Entertainment, Tech Intersect at Conference

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Big thinkers from the worlds of technology, entertainment and design gathered in Monterey, Calif., for a four-day, no-holds barred, non-corporate exchange of ideas at the annual Technology Entertainment Design (TED) conference.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And I'm Alex Chadwick. It's too late now to get to Monterey, California for the TED conference. You missed it for this year, but musician David Bowie, former Vice President Al Gore and Amazon.com founder Jeff Basos did not. They and nearly 1,000 other well-connected and well-off thinkers were there for several days of talk and technique in technology, entertainment and design, TED. NPR's John McChesney was there too.

JOHN McCHESNEY reporting:

If you've come here for years, you're known as a TEDster, part of a very elite community. If it's your first time here, you're known as a TED virgin. Venture capitalist Roger McNamee, who is shifting his investments from technology to entertainment, is one of those.

Mr. ROGER McNAMEE (Venture Capitalist): The key thing for me is to find filters, insights that help me understand where I should spend my time, and the beauty of this conference is it brings together into one place incredibly thoughtful people from three enormously important sectors of our society, the technology world, the entertainment world and the design world.

McCHESNEY: Tom Riley is a TED veteran who helps organize the conference.

Mr. TOM RILEY (TED veteran): It's talking about the future by the people who are making the future.

McCHESNEY:One cynical observer quipped that TED attendees sometimes seem to believe that they are the future. TED has always been dominated by technologists from Silicon Valley. They're still here, but these days they're joined increasingly by biologists, architects, anthropologists and filmmakers, just to name a few of the many professions found here. They sit through four days of speeches, punctuated by heavy deal-making conversations in the corridors, but TED veterans say there's an increased emphasis here on doing good. Lori Yoler(ph)a venture capitalist.

Ms. LORI YOLER (Venture Capitalist): This year it's an interesting theme though of capitalism and altruism, would be the two themes that I'm pulling out the most, and can they co-exist?

McCHESNEY: Former Vice President Al Gore was the featured speaker. He gave an hour-long presentation on global warming and received a lengthy standing ovation. In fact, so many speakers here took shots at what they call the Bush Administration's anti-scientific attitudes, TED impresario Chris Anderson had to keep insisting that the conference is non-partisan.

Tom Riley says there are plenty of Republicans in the audience, but this group feels that it has to take on some of the big problems of the world because no one else is.

Mr. RILEY: There have been extraordinary quantities of wealth generated by the people in this audience, and they have a lot of means at their disposal or they have a huge corporation behind them or a venture capital firm, and I think that there's also a sense that certainly the U.S. government is a discredited way of making strategic change.

McCHESNEY: The highlight of the conference is the TED prize, given to three people each year. In addition to $100,000.00, each winner gets to make a wish for something that will change the world. Two of this year's winners were Jehane Noujaim, who made the film Control Room, and Larry Brilliant, a former World Health Organization official who helped eradicate small pox in it's last stronghold, India.

Jehane Noujaim's wish is to start an international film festival which will simultaneously show films from around the world in many, many cities and villages on the same day.

Ms. JEHANE NOUJAIM (Filmmaker): I'm hoping to be able to program films that allow people to cross borders and meet each other so that we can increase our understanding and communication with each other.

McCHESNEY: Features and shorts will be bought or commissioned for the festival. Preliminary price tag, $10 million, much of which will come from the TED community, along with technological assistance. Dr. Larry Brilliant made this wish.

Dr. LARRY BRILLIANT (Former World Health Organization Official): My wish is that we create a global early warning system to protect humanity from our worst nightmares.

McCHESNEY: Things like Avian flu or the Ebola virus. Price tag, another $10 million. For Larry Brilliant it was a doubly blessed week. He was also hired to head up the new Google Foundation, a $1 billion fund created by founders Larry Page and Sergio Brinn, who were all over TED. And TED's philanthropic fervor even spilled into its entertainment break with a performing troop of Ugandan kids representing the nearly 2.5 million children orphaned by AIDS back home.

John McChesney, NPR News.

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