What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos

1

Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
Close
With rendition switcher

Transcript

Question: What are the biggest challenges facing the developing world?

Lawrence Summers: How are we going to manage the rise of countries that will see their standards of living increase by factor of a hundred in a single human lifespan? What about the share of the income going to the top 1%, nearly doubling $600,000 a person at the expense of $7,000 a person for everyone in the bottom 80% of the income distribution?

How are we going to manage and keep stable a global financial system where the flow isn’t as it always was in the past with the Roman Empire or the British Empire, from the center to the periphery, but it’s from the periphery to the center with the world’s greatest borrower being the world’s greatest power?

So my job now is to think, to provoke, to have ideas, to prove the intellectual framework within which we all operate; to spur through argument, through entrepreneurship, through teaching others to think about the most important questions; and to lead us to be a more thoughtful, smarter and wiser society in dealing with its major challenges.

And if I’m able to do that by myself, by encouraging the work of others, I think that will be a source of great satisfaction to me, and hopefully some contribution.

When somebody writes the history of our time 250 years from now, the two largest stories in it will be the rise of Asia and the developing world, where living standards are increasing so spectacularly rapidly. That in a matter of a few decades, countries enjoy more growth than the United States has since the American Revolution. How that impacts the billions of people in these countries and how that impacts the world system.

And I think the second defining feature of our time will be the developments in the life sciences that are going to profoundly change our conceptions of human nature; that are going to free people from pain and suffering at a rate and on a scale that has never been seen before.

We are increasingly developing the capacity to change the way people think, to change the way people behave. How we’re going to manage all of that; how we’re going to manage the life science side of all that; how we’re going to manage the remarkable things that are happening in information technology.

And as those things come together, these two things, I think, will be the central stories of our time when history is written 250 years from now.

With respect to the developing of the rising world, are they going to be gradually welcomed members of a widening circle of opportunity? Or are they going to be angry outsiders crashing a restricted party? And if we can make it be the first, which would be great as anything that has happened in human history – if people feel it is the second, the consequences can be cataclysmic.

I think it’s hard, with respect to the developments in life science, to even begin to think about what all the issues are going to be. Suppose there’s a pill created that can increase your IQ by 30 points, but it’s enormously expensive. What’s that going to mean for equality of opportunity? Suppose there are ways of knowing in advance the likelihood that people will develop their diseases? What’s that going to mean for decisions about couples getting married, or employers hiring people, not to mention insurance? What’s it going to mean if there are medicines that curb your temper and in the same process reduce your passion? How are we going to feel about those things, and how are we going to think about managing them as a society? What is going to happen when there are computer programs or pieces of software that are able to have creative scientific ideas in certain spheres? Who’s going to have access to those? Who’s going to get the credit?

These are just a few of the kinds of questions that could come. What I hope is that we will deal as a society with these things in a way that is thoughtful and rational. I worry that the teaching of more anti-evolution and intelligent design in the public schools than at any time since the Scopes trial, and the attitude in many non-scientific intellectual circles that denies that relevance of biology to almost any aspect of behavior, is leaving us in a problematic place with respect to the making of these decisions.

Recorded On: June 13,  2007

 

What are the primary challe...

Newsletter: Share: