Indepent Working Module, Podcast: Technology and its relevance when solving the major issues

Jason Pontin – Can technology solve our big problems?

The author of TED-speech, James Pontin, is publisher of MIT Technology Review which under his control has gained fame, thus being enough merit for a layman like me (a layman concerning technology) to listen his opinion. The author states that faith of mankind towards abilities of technology has “evaporated” due our inability to solve severe issues such as eradication of the cancer, creating sustainable source of non-polluting energy or ending the famine in the Third World.  The author states that the success of Apollo 10 to land on Moon was the result of long-time exponential technological development.

The author claims that the main problem is not, even though the idea would seem attractive, small-investing which at its best that “offered an exit within ten years”, ergo seeking profit in short time span, whilst investing to e.g. energy would require enormous capital investments and expectations are “lengthy”, thus venture capitalists do not find investing attractive due the investment’s inability to offer “immediate commercial value”. Instead the author argues that mankind chooses sometimes not to solve major issues, e.g. a voyage to planet Mars would require not only political but also popular appeal which is unlikely to happen due “everyone thinks there are more important things”. Sometimes a political failure prevents solving these issues:  less than two per cent of our energy is produced with renewable sources due their expenses compared to e.g. oil or gas, even though according the author, experts as well as economics agree that investing to the renewable energy sources would make using them profitable. The author points out that sometimes issues are not technological ones: the problems behind famines are usually of political kind, thus increasing crops or improving transportation has no effect if government fails to take advantage of them. The author states that our misunderstanding of the problem, e.g. declaring the war against cancer by Nixon: taxonomy of cancers weren’t understood nor their resistance against therapy.

The author concludes that in effort to solve major issues, for elements must be present: political as well as public opinion must be favourable, “institution must support its solution”, problem must be of technological kind and appropriate understanding is required. The author states that Apollo program met the criteria, thus it was successful.



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