Cognitive overload is a real thing at TED. The five-day “spa for the brain” is actually pretty strenuous—especially in an age of short attention spans. Imagine listening to over 130 speakers unpack heady topics such as artificial intelligence, social justice, gender politics, and counter-terrorism technology. TED is an intellectual and emotional rollercoaster, by design.
To reset the audience’s attention, TED’s video team prepares an eclectic playlist of short videos that they strategically deploy after several speakers. Humorous, delightful, jaw-dropping, even bittersweet, the interstitial clips function like commercial breaks—minus the hard sell.
Here’s a playlist of the most memorable videos at this year’s conference:
To introduce a segment about machine learning, TED curator Chris Anderson showed this mesmerizing video created by Russian software researcher Alexander Mordvintsev submitted to the Neural Information Processing Systems conference.
Featuring the murmurations of the common starling, “The Art of Flying” was created by Dutch documentary photographer and filmmaker Jan van IJken.
In the award-winning stop motion film “Blobby,” Montreal-based filmmaker Laura Stewart captures the loneliness of aging alone.
Eleven famous Western art paintings come alive in this stunning music video for ”Dust My Shoulders Off” by Chinese pop star Jane Zhang.
Can Alexa drive a spaceship? Screen Junkie’s “If HAL-9000 was Alexa” perfectly skewers the limitations of today’s voice recognition assistants.
Austrian animator Kathrin Steinbacher created this charming video for the ballad “Cos Love.”
TED indie film fest
These in-between videos have been so popular with attendees that TED thought to commission four original short films this year to vivify the conference theme “The Age of Amazement.”
One stand-out production called “AI Therapy” was produced by the award-winning creative agency Mother London. The hilarious three-minute short depicts a future where AI bots have “become too human for their own good” and have to sort out their feelings with a human psychotherapist.
“Creating the spoiled hipsters of the future was always going to be an irresistible brief,” directors Chris Vernon and Emerald Fennell explain to Quartz. “It’s also reassuring to imagine an AI future that isn’t a scorched apocalyptic hellscape, where things are actually going pretty well… unless you’re a rich, third-generation AI and your toe-ring business isn’t thriving.”
TED’s head of video Mina Sabet says she hopes that the experiment will flourish as a permanent platform to spotlight emerging directors and filmmakers—like an indie film fest at the annual ideas conference. This year’s films were self-funded but TED hopes that they’ll be able to attract sponsors for future productions. “We haven’t really tapped into this global film community and we wanted to give it a try,” Sabet says. ”We would love for this program to continue for years to come.”