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TEDxCMU conference to gather thinkers from around globe

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To attend TEDxCMU free, go to, or log onto the site and watch the conference streamed live from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

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Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist is getting millions of people to help translate information on the Internet, primarily from English into multiple languages.

The cost: nothing. Zippo. Nada.

The idea got a boost from an initiative at CMU to take big, potentially world-changing ideas and spread them around the globe. And some of the world's biggest thinkers will gather next month to share more ideas.

The conference — the school's fourth annual TEDxCMU conference on Sunday in McConomy Auditorium — challenges scientists, artists, educators and students to present “ideas worth spreading.” They'll serve up 15-minute presentations designed to highlight the speakers' creativity.

Modeled on the TED (Technology Entertainment and Design) conferences that draw some of the world's leading thinkers, with ticket prices from $2,500 to $7,500, TEDx is a licensed, independently organized free event produced by students.

One of the most successful ventures to spring from TEDx is CMU computer scientist Luis Von Ahn's project, Duolingo, to translate Web content into more languages.

Von Ahn said the project his team developed — — gets hundreds of thousands of visits daily. Students who visit to learn languages for free contribute to the Web translation project as they work. They translate increasingly difficult sentences and information as they study.

Von Ahn's idea attracted a worldwide following spurred by his energetic presentation at the 2012 TEDxCMU.

TED posted a clip of his talk on its website, where more than 1.2 million people have watched it. The talk registered a quarter-million hits on YouTube.

“A lot of people have actually come and worked for me who originally heard about my work through the TED talk,” Von Ahn said. “It got people interested in Duolingo, for sure.”

TEDxCMU President Ketaki Desai said this year's theme is “Spark.”

“The idea was to get people who are creating these sparks and spread them out across the world,” Desai said.

TEDx events have been held on almost every continent. This year's TEDxCMU will bring speakers and performers from New York, New Jersey, Washington and Texas, as well as Pittsburgh and CMU. Their backgrounds include medicine, entrepreneurship, scientific writing, education, photography, criminology, design, urban development, biology and stage directing.

Presenters include Rodrigo Arboleda, CEO of One Laptop Per Child, a nonprofit organization that provided nearly 3 million laptops and Internet connections to children in developing nations; Jennifer Lim, CEO of Delivering Happiness, a company dedicated to promoting happiness in the workplace; Darrell Hammond, founder of KaBOOM, a nonprofit dedicated to building outdoor playgrounds; and Rebecca Alford, a CMU freshman with a passion for medical research and computer science that led her to work in a New York University lab while in high school.

“People should see these talks and be inspired to take action in their own communities, to find something people can do,” Desai said.

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or

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