[ExI] Why we can't solve Big Problems

BillK pharos at gmail.com
Tue Dec 18 17:06:37 UTC 2012

MIT Technology Review has a controversial article, by Jason Pontin on
October 24, 2012

That something happened to humanity’s capacity to solve big problems
is a commonplace. Recently, however, the complaint has developed a new
stridency among Silicon Valley’s investors and entrepreneurs, although
it is usually expressed a little differently: people say there is a
paucity of real innovations. Instead, they worry, technologists have
diverted us and enriched themselves with trivial toys.

The motto of Founders Fund, a venture capital firm started by Peter
Thiel, a cofounder of PayPal, is “We wanted flying cars—instead we got
140 characters.”

Thiel is caustic: last year he told the New Yorker that he didn’t
consider the iPhone a technological breakthrough. “Compare [it] with
the Apollo program,” he said.The Internet is “a net plus—but not a big
one.” Twitter gives 500 people “job security for the next decade,” but
“what value does it create for the entire economy?” And so on.

But Silicon Valley’s explanation of why there are no disruptive
innovations is parochial and reductive: the markets—in particular, the
incentives that venture capital provides entrepreneurs—are to blame.
According to Founders Fund’s manifesto, “What Happened to the
Future?,” written by Bruce Gibney, a partner at the firm: “In the late
1990s, venture portfolios began to reflect a different sort of future
… Venture investing shifted away from funding transformational
companies and toward companies that solved incremental problems or
even fake problems … VC has ceased to be the funder of the future, and
instead become a funder of features, widgets, irrelevances.”

It's a long article, with other proposals mentioned.
Like some problems don't have technological solutions because they
need political solutions, and sometimes tech doesn't understand the
situation and ends up trying to solve the wrong problem. Interesting


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