10 TED Talks that will inspire every Data Professional

Padhma M 17 May, 2021 • 5 min read

This article was published as a part of the Data Science Blogathon.

There is a popular phrase in pop culture,

Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

from the English poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

There is also a modern version to this phrase quoted by John Allen Paulos,

Data, data, everywhere, But not a thought to think.

I think it’s only logical that we embrace the modern version. The internet is bombarded with massive amounts of data every other day. Can this data be used to solve world humanitarian problems? Can we save lives using data? How innovative are we with data? This article draws inspiration from 7 TED Talks that answer some of these questions.

TED is a non-profit organization that organizes conferences under the slogan “Ideas worth spreading”. In 1984 when TED began as a conference, the word stood for Technology, Entertainment, and Design but today there are TED talks around almost any area. The talks in this article will inspire you, captivate you, make you think, exhilarate you, or may even serve as an inspiration for your next project. Let’s dive in.

The birth of a word – Deb Roy

How far will you go to collect data for your research? Deb Roy who is a Canadian scientist and MIT Researcher wanted to understand how we learn languages. So he set up video cameras all over his home as he welcomes his newborn son home. He shows how his team captured and parsed over 90,000 hours of video from the very first time his son started mumbling to the time when he got to pronounce a whole word – from gaga to water. He also maps out structures that show how the environment and the people we grow up with, have an impact on the learning of a language.

Your company’s data could help end world hunger – Mallory Freeman

Businesses have been involved for so long in philanthropic activities, donating services or products, or even offering financial aid. But with the coming digital age, there are new responsibilities lined up for companies. Mallory Freeman is the director of Data Science and Machine Learning at UPS. In this sensational talk, she insists that companies should step up and play their roles in fixing the major problems of the world. She puts forth three main ways on how companies can contribute from their end and some strong reasons as to why they should. This is a compelling talk as to how we can save the world with data.


Why smart statistics are the key to fighting crime – Anne Milgram

When Anne Milgram became the Attorney General for New Jersey, she stumbled upon two questions – who were in their criminal justice system and what data they had about them. She realized judges and prosecutors have been charging people and making decisions based on instincts and experiences and it did not turn out very well. Listen to this talk on how she created a team of data scientists, researchers, and statisticians to build data-driven assessment and statistical modeling tools to bring down crime rates in New Jersey.

The best stats you’ve ever seen – Hans Rosling

Is the world the way we see it? Is it better or worse than it was yesterday? Watch this talk as Hans Rosling – a Swedish physician, academic, author of Factfulness – explains how we underestimate the tremendous changes in the world if we don’t look at the data and what it has to say. Even though this talk was delivered almost a decade ago, it’s still relevant in today’s scenario. They say, “In Hans Rosling’s hands, data sings”. You will be sure of it by the end of the talk.


3 ways to spot a bad statistic – Mona Chalabi

Whether you know it or not, statistics are a part of your everyday life. From government statistics to weather forecasts, political campaigns, stock markets – they are everywhere. Most statistics raise suspicion and skepticism. How sure can we be in trusting them? Can we go about trusting them blindly or ignoring them altogether? Mona Chalabi, data journalist, and writer, proposes three ways that will help us to interpret, question, understand and infer good statistics from bad ones.

What do we do with all this big data? – Susan Etlinger

There is a famous proverb in the Spider-Man comic books,

“With great power comes great responsibility”

That is so true for every professional who handles data. You can manipulate data to mean anything. For every great discovery or invention, there’s always a flip side. When we unlock the power of data, which part of it are we tapping in? What does it bring to the world? Are we making fast and bad decisions with it? Is there something we can learn from the past? Susan Etlinger, industry analyst and an expert on AI and big data, shares her own personal experiences and gives a convincing talk that deep critical thinking is the way to go.

How I hacked online dating – Amy Webb

Can you use data and analytics to find your soul mate? Well, Amy Webb, Futurist, and Author says “Yes” and she also shows how she used online dating websites in her favor and found her dream partner. Watch this hilarious talk where she crunches numbers to shortlist men in her city, amasses different data points where each data point is a character that she desires in her future husband, collects data from dating sites, and creates her own formula to find a suitable partner. This talk is a fairytale.


Why everyone should be data literate – Jordan Morrow

Every data problem begins with a question. “Why?” “What?” “How?” “Where?” “When?”. Albert Einstein states,

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes”

Right questioning solves the problem 70% most of the time. Let alone your job or a project, do you ever look at some numbers or statistics in social media or in the news and question yourself whether this information is correct? In this video, Jordan Morrow, Head of data at Pluralsight, talks about data literacy and explains why it should be a skill that everyone ought to possess in this Fourth Industrial Revolution. He puts forth four key characteristics of data literacy and shows how you can put them into practice.

Your social media “likes” expose more than you think – Jennifer Golbeck

There is an estimate that half of Earth’s internet population uses Facebook. All of us know that social media sites collect and use information about their users. But to what extent is the question at hand. Can you predict something about a person with content that seems totally irrelevant? A study conducted by Proceedings of the national academy of sciences reveals that people with high intelligence tend to like Curly fries. If you’re thinking, “Wait. What?” then go ahead and watch this talk given by Jennifer Golbeck, computer scientist and professor at the University of Maryland, as she demystifies the curly fries conundrum and also shares an interesting way on how users can take control of their data.

Art made of storms – Nathalie Mieback

What if the numbers and data on your excel sheet had a musical note and could exist in a physical world as a 3D graph in real-time? Sounds intriguing? Nathalie Mieback, who is an artist extracts weather data, weaves them, and translates it into musical scores. She transforms data into art, music, and a 3D visualization.

I hope these talks gave you new insights and experiences. The talks in this article are by no means exhaustive. You could find many more such talks at TED.

Thank you for reading all the way down here. Let me know in the comment section if you have any concerns, feedback, or criticism and also you’re favorite talk. Stay safe and healthy. Have a good day!

Connect with me on LinkedIn

The media shown in this article are not owned by Analytics Vidhya and is used at the Author’s discretion. 

Padhma M 17 May 2021

Frequently Asked Questions

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit,

Responses From Readers