Technology’s Mental Frontier

If we were actually thinking with a view to the long term, we would focus far more attention and resources on preventive health measures, education, and public services that raise overall productivity. The problem is that new technology is not always just a question of taxes and public spending.

NEW DELHI – Starting with the opening ceremony at the London Olympics, I have spent the last few weeks considering history and spending time at meetings with people trying to predict – or invent – the future in mass media/social media, health and health care, and space travel. Then, by chance, I was invited to fill in a survey about the future. When will we have learned how to cure cancer? When will the last person die of malaria? When will self-driving cars become mainstream?

Without intending to (or at least without highlighting it), the survey’s authors were illuminating the distinction between knowing how to do something and actually doing it in and for the world. For example, obesity and poor dental health (just Google “dental health impact on general health”) are not only treatable; they are also generally preventable. And yet they persist and affect many more people than cancer, malaria, or other more “fashionable” ailments do.

If we actually thought with a view to the long term, we would focus far more attention and resources on preventive health measures, education, and public services that raise overall productivity. The problem is that technology’s use is not always just a question of capability; it also involves taxes and public spending, tradeoffs and long-term thinking.

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