Going to Mars may be sexy, but stomping out Polio makes millions of lives better.
Its hard to realize that, I suppose, when your life is in the bubble of a limo. That's honestly what makes Bill Gates second act so amazing.
The asteroid was the root cause of the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event. The direct cause was ecological collapse.
To oversimplify things a bit, the impact event kicked up enough pollution to undercut the food chain by starving out anything that relied on photosynthesis, which starved out the herbivores, which starved out the carnivores and omnivores.
Typical asteroids are not large enough to wipe out all human life in one go. A large impact could kill billions between direct fatalities and follow-on deaths via starvation and plagues, but your survivor population would still easily exceed anything we can sustainably place on Mars (or any other extraterrestrial location) within the next few hundred years.
Even if it completely refactored modern civilization, you'd probably see some population capable of organizing and recovering a sustainable society. And that is with mass starvation, with plagues due to loss of sanitation infrastructure, with conventional farming being disrupted for years, and with the assumption that some idiot decides it's time for a preemptive nuclear war.
Furthermore, any sustainable Martian colony you could produce could equally well be isolated in a hardened bunker on Earth, if surviving a large asteroid impact were the only concern.
To wipe out all humanity with one impact, you would need to hit the Earth with something in a slightly larger class - say, the Moon.
No, if an object as large as the moon hit the earth - the earth might even be destroyed (but probably not). To wipe out humanity a body of the size between 10-100 miles in diameter would probably suffice. Fortunately near-earth orbits with a body of that size is rare.
I'd imagine polluted water and air with still some flora and fauna would still be better than none of those things.
Start by building a self-sustaining base in the middle of the desert. If you manage to do that you'll be improving the life on Earth for a lot of human being. When all deserts, including Antartica are terraformed, colonized, and we run out of space on Earth, then maybe we can feel the need to colonize mars.
Before than, it's just dreaming about living in a sci-fi movie.
No one has said there aren't other things worth working on. And maybe they are more important short-term (even Musk has admitted this much). So: by all means, go forth and work on them!
If Elon is willing to step down and run a non-profit to get to Mars, I'm all for it. But I suspect he isn't willing to do that. This is about profit - which isn't bad - but its not charity and therefore is very unlikely in the end to help the bottom 10%.
700,000,000 (bottom 10%) divide Bill Gate's net worth (70 billion) and they will all get $100 each.
The only way to improve the lives of the poor is through capitalism. We've seen this in China: "Between 1981 and 2008 ... 600 million people were taken out of poverty."  The profit motive is an incredible force.
Btw, I say this as a huge fan of Gate's charity.
Nobody's suggesting we get rid of capitalism. But effective participation in capitalism requires quite a lot that capitalism itself isn't good at providing. Government, for example. Freelance government, like warlords and mob bosses, isn't great for economic development. Good parenting and a stable home life are not things that capitalism is producing a lot of. Education and public health have very long payback times and difficult-to-capture benefits, making the ROI pretty low. That's made worse by people using capitalism's mechanisms to profit from destroying value, and a very short-term focus driven by public markets' focus on the next quarter's earnings.
As an example of what a more subtle approach gives you, look at Brazil's Bolsa Familia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bolsa_Fam%C3%ADlia
They are basically giving money to the poor: $13 per month per kid who stays vaccinated and in school. Studies suggest it's having a substantial impact on poverty and inequality. So yes, giving modest amounts of money (0.5% of Brazil's GDP) can reduce poverty because helps recipients to prepare themselves to participate effectively in a free-market economy.
With all due respect, speak for yourself.
Nobody is proposing just giving out money to help poor people. You do what Gates is doing. Target specific problems. If you read his annual letter this year (if you haven't it's worth it) he makes the point that by preventing death through things like Malaria, Polio etc. there are several knock on effects. Less children will die and if you can educate them you have more people to push the economy forward. Families will also reduce in size (people will have less children as the ones they have are less likely to die) and the problem of over population will be improved. I think these are some things that neither money alone nor capitalism can solve but if we can solve the underlying problems as Gates is doing capitalism can take over.
What I don't understand is where this 'wealth' is coming from. You say no one can provide it now. But it's seemingly coming out of thin air (your chinese example: What happened? The people are the same. Resources are probably comparable. Building an iPhone in CN generates money .. how?).
The whole big picture, macroscopic view never made sense for me. The 'click' is missing. It seems that this wealth is more or less as arbitrary as shares (look to me).
Now move to the industrial agricultural age. The same food (better really) that it used to take 90% of the labor of the country to grow now can be done by 5% of the people. Instead of having only enough surplus to support a few guys making clothing or building tools, most of society can go off and find things to do with their time to trade to the farmers for food and to each other for whatever everyone else is doing. Now all the good and services of the country not only include a wide variety of food, clothing, and tools, but it also includes concerts, amusement parks, computers, dishwashers -- all of which can be traded for the very same bushels of corn or herds of cattle that the agrarian society was producing.
All of this is very simplified but it should give you the basic idea. Bill Gates can give the global poor money and they can use that to import goods and services made elsewhere, but that's just a temporary change. If you really want the societies to be richer, you need the people in that society to be doing things with their time that are of great value to others. That's what increases the total amount of wealth in the world.
We consume and process things to make other things.
A tree by itself has limited value to a human, but if you process it into a house, it has a lot more value to a human.
Lets say you need 100 trees to make a house. 100 trees is worth $10,000.
A person with the job of chopping trees (a lumberjack) can cut down 300 a year, so they make $30,000 a year in income.
Lets say the lumberjack wants to buy a house.
A house is worth $20,000 to him. He pays a firm to build him a house for $20,000. The firm buys 100 trees from someone for $10,000 and then turns them into a house for the lumberjack. That extra $10,000 they received is called "value add". They added value because humans (the employees of the firm) had to turn the wood into a house.
This is what the economy basically is, and you can be in two roles:
1: The resource extractor
2: The resource processor
Or in other words, you can be the wood or the flame.
How to do you make a big fire?
Get more and better resources (like wood and air)
Start fires in more places than one (parallel processing of the wood)
Start hotter fires (blowtorch vs a match)
Pretty much all of the above is controlled by laws and policy of the government. The citizenry are like the flame - they have innate, unfaltering properties. It is the role of the government (the person trying to build a big fire) to know these properties of the citizenry, and setup the right conditions so they burn their brightest.
First, you can go from idleness to producing - if I sit on my ass I produce no wealth; if I assemble an iPhone then I create wealth since an iPhone is more useful&valuable than the unassembled components.
Second, you can have great differences of production efficiency. You can make the exact same people with the same effort generate order(s) of magnitude more wealth per year by making different products, making the same products more efficiently, or combining people with capital(=machinery, automation, economies of scale).
Third, trade generally creates wealth as such. There are classic examples, but the sense is that re-distributing tasks to the places where they're done relatively more efficiently allows both parties to have much more goods&services than if they'd be isolated and didn't trade.
The point is that there can be huge differences of how much wealth a person is generating, and those differences form the differences in national wealth. Simply "giving people fishes" to go on the same way doesn't generate wealth. "Teaching the people to fish" does generate wealth.
And there are two exceptions, where charity is key - first, if people are starving, then feeding them allows them to keep their means of future wealth generation, instead of eating their seeds and milkable animals, and selling their tools. And second, if you "give a fish" to kids&young adults, then that enables them to "learn fishing" and generate more wealth in the future instead of being stuck in ineffective menial jobs (that don't generate much wealth for them nor their employers) from early childhood till death.
Wealth is the result of
- Raw materials (natural resources)
- Capital (building the factories)
- Labor (running the factories)
- Technology (figuring out better ways of doing things
Obviously, technology is improving all the time. We're figuring out better ways of production, so that more can be created even with fewer of the other inputs.
Indeed, while we're stuck with pretty much the original set of raw materials, technology lets us figure out things to do with stuff that we never even realized was a raw material.
Capital is always building on itself. That is, given adequate maintenance, you have all the factories that you had last year. Plus you build new ones this year. So capacity is always increasing.
Labor is always increasing in two ways. First, the population of the world grows, so we've got more people to do the work. But more importantly, the more people we've got to divide the work amongst, the more each person can specialize. And the more each can specialize, the more efficiently he can work at it.
So all these factors work to bring greater wealth to the world.
At the start of this process, there was 100$ and maybe 5$ of materials. After the transaction, the 100$ is still there, but there is also a chair worth 100$ in circulation. So 105$ of assets turned into 200$.
Look at the Internet when it was "non profit". It sat there for years in universities and labs, availing the lower 10% not at all. When the profit-motive was allowed to explore the possibilities, the Internet exploded. Now the Internet is available fairly universally.
EDIT: correct me if I am wrong, but YC doesn't expect to make a RIO with Watsi. They just want to make the world a better place. It is a donation not an investment. Most VCs are not that nice.
EDIT: EDIT: Found it: "Since some people were confused when we funded Watsi, I'd better clarify that the money we're putting into the nonprofits will be a charitable donation, rather than an investment in the narrow sense. We won't have any financial interest in them." Link here: http://ycombinator.com/np.html
There are a variety of ways you could structure things. A non-profit could take loans or sell bonds. I've heard talk of a pay-for-success model for public-good bonds.  The non-profit could create a for-profit subsidiary, like Mozilla does. A non-profit could enter into a joint venture (e.g., with an aerospace company).
I think the main barrier to approaches like this is attitudes like yours: for-profit people often have a hard time of steering by the public good. And, of course, the mirror attitude, where non-profit people are suspicious of anything that looks like capitalism. But there's no necessary conflict; the whole theory of capitalism is that companies are making the world better. And if you want to make the world better, the best way to do that is sustainably, and for-profit companies have done a lot of great thinking on how to stay in the black.
Disclaimer: HUGE Watsi fan.
I thought that was called a donation.
In the context of this quote:
"You’re working because you want to change the world and make it better; if the company you work for is worthy of your time, why not your money as well? We just don’t think about that. I’d like for us to help out more than we are."
His philosophy could make sense.
>"if the company you work for is worthy of your time, why not your money as well?"
Because you're being compensated for your time? Giving money to public companies is giving money to shareholders, not to a cause or an ideology. What's to stop a corporate raider from stirring up a revolt for disbursement of the cash/share buybacks?
He can be philanthropic AND support Musk, false equivalence on his part. Set up a foundation for a specific cause that invests in Tesla stock and has a defined budget for every year based on stock performance, dividends etc. I'd like to read his full comments but on face value it seems like a very silly thing to say.
An catastrophic asteroid impact is a low daily probability, with an impact of up to one (one being complete wipeout of the human race).
I think it's a tossup which yields better happiness or productivity for humanity to address in the short run. In the extreme long run, of course, if you don't solve the second, there's little point solving the first issue.
The problem is a lack of resources - that resource being some collective focus of humankind, as there's no real physical resource limit preventing us from pursuing both at the moment.
Mars is a vanity project however he chooses to dress it up. An interesting vanity project sure but a vanity project all the same.
And personally I have no issue with that, I just wish he'd be honest. We didn't go to the moon the first time for any good reason, we did it because it was there. Governments can't afford to pay for the "because they're there" projects any more but if Musk, Page and co can then great but don't pretend it's for the good of humanity - "because it's there" is all the justification you need for something that amazing.
They're both great goals and I'm glad we live in a time when going to mars is something we can propose as a serious point of discussion, instead of being an unrealistic dream.
"Almost everything about the plan to help Polio victims, especially about creating a "polio vaccine" is uncertain. Compare that to the current, immediate suffering and lost potential that is caused by poverty and disease."
See how this works?
There are some very good reasons to pursue the colonization of Mars, mostly in the form of advancing science. A backup population is not one of these good reasons.
Colonizing Mars will be a force mulitpler as well, mostly through indirect technology benefit and ancillary space industries(asteroid mining). It probably won't impact the effort to cure polio but will probably increase our ability to cure other diseases.
What event could possibly make Earth less hospitable than Mars? Even assuming nuclear Armageddon or an extinction-level asteroid impact, you're still left with an environment much closer to habitability than what you would find on Mars.
If we reach such a point, lack of room on Earth might be a serious issue
That gives us roughly 1 million sq miles to hold the entire population of the planet on a comfortably-sized lot. That's 1/10 the size of the USA, about the size of the land area of Alaska plus Texas.
The people aren't going to be the problem with land usage.
The point though, is that 300,000 people with knowledge acquired from the entirety of history is better than an empty solar system.
Consider being the last enclave on Earth with clean water, reliable power, and happy people.
How long until the unwashed masses claw your bunker open with their bare hands for a chance at bettering their lot?
That's the reason we need to have colonies off-planet; in case the situation on Earth gets beyond saving.
That said, sure a vacation home on Mars would be great. Just that it's not very viable ... the preparation would have to be immense. It would, however, prolong the species a while later than living on Earth, as the Sun turns into a red giant. Perhaps in a few centuries.
A good reason to support the B612 Foundation (http://b612foundation.org)
Any asteroid that will be an Earth killer will have such a high velocity (due to its highly elliptical orbit) that it won't matter. Consider 2012 XE54 . These objects are nigh undetectable as evidenced by the detection of 2012 XE54 two days before it passed half the distance between the Moon and the Earth. A close call by any account.
Moving people off a single point of failure (Earth) is a much better use of resources.
Practically speaking, both require similar improvements to today's technology: cheaper access to space, larger payloads, better shielding, etc.
Everyone would be dead so there wouldn't be anyone left to care.
Not that I [dis]agree, but I think this point needs consideration.
(Not that I feel good about donating to a for-profit)
In the same way, if a large portion of the population was suddenly killed today, in the long run it wouldn't affect the number of people. The total population limit/equilibrium is determined by food production, tech and social habits; but actual mass deaths (say, as ww1/ww2) are just a short term disturbance in the number of people and quickly get corrected.
It doesn't mean that curing polio is useless - it makes many people much happier; but simply there is no direct relation between happiness of one generation and wellbeing of non-immediate future generations. Culture gets passed on; built infrastructure gets passed on; reseach gets passed on; but there's almost no difference caused by generation suffering horrible conditions/war/torture [assuming no large permanent loss of knowledge/infrastructure; just the suffering&deaths] and that generation living happily. In the short term there's an effect, sure, but in the long term?
Is Germany suffering now in any way because the 30-year-war in 17th century killed 30-40% of the population? Would it be any better place if that war&suffering hadn't happened ? Definitely no. The lost people recover in a generation or two, and that's it.
For that matter, space tech of this level of magnitude is extremely likely to have massive positive impacts on Earth-bound humanity too.
We're still not really in a good position to judge the likelihood of a species-wide existential crisis right now, but we do know that the cumulative odds of one occurring only go up over time....
At the very least, it is not a clear-cut case in favor of either position. In the real world, you, perhaps unfortunately, can't afford to try to serialize your problems and attack them one-by-one... you must attack them in parallel.
I really find this morality baffling. As I see it extinction level event would be a tragedy on account of the deaths of billions. But the human species, as a whole, is not an individual; it does not think or feel or suffer. Its cessation has no moral value beyond the death of the individuals which make it up.
I'm open to hearing an argument to the contrary; usually discussions of space colonization, it's assumed obvious that perpetuating humanity is important. But I don't see it, and so I tend to view anything that helps actual individuals as a better use of resources.
It is possible that humanity could be wiped out and Earth could re-roll another species that could do it instead... but once you dispose of the fashionable self-loathing and look at it rationally, it's not a good bet. (But that's a longer post.)
That said, there's also a pure research vs. direct action aspect, again going back to the fact that the tech for a true off-planet space presence will inevitably produce extremely useful technology for those of us still on Earth. It may be easier to see by putting it in the past... no amount of cooking bread and giving it to hungry people would ever have produced refrigeration technology, or the wide dissemination of it. Had people 100 years ago followed the advice of only taking direct actions to prevent poverty, we would, paradoxically, have a lot more of it today. Again... we can not serialize our approach to problems, we have to attack them in parallel.
Right. So technology that provides humanity, or some part of it, the means to get people out of the way of what would otherwise be an extinction level event saves the actual, individual lives of all those people that would otherwise have been in the way.
If Larry thinks a Mars-shot would be a better investment for his particular (large) slice of the pie than other investments, that's his business. It doesn't imply that the rest of the world needs to either agree or follow him as an example.
I think we all agree that we have individual rights. When you make your opinions public you open them up to discussion.
I often daydream about what I'd do if I was billg rich. And I keep coming to the conclusion that there are certain, very specific charitable activities that I'd choose to fund, and they wouldn't necessarily be the same ones that gates chooses. For example, my prime angle would be to focus on poverty by contributing funds to help with education for disadvantaged people, and by focusing on programs that teach and promote entrepreneurship. Now, does that mean that I don't care about people with polo, or malaria, or people in developing countries who need clean water? No, it just means that I'd choose to address the things that resonate with me for whatever reason, while acknowledging that one person can't do it all.
It sounds to me like Page just has his vision of how he would want to help make the world better, and I don't see how it makes sense to criticize him just because his hot buttons aren't the same as yours (or mine, or whoever).
Which he has every right to believe, just as I believe saying something like that is lacking in empathy.
My only point is that Page's position is not implicitly "bad" or undesirable, in that he clearly is concerned about helping the world - he just has his own strategy for how to do it.
Page lacks not "Empathy" itself, but rather the "Locality of Empathy"; his temporal discounting of empathic investment appears much lower than Gates'.
Humanity needs to be saved but only if we don't lose our humanity, everybody needs to be given a fair chance, even if it's one in a million. Some of the kids I sometimes deal with operate with slightly above this chance, some I read about get much, much lower.
I suggest you do this: While browsing, whenever you encounter a story like this (http://www.reddit.com/r/todayilearned/comments/1wsybd/til_in...) or this (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/07/world/middleeast/07photo.h...) or see a photo like this famous one (http://www.mukto-mona.com/Articles/kevin_carter/sudan_child....), save it to an out of the way folder on your laptop. Whenever you get too cocky, take 15 mins to look at that folder and think how far we have to go. Great way to degauss your perspective.
Ain't been true for thousands of years.
The question is whether we prioritize the species, at large, or an individual. If the answer is species at large, off-site backups make a great deal more sense.
I like the idea of at least a few going in a different direction. Letting Elon Musk throw billions at an audaciously big goal because he has a record of achieving and society might benefit as well.
(1) Exploration of space today will some day save everybody's lives.
(2) Driving Teslas with energy from Solar city will postpone that day.
a). Prolonged a few more lives by eradicating some viruses.
b). Set up a colony on MARS
The people loving Bill Gates "second act" seem to forget how he made all those billions in the first place - by being evil, crushing better competitors, monopolistic practices, etc etc etc. And by basically creating terrible software, holding back the computer industry for years.
It's pretty sad to see though that many users are only seeing two options:
1) give away money to charities to solve symptomatic problems
2) invest money in technologies who try to solve, again, symptomatic problems
A more effective approach would be to work out the causes; first of all, education would be the key.
But this is the hard way of approaching problems.
Right, both are trying to better man kind in their own special ways.
Its a do we solve 1st world problems or do we remember about the rest of the developing world. As I grow older I struggle with which camp I am in.
Mars and an electric car do sound good...but conquering deadly pathogens and diseases sound awesome in a different way.
I agree. Mars is very cool to me and something I'd love to see. BUT my life is already pretty good. There are millions whose lives are short and horrible. Bringing their lives up to my current life standard seems like a more logical first problem to solve than making my already nice life better while theirs doesn't really progress.
Why on earth would you donate to a for-profit? It makes no sense.
For how may be exceptional in their fields, some people may still have a narrow vision outside that (or no vision at all).
Specifically, Page is a technically-minded person who's showing not to be able to see outside of the strictly technical realm, so choosing between a charitable organization and a technological one, is not really a choice, because in his perspective, there's no such thing as the first option.
I was actually surprised (but not too much) that a person like him may have such narrow vision.
Or maybe he's actually smart, as you would expect from a technically minded person, did the math and realized, that there ain't many good charitable organizations to give, nor that the for-profits are worse than charities in pursuing goals beneficial to mankind.
Such alternatives consider human problems as both a human problem and a technical one, and work with both.
This is exactly the point; I expect a technical mind to be at a high risk of seeing only one part of the problem.
Reality is of course much more complex. Enterpreneurs are limited by the fact that having a "human" opinion carries a high risk of damaging the stock value.
Note that I wouldn't certainly consider Elon Musk's social enterpreneurship. Kiva would be (it's just an example).
Both are good.
Besides, putting all eggs in a basket could be a fitting metaphor, except if the person holding the basket has a perverse passion for stomping on it.
Moving to Mars wouldn't be a way to save the population, it would be an excuse to find another planet to destroy.
The Americas (North and South) have been polio free since 1994. The last 1% is what has proven to be difficult.
One is a practical choice, and the other is driven by a long-term ideal and belief that capitalism drives innovation better than handouts. Both have merit.
if you ask me to donate to stopping polio vs spacex, i would probably donating to stopping polio. however, that is because i'm a little bit short-sighted on goals. (incidentally, i guess this is why i'm creating an internet business rather than a space exploration program.) however, that does not mean i should not let other people try the more audacious venture.
The line must be drawn here, on Earth. We must overcome our primate programming here in our own nest, or else become a menace to all the universe. Fix it here, my friend. Now. For time is not on our side. That is the battle.
Pollution is bad in a biosphere, but why shouldn't we strip-mine the asteroid belt with von-neumann machines?
Very interesting. Do you realize that people said exactly those same words about the microscope?
They said : What problem would seeing the same things that we already see bigger are going to solve?
It was called a "toy" with no real use. If you have a microscope you know how hard is to see something.
The fact is that we don't know what we don't know.
Just traveling to the moon changed everything. We discovered isotopes on moon surface that are not created on earth because of earth atmosphere. The same materials where not eroded by fluids behave very different.
Understanding ourselves from a scientific perspective is the first step in a long journey to overcome our destructive natures. But as it stands, I do not see any successful attempts at such. Investment in and respect for science in the western world is declining, and most people are without any guiding principles other than the profit motive.
Ironically, this is the best situation we've ever found ourselves in, historically speaking.
> Its hard to realize that, I suppose, when your life is in the bubble of a Google limo.
There are at most a few thousand workers in Pakistan, india and nigeria going around with polio vaccine oral drops that cost cents per dose. They don't cost billions, not even hundreds of millions.
I say this because you say, "makes millions of lives better" as if that'd be the end of the discussion. I don't think it is.