Bono has been singing the praises of technology and it paid off. As an investor and cofounder of the AIDS programs ( One and RED) he has been devoting his time to eradicating poverty and AIDS related issues. Bono traded emails with MIT Technology Review deputy editor, Brian Bergstein about his role in tech, vaccines and information services. A couple of those questions highlighted our interests.
MIT: It's 2013, and Millions of people are still short of food or proper medical care. Have technologists over promised ?
Bono: The tech that’s been delivered has been staggering in its measurable achievements.
MIT: What should be the role of technology in making a better world? Are some problems beyond its reach, like poverty?
Bono: Technology has already helped tackle extreme poverty in Africa. Extreme poverty is the empirical condition of living on under $1.25 a day. Nelson Mandela once demanded we be the “great generation” to beat extreme poverty, noting how we have the technology and resources to achieve this extraordinary vision. And we do. We could achieve it by 2030, maybe before.
MIT: You admired Steve Jobs. Did he make the world better or just make nice computers?
Bono: I think a large part of the reason Apple and Steve Jobs have beguiled so many is that they are a gigantic company that put greatness ahead of the bottom line, believing that great profitability would follow in the long term. He told me he would love to spend more time on philanthropy and would get to it one day. He wasn’t interested in half doing it, as is obvious with his personality. Still, Apple very quietly has contributed more than $50 million to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria through the sale of (RED) iPods, Nanos, etc. They are the biggest corporate donor. Tim Cook is passionate about this stuff.
MIT: If you had a budget equivalent to the one that put astronauts on the moon, what problems would you try to solve?
Bono: 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.
MIT: Do you despair? If not, why not?
Bono: Like any parent, I wonder what kind of world we’re leaving behind. But I’ve also been blessed to be involved in some great movements that helped bring major challenges—like debt or AIDS or malaria—from the margins to the mainstream. These social movements are the things that make the real difference, people from different walks of life coming together to stand up for what they believe in. Whether they do it by marching, by writing, by tweeting, by posting, by singing, or by going to jail. It’s hard not to be an optimist when you see what happens when people join forces.