BIL and TED bring wildly different conferences to Vancouver

Participatory event offers alternative to invitation-only TED2014

    1 of 4 2 of 4

      Andrea Goldsmith is looking forward to hearing “new ideas” and “interesting stories” at this year’s installment of a conference that’s moved to Vancouver from Long Beach, California. However, the massage practitioner, who lives in the West End, isn’t going to the city’s first TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference.

      Goldsmith told the Georgia Straight that she plans to attend the BIL conference, a participant-driven event that has taken place a few blocks away from TED every year since 2008. She imagines the experience will be similar to a storytelling workshop that she organized as part of the Occupy Vancouver movement in 2012.

      “What was amazing was the most random 10 or 15 people showed up, and everyone had the most interesting story to tell,” Goldsmith said in an interview at English Bay Beach. “You’d be just blown away by what some random, average-looking person or even down-and-out person had to share. So, I think BIL’s going to be like that, where you have no idea what you’re going to hear, what’s going to happen.”

      On March 22 and 23, BIL 2014 will host a series of 20-minute presentations—much like TED’s famous 18-minute talks—at Five Sixty (560 Seymour Street) in downtown Vancouver. Admission is by donation, and there are no scheduled speakers. Attendees will sign up to give talks after they arrive at the “unconference”.

      TED2014 speakers include an astronaut, a cruciverbalist, a microbial ecologist, and jugglers.

      Meanwhile, the invitation-only TED2014 will draw 1,200 attendees, each paying US$7,500, to the Vancouver Convention Centre from March 17 to 21. A parallel event, TEDActive 2014, costing attendees US$3,750 each, will take place simultaneously at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.

      The TED2014 speakers list features, among others, philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates, astronaut Chris Hadfield, and documentary filmmaker Yoruba Richen. Michel Laberge, chief scientist of Burnaby-based General Fusion, is slated to give a talk about magnetized target fusion, an approach to nuclear power that has the potential to solve the energy crisis, lower pollution, and stave off further climate change.

      Ron Burnett, president of Emily Carr University of Art + Design, has attended past TED conferences in Long Beach and Monterey, and he’ll be at this year’s event. Emily Carr is one of the local schools, libraries, community centres, and nonprofits that have applied for a free live stream of TED2014. Burnett told the Straight that the conference is an “amazing investment in the city” and the value of TED talks—many of which are posted online—“should not be underestimated”.

      “The millions of people who are viewing these videos are learning a lot of very interesting things about so many different topics,” Burnett said by phone from Granville Island. “The value is extraordinary, and I don’t know of any organization that makes so much of this knowledge base available freely to everyone.”

      Every year, the BIL conference takes place in the vicinity of TED.
      Bill Erickson

      According to BIL cofounder Cody Marx Bailey, about 350 attendees are expected at Vancouver’s first edition of the conference, which in previous years has cost anywhere between $1,500 and $15,000 to put on. The technology consultant told the Straight that past events have featured talks about “wildly different topics”, including sex, private space travel, and transhumanism.

      Bailey helped start BIL—which is kept going by a “loose-knit group of people”—six years ago due to being “locked out” of TED. The conference’s name is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the 1989 film Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

      “TED created a great ecosystem that a lot of people on the outside wanted to be a part of, and at the time there wasn’t any way for fans of TED to really participate,” Bailey said by phone from Dallas, Texas.

      TED, which is owned by the New York–based Sapling Foundation, has received its share of criticism over the years. Indeed, the TED website has a page devoted to answering the question: “Is TED elitist?” The site states: “In a nutshell, no.”

      On February 13, TED denied having “a policy against discussing abortion”, after The Nation contributing editor Jessica Valenti observed that TED has never presented a talk on the subject.

      In December, Benjamin Bratton, an associate professor of visual arts at the University of California at San Diego, asserted TED stands for “middlebrow megachurch infotainment”. During his talk at TEDxSanDiego 2013—one of many community-organized events licensed by TED—Bratton noted that TED talks tend to combine “epiphany and personal testimony”.

      “What is it that the TED audience hopes to get from this? A vicarious insight, a fleeting moment of wonder, an inkling that maybe it’s all going to work out after all? A spiritual buzz?” Bratton asked.

      “I’m sorry but this fails to meet the challenges that we are supposedly here to confront. These are complicated and difficult and are not given to tidy just-so solutions. They don’t care about anyone’s experience of optimism. Given the stakes, making our best and brightest waste their time—and the audience’s time—dancing like infomercial hosts is too high a price. It is cynical.”

      The price of attendance for TED2015, scheduled for March 16 to 20 of next year in Vancouver, is US$8,500.

      Goldsmith is excited about attending the “more accessible” BIL conference.

      “Again, you never really know what’s going to happen,” Goldsmith said. “But it’s always interesting to see who shows up at these kinds of things and what kinds of talks they’re going to give. Who knows? Maybe at the last minute I’ll decide I feel like getting up there and sharing something.”




      Mar 11, 2014 at 11:43am

      has TED jumped the shark?

      0 0Rating: 0


      Mar 11, 2014 at 12:55pm

      I urge everyone to go to and read the article published by Mike Adams on Sept. 18, 2013. He encapsulates how TED has now banned talks about "food as medicine". That includes no talks on GMO's and no natural healing topics. He also provides a link to TED's own letter to it's employees about what TED labels "psuedoscience". Topics labeled by the TED organization itself as psuedoscience include "consciousness, free will, the fusion of science and spirituality, the placebo effect, food as medicine, and natural healing - including Reiki, hands on healing, and healing touch". Basically Ted is now in the camp of if rejecting almost anything that isn't pushed by the pharmaceutical companies. The ban on "hand's on healing" rejects the value of the human touch and it's role in healing. That is to say, TED thinks it really isn't that important to touch babies or elderly people to make them feel better and cement their role in the world. And their rejection of "food as medicine" ignores the fact that over 25% of drugs are based on plant properties. They also ignore the fact that 80% of the world still uses medicinal plants, and not prescription drugs. Basically, TED's viewpoint is that present science has already solved all the problems of the world and that scientists are infallable. It only takes a look around you to know the lunacy of that argument.
      So yes, TED has lost it's direction and is now in the school of putting on a conference primarily for financial gain (look at the entrance fees and their media giant). I wonder if TED came to Vancouver to escape media scrutiny they would face in the US? If so, I hope the citizens of Canada will hold them to a higher standard. I'm sure some of it also has to do with one of the organizers of the TED conference being from Vancouver and hiring her sister's company to provide technical support services to the TED conference (nepotism anyone?).
      Please read the article for yourself and draw your own conclusions.


      Mar 11, 2014 at 4:00pm

      @Georgia Straight headline writer

      We see what you did there! Ahahahaha!

      0 0Rating: 0


      Mar 11, 2014 at 5:29pm

      Does the $8,000 entry to TED come with a complimentary car?

      Patrick McCulley

      Mar 13, 2014 at 10:19am

      Please do not visit NaturalNews - pseudoscience is not science, no matter how much people want it to be.


      Mar 13, 2014 at 2:30pm

      That would explain why there are a higher number of D-bags walking around Coal Harbour than normal.


      Mar 24, 2014 at 5:08pm

      The above noted natural news article also suggests that autism and vaccines are actually connected and that Andrew Wakefield has been framed, all with no evidence or supporting articles. The author proving to the world that they lack judgement and scientific reasoning abilities