Archive for April 14th, 2017
Damned lies and statistics?
Sebastian Wernicke turns the tools of statistical analysis on TEDTalks, to come up with a metric for creating “the optimum TEDTalk” based on user ratings. How do you rate it? “Jaw-dropping”? “Unconvincing”? Or just plain “Funny”?
Sebastian Wernicke. Data scientist
Filmed in Feb 2010
If you go on the TED website, you can currently find there over a full week of TEDTalk videos, over 1.3 million words of transcripts and millions of user ratings.
And that’s a huge amount of data. And it got me wondering: If you took all this data and put it through statistical analysis, could you reverse engineer a TEDTalk?
Could you create the ultimate TEDTalk? (Laughter) (Applause) And also, could you create the worst possible TEDTalk that they would still let you get away with?
0:49 To find this out, I looked at three things:
I looked at the topic that you should choose,
I looked at how you should deliver it and the visuals onstage.
Now, with the topic: There’s a whole range of topics you can choose, but you should choose wisely, because your topic strongly correlates with how users will react to your talk.
to make this more concrete, let’s look at the list of top 10 words that statistically stick out in the most favorite TEDTalks and in the least favorite TEDTalks. So if you came here to talk about how French coffee will spread happiness in our brains, that’s a go. (Laughter) (Applause) Whereas, if you wanted to talk about your project involving oxygen, girls, aircraft — actually, I would like to hear that talk, (Laughter) but statistics say it’s not so good.
If you generalize this, the most favorite TEDTalks are those that feature topics we can connect with, both easily and deeply, such as happiness, our own body, food, emotions. And the more technical topics, such as architecture, materials and, strangely enough, men, those are not good topics to talk about.
How should you deliver your talk?
TED is famous for keeping a very sharp eye on the clock, so they’re going to hate me for revealing this, because, actually, you should talk as long as they will let you. (Laughter) Because the most favorite TEDTalks are, on average, over 50% longer than the least favorite ones.
And this holds true for all ranking lists on TED.com except if you want to have a talk that’s beautiful, inspiring or funny. Then, you should be brief. (Laughter) But other than that, talk until they drag you off the stage.
While you’re pushing the clock, there’s a few rules to obey. I found these rules out by comparing the statistics of four-word phrases that appear more often in the most favorite TEDTalks as opposed to the least favorite TEDTalks.
I’ll give you 3 examples. First of all, I must, as a speaker, provide a service to the audience and talk about what I will give you, instead of saying what I can’t have.
Secondly, it’s imperative that you do not cite The New York Times. (Laughter) And
finally, it’s okay for the speaker — that’s the good news — to fake intellectual capacity. If I don’t understand something, I can just say, “etc., etc.” You’ll all stay with me. It’s perfectly fine. (Applause)
let’s go to the visuals. The most obvious visual thing on stage is the speaker.
And analysis shows if you want to be among the most favorite TED speakers, you should let your hair grow a little bit longer than average, make sure you wear your glasses and be slightly more dressed-up than the average TED speaker.
Slides are okay, though you might consider going for props. And now the most important thing, that is the mood onstage. Color plays a very important role.
Color closely correlates with the ratings that talks get on the website. (Applause) For example, fascinating talks contain a statistically high amount of exactly this blue color, (Laughter) much more than the average TEDTalk.
Ingenious TEDTalks, much more this green color, etc., et. (Laughter) (Applause) Now, personally, I think I’m not the first one who has done this analysis, but I’ll leave this to your good judgment.
it’s time to put it all together and design the ultimate TEDTalk.
Now, since this is TEDActive, and I learned from my analysis that I should actually give you something, I will not impose the ultimate or worst TEDTalk on you, but rather give you a tool to create your own. And I call this tool the TEDPad. (Laughter)
And the TEDPad is a matrix of 100 specifically selected, highly curated sentences that you can easily piece together to get your own TEDTalk.
You only have to make one decision, and that is: Are you going to use the white version for very good TEDTalks, about creativity, human genius? Or are you going to go with a black version, which will allow you to create really bad TEDTalks, mostly about blogs, politics and stuff? So, download it and have fun with it.
I hope you enjoy the session. I hope you enjoy designing your own ultimate and worst possible TEDTalks. And I hope some of you will be inspired for next year to create this, which I really want to see.
Darwin’s strange inversion of reasoning
Why are babies cute? Why is cake sweet? Philosopher Dan Dennett has answers you wouldn’t expect, as he shares evolution’s counterintuitive reasoning on cute, sweet and sexy things (plus a new theory from Matthew Hurley on why jokes are funny).
I’m going around the world giving talks about Darwin, and usually what I’m talking about is Darwin’s strange inversion of reasoning. Now that title, that phrase, comes from an early critic, and this is a passage that I just love, and would like to read for you.
0:28 “In the theory with which we have to deal, Absolute Ignorance is the artificer; so that we may enunciate as the fundamental principle of the whole system, that, in order to make a perfect and beautiful machine, it is not requisite to know how to make it.
This proposition will be found on careful examination to express, in condensed form, the essential purport of the Theory, and to express in a few words all Mr. Darwin’s meaning; who, by a strange inversion of reasoning, seems to think Absolute Ignorance fully qualified to take the place of Absolute Wisdom in the achievements of creative skill.”
Exactly. And it is a strange inversion.
A creationist pamphlet has this wonderful page in it: “Test Two: Do you know of any building that didn’t have a builder? Yes/No. Do you know of any painting that didn’t have a painter? Yes/No. Do you know of any car that didn’t have a maker? Yes/No. If you answered ‘Yes’ for any of the above, give details.” (Yes/No, The pitfall of all referendums that are plaguing the people)
This is all backwards. It is. And Darwin shows us why.
Let’s start with sweet. Our sweet tooth is basically an evolved sugar detector, because sugar is high energy, and it’s just been wired up to the preferer, to put it very crudely, and that’s why we like sugar. Honey is sweet because we like it, not “we like it because honey is sweet.”
There’s nothing intrinsically sweet about honey. If you looked at glucose molecules till you were blind, you wouldn’t see why they tasted sweet. You have to look in our brains to understand why they’re sweet. So if you think first there was sweetness, and then we evolved to like sweetness, you’ve got it backwards; that’s just wrong. It’s the other way round. Sweetness was born with the wiring which evolved.
And there’s nothing intrinsically sexy about these young ladies. And it’s a good thing that there isn’t, because if there were, then Mother Nature would have a problem: How on earth do you get chimps to mate?
Now you might think, ah, there’s a solution: hallucinations. That would be one way of doing it, but there’s a quicker way. Just wire the chimps up to love that look, and apparently they do. That’s all there is to it.
Over six million years, we and the chimps evolved our different ways. We became bald-bodied, oddly enough; for one reason or another, they didn’t. If we hadn’t, then probably this would be the height of sexiness.
Our sweet tooth is an evolved and instinctual preference for high-energy food. It wasn’t designed for chocolate cake. Chocolate cake is a supernormal stimulus. The term is owed to Niko Tinbergen, who did his famous experiments with gulls, where he found that orange spot on the gull’s beak — if he made a bigger, oranger spot the gull chicks would peck at it even harder.
It was a hyperstimulus for them, and they loved it. What we see with, say, chocolate cake is it’s a supernormal stimulus to tweak our design wiring. And there are lots of supernormal stimuli; chocolate cake is one. There’s lots of supernormal stimuli for sexiness.
And there’s even supernormal stimuli for cuteness. Here’s a pretty good example.
It’s important that we love babies, and that we not be put off by, say, messy diapers. So babies have to attract our affection and our nurturing, and they do.
And, by the way, a recent study shows that mothers prefer the smell of the dirty diapers of their own baby. So nature works on many levels here.
But now, if babies didn’t look the way they do — if babies looked like this, that’s what we would find adorable, that’s what we would find — we would think, oh my goodness, do I ever want to hug that. This is the strange inversion.
finally what about funny.
My answer is, it’s the same story. This is the hard one, the one that isn’t obvious. That’s why I leave it to the end.
And I won’t be able to say too much about it. But you have to think evolutionarily, you have to think, what hard job that has to be done — it’s dirty work, somebody’s got to do it — is so important to give us such a powerful, inbuilt reward for it when we succeed.
Now, I think we’ve found the answer — I and a few of my colleagues. It’s a neural system that’s wired up to reward the brain for doing a grubby clerical job.
Our bumper sticker for this view is that this is the joy of debugging. Now I’m not going to have time to spell it all out, but I’ll just say that only some kinds of debugging get the reward. And what we’re doing is we’re using humor as a sort of neuroscientific probe by switching humor on and off, by turning the knob on a joke — now it’s not funny … oh, now it’s funnier … now we’ll turn a little bit more … now it’s not funny — in this way, we can actually learn something about the architecture of the brain, the functional architecture of the brain.
7:24 Matthew Hurley is the first author of this. We call it the Hurley Model. He’s a computer scientist, Reginald Adams a psychologist, and there I am, and we’re putting this together into a book.