Lucianne Walkowicz: Let’s not use Mars as a backup planet

Stellar astronomer and TED Senior Fellow Lucianne Walkowicz works on NASA’s Kepler mission, searching for places in the universe that could support life. So it’s worth a listen when she asks us to think carefully about Mars. In this short talk, she suggests that we stop dreaming of Mars as a place that we’ll eventually move to when we’ve messed up Earth, and to start thinking of planetary exploration and preservation of the Earth as two sides of the same goal. As she says, “The more you look for planets like Earth, the more you appreciate our own planet.”

Dambisa Moyo: Economic growth has stalled. Let’s fix it

Economic growth is the defining challenge of our time; without it, political and social instability rises, human progress stagnates and societies grow dimmer. But, says economist Dambisa Moyo, dogmatic capitalism isn’t creating the growth we need. As she shows, in both state-sponsored and market-driven models, capitalism is failing to solve social ills, fostering corruption and creating income inequality. Moyo surveys the current economic landscape and suggests that we have to start thinking about capitalism as a spectrum so we can blend the best of different models together to foster growth.

Aomawa Shields: How we’ll find life on other planets

Astronomer Aomawa Shields searches for clues that life might exist elsewhere in the universe by examining the atmospheres of distant exoplanets. When she isn’t exploring the heavens, the classically trained actor (and TED Fellow) looks for ways to engage young women in the sciences using theater, writing and visual art. “Maybe one day they’ll join the ranks of astronomers who are full of contradictions,” she says, “and use their backgrounds to discover, once and for all, that we are truly not alone in the universe.”

Sebastian Wernicke: How to use data to make a hit TV show

Does collecting more data lead to better decision-making? Competitive, data-savvy companies like Amazon, Google and Netflix have learned that data analysis alone doesn’t always produce optimum results. In this talk, data scientist Sebastian Wernicke breaks down what goes wrong when we make decisions based purely on data — and suggests a brainier way to use it.

Tania Simoncelli: Should you be able to patent a human gene?

A decade ago, US law said human genes were patentable — which meant patent holders had the right to stop anyone from sequencing, testing or even looking at a patented gene. Troubled by the way this law both harmed patients and created a barrier to biomedical innovation, Tania Simoncelli and her colleagues at the ACLU challenged it. In this riveting talk, hear the story of how they took a case everybody told them they would lose all the way to the Supreme Court.

Laurel Braitman: Depressed dogs, cats with OCD — what animal madness means for us humans

Behind those funny animal videos, sometimes, are oddly human-like problems. Laurel Braitman studies non-human animals who exhibit signs of mental health issues — from compulsive bears to self-destructive rats to monkeys with unlikely friends. Braitman asks what we as humans can learn from watching animals cope with depression, sadness and other all-too-human problems.