Anderson was born in a remote village in Pakistan in 1957. His parents were medical missionaries, and he spent most of his early life in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan. He studied at Woodstock School in the Himalayan mountains of India, before moving to Monkton Combe School, a boarding school in Bath, England.
At Oxford University, he studied physics, then changed to Philosophy, Politics and Economics, to eventually graduate with a degree in philosophy in 1978.
Anderson began a career in journalism, working on local newspapers, then producing a world news service in the Seychelles.
Back in the UK in 1984, Anderson was captivated by the home computer revolution and became an editor at two of the UK’s early computer magazines, Personal Computer Games and Zzap!64. A year later he founded Future Publishing with a $25,000 bank loan. The new company initially focused on specialist computer publications but eventually expanded into other areas such as cycling, music, video games, technology and design, doubling in size every year for seven years. In 1994, Anderson moved to the United States where he built Imagine Media, publisher of Business 2.0 magazine and creator of the popular video game users website IGN. Anderson eventually merged Imagine and Future, taking the combined entity public in London in 1999, under the Future US name. At its peak, it published 150 magazines and websites and employed 2,000 people. This success allowed Anderson to create a private nonprofit organisation, the Sapling Foundation, with the hope of finding new ways to tackle tough global issues through media, technology, entrepreneurship and, most of all, ideas.
In 2001, the foundation acquired the TED Conference, then an annual meeting of luminaries in the fields of Technology, Entertainment and Design held in Monterey, California, US, and Anderson left Future to work full-time on TED.
He expanded the conference's remit to cover all topics, including science, business and key global issues, while adding a fellows program, which now has some 300 alumni, and the TED Prize, which grants its recipients $1 million and "one wish to change the world".
In 2006, TED experimented with posting some of its talks on the Internet. Their viral success encouraged Anderson to begin positioning the organization as a global media initiative devoted to "ideas worth spreading". In June 2015, the organization posted its 2,000th talk online. The talks are free to view, and they have been translated into more than 100 languages with the help of thousands of volunteers from around the world. Viewership has grown to approximately one billion views per year.
Continuing a strategy of "radical openness", in 2009 Anderson introduced the TEDx initiative, allowing free licenses to local organizers who wished to organise their own TED-like events. More than 10,000 such events have been held, generating an archive of 60,000 TEDx talks. Three years later, the TED-Ed program was launched, offering free educational videos and tools to students and teachers.
In May 2016, Anderson published a book, TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, which offers tips and advice for public speaking. This book became a New York Times bestseller.
Anderson is the father of three daughters: Zoe, Elizabeth and Anna. The eldest, Zoe, died in 2010 aged 24 from carbon monoxide poisoning. Since 2008, he has been married to Jacqueline Novogratz, founder and CEO of Acumen, an organization that pioneered social impact investing.