How do we begin solving world’s biggest problems? PART – 1

Come to think of it – we humans seem to be having the best time ever and we are at a peak in terms of demonstrating our intelligence and power.

As Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna (authors of the book Age of Discovery) share in an article titled “We’re living in an age full of possibilities. So why do so many of us feel like losers?”:

“Existing computing technologies  already flood us with abundant data; quantum computing holds the promise of abundant information processing. Autonomous machines supply abundant routine work; one day, artificial intelligence may supply abundant cognition. Genetic medicine may offer pathways to abundant health. Materials science, synthetic biology and nanotechnology may soon yield abundant clean energy”.

Are we at the cusp of solving all problems? How many more years we would take to provide good quality education, livelihood and access to good health infrastructure to all our fellow humans?

We seem to be nearly there, Life expectancy is at a peak, poverty has started declining and as per ourworldindata.org only 17% of the world population remains illiterate. Yet, we also seem to be stumbling big time – many sections of society have become “big losers” – as Goldin and Chris Kutarna articulate in the same article:

“… among pensioners and homeowners whose savings were destroyed by unforeseen financial risks; among workers whose jobs are now being done overseas by people escaping from poverty; among those whose jobs stayed onshore but are being replaced by machines; among farmers whose crops are failing because of climate change; among citizens in countries where a small elite are siphoning the benefits of global integration into offshore bank accounts”.

It seems we do not have a good understanding of what we really should be doing to solve all major problems of the world. We surely are spending a lots of money. Billionaires like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and probably many more have committed more than half of their wealth to charitable causes. As per the website “charitynavigator.org”, in 2017, an estimated $410.02 billion was given to charitable causes.

Yet, we are making big mistakes – even the most powerful countries like USA are grappling with problems like unemployment, education system, climate and so on. It seems we have no clue as to what we should be doing.

So how do we begin getting a “real” understanding of what exactly are our world biggest problems and opportunities?  It is certainly not easy. One of the dilemmas was quite clearly expressed by Nick Bostrom during his 2014 talk on ‘Crucial Considerations and Wise Philanthropy’:

“GDP? Yes, we want more GDP, but we also have to take into account the amount of unemployment, maybe the amount of equality or inequality, some factor for the health of the environment. It might not be that whatever we write there s exactly the thing that is equivalent to moral goodness fundamentally considered. But we know that these things tend to be good, or we think so.

This is a useful approximation of true value that might be more tractable in a practical decision-making context. One thing I can ask, then, is if there is something similar to that for moral goodness. You want to do the morally best thing you can do, but to calculate all of these out from scratch just looks difficult or impossible to do in any one situation.”

How do we arrive at “the best possible” action to take? Let us look at that in part 2 of this post.

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