Thursday, February 28, 2008

TED 2008

I used to attend a lot of conferences (e.g. Comdex, Network World, DEMO, Morgan Stanley Technology Showcase, NVCA, TechCrunch). Mostly I'd avoid the long, mind-numbing sessions, choosing instead to prowl the hallways and expo floors to serendipitously encounter familiar people and unfamiliar technologies. I found these events to be highly efficient venues for collecting and synthesizing information, for sharing ideas and taking a pulse on new markets.

But physical conferences simply can't keep up with the pace, volume and quality of content that is now available through online discovery and collaboration, which don't levy a heavy tax on our time for travel to and from Vegas (Who Has TIme For This?).

Having said that, there is still one conference I try to never miss. TED was founded in 1984 by Richard Saul Wurman as a dinner party among intellectuals (Marvin Minsky, Benoit Mandelbroit, Nicholas Negroponte...) to explore the convergence of technology, entertainment and design. It has since blossomed into a multi-location summit engaging 1,100 attendees around presentations by many of the most interesting and respected people in the world from science (Steve Pinker, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Jane Goodall, Murray Gell-Mann), entertainment (JJ Abrams, Julia Sweeney), technology (Craig Venter, Jeff Hawkins, JImmy Wales, Sergey/Larry), art, literature (Dave Eggers), journalism (Saul Hansen), music (Peter Gabriel, Thomas Dolby), business (Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos), and government (Clinton, Gore, Queen Noor). The sessions now cover topics far broader than the original agenda, confronting the biggest challenges facing our species--global warming, terrorism, genocide, disease, education, human rights. The presentations range from 3 to 18 minutes, punctuated by chances to mingle with the speakers.

But TED is more than a conference. TED now hosts a series of events around the world in Africa, India, Europe... TED operates a rich web site that features the lectures delivered in the events. Every year TED awards a $100,000 prize to three recipients who leverage the TED community to pursue a specific proposal on improving the world. For example, Bill Clinton is using his prize to bring basic healthcare services to Rwanda, and E.O. Wilson has used his prize to launch the Encyclopedia of Life, an online repository of information about the species on Earth.

Perhaps the best and most lasting benefit of TED is the chance to meet new friends among a community of everyday people with a common characteristic: an active ongoing interest in improving one's intellect and one's planet--people like my friend Erik Gordon, who overcame much personal adversity to launch an investment firm with the mission of funding commercial space exploration.

Last year I blogged a bit about TED but this year I plan to share more details in the coming days with these objectives: share some interesting ideas, identify which presentations you may wish to watch on the web, and help you assess TED as an event you might wish to attend.

UPDATE: Here are links to my 6 reports on TED 2008:

TED Wednesday: Literally, A Stroke of Luck

Highlights: Dr Jill Taylor-- Brain scientists decvonstructs her own stroke; Stephen Hawking

TED Thursday Morning: Life Origami

Highlights: Craig Venter and Paul Rothemund on developing CAD tools for synthesizing complex life forms.

TED Thursday Afternoon: Helpful Tips to Survive a Nuclear Explosion

Highlight: Author Dave Eggers

TED Friday Morning: Music, Shrooms and Crows

Highlight: Josh Klein on how smart crows really are. Definitely worth watching.

TED Friday Afternoon: Shining Eyes

Highlight of the Week: Ben Zander leads TED in German choral singing

TED Saturday: Thank You For Being Here

Highlight: Al Gore with more inconvenient slides.

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