Bono on How Technology Can Transform the World

From Technology Review:

To say that Bono is the lead singer of the rock band U2 is like saying that Thomas Edison invented the record player: it leaves out a lot of biography. The 52-year-old Irishman (born Paul Hewson) is also a technology investor and an activist who cofounded the ONE and (RED) organizations, which are devoted to eradicating extreme poverty and AIDS. He has spent years urging Western leaders to forgive the debts of poor nations and to increase funding for AIDS medicines in Africa.

Bono answered questions over e-mail from MIT Technology Review’s deputy editor, Brian Bergstein, about the role technologies—from vaccines to information services—can play in solving our biggest problems.

If you had a budget equivalent to the one that put astronauts on the moon, what problems would you try to solve?

There’s an exciting thought. The Apollo program in its day was 4 percent of the federal budget. All U.S. overseas assistance is just 1 percent, with 0.7 percent going to issues that affect the poorest people. I believe that extreme poverty is the biggest challenge we have. That term is a complex one, but on many aspects, we know what works. For example, with Apollo-level resources, you could finish the job on HIV/AIDS. Get rid of it, done. Malaria too. You could vaccinate every kid against deadly diseases we in the West hardly think about. You could boost farming productivity in Africa, which is twice as effective at reducing poverty as anything else. Lastly, you could kick-start electrifying Africa. Electricity means small businesses can function and hire people, medicines can be refrigerated, kids can study after the sun sets. Electrifying Africa would inspire the kind of economic development that would mean, eventually, they wouldn’t need our 4 percent or 1 percent. Aid is just a bridge, but where there are troubled waters, it’s needed.

I should add that without fighting corruption at the same time as spending the Apollo money, you’d be in danger of tossing it up to the moon. Corruption is deadly, but there’s a vaccine for that too—it’s called transparency. Daylight. It’s much harder to rip people off when they know what’s going on. We can gather and disseminate data in all sorts of ways, giving a whole new meaning to the word “accountability.”

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