Op-Ed: Banish the Mundane: It's TED Time

The annual Technology, Entertainment, Design conference is a must-attend event for any engineer

Geoffrey Orsak
 Geoffrey C. Orsak

I must be crazy. Having completed a detailed application that would make the HR folks at Intel proud, then paying a small fortune for registration, I flew halfway across the country to watch a conference on TV.

But, hey, this was the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference and I couldn't get into the main room. You do what you must. Until about a year ago I never heard of the conference — but now I am knee-deep in the cult of TED. You should be, too.

Once a year since 1984, this gathering of leading innovators, artists, scientists, engineers and socially concerned thinkers and doers meet to exchange "ideas worth sharing." The format is simple: If you are making noise in this world, then you have 18 minutes to give what they call "the talk of your life."

No marketing, just pure ideas. What a lost concept.

Trying to put TED into words is like trying to tell your parents what Woodstock was like. There's no story line here, just random thoughts and experiences I think are worth sharing:

The fascinating engineer/artist Golan Levin is creating a new kind of art that answers the question, "If art was aware you were looking at it, what would it do?" (Check out his SNOUT on YouTube — a piece of sculpture that is actually surprised to see you!)

Tim Berners-Lee, designated inventor of the World Wide Web, shared the funny story of the memo he wrote to his boss requesting time to work on his Web idea. The memo resurfaced years after his boss's death with a note he'd scribbled in the corner: "Vague, but exciting."

Former Oracle powerhouse Shai Agassi laid out his vision for an all-electric auto transportation system he estimates can run at a cost of two cents per mile.

Juan Enriquez, head of a life science research and investment firm, introduced his concept for a new life form, — the hominid Homo Evolutis — that for the first time in history takes control of its own evolution. Brilliant.

Denmark-born Icelander Olafur Eliasson is using creative engineering and technology to blur the line between author and consumer in art and ideas. His immensely popular work, "The Weather Project," attracted two million visitors to the Tate Modern in London.

Check out "Naturally 7" — a New York vocal group that creates great music from absolutely unbelievable sounds from their mouths.

Yes, Bill Gates and Al Gore updated us on their "projects" — the eradication of disease, the overhaul of education and the severity of global warming. Chilling stuff. You probably heard about Gates opening a jar of mosquitoes over the audience, explaining there is no reason only poor people should be infected with malaria.

And, indulge me — I was given three minutes to give the talk of my life. I introduced a new project called the Global Open Source Home, or GOSH! I am committed to addressing the housing needs of the billion or so people around the world who live in grossly substandard conditions.

All of these great talks are online at TED.org. So join the conversation, banish the mundane and jump with me into this funky exchange of ideas worth sharing.