Jason Pontin

Editor in Chief/Publisher, MIT's Technology Review
Cambridge, MA, United States

About Jason

Bio

Jason Pontin is the editor in chief, chief executive, and publisher of Technology Review, an independent publication owned by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that describes emerging technologies.

Pontin was hired as the editor of Technology Review in July 2004, and in August 2005 was named chief executive and publisher. From 1996 to 2002, he was the editor of Red Herring, a business and technology publication that was popular during the dot-com boom. From 2002 to 2004, he was the editor of The Acumen Journal, a now-defunct magazine about the life sciences that he founded.

Pontin has written for many national and international magazines and newspapers, including The New York Times, The Economist, The Financial Times, The Believer Magazine, and Wired, and is a frequent guest on broadcast, public, and cable television news. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA).

Pontin was born in London, raised in Northern California, and educated in England, at Harrow School and Oxford University.

Languages

Greek, Latin

TED Conferences

TED2014, TED2013, TED2012, TED2011, TED2010, TED2009, TEDGlobal 2007

Areas of Expertise

Information Technology, Life Sciences,Biotechnology,Biochemical Engg., Internet, Social Media, Publishing, Alterantive Energy, Material Sciences, Literature, Art, Venture capital pitch coaching

I'm passionate about

How emerging technologies can expand human possibilities.

Universities

Oxford

Talk to me about

Talk to me about anything about which you yourself are knowledgeable and which you find fascinating. I'm interested in learning new things.

People don't know I'm good at

I can read Latin verse.

My TED story

I first went to TED in Monterey in 1997.

Favorite talks

Comments & conversations

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Jason Pontin
Posted 10 months ago
Jason Pontin: Can technology solve our big problems?
No, I said "advanced renewable sources such as solar, wind, and biofuels." The IEA's numbers on the pages to which you link include hydro-power and the burning of biomass - which means wood and dried manure, mostly. Burning biomass is more environmentally destructive than burning coal, both in terms of its emissions and other pollutants. And dams, of course, have tremendous environmental impact, quite apart from their "sunk" carbon costs.
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Jason Pontin
Posted 10 months ago
Jason Pontin: Can technology solve our big problems?
I don't think so. To get to Mars we'd have to solve some fundamental problems (some of them involving our own frail biology) that demand basic research -- which usually requires the investment of significant government monies in R&D. Then, that research will need to be developed and made into operational space vehicles. NASA itself estimates that if it were given an additional $3billion a year right now, it might mount a success MARS mission in 2030. See this account of the unsolved problems: http://www.technologyreview.com/featuredstory/429620/the-deferred-dreams-of-mars/ Put it another way: it's 2013, and Elon can't get out of low-earth orbit. Actually, SpaceX isn't even a functioning satellite transport system yet. I don't say that it's absolutely impossible for a private individual and his space company to mount a Mars mission one day. But he couldn't do so today or even in 2025, with our current or imminent science and technology. What's more, there's no economic incentive for him to do so. We're not going to Mars in any immediate future, because there's no political will or economic reason to do so.
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Jason Pontin
Posted 10 months ago
Jason Pontin: Can technology solve our big problems?
It is, alas, an urban legend that the Kennedy Administration originally intended NASA's spaceflight center to be in Cambridge, next to MIT - and that President Kennedy's assassination allowed Johnson to move it to his own state. It is true, of course, that the Draper Laboratory did the work on the Apollo guidance system. See: https://libraries.mit.edu/archives/exhibits/apollo/index.html I'd very mildly add that it's a little unusual to attribute Kennedy's assassination to the politics of the moon mission.
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Jason Pontin
Posted 10 months ago
Jason Pontin: Can technology solve our big problems?
The big idea worth spreading (such as it is) is that we can solve big problems with technology. In fact, we must. But big problems are hard and solving them through technology is getting harder, as we seize the low-hanging fruit. To solve a big problem through technology requires, minimally, four things: 1). We must make a political decision to solve the problem; 2). Our institutions must fully support that decision; 3). The problem must really be technological; 4). We must understand the problem. In the absence of those necessary conditions, a problem won't get solved through techology. To use the Mars example... We won't go to Mars because there's no political will to go because there are more important things to do here on Earth; our institutions won't support the effort; and although there is a NASA plan, we don't really know how to do it. If we started working on the problem now, and increased the Space Agency's budget by another $3 billion a year, maybe we could go in 20 years.
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Jason Pontin
Posted 10 months ago
Jason Pontin: Can technology solve our big problems?
Well, going to Mars would clearly mean solving a big problem (or, in fact, a whole series of problems). But my point was really that everyone feels there are more important problems back here on Earth, and that therefore we probably won't go. Going to Mars would be a political decision, and it's not going to happen. "Feeding the world" is partly a technological problem; but eliminating famines is more of a political problem. Famines are political crises, and until such a time as we have a magical technology like food replicators (in other words, probably never), there will be famines so long as there are bad governments. VCs are absolutely profit-oriented. What's more, they're motivated to turn a profit in a relatively short window - generally, about 7 years. That's because they serve the financial interests of their limited partners.
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Jason Pontin
Posted 10 months ago
Jason Pontin: Can technology solve our big problems?
Unbelievably, there were actually *3* Apollo missions in '69. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Apollo_missions They had ambition! And I think said that Buzz Aldrin was the senior surviving alumnus of those who walked on the moon. Neil Armstrong died last year.
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Jason Pontin
Posted over 1 year ago
"Why Can't We Solve Big Problems?"
Yes, I believe that we solved many of the easy problems. In my original essay I wrote, "Hard problems are hard." If you think about the biotechnology revolution, for instance, all the early drugs were essential replacement therapies for proteins we already fully understood and were already manufacturing in less efficient ways. We already knew how to make human insulin and human growth hormone. Biotech just coaxed e.coli bacteria to manufacture them for us. Truly novel therapeutics have been harder to create.
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Jason Pontin
Posted over 1 year ago
"Why Can't We Solve Big Problems?"
Fritzie, I was pleasantly shocked by the scale and speed of the improvements that Bono described. I felt less optimistic than he that as these problems approach asymptote that the problems can be eliminated altogether. (At one point, Bono suggested that we might eliminate extreme poverty altogether by the middle years of the century.) By the way, we interviewed Bono in MIT TR here: http://www.technologyreview.com/qa/508771/bono-sings-the-praises-of-technology/
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Jason Pontin
Posted over 1 year ago
"Why Can't We Solve Big Problems?"
I delivered the TED U Talk today in Long Beach. Thank you to everyone who contributed to this discussion - it was very helpful, and guided my thoughts and words. I hope TED releases the video on its Web site, so that you can see your contributions.