With all of the dire global environmental, political, and social problems looming, it's rare to find a future-oriented documentary that's unremittingly positive. The Future We Will Create: Inside the World of TED is that rare find. It documents the 2006 TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference in Monterey, California. The annual four-day conference brings together one thousand leading figures in the fields of science, business, and the arts from around the world. TED provides the participants with opportunities to hear fifty speakers give 18-minute presentations. Like the participants themselves, these presentations run the gamut from science, to business, to the arts.
More valuable than the presentations, TED provides the participants with a forum to collaborate to achieve specific goals. The most concrete of these goals, since 2005, has been to fulfill the wish of three TED Prize recipients each year. Each wish recipient is given $100,000, but more importantly, the conference participants rally behind making the wishes a reality.
In 2005, for example, Bono, lead singer for the rock-group U2, wished for help to build a social movement of more than one million American activists for Africa on issues of debt-relief, trade, and public health. The result was the creation of ONE.org with the ability for U2 concert goers to sign up instantly via cell phone. Over two million people have signed up, and more than ten million dollars has been raised. Subsequently, the Bush administration also shifted its position on debt-relief for Africa and orchestrated significant restructuring and forgiveness of loans.
Actress Daphne Zuniga hosts The Future We Will Create, and shares producer and director credit with Steven Latham. The documentary provides excerpts from more than a dozen of the presentations from 2006, a look at the TED Prize recipients, comments from conference participants including Al Gore, and a behind the scenes look at the convention with TED curator Chris Anderson. Twelve of the presentations that are excerpted in the documentary are presented in full in the extras (see below for further discussion).
The TED Prize recipients for 2006 were Cameron Sinclair who wished to create an online, open-source community for sustainable architectural design; Larry Brilliant who wished to create a global early-detection system for emergent diseases; and, Jehane Noujaim who wished to bring the world together for one day a year through the power of film. The Future We Will Create excerpts the three presentations and subsequent initial efforts to fulfill these wishes. The extras include follow ups on these wishes (see below).
The Future We Will Create: Inside the World of TED is provided in a 2-disc set. It's a bit surprising, and reminiscent of watching public television, to find two advertisements at the beginning of the 74-minute main feature on the first disc. Neither the main feature nor the extras are subtitled.
The Future We Will Create sports a subpar letterboxed (1.78:1 aspect ratio) standard video image which suffers from every kind of digital compression, noise, artifact, and distortion imaginable. This is through and through an ugly looking image reminiscent of low-grade VHS.
The audio is an adequate 2.0 with no noticeable distortions or dropouts.
The extras on disc one include a trailer for the feature documentary, and updates on the 2006 TED Prize recipients. Cameron Sinclair's wish for an online, open-source community for sustainable architectural design has been fulfilled. The Open Architectural Network launched on March 8, 2007. Larry Brilliant's wish to create a global early-detection system for emergent diseases, has expanded into a coordinated disaster detection and response system that is now in multinational trials in southeast Asia. Jehane Noujaim's wish to bring the world together for one day a year through the power of film has sparked Pangea Day which will be commemorated on May 10, 2008 by events on every continent through multiple media.
The second disc includes twelve complete 18-minute TED 2006 presentations. Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx, discusses the environmental justice movement. Atheist philosopher Dan Dennett advocates teaching comparative religion from a factual basis in schools. Anthropologist Helen Fisher discusses her findings on romantic love which include data suggesting that antidepressants may suppress or impede romantic love. Research scientist Jeff Han demonstrating a remarkable and inexpensive computer drafting board prototype which allows for a dramatic range of interface never seen before. MIT Professor Nicholas Neroponte reveals the $100 laptop design intended to ensure that every school-age child has access to a computer. Motivational speaker Tony Robbins provides a bit of motivation about resourcefulness being more important than resources. Author Ken Robinson recounts interviews with successful people about how they discovered their talents, and urges the rethinking of fundamental principles of education which homogenize students. Global public health professor Hans Rosling dispels myths about differences between fertility and longevity trends around the world. Aerospace engineer and entrepreneur Burt Rutan advocates for re-energizing manned space exploration programs. Low-tech designer Amy Smith discusses the production of smoke-free briquettes for heating and cooking made from common household and agricultural waste products. Pastor Rick Warren discusses the purpose driven life, and actress Julia Sweeney does a stand-up routine about her childhood.
There's no doubt that the TED conference is a great thing. Bringing scientists together with business leaders to transform their public interest initiatives into practical achievements is commendable, and there's definitely a place for the arts at the table too. Nevertheless, The Future We Will Create: Inside the World of TED cannot be recommended.
The disc's video quality is atrocious, and the documentary itself is largely composed of excerpts from presentations that are available in full for free on the TED website where more than two million viewers have already accessed them. Most everything in the documentary beyond the material available on the website feels more like an infomercial for TED than anything else. For viewers without high-speed internet access, The Future We Will Create: Inside the World of TED will be of value, but most readers should head straight to TED.com where more than 200 presentations are available for streaming or download.