Minus one (day). TED2007 starts tomorrow Wednesday (I will be liveblogging most of the conference). The whole team is in Monterey, busy applying the final touches and extinguishing the inevitable last-minute fires. Time for a pre-conference backgrounder, but first a few impressions of today, starting with the preparation of the main stage:
Just outside, tech and decoration materials are being delivered:
Speakers' pictures are ready to be hung on the walls:
The simulcast room is being assembled:
In a separate room, the "gift bags" for the 1200 attendees are filled and stockpiled:
So we're almost ready to go:
There has been some news coverage of TED lately. One month ago CBS put online a 10-minutes video report on TED, who attends and what's discussed. This week's BusinessWeek has a story headlined "Forget Davos. I'm booked up for TED", while yesterday's New York Times describes "Where artists and investors plot to save the world". While both articles say great things about TED and compare it favorably to the Davos World Economic Forum however, it's worth pointing out that they almost contradict each other. BusinessWeek quotes a former attendee suggesting that TED has become mainly about connections with celebrities; the NY Times writes that TED is now mainly a do-good gathering discussing "photographs of genocide victims, environmentally sustainable AIDS clinics and water-purification systems".
Between glam celebrities and genocide victims, the truth is that the actual content -- the speakers and the ideas -- at TED this year is more interesting than it ever has been. The speakers roster includes venture capitalist John Doerr; demographer Hans Rosling (video); evolutionary biologist Paul Ewald; illustrator Maira Kalman; basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; Nobel Prize winner (for discovering the quark) Murray Gell-Mann; Creative Commons founder Larry Lessig; documentary producer Deborah Scranton; Microsoft's former CTO, dinosaurs hunter and intellectual-property controversial guy Nathan Myhrvold; computer scientist Alan Kay; designer John Maeda; singer Paul Simon (as in Simon & Garfunkel); economist Edward de Bono; "Emotional Intelligence" author Daniel Coleman; "Lost" creator JJ Abrams; "Sims" creator Will Wright; Jeff Skoll of Participant Productions ("Good night, and good luck"); MoMA's design curator Paola Antonelli; singer Tracy Chapman; writer Isabel Allende; neurologist Vilayanur Ramachandran; Cassini mission leader Carolyn Porco; Virgin founder Richard Branson; and about twenty others. Ah: Bill Clinton will also speak. Apologies if it sounds like name-dropping: it's just the reality of this year's program, which goes under the title "Icons, geniuses and mavericks" (I will let you put the names above in the relevant column).
Making TED special is also its audience, 1200 people who call themselves TEDsters and who mostly could as easily be on stage (for lack of space -- TED2007 has long been sold out, and TED2008 is already sold out, too -- we have had to decline requests for tickets by more than 1000 others this year); its relentlessly perfectionist organization and production (as TED's European Director, I can reliably testify that working with the TED team is no vacation); the great global community it gathers (at the conferences as well as through the online video channel TEDtalks, where past speeches are available for free in many formats), and its history. TED was started in 1984 when founder Richard S. Wurman observed the beginning of a powerful convergence between technology, entertainment and design. The first event featured the unveiling of the Macintosh computer and of the compact disc, among other things. But the finances didn't go along with the great lineup of speakers, so it took several years before Wurman tried it again, this time with success. TED has been held in Monterey every year since 1990. For the last four years it has been run by British media entrepreneur Chris Anderson, who sold his publishing house and in 2002 bought TED from Wurman. Chris runs it now as a part of his non-profit Sapling Foundation.
The name of the conference is a bit misleading: the event has grown to be much broader than the three original fields of technology, entertainment and design, encompassing science, media, education, politics, literature, spirituality, energy and environmental issues, and more. The format of the conference is classic: speakers have 18 minutes each for a keynote, and there is no Q&A (most speakers attend the whole conference, hence there are plenty of informal Q&A opportunities during lunches and dinners). There are also a series of shorter 3-minutes speeches by people in the audience, and artistic performances of various kind. Let me add that speakers are never paid for talking at TED. Chris is also adamant in not letting the sponsors take over the event: sponsorship is never linked to a speaking slot, and the display space is more about providing relevant and new content to attendees (showing upcoming tech, or prototype cars, for example) than pushing products.
In 2005, TED awarded the first TEDprize, which goes to "people with the potential to change the world". It was given to the U2 singer and Africa advocate Bono; to the Canadian nature photographer Ed Burtynsky; and to medical-devices inventor Robert Fischell. Last year, it went to Cameron Sinclair, the founder of "Architecture for Humanity"; to public-health advocate Larry Brilliant; and to filmmaker Jehane Noujaim ("Control Room"). This year the prize will be awarded on Thursday evening to photojournalist James Nachtwey; to biologist E.O. Wilson (author of "The Diversity of Life"); and to former US president Bill Clinton. The TEDprize is significant: winners (selected among candidates nominated by TEDsters and by the general public) get a USD 100'000 check and the chance to express wishes in front of the TED audience, asking for help in making the wish come true.
TED has been developing in other directions, too. In 2005, I produced the first TEDGLOBAL in Oxford, UK. The next one will take place in June in Arusha, Tanzania (see this previous post for details on speakers etc). Mid-2006, TED started also distributing online, for free (thank to the generous support of sponsor BMW) the videos of most of the speeches from Monterey and Oxford since 2004. TEDtalks have been an immediate success -- 5.5 million videos have been viewed in just over half a year -- and the program will be expanded through a fully new website that will be presented during the conference by TED Media Director June Cohen and publicly launched in a couple of weeks.
And there are one or two other teensy little things that will happen here in the next four days: TED University, tomorrow morning, with 47 TEDsters teaching classes on a wide range of topics; TED Photo Lab, where star photographer Art Streiber will be taking high-resolution portraits of cool or unexpected groupings of TEDsters; hydrogen, hybrids and electric cars from BMW, GM, Lexus and Tesla to road-test; early-morning bike rides round the Monterey coast using the new Shimano Coasting bikes designed by Trek, Giant and Raleigh with components by IDEO; exhibits of future technologies including the Steelcase You-Be conference table and a multi-touch interaction wall based on Jeff Han's intuitive computer interface (see this post, including a video); plus paintings, pictures, a robotic sculpture, and more.
All of which I will try to liveblog starting tomorrow.