Erik Richardson

Teacher, Richardson Ideaworks, Inc.


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Can you think of a way to positively impact a billion people over the next ten years?

At the heart of the Singularity University graduate program that runs each summer is that each team must choose and develop one project that could have just that kind of impact.

My question to you, then, is: What can YOU come up with that could create positive change on that scale, and what would drive it?

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    Apr 29 2011: One of the biggest problems the world will face in the coming decade and beyond is insufficient water. I live in a country where there is an abundance but I beleive that it would be wise for all of us to practice better water useage now. There is no good reason for water to go down the drain if it has not been used for toilet purposes so community laws have to be changed to encourage the use of grey water to water our property and fields.
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      Apr 30 2011: That is so water no food no life..there was a TED talk on Harvesting water ( I'll look up the link and post was about an ancient ancient system of harvesting what little rain water there is in his arid desert land..and Bermuda and many islands of course rely on water harvest...the systems are simple and universal ( but in need of updating for modern health concerns..). Could be afanatstic project to do a state of the art..ancient and modern and universally doable simple methods of harvesting water. The TED talk film was so wonderful because he was very caerful to point out that what we think of as modern water supply management may not be the most effective solution.

      Here is the Link To the Water Harvesting Talk
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    Apr 29 2011: I would like to visualize the data that global organizations and research teams collect throughout the world on a world map. Making it possible for all people to get a feeling for what the most important global questions are.
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      Apr 30 2011: global issue mapping? yes! and also global polling on which we all need to tackle first? globally as "we the citizens of the world?" As a youngster I wasone of 12 students invited to participate in Buckminsiter' first World Game ( didn't get to do it alas..I had to work that summer) but very similar. I think Kristopher's suggestion for a student lead project of global issue mapping and priotizing is an excellent one an dthat Fuller's World Game is a good model that..udated of course to take advantage of modern media...The World Game was an annual event for many years. It could help answer a critical first step question..what do we agree globally is the most pressing unaddressed need ?

      Here we see already a list of things we see as major un met global needs--water ( can't have food or life without water), food, housing, education..what else and what do we agree about these do we tackle whatever issues are on the top of our list.?
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        Apr 30 2011: I noticed in the most recent TED talk on new IPAD technologies that they were beginning to use something similar to what Kristofer is suggesting. When the demonstrator pinched or expanded particular section of Al Gore's book- it showed resources or potential resources and problem areas at the touch of his fingers. If the technology already exists- plugging in your idea on a global scale should be possible!
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          Apr 30 2011: The technology sure exists. I imagine a website hosting the service, but also tablet/mobile applications accessing it. I don't think the main problem is the technology, a platform would probably not take more than a couple of weeks/months to develop for a single programmer. I rather think the biggest problem is to get the data in an accessible format that don't require every new data set to be manually entered into the platform.
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        Apr 30 2011: Lindsay, your comment makes me think of an extension. This is a much more involved project than the one I first proposed, it would be to build a strategy game like Civilization[1] or Sim City[2] that was completely based on real world scenarios.

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          Apr 30 2011: Yes, the games are a kind of simulation modeling and the project if it were a global map of issues should include decision modeling would be a great way to exlore the trade offs and inte rrelationships..the consequence of one choice on the goals and needs of another valued choice. .Could be very simple and intuitive..doesn't have to be a big expensive dfificut to program thing..could be as easy as asking each person to asess plus or minus how much one decsion would impact another. e.g. water harvesting big plus on food, big plus on carbon foot print (otherwise food has to be shipped inetc. etc..If many many folk are involved an intutive model might do just as good a job as a methmatical model with complicated inputs and outputs. Might work especailly well for focusing water more important than food?I'm likingthis idea more & more..and if it were such a simple quick to launch decision model maybe the students could actually get input from millions of people around the world!!! We could all just tune in and play the Wolrd Game ( Buckie would love this)!!!
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          Apr 30 2011: Kristofer! That is a great idea because in addition to its other wonderful possibilities it could take advantage of what Clay Shirky calls global cognitive surplus! In other words many many people would want to play or contribute to finding the best solutions and they would get pleasure and fun rather than pay for doing so- an advantage to both sides and humanity!
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        May 1 2011: Both of you really got my head spining. So I decided to create a mockup last night, just to vizualise the possibilities and hopefully get some more discussion going. Check it out and see if you get any new ideas! (If you don't want to provide your own name as user name, just enter some nonsense name into the box. The user name is used as identifier for the player in the game.)
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          May 1 2011: Kristofer! I loved it!
          Did you notice that the developer of the technology (Ipad) that I referred to earlier is available for dialogue tomorow on TED conversations?
  • Apr 28 2011: In answering this question I would start with asking if I have already impacted on a billion people in the last ten years, or am I presently impacting a very large number of people?
    If the answer to these questions is yes, then it seems that I don't have to reach out to seemingly unreachable people, with creative new projects, but work out a way to adjust my relationships with these large numbers of people, to ensure I am positively impacting on one billion of them over ten years.
    I guess it will be a personal answer depending very much on who I am and the nature of my relationships with this number of people.

    If I were a billionaire in China...If I were a fisherman in Indonesia...If I were a woman with a baby in a warzone...

    For me personally, I am a 40yr old woman, living in an affluent, industrialised country...I can make loads of changes to my personal habits of creation and destruction, consumption and pollution, and work on my values, attitudes and emotions and improve my contribution to my family, community, ecological community and into the wider world beyond.

    Equally, I could change myself and my lifestyle by travelling to a place where I can live more in harmony with a billion people, but with a lot more hardships; For instance, a third world place, or a retreat into the countryside or 'bush' as we say here. However, I would need some time to learn to use more sustainable technologies, and to know how to live more closely with the new environment and social structure.

    If I were a very affluent 'westener', I wouldn't have to go to these lengths, just downsize my environmental footprint enough to positively impact a billion people over ten years. Perhaps influencing my affluent offspring and family and community would also help.

    But what if I were an indigenous person, living mostly traditionally-tiny footprint- how could I do it? Just continue my lifestyle and thereby enact my vision of a better tomorrow for a billion?
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      Apr 30 2011: Yes, who could disagree Lisa..but Erik is inviting us to suggest what students at the Singularity University might focus on as a project that could affect a billion lives..or did I misunderstand your invitation, Erik?
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        Apr 30 2011: I'm looking to compare/contrast the ideas we come up with to the technology-centered ideas that groups like those at SU tend to come up with.
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          Apr 30 2011: That wasn't all clear in how you prsented this conversation to us. Certainly my comments were not framed with reference to that. I thought you were talking about designing a doable student projecf. for Singularity University.Still some interesting indeas have emerged and are worth following through on.
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        May 1 2011: I am looking for doable projects, Lindsay, and I am working from within the context of affluent American society, so I think your comments are relevant. The students at SU have to come up with their own projects, but there are some common elements and obstacles in the examples I've seen talked about, so I wanted to see what a broader set of contributors suggests. You're right that there are some interesting ideas so far . . .
  • Apr 28 2011: Why not just changing the mindset of people, and in particular the beliefs rooted in religion, known to create tensions and divide people?
    The solution would be to educate people about atheism, so that everyone will be able to understand that paradise is here, so that we could all build a better world in the "now"and not focus on the after-life.
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      May 2 2011: That would not only be extremely difficult, it would also be stupid and irresponsible. Religion has flaws like any other human invention, but it is foolish to try and wipe it out by denying its usefulness. It is also incorrect to think that evil springs from religion.

      Atheism doesn't change human nature, and it it incorrect to think that it will reduce tensions and violence in any way.
  • Apr 28 2011: The Venus Project.
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    Apr 28 2011: I'm might not be clear but i could say that innovations in technology could make a greater positive impact on people.
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    Apr 29 2011: @Colleen
    1. Yes, that conversation is still open, and I did try to encourage people that sharing their efforts is meant to be inspiring and supportive, but you're right that it's still hard for people to open up.

    2. The problem is, I actually want to understand the issues underlying all of the conversations I've launched. I am fascinated by such a wide range of issues that it's too hard to choose! You should see how long the list is for questions I've wanted to start but didn't :-D
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      Apr 29 2011: I don't think it's hard for people to open up. We see a lot of "opening" on TED. I think the real "problem" is the number of interesting topics available, and it's sometimes difficult to choose where to spend our time and energy.'s not a's a feature! LOL...:>)
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    Apr 29 2011: Give them something for nothing
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      Apr 29 2011: That just sounds like a variation on the approach where step one = "First, take a gigantic pile of money, and then . . . " How could we get handing out freebies to create internatlized drives within the process?
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    Apr 29 2011: One way I can see this happening is if we create cheap green technology which we then market. For this, we can make a community, perhaps through social networks, encouraging people to present their ideas for innovative technology. Collaborative efforts from engineering students have created many useful inventions in the past, which have actually been put to use. If that is done, a group of people with the required capital can start marketing that technology.

    Of course there are a lot of blocks on the way, but I believe this can work.
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      Apr 29 2011: What are the obstacles? Since you didn't suggest a specific piece of tech, I think your suggestion is making it so these students can generate and produce new tools/resources. What would best facilitate that collaborative process among the engineering students?
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        Apr 30 2011: The main obstacles would be financial and the opposition from other non green technologies.
        The students could perhaps work on various technologies, the ones most needed today, eg, a better way to harness solar power, newer methods for creating biofuel etc.

        The collaborative process should be global, or as far reaching as possible. There could be monetary incentives to the group that creates the most efficient technology. I'd vouch for the power of online social networks in starting this idea.
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    Apr 28 2011: Why not create a World Community Bank that will create resources and opportunities for economically disadvantaged people who are underserved by traditional financial institutions.

    This entity would help by creating jobs, providing financial services, supplying capital for small businesses, providing affordable housing and increasing community services.

    The goal is a sustainable society. Community investments can have a greater impact than donating to a specific charity.

    Sharing Interests and Spreading Wealth will provide the world an Abundance of Health.
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    Apr 28 2011: don't all the ideas that change the world begin with one person recognizing a need or posing a question that has never been asked and then going for it? or were you think of technologies or the focus of inquiry ege cheap affordable liveabe housing that be produced and erected anywhere?

    If technology I would say a way to grow and distribute enough food to end world hunger would be the most important contribution the singularity university could make..
  • Apr 28 2011: One could be to create a politycal party, and it might take less than 10 years to create an impact. Two... to become an artist who fights for enviromental and human rights or for a free-from-capitalism society. Three... one could even be to become a porn producer who makes movies with moral values about sex, changing the whole paradigm of pornography. Four... to free China from dictatorship (1.5 billion). Five... to create Panacea. Six... to discover the formula for inmortality. Seven... to create a weapon of mass destruction which you can have in your garden and menace politicians to well behave... they are all hard and there some others that i can think of... but philosophy and solutiones have always existed. Humanity never had the courage to put them to work, because down here, the individual power of a civilian like us is almost non existant... so, what`s the point of asking such a question?... Where are you trying to get when you ask such a question?... what should we do with the valid/right answers?...
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      Apr 28 2011: You certainly cover a wide range of possibilities, though I'm not sure you're really taking the spirit of the question very seriously. My goal in asking the question has several different parts, the two main ones are:

      1.) to look for feasible solutions with low entry barriers, easy launch capability and a capacity for self-propulsion

      2.) to compare/contrast the kinds of ideas we can come up with to those generated by the elite, tech innovators that participate in the Singularity program
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    Apr 28 2011: A single act of compassion can move the world.

    Think something like Tiananmen square (that photo moves me yet)

    While something like this is hard to duplicate, I imagine a Website where someone can pledge to do a wholesome compassionate act once a day.

    They could share their act on the website, get badges and credit for all they've done and importantly inspire more people to make more pledges.

    Or maybe you could talk to Justin Bieber, he's got half a billion views on his "baby" video. :-)
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      Apr 28 2011: LOL I started a discussion thread here at TED on which people could go and list the compassionate acts they do each day, and so far it only got a handful. If we can't get TED people motivated to participate, what are our chances of it working on the population at large? :-D
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        Apr 28 2011: HA! I wish I'd have seen that before! I think a standalone site could garner some attention though (especially if you had it endorsed by Justin Bieber).

        after 500 acts the person can get a special badge!
        Instead of thumbs up you "pat them on the back."
        Every week you send a newsletter with "the best' to inspire more people.
        And Justin could sing your theme music!
        if not that I like
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          Apr 29 2011: I agree Christopher, that a "single act of compassion can move the world". I believe TED, and sharing ideas is moving the world as we speak:>)

          You started a discussion thread on which people could list compassionate acts they do every day. Of course, you realize how many interesting topics there are on TED? Is your discussion site still open? Don't give up on it so easily:>) To list our good deeds every day seems a little like bragging. Do you supose changing the title or intent might help encourage participation? Also, I find that those sites that get the action, are often "primed" by the person who starts the site. You've had several sites going Erik. Would it be helpful to spend more time on the one you want to promote the most?
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          Apr 30 2011: got your point..(I think) tx
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        Apr 28 2011: Good point Richard, I never even thought about that!
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        Apr 28 2011: Cool, Birdia. That picture still gives goosebumps.
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          May 23 2011: Birdia.

          I am glad to have this iconic image brought back to mind.. This is the courage we need now. We need to understand that our values alined with willl..alined with action is the courage we need to heal all that's broken in or country an din the wolrd.

          I am impressed with your tracking system..that you found your way back to thi sobscure comment in a dormant conversation.. Thnak you for that.

          I don't know whether this lost thread is the place to pusue such an important idea but, for the recird, it woukd be very interesting to have a little bit more on how the sermin at your school conflicted with your own interior sense of the meaning of that event. ( did you see the TED talk on ove rreliance on experts)..most children sitting in thos epews would just have adopted what they were being told from the pulpit as the "correct" interpretation of that event. Were you able to take a place apart from that because it was happening in China and you resonated more strongly wit that or was part of it just an interior knowing that what they were saying from the pulpit was wrong.

          Best Reegards & Thanks again

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        Apr 30 2011: I remember that of many amazing moments witnessed on live TV in my generation along with the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald, the shooting of the young student at Kent State. ( That might make an interesting TED list our live witness via media to moments and events of great significance). I remember this moment so well and the iconic message that courage involves risk..courage involves alining your heart and will into something with such strength it can stop a line of approaching tanks. Right to the heart of the question Erik invites us to spirit ..whatever project the Singularity University students come up with it will take the alinement of heart and will of this young man to discover that idea and to nuure it to a program or at least a proposal that is worth exploring. Any thouhgts on what the focus of that project should be?Tx Birdia
    Jan 1 1970:
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      Apr 29 2011: The billion person pyramid scheme?