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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 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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