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Elon Musk closes TED 2022 Vancouver with plans for humanoid robots, defence of free speech after Twitter bid

TED talks returned to Vancouver after a three-year absence to inspire nearly 1,800 attendees with speakers aiming to solve the world's most pressing problems — and included billionaires who launched ambitious schemes in their own right.

World’s richest person took the stage hours after launching a hostile bid to buy Twitter

TED CEO Chris Anderson, left, interviews Elon Musk during the last TED 2022 session in Vancouver on April 14, 2022. (Stacie McChesney/TED )

TED talks returned to Vancouver after a three-year absence to inspire nearly 1,800 attendees with speakers aiming to solve the world's most pressing problems — and included billionaires who launched ambitious schemes in their own right.

Elon Musk, the entrepreneur, investor, business magnate behind Tesla and Space X, and the richest person in the world, closed the event on Thursday with an extended sit-down question and answer session with TED head Chris Anderson.

It was streamed live for free, and covered wide-ranging topics such as Musk's search for truth, his unhappy childhood where he faced ridicule for having Asperger's Syndrome and his love for the Douglas Adams book The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

His appearance came just hours after he announced plans for a hostile takeover of Twitter.

"I think it's very important for there to be an inclusive arena for free speech," said Musk, explaining his bid to buy the social media company. "Twitter has kind of become the de facto town square."

 

Musk took several questions from Anderson about concerns over free speech on Twitter and especially about people who use the platform to incite hate.

"I'm not saying I have all the answers here, but I think we should be reluctant to delete tweets," Musk said. "It won't be perfect … but should be as free as reasonably possible."

The sit-down was preceded by a recorded interview between the pair from a Tesla manufacturing site, where Musk revealed that Tesla aims to have the artificial intelligence needed to safely drive all its electric cars available within the next year.

He also described his company's work over the next two years to create humanoid robots, which, for the price of a car, could be used for domestic functions in homes and meet labour shortages.

"We should be optimistic about the future and we should fight for that future," said Musk at the conclusion of his chat with Anderson.

The return of TED

The TED 2022 conference is the first time the event has been back in-person at Vancouver's Convention Centre since 2019 due to the global pandemic.

It featured more than 100 speakers who delivered short speeches about forward-thinking ideas, technologies, art and design.

The conference had the theme of "A New Era" and sought to outline ways needed to deal with the current pandemic, climate change and violent conflicts such as the war in Ukraine.

At the start of the five-day conference, Anderson, the head of the non-profit organization, said being able to return in person, with speakers presenting in real time in front of a live audience, is one of the elements that give the inspiring talks their power.

"We have missed that, we've missed that terribly," he said about having to take TED online for most of 2020 and 2021.

On Thursday, as the last speakers took the stage, Anderson seemed genuinely in awe of how the event went off — including last-minute changes and additions such as the Musk sit-down — calling it the "most epic, or most chaotic, TED in history."

Protests target Bill Gates

Throughout the week, protesters arrived at times outside the Vancouver Convention Centre, blaring music and waving Canadian flags.

The opposition seemed mostly directed at Bill Gates, the billionaire philanthropist who has been a proponent of vaccinations to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his talk on Tuesday, in which he unveiled his idea for a billion-dollar-a-year pandemic prevention team, Gates addressed the protests, calling them, "kind of weird."

He said his foundation's work to support vaccines has saved lives around the globe.

"So, it's somewhat ironic to have somebody turn around and say, 'No, we're using vaccines to kill people, or to make money.'"

Speakers covered a great range of topics from how to build livable colonies on Mars, exist in video-game metaverses, and develop synthetic biology to make disease-resistant organisms to the importance of meditation and finding ways to connect to nature, be inspired by it and thus more motivated to protect it.

TED 2022 began with a rousing talk by democracy activist and former chess world champion Garry Kasparov, who spoke out passionately about the war in Ukraine and the challenges facing the world as it struggles to deal with the fallout of Russia's invasion of the country.

 

The event solicited donations from attendees — who pay between $5,000 and $250,000 to be there — and raised more than $2 million for Ukraine, which TED said it would find ways to distribute to support the embattled country.

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