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 26 2013: There are different barriers to solving the example problems you list. One barrier in the realms of climate change and poverty for instance is that of inadequate policy. I don't know how to solve this, but part of the problem in the US is that many legislators, as a reflection of their constituents, are simply science deniers. They are a balls and chains on the forward motion of society and until they die off or are voted out, as will happen more often as the younger generation ages, we are being held hostage by their ignorance.

    Cancer and diseases of old age actually require a deeper understanding of biology and how we might maipulate that biology. Our views in the past were probably naive as nature is proving itself to more complex that previously thought. Yes, we might proceed faster with more funding but we are moving along, you might say incrementally, and I would expect big pay-offs within the next 10 to 20 years.
    • Feb 26 2013: Hi Peter, I have wondered for a while now why polliticians don't seem to have to have any qualifications for the job they are doing. Perhaps policy might be more appropriate if the policymakers actually knew what they were talking about.
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        Mar 2 2013: Yes Susan, uninformed politicians are a tremendous problem, and when combined with a dangerous ideolgy it make government a problem in itself instead of a solver of problems.

        Even politicians who know better often are complicit in short sighted policy with no eye towards our furture or the well-being of the world at large.

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