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Ask Slashdot: Why Aren't Techies Improving The World? 537

Slashdot reader marmot7 isn't impressed by "the latest app that solves some made up problem. I'm impressed by apps that solve real problems..." I don't feel that developers, sys admins, finance people, even policy wonks focus on the problems that we need to solve to have a healthy functioning society. It seems like it's mostly about short-term gain and not much about making the world better. That may be just the way the market works.

Is it that there's no profit to be made in solving the most important problems? I'm puzzled by that as I would think that a good solution to an important problem could find some funding from somewhere but maybe government, for example, won't take investment risks in that way?

Is there a systematic bias that channels technology workers into more profitable careers? (Or stunning counter-examples that show technology workers are making the world a better place?) Leave your answers in the comments. Why aren't geeks doing more to improve the world?
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Ask Slashdot: Why Aren't Techies Improving The World?

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  • And.. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 17, 2016 @11:37PM (#52909845)

    What are the important problems we are supposed to be solving that we aren't?

    • Hackaday Prize (Score:5, Informative)

      by Okian Warrior ( 537106 ) on Sunday September 18, 2016 @12:55AM (#52910259) Homepage Journal

      Check out the Hackaday prize [hackaday.io], over at Hackaday.io.

      For three years running, Hackaday has hosted the contest with a $100,000 first prize and a handful of $10,000 prizes.

      Several of the prize categories would be appropriate for solving world problems, such as "citizen scientist", "automation", and "assistive technologies". (The other two categories are catch-alls which could also contain world-bearing solutions.

      Many of the projects are high-concept. There are about 1000 entries this year, so you will get a wide range of possible project including some risible ones.

      But there are definitely some strong entries this year.

      I follow the Automatic Digital Microscope [hackaday.io] project, which hopes to automate (and speed up) the detection of tuberculosis in 3rd world countries.

      The Electrospinning machine [hackaday.io] looks really interesting, could possibly become the next "3d printer" appliance for hackers.

      The very high accuracy tilt sensor [hackaday.io] is possibly a new technology (I hadn't seen or heard of it before).

      If you want to find techies improving the world, you might include Hackaday.io (specifically: the prize entries) in your search.

      If you want to improve the world yourself, you might consider coming up with a project and entering the prize next year.

      If you want to *help* improve the world, you might consider joining a Hackaday.io team that's entered for the prize.

      • by grcumb ( 781340 )

        Check out the Hackaday prize [hackaday.io], over at Hackaday.io.

        Actually, you don't even have to get too clever to save lives. In early 2015, the South Pacific country of Vanuatu was devastated by cyclone Pam, a category 5 storm that severely damaged almost half the country [theatlantic.com]. (Full disclosure: the UNICEF photos are mine.). In spite of some islands being completely denuded [es-static.us] of shelter, only 11 people died.

        The people of Vanuatu deal with an average of 1.5 cyclones every year, but this was an unique event. There had never been a storm of this intensity measured in the count

    • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Sunday September 18, 2016 @01:14AM (#52910315)

      The headline asks a question that is based on a false premise. Techies are doing more than anyone to improve the world. We have gone 70 years without a major war. Why? Two reasons, better communications and nuclear weapons. Both of these are because the techies that built the Internet, launched the comsats, and split the atom. Today, the Internet is bringing literacy and prosperity to the third world. Better solar cells and windmills are bringing us clean energy. Wikipedia is compiling the world's knowledge, and Google is giving us a way to search it instantly.

      All of this is being done by us nerds. Who else is doing as much to create a better world? Lawyers? Journalists? Politicians? I don't think so.

      • by Pseudonym ( 62607 ) on Sunday September 18, 2016 @02:00AM (#52910445)

        We have gone 70 years without a major war. Why?

        Because politicians managed to avoid nuclear exchange a few times through the careful use of diplomacy. That, and global trade.

        Why, just since the end of the Cold War, techies have supplied us with smarter weapons and drones so we can kill lots more people while pretending that we're not actually engaging in warfare, the ability to perform wholesale surveillance on our own populace (both in the public and private sector!), and a whole lot of snake-oil security theatre machines to remind us all to be scared.

        Thanks, techies!

        • Global trade is dependant on us techies, networks to make trading easier. Technology in shipping and transportation...
          The same for diplomacy. The ability that diplomats and world leaders could call each other if there is an issue or travel and meet each other in less than 24 hours is amazing.

      • LIKE sYRIA

    • Like every tool it is up to the individual on how to use it. A technology designed for great good can also be used for great evil. The internet allows us to communicate with people around the world and openly share ideas and make people realize that in other areas they are human being too. Or you can use internet to spread you regional biases and hate across a broader area and recruit others to join your hatred group.

      Also every technology comes with a trade-off. That smaller communication device means you

  • like what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bite The Pillow ( 3087109 ) on Saturday September 17, 2016 @11:42PM (#52909879)

    What could be solved by tech? And would people use that tech?

    If you don't have an answer, throwing money at it won't make it happen. If you do, you'll likely have an answer why it isn't being done.

    • Well lets see...Electric cars, encrypting communication to keep governments from spying on people, Working to find cures for cancer, and AIDs, mapping the human genome, exploring space and other planets, improving crop yields, working to reduce carbon emissions, identifying genetic disorders, building a vast world network to improve communication, are a few things that techies are working on that I can rattle off without really thinking deeply about it. Coders and network engineers aren't usually working on
    • Why haven't geeks solved all the world's problems yet? Perhaps because they have been busy solving the world's problems.

      For example:
      --invented and built out mobile telephony, improving personal safety and convenience
      --built global data network (the Internet) that continues to enlighten populations and shake repressive governments
      --invented gps sats and provided cheap handheld receivers
      --invented geographic information systems (which allows not just MapQuest, but Yelp, gas buddy, and the self-driving car, am

  • Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by aldousd666 ( 640240 ) on Saturday September 17, 2016 @11:47PM (#52909907) Journal
    This problem sounds like a made-up problem. Nobody's cell phone app is going to cure cancer yet... but they ARE very useful for using cameras to deposit checks and file expense reports without any paperwork... I don't see what you're getting at... there is useless crap all over the place, everyone tries their hand if they are willing to do it, and if it's something that people want, they pay for it. If it's not, then they don't. The OP is clearly focused on one or two, or twelve apps or tech that are 'useless' but I wonder if they would stop a second and think just how fast the ENTIRE WORLD is changing right now... All the time.
    • Saying that folks aren't making apps that benefit a healthy, functioning, society is a useless statement without specifying what apps would achieve or work toward that goal. Additionally, smart phone apps can't really solve the world's real problems. Violence due to religious extremism isn't going to be negated by a phone app. An app that shows food shortages and food surpluses isn't going to fight world hunger unless someone will pay for the cheap surplus food and transportation.

      In common cases where an

  • by PhantomHarlock ( 189617 ) on Saturday September 17, 2016 @11:50PM (#52909917)

    "SF tech culture is focused on solving one problem: What is my mother no longer doing for me?"

    Not much world changing going on in that paradigm.

    Big companies do put lots of money at trying to change the world (usually in a way that also benefits them) but rarely succeed.

  • by macklin01 ( 760841 ) on Saturday September 17, 2016 @11:51PM (#52909923) Homepage

    Most of us who entered science and academia did so to make the world a better place, and many of us are techies. You'd be amazed at home much coding and tech is required for pretty much every area of science today.

    We're writing open source software to solve real problems in science and engineering. We're spending the last of our startups on open access for our papers because it's the right thing to do. We're contributing to open data repositories because sharing data makes all our work better. We're writing free content on blogs, code tutorials, and MOOCs for public outreach, because we view our roles as educators seriously.

    Most people in academic endure years of low pay and job uncertainty as postdocs and entry-level faculty--and defer or postpone indefinitely having children and buying that starter home--rather than faster and better-paying paths in industry, IP law, and mathematical finance because we do want to make the world a better place, and we're actively working on it.

    So, while I agree with your general feeling, take a look around, and you'll see more techies trying make a difference that you might have realized.

    • Most of us who entered science and academia did so to make the world a better place, and many of us are techies. You'd be amazed at home much coding and tech is required for pretty much every area of science today.

      We're writing open source software to solve real problems in science and engineering. We're spending the last of our startups on open access for our papers because it's the right thing to do. We're contributing to open data repositories because sharing data makes all our work better. We're writing free content on blogs, code tutorials, and MOOCs for public outreach, because we view our roles as educators seriously.

      Most people in academic endure years of low pay and job uncertainty as postdocs and entry-level faculty--and defer or postpone indefinitely having children and buying that starter home--rather than faster and better-paying paths in industry, IP law, and mathematical finance because we do want to make the world a better place, and we're actively working on it.

      So, while I agree with your general feeling, take a look around, and you'll see more techies trying make a difference that you might have realized.

      I agree with you. On average, I find my techie friends are more informed and intellectually curious than any other group. I'd put them at about equal to my academic friends in this area. And I should have worded the question with more finesse, forseeing these sort of objections. There's all kinds of good work happening every single day but there's a lot of money and a lot of attention shined on the mundane. So much so that people are losing respect for "Silicon Valley" meaning the tech industry in general.

      • Thanks for your reply. It's an interesting discussion, and indeed, I get a little fed up when even in academia, translational medicine morphs from meaning "translating theory into practice" to meaning "getting patents and making profitable startups." It's needed, but it can sometimes distort the field and culture when it becomes an ends and not a means.

        I'm a little curious as to your definition of techie, because a lot of the discussion really boils down to how you define a techie.

        I find my techie friends a

    • by maswan ( 106561 )

      Exactly! This is why I work as a sysadmin to support science, instead of working as a sysadmin to support profit or entertainment. I've had to make this call a couple of times in my career, and so far I've chosen to stay on the side that improves the world. Not always an easy choice though, given the incentives of the short term profit side.

      You don't even need an academic career to do this either, there is plenty of us that have trouble recruiting competent programmers or sysadmins because the pay isn't as

    • by chihowa ( 366380 )

      That's my impression, too. There's a huge personal and financial cost associated with working to make the world a better place, even if your specific goal isn't controversial at all (developing medical devices in my case).

      We see relatively few people working on these problems because we, as a society, value this work far less than almost every other pursuit (business, marketing, making weapons, etc). Maybe this illustrates that I'm not a very good person, but when I'm feeling down I wonder why I put myself

  • There seems to be a definite correlation between technical ability and lack of empathy. It's not totally determinative; there are plenty of technical people who are deeply compassionate. But on average? Probably noticeably less than the population as a whole.
  • by Corporate T00l ( 244210 ) on Saturday September 17, 2016 @11:54PM (#52909945) Journal

    Is not the genius required to keep existing infrastructure stable and feed the pace of technological advancement enough?

    Have we become so jaded to the incredibly fast rate of advancement that the everyday heroes who make this happen are not enough?

    Are we so self-centered in the wealthy developed parts of the world that we can't see the benefits that the rapid decrease in the cost of anything less than the absolute cutting edge have brought to poorer parts of the world?

  • by beheaderaswp ( 549877 ) * on Saturday September 17, 2016 @11:55PM (#52909953)

    The problem is cultural. We do not champion the production of things that enrich society in general, especially if they have no, or little, profit attached.

    Speaking for myself, my whole resume as a Systems Engineer contains nothing organizations who either were directly involved in education, or served that market.. Those have been my sole employers. I've always been paid below market as an employee.

    And I've always been looked at as an anomaly. Sometimes even derided. One time there was an offer that was $60,000 above what I was making. It was for a Fortune 10 company- which I turned down. Boy did I earn a high level of scorn from my friends and family who valued the paycheck over the work.

    Am I the only one? I highly doubt it.

    If you tally up the number of children that were educated by systems I designed- the number is conservatively above 7 million.

    Was it worth it? You're goddamned right it was.

    • Wow, you are one precious snowflake!

      Guess what man - if that's how you value spending your life, then by all means do it; but why must you call anyone who chooses a different path a "problem"?

      Also do you know what profit is? It's the result of doing what other people want you to do. And then you get to spend that profit on getting others to do what you want them to do. Profit is not evil. What it in fact represents is you doing the best you can at pleasing other people, of making their lives better. An

      • So what do black children on the west side of Chicago need to do to get a good education and a decent system to support them? Interpretive dance? How will they please the people around them and get support?

        What services do they have to offer? Things only get better for them when someone steps in to make things better- and there isn't much profit in that... Now is there?

        That's the case for most education problems....

        So I'll tell you what "man", if you can take your snowflaky ass out of the corporate offices

    • The problem is cultural. We do not champion the production of things that enrich society in general, especially if they have no, or little, profit attached.

      Price (and indirectly, profit) is precisely an indicator of what society overall has decided enriches it. If people want it, they are willing to pay more for it.

      If you feel society is not championing the things which would enrich it, that is an indication that your idea of "enrichment" deviates substantially from society's. Not that society is wron

  • by ScentCone ( 795499 ) on Sunday September 18, 2016 @12:01AM (#52909967)
    Developers and other "geeks," as the OP calls them, aren't ever going to solve cultural problems. And that's where most of the world's problems come from.

    Far too many people having too many babies in parts of the world that can't support those populations and thus the resulting strife and misery? Cultural problem.

    Far too many parents being completely disengaged with their kids' education, or too dumb themselves to contribute to it? Cultural problem.

    Sense of entitlement causing resentment instead of inspiring the creativity and productivity that comes without being raised in a state of feeling owed things? Cultural problem.

    All sorts of ecological messes and resource shortages? Cultural - see first example. Persistent friction between modernity and retrograde medieval thinking, including blowing up pressure cooker bombs in NY (as we had again, tonight)? Cultural problem. There's plenty more in the way of examples. App developers suddenly deciding to stop trying to become financially stable and instead put their waking ours into ... what, apps that teach people not to have so many babies? Apps that convince people that chopping down the rainforest so they can make ends meet on their poor rural farm this month? Apps that try to tell fishermen not to over-fish in sensitive areas because, really, do their customers really need that fish dinner after all?

    What does the OP actually envision, here? Since that wasn't even alluded to, he sounds just like the over-serious girl from (was it Animal House?): "I don't know how anyone can have a party [or was it a dance?] when there are hungry people in the world!"
    • Far too many people having too many babies in parts of the world that can't support those populations and thus the resulting strife and misery? Cultural problem. Far too many parents being completely disengaged with their kids' education, or too dumb themselves to contribute to it? Cultural problem. Sense of entitlement causing resentment instead of inspiring the creativity and productivity that comes without being raised in a state of feeling owed things? Cultural problem. All sorts of ecological messes and resource shortages? Cultural - see first example. Persistent friction between modernity and retrograde medieval thinking, including blowing up pressure cooker bombs in NY (as we had again, tonight)? Cultural problem.

      We can't even agree on what the problems are.....pretty much all the things you listed are controversial to some segment of society (often very large segments).

  • by Gojira Shipi-Taro ( 465802 ) on Sunday September 18, 2016 @12:03AM (#52909977) Homepage

    I have no obligation to sacrifice my unpaid free time simply because I have a set of skills.

    • by shanen ( 462549 )

      If it were convenient for you to bid your time to help solve a major world problem, would you be likely to get involved?

      Would you want your full market value, or would you be willing to accept a discount in exchange for controlling your own work?

      If you would be willing to accept a discount, how much would you consider?

      Perhaps you have an alternative idea? For example, some kind of bonus based on the favorable evaluation of the results?

    • Ask any sysadmin why he hasn't solved world hunger or war in the middle east. He'll tell you "That's not the job I signed up for."

      Next, ask your mailman why your cable bill is so high....
  • by Yaztromo ( 655250 ) on Sunday September 18, 2016 @12:05AM (#52909985) Homepage Journal

    So what sorts of problems does the submitter think we should focus on? World hunger? Poverty? Disease? War?

    These are very hard problems to solve. All of these have been around since the dawn of humanity, and nobody has come up with an all-encompassing solution yet.

    The problems with the big problems are more than technological -- they're political. No amount of technology is going to be able to solve poverty in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (for example), when the government is corrupt and the rule of law and human rights aren't being observed. Even in a Western country like the United States, you can't fix poverty when many people blame the poor for their own situation and there is no political will to provide a minimal level of social assistance.

    That said, where there is a political will, technology is already helping solve big problems. Solar cells are bringing inexpensive electricity to villages in poor countries. Software hoping with resource allocation helps aid agencies ensure they have food stocks of adequate quantities where they are needed most. Vaccines and modern medical technology are having a major impact on disease -- we've rid the world of smallpox, and we're really close to eradicating polio.

    Hard problems are hard. I know we in technology like to think of ourselves as solving hard problems, but pervasive political problems are way bigger than what technology alone can resolve.

    Yaz

  • What do we need? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jonathan C. Patschke ( 8016 ) on Sunday September 18, 2016 @12:05AM (#52909987) Homepage

    Your question implies the following:

    • The we know what a functioning and healthy society looks like and, thus, know what next step we're missing to get there.
    • That there is anything like a consensus on what the "most" important problems are or what their approaches should be.
    • That these are problems with direct solutions in "technology," without cutting-edge domain-specific knowledge.

    I'm not sure that any of these is strictly true, and I'm nearly positive that we'll only know most of those answers in hindsight.

    How about race relations? There's no app for that. War? You can't solder-up a PCB that convinces governments to stop murdering each other's citizens over differences of opinion.

    Speaking of governments, what would a "techie" solution to government oppression look like? We have Tor, cryptocurrencies, steganographic filesystems, and mobile devices that would destroy the data on them before giving it up to an intrusive search, and look at how governments react.

    That said, how about some of the areas where technology absolutely has worked on big problems?

    Do you think climate change is a big problem? Do you think that the amount of power consumed by information technology globally is a terrifying figure in the face of anthropogenic climate change? This is a problem we know how to fix in "tech," and we're working on it.

    Deaths due to traffic accidents? Computer vision and distributed coordination algorithms are at the core of self-driving automobiles.

    How about 3D-printed prosthetics, or the medical industry in general? Data processing revolutionized drug research and genome work. Sure, there are more people doing silly apps than designing new systems for doing drug interaction simulation because one requires connections to established research labs, years of work, very expensive studies of efficacy, a decade of postsecondary education to have the domain-specific knowledge, and a hardware budget that runs into the millions; the other requires a crappy $300 laptop and some free software.

    If there's a big problem out there that you want solved, either put up, pay up, or shut up.

  • Um... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Shoten ( 260439 ) on Sunday September 18, 2016 @12:08AM (#52910003)

    So, marmot7...why aren't you working to make the world a much better place, if it's so easy? What makes all the other techies responsible for improving your world in the manner you think is most correct?

    Hard problems have no simple answers. Being a techie is not like being Gandalf the fucking Magician...the reason that there's so much discussion around hard problems is that, despite the efforts of many, a solution has not yet been found, and being a techie doesn't grant some mystical ability to solve any problem on command.

    This is not a moral failing of others, it's just the fact that these are hard problems. And the fact that you don't live in a perfect utopia is not because everyone else is greedy, lazy, selfish or short-sighted. Get over yourself, kid.

  • by backslashdot ( 95548 ) on Sunday September 18, 2016 @12:13AM (#52910031)

    Most people don't give a crap about their fellow human.

    People think mostly of the benefit to themselves, then their families, their race, their country, their pets, and rarely do they care anything about a random human especially in Africa or some other place. It's human nature, at best some humans care about their family or country more than themselves but mainly this is the order. They actively try to eliminate and discredit anyone who dares care about random humans. That's just the way it is. Humans.

  • by ITRambo ( 1467509 ) on Sunday September 18, 2016 @12:16AM (#52910061)
    As a coatings chemist, then Technical Director, I developed the first low VOC waterborne coating for computers that lowered the bake from 30 minsutes at 350F to 30 minutes at 150F. I knew the otherwise thermoplastic resin self-condensed (crosslinked) at 140F, so no hazardous melamine or urea were needed to develop the office chimerical resistance (cleaners, foods) that was specified, either. This was around 1978. It was developed originally for Digital. Customers took forever to approve it even though it met their specs. How could a low polluting. energy saving waterborne acrylic be as good as a high temperature bake polyester coating with 6 pounds of hydrocarbons per gallons? Give the younger techies an opportunity to try new ideas. Let them make a little dent. All the little improvements add up to less energy use and cleaner air.
  • Is there a systematic bias that channels technology workers into more profitable careers?

    What could possibly bias people toward careers that offer a comfortable life instead of poverty!?!?

  • oh fuck you (Score:5, Interesting)

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Sunday September 18, 2016 @12:24AM (#52910103) Journal
    Yeah, if only there techies who spent a bunch of time writing free software. If only there were people who dedicated their lives to making free software. They could start a foundation.

    But no, everyone knows open source is about the money.
  • you mean... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ooloorie ( 4394035 ) on Sunday September 18, 2016 @12:26AM (#52910113)

    I don't feel that developers, sys admins, finance people, even policy wonks focus on the problems that we need to solve to have a healthy functioning society.

    You mean why don't techies work on things like giving everybody on the globe to access all the books ever written, listen to lectures from the best minds on the planet, communicate with anybody anywhere, access financial services across the globe, learn how to grow food better, get highly accurate and detailed maps and satellite photos for free (e.g., for improving agriculture), buy and sell pretty much anything from anywhere, create software that allows anybody anywhere to analyze scientific data and write software?

    Is there a systematic bias that channels technology workers into more profitable careers?

    Indeed there is. In a free society with free citizens, we let individuals decide, and vote for, what they find useful. That kind of "voting" is carried out using money: if you produce something that I find useful, I give you money for it; if you produce crap that I don't want, I don't give you money for it. That way, people who produce useful stuff get rewarded and get the resources to produce more useful stuff, while the people who produce crap get fewer resources allocated to them. Does that answer your question? How else would you like things to work?

    • by Uecker ( 1842596 )

      Is there a systematic bias that channels technology workers into more profitable careers?

      Indeed there is. In a free society with free citizens, we let individuals decide, and vote for, what they find useful. That kind of "voting" is carried out using money: if you produce something that I find useful, I give you money for it; if you produce crap that I don't want, I don't give you money for it. That way, people who produce useful stuff get rewarded and get the resources to produce more useful stuff, while the people who produce crap get fewer resources allocated to them. Does that answer your question? How else would you like things to work?

      Except that not everybody has the same vote. And this exactly explains why so many techs work on stuff which is not really useful to the average person at all: They work to make the people who have most of the money (almost all the votes) even richer. This is the reason why advertisement which has only small usefulness to the overall society is so big and basically defines what the internet and mobile industry is today: a huge spying machine with free but only marginally useful content served with lots of

  • Which problems? (Score:4, Informative)

    by quantaman ( 517394 ) on Sunday September 18, 2016 @12:27AM (#52910127)

    Keeping in touch and up to date with old friends? Social networks solved a lot of that.

    Having visual conversations with distant relatives? Video chat solved that.

    Getting lost? GPS navigation solved that.

    Finding answers to factual questions? Search engines (kinda) solved that.

    Giving public platforms to ordinary people? Blogs solved that.

    Just try going back and living in the early 90's and see how you like it. Techies have addressed tons of real world problems, and come up with at least partial solutions to a lot of them. Naturally many remain and some new ones have arisen, we don't live in a utopia, but it's not like they've been doing nothing.

    • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Sunday September 18, 2016 @01:32AM (#52910367) Journal
      But other than all that......what have the Romans^W Programmers ever given us?
    • by Octorian ( 14086 )

      Giving public platforms to ordinary people? Blogs solved that.

      This is actually an enormously important change that's taken place over the past 10-20 years. In the past, you'd need permission from "the powers that be" to get your voice (or creative works) out there into the public eye. Today, if you have the motivation, pretty much anyone can get public (and global) notice.

      This is both good and bad (village idiots are now given attention to on a nation scale, whereas previously they've be ignored), but I think that overall its quite a positive shift.

    • First world problems.
  • If society woke up one day and decided that something other than money would be used to determine relative value, this argument wouldn't exist. Until then, people are going to be driven by money -- for survival at a basic level, but then for lifestyle and status improvement as the levels rise. They're going to do what they think can make them the most money so they're not out on the street or eating macaroni and cheese for most dinners.

    It's all the same problem:
    - During the last late 90s dotcom bubble, peop

  • "Why aren't techies improving the world?

    Fuck you. Pay me.

  • I think the expectation that the application of tech will fix something that's wrong with the world very quickly is a big part of the problem.

    How long have humans been dumping garbage into the environment? Why would you expect that recycling, composting, reclamation and other technologies will not only stop the poisoning of the environment and clean up the current mess in the order of years?

    Same thing for CO2 in the atmosphere. We've been burning increasing amounts of fossil fuels for 130 years or so, why

  • Grow up kid!
  • Re Why aren't geeks doing more to improve the world?
    Could that lack of ability start before ever entering the private sector?
    Study hard, pay up or a full scholarship still based on academic results. Get guided to a getting a security clearance just to have access to very advanced crypto, maths? Trips to conferences, talks, corporate funding, gov projects. Any good job later will need clearance, get it early, see the world while still in academia? That security clearance that opened academic doors is
  • by OnceWas ( 187243 ) on Sunday September 18, 2016 @01:04AM (#52910287)

    In this respect, techies are like anybody else. Some are out to help save the world, or at least make it a better place, and some aren't. It's not the tech that makes the savior, it's the person.

    The same can be said about:

    - finance folks (microcredit vs subprime mortgages)
    - engineers (postwar reconstruction vs weapons)
    - architects (affordable housing designs vs Trump towers)
    - builders (habitat for humanity vs suburban subdivisions)

    to name a few examples.

  • by sxpert ( 139117 )

    because the useless short term gain finance people control the whole mess for now !

  • Hey look, it's Slashdot concern trolling their readers again!

    I reject the premise.

    "Why are software developers working on this trivial Internet thing rather than solving world hunger?"

    It's the Von Mises knowledge problem, aka the economic calculation problem. You don't know what the most important problems to solve are because you (and by "you" I especially mean "any government body") can't see the future. One person can only be an expert on their own life, not everyone else's lives. You don't necessarily k

  • This is the most vacuous rhetoric I've ever seen here.

    With no definition of what would satisfy making the world better and how tech isn't doing it, these words are basically meaningless. I could just as easily ask why aren't the medical, financial, media, or any other field not making the world a better place. Seriously, consider:

    "I don't feel that doctors, nurses, administrators, even policy wonks focus on the problems that we need to solve to have a healthy functioning society. It seems like it's mostly a

  • Good question, but I can't write the book this morning unless some techie gives me a time warp machine. If I only had the focus and sustained motivation, then it would probably take me several months.

    Short answer is that most of them are nice people and would like to, but they respond to the economic pressures to do otherwise. The economic rules of the business game (especially in America) focus on the single metric of money, so maximizing that single dimension results in cancerous growth that doesn't consi

  • There have been a steady stream of articles asking questions along these lines trying to get people to reveal what they are working on. Don't do it. It will only be used against you.

    If you have something with potential of being even mildly disruptive and your end goal isn't cashing out then for god sakes keep your mouth shut until your shit is ready.

  • by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Sunday September 18, 2016 @01:52AM (#52910423)

    Technology has already solved most of the world's worse problems - sanitation, water purification, food production, vaccines, health care, birth control, basic education, etc are all "solved" problems, but the implementation is not a technological problem, it's a social and political one. It's not even a case where it just takes more money since more money largely ends up being misdirected.

  • We are not taken seriously for what we do because we don't have organizations acting on our behalf to look after our interests at a political level.

    If we had that then when representations were needed on important decisions like infrastructure, education, employment conditions, research and development - a relevant organization would be there to respond. It's our failure to recognise that as individuals, we don't look after each other as a group. The consequence of that our common interests are treated li

  • BGF, or binary graph format. My invention. A revolutionary new way to represent graphs (i.e., the mathematical structure known as graphs). File layout = memory layout: a bgf file can be loaded as-is into memory. Even in Java, if you load bgf into off-heap memory, graph traversal time can be as low as 20 nanoseconds/edge, when using bgf. If anybody knows a problem that can be stated as a graph problem, and where extremely fast graph processing makes the world a better place, ping me.

  • They are not in charge.

  • Solving big problems is a great way to get yourself summarily dismissed as a nutcase. There was a doctor back in the 60's who said the evidence presuming a cause/effect relationship between cholesterol and heart disease was flat-out wrong.

    He was practically disbarred.

    Just today I heard that the manufacturers of Tylenol will have to put a warning on the bottle about drinking and taking it. Check out the death toll from people who didn't know any better.

    There are many other examples, mainly in medicine and

  • Most 'techies' are wage slaves, and do what their employers pay them to do -- and if that's the 457th version of Candy Crush, then that's what they work on. The exception, I suppose, is the self-employed, and the Kickstarter types, but they are a tiny minority. Also last time I checked many things that are innovative and/or revolutionary or that will 'change the world' either get sued out of existence, or gobbled up by some mega-corp, and then either twisted into something else, or buried. We live in a nasc
    • Well most 'technies' are also unable to solve any decently complicated problems because of incompetence.

      You don't need to be a good software developer to write the 457th version of Candy Crush, but you may need to be one to actually solve an important problem.

      I mean there would be lots of things like building a secure mobile device. The problem is that your average "Java jockey" won't understand that their desire to make everything complicated is part of the security problem.

      Also most problems in the world

  • by wonkey_monkey ( 2592601 ) on Sunday September 18, 2016 @06:34AM (#52911037) Homepage

    Ask Slashdot: Why Aren't Techies Improving The World?

    Slashdot reader marmot7 isn't impressed by "the latest app that solves some made up problem. I'm impressed by apps that solve real problems..."

    Jesus Christ. If the first thing you think of when talking about solving the world's most problems is apps, I don't want you on the funding committee.

  • by inhuman_4 ( 1294516 ) on Sunday September 18, 2016 @01:11PM (#52912343)
    What about GNU, Linux, and the FSF? Does providing millions of people with free (in beer and speech) software not count for anything?

    Or how about the EFF defending people's rights online. Helping educate people about the importance of encryption and stopping big business from tracking your every move.

    Has wikipedia not become a central source of free information the world over? Has wikileaks not provided a safehaven for whistleblowers the world over?

    Techies have done a lot for the world in the last 10 years.
  • by damaki ( 997243 ) on Monday September 19, 2016 @07:41AM (#52915939)
    Sure, technical skills may improve some parts of the world, where the VCs do not corrupt everything. But we should start by making the world around us, our home, our family, our beloved people, our workplace, our towns, better places.
    If you want to change the world, try to change your neighborhood for a start. Be nice to people. Even if your are not able to change the world, you can make some places on it nicer and some people happier.
    Choose the solution, it may be technical, or not. Tech people know how to create stuff, investigate issues and solve problems. These are fine assets to change what sucks around you.

You see but you do not observe. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in "The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes"

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