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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  • Susan R

    • +1
    Feb 26 2013: I'm not sure what 'awareness of self' means to others - I am aware that most of me is not 'me' at all. I am a mobile ecosystem, carting around flora & fauna without which I wouldn't survive, but which doesn't carry my DNA. Anyway, two things which I observe about humans which mitigate against solving the problems of living on this planet are:1} Almost immediately after improvements to living standards become a part of everday life we all suffer from TFG - Taking For Granted. I'm thinking here of clean water, a secure food supply, and specifically - because I am reading a book called The Big Necessity by Rose George - an efficient sanitation system. Unfortunately we then see no need to make sure that those improvements spread worldwide.2} We have not yet realised that the most important primary produce of the planet is an educated human brain. I wonder for how many people poor is still equated with unintelligent. I don't have to wonder how many little brains are extinguished by diarrhoea - because of non-existent or poor sanitation. I'm sure the UN has figures, or at least fairly accurate estimates. And the lost potential - caused by a solvable problem - continues year after year after year.

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