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2010 TED Conference Profiles Two Titans of Idea Robbing

February 11, 2010

The annual TED conference starts up this week in Long Beach.  TED’s slogan is “ideas worth spreading” in the areas of Technology, Entertainment, and Design.  Spreading…stealing…same thing.  TED brings together a collection of CEOs, academics, researchers, artists, and other famous personalities to give a series of short presentations.  You can view most of them for free at, or if you have Netflix, some are available for streaming.  This year’s lineup includes two prolific idea robbers, Bill Gates and James Cameron.

Bill Gates Mugshot (via) James Cameron - Money, Cash, Avatar

I credit Gates with stealing the windows-based operating system and turning it into a fortune.  Gates built a near-monopoly out of existing ideas, pushing Apple into obscurity for over a decade.  He dodged one lawsuit and avoided legal consequences altogether up until the U.S. vs. Microsoft Anti-Trust Case.  While Gates has mellowed with age and will likely be discussing his philanthropic foundation this week, it was his formative years as an idea thief that gave him the financial clout to do what he’s doing now.

And then there’s Cameron, creator of Avatar, the highest-grossing film of all time that cost me $15 to see at a 3D IMAX a few weeks ago.  Having surpassed Titanic, Avatar topped the $2 billion mark worldwide in only its 7th week, the first film ever to do it.  To Cameron’s credit, Avatar was neither sequel, remake, nor comic book adaptation – an enormous gamble for Hollywood these days.  Given the record production cost and Ben Hur-esque runtime, pre-release speculation was that 20th Century Fox would have an epic flop on their hands.  Never doubt James Cameron’s ability to make money.

As for the film itself, the plot is a sci-fi Dances with Wolves, FernGully, or Disney’s Pocahontas – take your pick – and the Na’vi are a combination of Nightcrawler from X-Men and Apache Chief from Super Friends:

Sum Theory of Avatar

Combine all this with a retro technology (3D) that’s getting better, although I still feel like I’m watching a cinematic pop-up book.

My criticisms aside, Cameron is a master at patching together old ideas and passing them off as original, resulting in disgusting amounts of profit.  Watch what he has to say at TED and learn.

For a more extensive and entertaining analysis of Avatar, check out the video review at, which comes from the same deranged filmmaker who did the 70-minute review of Star Wars – The Phantom Menace.  If you have an hour to kill, his Star Wars review is one of the funniest things I’ve seen on youtube in months.

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