(Follow all of MIT Sloan Management Review’s TED coverage.)
TEDsters smile through financial meltdown. That’s the headline of a blog post WIRED‘s Steven Levy wrote yesterday, essentially arguing that all the optimism in the presentations ignored the multi-trillion-dollar elephant in the room: the current financial horror. TED curator Chris Anderson took that on from the stage first thing this morning. “There might be issues in our world more important than the Gross Domestic Product,” he said. “Market cycles come and go. Good ideas last forever.” To underline that final point, he pulled out a John Maynard Keynes quote from 1930 that felt like it could have been written today:
“This is a nightmare, which will pass away with the morning. For the resources of nature and man’s devices are just as fertile and productive as they ever were. The rate of our progress toward solving the material problems of life is not less rapid. We are as capable as before of affording for everyone a high standard of life … We were not previously deceived. But today we have involved ourselves in a colossal muddle, having blundered in the control of a delicate machine, the working of which we do not understand. The result is that our possibilities of wealth may run to waste for a time — perhaps for a long time.”
The point of the conference, I suppose, is to think beyond the current catastrophe to what may lie beyond. That’s how Juan Enriquez started the conference on Wednesday, and that’s how the mostly sober panels today ended it.
The best way to predict the future is to invent it, Alan Kay (once a TED speaker, naturally) said famously, so it’s not surprising that these makers of the future are interested in predicting it, too. The first session today took on the notion of prediction from a variety of angles. It’s a topic our magazine has covered intensely recently (see our most recent issue).
The first predictor up was Nate Silver, who became everyone’s favorite statistician during the last election cycle with his website fivethirtyeight.com.