Ted Turner: 'Wars disrupt all the things we're trying to do'

At a mobile health technology summit in Washington, the CNN founder and philanthropist talked about innovation, tackling disease, eliminating nuclear weapons and how he keeps up with a quickly changing world.

WASHINGTON –- CNN founder and philanthropist Ted Turner spoke here yesterday at the mHealth Summit, which explores ways mobile technology can improve healthcare.

Turner, founder and chairman of the United Nations Foundation, answered questions from mHealth Alliance Chairman Tom Wheeler and talked about innovation, tackling disease, eliminating nuclear weapons, watching TV and how he keeps up with a quickly changing world.

The UN Foundation, founded in 1998 with Turner’s $1 billion donation, is primarily focused on three diseases: polio, measles and malaria. Turner said all the work being done is having a “significant positive influence.”

Turner returned several times to the topic of war, stressing that it is not only expensive, but it is distracting and disruptive to advancing as a society. He suggested that soon, war may be a thing of the past and that countries like Germany and France will never fight again.

“The world is so interconnected today, we can’t afford wars,” he said. “Wars disrupt all the things we’re trying to do.

“The most pernicious part of the war is the amount of money and effort that goes into it,” Turner said. “The global military budget is more than a trillion dollars a year,” largely from the United States.

Turner said it’s advancements from organizations like the mHealth Alliance that will help eliminate war “because war is disruptive to someone’s health,” he said. “Shooting someone or bombing them is not good for their health.”

The hope, Turner said, is that we abandon using violence and rather, negotiate our ways out of problems.

Regarding nuclear weapons, Turner said we can’t stop Iran from building them when the United States and Israel have them. “What good is it,” he asked, to connect those around the globe with mobile health technology “if we blow the whole world up?”

Turner also talked about the change in the start-up business climate since he founded CNN 30 years ago. “We’re in a business here where there are no barriers to entry, which is really good—it’s certainly good for the consumer,” Turner told a room of more than 2,000 conference attendees. He said there is “a lot of incredible work is being done” and that innovators have a better chance of being successful today when they walk into someone’s office with an idea that seems impossible than he did when he started CNN.

“They were skeptical about CNN… skeptical about Cartoon Network [a Turner Broadcasting System channel],” he said. But eventually, he said the naysayers understood that the cable channel was here to stay. Today, on average, he said, “the audience for Cartoon Network is two and a half times [that of CNN]. Bugs Bunny is still funny.”

In addition to focusing his efforts toward the UN Foundation, Turner also keeps up with alternative energy news, including that about wind power, solar power, geothermal, biofuels and ethanol. “Just keeping up with the alternative energy business is more than one person can do,” he said. “So we’re forced to specialize more and more. The technology is so complex and moving so quickly in so many different areas that it’s very difficult to keep up with it.”

In an attempt to keep up, Turner reads The Economist from cover to cover every week, because it’s the most serious magazine he’s found. “I’d rather read Time because it's where my company resides, but a little too much movie stars,” he said. “Not that there’s anything wrong with them… for a time I was intimately involved [with them]. But now my priority is nuclear weapons.”

Turner said he watches no more than a half hour of television a day and doesn’t read novels for relaxation or pleasure anymore.

Known for his colorful remarks, a few of Turner’s comments gave rise to laughter in the audience. He suggested the U.S. sell its aircraft carriers to China to take care of our national debt. “What are [aircraft carriers] doing in Afghanistan? Or Iraq, for that matter? China may want some aircraft carriers. My idea is we sell China the aircraft carriers… As awful as it is, it’s almost laughable.”

He also said that his $1 billion United Nations donation was originally meant to cover the United States’ unpaid U.N. dues, picking up the tab for his country. “The first idea was to be a repo man and go to the U.S. and buy the debt for 80 cents on the dollar, he said, “and then sue the government.” He told the audience that he was later informed that an individual can’t sue the government in such a situation.

Turner said he was surprised, flying into Washington on Monday, that “we flew right over the Pentagon,” and he found it unbelievable and preposterous that “our main military base could be hit by a commercial airlines” right in the nation’s capital.

When asked what advice he would give to the roomful of innovators, Turner said when he talks to high school students and they ask for advice, he tells them, “Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise.”

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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com