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Web Summit 2022: TED, whiskeys and avatars in the metaverse

Presented by João Tomé, Chris Anderson, Jessica Spence, Timmu Tõke
Originally aired on 

Join João Tomé for Conversations at Web Summit 2022, one of the biggest tech conferences in the world — held November 2022, in Lisbon, Portugal.

In this segment, we hear from:

  • Chris Anderson, the head of the project TED (
  • Jessica Spence, president of brands at Beam Suntory (a whiskey leading company)
  • Timmu Tõke, CEO & Co-Founder at Ready Player Me (a cross-game avatar platform for the metaverse)

The full list of conversations is available here:

Web Summit

Transcript (Beta)

Chris Anderson,TED. I guess I'm the head of TED. And you're based on? New York City.

TED is a series of conferences.

We capture the talks and share them freely with the world.

So TED has become Ideas with Spreading. That's our moniker. TED is around a few years ago.

You use the Internet to communicate to all over the world those ideas.

What is the evolution of the past few years? How do you use the new social media platforms to communicate those ideas?

TED started in 1984 but it took off in 2006 when we could put the talks online.

To our surprise they went viral and created this global audience.

The Internet continues to evolve and it's to stay fresh.

You have to keep looking at what's happening out there.

You can't let presentation styles become clichéd. People want to feel like they're hearing something fresh.

Some people think there's a formula to giving a TED talk.

Not true. As soon as you think there is, that talk is going to be boring and clichéd.

So we're constantly trying to have speakers find their voice, their way of communicating what matters.

But at the heart of it is the thought that what really matters in the world is ideas.

Ideas are what have shaped history.

We often tell the story of current events in terms of leaders and politics and so forth.

Politicians come and go. Ideas are forever.

That's the appeal of TED.

When you're hearing someone giving you a new way of looking at the world, it makes you excited.

You feel like that makes sense and it creates a new sense of possibility.

This is the miracle of ideas. We can re -imagine the future and share that with someone.

You can see this new possibility space which, through shared intention, you can actually create.

No other species on the planet can do that.

It's kind of a miracle. In terms of Israel, I think it's fascinating.

We build companies to do products, to make something better. We build societies around the idea of being collaborative.

We have scientists that collaborate to build stuff.

Having a space where different people with different set of ideas can share and collaborate is really a powerful idea in terms of the larger scope.

Wikipedia was a bit of that in the written form, but you add more depth to that.

So many people have a view of the world that is kind of zero-sum. They see the world as just a battle of who has resources and it's a push-pull situation.

Once you enter the world of ideas, there are other possibilities there.

It's important to fight certain battles for power, I guess. But even better is to create, to build, to create new possibilities so that everyone can win.

That's the miracle of the world of ideas. Wikipedia, no one thought you could have a massive encyclopedia on the Internet that was edited by everyone.

It cost a tiny fraction of what Microsoft invested in Carter on the Internet and completely blew it away by orders of magnitude.

The Internet is like that. It makes possible all kinds of collaborations.

For us, the fact that people were willing to share ideas freely across the world.

Ted has never spent money on marketing.

This was all word of mouth is how it spread. It resulted in people offering to translate our talks into 100 languages.

We have like 20,000 plus volunteer translators.

Again, you couldn't imagine this in a pre-Internet age.

And then the fact that TEDx organizers are willing to host TED events everywhere in the world on their own expense and risk and time.

That's amazing as well.

I love the notion of this world of possibility that we've created where by connecting everyone, amazing things can happen.

Unfortunately, also some terrible things can happen.

But that's the battle we're all fighting. In terms of storytelling, things haven't changed completely, but there's new mediums.

There's TikTok.

YouTube has a big role, but social media in general. Podcasts are a thing for the past few years.

How do you use the different channels to do stuff? Because there's TED Talks, but now you also have longer format interviews on podcasts.

How do you use those? The big picture is that the human voice has finally been allowed to go to global scale.

For centuries since the Gutenberg Press was invented, the only way that we communicated at scale was through the written word.

When you step back and think about that for a minute, that's missing out a huge element of what it is to communicate.

As humans, we send so many other signals through how we speak, through voice.

I think it's underappreciated how big a deal it is that online video and things like podcasting and all these other ways of allowing voices to speak, because they definitely connect with people differently.

I think if social media had been voice only instead of little text fragments, they wouldn't have created all the hatred they've created.

Yes, that medium keeps innovating. I think we definitely want to be relevant on media like TikTok.

For example, there's a TED Talks channel on TikTok, which is doing fine.

But we don't want to go too far down that route. Ultimately, what we're tapping into is the power of the most ancient communication channel that's wired deeply into us, which is just people talking to each other and listening to each other.

It goes back to countless generations of people gathering around campfires.

It's a deep part of who we are. We can't ever forget that. That's always going to be at the heart of TED.

We're taking ever more seriously our role as educators.

We have this wonderful TED -Ed project that turns teachers' best lessons into short animations that get pretty much a billion views annually now.

That's been really exciting to see. I think there's so much more we could do.

It's kind of a miracle that for the first time in history, every child really has access to the world's best teachers right there on their smartphone.

Some people don't have smartphones now.

Within 10 years, pretty much everyone will. That is a shift of historical importance.

Let's serve them. Let's do everything we can. TED Talks and TED-Ed can provide a little part of the mix.

But we should be collaborating with many other education providers to help allow people to have a lifetime of education.

We should all be lifelong learners. I find that exciting. We're reaching out to others to see how we can collaborate.

There's a lot of talk in trust online these days.

News organizations, where to trust in terms of information.

Young kids also learning what to trust. Do you think there's a challenge there?

Too much information, but what to trust? Yeah, I do. It's a big problem. It's made worse by the fact that we've got this dynamic on social media of people finding everything wrong with each other.

Finding many reasons to hate other people.

That is creating a self-fueling cycle of division.

We need to reverse that and find ways to build things together. It's basically by doing something cool with someone else.

You build trust that way. But in many ways it's the most precious resource that civilization has.

And we're in danger of throwing it away.

So it's a big issue. About that. Elon Musk now is on the news because of Twitter.

Is there any question that you would like to ask him right now at this time?

You've interviewed him a bunch of times. What do you think is the main thing he or everyone should be focused on?

He's a remarkable man. He's controversial.

He definitely does some odd things. I think some of his tweets are ill -advised.

But when you talk with him, and I've talked to him on several occasions, you discover someone who is deeply thoughtful.

I think at heart is genuine in his belief that he's acting on behalf of humanity.

I don't think he's a right-wing lunatic.

I think he's going to try at least to make Twitter less crazy. Right now, the key to getting amplified on Twitter is to be a combination of politically extreme, kind of reckless with the truth, and being willing to be quite obnoxious in the language you use.

In other words, the more you can taunt the other side, the more attention you'll get.

And those are the tweets that are getting amplified.

I guess my one question for him is, what are you going to do to stop that? And I think he has a plan.

I wouldn't bet against him. And usually he tries things, right?

He has a plan, but he adapts a lot. He tries things, right? Yeah, exactly. He's been impressively decisive and fast.

He's gone in there and he's operating at absolute blitzkrieg speed.

It's kind of amazing to watch. Whether he's going too fast, we'll see.

But he's probably our generation's most impressive tech entrepreneur.

If you objectively stand back and look at what he's built, it is breathtaking.

And I think Twitter's as big a challenge as he's had. It doesn't all play to his strengths.

But like I said, I wouldn't bet against him. Well, this is the existential question for humanity.

There's a chance that it takes us into dystopia.

I spoke about this here this morning. But there's a chance that if we continue to provoke the worst in each other, we'll make it impossible to do anything else except fight and bicker.

We could tear apart a lot of what we've built.

I'm hopeful that people realize how crazy this is and that there are huge efforts underway to moderate the worst of this.

I think it needs new business models.

I think it needs absolute determination by the big companies and by everyone else online to try to remember what the Internet's actually good at.

The Internet is amazing at pulling people together.

There are lots of beautiful things that can go viral online.

We need to double down on doing that, on getting past the situation where the only stuff that is viral and compelling is the dark stuff, which is what our algorithms are currently doing to us.

That's unbelievably dangerous.

Well, definitely Elon.

There was an interview I did with him about Twitter, but I think the interview is better still.

I think they were both good. But I think the better still one was I got to sit down with him for a couple hours at the Gigafactory in Texas and really hear his thoughts about what it will take to make a future that's exciting.

We went through a lot of stuff there, and I think there is a chance that that future can be built and that it will be exciting.

So that was definitely pretty good.

Let's see. I... I enjoyed...

I was going to say Bill and Melinda Gates. I sat them down together when they were still together and asked them about their philanthropy.

When there's so much wealth in the world, it's really important that we see it being turned to good purpose.

And I think they did a pretty good talk, a pretty good job of doing that.

And then I loved interviewing Ivano Harari. He's got such an amazing mind.

He sees humanity in big picture terms that is exciting. So I've interviewed him a couple of times on the podcast and at TED.

I'm Jessica Spence.

I'm the President of Brands at Beam Suntory. That's one of the world's leading whiskey companies with an incredible portfolio of brands from Jim Beam, Maker's Mark, Lafroig, Beaumont, Yamazaki.

I could go on. I'm responsible for the marketing and P&L of our core strategic brands, and I'm based in New York.

So we manufacture all of those brands across the world.

Whiskey is obviously made in generally one very specific place.

We have distilleries in Japan, in Kentucky, in the U.S., in Scotland, in France.

And then what I take accountability for is then also ensuring that those can be sold across the world.

We're in more than 50 countries.

And really, what is the brand building and sales model that we adopt to bring those incredible products to market?

We all live on the Internet.

So it impacts every element of our business. But when I think particularly about my area and some of the shifts we've seen, one of the big outcomes of the pandemic was a dramatic increase in e-commerce.

And I think our awareness of how to use the Internet and digital platforms as sales channels and as community building channels, that's really where we spent a lot of time focusing.

As we saw, as people moved away from bars and pubs because they were closed, they were still looking to drink.

They were still looking also for the kind of information that they would perhaps have found from a bartender before.

So we really are leaning into how do we give people access to that information?

It's a category where people are information-hungry.

How do we enable purchase as quickly as possible? But also, how do we create engagement, connections, and community?

Whiskey is a product that people love talking about.

And they love meeting other people who love talking about it.

So looking to the Internet as a space of creation of those tribes that collect around some of our brands, who have that passionate loyalty, and connect to other consumers.

So curating that space has become part of what we think of as our mission.

I think some will, but we're actually seeing a lot of the e-commerce numbers staying very resilient post the pandemic.

So there was a question of, okay, we've seen this massive rise.

Are people going to fall back into old behaviors? There's definitely behaviors there that have stuck, and I think will continue to.

And that's very positive for us.

I mean, people have come back to bars and restaurants.

I think it was embarrassingly, perhaps, every market across the world, when you ask people what did they miss the most, bars and restaurants were in the top two, sometimes ahead of seeing your family.

So there's a huge rush back to the physical world.

But I think the connections they made in the digital world, and some of the experiences we're able to offer at scale through the Internet, through digital platforms, people are actually really in love with.

And I think it's more like both.

So it's yes and, rather than a switch between the two.

In terms of the larger scale of the Internet, the global scenario, there's a lot of talk in terms of social media and all that, but you're just mentioning a positive aspect of those relationships.

Where do you see the global scenario of the Internet going right now in terms of good things, bad things?

It's an incredibly interesting time.

And I think it's been a big topic for everyone over the last few months, particularly.

I like to be an Internet optimist. I think at its best, it enables groups to connect, find information, find community, build community and creativity.

But I think we have to think very hard about how are we creating the technology and the algorithms that enable that, versus ones that are driven by a very pure profit motive alone, in the absence of awareness of some of the collateral damage that I think that causes.

And I think AI is an incredible tool.

It's got incredible positives. It also, when used to drive against a single -minded purpose like attention, can be extremely negative.

And I think there's questions for everyone involved in technology, but particularly for people who are working in the field of AI, who are designing algorithms, to think about what are the unintended consequences of a very pure commercial drive behind an algorithm that perhaps doesn't consider some of the broader societal effects.

So, I'm hopeful the Internet is realizing that.

I think there is a ton of conversation happening at very senior levels around it.

I don't think we've got answers yet.

But I'm encouraged that I think the tone of that conversation is very different to what I saw even two years ago, where a lot of the platforms simply said, you know, we just moderate, nothing to do with us.

I think there's an awareness that that simplistic view of the world has failed, and they are beginning to think about different ways of acting.

I think it would be, sounds an odd one, I would like some really smart regulation.

I actually think that, like in any technological revolution, regulation lags the technology, and that has happened.

I think we now need governments to go a lot deeper, employ a lot more people who understand technology in depth.

I mean, it's insane.

You look at the U.S., there's no Senate or House committee on technology.

So, they don't know what they're dealing with. You need governments to step up, to employ the right people, to get the right experts, and to start to create the kind of regulation which will fuel a positive Internet.

Because otherwise, particularly as a brand owner, as an advertiser, that's a place I'm not going to want my brand to be.

And there's huge positives for me if I can leverage it.

But if I start to feel that's not an environment where I can have the kind of positive impact I want, I will look for other options.

So, we have paused on Twitter.

We are waiting to see what happens there, but some of the early signs gave us some concerns.

So, we have made that decision. I think it'll be very interesting to see.

At the minute, there's a lot of noise coming out of Twitter, but we're not really clear on what the direction is.

It's very well to say you want to be wonderful, the town square, free speech for everyone.

What do you mean by that? And I think the advertisers are realizing their power and asking platforms to step up and be much more specific.

And I think that's a good thing.

I've been positively surprised by the number of people who made decisions about Twitter very fast.

Technology companies sometimes accuse brands of being slow and they don't really get it.

Well, we moved quickly this time. We moved at the speed of technology and we made a statement.

So, I think the platforms are going to listen more, I hope.

I definitely feel that they need to become more constructive.

I'm optimistic about Twitter. There's lots of things about the platform I think are phenomenally positive.

But it needs to be very conscious of its power.

Twitter, I think, is one of the most interesting platforms because its power extends beyond the platform.

If you're not on Facebook, honestly, Facebook doesn't really change your life too much.

If you're not on Twitter, Twitter still changes your life.

And the knowledge and acceptance and maturity to understand that power from the leadership is going to be critical to whether that platform survives.

So, I think it's amazing. You're stopping, but you're not saying we don't want Twitter.

You're saying we want to see what you're going to present, right?

Absolutely, yeah. And it's a question of holding people accountable.

You can put out a tweet and make a big statement, but I want to see nuts and bolts.

What does this mean for my brand? How do I know what the conversation my brand is going to show up in?

And is that a positive environment where people are going to be exposed to messages that would make them feel uncomfortable?

My brands are about bringing people together, creating communities, celebrating moments.

I'm choosy about where those brands are seen.

I pick the bars I want them to be in.

I pick the platforms I want them to be on. So, I think that's the message we're trying to send.

My name is Timo.

I'm from I'm the CEO and co-founder. And I'm based in New York, and I'm from Estonia originally.

Yeah, so is a cross-game avatar platform for the Metaverse.

So, we see that people spend a lot of time in virtual worlds and more time every year.

And the Metaverse is kind of happening around us.

And the Metaverse is not a single place. It's a network of thousands and millions of worlds and experiences.

Like the Internet, almost, right?

So, it makes sense for you to have an avatar that travels with you across many different worlds and is not stuck in one game.

That's what we are for kind of the end users of the Metaverse.

And for developers, we're a great, easy-to-use avatar system.

You can integrate with your game and world in an easy way and save many months of development time.

So, the use case is VR, AR, but also other stuff?

Yeah, VR and AR is maybe 10% of the network.

We work with 4,000 companies that use our avatars in their experiences. Like 10%, 15% maybe is VR, AR.

We think people spend a lot of time in virtual worlds already.

There's almost 3 billion people that play games today, even without VR and AR.

VR and AR definitely are more kind of immersive ways to experience the virtual worlds.

And they will accelerate the transition to virtual worlds and will make people spend even more time in virtual worlds.

But it's not needed for the Metaverse to exist.

How do you define the Metaverse?

The Metaverse is a 3D Internet, 3D virtual worlds that are connected with each other.

I think that's how we define the Metaverse.

It has some kind of interoperability between them.

It has some kind of value transfer between them. That's the Metaverse.

Today, people experience 3D virtual worlds through their phones, through their desktops, through games mostly.

It's very much here. When you look at the 10 to 15-year-olds in the world and what they're doing, they spend their time in virtual worlds.

They play Roblox and Fortnite. That's where they hang out with their friends.

It's very much here already through the devices we already have.

And as we get more immersive devices to experience virtual worlds, it's just going to accelerate even further.

But it's not needed for the Metaverse to exist.

For the Metaverse, what we really need is to connect to different virtual worlds that already exist.

Because now they're all closed, walled gardens. They all build their own economies.

They all build their own systems. Our goal is to connect them.

The mission is to break down virtual walls to build a more connected virtual world.

And avatars are one way to do that. The avatar is a persistent part of the experience across many different worlds.

So by building interoperable avatars, we can help break down the walls a little bit.

And push towards a more open Metaverse.

And that is the true Metaverse, right? Every game says they're a Metaverse now.

The Internet is obviously an essential part of the Metaverse.

There could be no Metaverse.

There could only be single -player experiences. And the Metaverse is all about connecting with other people.

And having those kind of authentic relationships and connections with real people.

So it's all about the Internet. They go hand-in-hand, right?

And latency and all the problems that exist today with the current form of the Internet are really holding back the Metaverse in some ways as well.

And this is not something we can change as a company. But we definitely look for all that space to expand and those problems to be solved.

So we could have even more meaningful experiences in virtual worlds.

Hardware, the Internet, latency, all those problems.

That's not an area I know deeply about. But it's one of the main blockers for really having a persistent virtual world we can live in.

To have a better and faster Internet will help your business in a sense.

So it's all about collaborative effort in many companies, many countries, right?

Right, exactly.

And we just benefit from all the hard work that people are doing to improve the Internet.

Yeah, definitely.

I think the Metaverse will be an average consumer product. We're not talking about...

It won't be about kind of hardcore games. I grew up playing a lot of games.

But most people don't call themselves gamers. So it's not going to be about the hardcore gamers.

It's going to be about the people that use social media today.

But they just use it in a more immersive world, in a more immersive way, in a 3D experience.

And it will be more compelling. So the Internet usage will definitely increase when the Metaverse forms itself around us.

Because it's a multimedia experience taken to another level.

Exactly. And then there's streaming, which is showing some progress.

So you wouldn't have to have a very powerful device.

You could experience very amazing experiences just by streaming them.

That's not quite there yet. But that will be amazing if that starts working. And there's a lot of limitations to that.

Some of them related to the Internet. Some of them just hardware and the cost of running that stuff.

I'm not competent enough to give suggestions to people that are focused on that.

Because they know so much better. But the Metaverse latency is a big problem, obviously.

If we could just stream everything and not have everything run on people's devices, that would unlock a lot of stuff.

We could have small devices, small glasses that render everything on the go.

Or stream it. I won't be able to say anything meaningful for people that actually know what they're talking about.

For your business, cloud storage prices are important, for example? Not really.

For our business, we can work with the world of today. We have 4,000 people that use our routers today.

There's no clear technological barrier to doing what we do today.

It's just the better the tech around us gets, the more people will use it.

And the more people will get into the world. It will be a better experience for end-users.

So it will be a better business for everyone involved. We're not hitting the wall with any specific technology or limitation at the moment.

All the stuff happening around us is just tailwind.

It just makes things better. We signed 450 companies this month, or last month.

And there's a lot of stuff there.

Education is kind of surprising. People use routers in education a lot, actually.

In virtual classrooms, in virtual training. And all kinds of apps that teach kids math.

And all kinds of other stuff. That was pretty interesting. There's a lot of fitness.

Which is slightly surprising, maybe. I don't know. There's a lot of things that we couldn't have thought about ourselves.

And that's the fun of being an enabler.

So we just give people routers and get excited about what they do with them.

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