Home' Technology Review : January February 2013 Contents technologyreview.com
MIT TECHNOLOGY REVIEW
It’s 2013, and millions of people are still
short of food or proper medical care.
Have technologists overpromised?
The tech that’s been delivered has been
staggering in its measurable achievements.
For example, antiretrovirals, a complex
15-drug AIDS regimen compressed into
one pill a day (now saving eight million
lives); the insecticide-treated bed net (cut
malaria deaths by half in eight countries
in Africa in the last three years); kids’ vac-
cinations (saved 5.5 million lives in the last
decade); the mobile phone, the Internet,
and spread of information—a deadly com-
bination for dictators, for corruption.
But to maximize the massive effect
technology can have, you need a network
of efforts, a system of interventions, sup-
ported by citizens who share social capital.
That’s what drives substantial progress
sustainably. There is no silver bullet to end-
ing extreme poverty and disease, no magic
technology. That takes commitment, a life-
time of it, plus resources, political will, and
people standing up to demand it. Technol-
ogy provides the means, however.
What should be the role of technology in
making a better world? Are some problems
beyond its reach, like poverty?
Technology has already helped tackle
extreme poverty in Africa. Extreme pov-
erty is the empirical condition of living on
under $1.25 a day. Nelson Mandela once
demanded we be the “great generation” to
beat extreme poverty, noting how we have
the technology and resources to achieve this
extraordinary vision. And we do. We could
achieve it by 2030, maybe before. The digi-
tal revolution that we are living through,
the rapid advances in health and agrotech-
nology—these things have become core
weapons in responding to Mandela’s clar-
ion call. They enable people to get on with
it themselves, to fight their way out of the
condition they find themselves in. In Africa,
things are changing so rapidly. What’s been
a slow march is suddenly picking up pace
in ways we could not have imagined even
10 years ago. Innovations like farmers using
mobile phones to check seed prices, for
banking, for sending payments ... to the
macro effect we saw with the Arab Spring
thanks to Facebook and Twitter.
But people can use technology for bad
as well as good. The social systems and
the social capital within networks must be
strong and positive to nurture a progressive
use of technology. Let’s be honest.
You admired Steve Jobs. Did he make the
world better or just make nice computers?
I think a large part of the reason Apple
and Steve Jobs have beguiled so many is
that they are a gigantic company that put
greatness ahead of the bottom line, believ-
ing that great profitability would follow
in the long term. Steve was an extremely
tough deal maker, and if that was the only
side you saw, I can imagine that a more
fearsome profile would emerge. But the
reason why I, and others who got a glimpse
of him personally, were such believers was
his clear thinking. Great ideas to me are
like great melodies. They are instantly
recognizable, memorable, and have some
sort of inevitable arc. In the music world,
it’s hard to imagine there being a better
melody to “I want to hold your hand.” In
the tech world, it’s hard to imagine there
being any better form or function to a lot
To say that Bono is the lead singer of the rock band U2
is like saying that Thomas Edison invented the record
player: it leaves out a lot of biography. The 52-year-
old Irishman (born Paul Hewson) is also a technology
investor and an activist who cofounded the ONE and
(RED) organizations, which are devoted to eradicating
extreme poverty and AIDS. He has spent years urging
Western leaders to forgive the debts of poor nations
and to increase funding for AIDS medicines in Africa.
Bono answered questions over e-mail from MIT Tech-
nology Review’s deputy editor, Brian Bergstein, about
the role that technologies—from vaccines to informa-
tion services—can play in solving our biggest problems.
The musician and activist explains how technology
can make the world so much better.
12/11/12 6:08 PM
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