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 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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