Mon, March 17th / TED2014 / Day One

I always feel a bit intimidated and excited as TED begins. Intimidated by the scale & scope of the thinking; and excited by the exact same thing. TEDsters genuinely believe their ideas and efforts can change the world for the better. Heady stuff to be sure. But consider a few examples related only to the sharing of its own platform and content. TEDx events — which are entirely controlled by local community leaders and deliver zero revenue to TED — have exploded globally w/ more than 9,000 events in 150+ countries taking place last year. And TED's new education platform TEDEd — where real life teachers apply to have their best lessons animated and distributed digitally — is signing up participants at a rate of more than 300 teachers & 700 students weekly. Or the fact that since releasing its content for free on its own website, TED Talks have now been viewed more than a billion (w/ a B) times. That's a lot of reach for a non-profit organization which has literally never spent a dime for advertising or placement of its materials.

In fact, I believe TED deserves praise for not limiting its reach to the admittedly expensive & exclusive namesake conference itself but instead actually using those attendees' funds (only about 1/3 of the $7500 conference fee goes to pay for the event) to democratize the very ideas being discussed here this week. So with that as preamble, TED 2014 launched with a single evening session entitled Lift-Off.

This all took place in a beautiful theater, designed by David Rockwell & assembled in an empty convention center space over the last five days. 1200 seats of chairs, couches and unencumbered sight lines; not to mention massive screens. We could literally still smell the fresh cut wood as we entered through the structure itself.

And then it was show time...starting with longtime TEDster, tech visionary and Media Lab founder, Nicholas Negroponte.

In 18 minutes, Negroponte attempted to sum up 30 years of technology advances, and ended by predicting that within 30 years we would "learn via ingesting a pill" which would literally deliver & release knowledge into the bloodstream which would carry it directly to the brain. Sounds far-fetched, but so did touch-based controls and wireless everywhere when he predicted those more than 30 years ago.

Negroponte was followed by the speaker of the night for me, retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who waxed poetic about space exploration, what its feels like to ride a bull of a rocket off planet Earth, and how to tell the difference between DANGER and FEAR.

He also played a mean guitar, doing a heartfelt performance of Elton John's Rocket Man. TED hasn't posted this video yet, but here's a link to a version of him doing the song from the Space Station orbiting the Earth.

The session also included an entertaining talk from music producer & reknowned NYC DJ Mark Ronson who took us through a rapid fire history of music sampling and the roots of rap & hip hop. The evening was then capped off by a simple, yet heartfelt talk by Ziauddin Yousafzai, whose daughter Malala has become an international symbol of courage & strength in her global crusade for girls education despite the Taliban's efforts to kill her. He closed his talk saying that he is often asked what he did to raise such a fiercely independent and brave young woman in a tribal and patriarchal culture— his answer, " isn't what I did, it's what I didn't do. I didn't clip her wings." Amen.

And as TED drew to a close for the evening, we were all encouraged to go outside and interact with an amazing living sculpture that was designed and installed by Janet Echelman; and included the ability to interact with the sculpture using an app on our iPhones to literally paint our own colors on the sculpture in real time. Check out the pictures and video below.

Day One complete; and it was literally only a few hours. Tomorrow promises to be even more amazing, with Bill & Melinda Gates, Sting, Ed Snowdon & an expansive line-up of TED all-stars.