There are a few representatives from GOOD up at the TED conference. If you're unfamiliar, TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) describes itself, with characteristic humility, as "a group of remarkable people that gather to exchange ideas of incalculable value."
Pomp and circumstance aside, we love TED. These are some really sharp folks who share a drive to innovate and a genuine concern for the state of the world. Our friend Jonathan Greenblatt sends this report:
TED Day One:
- TED kicked off with a gripping opening presentation from Louise Leaky who talked about her childhood in the Kenyan rift valley, piecing together ancient fossils like jigsaw puzzles for entertainment. Leaky presented a startling visual of the first homo sapiens and their migration across continents.
- Stephen Hawking was beamed to the audience from Oxford. He spoke about the Big Questions, the theme of TED2008, and people marveled both at the extraordinary labor involved in composing his thoughts as well as the breadth and depth of his vision. Considering the expertise within the TED community, it seems long overdue that someone would develop a better interface for the greatest living physicist to engage with his peers and communicate his thoughts.
- The first day concluded with a typical TED party. Hosted by Coca Cola, a huge tent brought together hundreds of attendees and featured sushi chefs, an ice cream bar, and tables staffed by NGOs working to alleviate water and sanitation issues around the world.
TED Day Two:
- The Thomas Dolby band opened day two with a performance that included a banjo, 12 glass bottles, and iBook-enhanced synthesizer.
- Craig Venter, the man who cracked the human genome, delivered an arresting talk. Reviewing his previous work, he surveyed the challenges facing humanity as planetary resources buckle under the strains of massive population growth (9 billion people by 2050). His current work is focused on using the emerging field of combinatorial genomics to create synthetic life. Venter speaks with absolute certainty about his efforts to use software and technology to reinvent biology and genomics. He is prototyping and mashing up the 20 million known human genes to produce absolutely world-changing results: to design new antibiotics and vaccines to eradicate disease; to replace the modern petro-chemical industry through the design of entirely new fuels, and to literally bio-design new species that enable bio-remediation and address the range of environmental challenges. Venter seems to have created an expedited version of the Cambrian stew in his laboratory and its inspiring and terrifying to imagine the possibilities that might result, intentionally or inadvertantly, from his path-breaking work.
- Venter has flabbergasted audiences when, in response to a question about whether he is "playing God," he doesn't miss a beat by responding, "We are not playing." At the same time, he concluded his remarks with a twinge of anxiety, explaining that he believes it's crucial to push forward with his work before the desire for "DNA-free" food in Europe or techno-skeptics will prevent science from solving the great problems facing humanity.