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TED2018

Gwynne Shotwell: SpaceX's plan to fly you across the globe in 30 minutes

Filmed:
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What's up at SpaceX? Engineer Gwynne Shotwell was employee number seven at Elon Musk's pioneering aerospace company and is now its president. In conversation with TED curator Chris Anderson, she discusses SpaceX's race to put people into orbit and the organization's next big project, the BFR (ask her what it stands for). The new giant rocket is designed to take humanity to Mars -- but it has another potential use: space travel for earthlings.

- Space leader
As president and COO of SpaceX, Gwynne Shotwell is responsible for day-to-day operations and for managing all customer and strategic relations. Full bio

- TED Curator
After a long career in journalism and publishing, Chris Anderson became the curator of the TED Conference in 2002 and has developed it as a platform for identifying and disseminating ideas worth spreading. Full bio

Chris Anderson: So two months ago,
something crazy happened.
00:14
Can you talk us through this, because
this caught so many people's attention?
00:17
Gwynne Shotwell: I'll stay quiet
for the beginning,
00:21
and then I'll start talking.
00:23
(Video) Voices: Five, four,
three, two, one.
00:25
(Cheering)
00:29
Woman: Liftoff. Go Falcon Heavy.
00:31
GS: So this was such
an important moment for SpaceX.
00:34
With the Falcon 9
and now the Falcon Heavy,
00:38
we can launch into orbit
00:40
any payload that has previously
been conceived or is conceived right now.
00:43
We've got a couple of launches
of Falcon Heavy later this year,
00:48
so this had to go right.
00:51
It was the first time we flew it,
00:53
and the star of the show, of course,
00:55
brother and sister side boosters landing.
00:57
I was excited.
01:00
(Laughter)
01:01
Thanking my team.
01:02
By the way, there's maybe
a thousand people
01:04
standing around me right there.
01:06
And Starman.
01:08
Starman did not steal the show, though --
01:10
the boosters did.
01:12
CA: (Laughter)
01:13
CA: There had to be some payload --
why not put a Tesla into space?
01:14
GS: Exactly. It was perfect.
01:17
CA: Gwynne, let's wind the clock back.
01:19
I mean, how did you end up an engineer
and President of SpaceX?
01:22
Were you supernerdy as a girl?
01:26
GS: I don't think I was nerdy,
01:29
but I was definitely doing the things
that the girls weren't doing.
01:30
I asked my mom, who was an artist,
when I was in third grade,
01:33
how a car worked,
01:37
so she had no idea so she gave me
a book, and I read it,
01:38
and sure enough, my first job
out of my mechanical engineering degree
01:41
was with Chrysler Motors
in the automotive industry.
01:46
But I actually got into engineering
not because of that book
01:49
but because my mom took me
to a Society of Women Engineers event,
01:52
and I fell in love with
the mechanical engineer that spoke.
01:55
She was doing really critical work,
01:58
and I loved her suit.
02:00
(Laughter)
02:02
And that's what a 15-year-old
girl connects with.
02:03
And I used to shy away
from telling that story,
02:05
but if that's what caused me
to be an engineer --
02:08
hey, I think we should talk about that.
02:10
CA: Sixteen years ago, you became
employee number seven at SpaceX,
02:12
and then over the next years,
02:18
you somehow built a multi-billion-dollar
relationship with NASA,
02:20
despite the fact that SpaceX's
first three launches blew up.
02:25
I mean, how on earth did you do that?
02:29
GS: So actually, selling rockets
is all about relationships
02:31
and making a connection
with these customers.
02:35
When you don't have a rocket to sell,
02:37
what's really important
is selling your team,
02:39
selling the business savvy of your CEO --
02:41
that's not really hard
to sell these days --
02:44
and basically, making sure
that any technical issue that they have
02:46
or any concern,
you can address right away.
02:49
So I think it was helpful
for me to be an engineer.
02:51
I think it was helpful to my role
of running sales for Elon.
02:55
CA: And currently,
a big focus of the company
02:58
is, I guess, kind of a race with Boeing
03:01
to be the first to provide
the service to NASA
03:03
of actually putting humans into orbit.
03:06
Safety considerations obviously
come to the fore, here.
03:12
How are you sleeping?
03:15
GS: I actually sleep really well.
I'm a good sleeper, that's my best thing.
03:18
But I think the days leading up
to our flying crew
03:22
will probably be a little sleepless.
03:26
But really, fundamentally,
safety comes in the design
03:28
of the system that you're going
to fly people on,
03:32
and so we've been working for years,
03:34
actually, almost a decade,
on this technology.
03:36
We're taking the Dragon cargo spaceship
03:38
and we're upgrading it
to be able to carry crew.
03:41
And as I said, we've been
engineering in these safety systems
03:43
for quite some time.
03:47
CA: So isn't it that there's one system
that actually allows instant escape
03:49
if there's a problem.
03:53
GS: That's right. It's called
the launch escape system.
03:55
CA: I think we have that. Let's show that.
03:57
GS: We've got a video
of a test that we ran in 2015.
03:59
So this simulated having
a really bad day on the pad.
04:03
Basically, you want the capsule
to get out of Dodge.
04:07
You want it to get away from the rocket
04:09
that had a bad day right below it.
04:11
This is if there was an issue on the pad.
04:14
We also will be doing
another demonstration later this year
04:16
on if we have an issue
with the rocket during flight.
04:19
CA: And those rockets have another
potential function as well, eventually.
04:23
GS: Yeah, so the launch escape system
for Dragon is pretty unique.
04:27
It's an integrated launch escape system.
04:30
It's basically a pusher,
04:32
so the propellant system and the thrusters
are integrated into the capsule,
04:33
and so if it detects a rocket problem,
it pushes the capsule away.
04:38
Capsule safety systems in the past
have been like tractor pullers,
04:42
and the reason we didn't want to do that
04:46
is that puller needs to come off before
you can safely reenter that capsule,
04:48
so we wanted to eliminate, in design,
that possibility of failure.
04:51
CA: I mean, SpaceX has made
the regular reusability of rockets
04:57
seem almost routine,
05:01
which means you've done something
05:03
that no national
space program, for example,
05:05
has been able to achieve.
05:08
How was that possible?
05:10
GS: I think there's a couple of things --
05:12
there's a million things, actually --
05:15
that have allowed SpaceX to be successful.
05:17
The first is that we're kind of standing
on the shoulders of giants. Right?
05:20
We got to look at the rocket industry
and the developments to date,
05:23
and we got to pick the best ideas,
05:28
leverage them.
05:30
We also didn't have technology
that we had to include
05:32
in our vehicle systems.
05:36
So we didn't have to design
around legacy components
05:38
that maybe weren't the most reliable
or were particularly expensive,
05:42
so we really were able to let physics
drive the design of these systems.
05:45
CA: I mean, there are other programs
started from scratch.
05:49
That last phrase you said there,
you let physics drive the design,
05:52
what's an example of that?
05:55
GS: There's hundreds of examples,
actually, of that,
05:57
but basically, we got to construct
the vehicle design
06:01
from, really, a clean sheet of paper,
06:05
and we got to make decisions
that we wanted to make.
06:07
The tank architecture --
it's a common dome design.
06:11
Basically it's like two beer cans
stacked together,
06:14
one full of liquid oxygen,
06:16
one full of RP,
06:18
and that basically saved weight.
06:20
It allowed us to basically take
more payload for the same design.
06:23
One of the other elements of the vehicle
that we're flying right now
06:27
is we do use densified
liquid oxygen and densified RP,
06:31
so it's ultracold,
06:34
and it allows you to pack
more propellent into the vehicle.
06:36
It is done elsewhere,
06:40
probably not to the degree that we do it,
06:42
but it adds a lot
of margin to the vehicle,
06:44
which obviously adds reliability.
06:46
CA: Gwynne, you became President
of SpaceX 10 years ago, I think.
06:48
What's it been like to work
so closely with Elon Musk?
06:53
GS: So I love working for Elon.
06:57
I've been doing it for 16 years
this year, actually.
06:59
I don't think I'm dumb enough
to do something for 16 years
07:02
that I don't like doing.
07:05
He's funny
07:07
and fundamentally without
him saying anything
07:09
he drives you to do your best work.
07:12
He doesn't have to say a word.
07:16
You just want to do great work.
07:17
CA: You might be the person
best placed to answer this question,
07:20
which has puzzled me,
07:23
which is to shed light
on this strange unit of time
07:24
called "Elon time."
07:28
For example, last year,
I asked Elon, you know,
07:30
when Tesla would
auto-drive across America,
07:34
and he said by last December,
07:37
which is definitely true,
if you take Elon time into account.
07:39
So what's the conversion ratio
between Elon time and real time?
07:44
(Laughter)
07:48
GS: You put me
in a unique position, Chris.
07:49
Thanks for that.
07:51
There's no question that Elon
is very aggressive on his timelines,
07:53
but frankly, that drives us
to do things better and faster.
07:56
I think all the time
and all the money in the world
08:01
does not yield the best solution,
08:03
and so putting that pressure on the team
to move quickly is really important.
08:05
CA: It feels like you play
kind of a key intermediary role here.
08:11
I mean, he sets these crazy goals
that have their impact,
08:14
but, in other circumstances,
might blow up a team
08:19
or set impossible expectations.
08:22
It feels like you've found a way
of saying, "Yes, Elon,"
08:24
and then making it happen
in a way that is acceptable
08:28
both to him and to your company,
to your employees.
08:31
GS: There is two really important
realizations for that.
08:34
First of all, when Elon says something,
you have to pause
08:37
and not immediately blurt out,
"Well, that's impossible,"
08:42
or, "There's no way we're going
to do that. I don't know how."
08:46
So you zip it, and you think about it,
08:49
and you find ways to get that done.
08:51
And the other thing I realized,
08:53
and it made my job satisfaction
substantially harder.
08:56
So I always felt like my job
was to take these ideas
08:59
and kind of turn them into company goals,
make them achievable,
09:04
and kind of roll the company over
from this steep slope, get it comfortable.
09:07
And I noticed every time
I felt like we were there,
09:12
we were rolling over,
people were getting comfortable,
09:15
Elon would throw something out there,
09:18
and all of a sudden, we're not comfortable
09:20
and we're climbing that steep slope again.
09:22
But then once I realized
that that's his job,
09:24
and my job is to get the company
close to comfortable
09:27
so he can push again
and put us back on that slope,
09:30
then I started liking my job a lot more,
09:33
instead of always being frustrated.
09:35
CA: So if I estimated
that the conversation ratio
09:37
for Elon time to your time is about 2x,
09:41
am I a long way out there?
09:43
GS: That's not terrible,
and you said it, I didn't.
09:46
(Laughter)
09:48
CA: You know, looking ahead,
09:50
one huge initiative
09:53
SpaceX is believed to be,
rumored to be working on,
09:54
is a massive network of literally
thousands of low earth orbit satellites
09:57
to provide high-bandwidth,
low-cost internet connection
10:04
to every square foot of planet earth.
10:07
Is there anything
you can tell us about this?
10:10
GS: We actually don't chat very much
about this particular project,
10:12
not because we're hiding anything,
10:16
but this is probably
one of the most challenging
10:18
if not the most challenging
project we've undertaken.
10:20
No one has been successful
10:23
deploying a huge constellation
for internet broadband,
10:25
or basically for satellite internet,
10:28
and I don't think physics
is the difficulty here.
10:30
I think we can come up
with the right technology solution,
10:33
but we need to make a business out of it,
10:36
and it'll cost the company
about 10 billion dollars or more
10:38
to deploy this system.
10:42
And so we're marching steadily along
10:44
but we're certainly
not claiming victory yet.
10:48
CA: I mean, the impact of that,
obviously, if that happened to the world,
10:50
of connectivity everywhere,
would be pretty radical,
10:54
and perhaps mainly for good --
10:57
I mean, it changes a lot
if suddenly everyone can connect cheaply.
10:59
GS: Yeah, there's no question
it'll change the world.
11:02
CA: How much of a worry is it,
11:05
and how much of a drag
on the planning is it,
11:07
are concerns just about space junk?
11:09
People worry a lot about this.
11:11
This would a huge increase in the total
number of satellites in orbit.
11:12
Is that a concern?
11:16
GS: So space debris is a concern,
there's no question --
11:17
not because it's so likely to happen,
11:21
but the consequences of it happening
are pretty devastating.
11:23
You could basically spew
a bunch of particles in orbit
11:27
that could take out that orbit
from being useful for decades or longer.
11:31
So as a matter of fact,
11:36
we are required to bring down
our second stage after every mission
11:38
so it doesn't end up being
a rocket carcass orbiting earth.
11:42
So you really need to be
a good steward of that.
11:46
CA: So despite
the remarkable success there
11:50
of that Falcon Heavy rocket,
11:54
you're actually not focusing on that
as your future development plan.
11:57
You're doubling down
to a much bigger rocket
12:01
called the BFR,
12:04
which stands for ...
12:05
GS: It's the Big Falcon Rocket.
CA: The Big Falcon Rocket, that's right.
12:07
(Laughter)
12:11
What's the business logic of doing this
12:13
when you invested all that
in that incredible technology,
12:16
and now you're just going
to something much bigger. Why?
12:19
GS: Actually, we've learned some lessons
12:22
over the duration where we've
been developing these launch systems.
12:24
What we want to do is not introduce
a new product before we've been able
12:28
to convince the customers that this
is the product that they should move to,
12:32
so we're working on
the Big Falcon Rocket now,
12:36
but we're going to continue
flying Falcon 9s and Falcon Heavies
12:39
until there is absolute
widespread acceptance of BFR.
12:43
But we are working on it right now,
12:46
we're just not going to cancel
Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy
12:48
and just put in place BFR.
12:52
CA: The logic is that BFR is what you need
to take humanity to Mars?
12:55
GS: That's correct.
12:59
CA: But somehow, you've also found
other business ideas for this.
13:00
GS: Yes. BFR can take the satellites
that we're currently taking to orbit
13:04
to many orbits.
13:08
It allows for even a new class
of satellites to be delivered to orbit.
13:09
Basically, the width, the diameter
of the fairing is eight meters,
13:15
so you can think about
what giant telescopes
13:18
you can put in that fairing,
in that cargo bay,
13:21
and see really incredible things
13:24
and discover incredible things in space.
13:26
But then there are some
residual capabilities
13:28
that we have out of BFR as well.
13:31
CA: A residual capability?
GS: It's a residual capability.
13:33
CA: Is that what you call this?
Talk about what the heck this is.
13:36
Oh wait a sec --
13:39
GS: That's Falcon Heavy.
13:40
That's worth pointing out, by the way.
13:41
What a beautiful rocket,
13:43
and that hangar could just fit
the Statue of Liberty in it,
13:45
so you get a sense of size
of that Falcon Heavy Rocket.
13:49
CA: And the fact that
there are 27 engines there.
13:54
That's part of the design principle
13:56
that you, rather than just
inventing ever bigger rockets,
13:58
you team them up.
14:01
GS: It's exactly this residual capability.
14:03
We developed the Merlin engine
for the Falcon 1 launch vehicle.
14:05
We could have tossed that engine
14:08
and built an entirely new engine
for the Falcon 9.
14:09
It would have been called
something different,
14:12
because Falcon 9 is nine Merlin engines,
14:15
but instead of spending a billion dollars
on a brand new engine,
14:17
we put nine of them together
on the back end of Falcon 9.
14:20
Residual capability:
glue three Falcon 9s together
14:23
and you have the largest
operational rocket flying.
14:26
And so it was expensive to do,
14:29
but it was a much more efficient path
than starting from scratch.
14:31
CA: And the BFR is the equivalent
of how much bigger than that,
14:34
in terms of its power?
14:38
GS: BFR is about, I believe,
two and half times the size of this.
14:39
CA: Right, and so that allows you --
14:42
I mean, I still don't really believe
this video that we're about to play here.
14:44
What on earth is this?
14:48
GS: So it currently is on earth,
14:50
but this is basically
space travel for earthlings.
14:53
I can't wait for this residual capability.
14:56
Basically, what we're going to do
is we're going to fly BFR like an aircraft
14:59
and do point-to-point travel on earth,
15:03
so you can take off
from New York City or Vancouver
15:06
and fly halfway across the globe.
15:10
You'll be on the BFR for roughly
half an hour or 40 minutes,
15:12
and the longest part --
yeah, it's so awesome.
15:16
(Applause)
15:19
The longest part of that flight
is actually the boat out and back.
15:20
(Laughter)
15:24
CA: I mean. Gwynne, come on,
this is awesome, but it's crazy, right?
15:25
This is never going to actually happen.
15:28
GS: Oh no, it's definitely
going to happen.
15:31
This is definitely going to happen.
15:33
CA: How?
15:35
(Applause)
15:36
So first of all, countries are going
to accept this incoming missile --
15:40
(Laughter)
15:45
GS: Chris, so can you imagine
us trying to convince a federal range,
15:46
Air Force bases to take the incomers?
15:50
Because we're doing it now,
regularly, right?
15:52
We're bringing the first stages back,
15:54
and we're landing them
on federal property on an Air Force base.
15:56
So I think doing it, I don't know,
15:59
10 kilometers out from a city, maybe
it's only five kilometers out from a city.
16:01
CA: So how many passengers
can possibly afford the fortune
16:05
of flying by space?
16:08
GS: So the first BFR is going to have
roughly a hundred passengers.
16:09
And let's talk a little bit
about the business.
16:14
Everyone thinks rockets
are really expensive,
16:16
and to a large degree they are,
16:18
and how could we possibly compete
with airline tickets here?
16:20
But if you think about it,
if I can do this trip
16:23
in half an hour to an hour,
16:25
I can do dozens of these a day, right?
16:28
And yet, a long-haul aircraft
can only make one of those flights a day.
16:31
So even if my rocket
was slightly more expensive
16:35
and the fuel is
a little bit more expensive,
16:37
I can run 10x at least
what they're running in a day,
16:39
and really make the revenue
that I need to out of that system.
16:42
CA: So you really believe this is going
to be deployed at some point
16:46
in our amazing future. When?
16:49
GS: Within a decade, for sure.
16:51
CA: And this is Gwynne time or Elon time?
16:53
GS: That's Gwynne time.
I'm sure Elon will want us to go faster.
16:56
(Laughter)
16:59
CA: OK, that's certainly amazing.
17:01
(Laughter)
17:05
GS: I'm personally invested in this one,
because I travel a lot
17:06
and I do not love to travel,
17:09
and I would love to get to see
my customers in Riyadh,
17:11
leave in the morning
and be back in time to make dinner.
17:14
CA: So we're going to test this out.
17:18
So within 10 years,
an economy price ticket,
17:19
or, like, a couple thousand dollars
per person to fly New York to Shanghai.
17:22
GS: Yeah, I think it'll be between
economy and business,
17:28
but you do it in an hour.
17:31
CA: Yeah, well, OK,
that is definitely something.
17:32
(Laughter)
17:35
And meanwhile, the other use
of BFR is being developed
17:36
to go a little bit further than Shanghai.
17:40
Talk about this.
17:43
You guys have actually developed
quite a detailed, sort of, picture
17:44
of how humans might fly to Mars,
17:48
and what that would look like.
17:52
GS: Yeah. So we've got a video,
this is a cropped video
17:53
from others we've shown, and then
there's a couple of new bits to it.
17:56
But basically, you're going
to lift off from a pad,
17:59
you've got a booster as well as the BFS,
the Big Falcon Spaceship.
18:02
It's going to take off.
18:07
The booster is going to drop
the spaceship off in orbit,
18:11
low earth orbit,
18:14
and then return just like
we're returning boosters right now.
18:16
So it sounds incredible,
but we're working on the pieces,
18:19
and you can see us achieve these pieces.
18:22
So booster comes back.
18:24
The new thing here
18:25
is that we're going to actually land
on the pad that we launched from.
18:26
Currently, we land on a separate pad,
or we land out on a boat.
18:29
Fast, quick connect.
18:33
You take a cargo ship full of fuel,
18:35
or a fuel depot,
18:37
put it on that booster, get that in orbit,
18:38
do a docking maneuver,
refuel the spaceship,
18:41
and head on to your destination,
18:45
and this one is Mars.
18:47
CA: So, like, a hundred people
go to Mars at one time,
18:51
taking, what, six months? Two months?
18:56
GS: It ends up depending
on how big the rocket is.
18:59
I think this first version,
and we'll continue to make
19:01
even bigger BFRs,
19:05
I think it's a three-month trip.
19:07
Right now, the average is six to eight,
19:09
but we're going to try to do it faster.
19:11
CA: When do you believe SpaceX
will land the first human on Mars?
19:13
GS: It's a very similar time frame
from the point-to-point.
19:17
It's the same capability.
19:20
It will be within a decade --
not this decade.
19:21
CA: In real time, again, within a decade.
19:25
Well, that would also be amazing.
19:28
(Laughter)
19:31
Why, though? Seriously, why?
19:32
I mean, you've got a company
where this is the official stated mission.
19:34
Has everyone actually
bought into that mission,
19:38
given that, I mean,
there's a lot of people around
19:41
who think, come on,
you've got so much talent,
19:43
so much technology capability.
19:45
There are so many things on earth
that need urgent attention.
19:47
Why would you have this escape trip
off to another planet?
19:50
(Applause)
19:53
GS: So I am glad you asked that,
19:55
but I think we need
to expand our minds a little bit.
19:57
There are plenty of things to do on earth,
19:59
but there are lots of companies
working on that.
20:02
I think we're working on one of
the most important things we possibly can,
20:04
and that's to find another place
for humans to live and survive and thrive.
20:09
If something happened on earth,
20:13
you need humans living somewhere else.
20:17
(Applause)
20:20
It's the fundamental risk reduction
for the human species.
20:22
And this does not subvert
20:25
making our planet here better
and doing a better job taking care of it,
20:27
but I think you need
multiple paths to survival,
20:32
and this is one of them.
20:35
And let's not talk about the downer piece,
20:37
like, you go to Mars to make sure
all earthlings don't die.
20:39
That's terrible, actually,
that's a terrible reason to go do it.
20:43
Fundamentally,
it's another place to explore,
20:47
and that's what makes humans
different from animals,
20:50
it's our sense of exploration
and sense of wonderment
20:53
and learning something new.
20:55
And then I also have to say,
20:57
this is the first step
in us moving to other solar systems
20:59
and potentially other galaxies,
21:03
and I think this is the only time
I ever out-vision Elon,
21:05
because I want to meet other people
in other solar systems.
21:08
Mars is fine, but it is
a fixer-upper planet.
21:11
There's work to do there
to make it habitable.
21:13
(Laughter)
21:15
I want to find people,
or whatever they call themselves,
21:16
in another solar system.
21:19
CA: That is a big vision.
21:21
Gwynne Shotwell, thank you.
21:23
You have one of the most
amazing jobs on the planet.
21:25
GS: Thank you very much. Thanks, Chris.
21:28

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About the speakers:

Gwynne Shotwell - Space leader
As president and COO of SpaceX, Gwynne Shotwell is responsible for day-to-day operations and for managing all customer and strategic relations.

Why you should listen

Gwynne Shotwell joined SpaceX in 2002 as vice president of business development and built the Falcon vehicle family manifest to more than 70 launches, representing more than $10 billion in business. Shotwell is a member of the SpaceX Board of Directors.
 
Prior to joining SpaceX, Shotwell spent more than 10 years at the Aerospace Corporation, holding positions in space systems engineering and technology and project management. Shotwell was subsequently recruited to be director of Microcosm's space systems division, managing space system technologies, serving on the executive committee and directing corporate business development.
 
In 2014, Shotwell was appointed to the United States Export Import Bank's Advisory Committee and the Federal Aviation Administration’s Management Advisory Council. She has been awarded the World Technology Award for Individual Achievement in Space, has been inducted into the Women In Technology International Hall of Fame and was elected to the honorable grade of Fellow with the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
 
SpaceX supports science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs locally as well as national engineering programs and competitions. Shotwell has helped raise over $1.4 million for STEM education programs reaching thousands of students nationwide.
Shotwell received, with honors, her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Northwestern University in mechanical engineering and applied mathematics, and she serves as both a University Trustee and a member of the Advisory Council for Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering. She has authored dozens of papers on a variety of space-related subjects.

More profile about the speaker
Gwynne Shotwell | Speaker | TED.com
Chris Anderson - TED Curator
After a long career in journalism and publishing, Chris Anderson became the curator of the TED Conference in 2002 and has developed it as a platform for identifying and disseminating ideas worth spreading.

Why you should listen

Chris Anderson is the Curator of TED, a nonprofit devoted to sharing valuable ideas, primarily through the medium of 'TED Talks' -- short talks that are offered free online to a global audience.

Chris was born in a remote village in Pakistan in 1957. He spent his early years in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where his parents worked as medical missionaries, and he attended an American school in the Himalayas for his early education. After boarding school in Bath, England, he went on to Oxford University, graduating in 1978 with a degree in philosophy, politics and economics.

Chris then trained as a journalist, working in newspapers and radio, including two years producing a world news service in the Seychelles Islands.

Back in the UK in 1984, Chris was captivated by the personal computer revolution and became an editor at one of the UK's early computer magazines. A year later he founded Future Publishing with a $25,000 bank loan. The new company initially focused on specialist computer publications but eventually expanded into other areas such as cycling, music, video games, technology and design, doubling in size every year for seven years. In 1994, Chris moved to the United States where he built Imagine Media, publisher of Business 2.0 magazine and creator of the popular video game users website IGN. Chris eventually merged Imagine and Future, taking the combined entity public in London in 1999, under the Future name. At its peak, it published 150 magazines and websites and employed 2,000 people.

This success allowed Chris to create a private nonprofit organization, the Sapling Foundation, with the hope of finding new ways to tackle tough global issues through media, technology, entrepreneurship and, most of all, ideas. In 2001, the foundation acquired the TED Conference, then an annual meeting of luminaries in the fields of Technology, Entertainment and Design held in Monterey, California, and Chris left Future to work full time on TED.

He expanded the conference's remit to cover all topics, including science, business and key global issues, while adding a Fellows program, which now has some 300 alumni, and the TED Prize, which grants its recipients "one wish to change the world." The TED stage has become a place for thinkers and doers from all fields to share their ideas and their work, capturing imaginations, sparking conversation and encouraging discovery along the way.

In 2006, TED experimented with posting some of its talks on the Internet. Their viral success encouraged Chris to begin positioning the organization as a global media initiative devoted to 'ideas worth spreading,' part of a new era of information dissemination using the power of online video. In June 2015, the organization posted its 2,000th talk online. The talks are free to view, and they have been translated into more than 100 languages with the help of volunteers from around the world. Viewership has grown to approximately one billion views per year.

Continuing a strategy of 'radical openness,' in 2009 Chris introduced the TEDx initiative, allowing free licenses to local organizers who wished to organize their own TED-like events. More than 8,000 such events have been held, generating an archive of 60,000 TEDx talks. And three years later, the TED-Ed program was launched, offering free educational videos and tools to students and teachers.

More profile about the speaker
Chris Anderson | Speaker | TED.com