During TED there was a lot of sniping online. People were jealous because they’d never been invited to attend or people were jealous because they’d never be able to afford to attend. People were bitchy about those who go to TED calling them elitist, smug, self-serving etc.
My take on it is very, very different indeed.
I think the reason why TED attracts such interesting and amazing people is due, directly, to the fact that, though it’s very expensive, one’s ability to pay doesn’t guarantee an invitation. There seems to be a typical ‘TED person’: intelligent, interesting, positive, socially aware, altruistic, passionate, emotional, wealthy. That, I believe, is the order in which those traits matter at TED. ‘Wealth’ as the single guarantee of entry would make it a very, very different experience and one that the rest of us wouldn’t care about attending. The thing that sets TED apart from every other important human gathering is the sheer abundance of the previous traits in people.
To be jealous based purely upon the idea of ‘wealth’, I believe, is entirely misguided. What people should be jealous of is that they mightn’t be as intelligent, interesting, positive, socially aware, altruistic, passionate and emotional as the typical ‘TED person’. I know a lot of wealthy people, very wealthy people, but I know very, very few people of the type I met at TED. So please, be jealous of all of those other traits first before ‘wealth’ enters your mind.
One of the reasons why ‘wealth’ is important, however, is the TED Prize. Without the wealth given freely by TEDsters, the TED Prize wouldn’t exist. Every year TED gives three people $100,000 and a ‘wish to change the world’. This year the TED Prize winners were Karen Armstrong, Dave Eggers and Neil Turok. All of their wishes are interesting and compelling- and Dave Eggers’ talk was excellent!- but Brian and I have volunteered to help with Neil Turok’s wish: “My wish is that you help us unlock and nurture scientific talent across Africa, so that within our lifetimes we are celebrating an African Einstein.”
Thursday night after the TED Prizes were announced we talked to Neil at the dinner and met with a couple of graduates from the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) started by Neil. We spoke to Shehu AbdusSalam who is doing his PhD at Cambridge in the Theoretical High Energy Physics Group (he recognised Brian immediately and they talked a lot about CERN). We also spoke to Tendai Mugwagwa who is doing her PhD at Utrecht University doing mathematical modeling of T-cells for HIV research. We had a brilliant time with them and were very interested to hear more about AIMS.
The next day we attended Neil Turok’s TED Prize Lunch for everyone who was interested in helping out with his wish. This was where we were able to write down how we might be able to help out. Brian volunteered to lecture at AIMS for a term; I volunteered my online marketing and social networks experience. Neil isn’t the only one who is looking for ‘geek skills’, but I believe the potential impact on the world from his wish is immense.
Now, this isn’t just for people who attended TED, anyone can volunteer to help out. Like, say, you.
Neil is specifically asking for:
- Individual and corporate commitments of expertise to help build the proposed network of AIMS centers, including project management and management consultancy, academic/teaching, legal, financial/auditing, IT, PR, property development, diplomatic expertise/connections, design.
- A team to build the Next Einstein from Africa website, maximizing use of simple or open-source technologies and designed to be fully operable by AIMS.
- A production company to travel to Cape Town to film and interview young African scientists (around the May 12, 2008, launch) to create core content for the website
- Vital material support in the form of computers, communications and Internet equipment, books, software, office equipment, security equipment.
- Help getting governments, universities, companies, foundations, rock stars, etc. on board the campaign
- Marketing and creative campaign help
- Media partners
- Endowments, sponsorships, funding
So, I’d like to ask you to be intelligent, interesting, positive, socially aware, altruistic, passionate and emotional and help make Neil Turok’s wish come true. It can be as small as volunteering to help out with their website or as big as getting your employer to fund one student at AIMS per year (if I remember correctly, that’s only £5000 a year) or 5 students or 10 or, if you are a scientist, perhaps you’d want to lecture there for a term or, if you are a film-maker, volunteer to go out to film at AIMS or maybe you are none of those things, but you know someone who is, tell them. Just go to Neil’s TED Prize page have a read of his whole wish and press the ‘offer help’ button.
So, you mightn’t ever be able to attend the 4 day TED conference, but you can join in on the important things TED does during the other 361 days of the year.
Neil Turok’s talk is up.