Much of our discussion in 2018 will be consumed by the everyday, mundane, and sometimes banal issues of inflation, interest rates, unemployment, electricity, and foreign relations. Unfortunately, these will affect all of us. On some level, we are all ultimately only a drop in the bucket.
However, we can do something better. We can use the tools we have—technology, innovation, and education—to reduce the root causes of poverty and global inequity.
Existing scientific, technological, and human ingenuity is already making significant progress in dealing with the most common chronic diseases—diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, and stroke. The idea is that you could prevent these diseases by eating better, moving more, exercising more, and taking care of your psychological well-being.
But that’s only the beginning. By 2020 we should have cures for the four main killers of children—high blood pressure, asthma, lead poisoning, and cerebral palsy. We’re looking at the challenge of curing Alzheimer’s disease and many other types of dementia, cancer, and viral diseases of which we know less today than we did a decade ago.
But there is another front, something almost even more terrifying than today’s dominant public health epidemic: The threat of unchecked climate change.
Climate change will be the greatest single killer of the next decade. People fear it and its impacts the most. Not only will it deprive people of food, water, housing, and work, but it will also cause food shortages, massive mass migrations, rising seas, climate refugee crises, more violence, conflict, and displacement. All of this, with decades of warning in which to do something about it.
Why are climate scientists convinced we are so close to potential tipping points? Why are they so sure of our destiny? Because, unlike many other public health problems, the cost of climate change isn’t measured in dollars but in human lives and suffering.
Despite a rising chorus of alarm from insurers, economists, a host of public health and business experts, and the International Monetary Fund, the U.S. and most other developed countries have done next to nothing to slow or stop climate change. They simply cannot afford to accept the moral hazard of locking in grave risks to their human and economic future.
That’s why I and many other scientists are so excited about Jeff Bezos and his Verily team’s $5 billion initiative to build and operate a Human Brain Project to map, understand, and improve human intelligence. This project could be a game changer, a profound and unprecedented research and technology venture.
If successful, it could connect us all to the infinite wisdom of the sun and all of our senses, drive the development of vaccines to protect us against life-threatening diseases, enable enormous medical breakthroughs and treatments, and even take care of and repair all of our electronic devices and peripherals—a direct answer to the increasing use of power-hungry and toxic batteries.
Computers will, of course, play a major role in this project. But everything else will be on the table. Environmental technologies, medical research, microbiology, biotechnology, engineering, advanced manufacturing, and materials science will all be part of the enormous undertaking.
The Center for Humane Technology knows what it takes to solve big problems. In addition to its core business of installing and improving smart energy systems, the Center has been spearheading R&D projects on brain science and energy. That’s what we should do now for humanity.
Human brain science, with decades of computing power and endless computational power at our fingertips, holds the promise of solving the scourge of Alzheimer’s disease, the threat of climate change, a whole range of health problems, advanced medical research, robotics and artificial intelligence, and a host of other societal and economic problems. And that’s with two universities and a few key research groups on board.
We will be in for a scientific bombshell if Bezos and his team achieve their vision. That’s a major reason we have supported the Center from the beginning—it’s not just a fad or some grand prediction from a slick sci-fi film.
If we don’t start acting—starting now—that small drop in the bucket we’re all in, we are on a collision course with a large crisis that threatens our civilization and way of life. Let’s do something about it—please.