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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  • Mar 1 2013: Let me define what I think is the big problem. Many scientists and ecologists, and particularly climatologists. are wondering if we, the human race, are on the way of self destruction by using up all the energy, which is not the only problem, and other resources and reduce the atmospheric shield from the sun and cosmic rays, so to make the earth uninhabitable for us all.
    We could promote empathy with all the people on earth as the first step to the solution. I also would suggest an alternative that we educate all the mankind on earth to "wise up" to the upcoming disaster, so that absolute majority of the people on earth will be convinced that we are in this together for our existence on mother earth.
    If you look at some recent events on earth, for instance, why the Moslems call the Christians, or the atheists, as infidels. And their counterpart "opponents" call the Moslems Islamists or terrorists. And they use car bombs or drones to kill each other, sometimes with no reason at all.. As a matter of fact, at many times, they even kill among themselves. Such as the Sonnis kill the Shiites and vice versa, also, the anti-abortionists bomb the abortion clinics. Civil wars everywhere. And several nations try to make a war based on the quarrel with the claims on a couple of tiny uninhabited islands. If there are space travelers look in on our choatic situation, they would say that it is just silly.
    Therefore the solution to this big problem would be very difficult. Regardless of how difficult the problem is, I believe my alternative probably is slightly better, if we ever want to try it. Because, one can't ask for empathy for all without having the understanding of the on-rushing disaster falling upon us.
    And finally, space exploration can't out-migrate the entire earth residents short of carrying the whole earth with us for the sake of initial existence for such a large population for initial settlement on a remote planet.

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