TED Talks: ‘The Academy Awards for smart people’

Video of punk rock icon Amanda Palmer's on-stage pitch for making music free and trusting fans to step up as patrons logged more than 120 000 views at ted.com within hours of being posted that morning.

An online clip of Sugata Mitra describing his million-dollar TED prize winning vision for children learning at schools in the Internet cloud had topped 236,000 views at the non-profit organisation's website.

"The energy and money that comes out of this conference is what makes the rest possible," TED curator Chris Anderson said as the annual gathering of the brilliant, accomplished, and creative came to a close in Long Beach, California.

"Whatever piece it is that captures your imagination, I hope you join us in taking it further."

What began in 1984 as an intimate gathering of influential figures from the worlds of technology, entertainment and design (TED), the annual event was turned into a global platform for "ideas worth spreading" after being taken over by Anderson's nonprofit Sapling Foundation.

Those taking the stage at TED gatherings are urged to pack the talk of their lives into 18 minutes, with video of presentations made available free online.

The annual invitation-only conference has sold out every year, despite ticket prices rising to $7 500 each.

The roster of longtime "Tedsters" includes celebrities, rock stars, Nobel Prize winners, and Internet titans.

Oscar-winning actor and film producer Ben Affleck joked of stepping into "the Academy Awards for smart people" when he stepped on stage at TED this week to introduce an orchestra from conflict-ravaged Congo.

He noted a TED Talk that day about animal necrophilia and advised "don't let that one out if you want to hold on to the smart people Academy Awards" before making a heart-felt plea for help improving conditions in the Congo.

Rise of the 'factivists'
TED broadened its search for speakers at the conference, hosting auditions in more than a dozen cities around the world to find people with meaningful perspectives on issues of the day.

Topics tackled at the gathering included robots taking on greater roles in society and taking on climate change with ideas such as the shrewd use of livestock grazing to revive desiccated grasslands.

TED speakers in their teens told of tapping into knowledge on the Internet to come up with an inexpensive test for pancreatic cancer or find bacteria that dines on plastic pollution in waterways.

Famed U2 band front man Bono embraced his inner nerd at TED as he made a case that extreme poverty could be eliminated by the year 2030 with the help of technology.

"Exit the rock star," Bono said. "Enter the evidence-based activist. The factavist."

TED session themes ranged from disrupting ways we work or live to environmental perils, scientific marvels, stunning artistry, and the human mind.

Tedster Peter Gabriel joined one of the Internet's founding fathers, Vint Cerf, to launch a project to build an "Interspecies Internet" for animals to communicate with us and each other.

The Long Beach gathering could be TED's final bow in California, with next year's conference slated to take place in Vancouver. A TED Global event is being held in Scotland in June. – AFP.

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Glenn Chapman
Glenn Chapman
AFP technology correspondent
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