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Leading thinkers in technology, design and science are gathering in Oxford for the TED Global Conference

21st July 2009

TED Global (Technology, Entertainment and Design) is the European cousin of an already established top US event. The invitation-only conference is dedicated to "ideas worth spreading" and have seen talks by former US presidents and Nobel Laureates.

This year's event will explore questions in neuroscience, astrophysics and economics. The invited speakers, who are each given 18 minutes in front of the audience, are drawn from an eclectic backgrounds.

This year's line up includes aphorist, Mark Geary, philosopher, Alain de Botton, Eric Giler, a wireless electrician, Arctic swimmer, Lewis Pugh, Misha Glenny, an underworld investigator, Actor and Author, Stephen Fry, Mathematician, Marcus du Sautoy and Constanza Ceruti a high-altitude archaeologist.

"It is about all the hidden, invisible, not yet discovered or fully explored parts of our lives, society and the world," said Bruno Giussani, European director of TED.

"For example, the human brain; how do you make sense of what I am thinking?"

Other questions to be explored include whether life is a mathematical equation, where motivation comes from and whether it is possible to design the air that we breathe.

Professor Jonathan Zittrain, a cyber-lawyer at Harvard University, is also one of this year's presenters. His theme is "ways to tackle problems that do not rely heavily on governments or markets".

"Something I will talk about is how the internet deals with trouble; and by internet I mean the actual fabric of the internet.

"How when there is trouble or outright abuse there are people who come to the rescue urgently, who are not paid to do it, who aren't asked to do it and that don't have any particular authority to do it."

"It's like dark matter in the universe. There's a lot of it, you don't see it but it has a huge impact on the physics of the place."

The audience of 700, who each pay £2,700 to attend go through a rigorous application process - including essay questions - in order to gain a place at the conference.

The audience - known as Tedsters - acts as a crucial selling point for the organisers in attracting big-name speakers.

"Following my round the world balloon flight in 1999, I gave several hundred speeches, mainly to big corporation and business circles," said Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard.

Bertrand, one of this year's speakers, recently unveiled a prototype of a solar-powered plane he hopes eventually to fly around the world.

"The organisers of TED invited me saying I would never find elsewhere a better and more receptive audience. I don't know if it is true, but we'll see."

According to Erik Hersman, a previous Ted speaker, he won't be disappointed.

"The pull of the TED conference lies not just in sitting in on riveting talks, but on the ability to turn in any direction and have a conversation with a person doing something truly remarkable," he told BBC News.

Mr Hersman is one of the team behind Ushahidi, an open source project for collecting crisis information via mobile phones. The project began after the 2008 post election riots in Kenya.

All of the talks are filmed and distributed for free online to balance the exclusivity of the event. More than 400 TED talks have been made available for free online and have been viewed by more than 15 million people.

Talks are translated by teams of volunteers. Currently, Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic are the most common languages for translations.

Popular talks include a scientist using statistics to debunk myths about the developing world; a researcher showing how the Nintendo Wii games console controller can be hacked for educational uses and a brain researcher showing how her own stroke happened.

This year's conference runs from 21 to 24 July in Oxford, UK.


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