Talk summary:

Hailed as the greatest pickpocket in the world, Apollo Robbins studies the quirks of human behavior as he steals your watch. In a hilarious demonstration, Robbins samples the buffet of the TEDGlobal 2013 audience, showing how the flaws in our perception make it possible to swipe a wallet and leave it on its owner’s shoulder while they remain clueless. Click here to view the official TED transcript.

TED Explained:

“Do you think it’s possible to control someone’s attention? Even more than that, what about predicting human behavior?”


1. “Predict” is a verb. It means to say that (something) will or might happen in the future.
E.g. The fortune-teller was predicting my future. She said that tomorrow I will meet somebody important.

“I’ve spent the last twenty years studying human behavior from a rather unorthodox way: picking pockets.”

2. “Unorthodox” is an adjective. It’s used to describe something different from what is usually done or accepted.
E.g. Our teacher had unorthodox ways of teaching. It was fun to have lessons with her because we never knew what to expect.

“Some of us are a little bit more perceptive than others.”

3. “Perceptive” is an adjective. It means having or showing an ability to understand or notice something easily or quickly.
E.g. Mr. Shelock Holmes was very perceptive. He noticed the painting was missing right away.

“They have fancy models of attention, Posner’s trinity model of attention. For me, I like to think of it very simple, like a surveillance system.”

4. “Surveillance” is a noun. It means to keep a close watch over someone or something.
E.g. The surveillance team kept close watch over the antique jewelry, which was worth a million dollars.

“Now, for my job, I have to play with techniques to exploit this, to play with your attention as a limited resource.”

5. “Exploit” is a verb. It means to use (someone or something) in a way that helps you unfairly.
E.g. The workers are exploited by rich bosses. They are paid minimum wages and work long hours.

“One time a guy had a hole in his pocket, and that was rather traumatizing for me. I was looking for his wallet and he gave me his phone number.”

6. “Traumatizing” is an adjective. Here, it is used lightheartedly as a joke. It means to be subject to lasting shock as a result of an emotionally disturbing experience or physical injury.
E.g. When Lucy was a child, she almost drowned in a swimming pool. The memory is still traumatizing for her and she hasn’t been swimming since.

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