TED Prize winner Larry Brilliant has spent his career solving the ills of today — from overseeing the last smallpox cases to saving millions from blindness — and building technologies of the future. Now, as Chair of the Skoll Global Threats Fund, he's redefining how we solve the world's biggest problems.

Why you should listen

Larry Brilliant's career path, as unlikely as it is inspirational, has proven worthy of his surname. Trained as a doctor, he was living in a Himalayan monastery in the early 1970s when his guru told him he should help rid the world of smallpox. He joined the World Health Organization's eradication project, directed efforts to eliminate the disease in India and eventually presided over the last case of smallpox on the planet.

Not content with beating a single disease, he founded the nonprofit Seva Foundation, which has cured more than two million people of blindness in 15 countries through innovative surgery, self-sufficient eye care systems and low-cost manufacturing of intraocular lenses. Outside the medical field, he found time to cofound the legendary online community The Well, and run two public tech companies. Time and WIRED magazines call him a "technology visionary."

His 2006 TED Prize wish drew on both sides of his career: He challenged the TED community to help him build a global early-response system to spot new diseases as quickly as they emerge. Called InSTEDD, the system has grown into a network of 100 digital detection partners, which provide tools that help the UN, WHO and CDC track potential pandemics. 

Shortly after he won the TED Prize, Google executives asked Brilliant to run their new philanthropic arm, Google.org. So, between consulting on the WHO's polio eradication project and designing a disease-surveillance network, he harnessed Google's brains and billions in a mix of for-profit and nonprofit ventures tackling the global problems of disease, poverty and climate change. Today, Brilliant is Chair of the Skoll Global Threats Fund, where he heads a team whose mission is to confront global threats imperiling humanity: pandemics, climate change, water security, nuclear proliferation and Middle East conflict.

What others say

“If Larry Brilliant's life were a film, critics would pan the plot as implausible.” — WIRED

Larry Brilliant’s TED talks

More news and ideas from Larry Brilliant


Larry Brilliant’s new book shows how pandemics can be eradicated

October 11, 2016

Epidemiologist Larry Brilliant remembers the day in 1974 when, while working for the United Nations in India, a mother handed him her young son, who had died only moments earlier from smallpox. Brilliant also remembers the day, about a year later, when he traveled by speedboat to an island in Bangladesh and met a 3-year-old […]

Continue reading