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 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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      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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