Larry Brilliant's TED Prize Wish

I wish that you would help build a powerful new early warning system to protect our world from some of its worst nightmares.

Photo by Jonathan Brilliant

Introduction by John Brockman

In the 1970s, Larry Brilliant was one the leaders of the successful World Health Organization smallpox eradication program. More than 500 million people died of smallpox in the 20th Century. Thirty years ago, two million lives a year were still being claimed. Yet in 1980, the disease was completely eradicated from the face of the planet.

Brilliant was a highlight at this year's TED (technology, entertainment, design) Conference where he was a recipient of the 2006 TED Prize, in which the recipient makes a "wish". Among the TED attendees are executives who run world-class companies and have pledged support to help fulfill these wishes. This is in addition to each winner receiving $100,000 to be spent however they choose in support of their wishes.

The same week, during TED, Google hired Brilliant to head The Foundation, which serves as the umbrella organization for Google's philanthropic activities, is funded by 1% of the corporations stock, or, about $1 billion. In his first act as the Executive Director of, Brilliant said Google will join other TED attendees to support formation of an organization to detect early signs of emerging, global health crises, such as bird flu. The name of the project: "The International Network System for Total Early Disease Detection."

Below is a link to the TED streaming video of Larry Brilliant's TED Prize acceptance speech in which he outlines his vision for a "powerful new early warning system to protect our world from some of its worst nightmares".


LAWRENCE BRILLIANT, Executive Director of is a medical doctor who was a professor of international health and epidemiology at the University of Michigan from 1976-1986 and prior to that he lived in India and worked as a medical officer for the United Nations World Health Organization helping lead the successful effort to eradicate smallpox. He is a founder and a director of the Seva Foundation, an international organization dedicated to fighting blindness.

Larry Brilliant's Edge Bio page

Lawrence Brilliant's TED Prize Wish

Larry Brilliant (left) receiving TED Prize from Peter Gabriel

LARRY BRILLIANT'S WISH: I wish that you would help build a powerful new early warning system to protect our world from some of its worst nightmares.

[Click here for Larry Brilliant's half-hour presentation during the TED Prize session]

[On button bar on at bottom of screen click on icon on left — "View Archive Transcript" — once it opens, in the left panel, click on "Video [0:57:52]"

Plan of Execution:

  • The system should be transparent, with basic information freely available to everyone, preferably in their own language and will be independent of any single government, any single company, any single UN agency, but will offer its alerts, data, access to all

  • Build out team starting from existing Canadian operation (GPHIN – the Global Public Health Information Network) which detected SARS and other epidemics and disasters in time to help the world respond and contain them

  • Negotiate with Canadian Government to move operations into a new non-governmental entity (either non profit or for profit – TBD – dependent on keeping economic self sufficiency with major employment in Canada but with parallel system in another time zone and another continent)

  • Create broad alliance of companies and institutions who back the idea: the new entity will be controlled by independent board of directors

  • Strong indications of support from Kleiner Perkins, Sun, Omidyar Network, Google and others

  • Collaboration with WHO, CDC, Health Canada, multiple universities

  • Create expert advisory boards in fields of: epidemiology, natural disasters, industrial and environmental catastrophes, famine, human right; this expertise will shape which indicators to prioritize

We Are Looking For:

  • A braintrust to help identify the most useful/powerful patterns of danger to look for

  • Companies willing to contribute the following technologies… servers, super-computing services, hosting, telecom services, cell phones and more

  • Full-time employees in the following areas: CEO or executive director, fundraising, business development, epidemiology, early detection systems

  • A PR and communications partner

  • Media partners

  • Relationships with a wide variety of other partners in multiple countries

Questions we're still asking:

  • Is this best done as a for-profit or non-profit?

  • Apart from pandemic prevention what are the other best applications of the service?  (Drought/starvation watch? Refugee crises? Human rights issues? Environmental issues?)

  • What are the best ways to preserve transparency and negotiate privacy issues?

What haven't we thought of?

John Brockman, Editor and Publisher
Russell Weinberger, Associate Publisher

contact: [email protected]
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