Episodes

  • After a great run, American Innovations has come to an end. But there's another place you can follow Steven's work: he's now the host of the podcast The TED Interview, from the TED Audio Collective. Here's an episode we thought you'd enjoy. Before labor unions fought for them, society didn’t have weekends as we know them. In the 13th century, the average male peasants in the UK only worked 135 days a year. In a post-pandemic and increasingly virtual world, what is the future of labor? Juliet Schor is an economist and sociologist whose research focuses on work and consumer society. In this episode, she shares her thoughts on modern working practices and how her current research on the four-day work week could help address society’s major problems–from burnout at work, to the effects of work on the climate crisis. Juliet also highlights the fascinating ways we have and might continue to reconfigure business in the 21st century, especially as it pertains to the dynamic–and at times predatory–sharing economy. To listen to more episodes from their recent mini-seasons on the future of work and the future of intelligence, follow The TED Interview wherever you're listening to this. 

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  • For our last episode before American Innovations goes on hiatus, we look to the future of new technology from artificial intelligence and virtual reality to carbon capture and the electrification of mobility. Steven talks about these innovations and more with friend of the podcast Clive Thompson, a journalist who writes about science and technology and the author of Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World.

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  • Experts at Symantec have finally discovered that the virus Stuxnet is designed to target nuclear facilities in Iran. But many questions remain. Who is responsible for the virus? How did it get out? As veteran New York Times reporter David Sanger delves into the origins of Stuxnet, he worries that it represents a new kind of cyber warfare, one without defined rules of engagement, that could have dire consequences for global cybersecurity.

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  • In the summer of 2010, a mysterious computer virus called Stuxnet lands on the desk of Symantec cybersecurity analyst Liam O’Murchu. Stuxnet is unlike anything O’Murchu has ever seen: a highly sophisticated piece of malware that serves no obvious purpose. O’Murchu and his colleagues are determined to figure out how it works and who’s behind it -- but soon, it becomes clear that Stuxnet might be more than they bargained for.

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  • Today when you dial 9-1-1, a squad of trained medical professionals arrives, often within minutes. But just 55 years ago, emergency calls were generally dispatched to funeral homes, simply because their vehicles were suited to transporting bodies. You’d be lucky if the person transporting you had any first aid training at all.

    Throughout the 1960s, volunteer rescue squads emerged. But it would take the ambitious vision of a community organizer in Pittsburgh to spin a medical revolution into being.

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  • In losing his ability to form memories, Henry Molaison also lost the ability to learn new skills, retain information and form relationships. He became a kind of time traveler, living forever in the present moment. In this episode, Steven talks with John Gabrieli, a cognitive neuroscientist who worked directly with Molaison aka “Patient H.M.” in the 1980s. Gabrieli shares more about the new discoveries of how memory works that were built on studying this very special patient.

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  • Henry Molaison has now lived over half his life unable to form new memories. And with the passing of his parents -- the one constant in his life -- he descends into despair. With no one else to turn to, he forms a close emotional bond with the lead neuroscientist on his case, Suzanne Corkin, who blurs the lines between professional and personal as she tries to help Henry live out his last years with dignity.

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  • Without a functioning memory, Henry Molaison struggles to cope with everyday life. He loses his job, and becomes totally dependent on his overwhelmed parents. Meanwhile, neuroscientist Brenda Milner realizes that Henry’s tragic case can solve some profound mysteries about how memory works in our brains—and might even reveal whole new aspects of memory that previously went undetected.

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  • Even as recently as the early 1950s, we didn’t understand that there were different types of memory, or how the brain processed and stored memories. Then, in 1953, a radical surgery by a reckless doctor gave us tremendous insights into how human memory works. Those scientific gains came at a terrible cost, however. The surgery left the patient, Henry Molaison, a profound amnesiac -- completely incapable of forming new memories. This is his story.

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  • The Predator drone made a dramatic transformation from unarmed reconnaissance vehicle to lethal weapon in 2001, just after 9/11. On this episode, Steven talks to retired Air Force officer and pilot Scott Swanson, who was part of the team tasked with using the Predator to hunt down Osama Bin Laden and other terrorist leaders in Afghanistan. 

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  • In post 9/11 Afghanistan, the Predator drone proves wildly successful for the military, helping kill a key Al Qaeda leader, and aiding in the rescue of Army Rangers trapped on a mountainside. It's the start of a new era in aerial warfare, as the Predator gains widespread acceptance. But in the years to come, mounting civilian casualties from U.S. drone strikes provoke an outcry from the world... and the Obama Administration faces a moral reckoning.

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  • The Predator proves its value as a “spy in the sky” for the U.S. military in Bosnia in the mid-90s. But it's not until the Predator is handed over to the Air Force that it reaches its full potential. Aided by a covert Air Force group, and a genius scientist known as “The Man With Two Brains,” the Predator is reborn as a lethal killing machine, with a new enemy to hunt: Osama Bin Laden.

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  • What if you could design a spy plane that could be flown remotely and hover in the sky for hours, providing reconnaissance for troops on the ground? In the early 1980s, the visionary inventor Abe Karem begins building drones out of his L.A. garage. Soon, the Pentagon and the CIA take notice. Though he faces many challenges, Karem is on the forefront of a revolution that will change the face of modern aerial warfare.

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  • Doctors once shied away from using opioids to treat chronic pain, citing the risk of addiction. But in the 1970s, a new generation of doctors started to argue that opioids should be reconsidered, and that allowing terminal patients to suffer in agony is torturous. As the palliative care movement grows, Purdue Frederick, a small pharmaceutical company, sees an opportunity to bring opioids out of the shadows and to the masses...to devastating effect.

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  • In the past 100 years, we’ve doubled life expectancy. It might be the single greatest achievement of the modern era. So why haven’t we done more to celebrate it?

    On this episode, Rufus Griscom, host of Wondery’s “The Next Big Idea,” turns the tables and puts Steven Johnson in the interviewee’s seat. They’ll discuss Steven’s book and PBS series “Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer,” about the many breakthroughs, large and small, that led to our increased longevity.

    To learn more about “Extra Life,” visit https://stevenberlinjohnson.com/.

    To hear more episodes of Next Big Idea, follow or subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Amazon, the Wondery app, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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  • In 1967, an unlikely surgeon performs the first human heart transplant – and shocks the world. As others race to replicate his achievement, one surgical team makes a mistake that could spell the end of organ transplants in the United States.

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  • By the early 1960s, surgeons have proven that it's possible to transplant kidneys and lungs. Now, with heart disease still the leading cause of death, they've set their sights on performing the first human heart transplant. But first, they've got to overcome the ethical, legal, and surgical challenges of removing a donor's heart before it stops beating for good.

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  • A century ago, organ transplants were the stuff of science fiction. But a handful of experimental surgeons believed that transplants were not just possible – they had the potential to save thousands of lives. Then, in 1954, a man agreed to donate his kidney to his twin brother – and one surgeon finally got his chance to prove the doubters wrong.

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  • Facebook, Friendster and MySpace weren’t the only companies that pioneered social media. In 2006, a new company turned the act of “tweeting” into an opportunity for wide-ranging commentary, and made your number of “followers” a status symbol. On this episode, Steven talks to Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, who also co-founded Medium.com and wrote the memoir Things a Little Bird Told Me.

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  • By 2007, Facebook finds itself at a crossroads. Its sole focus has been growing its users and traffic. Now, it needs to turn a profit. Luckily for Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook possesses an invaluable asset: deep knowledge of the personal data and habits of its users. But when Zuckerberg teams up with Sheryl Sandberg to monetize that data, it will create a host of issues that will mire Facebook in controversy.

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