Think the global human population is growing too quickly? Then work to decrease infant mortality among the world’s poor. That’s the message that world-class health analyst and statistician Hans Rosling presented at the recent TED Talks at Cannes. Rosling is known for making dense statistical analysis easily accessible through graphic displays, and is the director of Gapminder, an organization that looks to transform important data into clear and expressive visual aides. In his TED Talk, Rosling highlights how the gap between the developing and industrial worlds is closing, but that the largest population growth is still among the poorest peoples. Helping these individuals out of poverty isn’t just a humane act, it may be an ecological necessity. Check out Rosling’s presentation in the video below. It’s a clear call to tackle two of humanity’s grand challenges: poverty and health.
Part of the general appeal of accelerating technologies is that they have the potential to address the big problems we face: poverty, hunger, energy, environment, war, and health. This potential is so great that we’ve seen entire institutions (like Singularity University) geared towards leveraging technology to solve humanity’s grand challenges. Yet the growing population of the world only serves to exacerbate most of these global problems as we need more resources and space to fit our growing communities. Finding a sustainable size for humanity is going to be critical to stabilizing and improving our world. Rosling’s presentation on global population gives us a clear hope: as we work to end global poverty we will be working towards ending unchecked population growth. Why? Healthier and wealthier babies make for smaller families.
As Rosling explains in the video, there are clear links between increased economic success and reduced family size, and between low infant mortality and reduced family size. Ending global poverty (and increasing child survival rates) is the clear path to reaching a sustainable human population. Rosling’s goal of a stable size of 9 billion people by 2050 seems rooted in a firm understanding of world health and fighting poverty. Which is fitting considering Rosling is an expert in both fields.
If you need more evidence for Rosling’s assertions about the state and history of global poverty, you are in luck. He’s given several wonderful talks at TED over the years. The following video explains how our understanding of the world is largely stuck in the outlook of the 1960s. It also highlights some of Rosling’s genius in presenting statistics in a way we can all clearly understand.
The sciences of genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and telecommunication have the capability of drastically affecting Rosling’s predictions for 2050. We’ve seen many projects aimed at improving food supplies and access to healthcare. If successful, these technologies could help us reduce infant mortality among the world’s poor much quicker than Rosling expects. Yet it is likely that public policy will still be the defining factor that determines if and how these technologies are applied. As with all of humanity’s grand challenges, the responsibility for implementing a solution falls squarely on our own shoulders. I have high hopes for stabilizing the global population, but the speed at which we approach these problems is unpredictable at best. Maybe Rosling has a graph that explains why.