Jacob Ward

Speech Topics

For most of us, our own mind is a black box: an all-powerful and utterly mysterious device that runs our lives for us. And not only do we humans just barely understand how it works, science is now revealing that it makes most of our decisions for us using rules and shortcuts of which you and I aren’t even aware. Meanwhile, every area of human activity, from criminal justice to corporate hiring to military strategy, is turning to “black box” artificial intelligence systems for cost savings, efficiency, and moral clarity. Jacob Ward reveals the relationship between the unconscious habits of our minds, and the way that AI is poised to amplify them, alter them, maybe even reprogram them.


Did you know your brain absorbs emotions from other people and then broadcasts them on your face without your awareness? Did you know that the first person to mention a salary figure in a job negotiation always gets her way? Did you know that we humans consistently remember ourselves as having predicted the future correctly, even when we didn’t? Former editor-in-chief of Popular Science Jacob Ward, now science correspondent for Al Jazeera television and host of the landmark public television series Hacking Your Mind, delivers a high-energy crash course in the revolutionary findings of a pioneering group of decision scientists around the world. Jake unpacks the lessons those findings have taught us about the nature of bias, persuasion, and happiness itself, and reveals the cutting-edge research that could help us turn our glitchy cognitive habits into bulletproof methods for building better companies, creating smarter products, and navigating the modern world.


Did you know that in a dogfight above a battlefield, the shorter pilot almost always wins? That’s because the G forces of the plane act more strongly on someone with a longer distance between heart and brain. It’s the human being that limits the performance of the aircraft, and that’s why the US Air Force plans to automate fighter jets from now on. Did you know that in car crashes the human driver is at fault nearly 90% of the time? That’s why car companies are willing to take over your car insurance payments to get you into a robot car. And did you know that defensive maneuvers like shooting down an incoming missile generally have to happen so fast that a human can’t even be involved? That’s why from cyberwarfare to missile defense, human beings are being replaced by robots. But when we remove human limitations from a system, we also remove human morals and human sensitivities. Jacob Ward discusses the tension between what we can build, and what we should build.

How will artificial intelligence change medicine in the coming years? Already, AI has been shown that it can improve – and even exceed – a physician’s ability to diagnose cancer and other categories of disease. Now the question is: how do we harness this intelligence to do even bigger things? New work on genetics could mean that AI tells us which genes to switch on or off in unborn children. AI is decoding the way our brains process visual information in the brain, with the goal of some day actually writing information into our minds. And artificially intelligent systems could be our best hope for getting out in front of the next great animal-to-human disease pandemic. In this talk, Jacob Ward charts the future of AI-amplified medicine, and what it means for all of us.


The former editor-in-chief of Popular Science magazine, Jacob Ward is now a science and technology television correspondent for CNN, Al Jazeera, and PBS. He’s the host of a landmark four-hour series on the science of human decisions and bias, “Hacking Your Mind,” airing mid-2018 on American public television, and Ward writes for The New Yorker, Wired, and Men’s Health. His ten-episode Audible podcast, Complicated, racked up more than 20,000 subscribers per episode in 2017 with its discussion of humanity’s most difficult problems. Ward is writing a book about how artificial intelligence is poised to amplify humanity’s best and worst instincts, and regularly speaks to audiences around the world about the future, including the latest innovations in science, medicine, energy, and transportation.

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