Opening the TED archive (beginning with Negroponte, circa 1984)

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Today we’re throwing open the door to our back archive, beginning with Nicholas Negroponte’s talk from TED 1. Yes, TED 1. 1984.

TED’s co-founders, Richard Saul Wurman and Harry Marks, had the foresight to record every conference he held. And I can’t tell you what a thrill it was to see the full archive for the first time: Richard had transferred all the original (Beta) tapes to DV; nearly all the talks — hundreds of them — were still intact. What a treasure trove!

Some of the footage requires restoration; and of course, the quality on the earliest talks isn’t what it is now. Still, what a thrill! To watch Frank Gehry’s talk from 1990, before the buildings he’s known for had been built … when he was still defending his work. Or to watch Nicholas Negroponte in 1984, before the MIT Media Lab had a proper home, before anyone was uttering the word “convergence.”

Negroponte’s talk — which hasn’t been seen for 24 years — was particularly meaningful for me to watch. Speaking for a full two hours (the famous 18-minute rule didn’t evolve till later), he waxed prophetic on our computer-mediated future, strongly foreshadowing CD-ROMs, websites, service kiosks, voice-recognition technology, computer-generated animation, the touchscreen interface of the iPhone, and his own One Laptop per Child project. Though the technologies he referenced are largely defunct (optical discs, etc.), the concepts are shockingly relevant.

The other shock in Negroponte’s talk — for me anyway — was to realize just how advanced his team’s work was at MIT in the ’80s, and how unaware we were of it elsewhere. Watching Negroponte’s talk put my own career in context: I worked on a few prominent projects in the early ’90s (one of the earliest multimedia magazines in ’91; HotWired.com in ’94), and many of us were shockingly unfamiliar with the early work that had been done at MIT. But then, we had few ways of learning about it. We didn’t have the web in the ’80s and early ’90s; we didn’t even have Wired magazine yet. No wonder the world needed TED.

And now, for those of us who didn’t get to attend those early, formative years — and even for those of you who did — we’re bring the TED archives alive. Today, we’re releasing Negroponte’s first TEDTalk, from 1984 (actually, we’re releasing 25 minutes of key excerpts; the full two-hour talk will ultimately be made available for download, but must be restored in places). Later in the week, we’ll release Frank Gehry’s 1990 talk. And over time, look for more of the legendary talks that made TED what it was — and is: from Benoit Mandelbrot to Billy Graham, Herbie Hancock to Kai Krause. We hope you’re looking forward to it as much as we are!