Bigger Bandwidth = Faster World Brain, with TED's Chris Anderson


This video is part of Big Think's collaboration with Singularity University on Exponential Technology. Chris Anderson, curator of TED Talks, explains how the plummeting price of bandwidth about a decade ago opened opportunities for new innovation to grow. Suddenly it was possible for TED to transmit its talks via the web at virtually no cost. This was just one example of Moore's Law in action. Similar breakthroughs have consistently changed the face of communications with low-cost, high-bandwidth internet opening doors for Facebook and Google, among others.

In late January 2015, Big Think, where the world’s leading thinkers examine the most essential ideas of our age, and Singularity University, a teaching organization and accelerator, came together to find definitive answers to what constitutes exponential leadership — true leadership for the age of exponential disruption. Chris Anderson is featured in the resulting 2015 Exponential Leaders List.

  • Transcript


Chris Anderson: Well, TED really was made by a major technological disruption. It happened about 10 years ago. The price of bandwidth plummeted. Back in 2004, the cost of sending a lecture from person A to person B on the other side of the world was effectively $2 just for one piece of communication. You'd have to copy it onto a DVD, mail it across the world and then they'd view it. And then internet bandwidth plummeted in cost and suddenly it was possible to do this thing called online video. And so within literally not much more than a year, the real-world cost of sharing 15 minutes of spoken information plummeted from a couple dollars to about a penny or two. Now that was an astonishing shift because it suddenly meant that a sponsor could cover that cost if need be, effectively the cost of sending an idea was free. And so we tried an experiment to put a few talks up online. To our astonishment, they went viral and suddenly TED turned on its head. And instead of being a once-a-year conference in California it became this online idea of ideas worth spreading.

The interesting thing about technology is that it's a mixture of surprises and predictability. I mean the most famous piece of predictability is something like Moore's Law where over many years you see a trend that almost becomes a self-fulfilling thing where an entire industry acts as if Moore's Law were true and thereby in a sense makes it come true because that creates the market to justify the investment in ever-more powerful computer chips, et cetera. And so there are definite trends that you can look at. It's been obvious for a while that the internet was changing everything. And there's a roadmap out there right now that is actually an amazing roadmap and possibly underappreciated that the internet is spreading to every corner of the planet and will be low-cost, high-bandwidth everywhere. Companies like Facebook and Google are investing billions of dollars to make sure that this is so and that's a complete game changer. That means for the first time in history not 1 billion but 7 billion people-plus will be interconnected.

What does that mean? Who knows, but it's possible to dream about that future because the technological landscape is set out and it's clear. So that's certainly something that we're thinking about. It changes our strategy. What is the TED Talk of the future? What would you say if you could have 18 minutes to talk to the girl in the village, the boy in the slum? We don't know the answers to those questions, but we sure as hell need to figure them out.