especially in the wrong hands. The Curly Fry Conundrum: Why social media ‘likes’ say more than you might think is a lesson in what sites like Facebook can do with your data. She starts off with the example of ‘liking’ curly fries on Facebook and what this can then show the company. She goes on to explain what big companies (especially social media) can learn from you, just by the random likes and shares you make. Jennifer also explains how using data in this way can actually be quite dangerous, and why we should be put back in control over our own information. Warning, this TED Talk may put you off social media for life, when you find out what they can do with your data…

What We Learned from 5 Million Books – Jean-Baptiste Michel and Erez Lieberman Aiden

Two data researchers wanted to play around with the Ngram Viewer on Google Labs, to find out exactly what they could learn from 5 million books. The Ngram Viewer is a database of 5 million books (around 500 billion words) that will let you search for words and ideas in a truly new way. All of this data in the palm of your hands could be an incredible step forward for the world. These two researchers show us how this clever database works and some of the incredibly surprising things we can learn from over 500 billion words. We’re definitely in the age of big data, if this TED Talk is anything to go by. Just be prepared for some startling revelations and to also become addicted to Ngram Viewer.

Your Phone Company is Watching – Malte Spitz

We have already looked at the kind of data social media companies are collecting from us, but what about your phone company? Malte Spitz is a data activist who wanted to find out exactly what our phone companies store about us. It turns out that it’s quite a lot. After asking his phone operator to share what data they had collected about him, Malte was surprised to find a detailed account of the last 6 months of his life; split over 35,830 lines of code. According to this data activist our phone companies are keeping far too much data about us; enough to send shivers up your spine. This is another TED Talk which may make you rethink how much data you share with the rest of the world.

Visualizing Ourselves with Crowd-Sourced Data – Aaron Koblin

We have already seen how data can be made beautiful by David McCandless, but this guy goes one step further. Aaron Koblin considers himself a data artist, if there is such a thing, and you’ll see why by the end of this TED Talk. This man takes huge amounts of data, and sometimes people, to turn them into mind-blowing visualizations. He’s tried it all; from tracing airline flights to cell phone data. He’s also crowd sourced drawings to recreate a Johnny Cash Video, along with a video that customizes itself depending on who is watching it. This man will make you fall in love with big data, by the time you’ve finished watching this TED Talk.