Crow vending machine maker Joshua Klein on his new TV show, The Link

I haven't watched television since I was fifteen years old, but up until then my entire world view was shaped by shows like Nova and Nature. I guess there was other stuff on, but nothing else gave me the sense that there was an entire universe out there that I could actually get my fingers into the way those science shows did. So it was a no-brainer to say yes when National Geographic Channel called me about The Link.

At first I was confused about why they were calling. But they'd seen my TED talk about the intelligence of crows and said they'd like me to give an audition. I was scared to death, but immediately bought some books and spent a couple days immersing myself in what I had thought must be a pretty easy job.

NewImageTurns out I was wrong, and when I turned up on audition day I was almost certain they were going to realize their mistake right away. But in short order it became clear that the producer and the crew were all there to have fun, and before long we were romping around a grocery store having a blast. One thing that amazed me then — and still does – is how having a camera opens doors for you, and believe me we made use of it!

It was only a week or two later that they contacted me and told me I had the job. That was one of the hardest parts — I don't think I'd really realized what it meant to commit to producing a whole TV series until I got that call. For most of my life I've juggled a dozen projects at once, and suddenly I was being given the opportunity to do one thing only for nearly an entire year. I had to shelve a bunch of projects that were near and dear to me, but based on the prospective travel schedule I figured it would be worth it.

In that regard I was entirely correct. The team at Lion Television (who were producing the series) had cooked up some mind-blowing adventures for us, and in the first episode alone I got to make a bronze sword in Xi'an, China, learn how silk is produced in northern Italy, and try and evade a Predator drone in the deserts of southern Arizona.

NewImageIt wasn't all fun and games — being on the road three weeks a month was frankly exhausting — and more personally the work was some of the most difficult I've ever done. Part of the charm of television is that they shoot hours and hours of it and then pick individual moments to make it look easy, but the truth of it was that I had an immensely steep learning curve those first few months.

As an example, the very first day of shooting I showed up in London, jet-lagged and jittery, and was told to walk across a courtyard, and the producer's first comment was to ask me "what the hell are you doing?!?" It turns out that the way you walk, the way you use your hands, tilt your head, lilt your voice — all of it needs to be subtly tweaked so the camera can do a better job of bringing the experience to the audience. So not only do you have to walk, talk, move, breath, and articulate in a specific way, but you have to do it such that it seems natural. It's harder than it sounds.

NewImageThat said, it would be impossible to go to all those amazing places and not be one very glad, giddy geek, and that made it a lot easier. At one point we were in Bletchley park, where computing was basically founded, and the crew brought out an original Enigma machine. It was on special loan by the Queen, and I got to take it out of the glass case for the first — and last — time in years. After we shot the sequence I set the encoding dials to my father's initials — it was his birthday — and the staff all assured me it would stay that way for years. As a closet cryptofetishist the satisfaction was immense.

Which is more or less what the entire series is about; that dizzying sense of amazement and wonder that comes from seeing the most incredible inventions human beings have come up with, and understanding their impact. Each episode traces ten to twelve innovations across history, describing how each one links to the next.

So the commodification of bronze weaponry might give rise to the silk road, for example, and then to the compass, and then stock certificates, and then the chain drive, and then computers, and then the rocket. It's artificial in that causality is infinite, sure, but it's also mind-blowing to see how a single invention can have such far-reaching repercussions. I found it immensely satisfying to bring to light how even small, incremental innovations could change the entire course of human history.

NewImageFor me, making the show was a chance to share what gets me out of bed in the morning — that we can all each change the world in some crucial way to make it better, just by being passionate about something we care about. If your thing is World War II control systems or oil platforms or Italian silk weaving or sheep farming or moveable type, the show's got it — and helps articulate why it's so amazingly cool, and what it did to change the world. It's the kind of show that makes you walk outside and see everything as possible and, hopefully, encourages you to get out there and try something.

At least that's my hope for it. :)

The Link Premieres May 25 at 7pm ET/PT