Computing Community Consortium Blog

The goal of the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) is to catalyze the computing research community to debate longer range, more audacious research challenges; to build consensus around research visions; to evolve the most promising visions toward clearly defined initiatives; and to work with the funding organizations to move challenges and visions toward funding initiatives. The purpose of this blog is to provide a more immediate, online mechanism for dissemination of visioning concepts and community discussion/debate about them.

“7 Big Problems for 7 Billion People”

October 27th, 2011 / in policy, research horizons / by Erwin Gianchandani

The challenges of a burgeoning world population [image courtesy Reuters via].Sometime on Halloween — yes, Halloween — the world’s population is projected to hit 7 billion. In anticipation of the numerical milestone, has published an article this week calling on leading experts in many different disciplines to weigh in on the challenges caused by the burgeoning world population, noting:

How we respond now will determine whether we have a healthy, sustainable and prosperous future or one that is marked by inequalities, environmental decline and economic setbacks…

Among the experts consulted is Google’s Vice President for Research and Special Initiatives Alfred Spector, who noted access to information and education as one of the problems facing society:

Alfred Spector, Google [image courtesy Google].In the developed world technology has transformed our lives, allowing us to access information at any time from an ever growing number of devices. Tasks once performed by many have been reduced to a single click or tap. However, as the world population exceeds 7 billion people, we must ensure that all are armed with the skills to leverage the vast powers of information technology to improve their lives. Furthermore, we must increase the level of education for all residents of our planet for the mutual benefit of our global society. According to the United Nations Development Programme over 70 million children receive no education and most of them are girls.

So what’s the solution, according to Spector? Find out after the jump…

The good news is that information technology itself is a major part of the solution. With the decreasing costs of smartphones and tablets in the developing world we are seeing a whole new population accessing the Internet. Today, a teacher in India can purchase a $38 Android tablet and bring unprecedented amounts of information into the classroom. Whether through more prevalent network connections like the fiber-optic links connecting Africa, ever more creative software connecting people online, or the vast amounts of Web-based content now accessible to millions, technology is getting into a position to help educate the world.


And learning is increasingly possible online: there are vast amounts of free information on the Web, from Wikipedia to millions of books accessible to all. Or middle- and high school-level YouTube classes like those from the Kahn Academy. And the interest is there. At Stanford’s recent online course about artificial intelligence taught by Googlers Peter Norvig and Sebastian Thrun, nearly 50,000 people turned in the first assignment.


So in ways that were inconceivable only a few years ago, useful educational materials are spreading across the planet — and the cost of access is declining markedly. However, there is still much work ahead of us and great opportunities to accelerate this access to information.

Interestingly, computing is critical to understanding and addressing several of the other problems raised in the article, such as climate change; aging; energy; and water. Read all about them here — and weigh in with your thoughts below.

Related: check out past CCC visioning activities on global development and learning technology.

(Contributed by Erwin Gianchandani, CCC Director)

“7 Big Problems for 7 Billion People”

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