Being Open to new ideas – TED2013 is next week

Next week is the TED2013 conference in Long Beach. Subtitled the – The Young. The Wise. The Undiscovered; this series of talks looks to be a milestone in what has become the flagship of an ideas movement.

What is different about this time is that auditions for speakers were held in 14 cities on 6 continents and I was lucky enough to be in the Sydney auditions – from which two speakers were selected.

This year there are more speakers than usual (70+) and most talks will be shorter – on average 12 minutes rather than the standard 18 minutes.

What is intriguing to me this time is the very wide range of speakers. In Progress Enigma (Session 1) Prof Robert Gordon is paired with Erik Brynjolfsson, Nilofer Merchant and Bono and 2 others

I’m hoping (at least) this might give rise to some new jokes such as“Two economists, a billionaire rockstar activist, a robot maker, a politician and an innovation author walk into a bar…”.

I would love to have been there – luckily I know some who will be and besides the video clips there will be a a week long stream of social media to fill in the gaps. That first session looks to have been curated very well with Brynjolfsson most likely to be able to answer some of Prof Gordon’s ideas on the 6 headwinds slowing innovation down.

Nilofer Merchant gave this talk on how to shares ideas in a much more collaborative way back in March 2011 at TEDxEmbarcadero. Surprisingly to me some of the example ideas mentioned – Pariser bubbles, Kickstarter and Zipcar all seem very dated now but regardless there are some clues there about creating an ideas culture and the creative tension that comes from originating and sharing.

Back in 2009 Erik Brynjolfsson and Adam Saunders wrote a paper called “What the GDP Gets Wrong (Why Managers Should Care)” in the MIT Sloan Management Review. Brynjolfsson is an expert on the huge impact of IT on our economy and many paradoxes that creates. We are all much more productive than we we were a few years ago but measuring the outputs ( and the inputs) is much more difficult to do now.

In any case I am hoping that Brynjolfsson and the other speakers can answer Prof Gordons thesis in articulate and interesting ways. Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee (another TED speaker this year) wrote a provocative paper titled “Thriving in the Automated Economy”.  Much of this paper comes from their book Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution Is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy

“Moore’s law is not a one-time blip but an accelerating exponential trend. Either way, technological un-employment is emerging as a real and persistent threat to middle-class employment.

When significant numbers of people see their standards of living fall despite an ever-growing economic pie, it threatens the social contract of the economy and even the social fabric of society.

One instinctual response is to simply redistribute income to those who have been hurt. While redistribution ameliorates the material costs of inequality, and that’s not a bad thing, it doesn’t address the root of the problems the economy is facing….

Economic progress comes from constant innovation in which people race with machines.
Human and machine collaborate together in a race to produce more, to capture markets, and to beat other teams of humans and machines… To put it another way, the stagnation of median wages and polarization of job growth is an opportunity

To put it another way, the stagnation of median wages and polarization of job growth is an opportunity mid-skilled workers with evercheaper technology to create value.

There has never been a worse time to be competing against machines, but there has never been a better time to be a talented entrepreneur…

Technology scholar Thomas Malone calls this the age of hyperspecialization. Digital technologies make it possible to scale that expertise so that we all benefit from those talents and creativity.”

As we can see from a brief look at some of the background papers by upcoming speakers there are some huge ideas being addressed this year. In many respects the background challenge of technology and automation is one of the largest paradoxes of our time. This is a challenge all of us share and these are ideas worth sharing.