Fri

Mar 16
2007

Jimmy Guterman

Jimmy Guterman

TED Wrap-Up

The week after TED is always hazy. The event is so compressed, so exhausting, that the return to the real world, where you're not (or, at least, I'm not) surrounded by notables ranging from E.O. Wilson to Goldie Hawn, seems like a letdown.

This was the first TED I've attended since Chris Anderson took it over (I'd been to many earlier TEDs and TEDMEDs). Although the events in the age of Richard Saul Wurman were often outstanding, there was a sense that Wurman's outsize intelligence was always looking to be at the center of the audience's attention, no matter who was presenting. Anderson's persona and his approach are more self-effacing. He seemed eager to get off the stage as quickly as possible so attendees could see and hear the great minds he'd assembled before us.

There were plenty more of "us" since the last time I'd been to Monterey for the event. While still carrying an elitist price tag, the event has nearly doubled in size to roughly 1,200 people. Yet it still felt special to be there -- and not just because there were copies of Release 2.0 available. Perhaps by keeping the quality of what happens on the stage so high, Anderson has been able to keep the increase in quantity from dumbing down what happens in the corridors. Still, with so many people at the event, a smaller percentage are celebrities. It can be humbling to be at TED if you're not one of the stars: During a break, a dot-com mogul who has moved on to run a venture fund sat next to me on a couch, explaining eruditely the differences between different types of stem cell research. Mid-sentence, he looked past me, got up, and said, "Excuse me, I have to go talk to Forrest Whittaker." It's that sort of an event: Nobel Prize winners, Oscar winners, and the rest of us just lucky to be there.

So what has stayed with me? The state of the environment was a recurring theme (we'll pick it up with O'Reilly's Energy Innovation Conference in August). Venture capitalist John Doerr's Day 2-opening talk on the topic was the most dramatic -- it ended with him weeping, leaving the stage, and embracing his teenage daughter, and before you ask, no, it's didn't feel fake. From a more practical angle, Robin Chase, founder of ZipCar, talked about her new GoLoco project, which is a sort of social network for carpooling. Her plea that we "rethink the idea of a car" -- from something we have to something we use -- was particularly powerful.

Lawrence Lessig began his rapid-fire talk by mentioning how John Philips Sousa, the master of American march music, was chagrined a century ago by the invention of the phonograph because he feared it would end entertainment as a form in which amateurs could be the stars. It limited choices, he fretted: an argument one could make about what large media companies are trying to do today. During his tour de force presentation, Lessig galloped through a century of the battle between rights holders and innovators, inexorably moving to today's ascent of user-generated content, thanks to which -- after a century -- Sousa's dream of amateurs getting heard has returned. Especially when he examined how BMI killed the ASCAP monopoly on music copyrights back in the 1940s, Lessig made a point worth noting now: The technology may be different and the money in question may be larger, but the current battles between rights holders and innovators are mirrors of ones that have played out over at least the past century.

On a lighter note, lexicographer Erin McKean gave a far-reaching talk about how liberation from print will change dictionaries and how we think about words. And Will Wright gave a demo of his upcoming (due in September) Spore. I've seen several demonstrations of the long-in-development game over the past two years, and each time it seems richer and, potentially -- because you can't really tell from a demo when someone else is driving -- more immersive. Spore is perhaps the most ambitious videogame ever, and one that asks serious questions along with its entertainment. It aims to do nothing less than simulate the development of a species from a cellular level all the way to interstellar conquest. It also looks like a great toy, which makes it an apt metaphor for TED as a whole: wildly ambitious but enormously fun.

Plenty of conferences make your brain feel bigger. If you leave your cynicism at home, TED can make your heart feel bigger. Next year in Monterey!


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Comments: 3

  smick [03.16.07 02:55 PM]

The big question for me, having scoured for 2007 TED videos is, what did Jeff Han say about time frame on releasing multitouch to average Joes. All I know is he's selling to the CIA or DOJ or something and though I'm happy for them, but to me this is one of the most important technologies of the decade. It's really a bridge that I think is world changing.

  rektide [03.16.07 04:29 PM]

smick, i'm with you. the FIC openmoko 1973 was initially announced with multi touch -- damn them, i had to buy another pair of pants -- but that disappeared from the recent specs. multi-touch is REQUIRED to start beginning to conceptualize cooperative computer environments, and right now it looks like apple is the only one with any access to this future. i'm a huge fan of Peter Hutterer's Multi Pointer X server, and hopefully I'll have some sweet hardware in hand from Hann labs in the not too distant future to go with it.

even will wright admits spore is just 7 different games that branch out (i believe he describes it as "tee-ing" out) from one another. it makes me question just how proceedural its internal systems really are. not to say i'm awaiting that september release with anything but baited breath.

  Jay Jakosky [03.20.07 10:56 PM]

Han's multi-touch is based on a camera situated several feet behind the screen or screens. He does say the system is shipping today. Apple's system uses an imaging layer sandwiched with the LCD display to act much the same way as Han's system but on a laptop.

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