If a physicist, a venture capitalist and an anthropologist enter a bar, the TED conference is probably somewhere nearby and now the conferences are traveling beyond America.
Over the years, The Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) conferences included speakers such as: Bill Gates, Frank Gehry, Jane Goodall, Al Gore, Billy Graham, Peter Gabriel, Quincy Jones, and Bono. The annual event brings together industry leaders from various sectors to celebrate innovations, learn from each other, and inspire even great ideas. Referred to as a four-day “brain spa”, the TED promotes innovative leaders and supports future ones. Yet, TED’s most inspirational stars are often unexpected participants: Li Lu, a key organizer of the Tiananmen Square student protest and Aimee Mullins, a Paralympics competitor who tried out a new pair of artificial legs onstage.
“Robots will come with lifelike faces that convey human emotion”, said David Lawsky of Reuters. “That was just a sampling of the technology envisioned for the future at TED, the annual gathering of corporate, Hollywood and scientific glitterati touted as a caldron of ideas and innovation.”
Yet, TED Web site refutes claims that the conference is “elitest”. The TED conference, which began in Long Beach, California circa 1984, already inspired sister events called TEDGlobal. The conferences are hosted in a different country every year. India, Tanzania and London have hosted recent conferences.
The regional conferences have also inspired new contests. TEDIndia ran a contest for the TEDIndia conference last November in partnership with flux.net. Participants submitted short films, music videos and commercials, lasting 30 seconds to 3 minutes. The purpose was to encourage film generation with high-impact and innovative filming techniques. The collection is available to the public on the TEDIndia website.
Despite the active participation in the annual conferences, (there were 1,450 participants in the annual conference in Long Beach, California) and TED prize competition, TED boasts of even stronger online participation. (Incidentally, the movement may be indicative of the long application process and $6,000 annual conference price tag.) There are more than 50 million viewers from 150 countries alone watching TEDTalk as of June 2008. TEDTalk is catalogue of past conference videos, partners’ conferences, and other public talks by innovative leaders in technology, entertainment or design. Yet, one of the goals of TED is to encourage future innovators. Anyone can subscribe and watch past videos online free of charge in 50 different languages. There is also a growing translation movement to continue to develop the number of languages and events available with subtitles. There is also an active online community of 5,600 members where members can share information, ideas and participate in online forums.
There have been many amazing innovations highlighted at TED global events. TEDIndia gave Pranav Mistry, winner of the Popular Science Invention of the Year award and MIT staffer, a chance to show off his new technological invention. (His invention is a projection of a computer screen which can be manipulated through touch.) Yet, what the results of TED’s influence globally still remains to be seen; there have only been three non-U.S. conference events since 2005.