TED Talks: Technology, Entertainment, and Design

A few months ago, while reading one of my favorite blogs (BenSaunders.com), I saw a couple of posts (post 1, post 2) on something called the “TED” conference. “TED conference?” I thought. “Like the United Airways low-cost air line? You know, I used to work with a guy named Ted…”

No, it wasn’t either of those. In fact, I couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Actually, TED — or the Technology, Entertainment, and Design conference — is an annual conference which brings together some of the greatest minds on the planet and is set up with the purpose of bringing about ideas to improve the world. Sound ambitious? It is.

From the TED website:

The first TED included the public unveiling of the Macintosh computer an the Sony compact disc, while mathematician Benoit Manderlbrot demonstrated how to map coastlines with his newly discovered fractals and AI guru Marvin Minsky outlined his powerful new model of the mind. Several influential members of the burgeoning digerati community were also there, including Nicholas Negroponte and Stewart Brand.

Now, before you dismiss this a some gathering of computer nerds (“digerati”?) and hippie philosophers sitting around and complaining about capitalist pigs, check this: the recent roster of speakers includes scientists, philosophers, musicians, religious leaders, environmentalists, and many others such as Bill Gates, Frank Gehry, Jane Goodall, Billy Graham, Herbie Hancock, Murray Gell-Mann, Larry Ellison, Li Lu (key organizer of the Tianenmen Square protest), Al Gore, Tony Robins, Sir Ken Robinson, Majora Carter — you get the picture. These are people from all over the spectrum who have done things most people never even let themselves dream of, all of them under one roof. I don’t know about you, but that peaks my curiosity.

Anyway, after reading the post, TED kind of dropped out of sight for me for a while, but I guess my interests keep pointing me in that direction. A few days ago I was reading another of my favorite blogs, Lunch over IP, when — lo and behold — there it was again: TED! This post was about how Tony Robbins gently kicked Al Gore’s butt, and how the TED talks were now being offered as free downloads from the TED Talks website. (They’re available in MP3 audio, MP4 video, and streaming (Google) video.)

From the Lunch over IP article:

At one point during his speech, motivational speaker Tony Robbins asks the audience to raise their hand if they have ever failed to achieve something significant in their lives. All hands go up. So Robbins asks: why did you fail? And starts listing the answers: not enough knowledge; lack of time; not enough money; lack of other resources; wrong boss. “The Supreme Court”, says a voice from front row, and it’s Al Gore’s. The whole room laughs. Robbins too, and walks towards Gore to shake his hand. But then he becomes serious again: “You may not have enough money, you may not have the Supreme Court. But that’s not the defining factor. The defining factor is never resources: it’s resourcefulness … If you have emotion, something that I have experienced very strongly from you the other night [during your first speech] at a level that’s as profound as I ever experienced, and if you had communicated with that emotion, I believe you would have … won!”. Easy to guess what goes to many minds in the audience at that moment: Wow! Has Tony Robbins just flatly told Gore the other inconvenient truth?

I may be a bit biased on this, given my ties to TED, but TEDtalks takes conference podcasting to a whole new level. TED is going out of its way to make it as easy as possible for anyone interested to access the speeches, by making them available in five different formats: Flash (on ted.com), VideoEgg (on the TEDblog), MP3 audio and MP4 video podcasts (from iTunes or directly from the TED site), and on GoogleVideo. Adding to that is an automatic transcript generator called PodZinger that allows for keyword searches: put in “carbon dioxide” and it finds the exact spots in Gore’s talk where it’s referenced – then click and start watching at that point (the search of course only works on the online versions, not on the downloaded files; and while doing a decent job PodZinger, like other automatic speech-to-text software, still has a hard time with some nouns and jargon, so some of the results are only partially helpful. But it’s a step forward in video searchability).

Sure, the Al Gore thing is funny, if not somewhat frighteningly revealing (for all of us), but the best part of all this is the fact that you can listen to the speeches for free. To anyone interested in overcoming mediocrity and personal development, this is a gold mine, especially if you’re not in a position to fork over the $4400 fee for the conference (which includes a subscription to the TED book club (standing order book?), but doesn’t include the air fare to California or hotel room fee).

Anyway, I highly recommend you follow all the links referenced here and save the speeches to your MP3 player or computer for later listening, but even then, I highly recommend going to these sites and checking out what these guys have put up. Seriously good stuff: very positive and guaranteed to kick your butt.

As for me, I think I may just make it a point to attend one of these. 2007? We’ll see about that.

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