Ask the Experts

“Is egoism the reason for human failure?”

“Is there an afterlife such as heaven, hell, or reincarnation, or is there just a black nothingness after death?”

“Do you need Service Pack 4 for Windows if you are exclusively surfing porn?”

These and 11,000 other pressing questions are vying for a place at the “Table of Free Voices,” the latest performance art/pseudo-event from Dropping Knowledge, an international nonprofit with U.S. headquarters in San Francisco. The voices come from 112 global luminaries as disparate as Terry Gilliam, director and co-writer of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and Avi Primor, former Israeli ambassador to Germany, who will gather around an Olympic-sized table in Berlin's Bebelplatz Square, simultaneously answering the 100 top questions in their native languages, each with a camera recording his every word. Footage will be stored and distributed for free in perpetuity. And it's all to be moderated by two-time Academy Award nominee Willem Dafoe.

Founded by filmmaker Cindy Gantz, activist Jackie Wallace, and director Ralf Schmerberg, Dropping Knowledge says its mission is to give the globe's concerned citizens a way to communicate with each other. The result,, will be part online library, part search engine, and part social network — basically, MySpace for save-the-worlders. The organization has enlisted researchers at MIT and German artificial intelligence lab DFKI to set up the technology. The multimillion-dollar project is funded by private individuals, a few foundations, and German mega-insurer Allianz AG. (To executives at the firm that insured the World Trade Center, promoting a global dialogue for peace seems like a good idea.)

The Dropping Knowledge founders have spent the past four years traveling the world spreading the word, raising money, whittling down the list of Table members from an original 2,000 targets, and finally persuading 112 to take a seat. Although thousands worldwide have posted questions online, the videotaped wisdom of celebrities and diplomats seems like a bizarre way to inspire action among the apathetic. Still, it might be worth tuning in on Sept. 10, once the hundreds of hours of video are posted online. You never know what the man behind the Knights Who Say “Ni” might say.

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