TED Conversations

V K Madhavan

Operations Director , A4e India Pvt Ltd

TEDCRED 200+

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Technology can improve life - even dramatically - but to believe that it is the panacea of poverty or hunger is flawed.

Increasingly, people are seeking technological solutions to poverty and hunger. While technology could address issues of information asymmetry, this would be possible only if the poor possess or can easily access technology. The belief that technology - in particular the internet and mobiles - can solve these problems is an oversimplification of the causes of poverty and hunger and can lead to the alleviation efforts being misdirected.

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    Jun 26 2011: I fully agree

    As far as I'm informed, hunger and poverty are distribution problems (at least partly).
    There is enough food for everybody in this world, as their is wealth and abundance

    We could try and think how this can be solved: how can money and food be re-structured or adapted in ways everybody gets a share?
    Are we willing to give money and food to those who do not contribute (work)? How much?
    I would opt for such social support (giving every person a minimum wage, sufficient to let them thrive).
    As for more wealth and foods: one should work to obtain it.

    Would we need technology to do this? Well, I think it can help solve the practical aspects.
    • Josh S

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      Jun 27 2011: I'm in full agreement with Mr. Cop's opinion. With poverty and hunger being a rather large problem, organizing and executing a plan to alleviate these issues will require the communication made available via technology. A widespread problem requires a widespread response by means of international cooperation and technology can bridge the obvious gaps associate with different nationalities coming together.

      I'd also like to point out the idea that for being such a "technological" nation, the United States has its own issues of poverty and hunger. While not often given the same media attention here in the U.S. when compared to poverty and hunger issues abroad, there are still regional pockets of people struggling to feed themselves and their families.
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        Jul 18 2011: That is the same the world over. For example in Australia there are many people who struggle to feed themselves but when I see what is happening in Somalia it doesn't compare. Nearly all people in Australia have access to a social security payment but everything is relative.
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      Jul 14 2011: One of the problems here is that technology also eliminates jobs.

      Plenty of people would labor for good pay, but that is not the circumstance of conditions, not the reality of the current job market (In America anyways). Need diplomas, not everyone is academic easily, and slave wages are legal to do abroad. I need to be reeducated on how alike other countries are to mine. Things change fast these day, do you agree?

      In a broad sense of reality, the same technology that eliminate jobs should also eliminate the need for money as well, or at least money towards LIVING should be eliminated.

      - Machines (technology) used to produce all of life's needs are necessary for true equality of living conditions.

      The current system involves money (gold) for payment, for almost ANYthing. Those with enough money to create that type system A. Don't know they can change the world B. Don't care that they can C. Don't want it that way, and/or D. Like it this way. In my opinion of course. Based on this.hypothetical scenario; we all deserve equal basic living conditions, but the questions still lay into what degree(s) of the essentials. Food, house, and/or protection? How much? Why?

      [1] My shared thoughts behind needs: http://weareindigo.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/maslows-hierarchy-of-needs1.jpg

      I think TED shows people thinking in this direction of "oneness" often, or something like-oneness. Which is amazing, in my opinion the numbers are far too low for significant change. But I see it (the scenario) in the future on TED more than most sites.

      Thoughts?
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        Jul 14 2011: As many people don't have paid jobs, I don't believe that there is not enough work in this world... Actually there is so much to do! And much of it can (and will) be monetized.

        Your Ideas lean towards the zeitgeist-movement... a,d although I agree on many aspects of their analysis, there are a lot of problems to be solved. One being the diversity of humans, our tendency to free-ride, and that I'm very skeptical of 'mental switches' in societies or even within a human... we are bound to our biological urges and restrictions and interests.

        Money as such is not the problem. It is a technology, and a very useful one. Though abuse should, like any abuse of a technology should be countered.
        And there are a lot of alternative money systems (trade-points, bartering, friends-services,...) that can live in parallel with money, and in time even drop the importance of current currency

        "Oneness" is in my opinion overrated. I'd opt for "a feeling of belonging" in your community, on this planet, and with all (non-negative) diversity possible.

        But if you see it your mission to further the goals you propose: please do so! I think they are noble thoughts, and worth aspiring to.
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          Jul 15 2011: I understand money isn't going anywhere, these ideas are just good conversation because the existing reality of this world COULD allow something like the idea of true "oneness". This idea is no longer just a religious thing anymore, patently, it is more apparent today that it this is a spiritual thing. Transhumanism philosophies are sounding more and more like a religious/spiritual movement as it progresses in popular science. I for one see a pattern of people enjoying the idea of unity, but when the question of "how" comes up, blanks are drawn.

          My ideas are VP-like, however they are just modern day "prophet" ideologies. Jesus, Gandhi, Buddha, the list goes on of people whom were revered in legend as stating "oneness" and/or equal unification. Many claim "Too good to be true" based on just not considering things in a "many-valued logic". There is no way to do this in a 1-2-3 step process, there would need to be trial and error. Too complex. Too extreme. Too many variables.

          It is obvious all basic needs should be distributed by those with the most wealth, but it should still be I know for a fact no one enjoys: starving to death, dying from unnatural conditions, and/or never having a chance to create a self prophecy...

          The word oneness is overrated, but that direction of thinking is not.

          What we are bound to as humans are being patterned creatures, biological robots, teach and traditionalize good healthy patterns to the machine, and I feel their will be intellectual improvement naturally as a more rapid brain evolution, over time of course. With or without technology directly effecting our natural anatomy (trans-human).

          Bare with me, these ideas are futuristic, or too optimistic. I also understand technology is tripling-quadruple yearly. Technology has a chance to literally evolve faster than humans. Which is not what should happen, it should be used to improve human intelligence first or constantly.

          Greedy people with powerful tools is not a good future.
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        Jul 15 2011: Don't forget that the Maslow's model works for a) occidental b) educated people. In other cultural environments, it doesnt work that well !
        IMHO, i tend to agree with Christophe : What we call our "needs" are mainly determined by the reptilian part of our brain. Greed is. Tendency to protect the little ones too. Breathing too.
        I believe that, the same way we can train our breath or our heart to beat slower, we can work on ourselves to understand and change those natural tendencies. ( as long as we do not have to work as slaves 15 hours a day, and struggle for our daily food !)
        Technologies are just tools for us to change our lives, and others' ones. The way we use them depends of our goals.
        It reminds me an argument between Kar
        l Marx and Augustin : The 2nd affirms that if you change the human being first, the world will change. The first that the world has to be changed first, to change the men...
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          Jul 15 2011: Pascal,

          I use to believe it was for rich people, but I see the chart differently than what text books explain.

          Basic needs: If you do not have these, those are the hierarchy of needs, you live to survive, you live for your basic needs.

          Psychological: If you live a society where you have to worry less about basic needs you have a better chance for needing to satisfy your ego.

          Self-fulfillment: Super ego. Gifted to those who do not need to worry at all about surviving, but about bettering themselves to one's projected "Buddha" or prophecy.

          Ego is not bad, nor is super ego. They sound bad with "ego" but attributed with the hierarchy of needs in another psychological sense. Confidence is a very important part of being human; their are plenty of historic war rituals to psych up the troops, all to believe they can't die.

          We are biological machines, robots with natural nuts and bolts made from nature and the cosmos. Sounds spiritual almost. Greed is too simple, it is putting a lot of variables of what "behaviors" caused the "greed". To a degree everyone is selfish, altruistic, and/or self-less. To be purely greedy or to be purely altruistic is impossible.

          I agree with your last statement.

          Transhumanism is the philosophy behind using technology to improve human beings. There are plenty of philosophies that believe we should improve ourselves through "knowledge" "awareness" and "self enlightenment" usually these comes with time thus we must respect our elders. However we must teach these morals and ethics to children. I consider a "positive brainwashing" in one way or a series open-ended educations considered to be both spiritual and factual, both imaginative and realistic, both opinion and consensus-ed opinions.

          I am all up for educating these ideas of "oneness" and "love" but, they are too complex. Too much, and when you try to simplify you sound like a preacher and no one digs preaching.

          The human mind is capable of not only controlling the body but spirit.
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        Jul 15 2011: Nicholas,

        I just watched the latest zeitgeist movie... my comments quite hold. I think I'm not quite opposed, as they do try and integrate as much as possible and want to apply system dynamics, technocracy, and cradle to cradle principles too.
        All worth aspiring, and as they say that they are willing to re-iterate if proven wrong (though not with that much words)...

        So on a whole: it is in a direction I'm not opposed to. I would opt for a less structured and a slightly more trial and error approach...
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    Jun 26 2011: Just a question: does anyone still believe technology alone can solve the world's problems? Haven't we already overcome this utopian illusion, haven't we already moved on? I think we all agree that improving the technological infrastructures in developing nations contributes to solving problems, but I really wonder who still thinks it's the best and only way -- to focus on technology prior to focusing on the essential problems.
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      Jun 26 2011: Technology alone no, but without technology we humans cannot do much nowadays. Science to use the real term, is the key to solve problems, all problems.

      We need to combine Science with Love to save the world from it's own decay. Today Science is combine with Fear and it does nothing good.

      There is no Utopia, there are only people unable to have ideas.
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      Jul 5 2011: Hi Simone.
      I'm not sure about technology solving the worlds problems but I came across this delightful podcast recently from a program called "The Bioneers" To quote from their website "Forty years ago when a logging road was blasted deep into the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, the outside world discovered the Surui people. Contact with the Western world led to their decimation by disease, warfare and illegal logging and mining. The Surui organized to save themselves and their homeland by electing a young leader to tell their story to the world. Chief Almir Narayamoga Surui traveled from the Amazon rainforest to the Google-plex to ask for help to bring his people back from the brink of extinction and save their precious rainforest. The collaboration with Google Earth Outreach manager Rebecca Moore has helped map a next world that marries the best of tradition and conservation with the best of high technology.
      Here is the link to cut and paste.
      http://www.bioneers.org/radio/2010-series/from-bows-and-arrows-to-laptops
      All the best Kevin
  • Jul 5 2011: I think humanity is in a great need of spiritual growth to catch up with the technology
    it managed to build up, otherwise all scientific wizadry is useless.
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    Jun 26 2011: I completely agree, I think this talk is relevant here: http://www.ted.com/talks/sendhil_mullainathan.html

    Technology cannot by itself fix all problems, it needs to be accompanied by proper social organization.
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    Jul 14 2011: V K. I think you are right. Especially if by information asymmetry you mean knowledge deficit. Technology is just a generic word for hopefully advanced tools. Tools by themselves are neutral, they only become positive when used with proper intelligence. The Dalai Lama has commented to the effect that our advances in science and technology have outstripped our wisdom as a society and that this imbalance urgently needed to be addressed. Buckminster Fuller also stated that if one section of the planet managed to create a utopia for itself using technology this would just lead to conflict if the rest of the planet were not brought along. This was why he had a policy of never charging for the use of his patents whose purposes in any case were to benefit everyone. Win-win for all or in the end everyone will lose. This year the world population reached 7 billion and is projected to hit 9 billion by the mid-century. Argument about how many is too many is in effect meaningless. The critical question is what percentage of any society's population has achieved their creative potential. After the energy we receive from our star it is human activity that determines GDP and thus relative wealth or poverty. One well educated person can produce enough to support several others. If even a third of our adult population were effectively educated AND had learned how to cooperate then we would be in great shape. My observation is that world wide maybe 10% of the people have succeeded in educating themselves and that the cooperation and trust needed to lubricate society is largely lacking. What is war in the end but a lack of trust? Ken Robinson and many other members have stated that we need a revolution in education, a quantum leap forward from traditional fossilized forms. If we don't then I am afraid we will see a population collapse like that which finished the dinosaurs but instead of an asteroid or ancient climate change our demise will be from our own ineffective habits.
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    Jun 27 2011: Dear VK Madhaven,

    Probably the first thing to do is to stop talking about "fighting poverty", but to start talking about "collaborate on survival"

    And I do not mean for the 'poor', I mean a dialogue involving all 6 billion of us.

    As in all parts of the world there is no basic thought what survival really is, once an economy is going it is taken for granted.

    The individual goal should be I think "If I understand survival for myself, I can start helping others to survive. In the meantime I can work on my own luxury in life."

    Technology will help us to create enterprise transparency without needing central planning to create basic public health everywhere. In the end it is about healthy relationships between people to collaborate, this is not going to be solved by technology alone.
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    Jun 27 2011: I think that technology can be used effectively to educate the masses on the issues of poverty and hunger throughout the world. I always find that the best way to get a point/information across is to highlight it online or advertise it on the television.

    Surely this use of technology coupled with physical action is the only way around this problem?
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    Jun 27 2011: Yes you need sacrificial love for that.That's why the gospel spreads so well in areas of needs and is rejected in areas of abundance.
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    Jul 25 2011: To eradicate hunger and poverty we need to educate people by giving them the opportunity of growth in all aspects of lives. Of course technology plays an important role here but first we have to teach people how to use it. This can’t be archived unless governments, NGOS and Wealthy and educated people of every country help the poor to increase the standard of their lives. Today’s technology is very complicated, becoming more complicated in future, thus hard to be digested by poor people. .Not only we should simplify it to be understood by everyone but we should teach them its knowledge. Paying them Charity, e.g. to poor people of Africa or other places, should not devaluate their dignity if we give them the tools of improvements. Muhammad Yunus in Bangladesh is an example of this matter. No bank gave loan to poor people there because they couldn’t give the bank enough guarantees to support returning the loans to the bank but he showed them the right path. When people are starving, they are not in a position to understand the benefit of technology.
  • Jul 25 2011: I think one needs to be cautious about broad statements here. Technology has seen massive price crashes, and access to information has become easier than ever. There are problems of information asymmetry in the world, but these problems are actually narrowing. Access to the internet and mobile devices can do a lot to solve a lot of problems in the world, namely by providing information about what has and has not worked in the past. It still takes determined individuals and groups, organization and collaboration and a strong collective will to do what is necessary for solutions. I think technology can provide tools to help build upon a good foundation, but the foundation has to be there. Ecaterina Sanalatii's gave some insightful comments, to which I'd say that this is basically the difference between web2.0 and web1.0 and that the technology itself is changing so that it is easier to do the 2nd type of solutions rather than the first type. Technological infrastructure is immensely important, and having it is valuable for solving all kinds of problems, but the type and nature of that infrastructure has to be correct for those problems.
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    Jul 25 2011: Just to examine two hypothetical examples:

    1) Internet access in a hospital in Ghana might not educate doctors and inform patients sufficiently just by providing mountains of information - however establishing a link between a hospital in Ghana and a hospital in, say, the UK whereby doctors in Ghana can watch operations carried out or patients interacting in a patients' network would be very effective

    2) Online information on a certain subject is of course great as it provides plenty of insight into a subject. However a mentoring network is more effective

    I think we need a paradigm shift here - rather than seeing technology as the solution, we need to examine it as a tool.
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    Jul 25 2011: I think Technology can do a lot, don't underestimate it! http://www.ted.com/speakers/nicholas_negroponte.html
    Check the Talks and the website I think it might change your mind!
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    Jul 15 2011: For me the answer to this is fundamental. We can use all the help we can get from every quarter to feed the world. The solutions will not come from one place but from multiple disciplines, countries, people, working together in the belief that is this the only just outcome for our planet. My big concern about technology is that new solutions for one problem produce new problems in another area. I am referring in particular to the idea of biofuels. While it sounds great to use ethanol from corn sources to have cleaner fuel to run our cars, it is taking corn out of the mouths of people and driving up the price of food world wide. While it might not matter too much to us if we pay 10 cents more for a food item, for many in the 3rd world it is the difference between eating tonight and not eating. I wish we could have vocal and informed people here and in other places shout out warnings when one 'brilliant' solution in one area causes devastation in another.
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    Jul 15 2011: The only practical way that internet and mobile could solve hunger is by providing the ability to order take-out. I'm not trying to sound like a jerk, but who believes that the internet and mobiles could solve this problem? The internet and mobiles can ASSIST in addressing the issues.
  • Jul 15 2011: The issue is an equilibrium one. For the western world to flourish, there has to be an equalising opposite effect somewhere else in the world. We are very imbalanced in that we are rich because others are poor.

    One of the comments below are quite right that it is a distribution or greed issue that we humans have culminated over the centuries.

    Now that we are more interconnected and educated, i am hopeful that we will brake down some barriers and aid the rest of the world by rethinking monetary policy.

    Current central banking and monetary policy is at the heart of the issue and this is a rather large issue to solve which is almost impossible to break without some sort of catastrophe.

    There was a paper i read once about humans naturally making society more and more complex until eventually the civilisation fails under its own weight.

    Once this happens again, i am hopeful that if education can be preserved. That new ideas can be born out of it and a newly formed evenly distributed world with lots of efficient localisation takes place. Idealism? Perhaps but i stay optimistic for the human race.

    We all know that goods are cheaper from China right? But come on! When you look at it from a scientific and efficiency perspective. Since when was it actually 'cheaper' on resources pr the planet to cart goods half way around the world when they can be manufactured locally perfectly well?

    Monetary policy distorts reality and masks what is truly important in this world. It actually detaches us from our natural human instinct and causes us to make decisions based on it.

    I look forward to the day that the central banking system collapses and doing the math it should be any time in the next decade. I just hope that we replace it with something better to help spread human equality around the globe once and for all. We have the technology, just the wrong policies which spawn the wrong attitude.
  • Jul 5 2011: Technology, specifically the internet, could be used as a backstage tool for coordinating operations against this problem, I agree with the fact that technology itself wont defeat poverty leave alone hunger, but used correctly and not as the only way to attack said issues, would be the best way to append this form of globalized information against the said reality that is affecting millions of lives worldwide.
  • Jul 4 2011: It's not just on issues of poverty and hunger, but too many people propose solutions that only look at one side of an issue and think that will fix things - and it almost never does. In issues where technology is given as a possible solution, the societal side gets ignored.

    If you looked at purely technical solutions and see people that think we can eradicate poverty if only everyone were to earn some US$400 a month and that would solve the poverty issue - think again: you can 'easily' make everyone who currently earns a dollar a month pass over the 400 dollars a month: generate 40000% inflation once. There you go, everyone makes US$400 a month - and no problem is solved.

    Poverty is what sometimes gets referred to as a 'wicked' problem, because trying to adjust one side of it, can cause problems on another: if we in the richer nations bought more from the poorer nations that would help getting people in poorer nations out of poverty. At the same time, it would dump lower skilled workers in the richer nations into poverty, because their jobs would go away to the 'poorer' countries. And while poverty in a 'rich' nation is still 'more comfortable' than poverty in a poor nation - it would not be sustainable in the 'rich' country either. And the way us 'richer' nations act also compounds the problem. A report in a special week of TV programs on 'food and life' on German television a year ago highlighted another one of those stupid things that isn't working and needs some desperate attention: We give development aid to sub-saharan African nations to try and get more farms going. At the same time, we unload out food overproduction on some of the same countries, driving those same farms we built up back out of business.
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      Jul 4 2011: It is the whole of the economic system that must be reformed to adjust to the new standards of technology. What will happen when robotic will get combined to AI in every working field. A lot of production with minimal maintenance costs but with no one to buy anything because jobs will get done by AI.

      The real solution to get rid of the banking system, capitalism is an house of cards, it's foundations are based on debts. Increase the debt to pay the interests of the previous one. What a joke !!! Fortunately more and more people realize this fraudulent system.

      Get rid of the banking system, get rid of the major problems. Replace the actual banking system by a global central bank funding all corporations, every individual who volunteer in humanitarian projects. Give them all the buying power they need to increase the quality of life of others, base the quality of life as a basic value which need to be maintain at the highest possible standard. Soon poverty will be gone, combine this system with AI technology, you get a very balanced world where people do what they want to help others or help themselves, peacefully.

      And everyone is happy.
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    Jul 4 2011: Technology is good, however it also seems that when humanity tries to jump the gun in technology and push forward to soon. That is when poverty will always grow because we all must think where does the money come from to make such a technological breakthrough.
  • Jul 1 2011: Of course you are totally correct. Technology is not the answer to all but it does help a good deal. It might not be a solution but stopping technological advance is akin to suicide. The more we learn about our selves and the world, the more we can use technology to adapt ourselves or change the world so that we may live in it more easily. Hunger and poverty are not a technological problem. They are social problems. Even before technology, there were rich people and poor people. At least now a greater share of poor people are becoming richer thanks in part to technology. To fix poverty you need to remove corruption, improve education, improve access to utilities and create sustained production. All of these things are not technological problems, they are social but technology can help solve them.
  • Jun 27 2011: I think we have to reach a high level of political stability before long-term progress can be made. It is one thing to distribute food from time to time but long term self-sufficiency and an educated population can only be achieved if folks don't have to worry about war, conflict and frequent displacements. Funds can then be spent on constructive endeavours using the technology for farming etc, rather than destructive ones.

    But there are small things that we can do - TEDsters adopt a village, set up water pumps, solar energy, build school, start farm - maybe lead to a self-sufficient village? Ideas?
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    Jun 27 2011: VK, it's not the only solution but science and technology is a crucial part of our solution strategies:

    - Provides useful information for gathering crises and risks and implementation of appropriate actions, specially research on devastating natural disasters. Would more research prevented the loss of more than 15000 lives from the Japan earthquake?

    - global information and technology to transform our economic models and scientifiuc research to improve our effectiveness and efficiencies

    - information to augment our moral sense and information to excercise our individual and institutional power to transform our world; digital information to match the trust we're empowering our leaders, information that empowers transparency and accountability
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    Jun 27 2011: Same way as machine translators can not translate a user manual perfectly and abolish human translators, technology might improve but not abolish poverty and hunger. Human contribution, humanitarian aid and force is inevitable, i think.
  • Jun 26 2011: I strongly recommend the Zeitgeist movie!