TED Conversations

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 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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