Every year a 1000 brilliant people get together in Monterey at TED. It’s hard to explain what TED is about, the website has some details, David Pogue good video coverage, and well you will find many places online that try to explain what it is about. For me, TED as someone said, is a chance for me to take a few days off and go back to college once a year. Not only are the speakers stellar, but all the attendees can all be speakers as well, which makes for an awesome event.
One thing I really enjoy about this event is how there isn’t a single narrow theme. I attend and speak at a many conferences, and most of them tend to be pretty focused (which is the way it usually should be), but with TED the focus isn’t a single technology or theme. It is basically focused on gathering really smart people from any background that can related to Technology, Entertainment, and Design (hence the name TED). All the speakers were great this year. I would say the speaker lineup was even better than last year.
One speaker that I really enjoyed is James Nachtwey. He’s a photojournalist with an amazing history and was truly an inspiration. For those who know me, I have enjoyed photography since being a kid and even considered doing it as a full time career. James is truly an inspiration and it was a great pleasure seeing him speak. You can see his presentation online at the TED blog. Another presenter that I enjoyed was Vilayanur Ramachandran, a neurologist who’s approach to solving syndromes such as phantom limbs are truly ingenious. His research in the field resulted in the mirror box , which not only helps alleviate the pain, but is practical and cheap as well. It truly is great to see that in this day and age, a solution to a problem doesn’t have to be so complicated. I believe in simple solutions to problems and Vilayanur proves that this is possible even today.
On a more related note to user interfaces, this year there was definitely a good presence of that at TED. First Hans Rosling showed his work in visualizing statistical data in a very useful manner. I especially enjoyed meeting Hans and talking to him as a few years ago I met his engineering team at MAX who were migrating from using Director to using Flash for their applications. They also make use of the Flash Charting Components in some of their work that Sam and I worked on a few years ago, truly great to see such great use of Flash. You can find out some more information on their work at the gapminder website.
Keeping with the user interface theme, Jeff Han was there again this year. Jeff is the main innovator these days in the multi-touch interface arena. He showed his latest work this year which included a large multi touch display. I got to play with it, and I think it has come a long way. I also got to hang out with Jeff one night and we talked about interface and industry trends. I think it will be really interesting to see where multi-touch interface will go. In many ways they can be more intuitive for users, and in certain use cases can be a huge productivity boost. I don’t see myself programming my next application though on such a display (and Jeff wouldn’t want me to) ïŠ. Finally Jonathan Harris spoke about his new project universe. It’s hard to explain what it is without experiencing it yourself but it basically is a visualizer of data that is found out there on the net (semi-mashup?). You can enter a keyword for the data, and it will relate things for you automatically. Truly inspirational work (for those who care, it looks like his work is done using processing). Lastly, I missed two sessions that I really wanted to attend because I was sick by John Maeda and Alan Kay, I really hate being sick! I will have to wait till the DVDs arrive in the mail to catch up on their presentations.
Finally, as part of the entertainment theme of the event, Tracy Chapman performed a few songs, including a song she wrote for TED. I have enjoyed her music for years, but this was the first time I have seen her perform live. I have to say her performance was amazing. She is an extremely talanted live performer. Here’s a picture I grabbed with her during a party.
Although the speakers are a great attraction to the conference (and there is no way I can write about how great each one was), talking to attendees is just as inspiring to me. To me it helps me remember that there are a lot of brilliant people out there. It helps me think of what I want to be doing long term and gain a lot of insight into things I wouldn’t otherwise (who has time to learn about the advances in space travel in their free time these days). One final thing is that although this event attracts a lot of high profile people to the event, people realize that everyone at the event is there because they share the same appreciation for things in life. This makes for a great environment where you can exchange ideas with people in an open format. Hopefully one day I will find a way to inspire others, until then TED will continue being an annual ritual for me, a chance to take a break from the day to day and get inspired.
To leave off here is another picture
See everyone at TED 2008!
Here are some other write-ups of TED 2007 and links