March 10, 2007 11:30 AM PST

At TED, changing the future of the world is entertainment

MONTEREY, Calif.--The Sims creator Will Wright, media mogul and former eBay president Jeff Skoll, and war documentarian Deborah Scranton share something in common.

They believe entertainment and technology can help change the world.

The three media executives, along with Lost creator J.J. Abrams, shared the stage here Friday at the Technology, Entertainment and Design conference. During a two-hour talk called "Screenovation," each executive tied his or her work in entertainment to altruistic ambitions or social responsibility, major themes emerging at this year's TED conference.

Will Wright Will Wright

For example, Wright wants his upcoming simulation game, Spore, to help kids think more about how their actions today can have a long-term effect on the world. With the evolution game, kids can learn about global warming, he said, by pumping carbon dioxide into the virtual atmosphere and then watching the planet burn up in minutes.

"By giving kids toys like this, I hope to give them some sense of what it might be like to (live on Earth) in 100 years," the game creator said of Spore. "That's why I think toys can change the world."

For Skoll, making a difference meant leaving eBay in 2000 and ultimately joining the entertainment business. The online-auction giant's first employee, now a billionaire, became inspired by Common Cause founder John Gardner, who told the former Silicon Valley executive to "bet on good people doing good things."

In 2003, Skoll founded Participant Productions, which aims to create films inspiring social change.

"The surest way to become a millionaire is to be a billionaire and go to Hollywood and make movies," Skoll joked, referring to the tough odds of a social entrepreneur surviving in Hollywood.

His film company has since funded and produced Al Gore's global-warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth, George Clooney's media censorship drama Good Night, and Good Luck, and political thriller Syriana. Upcoming projects include a Jimmy Carter documentary called He Comes in Peace and a film about 1960s war protesters called Cicage 10.

Skoll said Participant Productions has spawned a Web-based community of hundreds of thousands of advocates around the films it has produced.

"What drives me is a vision of the future, a world of peace, prosperity and sustainability," Skoll said, though "I realize how far we have to go to get there."

Chapter 1 begins today, Skoll added. "It begins within each of us. We have the power to equal those opportunity gaps. If the men and women here can't make a difference, I don't know who can."

CONTINUED: Mystery boxes…
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