Solutions to Humanity’s Global Grand Challenges Are Within Our Reach
Exponential technologies could solve our most pressing issues in a matter of decades.
by Darlene Damm, SU’s Principal Faculty for Global Grand Challenges & Nicholas Haan, SU’s Managing Director of the Global Solutions Program
At Singularity University, we believe it is possible to solve today’s most pressing problems within the next couple decades. We call these the Global Grand Challenges (GGCs). Our ambition and optimism stem from the nature of exponential technologies and their capacity to bring real, affordable solutions to billions in increasingly shorter and shorter time frames — while also empowering all people from around the globe to solve the challenges we each see around us.
Many important institutions around the world are working on the GGCs, including the United Nations, the Gates Foundation, XPRIZE, USAID, and the coalition of organizations devoted to the Sustainable Development Goals. SU has partnerships and collaborations with many of these organizations, and we also bring our own approach to the GGCs.
So, what is SU’s GGC methodology? Let’s take a look.
SU’s Global Grand Challenge Framework
We identify 12 GGC areas — such as energy, water, health, and environment—and divide them into resource needs and societal needs (see the below infographic to learn more). We then look to tackle each of the GGCs with three goals in mind:
- Ensuring basic needs are met for all people
- Sustaining and improving quality of life
- Mitigating future risks
Humanity has the resources to solve for immediate basic needs as well as anticipate and mitigate future risks — it is not an either/or, zero-sum game. At SU, we encourage and empower innovators to develop solutions suited for any of these three perspectives on the GGCs.
Even though we identify twelve GGC areas, in reality, they reside in a complex web of dependencies and interactions. They are highly interdependent. Any innovation for a GGC at any scale — and particularly at the global systems scale — will necessarily affect and be affected by conditions in other GGCs. This interdependency can create positive feedback loops.
For example, by solving for the water challenge, the health challenge becomes much more doable. Water-related factors cause more than 20% of deaths of people under the age of 14 in low-income countries. The interdependencies can also create negative feedback loops. For example, any solution to the global food challenge necessarily requires doing so in an environmentally sustainable manner that does not increase pollutants. Innovators must critically assess the system-wide impacts of their innovations and design for net optimal outcomes.
The GGC objectives are framed to describe the overarching end-state we feel is achievable. This differs from and is complementary to other approaches that identify specific problems with clear criteria/metrics of success. (e.g., Gates Foundation, XPRIZE, USAID, and others).
How Is It Possible to Solve the GGCs?
Our civilization is currently digitizing everything from bank accounts to DNA to manufacturing processes. As digitization touches more products, services and the means of production, it drives costs toward zero and makes them more accessible to billions. Looking ahead, we believe this trend will make it possible to create an abundance of goods and services that meet our resource and societal needs in a sustainable, affordable and just way.
The “just” part is important to us. As we digitize faster and faster, we must simultaneously develop the ethics, policies, business models and laws to ensure that this abundance is distributed in an equitable and empowering way. Lack of an internet connection, unreliable energy, social values, or political systems that exclude certain populations from building or using technology, and business models that create extreme inequality will hold back the positive effects of digitization.
Similarly, the deployment of exponential technologies without ethics and intentional thinking about the role of humans in an exponential world can lead to a future where certain groups use exponential technologies to intentionally or unintentionally harm others at mass scales. While technology moves at exponential rates, social policies and values systems tend not to. Now is the time to bear down on getting our values straight as we encode them into the DNA of an increasingly digital world that will more and more run and build itself.
What Is SU Doing About the GGCs?
Our mission is to educate, inspire and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges. Singularity Hub, our Exponential Conferences, digital education programs and Summits are designed to help the public and specialists understand exponential technology’s opportunities and threats.
Our Global Solutions Program, Startup Accelerator, and Impact Challenges support new entrepreneurs using exponential technologies to rebuild our world and solve the Global Grand Challenges. Our programs for corporations, governments, Fortune 500 CEOs, executives, development organizations, universities, and more help existing entities re-invent themselves with exponential technologies to positively impact the billions of people they serve. We also work with a growing network and ecosystem of alumni, chapters, and salons around the world. We are launching our first SingularityU Campus in the Netherlands as we grow and scale globally.
While each program is succeeding on its own, we are beginning to also see uncommon collaborations across the network and industries. Examples include Lowes’ collaboration with Made In Space to put a commercial-grade 3D printer on the International Space Station and X2AI’s work with the Field Innovation Exchange to pilot psychotherapy by AI in Lebanon.
As we put exponential technologies into the hands of the entrepreneurs and leaders who think exponentially rather than linearly and who understand this historic moment to now solve the Global Grand Challenges — we will see the lives of billions transformed in positive ways.
Join Us in Positively Impacting a Billion People
We hope that you will join us in being part of this movement to leverage exponential technologies to solve the Global Grand Challenges. If you are new to our work, follow us on Singularity Hub, apply to our educational programs, or come to our conferences and events.
If you are an entrepreneur with a new startup using exponential technologies to solve a Global Grand Challenge, apply for our startup accelerator or take part in our impact challenges. If you are an established company, join us for a custom program or partnership to develop the next exponential innovations and business models for a future where solving our biggest Global Grand Challenges are also the next trillion-dollar business opportunities.
Most of all, be a part of our times. Exponential technologies, especially many of the changes coming related to artificial intelligence, biotechnology, nanotechnology and more will profoundly reshape how our society works and in many ways, what it means to be human.
Bring your voice to this conversation and help shape our future.