LONG BEACH - Global activist and U2 lead singer Bono took to the TED stage Tuesday with an inspiring message about the fight against poverty.

The rate of those living in extreme poverty - living on less than $1.25 a day - is rapidly declining as the world makes gains in technology, noted the Irish musician, who refers to himself as an activist and "factivist."

The number of those living in poverty has been cut in half in the past two decades, dropping from 43 percent in 1990 to 21 percent in 2010.

"Have you read anything, anywhere in the last week that is as remotely as important as that number? It's great news, and it drives me nuts most people don't know this," he said. "The rate is still too high and there's still work to do, but it's heart-stopping, mind-blowing stuff."

Bono is one of dozens of speakers scheduled this week at the annual TED conference at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center. The sold-out invitation-only conference, whose name stands for technology, entertainment, design kicked off Monday and will run through Friday for its fifth and final year in Long Beach. The conference will move to Vancouver, Canada, next year.

This year's event features several teenage inventors and entrepreneurs under the theme, "The Young. The Wise. The Undiscovered." Titles include "yo-yo master," "roboticist," "beatboxer and inventor" and "renegade gardener.


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In addition to Bono, attendees will also see musician Peter Gabriel, Tesla Motors co-founder Elon Musk, and a teenage nuclear scientist who at 14 achieved nuclear fusion - with a reactor born in his garage.

TED, a nonprofit devoted to "ideas worth spreading," was started in 1984 as a conference to bring together creative minds. The event has since gained worldwide attention with speakers including Microsoft founder Bill Gates, former President Bill Clinton, primatologist Jane Goodall, former Vice President Al Gore and scientist Richard Dawkins.

The conference in 2009 moved from its home in Monterey to Long Beach, where it generates a local economic impact of about $1.1million each year, said Bob Maguglin, a spokesman for the Long Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau. TED, with about 1,400 attendees, isn't Long Beach's largest convention, but it does bring to the city a unique notoriety, Maguglin said.

"TED's impact on Long Beach was far greater than economic," he said. "While in Long Beach, the TED conference expanded its scope, garnering global attention to its mission and exposing its phenomenal speakers to millions of new viewers, elevating Long Beach's image as a convention destination."

Maguglin said the vacant 2015 TED dates have been filled by a medical association conference out of Maryland with 3,500 attendees and an estimated $2.7 million impact for the city.

At $7,500 per ticket, TED's high-price, invitation-only access has spurred spinoff events such as BIL, a quirky, "unconference" open to the public.

BIL 2013 kicks off in Downtown Long Beach next weekend.

Despite the exclusiveness, TED's popularity has expanded worldwide through its famous 18-minute talks available for free on its website. The TED website features nearly 1,500 talks with more added each week. In November, TED Talks surpassed one billion views.

Bono, whose nonprofit ONE raises awareness for extreme poverty, was the first winner of the TED prize in 2005 for his humanitarian efforts.

Taking off his trademark sunglasses Tuesday, the rocker-turned-factivist was excited to share some positive facts on the war against poverty. Since 2000, he noted, 8million AIDS patients have been receiving retro viral drugs, malaria deaths have been cut by 75 percent and child mortality rates have dropped by 2.65million deaths a day.

While the world has made progress, the progress is jeopardized by corrupt governments, Bono said, adding that everyone must play a part in the fight against corruption. Social media and new technology, he said, are key in the push for more transparency and openness. 

"We'll win if we work together as one, the people," he said. "The power of the people is so much stronger than the people in power."

To watch Bono's and other TED Talks, visit www.ted.com.

kelly.puente@presstelegram.com, 562-714-2181, twitter.com/kellypuentept