Technology, art and magic will mix in perspective-bending ways this week as the prestigious TED conference continues transforming from an elite retreat to a global movement for a better world.
The gathering kicks off today in Long Beach, California, with a roster of 1,350 attendees including Internet heavyweights, Hollywood celebrities, scientists and other notables.
Tickets to the sold-out event cost US$7,500 each, but captivating 18-minute “talks” for which the conference is renowned are made available free online at ted.com and have a growing worldwide audience.
This year’s “Full Spectrum” theme refers to a range of presentations “from dazzling technology and leading-edge science to the richest veins of human creativity and interconnection.”
While topics at TED and the way it connects with the world have changed with the times it remains devoted to “ideas worth spreading.”
“I have a fundamental belief in the power of ideas,” TED curator Chris Anderson said. “Powerful ideas, shared the right way, lead to action. Period.”
TED presenters are known for combining dizzying brain power with mind-tickling spins on concepts as weighty as climate change and the devastation of sea life or as playful as dance and music.
“Everyone you speak to at TED has their own story about where these ideas have led them. Often at their core is an expanded sense of possibility and a determination to play a more proactive role in shaping the future,” Anderson said.
TED will start with a look at the Earth through the lenses of a cosmology-loving physicist and an archeologist who discovers ancient civilizations by studying pictures taken from space.
The segment will include point-counterpoint presentations by an author adamant that technology is perilously out of control and a “futurist” convinced that it will be the world’s salvation.
Presenters will include Andrew Stanton, the writer behind hit Toy Story films from Pixar and San Francisco symphony conductor Michael Tilson Thomas who will pack a 3,000-year history of music into 18 minutes.
Scientist Henrik Scharfe and his robot double “Geminoid-DK” will be in a “Lab” session along with Defense Advanced Research Agency director Regina Dugan and magician Marco Tempest, who combines technology and showmanship.
Dugan will bring a “humming bird drone” and other innovations from DARPA, a research arm of the US military.
Climate change will once again be a topic at TED, where former US vice president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore has taken the stage in prior years to urge action.
Oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens will speak of the need to find new ways to feed the US hunger for energy.
Online social network LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and the creator of a Web site where people anonymously reveal secrets, will be part of talks inspired by the Internet trend of “crowd sourcing.”
TED will dabble with unusual presentation styles such as Socratic discourse at an on-stage dinner party; challenging speakers to make points to a mock jury and gathering around a real campfire.
“People come out of this with their brains stimulated,” TED community director Tom Rielly said.
“All of us spend so much time with our heads down, tending to what we do in life,” he said. “TED always rejuvenates my curiosity and my inspiration.”
TED for the first time will give its coveted annual prize to an idea instead of a person, naming the smart city of the future as winner.