Page last updated at 10:07 GMT, Thursday, 5 February 2009

TED on porn, malaria and robots


Peter Bowes looks around the state-of-the-art 'green' house at TED 2009

Porn as education, robots at war, and retired Microsoft boss Bill Gates' mosquito release were just some of the highlights at the TED conference.

TED, the Technology Entertainment Design conference consists of a series of talks given by "big thinkers" discussing "big ideas."

It is attended by many of the world's leading scientists, academics and business leaders.

Mr Gates' stunt was to drive home the serious message of malaria prevention.

With the issue being high on the agenda of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the former software boss told the crowd in Long Beach, California "Not only poor people should experience this."

While he asked the audience "How do you stop a deadly disease that is spread by mosquitoes?", Mr Gates also noted that more money is spent finding a cure for baldness than eradicating malaria.

Bill Gates copyright pic TED/James Duncan Davison
The release of the mosquitoes got everyone's attention

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged nearly $170 million (118m) to develop a vaccine for malaria.

During his presentation, Mr Gates released several mosquitoes into a startled crowd.

TED organisers confirmed the mosquitoes did not carry malaria but they did give the audience food for thought. It was described as "an amazing TED moment".

Meanwhile the insect release which was first reported on Twitter, the micro blogging service, lit up with comments.

Loic LeMeur of Seesmic tweeted "We're all leaving the room and getting sick."

"That's it, I'm not sitting up front anymore," tweeted Pierre Omidyar who founded eBay.

TED curator Chris Anderson quipped that when a video of the talk is posted on its website it would be headlined "Gates releases more bugs into the world."

Economic downturn

Mr Gates' other big focus concerned the need to retain teachers as well as the present state of the economy.

"I think we have three, four, five years here that will be very tough," he said.

"There's no doubt the American consumer was overspending. But there's no government magic bullet to fix things.

"If you actually went back to overspending, you'd just go back to the same problems," said Mr Gates.

Meanwhile Juan Enriquez, the author, entrepreneur and former Harvard business school professor who opened TED's 25th event said, "It's not a question of who deserves a bailout anymore. We simply can't afford to spend any more money."

Robots at war

The issue of how future wars will be fought was another issue that resulted in a flurry of comment from some of the 1500-strong crowd.

Machine-gun equipped robot
The robot soldier is faster and more accurate than humans

Author and analyst P.W. Singer talked about his new book "Wired for War" which examines how the military is moving towards an increasingly unmanned force through robots and drones.

Mr Singer estimated that by 2016, half of the military will be affected and that this will change the way individuals and governments engage in warfare.

"Robotic, video-controlled war distances humans from war. We do things in the video world that we wouldn't do face-to-face," he said.

TED organiser Chris Anderson called this vision "a bit frightening".

Porn myths

Also aiming to provoke was a short presentation about a website called to illustrate the myths surrounding sex.

Presenter Cindy Gallop told attendees "In our culture hard core porn has become a de-facto substitute for sex education. Children have access to it younger and younger."

She noted that some re-education might be needed.

The website encourages people to go online and comment on real life sex versus porn sex.

Other highlights included former vice president Al Gore talking about the effect of carbon dioxide on weather patterns around the world.

Industrial designer Yves Behar showcased an electric motorcycle he said was capable of getting twice the range of other electric bikes and whose top speed is 150mph.

And musicians Naturally 7 gave what was described as a "memorable presentation" of vocal play where no instruments are used, just the human voice.

Their so-called "Wall of Sound" earned a standing ovation.

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