“TED”是英文“科技、娱乐、设计”（technology, entertainment, design）三个词的缩写，除了那三个醒目的红色大字以外，还真是难以三言两语把它说清。TED大会最出名的就是那些限时18分钟的精彩演讲，本周二，TED讲台上的许多最出色的演讲人也是照着稿子念的。尽管TED大会的讲台可以说是世界上最重要的讲台之一，但大多数知名演讲人都是穿着运动鞋上台的。（女性演讲者倾向于穿得更职业、更时尚，男士们根据大会的传统都不打领带。）
第二天的另一个惊喜就是“棱镜门”的爆料者斯诺登出现在大屏幕上。TED大会的负责人克里斯•安德森借助远程视频系统对斯诺登进行了采访，而斯诺登本人则隐身于俄罗斯某地。斯诺登的演讲非常吸引人，也有种启示录的味道。他言语间给人的感觉非常理智、聪明，令人信服。他为自己的行为进行了强有力的辩解。他说：“我是谁根本不重要，重要的是那些问题。”斯诺登充满激情地探讨的“那些问题”也就是被他的前雇主——美国国家安全局（the National Security Agency）粗暴践踏的隐私权问题。斯诺登说：“你的权利很重要，因为你永远不知道你什么时候需要它，它也是美国人的文化特性的一部分。”他号召美国的大型网络公司对用户的网站访问进行加密，把它设定为默认设置，以防止包括美国在内的各国政府轻易地获取美国公民的行为信息。
TED, which stands for 'technology, entertainment and design," is almost impossible to characterize beyond that ridiculously broad rubric. Best known for its slick, 18-minute "talks," some of the best speakers on Tuesday read from their typewritten texts. Most of its highly accomplished speakers wear sneakers despite being on one of the world's most important stages. (Female speakers are more likely to dress professionally and stylishly; the men have been cowed by tradition into not wearing neckties.)
My biggest surprise so far at TED, taking place this week at a convention center on the harbor in Vancouver, is the uneven quality of the talks. Knowing the Steve Jobs-like rehearsal regimen TED's producers impose on presenters, I expected to be wowed by every talk. But upon reflection, that just wasn't realistic on my part. Besides, judging a speech is a highly subjective endeavor. What sings every time is the production value of the entire conference. The seamless flow is nothing short of stunning, and the content itself in an eclectic collection of lectures that can best be described as the most intense college seminar you never attended.
Bran Ferren, a "technology designer" who once was a Disney "Imagineer," is a case in point of the TED serendipity and diversity. With almost no visuals, he read a speech that was the opposite of slick -- and totally engaging. He likened the Internet to concrete, a valuable building material but no more than that. He gave perhaps the most compelling explanation I've heard for why what he called "autonomous vehicles" will be one of the most positive developments for civilization for years to come. Self-driving cars, once they are perfected, will reduce pollution, eliminate congestion and "recapture vast amounts of lost productivity," said Ferren, due to all the time humans no longer will be stuck in traffic. There are a few kinks left to be worked out, like teaching cars how to "wake up" their passengers for input about surroundings best left to a human to analyze.
The best talk of the day, in my book, was a rollicking presentation on three decades of architectural history by the architect Marc Kushner. He lucidly explained that architects swing on a predictable pendulum from innovation (which they love but the public often hates) to symbols (which bore them but the public finds comforting). "Symbols are easy and cheap," said Kushner, with architectural disdain. "Instead of making places, we make symbols of places." Good news though: Kushner says digital media is changing everything because architects now have the ability to seek real-time feedback from their clients and the public as their projects are being built. He cited a public building on Fire Island in New York that his firm designed and posted drawings about on Facebook and Instagram as it moved from planning to construction. He said residents already knew what to expect by the time the innovative building was finished. And they liked it.
Edward Snowden was Day 2's surprise highlight. Chris Anderson, TED's "curator," interviewed a robot that moved around the stage with a video screen with Snowden's face broadcast from his undisclosed location in Russia. Listening to Snowden speak at length was riveting and revelatory. He comes across as totally reasonable, sane and convincing. He made a strong case for his motivations, love him or hate him. "Who I am doesn't really matter at all," Snowden said. "What matters are the issues." The issues that Snowden passionately argued are the rights to privacy he says his former contract employer, the National Security Agency, has trampled. "Your rights matter because you never know when you're going to need them," he said. "They are part of our cultural identity" as Americans. Snowden also called on big U.S. Internet companies to encrypt web browsing on their sites as a default setting, which would prevent governments, including the U.S., from gaining easy access to the behavior of U.S. citizens.