Technical solutions generally don’t solve social problems

January 25, 2014 by Joshua
in Awareness, Nature

With a PhD in physics, a few patents, and several start-ups to my name, I have some experience with developing and building technology to solve problems. I consider knowing the limits of what technology can solve as important as how to use technology.

Social problems, I find, aren’t amenable to technological solutions. The big one I see is global warming. I see people suggest technologies to deflect sunlight, beam energy from space, and so on. They may contribute to some solution, but ultimately they can only address small parts of a system including population size, the economy, the environment, ecology, and so on. Each area is complex, suggesting simple solutions wouldn’t solve their problems, let alone a problem involving all of them.

When I see someone trying to solve a system with a magic bullet, it usually doesn’t take long to find flaws in it, and more importantly in the perspective of the person proposing the solution.

Alternatively, if I see a complex system, and social systems are usually more complex than technical systems, I look for systems-type solutions.

Or as I learned in shop class in school: the right tool for the right job.

Over time, I’ll add to this post as I come across examples of attempts to solve social problems with technological solutions that misunderstand the problem.

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