On a stage decorated with a treehouse set backed by twinkling stars, Bono took to the stage of the Long Beach Performing Arts Center’s Terrace Theater to speak on extreme poverty around the globe. He was one of two dozen talks Tuesday, the first full day of the 2013 TED Conference, which brings together visionaries, scientists, artists, the tech community and Hollywood players.
In a speech in which he frequently poked fun of his famously outsized ego, the singer – who won the 2005 TED Prize (then $100,000) to help his efforts to fight poverty – returned to TED to present on what progress has been made over the past eight years. “Forget the rock opera, forget the bombast, embrace the inner nerd, exit the rock star, enter the factivist,” said Bono, proceeding to lay out that 8 million more people with AIDS are receiving life-saving drugs globally, malaria rates have been cut by 75 percent in eight African countries and that 7,256 fewer children die needlessly each day. Though he spoke using a teleprompter (a practice generally discouraged at TED), the star roused the crowd of 1,600 with the assertion that 2028 will be the “zero zone” when extreme poverty is eradicated. “That’s the erogenous zone. I’m sexually aroused by the collection of data.”
He jokingly added that one of the benefits of drastically reducing poverty is that “you won’t have to listen to an insufferable jumped-up Jesus like myself.” Two of the biggest obstacles to his goal are the “disease” of corruption and the profits from developing countries’ natural resources flowing to outside companies, he said. When his exhortation to the crowd to help “make sure some of the wealth under the ground ends up in the hands of people living above it,” he quipped that he couldn’t help but eat it up. “It’s the drug of choice – applause. I’m so sorry.”
TED, which was founded in 1984, forbids press from reporting on who is in attendance without their permission but major Hollywood stars and movers and shakers, such as ID PR chief and TED regular Kelly Bush, showed up and a number tweeted from the conference, including manager Guy Oseary (a TED newbie), Goldie Hawn (a veteran) and power lawyer Ken Hertz. A TED organizer at one point took to the stage to admonish attendees not to tweet about who else was in the hall, especially celebrities. Yesterday, one did just that though, tweeting a picture of himself with New York Times election statistician Nate Silver with a note that he had the choice to sit between Silver and Cameron Diaz and chose the former. The tweet as of today has been deleted.
The day included three sessions, each of which was themed (one was called “Beautiful Imperfection”) and featured seven or eight speakers. As is usual at TED, which has grown to include a worldwide array of panels, the talks ranged widely on such topics as embracing ignorance in scientific research, why economic growth may be at end (without innovation), what it took to photograph the biggest squid in the world and taking “walking meetings” to combat the ill effects of prolonged sitting. Former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm called for a competition that would incentivize governors across the U.S. to create green jobs. Acclaimed photographer Sebastiao Salgado — Wim Wenders is making a documentary about him – talked about restoring tropical forests with the planting of 2 million trees in his native Brazil. When a speaker called for the U.S. to legalize illegal immigrants and also drugs, the liberal crowd broke into wild applause.
The crowd also lived up to its reputation as early adopters of technology. During demonstrations of two robots, a speaker asked the crowd if any of them had robots at home and around a dozen people raised their hands.
Talks were interspersed with musical performances including Sleepy Man Banjo Boys, a trio of brothers, aged 10 to 14, from New Jersey who taught themselves bluegrass.
Among the sponsors this year were such companies as SyFy, Bing, Sony, Getty Images, Google, Gucci, the Tiffany’s Foundation and the MPAA. The latter, a first-time sponsor, put together a late-night panel on how film has inspired tech innovations. Lucasfilm chief strategy officer Kim Libreri and Industrial Light & Magic art department creative director David Nakabayashi – in addition to entertaining the crowd with clips showing the wildly detailed work that goes into creating films such as those in the Transformers series and The Avengers – pointed to advances that have been pushed forward by film in areas such as technology simulations, machine vision, jet packs, computer-simulated surgery and graphic processing units.
The main sessions ended with the awarding of the 2013 TED Prize, which now carries a $1 million prize, to Indian educator Sugata Mitra, whose innovative work has been in exploring ways for children in rural communities to teach themselves using computers and cloud-based – wait for it – grandmothers (connecting, via Skype, retired British schoolteachers with students). The idea is to present children with a question and let them figure it out themselves. Mitra’s goal is provide children across the world with SOLE’s, self-organizing learning environments, connected via his teaching cloud.
The conference, which moves to Vancouver next year after four years in Long Beach, saw such speakers as Elon Musk, Andrew McAfee and Rich+Tone Talauega on Wednesday. It continues through Friday with Peter Gabriel, Julia Sweeney and Daniel Ogilvie on the schedule.