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Home » 8 Ways The World Could Suddenly End: Stephen Petranek (Transcript)

8 Ways The World Could Suddenly End: Stephen Petranek (Transcript)

Full text of futurist Stephen Petranek’s talk: 8 ways the world could suddenly end at TEDxMidwest 2014 conference.


Stephen Petranek – Science Writer and Technologist

So about 11 years ago, I gave a talk in California at the TED Conference. And it went really well. It was called “10 ways the world could end tomorrow.”

But it also went viral at a time before things started going viral, and it wasn’t in a good way. It ended up on thousands of nutty websites. These are the kind of websites for people who think “Men in Black” is a documentary. It’s the kind of websites for people who actually believe the Mayan calendar does predict doomsday.

So if you’d googled me before this talk, you would have seen maybe nine or ten references to me as a science magazine editor. Three weeks after the talk, there were 418 references linking “moi” to little green men from Mars.

Now, coincidentally, I was teaching my mother how to use a computer at the time, long distance. And I was teaching her about Google. So guess who she googled first.

So, I started worrying about my reputation a little. And I decided to call Chris Anderson, the TED curator. I knew Chris would not want TED speakers to be co-opted by every nut job on the web, and maybe he could get his friends Larry and Sergey at Google to erase all this.

I was a little disappointed. Didn’t exactly get the sympathy I was looking for. Chris thought it was funny. But he did ask me to do another TED Talk, and I jumped at the chance because I saw it as redemption.

I could do “10 reasons to be optimistic about the future.” And I did. It was a great talk. Honestly, my best talk ever.

Full of surprises. Lots of interesting science. But it didn’t go over so well. Everybody wanted another 10 ways the world could end suddenly. And no one posted the optimistic talk.

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