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  • So, we used to solve big problems.

  • On July 21st, 1969,

  • Buzz Aldrin climbed out of Apollo 11's lunar module

  • and descended onto the Sea of Tranquility.

  • Armstrong and Aldrin were alone,

  • but their presence on the moon's gray surface

  • was the culmination of a convulsive, collective effort.

  • The Apollo program was the greatest

  • peacetime mobilization

  • in the history of the United States.

  • To get to the moon, NASA spent

  • around 180 billion dollars in today's money,

  • or four percent of the federal budget.

  • Apollo employed around 400,000 people

  • and demanded the collaboration of 20,000

  • companies, universities and government agencies.

  • People died, including the crew of Apollo 1.

  • But before the Apollo program ended,

  • 24 men flew to the moon.

  • Twelve walked on its surface, of whom Aldrin,

  • following the death of Armstrong last year,

  • is now the most senior.

  • So why did they go?

  • They didn't bring much back:

  • 841 pounds of old rocks,

  • and something all 24 later emphasized --

  • a new sense of the smallness

  • and the fragility of our common home.

  • Why did they go? The cynical answer is they went

  • because President Kennedy wanted to show

  • the Soviets that his nation had the better rockets.

  • But Kennedy's own words at Rice University in 1962

  • provide a better clue.

  • (Video) John F. Kennedy: But why, some say, the moon?

  • Why choose this as our goal?

  • And they may well ask,

  • why climb the highest mountain?

  • Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic?

  • Why does Rice play Texas?

  • We choose to go to the moon.

  • We choose to go to the moon.

  • (Applause)

  • We choose to go to the moon in this decade,

  • and do the other things,

  • not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

  • Jason Pontin: To contemporaries,

  • Apollo wasn't only a victory of West over East

  • in the Cold War.

  • At the time, the strongest emotion

  • was of wonder

  • at the transcendent powers of technology.

  • They went because it was a big thing to do.

  • Landing on the moon occurred in the context

  • of a long series of technological triumphs.

  • The first half of the 20th century produced

  • the assembly line and the airplane,

  • penicillin and a vaccine for tuberculosis.

  • In the middle years of the century,

  • polio was eradicated and smallpox eliminated.

  • Technology itself seemed to possess

  • what Alvin Toffler in 1970

  • called "accelerative thrust."

  • For most of human history,

  • we could go no faster than a horse

  • or a boat with a sail,

  • but in 1969, the crew of Apollo 10

  • flew at 25,000 miles an hour.

  • Since 1970, no human beings

  • have been back to the moon.

  • No one has traveled faster than the crew

  • of Apollo 10,

  • and blithe optimism about technology's powers

  • has evaporated

  • as big problems we had imagined technology would solve,

  • such as going to Mars,

  • creating clean energy, curing cancer,

  • or feeding the world have come to seem

  • intractably hard.

  • I remember watching the liftoff of Apollo 17.

  • I was five years old,

  • and my mother told me not to stare

  • at the fiery exhaust of a Saturn V rocket.

  • I vaguely knew this was to be the last

  • of the moon missions,

  • but I was absolutely certain there would be

  • Mars colonies in my lifetime.

  • So "Something happened

  • to our capacity to solve big problems with technology"

  • has become a commonplace.

  • You hear it all the time.

  • We've heard it over the last two days here at TED.

  • It feels as if technologists have diverted us

  • and enriched themselves with trivial toys,

  • with things like iPhones and apps and social media,

  • or algorithms that speed automated trading.

  • There's nothing wrong with most of these things.

  • They've expanded and enriched our lives.

  • But they don't solve humanity's big problems.

  • What happened?

  • So there is a parochial explanation in Silicon Valley,

  • which admits that it has been funding less ambitious companies

  • than it did in the years when it financed

  • Intel, Microsoft, Apple and Genentech.

  • Silicon Valley says the markets are to blame,

  • in particular the incentives that venture capitalists

  • offer to entrepreneurs.

  • Silicon Valley says that venture investing

  • shifted away from funding transformational ideas

  • and towards funding incremental problems

  • or even fake problems.

  • But I don't think that explanation is good enough.

  • It mostly explains what's wrong with Silicon Valley.

  • Even when venture capitalists were at their most

  • risk-happy, they preferred small investments,

  • tiny investments that offered an exit within 10 years.

  • V.C.s have always struggled

  • to invest profitably in technologies such as energy

  • whose capital requirements are huge

  • and whose development is long and lengthy,

  • and V.C.s have never, never funded the development

  • of technologies meant to solve big problems

  • that possess no immediate commercial value.

  • No, the reasons we can't solve big problems

  • are more complicated and more profound.

  • Sometimes we choose not to solve big problems.

  • We could go to Mars if we want.

  • NASA even has the outline of a plan.

  • But going to Mars would follow a political decision

  • with popular appeal, and that will never happen.

  • We won't go to Mars, because everyone thinks

  • there are more important things

  • to do here on Earth.

  • Sometimes, we can't solve big problems

  • because our political systems fail.

  • Today, less than two percent

  • of the world's energy consumption

  • derives from advanced, renewable sources

  • such as solar, wind and biofuels,

  • less than two percent,

  • and the reason is purely economic.

  • Coal and natural gas are cheaper

  • than solar and wind,

  • and petroleum is cheaper than biofuels.

  • We want alternative energy sources

  • that can compete on price. None exist.

  • Now, technologists, business leaders

  • and economists all basically agree

  • on what national policies and international treaties

  • would spur the development of alternative energy:

  • mostly, a significant increase in energy

  • research and development,

  • and some kind of price on carbon.

  • But there's no hope in the present political climate

  • that we will see U.S. energy policy

  • or international treaties that reflect that consensus.

  • Sometimes, big problems that had seemed technological

  • turn out not to be so.

  • Famines were long understood to be caused

  • by failures in food supply.

  • But 30 years of research have taught us

  • that famines are political crisis

  • that catastrophically affect food distribution.

  • Technology can improve things like crop yields

  • or systems for storing and transporting food,

  • but there will be famines so long as there are bad governments.

  • Finally, big problems sometimes elude solution

  • because we don't really understand the problem.

  • President Nixon declared war on cancer in 1971,

  • but we soon discovered

  • there are many kinds of cancer,

  • most of them fiendishly resistant to therapy,

  • and it is only in the last 10 years

  • that effective, viable therapies

  • have come to seem real.

  • Hard problems are hard.

  • It's not true that we can't solve big problems through technology.

  • We can, we must, but these four elements

  • must all be present:

  • Political leaders and the public

  • must care to solve a problem;

  • institutions must support its solution;

  • It must really be a technological problem;

  • and we must understand it.

  • The Apollo mission,

  • which has become a kind of metaphor

  • for technology's capacity to solve big problems,

  • met these criteria.

  • But it is an irreproducible model for the future.

  • It is not 1961.

  • There is no galvanizing contest like the Cold War,

  • no politician like John Kennedy

  • who can heroize the difficult and the dangerous,

  • and no popular science fictional mythology

  • such as exploring the solar system.

  • Most of all, going to the moon

  • turned out to be easy.

  • It was just three days away.

  • And arguably it wasn't even solving

  • much of a problem.

  • We are left alone with our day,

  • and the solutions of the future will be harder won.

  • God knows, we don't lack for the challenges.

  • Thank you very much.

  • (Applause)

So, we used to solve big problems.

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B1 INT apollo solve moon technology big energy

【TED】Jason Pontin: Can technology solve our big problems? (Jason Pontin: Can technology solve our big problems?)

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    VoiceTube   posted on 2013/10/21
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