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Meet TED, the intellectual Mardi Gras

CBS News' Daniel Sieberg previews the annual Technology, Entertainment, Design conference taking place this week in Long Beach, Calif.

To call TED "elitist" makes it sound like snobbery. Not so.

Instead, imagine a gathering peppered with dozens of futurists, artists, CEOs, and scientists--plus a few more folks who defy categorization. They get all together for several days (February 3 to 7) to listen to mind-blowing talks about everything from population trends to sea creatures. It is an intellectual Mardi Gras. The presentations are filmed, and they're so compelling that they almost instantly go viral online.

This is the annual TED or the Technology, Entertainment, Design conference (those in-the-know just call it "TED"). Think World Economic Forum combined with a touch of The Wall Street Journal's All Things Digital and maybe a hint of a G8 meeting for good measure. And it's all riveting, mind-blowing stuff. In previous years the event was held in Monterey, Calif., but this year it moved south to Long Beach, Calif.

The topic of the presentations is public information and the people appearing at the lectern this year range from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates to Web pioneer Tim Berners-Lee to oceanographer Sylvia Earle. But the list of attendees is strictly confidential.

While I know who will be here, I've agreed not to divulge the list. That's because it's hardly a typical conference that craves media attention. In fact, I'm one of only a handful of journalists allowed to cover it. Instead, the setting is meant to be informal and serendipitous without pressure to network or do interviews.

But fear not, I will be interviewing several of the presenters and reporting on what goes on. (There's a difference between presenters and attendees.) And you'll be able to find links to all the TED material (Conference organizers film all the presentations and make them available for anyone to watch).

What's it like? Imagine your favorite class or professor and these presentations are 10 times better than that. Really. Far better. It's hard to overstate the thought-provoking and imaginative capacity of the discussions. For a great example, click here to see doctor and researcher Hans Rosling talk about our misconceptions surrounding global human development. Sound boring? Check it out and then get back to me.

It's an enlightened and enlightening group of people who are very plugged in to where our world is headed. I expect my head to be spinning, and I hope in the next several days I can help you get to know TED a little better.

Daniel Sieberg reports on computers and technology for CBS News.