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: I see that you have given your TED U Talk. Hopefully I'll see it here, as the question is provocative. Provocative in many different ways and levels. It appears to me that I am not alone in the belief that we are solving the problems and yes, the big ones but, its not technology that's doing it. Apologies to those taking offense at that remark. I am fully aware that at MIT the "T" stands for technology and having spent my youth in Malden I take great pride in things on both banks of the Charles.

    We are the big "problem". The technologies we develop may give insight to some of our goals and desires but we are not our technologies. Things not achievable are not necessarily problems. Desires unfulfilled are just that, not problems. Mankind dramatically progresses, in the Shakespearean sense. We explore the skies beyond the scope of imagination and yet, our degree of ignorance for that within arm's reach is numbing. Communities within and surrounding MIT, people in India and Japan, motivated by their compassion for mankind, they go on to solve the "big problems", at times flying possibly to Mars, other times getting food and clothing to those who need it most.

    I was very happy, yet not the least bit surprised, to see similar sentiment expressed or hinted at by others. Is hunger a problem for technology today? Do current technologies not suffice to solve the problem ten times over? "We" are the big problems. "We" are the big solutions. Looking forward to your talk.

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