LONG BEACH, California — Bedfellows were never more strange than those assembling this week for the annual Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) conference launching Wednesday in Long Beach.
Avatar director James Cameron, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, former covert CIA analyst Valerie Plame, 4chan founder and provocateur Christopher “Moot” Poole and potty-mouthed comedian Sarah Silverman are among the eclectic mix of speakers that will rock the small harbor town through Saturday.
The four-day, $6,000 a head, invitation-only event, dubbed “Davos for the Digerati set,” will gather industry titans, celebrities, academics and alpha geeks for its 26th year. This year’s overall theme is “What the World Needs Now,” with separate themes listed for each track of speakers.
Gates, who last year made headlines after releasing a handful of mosquitoes on stage to draw attention to malaria, will be speaking in a session dubbed “Boldness” about work being done by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to eradicate malaria.
Plame and Poole will both appear in a session dubbed “Provocation.” Poole will discuss 4chan, the online forum he created that serves as a haunt for would-be hackers and members of Anonymous — a motley, loose-knit crew of online rabble-rousers who have launched crusades against the Church of Scientology, the Australian government and others while often missing their mark.
Other speakers include:
- Temple Grandin, an autism activist and designer of livestock facilities, who is the subject of an HBO biopic with actress Claire Danes;
- biologist Cheryl Hayashi will discuss the amazing properties of spider silk and its possible uses in protective armor for soldiers on the battlefield as well as biodegradable surgical sutures;
- legal activist Philip Howard will take on the provocative topic of why the world can do without lawyers;
- cell biologist Mark Roth will discuss the latest research into the possible use of hydrogen sulfide to reduce the metabolism of trauma patients and heart-attack victims to buy time until they can be treated;
- and interface designer John Underkoffler will discuss the point-and-touch interface he invented.
To provide respite from the often rich and heady presentations of TED speakers, an array of musicians and artists will provide palate-cleansing performances — former Talking Heads musician David Byrne, as well as singers Natalie Merchant and Sheryl Crow.
Wired magazine’s Chris Anderson will also be showing attendees the magazine’s new strategy for bringing its content to users of Apple’s new iPad device.
Continuing this year is the TED fellowship program that opens TED’s elite doors to more than three dozen up-and-coming thinkers and doers from developing regions who are invited to attend for free.
Founded in 1984 by architect and designer Richard Saul Wurman as a kind of dream dinner party with interesting people he wanted to meet, the conference was bought by publisher Chris Anderson in 2001 (not Wired’s Chris Anderson). Anderson’s nonprofit, Sapling Foundation, now runs the conference, along with the TED Global conference held in Oxford, England, each year, and the satellite TED Africa and TED India events.
Since taking over eight years ago, Anderson has focused the conference on philanthropy and social consciousness. The primary purpose is to cross-pollinate people from various fields to share knowledge about the latest developments in the sciences and arts and to inspire attendees to think imaginatively about their own contributions to the world.
The conference attracts a wide range of attendees, whose accomplishments and notoriety often rival the speakers -– Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, musician Peter Gabriel and comedian Robin Williams have appeared at past events. Past speakers have included former Vice President Al Gore, filmmaker J.J. Abrams, Sims creator Will Wright and physicist Stephen Hawking.
Generally, one talk stands out each year as the crowd favorite, for varying reasons. In 2008, it was neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor’s riveting account of a stroke she experienced years earlier. In 2006, Hans Rosling, a geeky professor of international health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, became the resident rock star for his surprisingly stunning presentation on statistics and the developing world.
Among the annual features of the conference is the TED prize, generally given to three recipients. This year it will be given only to one — celebrity chef and author Jamie Oliver. The prize is an annual award launched in 2005 to recognize individuals whose work has had and will have a powerful and positive impact on society. It provides each recipient with $100,000 and the chance to ask for help from the TED community in achieving one grand wish to change the world.
Past winners have included U2 singer Bono, former President Bill Clinton, oceanographer Sylvia Earle, astronomer Jill Cornell Tarter, and former economist and trained musician Jose Antonio Abreu.
Oliver will receive his award and reveal his wish at a ceremony Wednesday night.
Those who aren’t invited to TED can see the conference presentations as they’re posted to the web over several weeks after the conference ends. Since TED began posting videos of its talks in 2006, more than 15 million visitors have viewed them.
Earlier this year, TED launched a translation/transcription version of its talks.
The tool combines crowdsourcing with smart language markup to provide translated and transcribed videos in more than 40 languages — from Arabic to Urdu — that can be indexed and searched by keywords. Users can click on any phrase in the transcript of a talk, and jump to that point in the video.
Wired.com will publish stories from the conference all week.
Very much looking forward to this year’s conference. It also features LXD performing.