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 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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