Jason Pontin

Editor in Chief/Publisher, MIT's Technology Review


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"Why Can't We Solve Big Problems?"

I'll be giving a TED U Talk in Longbeach at the end of the month. I'll be asking "Why Can't We Solve Big Problems?" I think that blithe optimism about technology’s powers has evaporated as big problems that people had imagined technology would solve, such as hunger, poverty, malaria, climate change, cancer, and the diseases of old age, have come to seem intractably hard.

I'd love to know what the TED Community thinks our difficulties are - or, even if the idea is true at all.

Here's a URL to the story I wrote in MIT Technology Review on the subject: http://www.technologyreview.com/featuredstory/429690/why-we-cant-solve-big-problems/

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    Feb 23 2013: Because technology is just a tool, not an intelligence in itself. Technology is a very poor innovator, has no intuition whatsoever and is not cognizant of the human sensibilities it is supposed to serve.

    We seem to have lost sight of the notion that humans are supposed to be the master intelligence - not the technology we ourselves have created.

    In short, the bright sparks of imagination, intuition and innovation required to come up with solutions to big problems have got hopelessly lost in a thick fog of technology, administrative procedures, lawsuits, health and safety legislation and politics - to name but a few.
    • Marc J

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      Feb 23 2013: Hear, hear! To borrow a phrase, "the mind is a terrible thing to waste!"
    • W T

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      Feb 23 2013: I remember when they started installing "smartboards" in our school.

      I thought to myself, what the school needs is more "smart teachers"....not another techy toy which half the faculty will just let hang around collecting dust.

      I second Marc's statement!!
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      Feb 24 2013: Did you miss Pontin's point here, "technologists have diverted us and enriched themselves with trivial toys."?
      If technology is just a "tool" what work is be being used for? My guess is that it is busy keeping us pacified and entertained, perhaps "distracted" from the real problems is the best way to put it..

      But these tools can and are being used in innovative new ways in areas of the world where survival depends on them. Charles Leadbeater describes this in his TEDTalk:

      " Because actually radical innovation does sometimes come from the very best, but it often comes from places where you have huge need -- unmet, latent demand -- and not enough resources for traditional solutions to work -- traditional, high-cost solutions, which depend on professionals, which is what schools and hospitals are."

      Education is one of these areas where as Leadbeater says: "Our education systems all work on the principle that there is a payoff, but you have to wait quite a long time. That's too long if you're poor. Waiting 10 years for the payoff from education is too long when you need to meet daily needs, when you've got siblings to look after or a business to help with. So you need education to be relevant and help people to make a living there and then, often. And you also need to make it intrinsically interesting."

      He adds, "....science has opened up successively different vantage points from which we can see ourselves, and that's why it's so valuable. So the vantage point you take determines virtually everything that you will see. The question that you will ask will determine much of the answer that you get."

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        Feb 24 2013: Hi Theodore. Yes, I guess I did miss that, and it's a good point about diverting 'trivial toys'

        Thanks for the Charles Leadbeater link!
  • Feb 14 2013: I've been noticing a pattern. In your article with MIT Technology Review and in the comments of a number of people are lines similar to the following: "We could solve this problem if only such and such group thought or behaved differently than they do." Well, there's your answer. Focusing just on technological developments as the means of solving the world's ills is insufficient. There needs to be much more focus on how do we change people's thoughts and behaviors. These problems are best solved by behavioral scientists. Allow me to provide a more extreme example for clarity: Science is a double-edged sword. What can be used to help can also be used to harm. Eventually, people will have access to the means to do tremendous harm to other people, the environment, etc. This is a byproduct of technological advancement. If these people are malevolent, this is of tremendous concern. While it's certainly a good idea to develop vaccines and radiation detectors and other technologies to help keep us from being harmed by these malevolent actors, these technologies are insufficient when it comes to stopping the threat. Again, I suggest the solution is with the behavioral sciences. One problem is that people do not really understand or appreciate the benefits of the behavioral sciences. If a radiation detector stops a dirty bomb from entering a nation at a port, the benefits of this technology are very obvious. If a psychologist's research leads to policies that lessen extremism, causing group members to rule out using a dirty bomb in the first place, the world may never make the connection. For reasons well beyond the scope of my comments, the behavioral sciences are under appreciated in terms of their utility to help solve some of the world's biggest problems. Unfortunately, what's required to change this isn't just a funding increase in behavioral science research---it's an absolute sea change in how people view the utility of the behavioral sciences.
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      Feb 14 2013: Yes, I think that's right: the main reasons why we can't solve big problems with technology is that we either don't want or our institutions have failed. In other words, it's a human failure more than anything else.
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        Feb 15 2013: Actually we can solve poverty with technology and capitalism , would you like to know how?
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          Feb 15 2013: Yes, sure. I mean, if it's science fiction (that is, involving technologies that don't yet exist, or couldn't plausibly exist), I'll take it with a grain of salt - but, by all means, solve poverty.
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        Feb 15 2013: Ok, so the fundamental part of Capitalism is that people have to make less money so other people can make more. This can be seen in today's current economy as the 99% vs. the 1% in America. What most Americans don't realize is that the 99% of Americas are also in the top 1% of the world.
        Because I am able to run my business in a free market, my plan is to limit my employee’s salary, as well as my own, to an amount no greater than $100,000 per year for life. I already have 3 business ventures that I am currently working to get off the ground. These businesses are as follows; One in Marketing, one in 3D printing, and one that can be best described somewhat as a Jiffy Lube for nail salons. As I’ve previously stated, my employee’s and I will never make more than $100,000 a year in income. Furthermore, I plan to automate the jobs completed by my employees and create machines that will complete the work for them. However, I will still pay them their annual salary. I will be able to accomplish this with the capital received from the automated services my businesses will provide. As an employer, I don’t really care who or what does the work as long as it gets done. With the future IT companies I plan to establish, I will be able to spread Wi-Fi coverage to everyone in the country, cheaper than it’s already being done. In addition, I will also have the ability to offer more coverage in more places. I will show those employees how they can outsource their job to 3rd world workers, where they can basically double that person’s income by only paying them a tenth of what I plan to pay my employees. This will allow my employees to semi-retire and still complete all the necessary job requirements. Essentially, this method will enable me to rescue my employees as well as the 3rd world workers from a life of poverty. This can be seen as a trickledown effect, which current businesses like to pretend they already accomplish.
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        Feb 15 2013: The best part about this plan is that my “semi-retired” employees will have the buying power. Therefore, they will buy from my company instead of from my competitors. Much like a lobbyist, I will be “bribing” my employees for their loyalty in the form of the semi-retired salary, which they will make for the rest of their lives. My employees will know the more they buy from me, the more people we can rescue from poverty.
        Once I educate my employees on how money actually works, they will realize it is a juggling act and my enterprise will be the ultimate juggler. This will also allow the removal of government welfare programs, thus lowering everyone’s tax rates. This will be effective simply because I will be paying people for doing nothing. From then on they can volunteer or spend their time completing more hospitable and fulfilling activities while having job security.
        If 25% of the world companies and charities used this model instead of our current model how fast do you think we can end poverty?
    • Feb 17 2013: Well said, as a mental health professional I cannot stress how limitless the benefits could be for the human civilization, if we apply it appropriately.
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        Feb 17 2013: Thank you,

        What do you think it will take for us to apply this method? Do you think we really want to end poverty or is it just talk?
        • Feb 17 2013: " ... do we really want to end poverty ...?
          Good question !
          Maybe people want to end poverty but not for the sake of their own prosperity.
          If we solve a little problem with our big ego, big problems will become little :)
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        Feb 17 2013: Wouldn't ending poverty add prosperity?
        • Feb 17 2013: Yes, if you think globally.
          Government as an institution is meant to protect interests of the country. Its strategy is to keep poverty at a distance. As an implication, the prosperity becomes ours and poverty theirs.
          And it doesn't want to end their poverty at the expense of our prosperity.
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    Feb 18 2013: Lets rephrase the question to ask the much more empowering question how HOW CAN WE SOLVE BIG PROBLEMS? Then we may come up with the big solutions needed to do so.
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      Feb 18 2013: I agree Michelle, that focusing on what we CAN do is more energizing and empowering than focusing on what we cannot do....excellent point!!!
    • Feb 18 2013: i think you might be missing something here.

      it is important to keep a positive perspective, yes, but it is equally important to seek out and identify anything that might hinder us (the human race) from achieving progress.

      the fact of the matter is that we are capable of solving world hunger, equalizing global economy, and reversing environmental damage. however, these endeavors are not profitable to the entities that are capable of setting them into motion. if, by "Big Problems", we are referring to problems on a global scale, than i think the answer is capitalism. the world as a whole is obsessed with ownership, competition, money, profit, etc. and as a result, moralistic goals will always fall short of our need of luxury. we can solve the problems, but only by sacrificing capitalism.

      we all want to solve world hunger, but nobody is willing to question how it's possible in America to find braised Eel in countless restaurants that are thousands of miles away from the ocean, yet in Ethiopia it is almost impossible to eat enough to survive.
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        Feb 19 2013: William,
        I agree that it is "equally important to seek out and identify anything that might hinder....achieving progress".

        My interpretation of Michells's comment, and reinforcement of the idea is "FOCUS". Once we know what might be hindering progress, it may be good to focus our attention on solutions. Sometimes, it feels like we (humans) go round and round complaining and evaluating the challenges in our world, without genuinely seeking solutions. I agree with you that we (humans) are often obsessed with ownership, competition, money, profit, etc, and we are very good at theorizing!

        "One of the great difficulties in the new order of thought is that we are likely to indulge in too much theory and too little practice."
        (Ernest Holmes - "The Science of Mind")
        • Feb 19 2013: Ms. Steen,

          I truly agree with your statement, and believe that the development of effective courses of action is just as important as their implementation.

          the one thing i seem to observe, however, is that good ideas are not something we are in short supply of. everything is opensource, now. people are connected all across the world on a level that we've never seen. the progress of infrastructure in Africa is beginning to advance to the level of continent-wide casual internet access, which will make for a 20-30% increase in size to the global think tank.

          the problem that i see is that the decision of what the general effort of the human race will be is in the wrong hands. i think it's important for people to realize that there is something wrong with our governments, and that no matter what political stance you take, or activism you promote, no agenda is going to supersede that of the corporations, banks, etc. that own this planet, and that agenda seems to explicitly demonize individual aptitude, self reliance, peace, and pretty much anything that can fall under the broad definition of "a solution to a global problem."
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        Feb 23 2013: You make some good points William. Good ideas are not something we are in short supply of....people are connected throughout the world. WE are the governments...WE elect and appoint the leaders. When/if enough people take back their own power to think, feel, share ideas respectfully and genuinely work together, we may see some changes. Actually, I believe change is happening right now.

        Because of our advanced communication systems, (including TED), which facilitate more awareness, we are uncovering corruption in politics, corporations, religions, etc. Corruption and abuse of human rights thrives in isolation.

        What we focus on expends. I prefer to spend time and energy focusing on what we CAN do that will move us toward solving our global issues, rather than spending time and energy debating why we think we cannot Solve Big Problems.
    • Feb 19 2013: I agree with your idea to re-focus the question. I also believe that the term "solve" can also be misleading. As others have asserted once a "problem is solved" then another one will take its place. It is an unending cycle to continually "solve" problems. Rather taking steps in the name of progress and expanding knowledge have no definitive "end", so there is not the disappointment/frustration that can come with a solution-based strategy.
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        Feb 19 2013: Good point Jeff! I believe that as evolving humans, there may always be challenges, so if we know and understand this, we begin to look at the life experience in a different way? We can continually progress and expand with knowledge and technology without a definitive end result. I agree with you that this practice gives us (as individuals, AND as a global community) more freedom, time and energy to move forward and improve life circumstances, rather than spending time and energy with disappointment and frustration that can come with a solution-based strategy:>)
  • Mar 1 2013: I see that you have given your TED U Talk. Hopefully I'll see it here, as the question is provocative. Provocative in many different ways and levels. It appears to me that I am not alone in the belief that we are solving the problems and yes, the big ones but, its not technology that's doing it. Apologies to those taking offense at that remark. I am fully aware that at MIT the "T" stands for technology and having spent my youth in Malden I take great pride in things on both banks of the Charles.

    We are the big "problem". The technologies we develop may give insight to some of our goals and desires but we are not our technologies. Things not achievable are not necessarily problems. Desires unfulfilled are just that, not problems. Mankind dramatically progresses, in the Shakespearean sense. We explore the skies beyond the scope of imagination and yet, our degree of ignorance for that within arm's reach is numbing. Communities within and surrounding MIT, people in India and Japan, motivated by their compassion for mankind, they go on to solve the "big problems", at times flying possibly to Mars, other times getting food and clothing to those who need it most.

    I was very happy, yet not the least bit surprised, to see similar sentiment expressed or hinted at by others. Is hunger a problem for technology today? Do current technologies not suffice to solve the problem ten times over? "We" are the big problems. "We" are the big solutions. Looking forward to your talk.
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      Feb 16 2013: What sort of design do you do, Carolyn, if you do not mind my asking?
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          Feb 16 2013: How wonderful, Caroline, to have such DIY energy! The security guards at the local art museum often are engaged like this outside of their paying work and some show and sell some of their creations now and then, but not as their steady income.

          My neighbor went to RISD and she too can make anything..
    • Feb 16 2013: Wholeheartedly agree with you !
      We've talked ourselves to belief that nature is mute, but in fact, nature is the only evaluable statement.
      We are deaf and blind and we should do something about it. The question is What and How.
  • Feb 15 2013: Big problems is a wide ranging issue. Our main issue with technology is: instead of wisdom we are gaining knowledge. Knowledge is a piece of what makes wisdom, but we need to have the other parts of wisdom as well. Love, compassion, higher thinking.

    I think maybe once you attempt to solve all the "big problems" you may be left chasing your own tail. Why is this? That is the biggest problem of all! Why does attempting to solve "big problems" end in a logical tail chase?

    My personal opinion on our problems is that we are living by an outdated system of life, a.k.a. society, a.k.a. economic system, a.k.a. government, a.k.a. Overall thought process. As a manufacturing engineer my life centers around finding root causes to problems (as any optimist knows a problem is really just an opportunity)

    In a root cause analysis of our problems I come down to needing large systematic changes. In other words as human beings we need to be enlightened to a higher thinking. Logically from an engineering standpoint our system is set up incorrectly. If I created a car that lasts indefinitely and could sell for $5 that ran on water....everyone from our government to the guy on Ford's assembly line would hate me and stop me from making said car. Our economic system is set up to create garbage. Garbage in, garbage out. The garbage in is our logically backwards thinking that less jobs is bad, long lasting products are bad for business, and money is all life is about.

    With less pointless work we can spend more time enjoying life, creating, and researching how to solve REAL human "big problems"
  • Feb 15 2013: The problem with a problem is that it is problematically labelled as a problem, a negative focus or a negative impacting design, which is affecting or will be affecting a positive.

    To first enable a problem to become a non-problem it may first need to be relabelled.

    e.g. there is no such thing as a "problem", there are only opportunities to improve.

    Hence the opportunity which was previously mislabelled, the mislabelling is the problem, the question should be, "Why does it take so long to make significant improvements"?

    Therein lies the problem solved, improvements develop over time with greater shared thinking and input/commitment.
    The bigger the required improvement, the bigger the stakeholder input is required, man is selfish, therefore, the improvement is still lacking.
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      Feb 15 2013: I do like the idea of focusing on opportunities for improvement.
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      Feb 16 2013: I agree Lionel....once we label something a "problem", we sometimes fail to see the opportunity.
      As long as we say it is "hard", "difficult", "impossible", etc., that is the reality we create for ourselves.
      "It's not a problem....it's a feature"!

      As thinking, feeling, evolving, creative human beings, we have the tools to improve many situations in our global communities. When we look at all the issues we could be dealing with, it sometimes seems overwhelming, and I think that feeling often causes people to think/feel that any action is too small to make a difference.

      I believe it helps to focus on one step at a time, and each step, by every single individual in our global community is valuable. Every journey begins with a single step, and if we can focus on how the steps add up, we are on our way to change. With each new step, we improve and develop with greater shared thinking, input and commitment. One thing our communications technology is facilitating, is connections around our world:>)
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        Feb 16 2013: What you say- that people tend to under-invest energy in problems when they believe their actions will be too small to make a difference has been demonstrated in experiments. This is also, interestingly, one reason so many solicitations for funds for worthy causes feature individuals one can sponsor and so forth rather than offering big picture numbers for people at risk in various ways.

        I am absolutely with you that everyone can make a difference (the Drew Dudley talk immediately comes to mind) and I too live that way. In fact, I am a strong believer that figuring out how we can best contribute and then doing it consistently is a valuable way of life.
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          Feb 16 2013: In addition to varified experiments Fritzie, I unfortunately, hear it all the time...

          Some people do not recycle because they do not feel that their effort makes any difference. I get kidded a lot for saving and reusing plastic bags.....because some folks say my effort doesn't make any difference. Can you imagine how much of a difference it would make if everyone in our world participated in these seemingly "small" efforts?

          I'm sometimes told that conserving electricity and water doesn't make any difference because we have "plenty" to use. Some folks do not look beyond the switch on the wall, or the faucet, to realize that conserving our resources IS important!

          BTW.....I am SO excited to have had a meeting this week with a company that is working with power companies in this state, installing solar panals on individual homes for NO upfront cost. It will reduce my electric bill, put energy into the grid, and reduce my "footprint"......win/win/win! I'm really excited!
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        Feb 16 2013: Around here, the city is vehement about recycling. The price structure for garbage collection provides incentive to recycle and separate recycling. Picking up recycling is free but garbage costs, depending on the size of can.

        Stores are not permitted to give you groceries in plastic bags and must charge for paper bags, so everyone brings their bags back to refill or uses a tote of some kind.

        There are also incentives for energy retrofits.
  • Ross G

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    Feb 14 2013: And are they profitable? ie. The treatment tends to be substantially more profitable than the cure.
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      Gail .

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      Feb 14 2013: Succinctly put!
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      Feb 14 2013: as soon as there is a cure, it is infinitely more profitable than a long treatment. because nobody will choose the long treatment anymore. its market shrinks to zero.
  • Feb 13 2013: I admire your willingness to address the areas that have been largely ignored such as hunger, poverty, malaria, climate change, cancer, and the diseases of old age, have come to seem intractably hard.

    Hunger and poverty can be changed easily, its just that there is no political will. I am an Indian who was born in Kenya, and I noticed that the Israelis helped us learn farming in the desert and they did also set up a farm for the hungry and poor too. Once it was handed over to those who it was created for, the minister who was in charge of the area simply stole the money it was generating thereby destroying the farm.

    The leaders prefer the hungry stay hungry and poor so that they can attract donor aid that they simply steal and stash in Swiss bank accounts. The poor are used as bait to attract money and assistance that does not go to those who need it, last time the food purchased to feed the hungry was sold in the local markets and the starving and hungry simply died.

    Malaria can be solved using quinine, and there are many other methods to work it out.

    Climate change too can be worked upon, offering to re-afforest some countries shall work out well, in Kenya we only have 2-3% forest cover instead of having a 35% forest cover, making deals with foreign governments so as to be allowed to plant trees and maintain the forests.

    Cancer and old age diseases - might be a game for the pharmaceutical companies to make money with, imagine if the world were to be disease free or even a reduction of diseases by up to 30% itself would mean a huge reduction of profits, jobs, revenue... for the economy overall.

    So to reiterate the issues discussed it is the lack of political will to solve the most pressing problems. The solutions have existed but addressing them has not been the motive of many countries and society, I'm sure more than 80% of the worlds population would like to have a better world.
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    Feb 13 2013: Technology is solving big problems, but new problems crop up all the time. Entropy in all contexts is a constant, and human beings can only do so much, so quickly, to stem the onslaught of new / evolving problems.

    Another factor to consider when it comes to human civilization is that, as much as we change the external world / reality, we are still guided largely by human nature, something which hasn't changed substantively in thousands of years; further, human nature easily and quickly reverts to primal instincts, often with dire consequences.

    Our best tools for fixing humanity's problems usually involve improving the way we approach or understand the world and each other.
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      Feb 14 2013: We exist an increasingly complex system. These "new problems" that you speak of are an emergent property of our increasing complexity. "Fixing" the problems, implies the wrong headed notion of installing our sense of order and control on nature, instead of better understand the "system" and its complex nature.
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        Feb 14 2013: I wouldn't call vaccines, for example, wrong-headed, nor many other medical and scientific breakthroughs. Nor would I agree that attempts to heal the environment are wrong-headed.

        To put a very fine point on it, if an asteroid were approaching the earth, should we use our knowledge and skills to attempt to avert a collision, or simply "understand the 'system' and its complex nature"?

        You seem to be, potentially, mixing problems created by humanity with those created by nature. Whatever the case, I would suggest it's in our best interests, and perhaps those of the world, that we continue to try to find solutions to problems. This is what humans do, it's how we adapt. It is our nature.
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          Feb 14 2013: How much complexity theory do you understand?
          The asteroid problem is not an "emergent property" of increasing complexity. Global warming is. DDT was intended to address a "problem." How did that work out?
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        Feb 14 2013: I was addressing the original question about tackling big problems, not just the subset of problems created by humankind. In any event, we can choose to address the problems, or not. Perhaps the issue you're having is with my terminology 'fix.' By 'fix' I simply mean address, deal with.
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          Feb 14 2013: "I seek not to know the answers, but to understand the questions" Master Po.
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      Feb 14 2013: Michael,
      You say...."....as much as we change the external world / reality, we are still guided largely by human nature, something which hasn't changed substantively in thousands of years; further, human nature easily and quickly reverts to primal instincts, often with dire consequences."

      To some extent, I agree with your statement, and on the other hand, I like to think/feel that with evolution, we are learning, growing and becoming more aware? If we continue to reinforce the idea that humans are NOT changing....that we are guided simply by human nature....that we revert to primal instincts...,.are we reinforcing the attitudes and behaviors we would like to change?

      I very much agree...
      "Our best tools for fixing humanity's problems usually involve improving the way we approach or understand the world and each other."

      How about if we change our perception of humans and recognize that we may be evolving beyond primal instincts? New approach?
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        Feb 14 2013: I agree with you, Colleen: we are evolving emotionally, intellectually; we are on the whole moving in the right direction with, of course, some notable exceptions. What I was referring to was our core nature, our instincts, our animal side...the id, if you will, not the super ego, to lift some Freudian terminology.

        You make a great point: it's important for us to appeal to humanity's better self, to ask and help people to think beyond their own self interest, to consider others. In other words, to evolve their thinking.
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          Feb 14 2013: I agree Michael, that it is important to appeal to humanity's "better self", and encourage people to think beyond their own self interest and consider others....evolve.

          I think I understand what you refer to when talking about our core nature, instincts, and animal side. I believe those elements of "us" are evolving, to the point of being able to see beyond instinct and animal behavior. We are multi sensory, multi dimensional human beings, and if we are more aware of the possibilities, we could change some perceptions and have a new approach.

          As long as we continue to reinforce the idea that our core nature, our instincts and animal side cannot be changed, that is the reality we create.

          For example:
          I co-facilitated "cognitive self change" sessions with offenders of domestic violence who were incarcerated. The guys often said something like...it's natural...instinctive, to slap somebody who tics us off. That is just "natural".

          You see? If we continue to reinforce the idea that there are natural animal instincts at our core, which cannot be changed, I think we do a disservice to humanity.
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        Feb 14 2013: I don't know if we're capable of changing our instincts. I see cake, I want it; but my higher mind tells me, "Hey, that belongs to my wife. Don't touch it." The goal is to teach people to think things through. I know that my children, who are not yet four, have very base instincts. My job as a parent is to help them evolve their behavior. Do I change what is deep down inside? Maybe. But I know I can help change what is closer to the surface.

        Great points, Colleen.
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          Feb 14 2013: EXACTLY Michael! I don't think we can change our instincts either. We CAN however, change the way we use the information. I totally agree....give people the tools to be able to think and feel things through.

          Many of the old instinctive behaviors were knee jerk reactions without any thought or feeling. Absolutely.....we can support others in the quest to evolve behaviors. I don't think we want or need to change what is deep down inside. We CAN change how it affects us and others. We CAN change our thoughts, feelings and behaviors to be more beneficial to ourselves and the whole of humankind.

          One of the first steps in this approach, is to discontinue talking about abusive, violent animal behaviors as something natural that cannot be changed. As thinking, feeling, intelligent, evolving human beings, we have choices:>)
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      Feb 14 2013: Let's compare these two statement:

      One thing to keep in mind: our beliefs shape our world view. That is to say, the entire construct of what we feel and know is shaped by our beliefs, whether those beliefs originate from faith or reason."

      "Our best tools for fixing humanity's problems usually involve improving the way we approach or understand the world and each other."

      Understanding the world often conflicts with our beliefs about the world. Which do we reshape?
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    Feb 13 2013: I do not think we can get rid of all world's problems. The best we can do is to substitute old problems with new problems. What happens in the macro scale only reflects the micro - it is impossible to be 100% healthy. Cure one ailment and you will only open the way for another. And who knows what is better? sometimes the old familiar problem is better because one knows what to expect from it. I do not want to say we should ignore malaria, cancer and other serious problems but we should not expect that once they are battled, there will not be any more problems comming.
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      Feb 19 2013: -Namaste
      I feel a problem to you, might be a lesson to another. All problems in math have solutions, some might just be far more infinite than finite right? I hope I can use that mathematical analogy to apply to this general discussion of problems. Math is considered a universal language after all correct?
  • Mar 10 2013: We have solved big problems. Better tests that detect cancer earlier, advanced materials that make things lighter, stronger, and use less resources, drugs that fight HIV and extend the lives of people, communications technology that connects us to other parts of the world almost instantly, mapping of the human genome, and the list goes on and on. Each time there is a new innovation, we get closer and closer to solving the really big, complex problems. If we have people focusing on these problems, we will get there.
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    Mar 6 2013: Years ago, the first TED talk I ever watched was by Liz Coleman:


    She made a great point that higher education corrals us into specialization, often at the expense of having the skill of integrative thinking with other fields. So, when specialists are called on to solve the world's multi-faceted problems, they tend to work isolated in their own heads, unable to truly understand how something from another field can provide synergy with what they can offer. This is why we can't solve big problems.

    For me personally, I think the root of the problem is two things: we don't philosophize anymore and we are hopelessly classist and protectionist. First, it's rare that we step back and look at entire systems to understand them. For example, we'll recycle our cans like good citizens, but not invest the time to understand if cans and what's contained in them are worth the health, public money and environmental issues they create.

    And we are classist and protectionist. MIT itself may have publishing biases toward high profiled projects, engineers, or ideas that will attract more attention / philanthropic funds (I'm making this up!). We don't poke around developing countries enough to see if there are better ideas there. "Innovation" is disproportionately a Western, male, moneyed thing. Clinical trials showing old medicine that cures new ailments have no potential for patent-protection (and therefore riches for pharmaceutical companies) and are ignored. This is probably true of dichloroacetate on cancer cells: http://bit.ly/Tq0Uo5

    This is why we slog along, IMHO.
  • Mar 5 2013: Technology will be part of solving big problems but it is only a tool for it. People will always look after their own self interest which is the main reason most big problems have not been solved or even why more problems have been created. The internet itself is an amazing tool to share information and ideas but it eventually evolved into a mechanism for people and businesses to make money. Sure their are a lot of people who use technology to do good things and work to solve problems but the underlying theme has always and will always be human nature to advance for its own self interest. If that wasn't the case their would not be such a huge inequality which creates many of the world's big problems.

    It does feel like society is changing course a bit and it becoming more focused on the greater good for all which in turn will help the individual (self interest). Technology is helping this movement a huge way mainly because it helps spread the message about different causes and reasons to help make things better. Generally people tend to have a "herd" mentality and as the direction of the "herd" is changed by influential people it will, over time, generally will start to move in that direction. It seems like the overall direction is starting to set a new course but it takes generations for that to happen. Technology is making that change quicker and more efficient but overall it is still the people who control which direction that is taken.

    We are using a simple concept along with technology to help move things in that direction. We use technology to allow people to Do Well by Doing Good which will give people some sense of future security by doing good deeds. Incentivizing people has always worked for our economy as a whole advance with incredible strides but hasn't really been used for the advancement of good causes (causes for some reason stigmatize using incentives) . We think it is time to change that, www.RepaySomeday.com Thanks for reading!
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      Mar 5 2013: Dave,
      I agree with most of what you write....technology is a tool, which helps us find solutions...inequality creates many of the world's challenges.....it feels like society is changing course....people have a "herd" mentality, and as the direction of the herd is changed over time, it will move people in that direction...technology is making that change quicker and more efficient.....all good ideas!

      I think/feel that some folks have thoughts, feelings, ideas, actions, reactions which serve personal interests and personal financial gain, and some folks strive to create actions that manifest into gain for the global communuity. Do you think that with the changes you mention, we (humans) are beginning to understand and embrace the idea that we can evolve in ourselves as individuals, AND contribute to the global community AT THE SAME TIME? It feels like this is the balance we are seeking?
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      Mar 5 2013: Dave, There is some wisdom in your views on the positive focus of doing well by doing good.
      What concerns me is historically, this is not a new idea and has not always been successful.
      Consider; Christians will tell you that Jesus embodies this message. Muslins will say it is Mohammed, then there is Buddha, the list goes on. In many cases, individuals came to promote these philosophies with literally fire and brimstone proclaiming "do my good or dying not so well". We see this happening today.

      Is there a biological thing of the Alpha-alpha gene? Does the human species have to evolve into another species where we can come together as a global society, because it's unlikely to happen any time soon. Or do we use all this new great technology to just eradicate the species?

      One wag has said that in the event all the global disaster prophets are correct, maybe there will be enough human survivors with knowledge to do it right the next time. But, probably not.
      • Mar 5 2013: Mike, I understand what you are saying about the tag line I use "Do Well by Doing Good" but it is not aimed at saving all of society and the problems it has. I have always said my idea is simple but it could generate some changes if a large enough amount of people join in. And really the idea is more geared toward trying to make things a little more fair. It is kind of a longer read but if you take a look at the website www.RepaySomeday.com and read the page titled "The Reason" you will understand where I'm coming from.

        And very briefly, my thoughts are that most people want to do good deeds and/or help other people. But doing so, more than just doing minimal amounts, conflicts with a person's efforts to make sure they and their family are secure in the future. Besides those who live lavishly, most people concentrate on working to buy life insurance, save for retirement, kids education, etc and the basics to make sure they feel "comfortable" for the future. The idea is just as companies incentivize people to work harder and longer so those people can provide for their families, I think the concept of doing good should have the same type of incentive. My idea is in a basic form now but if you could concentrate more on doing good deeds knowing those good deeds can result in you and your family being secure in the future, than you can concentrate more on doing those good deeds. Hopefully the page on the website explains the idea and the reasoning behind it.

        So overall, I think if people can concentrate more on doing good things for others, the people receiving the good deeds will be better and the people offering the deeds will be able to continue to do more. Hopefully resulting in a snowball affect of more people helping each other.
        Thanks for your comments and insight.
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    Mar 5 2013: Technology is binary and problems such as hunger, etc.. is pulse. Binary is not a substitute for pulse and vice versa. Both technology and problems are created by humans. Only we should decide the direction that he/she should take considering the future for our next generation.

    Resolutions = ? until we start to think and feel others pain. Good care would solve the biggest problem but Is it feasible through technology?. I am getting more questions than answers.....
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    Mar 5 2013: Simply responding to this post without having read the other responses and your replies, it would seem to me that we ARE solving the big problems. In fact, we may be doing it so successfully, I wonder if we are not destined to cause our own demise?

    A few key strokes and a little help from Google tells me the following:

    1. World hunger, as described by worldhunger.org (the want or scarcity of food in a country), stood at 925 million in the year 2010, which was roughly 13.2% of the world's population, estimated at ~7 billion people. A little further investigation shows the number has grown from roughly 875 million in 1969; but global population around that time was estimated at 3.6 billion people. So on a percentage basis, some 24% of the world's population were hungry then, compared to 13.2% now. The takeaway is that in the last 40-years, we have nearly cut world hunger in half.

    2. Similar searches regarding global population -- on a percentage basis -- show that issues such as infant mortality rates are down sharply; life expectancy is rising; more people in the world have access to power, fresh water, modern communications; and while illness associated with older people may be rising, it's because so many more of us are living longer. And clearly, we are making great strides in medical science as well.

    Therefore, I return to the beginning of my response with perhaps an even BIGGER QUESTION. Assuming I'm correct in my cursory review of data, that show we are indeed, incrementally solving Big Problems related to humanitarian issues; Are we in fact not inevitably contributing to our own demise?

    The unparalleled success of the human race, in many ways, comes at the expense of other species and our environment. Human population at its present rate is on a course to double about every 100-years. In a world of finite space and finite resources, how much longer can we consume at the present pace until there is nothing left to consume?

    Food for though
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    Mar 4 2013: depending on what we're talking about, I'd say because of the limits of human cognition.


    With advancement in technology and science what we consider big now may not be big in the future. Nonetheless I still think there are questions that we'll never know but this shouldn't stop us from exploring.

    Now if your referring to poverty, hunger, climate change, I think these are geopolitical issues that can be address. Modifying the purpose and role of government and understanding global human rights I think will be essential. It also takes work from everyday individuals like ourselves. All this i think is in our control, we just have to really want it.

    Hope your talk goes well.
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    Mar 4 2013: Another interesting question to ponder is: Are problems becoming harder and harder to solve? What I mean by this is that the complexity of modern problems are vastly incomparable to the ones humans faced at the dawn of human civilisation. Are we slowly moving towards some form of intellectual steady state, after which we would run out of steam to solve the most intractable problems of our era? Sounds pretty Malthusian to me. Food for thought though.

    I think there are many reasons why we struggle with big problems. One of them the overwhelmingly complexity of our world; we struggle even to understand the workings of our own planet, not to mention everything else out there. Even with exponential leaps in industrialisation, we struggle against stuff we cannot fully comprehend, from deadly microorganisms to strange physical phenomena.

    Then there is the failure to tap fully into human potential. Wars, corruption, poverty, disease and extremism remain rampant in developing countries and the political tussles between the West and Middle East continue. Globalisation is making progress in empowering all humans with greater prosperity (and henceforth the capacity to solve big problems), but it hijacked by problems of gross inequality. Until we solve these problems, we cannot focus on big problems.

    The strangeness of the world is also interesting. Inventions in the modern world is increasingly driven by the incentives that come with industrialisation. But perhaps not everything that can be learnt about the world has benefits attached to it, and so we may never learn some things.
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      Mar 4 2013: Yes, I believe that we solved many of the easy problems. In my original essay I wrote, "Hard problems are hard." If you think about the biotechnology revolution, for instance, all the early drugs were essential replacement therapies for proteins we already fully understood and were already manufacturing in less efficient ways. We already knew how to make human insulin and human growth hormone. Biotech just coaxed e.coli bacteria to manufacture them for us. Truly novel therapeutics have been harder to create.
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      Mar 4 2013: Ethan and Jason,
      Good point, that our world is more and more complex all the time. I honestly don't think we will "run out of steam to solve the most intractable problems" Ethan. I believe that as we continue to evolve, we create. While we have more complex challenges, we also have more complex systems and technology to help provide solutions.....do we not?

      I suggest that we may look back at challenges as "easy problems", and they may NOT have seemed so easy at the time. Hindsight is wonderful....is it not? You say we "already knew" about some things. There was a time when we did NOT know, and we were challenged....just as we are now.
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    Mar 4 2013: Its simple. we cant solve them because we consider them big.
    If you predecide that something is extremely hard or impossible, then it actually will be impossible.
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      Mar 4 2013: I wholeheartedly agree Siddharth. We create our reality, so if we program ourselves to believe something is extremely hard or impossible, that is the reality we create. I believe that is one important factor that keeps some people from doing anything....they think/feel that what they might be able to do is not enough. When we pool our resources as a global community, however, with everyone working together, we CAN find solutions that are beneficial to the whole.
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        Mar 4 2013: Exactly. By pushing each other to go beyond this "impossibility" as a whole community is definitely a solution. But this brings us to one more question, can everyone work together? Can we leave our ego, the concept of "mine and yours", etc behind and make this happen?
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          Mar 4 2013: Some of us can and do:>) Actually, I believe all of us CAN.....the next question is....do we want to? I believe that when we are working together, it is better for the individual AND the whole.....what do you think Siddharth?
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    Mar 3 2013: I believe that technology has helped getting closer to finding the solution for these problems, but it is not concentrated and planned enough to actually solve anything.

    Maybe because we have these embedded thoughts that big problems need big minds and big abilities and it is impossible to be achieved by regular people. So we are reducing the chance for answers to be found out. I really don't know.

    I think we need to empower people to be their own solutions. Education can be one of the ways.
  • Mar 2 2013: I think our difficulties stem from people not seeing the world for what it is and for other people as who they are. It's a lack of relationship at it's essence. Lack of willingness to be open.
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  • Feb 25 2013: Hi Jason, specificity will be needed to address this question in my humble opinion, the measure by which we define big problems and how they are addressed, it may require a full study of the subject problems one by one and an interconnected mapping of the relations between them, in your post you mention 6 big problems and therefore I will try to give my opinion on those summarizing one or more constants that represent one of the causes for this happening:
    1. Ignorance of facts, risk and statistics.
    2. Lack if proper information on the dangers it poses.
    3. contrary interests.
    4. financial burden
    5. financial interest by a countering party.
    6. lack of consensus
    7. lack of proper interaction between disciplines.
    8. corruption.
    9. fear.
    10. ignorance by the majority.
    With those ten I think we have the majority of the why addressed, unfortunately the "big problems" we face are solvable but the human race seems to be destined to self-destruction based mostly on ignorance that spurs lack of interest in solving these issues, where we have a Country (The United States) where 30% of its population believes that climate change is not happening, where 40% believe in ghosts, where in this Planet an outstanding 80% believe in witchcraft, I presume Ignorance to be the major factor even so the technology is put forward to solve these big problems the majority of the People in the World finds it hard to believe we have solutions for some of these problems but prefer to believe in ressurection or 72 virgins on paradise. therefore the majority of this planet is more concerned of spending time in a church than in a scienctific symposium. We will perish because the minority does not have a strong voice to spur the majority to act, just take a look at the US Congress and see how many of these people actually believe or knows technologies such as Photocatalysis or Transportation of atoms in space/time, etc.
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      Feb 26 2013: I agree that the reasons are complex and profound - and being specific about a particular problem is helpful.
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      . .

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      Mar 3 2013: I agree with your list 1-10 and also "being specific about a particular problem is helpful"...I don't understand the "72 virgins on paradise" part..lol...it takes two brain cells (two neurons--and each human has 100 BILLION neurons) to see through this nonsense:in order to get into paradise. No one gets into heaven without first dying...which means exiting from this body form...so what is the use of 72 virgins to a ghost?! lol.
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    Feb 25 2013: Hello,
    because for some people there aren't "their" big problems... not only powerful and rich people that their big problems are how to collect money and power... I mean people in general, that try to keep their space of wellnes and really don't care what happens to the neighbor. To resolve big problems we must start resolving the problems close to us...

    Challenge: during the day count how many people might need help on money, health, friendship, love, a smile etc and count among those people, how much help you can give... If you can fix almost all problems you are ready to try to fix big global problems...and also if you get may be contagious and other people will imitate you...
  • Feb 25 2013: The definition of problems varies from region to region and from culture to culture and so do the solutions. The big problem actually arises when one region starts taking decisions for another with respect to the solution of the problem. Take for example the problem of Afghanistan or Iraq or Palestine generally considered as big problems universally. Why all these problems could not be resolved? One logical reason could be because the solutions were imposed as per the understanding of another region and were heavily inspired by the vested interests. So, to me the solution should be indigenous and free from vested interests.
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    Feb 24 2013: Hello, Jason;
    Possibly the reason we can't solve the big problems is because we are attempting to solve them with our limited human minds, fixed in time and corrupted with programming and past emotially painfull experiences, along with the prejudices we have inherited. Then we have the ego, that thing we think we are that seeks only to be superior to others

    I suggest that the big problems can only be solved by transcending this small self and tuning into Universal Consciousness, sublimating our Human aspect to our Being aspect.

    True we have solved many problems, but the greatest one remains untouched; That of knowing ourselves as what we truly are; One with the source of our timeless unlimited universe.
    • Feb 25 2013: I salute your ability to utterly distort and obscure a very simple question with insanely hilarious new age pabulum. That's some jedi level nonsense you got there.
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    Feb 24 2013: I'd take make this view with a broad brush. We can solve big problems with our technology but I believe the problem lies in the values and the heart of how we define business and ourselves, 'the pursuit of profit'. By definition a business cannot exist without supporting itself (unless with subsidisation from government, another issue). The aim is to produce a monetary reward and this is seen as success.

    But wait, aren't we intelligent and open enough by now to realise 'success' should be something that increases quality of life and happiness? Betterment for all? If by the parameters that we measure success by are changed, then perhaps the chances for collaboration and problem solving can increase. Picking up on Allan's point (below) he is quite right, there is "a thick fog of technology, administrative procedures, lawsuits, health and safety legislation and politics" that also stand in out way.
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    Feb 14 2013: Hi neighbor Jason! I'm in Vt., and when we are interacting with people around the world, MA seems very close:>)

    Before we can effectively solve the big challenges in our world, we need to put aside prejudice and personal bias. Do you remember years ago when a "talk" was planned, and world leaders could not agree on what shape the table "should" be.....round, spuare, rectangle? I think it took months, maybe even years to come to an agreement on the shape of the table they would sit at. To really come together, people need to let go of personal preferences, and genuinely consider the benefit to the whole of our global community. And I agree with Ross G....people need to be aware of, and working toward "profits" for the whole, rather than profit to individuals or specific organizations

    Possible? Yes....I believe so. The more people are mindfully aware of the goal, the more it becomes possible:>)
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    Feb 14 2013: It has long been said that it is not our smallness that we fear, it is our greatness.

    If I were to give a speech on the topic you offered, I would frame it around the power of the mind and how reality shapes itself to conform to our beliefs. When we see our own "individual" greatness, we will stop reaching for our smallness (or failing to act because of it while making excuses).

    If our indoctrinated culture were to focus more on improving our common EQ, and less on improving our financial net worth, we could do amazing things. Somehow, we seem to have lost that through our educational paradigm that exists solely to serve the global marketplace at the expense of the value of the individual.

    I suggest that you review the following three talks that are indirectly related.

    Quantum mechanics is offering us the basis for a very empowering worldview. I agree with TED Lover who says that we are like battered women who can't figure out how to survive an escape from our cultural prison. What we are BEGINNING to learn from where QM researchers are heading is HOW to escape with life, peace, and abundance.

    Thoughts, being electromagnetic energy, are things. As things, we use them to construct our destinies. When our thoughts are focused on what we cannot do, we do not do. When we open our minds to possibilities - something that is taught out of us in our forced indoctrination (public education) - whole new destinies are possible. Motivation naturally changes. Capitalism becomes the problem that locks most people in their prisons.

    So, the answer in my mind lies in broad-based education - ESPECIALLY in the area of self-awareness. WHAT is a human and WHAT is humanity? These are questions our culture doesn't ask, though answers can solve all the issues U mention
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      Feb 14 2013: Isn't "our own "individual" greatness" at odds with your question, "WHAT is humanity?" We learn little about the hive by studying a single bee. Perhaps the broad based education that you see a need for is not centered in our orientation of individuality, but instead in a sense of humanity as a whole.
      • Feb 16 2013: Don't see any contradiction here.
        "individual" greatness" is only possible if it unfolds from wholeness, if it doesn't, it's arrogance and misleading illusion.
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    Gail .

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    Feb 14 2013: Congrats on your upcoming speech.

    You begin by talking about the moon walk - a major accomplishment. But Let's put that in context. It was in the midst of the Cold War. It didn't happen in a vacuum. Also, consider who the people were at the time of Kennedy's inauguration. We were a nation of families, pretty much certain that government knew what was best for us, and with the ongoing threat of nuclear annihilation (remember hiding under your desk? LOL. The idea of the USSR "owning" the moon, from which it could launch nuclear attacks, was a grave threat.

    Now jump to today. Government no longer serves the people. It exists to serve Wall Street, and Wall Street has its own agenda. We are powerless, living under the dictatorship of a Plutarchy. Free or cheap pollution-free energy is opposite of Wall Street's interests. Giving voice to the people is against government's.

    I have been toying with the idea of hydrogen-on-demand power systems that every home could have in a small sound-proofed shed in the back yard. (A DIY project made from ball jars and tubes with a deep cycle battery & generator backup. The generator is fueled mostly by the hydrogen it makes. My lack of expertise is slowing my ability to grow the project in my mind, but I'm getting there). If I were to create such a system for my own house, and put my design in the public domain, how long do you think it will take for laws to pass outlawing them unless they use patented products made by corps?

    I'm reminded of when the auto industry bought up LA's subway system, and then closed it down. Or the electric car of the 60s - squashed by the oil industry. Or the right to be homeless - illegal

    The difference, in my mind, between the 1960s and today is that the people have lost all hope along with their voice. We pretty much know that our economy is on life support - and is not sustainable. We are like battered women - caught in a trap from which we do not know how to survive an escape.
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    Feb 14 2013: Congratulation on being invited to speak at TED, and for inviting us to provide you with some of our thought.

    You are posing a question that is steeped in complexity, and here I too am referring to the theory. "The answer is that these things are complex, and that there is no one simple explanation." Well, perhaps no obviously simple answer.
    Your article starts off with a mention of the first moon walk: How was it possible that we, as a society, collectively, put a man on the moon? That is the rhetorical question, the real question being asked is: "How is it that we have not replicated such a major achievement again?

    To observe that "technologists have diverted us and enriched themselves with trivial toys" only scratches at the larger issue. Today our toys keep our eyes on our devices, instead of on the prize. We are as Sherry Turkle says, Alone, together, and this might provide us with a clue of the real trouble.
    In the 1960's we lived in small towns, and villages, everyone knew everyone else. Even our growing suburbs had a local character to them. Hillary Clinton correctly observed that it take a village to raise children, but now we longer live in small local communities where our children can run free and play. Our social networks are now less local, they stretch out across the internet. We are not even organized together in family units, or sitting down on a Sunday together for a meal.
  • Feb 14 2013: I think the question as is, might be a bit loaded.

    In the past hundred years, we've actually made a lot of progress solving many, many big problems, even in some of the listed problems.

    For example:
    - Much safer: water, food, housing, work environments, etc.
    - Countless medical advancements, leading to longer, healthier life spans,
    lower infant mortality, etc. How about polio or measles?.

    Your chances with cancer, malaria and old age maladies are a lot better now than they were even twenty years ago.

    Certainly, there are lots of problems still to be solved, but many have solutions that can only be approached asymptotically.

    Perhaps the question should be :
    "Why have many of our attempts at solving big problems failed to make real progress?"

    My experience in the aerospace industry, has led me to believe that the best, most creative, solutions come from small groups of competent, passionate people, with good leadership and a clear goal.

    It may seem counter-intuitive, but too much money and "big-ness" often just gets in the way of solving the real problem. Lean and passion-driven seems to beat big and money-driven every time.
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      Gail .

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      Feb 14 2013: You said, "Lean and passion-driven seems to beat big and money-driven every time. "

      SO TRUE! But money sure has a louder voice and far more clout over the lean and passion driven.
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    Feb 14 2013: The problems you are talking about have in common that they are not regarded as an important thing, at least theres one more important thing in the world which is economic growth and a shitton of profitmargins. I dont really want to sound like my point of view is unreflected and was grabbed by me on one of the non mainstream youtube channels or from one of those bazilliion of conspiracy theorists, so let me explain.

    The point is that we like measuring things in numbers we see growth in numbers if this numbers represent money then all the better because money can be used to build an army, to save millions of people, to buy things that just bring us joy. So in the end money seems to be the ultimate symbol of power. We all strife to be powerfull in some way or atleast to make a diffrence rather to be diffrent from the crowd. Through its universal function which extends into all scales of life everyone can relate to money, the single person can take care of his children, corporations can use it to increase our productivity, the state can use it to protect its people to help the poor, grant education.

    So as money is the factor we all can relate to in one way or the other it becomes our scale of measurement for success. Helping others, being generous ect. also are something both state and the single person can relate to however our economys cant, what interest does a corporation have when it comes to health of third world countrys? They are out for money thats what we/the system created them for and they have a huge influence on both politics (through sheer economic power) and the indivual through the load of advertisements and the way of live which the economy seems to indoctrinate us with.

    *To be continured in second post*
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    Feb 14 2013: I haven't read your article yet, but are you familiar with Yale economist Richard Nelson's 1977 book entitled The Moon and the Ghetto? It is a classic in public policy that addresses your issue. It's only about 150 pages, so a few hours reading.
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    Feb 13 2013: The world is not made to be a perfect place; even if all matter are perfect, what about humanity?
    As Jedrek has wisely put it, we solve a few problems and create dozens more. Sometimes increase in knowledge does not help; what is the use of knowledge if it brings misery and pain? Is the motive of our quest for knowledge really pure?

    In most cases, we cant solve big problems because humanity's inhumanity to each other is a big problem.
    • Feb 14 2013: Correct
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      Feb 19 2013: -Namaste
      What would perfection look like? Who is to say something is perfect or not? I wish I could answer that, but I can not. We are connected only in life and not in mind so those are answers you must find. I think that the fundamental "problems" with the world have fundamental roots that affect the entirety of our civilization. It is the ego and separation of each individual from the true existence we call life that creates the idea of a problem. So many scientific insights have been discovered in complex systems and emergence. Quantum Physics show the power of unity through sub atomic particles and their existence. The very glue that holds our true reality together is the same energy as your mind. Our thoughts are the most precious thing we have in conjunction with our lives, and yet we deny their exploration for all humans, and limit creativity to the privileged. I don't think we have any real problems, just some very difficult solutions. It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change. -Charles Darwin
      We need to change our fixation with material things and allow a introspective look at life. That is the start of progressive education in my mind. Have kids explore their ideas and share them with others. Right and wrong is all relative to a persons experience. So if a child is out experiencing all of the possibilities. Unique perspectives can shine and flourish. I feel the pursuit of happiness and contribution to life itself should be a higher priority than the fabricated system of monetary wealth.
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    Mar 10 2013: I believe when we talk of Big Problems many of us think society rather than technology. Oprah comments to many of her guests " if everything is so good why doesn't it look like it"? It is becoming more evident there is a movement by capable people to make a difference on the Micro level. So although we may not feel we are solving the big problems we are a movement taking place in the world. Remember without differences we would mean nothing. We all have the gift of Freewill to make a difference and leave our fingerprint. Solving the Big Problem may not be as important as what choices we make as individuals to help make the world a better place. The true gift is that we can all make a difference at any given moment by respecting each other and our differences.
  • Mar 9 2013: We fail to solve big problems by misapprehending them. To solve any problem is to see how it is simple.
  • Mar 9 2013: Personally I'm trying to listen, lead less, and learn more. My industrial model skill set is typical...short term gain with long term consequences. We don't need more innovation. We need to play our role as a species...like all other species have done. So unless you and I were raised outside of the industrial model I certainly wouldn't look to us to solve the problems our ilk created in the first place.
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    Mar 9 2013: Why Can't We Solve Big Problems?
    Actually, I think that people should not think so much about solving "big problems". There is a problem all over the world. People want to do great things, but no one thinks about small things, if you start thinking about them you'll find yourself at a great start for solving big problems. And very often that is part of larger problem.
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      Mar 9 2013: That what we are doing now and it doesn't work to many people working on little problems ....however if we fix the big problems the little one we'll most likely get fixed at the same time
  • Mar 8 2013: I think that our technology exceeds our humanity and spirituality. We have not leapfrogged into the technology that we have developed. We have become the children of our technology rather than the spiritual/emotional equals of it.
  • Mar 6 2013: Yes. That means scientists should pursue science. People with money should donate money. People with other skills should donate their skills accordingly. Everybody can contribute. Even by just spreading the message.
  • Mar 5 2013: Colleen,

    I agree with that wholeheartedly, and I am so glad you made that point. There is a balance we need to achieve to evolve as individuals but also contribute to the global community. I believe it starts on a small scale and over time can snowball into and have a much bigger effect on the world. That is exactly why I started the Repay Someday project. The catalyst came from a sequence of events resulting from Hurricane Sandy but the overall much bigger goal is to accomplish what you mentioned, "evolve in ourselves as individuals, AND contribute to the global community AT THE SAME TIME"

    Thank you very much for your feedback and thoughts. I really appreciate hearing others thoughts and insight on this subject.
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      Mar 5 2013: Dave,
      It looks like you are relatively new to the TED community? Welcome:>)

      To keep comments in sequence, you can respond directly to a comment, rather than going back to the top. You see the "reply" options in the upper right corner of the comment? Try it....you'll like it:>)

      I agree that any effort toward balance in our individual lives AND the global community may start on a small scale, and we can build from there. I appreciate you and your contribution as well Dave:>)
      • Mar 5 2013: Thank you for the welcome and the tip :) I look forward to hearing and reading much more on here and learning from everyone.
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          Mar 5 2013: Looks like you found the "reply" option. Now you'll notice that this comment is third level...see the little arrows on the upper left? So, it does not have a "reply" option. If you wanted to reply to this comment, you'd go to the next possibility above:>)
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    Mar 5 2013: i beilive that we working towards it but the mind on the money stop us we here at ted could have millions of solutions to those problems like the ones i accidentally just deleted but we are actually moving towards filling our bank account not knowing that our grid is destroying the world i believe that if we create jobs and plant our crops in well design buildings, move the global economy spreading technology and cleaning the areas afected by malaria the first 3 of your list be gone.... climate change ask mr Al Gore..... cancer they might have the cure is just better to make that money...old age is that turning old?why live forever? maybe longer and im pretty sure that someone was working on living longer...but back to what im saying it seems that is not up us because if dont make money to must people it dont make sense...but it is up to us is our duty any idea would generate jobs and money is just is it gonna be about the money or the people.
  • Mar 5 2013: I would simply argue that just because we haven't solve the 'big' problems yet, doesn't mean we can't. Just means we haven't. Politics is a big reason many of these things haven't been addressed. We can't even get some members of Congress (or the U.S. population) to admit climate change is real, never mind a solution! Other things just require more time and/or money to study. Solutions will come. Be patient.
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      Mar 5 2013: If there's something wrong, those who have the ability to take action have the responsibility to take action. — Thomas Jefferson.
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    Mar 5 2013: I have spent thirty days in solitude, one week without food, walked twenty KM with a broke foot, and overcame a massive MRSA infection. How do you think I did these things?
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      Mar 5 2013: John,
      I speculate that it was determination, and a belief that you COULD do those things:>) It is really amazing what we can accomplish when we BELIEVE in ourselves:>)

      What we focus on expands. As long as we focus on what we cannot do, that is the reality we create. When we believe that we CAN face challenges and change some things in our personal lives, or in the global community, that too is the reality we create. I think you know this:>)

      Jason says..."I'd love to know what the TED Community thinks our difficulties are..."
      I believe our greatest challenge, is believing in ourselves as individuals, AND as a global community.
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    Mar 4 2013: Because behind every big problem there is big money making more money...

    Hunger: Corn as fuel, just to mention one.
    Poverty: Cheap workforce
    Climate change: Oil, energy, etc...
    Cancer: Treatments are more profitable...
    Diseases of old age: Treatments are more profitable and old people do not consume as much as younger...
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    Mar 4 2013: I don't think it's really much of a question on "why can't we solve big problems?" as it is a question on "why can't we come up with MORE SPECIFIC QUESTIONS that would address those big problems and come up with more problems in order to FIND solutions?" When you think about it, people had hopes that technology can bring so many advantages to the point that they relied upon it as A solution to the problems that we face has only resulted in ineffective solutions, in which we attempted to fix things and give hope to the rest of the world that something had been done without making certain that they will work. World hunger can't be solved when the other half of the world is more concerned with making ends meet and getting by due to personal and financial debts, etc. Disease, cancer, or death are things that are inevitable in a planet that's been used and abused over and over again, so in this case, it is not a "problem" that humanity can try to solve; it is PART of our existence. I believe that the big problems out there have to do with CRIMES and social, political, ethical issues and bending of the rules in some countries that remain in obscurity. Humanity is rapidly losing its moral conduct eventually evolving into self-destructive species.
  • Mar 3 2013: The majority of humans misperceive themselves as their ego. They also misperceive themselves as separate from all the other beings. Why? Because the are societally programmed to believe this. Where in ANY biological system is this the case......of separateness? THIS is the Original Sin.
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      Mar 3 2013: OK, but if we are so all interconnected, why the differing finger prints?
      Yes, each of us is an unique individual, with individual "egos?". The reasons we went from families in caves to to today's megalopolises is for "mutual" support and security, not to subjugate ourselves for the"greater" good of the society.... just saying.
      If I am owned by a man, I am a slave; if I am owned by a society, I am a ????
      • Mar 8 2013: Start with the question: Who am I? Sometimes, it helps to begin by asking who you are NOT?
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          Mar 8 2013: Fair enough.
          I am not an individual who would want to live in Germany in the 1930s, in Roman ca. 70,
          in Uganda in the 1980s. I guess you might say, that I have a sense of working with you and not for you.
  • Mar 1 2013: Root cause for big issues - Hunger & Poverty - is Unequal Distribution of wealth.
    USA. Japan, UK, Germany control about - 45% of Worlds wealth but have to feed only 9% of world population. (data taken from Wikepidea).
    It is beyond human possibility to make people in these 4 countries sensitive to big issues - Hunger & Poverty. Technology cannot do the same.
    It is a losing battle that is being fought.
    Hope is Overpopulated countries - China & India - realize they are being allowing themselves to be exploited by rich countries. They should learn to help-themselves. They cannot blame rich countries for all evils. God helps those who help themselves
  • Mar 1 2013: Let me define what I think is the big problem. Many scientists and ecologists, and particularly climatologists. are wondering if we, the human race, are on the way of self destruction by using up all the energy, which is not the only problem, and other resources and reduce the atmospheric shield from the sun and cosmic rays, so to make the earth uninhabitable for us all.
    We could promote empathy with all the people on earth as the first step to the solution. I also would suggest an alternative that we educate all the mankind on earth to "wise up" to the upcoming disaster, so that absolute majority of the people on earth will be convinced that we are in this together for our existence on mother earth.
    If you look at some recent events on earth, for instance, why the Moslems call the Christians, or the atheists, as infidels. And their counterpart "opponents" call the Moslems Islamists or terrorists. And they use car bombs or drones to kill each other, sometimes with no reason at all.. As a matter of fact, at many times, they even kill among themselves. Such as the Sonnis kill the Shiites and vice versa, also, the anti-abortionists bomb the abortion clinics. Civil wars everywhere. And several nations try to make a war based on the quarrel with the claims on a couple of tiny uninhabited islands. If there are space travelers look in on our choatic situation, they would say that it is just silly.
    Therefore the solution to this big problem would be very difficult. Regardless of how difficult the problem is, I believe my alternative probably is slightly better, if we ever want to try it. Because, one can't ask for empathy for all without having the understanding of the on-rushing disaster falling upon us.
    And finally, space exploration can't out-migrate the entire earth residents short of carrying the whole earth with us for the sake of initial existence for such a large population for initial settlement on a remote planet.
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    Mar 1 2013: I delivered the TED U Talk today in Long Beach. Thank you to everyone who contributed to this discussion - it was very helpful, and guided my thoughts and words. I hope TED releases the video on its Web site, so that you can see your contributions.
  • Feb 27 2013: This question can be quite complex as it can also be simple. We'll keep it simple. There are lots of things to consider and each expert can bring its field to provide an answer. Firsthand let's consider the main reasons to our popular and educated sense. There's able to solve and how to be able to solve and yet these two are possible only if we are free from constraints: money, people, vision, knowledge ... in fact whatever (which is impossible). We can have a free mind but we don't live in an absolute world. Indeed if only we could now envisage things in such a world ... we definitely cannot. Here I come to our way of thinking. In fact the very concept of thinking is disturbing in the sense that in whatever reasons you've come to understand the one next to you (language) you're limited to this framework - the big framework, the world we are set in ... not the one we live in. Yet we 'understand' - believe as we are told I would say but we need to come to understand shall I say now. Because we analyze from what we know and not from what can be conceived (imagination). Actually we know all of this but we inherently refuse to commit. In fact I think the best answers to this are not really ideas in my sense if you catch it but just the result of minds of different experience rotating in their own way around the same fact ... like me.
    PS - I've just read the big bold question and answer it as I feel. Now I shall have a look at the article.
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    Feb 27 2013: Jason, I will be interested in hearing your reaction to Bono's presentation at TED 2013, which you must have seen since you are attending the event.

    He feels very strongly that people need to know what great progress has been made in the big areas of poverty, nutrition, and health so that people can see that the work is not hopeless at all.

    This position resonates with the finding that has been mentioned below and that also has been documnted by research. That is, people put less commitment into projects they think are too hopeless- too big to make a serious dent in.

    Bono puts on his statistics that to show the huge progress that has been made, even in Subsahara Africa.
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      Feb 27 2013: Fritzie, that is a great point! The need for an achievable "Vision" is what Leaders help to satisfy. That, in turn, motivates people to action.

      Related: In marketing studies of ads aiming to stop people from smoking cigarettes, it was found that images of the consequences of smoking that were too horrible had the opposite effect (because of "cognitive dissonance").
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      Mar 4 2013: Fritzie, I was pleasantly shocked by the scale and speed of the improvements that Bono described. I felt less optimistic than he that as these problems approach asymptote that the problems can be eliminated altogether. (At one point, Bono suggested that we might eliminate extreme poverty altogether by the middle years of the century.)

      By the way, we interviewed Bono in MIT TR here: http://www.technologyreview.com/qa/508771/bono-sings-the-praises-of-technology/
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        Mar 4 2013: I think he may have seen purpose in being a bit over-optimistic in his description to counteract the opposite bias.
  • Susan R

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    Feb 26 2013: I'm not sure what 'awareness of self' means to others - I am aware that most of me is not 'me' at all. I am a mobile ecosystem, carting around flora & fauna without which I wouldn't survive, but which doesn't carry my DNA. Anyway, two things which I observe about humans which mitigate against solving the problems of living on this planet are:1} Almost immediately after improvements to living standards become a part of everday life we all suffer from TFG - Taking For Granted. I'm thinking here of clean water, a secure food supply, and specifically - because I am reading a book called The Big Necessity by Rose George - an efficient sanitation system. Unfortunately we then see no need to make sure that those improvements spread worldwide.2} We have not yet realised that the most important primary produce of the planet is an educated human brain. I wonder for how many people poor is still equated with unintelligent. I don't have to wonder how many little brains are extinguished by diarrhoea - because of non-existent or poor sanitation. I'm sure the UN has figures, or at least fairly accurate estimates. And the lost potential - caused by a solvable problem - continues year after year after year.
  • Feb 25 2013: Why can't we solve big problems?because education around the world is still in poor status.And humanbeing is one kinds of animals who are easy to be contagious by greedy desire.When all people in the world in the high quality of educaiton,all problems would be solved gradually.
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    Feb 24 2013: We can't solve big problems because top down approaches don't work and bottom up approaches don't work.

    However, I have spent 8 years asking myself the very same question to a very particular global issue I identified and one that no one else knows about.
    The outcome of all my research, strategy sessions, sleepless nights and 3am brain storms was to come up with the complete package after hearing one comment from a reporter of all people.
    Large problems are often the symptom of another set of problems. Identifying the set of smaller problems and finding how they produce the bigger problem should be the task of the big problem fixer to find.
    But they do not usually have the cross sectional skills required to achieve this task. And so "horribly" stalemate occurs.
    This is something I have found in my own big problem solution. Only dogged determination and street smarts will get the answers you require to move to the next piece. This is because vested interests tie up problem solutions and do not like giving answers to fixers.

    If this is all too confusing I suggest you read my big problem fixing solution.

    The solution is knowledge. Correctly sourced, correctly identified, correctly assembled and correctly implementable.

    What do you think?> http://www.scribd.com/doc/109637671/Interference-Anomalies-in-Global-Mining

    I bet you did not know there is a bigger cartel in mining than OPEC in the oil industry!

    Brendon Butler
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      Feb 24 2013: That's great to hear, Kate!

      For lack of room, I'd had to delete the last part of my blog about this discussion, from my previous contribution:

      "... short-sighted venture capitalists.  We’re now in a period of technological consolidation.  With hindsight, you wouldn’t want to fault the likes of Bill Gates, Richard Branson, or Warren Buffett when they were amassing their huge fortunes, that are now being directed to the betterment of mankind." (alluding to Jason's article where the Silicon Valley VCs are discussed)
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    Feb 23 2013: I guess smallpox was a big problem, but we solved that. So we can solve some big problems.

    Soap solved a lot of problems. Fire solved problems. The wheel. Air travel.

    Are you defining big problems by their impact or difficulty to solve?

    Suggest that the hard to solve problems might be categorised to find some themes.

    Problems can be complex and difficult - e.g. those involving biology, say bacteria, they evolve and find ways around our natural and scientific defenses.

    Then there are themes around human limitations and traits that impact our ability to think of or implement solutions - greed, tribalism, the sex drive, short term thinking and pleasure seeking, the limitations of our minds to comprehend complex problems and come up with solutions. The difficulty of changing habits, values, Cultures

    Life and its challenges are complex. Humans have solved lots of problems, but we are still human.
  • Feb 22 2013: Because the world still moves at the speed of the politics of paper and the printed word. Much of what we understand as "representative democracy" accepts yielding of ideas into narrow conduits where limited time exists. The outcome becomes ideas which have been shaved down into incremental change instead of refined upward to encompass IDEALS. Technology, like the net, is not yet seen as a means to re-design the political landscape where instead of picking a few people to go to one place where they have small chances to persuade the majority in those time slots, players of varying strengths stay where they are and are able to use the entire time spectrum to not only find answers but find synergies with others who wish to cooperate or even invest.

    There continues to be a belief that ideas and money must make sense in a lab and then some effort can be made to bring about positive change. This rarely works as it does not start with the real people who actually are looking to fulfill a need or want and instead winds up endowing those who don't know but to just collect and take. Such a model makes for corruption holes through which well-intentioned funds fall and crack through which good ideas fall as well. There must be a new engine of progress which re-engineers journalism to sustain the engine. This is my personal vision and all I have cared about really since my time as an NGO journalist in the UN in the 90's. Sustainable development is always a process but without a pipeline of visibility and a conventionalization of knowledge, it is a theory. I believe in making it a reality.
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    Feb 22 2013: Seen a couple of TED talks lately that posit some ideas that may help. Also some of ideas of Eric Berne possibly relevant here. Big problems tend to be difficult to resolve because often 'enmeshed' factors at play. Resolve one issue and other issues more complex because of resolution of one factor. Nothing wrong with optimism as in 'yes, this is fixable' - possibly difficulty lays in thinking fixibility achievable over a particular time frame. Understand this might be better illustrated by eastern scientific paradigms than western scientific paradigms ( idea from TED talk about impact of linguistics on savings habits in local populations). Possibly mindset that all factors ultimately yield to some form of manipulation also causing complications (idea from TED debate about global impact of cloud seeding to produce rain). Possibly something about the quality of the answers to the 'big problems' means lack of exploration into all experimental results (think the term is positive bias). Possibly also the mindset that the answers may be found by an individual or even a small team from a particular branch of expertise, which is where TED is so valuable as it increases access by non-specialists who might be see something else that is relevant. To illustrate 'Malaria' simple, relatively low-tech solution a bulky object (artificial cow) to draw away some of the pests - see University of Greenwich, U.K, website as not sure which academic journal to quote. Somehow technology 'doing' the saving rather than the use of technology and human ingenuity possibly part of the block to rate of progression. Hope vocabulary sufficient to be understood. Bet others can supply named sources. Still also like the idea of the 'golden circle' from another TED talk which I understood to say think about process not outcome and get a better result as less rigidity in expectations.
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        Feb 24 2013: Thank you, yes fog (feel like female version of Homer SImpson sometimes).
  • Feb 21 2013: Such large problems have so many facets that there doesn't appear to be one simple answer. All of these problems are so intertwined; it's difficult to untangle them all and solve every little piece of the issue. Maybe there are ways to solve issues such as world hunger and climate change, but it will be a long and arduous struggle to find the solutions. We do live in a world that relies heavily on the use of technology and I believe it can aid us in the search for answers. However, what we must really depend on is human ingenuity and innovation.
  • Feb 21 2013: it's a good question! i wonder if it might be because big problems naturally must involve so many people (since we live in a society) which means there are always going to be difficult to come to a consensus. even if a majority can comprehend the scope of the problem and required solution, they're probably going to argue about the details of any solution, and we tend to side against all other options that aren't our favoured one. added to that you've got the problem of the future - we don't know which one of say 3 plans is going to be the most successful so we can't put all our efforts into any 1 solution, and resources get diluted.
  • Feb 21 2013: I think we solve small problems that eventually end up solving big ones. Sometimes, there are problems that we have to go so deep to solve them that we loose the big picture of what we are trying to solve but that doesn't mean that we are not helping to solve the big problem.

    I see that you refer to technology like is an entity by it self. Technology is just a tool, we humans are the ones that have to come with better ways to use it to solve all kind of problems but I can appreciate the fact that silicon-based computers have their limits and at the end they do not follow the so-called Moore's law.

    We might have to explore new ways, perhaps quantum computers. But I think before we jump full blast into quantum reality we have to make a serious check of our ethical values and intentions.
  • Feb 21 2013: Because the answers are normal so simple that no one believes them...
  • Feb 20 2013: The human race has stumbled past the point at which technological marvels are marvelous. We now all expect that this progress will continue forever...and likely it will. History has shown that we always underestimate technological progress in the same way we over estimate our rationality.

    Humans still allow themselves to be driven like chaff in the hurricane of their technology. Man has yet to learn how to design his future. Presently, virtually all models of Utopian society are smoothly running masses with an equitable few at the top running the show. The issue is that every persons vision has themselves at the top. This is as true today with American hegemony as it was with old Rome. There are no benevolent kings.

    The next great breakthrough in human history will not be technological, it will be spiritual. Not in the sense of religion or some new twist on Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Voodoo or the like, but rather a fundamental change in the way we view ourselves, our relationships with each other and our relationship with the universe.

    In a way, we cannot solve any of the really big problems until we learn this collectively. At some point technology will eventually kill any species that does not solve this issue. In fifty years time, every high school biology lab will have the technological capability to design a virus that can wipe out humanity. Every new technology can either be a tool or a weapon. The difference is not in the technology, it is within ourselves.

    It is an irony that any species that has the technology to achieve interstellar space travel must be, by necessity, both highly spiritual and moral. You cannot survive the technology between the flint knife and faster than light travel without morality, compassion, cooperation and love.

    In the case of Earth, this may require a couple more resets.
  • Feb 20 2013: hillo sir , your question answer is very easy but u thinking about ur enviroment and thinking about ur knowladges
    .we solve these thing but out of our life. don.t u think of to day the sciense and other wise enjoy
  • Feb 20 2013: According to Albert Einstein: "A problem cannot be solved using the same kind of thinking that caused the problem in the first place."
    I tend to agree with that and to me it appears that we need to "rise above" the level of thinking to see it from another level, so that the pattern of a solution is more obvious.
    The "big" problems generally involve many people and the solution must be "seen" by many people before it can be implemented. The reason why it is difficult to solve these problems is that it is hard to make many people veiw the problem from the other level and agree on a viable solution.
  • Feb 18 2013: Title: Humankind's consciousness is outgrowing it's frail organic container... our bodies

    Full Text: As we are made from infinite particles rudely expressed in finite form, then surely the biggest question of all is how do we evolve from a primally driven intelligent ape, to a vessel for an evolved consciousness?

    Perhaps when we have that answer, things might fall into place?
  • Feb 18 2013: this approaching againts to problems that is "why can't we solve.." if we find this question's answer we can understand major problem, we can solve these problems.. ı agree with William Whitehead.. hunger,disease are result capitalism. or we can say new world order.. rule of capitalism: rich countries are getting rich , poor countries are getting poor more.. sources (money, gasoline,..) are used by among the rich countries...we can solve to change this order that ıt is impossible..... however i cant say that reason of cancer or climate change is new world order.. maybe i can say they caused by the incorrect use of resources...
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    Feb 18 2013: We CAN solve big problems, and we do all the time.
    The problem is more that new ones keep cropping up. When I was young, pollution of streams and lakes was considered by many as an unsolvable problem. Some accepted it as a necessary evil of the industrialized world. Others refused to take that stance and did something about it. Today streams and rivers are returning to pristine.

    Today, global warming is a growing problem. It seems as unsolvable as pollution. But here again, it takes a global effort to overcome it. As Colleen says, one person's difference seems pointless. Millions doing the same thing is no longer pointless. So long as people keep hearing that global warming is a conspiracy, people will continue to ignore it. A bigger car is more important than saving the world. When the mindset is established that global warming is not something that you can ignore, then people will begin to work together to solve it. Right now it's a problem of belief. People don't believe that global warming is a danger to our survival.

    As far as hunger goes, people are breeding beyond the development of the agricultural system. In Ethiopia, people keep having children even when they can't feed the ones they have now. It's an animalistic mentality. They put the cart before the horse and wonder why nobody cares about them.
    Responsible people control their sex appetites. They know that you need to be prepared before you bring children into the world. I know people who got pregnant because they could apply for welfare benefits. What kind of future are they providing for? Their children become tomorrows problems.

    Today, they are saying that we may run short of educated people to take over an increasing technical world. We have people running around our city looking like stray dogs. The drug culture is a booming business. We have a social crisis growing like a plague. We are losing our young people to pessimism. How to bring them back is a problem worth solving.
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    Feb 17 2013: we wont work together
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      Feb 17 2013: That's certainly true - some time our institutions fail, which is the same as saying "We can't work together."
  • Feb 17 2013: When the motivation to 'do' is greater than the motivation 'not ' to do, then things get done. Usually it takes a life changing episode to find that motivation... but even then, that's no guarantee of action.

    I think the bigger question is, 'Why are most humans weak willed, and what might change that state of being?"

  • Feb 17 2013: I wonder if it's just as simple as we cannot agree on how or why to tackle a problem. Perhaps it is a real lack of imagination for the long run, or big picture. Which, as odd as it is to say, is a skill and rare attribute.
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    Feb 16 2013: This is a pretty relevant question. I checked your story and read comments there. The idea that we don't seem to solve Big Problems is true. I still believe we can, it's just that we don't.
    Our capabilities of solving any problem is dependent on our ability of understanding it. Bigger the problem lesser is our understanding. Very generally speaking human faculty is still not sufficiently developed to handle complexity, interdependence and indeterminacy. If you look at MDGs you will see 7 interrelated issues and a differentiation of priorities. Interestingly, environmental sustainability occurs at 7 out of 8 and ending of poverty and hunger features at 1. Poverty and hunger cannot be eradicated with environmental sustainability so far down the list.
    Moon landing seems to be an easy task in retrospect because we now know the problem stripped off of all unknowns. In 1960s it was not so. Even then the big problems that we talk about today are infinitesimally more complex in nature and our traditional deterministic strategies seem to fail.
    Somehow I feel an organic/biologically modeled approach like reverse engineering evolution may be useful.
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    Feb 16 2013: Technology is nothing more than Convenience given physical form, so the answer does not lie with technology itself. It is a tool that requires correct and purposeful use to achieve anything of merit. The actioneer (human being, to be clear) is still the vital spark and without it, technology is just another thing to be consumed.

    The difficulties in "solving the big problems", I believe, stem directly from the threshold between the individual (self) and the many (community). Each is as important as the other but, in my view, they pull in different directions at times.

    This is not really a new concept but I think it's the key to dealing with social issues and problems.
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      Feb 16 2013: Scott,

      Well said.

      As for how this threshold between Self and Community the connects solutions to problems that you suggest. It might be at once well-served and yet also undermined by technologies. This effect likely lies around the dynamics of individuals and the social realms they interface, which, not surprisingly can be amplified by technology. In both positive and negative ways by both the connective, collective and awareness-enhancing features and/or the insidious insolation if not anti-social effects over-dependence on technology can result in.

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        Feb 17 2013: Hi Andrea,

        it's the old "double-edged sword" thing, I guess. I have fleeting concerns for the younger generations but try to balance my views, as you say, with the belief that the mad advance of digital technologies won't wreak complete social havoc either. In fact, I feel it has lent a new facet to 'mainstream' media that will help keep the headlines somewhat honest. Of course, we now live in the Age of Propaganda so we need, more than ever, to breed a healthy amount of skepticism in our kids.
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          Feb 17 2013: Hi Scott,

          Agreed, but I'd amend your 'Age of Propaganda'. We've been in it since early 20th Century when Edward Bernaise, et al were called in to 'manipulate the masses' through psychological techniques applied to marketing. I'd say we're at the peak of this Age. One hopes a realization that we're being 'sold' bills of goods will inspire us to eschew such tactics.

          The internet in particular has been a critical force in social change to, as you note: keep things honest. I look at civic engagement outcomes, and there's no Q this effect is building transformative momentum worldwide.

          The best evidence is we're seeing an acceleration towards an impending disruptive clash, I expect. As powers-that-be push back on the emergent power of open, democratic ideals and practices many in tech are employing to illuminate consciousnesses for greater good. As transparency-preferring techies use their unique power to hold gained positions for open dialogue, widespread awareness and related outcomes. Needless to say the powers-that-be are deploying their own technologists. Why I think an impending clash looms large.

          All of this much informs a For-Benefit technology company I'm just now raising capital for: WetheP. It will marry online and offline techniques that maximize the best of both while minimizing their less constructive features, too.

          Needless to say I'm excited about what we're doing--and go so far as to say its 'huge.' In great part because we are at this crossroads were synthesizing the expedient and profoundly extrapolative power of tech with the intrinsic wisdom and authenticity of 'real-world' human interactions, which can achieve a far more sustainable and beneficial interdependence.

          A critical place leadership must engage is business. So, last year I wrote this essay "Killer App for Angel Investors: Authenticity" http://bit.ly/HID9yF to set the tone.

          I'm delighted themes like 'conscious capitalism' are coming into media focus. There's hope!

    • Feb 16 2013: Making our daily choices we automatically choose what is better for 'me', in the hope it will be better for all. ( in case we think about 'all ') And it's wrong. It doesn't work this way, but the other way round : what is better for all , eventually will be better for 'me'
      I agree with you and ' not really a new concept ' :)
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        Feb 17 2013: I agree. I believe that many people do make choices for the greater good as well as themselves. People are, for the most part, willing to build and create, support and encourage. Yay for humanity!
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    Feb 15 2013: Jason, Please excuse me as I narrow the subject to one area Education. True as in your paper Kennedy did have high goals. But the actual start was when Russia launched sputknic into space .. embarressing the US and catching us with our proverbal pants down. In short it was a national embarressment. Ike immediately ordered we train more engineers to come up to speed. The problem was not space ... the problem was educational complacency. Last year we enter the PISA Exams and found ourselves in the bottom half of the lower third in the results. Again we were embarressed .. our national ego bruised. So Arne Duncan stepped to the plate and committed the US system to Common Core Curriculums. Will it solve the problems .. nope. The power in education belongs to the textbook publishers and the test writers. Duncan put on a bandade where surgery was needed. Politics.

    We know that the key to learning is not to obtain the right answer ... the key is in application of the knowledge. However, the powers that be will not accept change as the Bismark education system is so entranched and the administrators have developed feather bedding into a art form.

    As long as students cannot name the valvictorian .. but can cite the last four quarterback of the school football team, and no one in the school (including teachers) could tell you who won the Nobel prize (in anything) we will continue to have problems. The new fad is to judge schools on how many free lunches are served ... with the only possible outcome being to embarress low income students and highlight their failures not their successes.

    We don't solve the big problems because we do not address the small problems and allow them to become big problems. Perhaps the answer is as simple as preventative maintenance.

    Perhaps we rely on technology when common sense was the answer.

    I wish you well. Good luck on your talk. Bob.

    Sorry to snipe at the education system but it was common ground.
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      Feb 16 2013: Bob

      What do you think of this video regarding the aspect of how deductive reasoning instead of inductive reasoning has effected education?


      Another aspect of this is how political correctness has affected reasoning.

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        Feb 17 2013: Pat, Victor Davis was right on target. He stressed that we do not have a basis, a foundation, or a belief that would provide the rock to build from. That in deductive reasoning a conclusion is reached from general statements and a consences is reached rather than a fact and is a top down approach. In inductive reasoning specific examples and validation are necessary at the begining thus a bottom up approach..

        If we are to believe either Victor or Evan the lack of a foundation, the ability to think / reason (this came from philosophy), and having the tools available to progress through the educational labrith have hampered students. Additionally the virus that has infected Europe (socialism) that says no discrimination of any kind and no biasis should exist .. thus making hitler and God equals because there is no thought, no biasis, and neither good or evil exists.

        This was, and continues to be, part and parcel of Educational Union philosophy. There has been and continues to be selective learning and revisionist history. This power lies in the hands of the textbook publishers and the test developers.

        Last year I took the Senior class math, science, and english syllabi to the local junior college and ask if the graduate, meeting these requirements, would be competative at the freshman level. The answer was no. I took the results back to the high school and their reply was that they met and in some cases exceeded state standards.

        The further I dig into the education system the more amazed I am at all of the disconnects. Even worse is the responses that I recieve from those in position (Supers, Principals, Law makers). Education is a multi-trillion business of which the student is not a consideration.

        Even though I preach to the choir ... I feel better. Thanks.

        I wish you well. Bob.
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          Feb 17 2013: We are on the same page.

          Education is in sore need of some of the panacea in a bottle called the Free Market.

          As Victor said here in Calif the only states that do worst are Alabama and Mississippi (spelled that right with out the spell check amazing) while paying almost at the top of the pay scale.
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    Feb 15 2013: There is an upcoming talk at the RSA on February 28, 2013 by Dan Tapscott, a member of World Economic Forum, adjunct professor of management, the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and Martin Prosperity Institute Fellow. The topic is, "Solving the World’s Problems Differently."
    The talk will be streamed live and can be watched or listened to at thersa.org

    "The growing problems of the world - from climate change, conflict, poverty, water scarcity, infectious disease to economic stagnation - are not too hard to solve. Rather progress is stalled because our model is insufficient. The good news is that traditional state based institutions such as the UN, the International Monetary Fund or the G8 summits are being supplemented and even eclipsed by non-state networks of civil society, the private sector, government and individual stakeholders."

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    Feb 15 2013: Jason,

    I suspect one reason we can't solve big problems is our habit of focusing more on the finite ends than infinite means inclusive of dynamic variables that inform, affect and/or obstruct solutions.

    We generally commit to linear, static and step-wise if complicated solutions to systemic, amorphous and increasingly complex or 'elegant' problems. We rarely factor in all factors. Including unknown. Not that we don't realize big problems need big-picture answers, but we neglect much of their evolving context.

    In part because we're constrained by resources like time, money and various issues that can distract, over-extend or redirect our efforts, we tend to fall into the trap of either over-simplifying or over-complicating our solutions. We tolerate little that isn't clear, expected, desired or know-able. While so little of what we are faced with neatly submits to any of these ideals.

    Something of a 'best-laid plans' effect goes on. We access and analyze the problem, before predicting and/or proposing outcomes, planning for them and finally applying our solutions. While we might stagger and/or stage-in this process to accommodate some variables, in general we avoid deviating once it's underway.

    Which wouldn't be all bad, if we built it to accommodate what I call "acts of God" that crop up uninvited and unanticipated. Sometimes due to lacks in our analyses, planning or flexibility, other times due to serendipity, dumb luck, whatever. These might be negative or constructive agents that don't or can't easily fit into the plan. They are, of late, aptly understood as 'disruptions.'

    Rather then yield as disruptions emerge, embracing them as fodder for iteration and/or amendment of a dynamic if not dialogic process, we tend to respond by ignoring them or scrapping the effort.

    In exceptional cases, we maximize disruption, and/or minimize its impacts. Accepting and addressing the asymmetry with intentionally elastic processes can yield robuster outcomes.

  • Feb 14 2013: The Problem with any difficulty or the Difficulty with any problem

    either way

    lies in the level of consciousness used to address the perceived Problem/ Difficulty and this includes the "size doesn't matter" qualifier.

    There is alway a great advancement in applied HUman awareness when solutions are discovered ....as though the perceived Problem / Difficulty is / was a hidden gift bearer.
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      Feb 15 2013: It does seem a useful formulation to think of challenge as a gift-bearer. I will remember that succinctly expressed idea.
  • Feb 14 2013: Your problem is people. Technology only provides us with better tools, but if the people aren't prepared to use those tools more wisely no solutions will come. In fact, you'll probably only get more problems. Fix the people first, then fix the tools. As for how you do that, that's hard. You can't force people to be better, it's a personal decision. So we're talking about a worldwide grassroots campaign to encourage people to change. So maybe that's what those two guys in suits on bikes are doing...
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    Feb 14 2013: ll.
    What has happened in America, or to America, can be symbolized by the recent history of General Motors. It too was once a family. When GM needed to "modernize" on order to keep pace in technology, it entered into a join venture with Toyota to build Saturn cars in the way cars were built in Japan, robotically.

    "The choice of the Fremont plant and its workers was unusual. At the time of its closure, the Fremont employees were "considered the worst workforce in the automobile industry in the United States", according to the United Auto Workers. Employees drank alcohol on the job, were frequently absent (enough so that the production line couldn't be started), and even committed petty acts of sabotage such as putting "Coke bottles inside the door panels, so they'd rattle and annoy the customer." In spite of the history and reputation, when New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI) reopened the factory for production in 1984, most of the troublesome GM workforce was rehired, with some sent to Japan to learn the Toyota Production System. Workers who made the transition identified the emphasis on quality and teamwork by Toyota management as what motivated a change in work ethic."

    One worker summed it up this way, " "You felt more loyal because you were really part of it all." GM had expected this emphasis on quality and teamwork to spread throughout the company. It wanted to remake GM in Saturn's mold, but the opposite happened. Ultimately, this once great symbol of America industry fell to its corporate knees to beg for a government bail out.
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      Feb 14 2013: Actually it was about how they organized the workers not the technology, they built Corollas at the Fremont plant. I mention this not as a dis but to point out that it was an amazing story and in this light has even more to do with your post. Which is good.

      I agree that we are lacking in a purpose that is inclusive of the individual. The individual gets crushed from a centralized government which is at the core of why TPS works (Toyota Production System).
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    Feb 14 2013: lll.

    Richard Feynman discovered this same dysfunctional spirit at NASA as part of the Rogers Commission appointed to investigate the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster, saying " "For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled." Feynman devoted the latter half of his book What Do You Care What Other People Think? to his experience on the Rogers Commission, delivering an extended and sober narrative. Feynman's account reveals a disconnect between NASA's engineers and executives that was far more striking than he expected. His interviews of NASA's high-ranking managers revealed startling misunderstandings of elementary concepts.

    In your article you point out that private enterprise has not done its part, and to this I would reply that their interests are furthered by profit, but many that have profited have used their wealth in interesting ways that have benefited others: Paul Allen's Institute for Brain Science, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the numerous private space companies, to name a few. What American has missed out on has been the collaboration that has occurred in Europe such as CERN and the Blue Brain Project.

    For me, it comes back to the notion that we are a divided nation both in psychologically and spiritually. We have place a great emphasis on being individuals on our own singular 15 minutes of fame. If we want to accomplish great things again as a nation we must understand what ants and bees and flocks of birds instinctively know about the complexity of the group. We are social creature and we will only solve our bigger challenges when we can once again embrace our complexity and act collectively, in a way that is greater than the sum of its parts.
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      Gail .

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      Feb 14 2013: Thank you for your well-thought out response. I do miss the good parts of the good old days.
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      Feb 15 2013: Well put, Theodore.
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      Gail .

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      Feb 14 2013: You said: " If you resolve those then the Pope and his crew might be out of jobs". LOL but true.
  • Feb 14 2013: There is not a great deal of congruence and cooperation in modern America - Probably in the World. How can we solve probelms related to education and poverty in America if there are those who choose to make it worse.
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      Gail .

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      Feb 14 2013: Especially when "those who choose to make it worse" are those who own government.
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    Feb 14 2013: Jason. I believe your question should be. 'Why WONT we solve big problems?' not Can't. ..... it would be easier to answer.
  • Mar 13 2013: Change is gradual. And like any big project, small steps must be taken to solve a problem as a whole. "Big Problems" are being solved gradually by individuals breaking down these big problems into smaller problems. For instance "How do cure cancer?" has been broken down into "How can we better detect cancer?" "How can we better improve treatments?" "How can we do more research to learn more about this disease?" We've been able to answer these questions so far through fundraising efforts, increasing research, and development of detection devices have been improving and valued over the past few years and will continue to be. If this strive for change continues then big problems will continue to grow smaller and we'll continue to provide solutions.
  • Mar 12 2013: One word:


    It's the main driver! I'm surprised the people from your article aren't aware of the innovations transforming the world, from third-world to developed nations.

    Here is just one:


    Skip to 2:15 in the video, then skip again to 14:20.

    Ideas travel by communication. Whoever said the internet is not a big net plus won't be surprised by "breakthrough" advances in the next five to ten years, they'll be profoundly astonished!: "Where'd all THIS come from?"

    Marino Hernandez
    just a founder of Marketply
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    Mar 11 2013: We can solve big probems, however it takes much human understanding and much patience in order to suceed the right way.
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    Mar 10 2013: George Bray has famously twitted, "Your mobile phone has more computing power than all of NASA in 1969. NASA launched a man to the moon. We launch a bird into pigs." https://twitter.com/GeorgeBray/status/50318850218131456

    Apollo program was about national prestige. It was about competition between ideologies and economic systems. This was also the reason why Russians launched Sputnik and a man into the orbit. These things weren't about money. For better or for worse, the Cold War and the arms race seem to have been huge drivers of technological progress. Today's technological progress seems to be driven, mostly, by profit. I think, this is one of the reasons why we "launch birds into pigs" these days.

    Perhaps, humanity needs a shift in values. Edith Widder in her talk "How we found a giant squid" http://www.ted.com/talks/edith_widder_how_we_found_the_giant_squid.html) urged to explore oceans, because "Exploration is the engine that drives innovation. Innovation drives economic growth." This phrase caused multiple concerns in comments from different people. Perhaps, we need a better purpose for innovation than economic growth.
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    Mar 10 2013: The problem lies not with technology but rather the implementation thereof only constrained by attitude due to a lack of integrity from the majority of today’s leaders.

    For most part of the rest of us we are egocentric individualistic entities thinking that we are the pivotal point of creation. By responding to the cries of humanity would be shifting the focus of attention making you realize that you are not nearly as important as you thought yourself to be and of course being in the face of society who can afford that.
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    Mar 10 2013: Your Question:"Why Can't We Solve Big Problems?".

    Could it be that political party's have hijacked your system of governing for there own personal gain ? Could it be that "political party's" are standing in the way of a true democratic process? Maybe it is time to hold a discussion on why do we need "party" involvement .

    Why not have representation by only independent candidates, and that they sign a contract with the constituency they were elected by ? Maybe a little more governing from the bottom up , instead of from the top down would work to the peoples advantage. And how about cutting of lobbyest .
    • Mar 10 2013: Hello Wayne,
      yes to your first two questions. For example, Slovak and Czech politicians and the mighty ones behind them rob our countries and do not solve problems (they also replace experts with political dummies).
      From the problems named by Jason, now Slovakia has problematic traffic, education, and health care. These are not broken yet and they can be improved in a better organized country.

      I cannot address global problems as climate change and water shortage very well.
      But, for example, I have understood that China's occupation of Tibet also means control of Asia's water springs.
      Imagine Netherlands flooded (due to melting icebergs) and people moving freely in less occupied areas, for example in Finland, Russia or Canada (if the melting cannot be stopped by any technology).
      Actually, I am saying yes to your questions again = there could be a political solution.
      Hm, I am surprised now.
  • Mar 9 2013: Because we are not brave enough. In my country a girl was killed in front of a crowd because no one had the courage to stand up for her. We are too scared of the consequences.
  • Mar 9 2013: problems are made to be solved........if you mean poverty and socieconomic problems must be solved by governors and if you need to solve health problems is for medical specialists to solve
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      Mar 9 2013: Sorry that the problem with todays society ....someone else will fix the problem ....how ever one man can solve the worlds problems ...look at ghandi
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    Mar 9 2013: If the "big problems" you refer to are of the socioeconomic and stability variety, I feel we are unable to solve them because the people we look to, to solve them and allow others to enforce the means to solve them are politicians. The thing with politics is, simply put, there are too many politicians. I know that sounds odd, but what i`m saying is, these people are masters or rhetoric and running elaborate pep rallies. For the most part, they are not economist, scientist, or health care providers which are people who are most qualified to solve our big problems.
  • Mar 9 2013: We keep trying to "solve" big problems with the tools or innovations that created them in the first place. When you say "we" I'm assuming you're talking about those of us that live under and adhere to the industrial model? If so, then why are we looking to those who have created the problem(s) instead of looking to those who have avoided these problems all along? Our society is built upon complex systems and we continue to add complexity with many of our solutions. Why aren't we looking at durable societies and simple living solutions? My guess is a sense of supremacy and arrogance. So we continue to ignore indigenous populations and refer to their way of life as primitive. Ignoring a way of life that humans successfully negotiated for the better part of two million years is something we simply can't comprehend....and for that we'll continue down the path of frustration and eventually devastation.
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    Mar 8 2013: It seems that there is a consensus in this conversation that technology is a great tool capable of finding solutions to the greatest of problems but the best tool is no better then the person using it. As Pogo is oft quoted " I have met the enemy and he is us"
    So, What is it about "us". Not enough education? Evolution hasn't keep up with technology? These and dozens of other rationalizations can be debated.
    I think that we are overlooking the obvious. Maybe we should be looking at basic human nature. I would say that most of us are not concerned about these "big" problems. They don't really effect us all that much. We hear of people struggling with big storms, we are touched and we send money to the Red Cross by cell phone. We hear of peoples in other parts of the world that are being brutalized by aggressive forces and our government sends our military to help them. We know soldiers who have made service their lifes and we admired them for their sacrifices, but there is no real sacrifice on our part. There are family stories about great grandpa went to war and everybody had to collect metal and grow victory gardens. Not now, war is a feature on the 6 o'clock news. We hear all kinds of wailing about the ice caps melting and the seas raising. We live hundreds of miles from the ocean and hundreds of feet about the sea level. Will it mean we won't have to drive so far to our beach vacation?
    We mostly all live in our own little universe. Sometimes lightning strikes in our little worlds causes pain and suffering but usually we recover and go on with our lives.
    There is hunger in the world? If we go to a church on Sunday, there will be a collection to send help to missionaries (our moral representatives) to deal with those issues.
    So what are the big problems to solve? Higher school taxes and the kid at store can't make change. The next town over has a speed trap. Can I get my mother-in-law in a nursing home? Now those are "big " problems.
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    E G

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    Mar 8 2013: Well , initially before reading the conversation's topic I thought that by 'big problems' you mean something like this : ' why the evil exists?' , 'why are we what we are?' ........... . Everything (cancer , climate change, malaria....) has an answer if we can answer that big problems ; since we can't answer them satisfactory enough ...... here we are . Faith may be an answer in fact I think it is the single answer .
  • Mar 8 2013: Answer: Since we are greedy.
    The story on the MIT page ends with: ... we examine these problems (electricity, clean water, the climate change, inefficient manufacturing, traffic, education, dementia or cancer) and introduce you to the indefatigable technologists who refuse to give up trying to solve them.
    I guess that even with the best technologies, which are getting better and better anyway, there would be millions of people living poorly in the world, where the rich get richer.
    Now, you could think of Karl Marx or the Bible:
    For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath
    Do we need technologists or philosophers or humanity?
    What are the roots of our big problems? Are they us?
  • Mar 7 2013: It sometimes takes a long time to solve a problem. The capacity of knowledge, very realistic affects the speed and accuracy to the solution. However, the earliest is believed that it can be solved. Although developing skills takes time, patience, diligence, economic and financial conditions, and proper mental. Because all of it is related, to one another in a linear fashion. If you are pleased to be able to visit this page -> http://www.downloadprogramkasir.com/?p=2 , Maybe there is inspiration from there.
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    Mar 7 2013: Alexander The Great conquered the known world because his brilliance, vision, and passion enabled him to "cut the Gordian knot" rather than allowing an insoluble problem to foil his will. In my Feb. 23 comment I discussed the need for vision and "leadership", here I'd like to suggest that "big problems" don't always need to be "solved"... They just need to be broken through.
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      Mar 7 2013: I think the problem is is most things are already broken or fragmented ...maybe that Alexanders fault
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      . .

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      Mar 8 2013: ** I think our difficulties come from a lack of good relationships amongst people.
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    Mar 5 2013: Dave,, and that is why you are you and I am a curmudgeon.
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    Mar 5 2013: excuse my spelling
  • Mar 4 2013: it is the limits of human brain
    so sciences in the old ages was about nature of human spirit than this science was deviated to the actual sciences so i think that the human brain become less and less developed and chifely by apperance of technologies
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    Mar 4 2013: I am fascinated by the number of comments that attribute the lack of resolution of the greatest problems to the "rich" people.
    Why are so many against "rich" people. Some say that they are all illegal and immoral; selfish, uncaring, etc., etc.
    Some may be, but all?
    Of course, the old nut is " I never got a paycheck from a poor person".
    Could it be, that if we can not find a solution, the next step is to blame someone else for our failures?
    Look at some of the intractable problems addressed: Are they really "Problems"?
    Hunger: More eaters than things to eat... Nature balances, don't mess with Mother Nature
    Poverty: Undefined, poverty in New York, would be upest crust in the Congo:
    Malaria: Almost cured once, then the "cure" was deemed worse then the disease. I am still perplexed by that one.
    Climate Change: The climate has always changed and will continue to change.
    Cancer: Let's work on that, great progress in childhood leukemia, etc.
    Old Age: Well, here I am. I thought about immortality, If it was applied to everyone, we would have to stop births. Who wants that. If it was just me, I would not want to spend an eternity going to the funerals of those I had grown to love.
    So, what is the "problem" being solved is continued long life. What that means... many years of sitting in a wet diaper drooling down my chin. Let's just let nature take it's course.
    What am I saying?
    Man defines his problems. Some may be worth solving. some are not really " problems" such as gravity, dark space,
    ego boosters, etc.
    Let's also remember that technology is a big word for tools. Tools are no better the the tool user. Maybe there is a case for better education.
  • Mar 4 2013: in my opinion,it can be solved by current technology.
    but we need the positive support from rich people who wouldn't like to resolve the problem.
    because they need those problems to make them more rich and comfortable.
    however if we have another bigger problem, such as saucerman or celestial body, I think those rich people would solve the current problems more positively to make their home more stably.
  • Mar 4 2013: Half of those problems have been effectively solved in many countries. New cancer treatments are being discovered every year. Old age is currently being studied and efforts towards the easement and eventual elimination of the problems it poses are being developed right now. Progress may be a little slower than desired.

    If this is the problem then the solution is a slight restructuring of our primary and secondary educational systems in order to optimize their effective output. In short, I propose a move away from teaching to the middle. Specialized curriculum based on the strengths and weaknesses of specific groups of students with half the day or perhaps more spent in classes which include students of all variations of ability as to maintain the current sense of community among local populations which schools currently and very essentially provide. Perhaps less than half as to prevent the possible formulation of an ipso facto class system that would occur before graduation as opposed to the current after graduation similar but more blurred class structure. This would more effectively utilize the talents of those with uncommon ability, allow those with moderate ability to feel more competitive which will also increase their productivity and love of learning, and give those who are lacking in academic ability a reprieve from the feelings of failure and discontent manifested from constant reminders (grades) of their inadequacy. It would also likely make the top tier more competitive as they would no longer be big fish in small ponds so to speak and would be required to put forth the same amount of effort those whom are less gifted would be required to put out to achieve competitive marks. In my Bio if you are interested I have proposed a more thorough version of this outline for achieving such a goal and the line of reasoning (and experiences-short summary) which led to it's generation.
  • Mar 4 2013: We infer to solve some problems but it may be that we add and build them to bigger unsolvable problems for the simple reason that despite we being the intellectual species are not toned nor work towards unconditional sharing of any excess we gather in form of food, knowledge & or tangible / intangible materialistic products/things. Further our entire education system also does not lean towards it. Healthcare / science and control over nature is manipulated to convey a wrong approach and understanding.

    The growth of intellect has neglected the fundamental attitude to harvest more to share & distribute freely, possibly evenly to attain personal & overall satisfaction and or moral spirituality.
  • Mar 3 2013: Some problems in life are meant to be managed and not solved.....
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    Mar 2 2013: For anyone interested in this question, I suggest a couple of presentations given a theRSA.org:

    21st Century Enlightenment - Matthew Talyor

    People & Planet - David Attenborough
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      Mar 2 2013: Two very well placed social anthropologists.
      Here is my concern.
      In most of these "philosophies?", the individual is subordinate to the elevation, goals, etc of his society.
      Wouldn't it be better if society was subordinate and supportive of individual?
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    Mar 1 2013: I'll tell you why we can't solve big problems, because we don't want to solve big problems, that's it.
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    Feb 27 2013: To much Salt? Wanna try world peace next?
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    Feb 27 2013: I attended a university lecture last evening where Jeremy Rifkin was the guest lecturer. His talk was about the his most recent book, "The Third Industrial Revolution" In his own way, Rifkin was asking whether we have the courage and the will to solve the big problem of climate change before it is too later. We have the technology already, we have the means and the sources.

    The question under consideration here is, "Why Can't We Solve Big Problems?" I will suggest here that there is only one problem that we must solve and that is as Rifkin said last evening, "Can we prevent the end of the world in 50 years?" This there another problem that we need to be focusing on right now? If so, it might be "Can we extent our empathic views to include all of humankind, our fellow creatures, and our biosphere, which we share?"

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      Feb 27 2013: Do we continue to identify Armageddon as global climate change? I thought that had been relegated to politician's redistribution of wealth from Industrial to "3rd World countries" . The climate is always changing !
      Sometimes over millennium, sometimes overnight. There is evidence of global shifts, where the north pole was at the current equator or such. Am I proposing wanton pollution? No. Even a pig won't crap where it sleeps.
      It's not CO 2 in the atmosphere, it's the human "insipiens". 20 million or more have crowded into probably one of the most beautiful gardens in the world known as the LA basin and turned it into a massive parking lot. Now that's pollution.
      All through recorded history there have been some that found "life" to be perfect and wanted to hold that time in place. Lot's of luck to them then and them now.
      If you really want to worry about unbridled global climate change, be concerned about the Yellowstone super volcano going off. that will be an overnighter. If in fact, the globe is gradually getting warmer, let's focus on adjusting rather then trying to stop it. It's the planet, after all.
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        Feb 27 2013: Did you watch the video of Rifkins talk or just react to the words "Climate Change?"
        Even without the need to address global warming we would want to implement a switch away from fossil fuels, energy positive buildings, and a laterally distributed supply system.
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        Feb 27 2013: The issue for me with climate change is the apparent significant potential for such rapid change too occur at some point in the near future that we cannot adjust quick enough to prevent major disruptions which will negatively affect billions of people. The risk which comes with being part of the naysayer crowd seems to me be much higher than the risk of wasting a few hundred billion dollars and working cooperatively with the rest of the world as a possible preventative.

        All said, I think it is too late. We have so many balls & chains in the US congress nothing will ever get done.
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          Feb 28 2013: Mr. Hoppe and Peter,
          There are real needs to address future energy requirements as there are limits to the fossil fuels available. We need to find nearly free sources of transportation and power energy if what we refer to as Western Civilization is to continue. I am also very critical of trashing regions by over population. I read a long time ago that a community should be limited to 100K population and a thirty mile green belt be all around the community. And, sorry, I didn't watch the video of Rifkin's talk, I responded to your comment and the innuendo. Further, I don't deny the climate is changing, and if a super volcano erupts, there will be a world wide extinction event without much warning.
          I maintain that Global Climate is a dynamic situation with amplitudes spanning millennium or years and you can check all those references online.

          Further, the current UN sponsored program on climate change is more into political change then climate change. "From the wealthy nations according to their haves to the 3rd world nations according to their wants" ... including China, India and Brazil??? I won't even address the US proponent turning his concerns in a great personal wealth. And then the "science" which is based on computer projections of data from sites all over the world. Replication of that data and those projections have a "small" problem when it comes to peer review or should I say allied sciences.
          When you speak of the US Congress, appreciate that I am a strict constitutionalist.
          The Administration has grown to extraordinary proportions and the congress is feeding that frenzy. Further, the SCOTUS is sitting around claiming "nobody asks". There are a number of new amendments needed to control the expansion of the central government including term limits, balanced budgets, to name a few and the repeal of the 17th amendment. That's a whole new conversation.
  • Feb 26 2013: When considering the solving of "big problems" we have to first consider the initial reaction to such a matter. You are by the nature of the matter conveying the subject is overwhelming. This, without looking at it from a pure statistical perspective, eliminates a significant number of the population that develops lack of interest due to other priorities or the idea of being overwhelmed. The next group get eliminated by virtue of lacking the intellectual capacity for this endeavor. I think my point is becoming clear. Of course we could crowsource which presents a pool of very interested and resourceful individuals or groups, a modern day efficient and effective process. Yet when all is said an done the big problem still exists. Let us not forget one of the foundations of our society, money!

    Big problems also have certain requirements: a sponsor, a promoter, mentor, and an audience. But the issue also has something else, a public that is overwhelmed with the increasingly burdensome evolution of events in our world. Our ability to recognize the magnitude of such events and ability to do little other than throw money at it makes it difficult to believe that the routine will change.

    Perhaps the most significant reason is that humans are complex creatures; one size fits all is a monumental task that requires and equally monumental effort. The threat of government imposing its will is not acceptable in many cultures yet it does reflect one way of getting the undoable done. Monarchy, anarchy, oligarchay all have their attributes but have also been rejected by many. To some degree I believe in the ideas of

    "If you wish to strive for peace of soul and pleasure, then believe; if you wish to be a devotee of truth, then inquire." - Friedrich Nietzsche. I believe that these lines of inquiry are a good starting point, but solving a bit problem requires, like any problem, prevention not intervention. We must prevent ourselves from doing what we currently do.
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    Feb 26 2013: That's the idea. And thank you to everyone who is participating in the conversation! It has inspired the remarks I shall make at TED at 8.30 AM PST this Thursday.
  • Feb 26 2013: Ty Jason, look forward for more questions and to interact with your conversations, I like the way you pose the question, inspires to think.
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    Feb 26 2013: There are different barriers to solving the example problems you list. One barrier in the realms of climate change and poverty for instance is that of inadequate policy. I don't know how to solve this, but part of the problem in the US is that many legislators, as a reflection of their constituents, are simply science deniers. They are a balls and chains on the forward motion of society and until they die off or are voted out, as will happen more often as the younger generation ages, we are being held hostage by their ignorance.

    Cancer and diseases of old age actually require a deeper understanding of biology and how we might maipulate that biology. Our views in the past were probably naive as nature is proving itself to more complex that previously thought. Yes, we might proceed faster with more funding but we are moving along, you might say incrementally, and I would expect big pay-offs within the next 10 to 20 years.
    • Feb 26 2013: Hi Peter, I have wondered for a while now why polliticians don't seem to have to have any qualifications for the job they are doing. Perhaps policy might be more appropriate if the policymakers actually knew what they were talking about.
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        Mar 2 2013: Yes Susan, uninformed politicians are a tremendous problem, and when combined with a dangerous ideolgy it make government a problem in itself instead of a solver of problems.

        Even politicians who know better often are complicit in short sighted policy with no eye towards our furture or the well-being of the world at large.
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    Feb 26 2013: the human animal unlike other species has developed this awareness of self. Some say it was evolution. I am not sure. It was only vaguely apparent prior to the end of the hunter- gatherer stage and then seem to flourish as mankind began creating societies and found time to sit and think... The Age of Philosophy? There is so much out there we yet don't understand. In the past, we have credited some divinity with the answers to those unsolvable problems. The Sun, Earth, Gods living on mountain tops, One God, the list goes on. Recently, we hav a new god to worship... technology! And as it the past, we thought this new god would solve our problems some such as those you have listed. Technology is simply better tools, Mankind must still use the tools, even make better ones. But only man can solve his problems.
  • Feb 24 2013: We can solvebig problem if we will take the problem seriously.........There is nothing like 'big problem'.......it's us who make or takethe problem or hurdle as big one.....if we have conviction in our thought and take one step forward towards the problem....I can bet u....we will get the solution .
    In urban statement u mentioned about hunger, poverty, malaria n all......it is we only who created this.......if we together think for our society.....all will be cured......we all just need a motivational pill with awareness of the cause....
  • Feb 24 2013: One reason we can't solve big problems is because we waste billions of dollars on pipe dreams. We spent some $16 billion on physicists' hot fusion fantasy, courtesy, in large measure to MIT. If that $16 billion had been spent on new energy technologies like the integral fast reactor (a technology that would have obviated the need for hot fusion), on better wind, solar, geothermal and biofuel technology, on better batteries and spark plugs (like the Fire Storm Spark plug), on better insulation and innovative conservation or even cold fusion and a "1000" small steps we would energy independence today.

    Instead we wasted $16 billion on a pork project for physicists that is the greatest threat to our national security in the history of our country because hot fusion requires disseminating tritium around the world. It takes 3-5 pounds of tritium to start up each reactor. If hot fusion advocates get their way there will be 1000's of reactors world wide i.e. there will be several tons of tritium world wide. Only a few ounces are needed to create a fission-fusion-fission bomb with up to 100,000 X the explosive yield of Hiroshima (Nuclear Weapon Yield-Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_weapon_yield).

    If you think my concerns are exaggerated, consider this article: Broad, William, July 26, 1989, “U.S. Halts Sale of Tritium After Loss of Enough to Make a Nuclear Bomb,” The New York Times Internet article. “The Energy Department has suspended all sales of the radioactive gas tritium while it investigates the possible loss of enough tritium to help make a nuclear bomb.” “Tritium is used in nuclear weapons to increase their power.” “The incident has led to fears in Congress that some of the gas is missing and has fallen into unfriendly hands.”

    So we are attempting to commit National Security suicide with the hot fusion program. Want to solve big problems? Identify the problem first and foremost and then solve it.
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    Feb 23 2013: I. Who says we can't solve big problems? If I measured my child's height, and then measured it again a week later, my friends would laugh at me if I complained to them that my child wasn't growing. Who's to say what the appropriate time-constants for change are, in such a huge dynamical system as our World? About a hundred years ago (only a hundred years!) the son of a President of the United States died because his blister became infected, and there were no antibiotics. That our progress isn't shared by all is indeed a tragedy, but there've been many huge problems solved in the past 100 years.

    II. Who's to say that we can choose which problems are solved first, and legislate when they must be solved? That level of control over nature and mankind is indeed a very Western conceit. The "illusion of control" makes us impatient with all the small incremental steps we take as we slog through the swamp of reality, one step back for each one+ step forward. cf. The Tao Teh Ching

    III. Perhaps there are seeds of an answer in Pontin's MIT Technology Review article "Why We Can't Solve Big Problems"? I suggest looking at the 3 orthogonal dimensions: 1) Leadership, 2) Technology, and 3) Stakeholders. The Technology is probably almost there, no? The Stakeholders are extremely diverse, many perceiving that they're involved in zero-sum games, hence hindering cooperation. Finally, could it be that the Leadership is sorely lacking. A Leader (or Leaders) must have the charismatic power and legitimacy (of a JFK) to craft and impart a Vision that can mobilize the stakeholders' buy-in, and the economic and political power to galvanize the Technological machines of governments, education, and industry.

    "Without vision, the people perish" -- Proverbs

    From the above ruminations, I suggest that the issues are more a matter of Will, Leadership, and Sustainable Commitment to a Vision, rather than technology, education, or short-sighted venture capitalists.
  • Feb 22 2013: We can't solve Big problems because...... ummmm, .........(thinking)........... er................ because they're problems?

    No seriously, we live in an age where, bigger better faster is perceived as BETTER.

    Better for the end consumer, the end user, the bottom line, in the black, etc, etc.

    In the western world, consumerism is rife, yes?, its a grab for products, items, stuff, its a seek and ye shall find on ebay type of thing.

    We are bought and sold on the idea that we have a need for this 'stuff', when actually we dont, who actually 'has a real legitimate need for a 55 inch plasma or flatscreen tv?, who actually needs a games console, who actually needs a lot of the stuff we are sold on?, most people do not need these things, but most people still buy them.
    So while we focus on our needs, we dont focus on our NEEDS, our real needs, like food shelter, water, warmth, love.

    We cant focus on problems while completing the 5th mission of modern warfare, we arnt too worried about where our water comes from, its filtered, its under pressure, use it, its cool, we are worried about the here the now, the tomorrow, the next week, and thats about it.

    the other part is presenting the problem as an opportunity to improve, like the marshmallow experiment, eat it now, or wait 10 minutes and i'll give you two, so patience is the improvement.
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    Feb 21 2013: This is the first time our history that we are able to comprehend what the human mind really is, not your mind and my mind, but the mind of an infant. We have only recently dispelled the notion that babies' brains are blank slates. We are now developing the understanding that young minds can process information in very capable ways.
    Parenting is the most important job many in us will ever have, and we receive almost no training for it. But because we are the role models for young minds the problems in a society are often reflected in its youth. Perhaps the reason we have stopped solving the "big problems" is that we have forgotten how to instill a fascination about world in our children. We do not prepare them to solve great problems anymore. Perhaps this happened to us and we then become pessimistic about the world, and now leave a legacy of hopelessness for our children.

    This was the message Jane McGonigal brought to TED when she spoke about gaming for a better world.

    "Right now we spend three billion hours a week playing online games. Some of you might be thinking, "That's a lot of time to spend playing games. Maybe too much time, considering how many urgent problems we have to solve in the real world." But actually, according to my research at The Institute For The Future, it's actually the opposite is true. Three billion hours a week is not nearly enough game play to solve the world's most urgent problems."

    McGonigal understands that immersive virtual worlds are the perfect place to model real world problems. She asks, "What about games makes it impossible to feel that we can't achieve everything? How can we take those feelings from games and apply them to real-world work?"

    A very good question.
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    Feb 21 2013: John Hunter is a teacher who knows something about "games", and he would understand the point I'm attempting to make here. He spoke at TED about "teaching with the world peace game." John Hunter says "I can't tell them anything because I don't know the answer. And I admit the truth to them right up front: I don't know. And because I don't know, they've got to dig up the answer. And so I apologize to them as well.I say, "I'm so sorry, boys and girls, but the truth is we have left this world to you in such a sad and terrible shape, and we hope you can fix it for us, and maybe this game will help you learn how to do it." It's a sincere apology, and they take it very seriously."
    And this is understood by the kids, one mentions, "The World Peace Game is serious. You're actually getting taught something like how to take care of the world. See, Mr. Hunter is doing that because he says his time has messed up a lot, and he's trying to tell us how to fix that problem.

    "I throw them into this complex matrix, and they trust me because we have a deep, rich relationship together. And so with all these crises, we have -- let's see -- ethnic and minority tensions; we have chemical and nuclear spills, nuclear proliferation. There's oil spills, environmental disasters, water rights disputes, breakaway republics, famine, endangered species and global warming. If Al Gore is here,I'm going to send my fourth-graders from Agnor-Hurt and Venable schools to you because they solved global warming in a week. And they've done it several times too."

    It is a moving talk that offers us a grand lesson. We will not sole the great problems, our children will if we empower them to.
    "... they may save us all. If only." J Hunter

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    Feb 21 2013: .......Can't wait for your talk to go on the web Jason.Good luck !! :-)
  • Dan F

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    Feb 20 2013: No doubt some of these problems are allusive to solve or the "fix" only invites new problems in the form of the exploding numbers of people on earth stimulated by this expanding technology, which then generates an unending pursuit in itself to meet the growing demand.

    Your angle of entry is that of MIT. An incubator of technological wonder which continues to altered nature to better serve humanity in so many ways. I take full advantage of these incredible items of our cultural evolution, which are everywhere. I get my annual flu shot. Fall asleep on my new an improved mattress watching a movie via the internet and by late morning slide through the marshland in my hi-tech kayak observing birds through fantastic binoculars accessible many miles away, yet virtually within an hour via the convenience my carry all van over an all weather highway of new age materials. Our technological world can open up nature, but it can also nearly obscure it, or worse.

    So what's the problem? The problem is we live on a spaceship.

    As the technology of food quality and production, medical care, travel, clothing, safety, etc., have rapidly expanded during my life time, which include advancements in virtually every aspect of life, our human populations numbers have been and are continuing to skyrocket. These amazing gifts of intellectual technological development do have limits and costs as a consequence of reason and observation.

    The complexity of some problems may be beyond our facilities and faculties to resolve, but most preventable and important big problems are a spin off of our growing numbers. A more balanced recognition and respect for the role the natural world plays in our very existence, happiness and good health needs to be taken more into account otherwise we will see more and more of the ugly side of nature. It's basic biology. We need to slow down the bubble machine imo.
  • Feb 19 2013: I don't know... we might have discovered Higgs Boson recently... I see all kinds of progress around me everyday... I think everyone is just a little too pessimistic. Might also be that in this near real-time world, we expect extreme poverty to be eliminated at the thought of it. Not to sound like I don't care... but people, calm down... we have ALL the time in the world.
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    Feb 19 2013: Here are a couple links that give some perspectives into a solution of humanities greatest "problems".

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    Feb 19 2013: If you see solutions problems no longer exist. Perhaps it is our perception of our knowledge, as reflections of our experience, that create these so called "problems". I believe their are many answers yet to be discovered. If we choose not to take on the courage it requires to change, or admit mistakes, we manifest our thoughts into reality. We are choosing only to look at the problems rather than the solutions. I only have the answers that I seek to discover. The solutions for your life are for you to find. I simply would like to say, I am glad you are all part of this existence so I may have more lessons presented to me. I feel it makes life a wonderment of which I know no other.
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    Feb 18 2013: Necessity-Demand-Curiosity-sustain- Base Management Structure.
    Create a viable Ground-mat -with a common living Index
    Technology Management Developing countries- needs best of Brains Trust
    Wisdom follows the Spirit
  • Feb 18 2013: You need to add this to your reading list......

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    Feb 18 2013: We have to rise above small things to solve big problems.
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    Feb 18 2013: Big problems are difficult to break down into parts. They are interrelated (consider positive correlation between rise in purchasing power of people in developing countries and food inflation-hunger). Solving them partially might create new set of problems; for example, GM crops and their negative impact on biodiversity. Our difficulties are in building technologies that will not just provide short term timely solutions but that will help eliminate the problem entirely in the long run.
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    Feb 17 2013: These challenges invariably become political. The idea of the solution becomes secondary to who gets the credit. Ego driven infighting puts the breaks on timely results. Until the grownups are driving you can depend on plenty of fender benders.
  • Feb 17 2013: I thing tecnology is a good tool to help us find a solution to big problems. With technology is possible to collect information, meet people with the same ideas, understand how this problem is affecting other people, countries... But technology is a tool, not a solution. The big problems were and are created by humans, and only the humans can solve their. The solution depends the type of problem, but, it is importante to understand that if the humans are not engaged to find a solution and implement this solution, the problem, big or small, will not be solved.
  • Feb 17 2013: Technology is an extension of human beings.
    Technology didn't invent technology. People did.
    To make life easier, less stressful, less laborious and dangerous, more productive and fruitful.
    So technology cannot solve anything. Only people can.
    Which leads me to what I keep saying on Ted and anywhere I can:
    "Nothing costs money. Everything costs people."
    One reason we don't solve big problems is because those who are in positions of doing just that, out of so-called duty, desire and need, do no such thing. They profit off the problems so they have no interest in solving them at all, ever, ever, ever. And they will not.
    Politicians, government and so on. And why not?
    Because the system or systems we all live in are totally and completely corrupt and this corruption is by default. It is built in. Our "unjust systems" thereby have needs in order to continue to survive and some of the needs it needs met, are greed, crime, inequality, poverty, slavery, war and death. Please ask yourself if these needs happen to meet your needs or the needs of everyone on earth. If they do, read no further. You will have your needs met.
    If they don't, then get this into your head. This system cannot be fixed. It cannot be made just. Only a new, just system can be devised, created, and implemented and it must be one that contains no reasons for being corrupt.
    When we make decisions based upon money, we make the wrong decisions or the money is stolen. We should be making decisions on what will work, and what will work without creating more collateral greed, crime, inequality, poverty, slavery, war and death or pollution.
    It is money that does this and although there is talk all around on Ted about what to do, it always revolves around solving whatever needs solving, with money, i.e. keeping the same system we have. Regarding your big problems?
    Things don't........"get done"........because of money.
    Things..........."don't get done"........because of money.
    We work for money not solutions
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    Feb 17 2013: It is really sad that some people think technology solves problems. Technology is simply a tool. That's it. Just a tool. It is the appropriate application of the appropriate tool that solves problems. And if you do not have the appropriate tool, create it.

    People are people and that will always trump technology. No matter how hard you pray to the technology gods. There will always be greed. There will always be procreation. There will always be mosquitoes. There will always be big problems.
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    Feb 16 2013: Sir however big the problem may be, there is always a solution. All we have to do is think from the very basics of science.
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    Feb 16 2013: Hunger - Whenever and wherever people outweigh the food around them, some of them will go hungry. The remedy is to send food to them, but this is expensive & very few are willing to help.

    Poverty - When people outnumber opportunities, some of them will go without! This is most common in developing nations. People are exploding in numbers are jobs are not... and not everyone wants to be a farmer.

    Malaria - Is it possible to vaccinate everyone? Supposedly 50% of all humans that have ever lived died of this disease... It is not a problem in the developed world... but who will pay for the vaccines of the developing world?

    Climate Change - Ideally, everyone would cooperate to help to do away with such a grave threat to life on Earth... Unfortunately, we have the opposite! Everyone on earth is doing their part to make this problem worse you and I included.

    Cancer - Viruses and diseases can be cured / treated because the are genetically distinct & your body recognizes them as foreign. This is not true with cancer. Cancer is a part of the body that has mutated. To cure cancer would be like curing having an arm. I'm not saying it's impossible though... Isolated telomere treatments may one day cure cancer.

    Diseases of old age - Based on current research... I'd say they won't be a problem much longer : )

    The economy - In order to reduce the deficit, they must first stop it from growing! They can't even seem to do that...
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    Feb 16 2013: It depends on whether you are looking at it from the human hubs then out to outlier hubs which generally are one step or two back from the main hubs technological level. we only ever need heavy energy need in our hemisphere's winter months unless you talking about our industrial complexes needs.

    Superconductive materials as well as under road dynamos that burst the grid. My dream is AG flight, it's the only true horizon left that needs a modern day Wrights brothers to crack otherwise it will get bogged down in years of red tape and availability issues.
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      Feb 16 2013: What is AG flight?
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        Feb 20 2013: Don't laugh but it's what the magnetic trains run on in japan except it's at a controllable height, I call it AG, anti-grav as that is what it will be called in a 100 years. look up a few superconductor talks, right now they are at the development stage of trying to find a created material that will operate at room temp instead of having to use liquid nitrogen to get the material to become superconductive and float on a magnet. It's sci-fi but it's the last frontier and it's up for grabs. A few have found or created materials that are bringing the cooling threshold down.

        A hundred more years of rubber wheeled transport? A vehicle that can take just about any weight and that is not reliant on a shock and tire system or terrain and only relies on a small EM field to float on must be far more efficient than a electric motor. We could get rid of roads and just have towers everywhere, Heck, dress them up as trees for a natural look.

        Like i said it's sci-fi but the universities are seriously looking into it, I don't see any other way for us but to attempt it, eventually oil is going to run out. If every private vehicle on the planet goes electirc we still would have to keep commercial transport and freight on combustion as no E-motor can take up the pull of a heavy engine.
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    • Feb 16 2013: So, our capacity to solve big problems depends on our capacity/will to belittle our ego; individual or collective.
      Did i restate you right ?
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    Feb 15 2013: Our basic "command" from nature is to protect ourselves at all costs. The essence of immortality. Prevalence favor of weaker, reproduce, cooperation for survival.
    Why cancer is not cured yet?
    Because -despite this diseased- does not benefit anyone else. Quite the opposite. Man will become more human when solving the problem of the perpetuation of the species that obsesses him for millennia and dedicated to what the ties him with Earth/Life.
    • Feb 16 2013: If we could understand " basic "command" from nature " , we would know that immortality is not about not dieing.
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        Feb 16 2013: This is exactly what I mean! Immortality means the perpetuation of the species. And that applies to the single-celled organisms up to humans. Sorry Mr. Darwin, you were right.
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    Feb 15 2013: Great topic ! I would love to hear the dialog from this but I will be in Palm Springs. I personally believe one the problems is that we don't have a way to get the people involved to understand the problem, with the same assumptions. Einstein said, "If I had one hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution."

    For these big issues the conversation starts with the solutions, not a common understanding of the problem. The people arguing over the issues have not even agreed upon the same question first. Good luck !
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    Feb 15 2013: Another lead of which you are probably aware, as you are at MIT, is the Poverty Action Lab. A core belief that underlies Banarjee's approach is that one reason we are not being as effective as we could be in addressing specifically the interlocking problems called poverty is that well meaning actions are taken on the basis of ideology and anecdote without a sound understanding of what happens on the ground.

    Their approach is to employ randomized control trials to establish the choices and effects that result on the ground as a way of tailoring policies to maximize their effectiveness..
  • Feb 15 2013: OK, so lets use an example,

    You have a chocolate bar (the problem), this particular chocolate bar is shaped a bit like a piece of excrement, (poo, turd) it looks a bit like a turd, so the label has some obscure truth to it, but you dont label the chocolate bar as "looks like poo", that would be a big turn off, and no one would tackle the chocolate bar, (problem).

    Instead, you label the chocolate bar as "sweet and nutty", or "chewy energy goodness", or some other label, therefore the problem, issue, drama, poo, becomes öpportunity, an opportunity to improve the existing, a chance to do it better, yes?
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    Feb 15 2013: Jason I see a dynamic in our society that makes it nearly impossible politically to solve complex problems. This I call the divorce lawyer dynamic. The majority of our lawmakers were trained as lawyers and most seem to revert to their preparation to win cases in divorce court. To start with they make no money by fixing marriages or saving the Nation. They get elected by telling you that the other party is going to take you for every nickel you have and you may never see your kids again if you don't cough up a big retainer. Also it always helps to accuse the opposition of child abuse, even if not true it is difficult to prove a negative. This "end justifies the means" slope is greased with the conviction that each lawmaker has that only he can be trusted to govern. Washington advised against party politics but he was not cold in the grave before it reared its ugly head. One possible solution? Use all the various methods lately developed by technology and psychology for lie detection once a month to interrogate each politician and bureaucrat. When in doubt waterboard. It may not work but it might discourage some of the power seekers. The other factor is that even a democratic republic is only as enlightened as it's citizens. But then you are caught in the catch 22 that we could fix our government if our educational system were effective, but then we can't fix the schools till our government is wise and functional. Home schooling and charters MAY eventually extract us from the crab bucket but I am afraid I will not live that long
    • Feb 15 2013: I agree the lawyer driven government is not helping us. Root cause is greed and lying/cheating while just barely flying under the law is considered the winners in our system. I believe in general more people in our society have a moral and ethical standard than don't. It just so happens the system gives advantage to the unethical. The boat called U.S.A. (and most government's/ big business) is going in the wrong direction and being driven by the wrong captains. Until we change that, nothing can change.
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    Feb 15 2013: What big problem would you like to solve? Because I think we can solve them
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    Feb 14 2013: Well, we're mortal, limited beings. Even if you cure cancer, you're going to give everyone five more years of life--not a huge advance compared to a universe billions of years old.

    Also, new problems arise that didn't exist previously, such as AIDS, or air pollution. So even while you're trying to solve old problems, new problems are joining the ledger.
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    Gail .

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    Feb 14 2013: Are you aware that our fiscal paradigm was intentionally created to create a class of poor, then allow the poor to die through "natural law" and divine intent, while supporting the wealthy through divine right.

    Was it Locke or Smith who said that the "race of laborers" would be held in check if a majority of their children die because of natural law - poverty related causes - where health care and adequate food were unaffordable.
  • Feb 14 2013: I'll answer that in a way that probably you dont want to hear.

    The world has split, into two, north & south, poor and rich. People have become more isolated, more insular, which is funny since we have more communication devices and means than ever before.

    But that contact has become, if at all, read-only.

    People are not interested nor cognitive of other points of view, due to that lack of contact, and solving other people problems, like hunger, is not as often done, a solution to be 'enforced' or rationalized up to a certain level where the results are good enough, but often dont meet expectations.

    A simple yet effective example of that, is I asked TED not to autoplay the videos. Bandwidth here costs, bandwidth here is scarce.

    Now tell me honestly has that even cross your mind?
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    Feb 14 2013: all of these problems are new. there is a reason why unsolved problems are new, and new problems are unsolved: it takes time to solve a problem. many problems came before these ones, and now are solved. many diseases had been eradicated. many desires fulfilled. i see no reason why would we see today's situation as a failure. problems will continue to be solved, and life will continue to be better and better.
  • Ross G

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    Feb 14 2013: We don't do anything until we have to. On the other hand, you'd be startled at what you can accomplish when your life depends on it. The threat has to be genuine, imminent, and common to everyone involved in the solution. Any available excuse will be used.

    Enter subterfuge and the darker side of the human species. By giving everyone on earth a cancer that will kill them in 5 years may very well produce the cure, but it will destroy something even more precious in us. And that is the trust that will be absolutely necessary for the next solution.
    • Feb 16 2013: Good point !
      It is not yet bad enough :)
      For those who have financial and political ability to solve problems.
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    Feb 14 2013: I think it is a matter of perspective, I.E. you have to be bigger than the problem. E.G. Build a pyramid, Land a man on the moon, build a flying machine.

    The other thing is that there is no purpose for the country that galvanizes the people, which is a product of politics, the nanny state.
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    Feb 14 2013: Does semantics play a part here? If a problem can be solved then it is not a "big" problem. By definition big problems elude solutions. I also think economics might play a role in determining at which problems we throw resources. I think it would be helpful for you list some of the problems which you deem big problems that we have solved. Then, of couse we have the transcendental contributors like man's inherent cruelty to his fellow man, greed, corruption, etc. Why does Man not act more altruistically?
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    Feb 14 2013: Hunger and poverty are no technical problems and in our todays 'global village' only caused by an unequal distribution of food and possessions and a general lack of empathy and 'imagination' of those on the bright or brighter side.

    Technology did not become a benchmark for itself in our societies, as it is subdued by the current rules of our economy, which, by their immanent nature, are counterproductive to innovation.

    So even problems which could already be solved by our current technology, aren't and the reasons for this are no technological ones. They usually stem from 'interests', which, at the end, are more and more boiling down to 'money' only.

    But I think you question isn't quite 'fair' ... :o)

    What about Polio, Smallpox, transplantation, water purification? Cardiac pacemaker, anaesthetics, antibiotics? Just a view decades ago, all of this could cause 'Big Problems', yet 'we' solved them, didn't we? :o) And there are many many more examples you could find if you just don't take all of what 'we' have for granted...

    Most 'Big Problems' are as well all relative and once 'cancer' get 'solved', another disease will take its place...

    Yet hunger is different and its cause not related to any missing technology!
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    Feb 14 2013: What we forgott though is that said money has to be put to "good" use. To me it seems like a typical case of "who is mr. Longcock" whos got the highest economic growth the most influence on the global market.

    Look at the current crysis, what couldve happend? Economic growth declined some companys died, some people lost their jobs. Germany paid 170Billion € for our european bailout because some weird market went crazy, we werent on the verge of poverty we wouldnt have died due to lack of food or water there wouldnt have been significantly more cases of cannibalism because people wouldve been starving for food.
    No our states penis wasnt in a great mood and shrank by half an inch.

    At the same time haiti got hit by a tsunami a huge amount of people fell into poverty, lost everything from one day to another however our penis wasnt in danger ... guess how much money germany used on helping haiti? Less then 0.1% of what was spent on our Bailout...17 Million € WOW HUGE SUCESS!

    We just dont put enough effort into it, our state doesnt really care and yet we expect results its rididculous. Were setting a wrong focus thats about the whole point.
  • Feb 13 2013: "Those who know all, but are lacking in themselves, are utterly lacking."
    iow. i agree with the posts below :)