October 04, 2004

Grand Challenges

On this day of great achievements -- Scaled Composites winning the X Prize set forth to energize public commercial space flight -- let's put in perspective how challenges such as this can initiate interest and science in areas where man will benefit most.

A few weeks ago, I attended a talk delivered by a reknowned scientist, Richard Klausner. The subject of his presentation was the Global Health Initiative, proposed and developed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) -- yes, THE Bill Gates, none other.

Purportedly, Bill was inspired by David Hilbert [Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia], the famous mathematician, known for his list of 23 mathematical problems/challenges having the greatest impact on modern civilization, once solved -- some have yet to be solved. With Hilbert's model in mind, Bill and his board of scientific advisors, sought to develop a list of "Grand Public Health Challenges" that when solved, will have the highest impact in advancing global health.

Most, if not all, of the descriptive slides of his talk can be re-assembled from the data and information provided by the official website. As a member of his audience, I have to admit that one theme of his talk rang true and persists with me even now and I suspect will linger on with me for the rest of my life: he commented twice (once in the beginning and once when closing) that the "fate of a person in this world is largely predicted by the person's geographic location of birth." How many of you reading my article now are reading it in the comfort of your home, your office, your work, your school, or your wireless cafe? I am not denying that my place in life is not due to the hard work that I've already invested, but I have to admit that had I been born elsewhere, the opportunities would not have been available, even with hard work.

What Rick Klausner was so poignantly attempting to convey, was that because of poor health (due to poor health care, etc.) in many parts of the world, people living in those areas have been relegated to one fate: death, without the chance of a productive life. This "problem" is a problem that the Grand Challenges in Global Health wishes to address and solve so that the vast majority of people in this world have a chance, at least, for a productive, fruitful, and most of all happy life.

Now with all the MS bashing that you may get from me in my past blogs, you may wonder why I'm touting and lauding these attempts made by Bill (and Melinda) Gates via the BMGF. At least with the money he's made with his software, he's using it for the betterment of mankind. By presenting problems, such as current public health problems, as "grand challenges" with a purse behind them, philanthropists (i.e. Bill Gates) have begun to realize that action will always follow monetary gain. Money talks, there's no doubt about that. If you're bewildered by my out-of-character praise of Bill Gates, consider this twisted thought: if Bill's philanthropy leads to the betterment of mankind and increases the standard of living for those in poor countries, Bill hopes that the increase in health and productivity of these people will lead to increase usage of computers and software purchases -- software sold by none other than Microsoft. So it's a win-win situation for Bill. He looks like the unassuming rich philanthropist who wants to help the world "just because," gets a few tax breaks by doing it, and in the end will still monetarily benefit from it. Oh the irony! :)

Posted by johnvu at October 4, 2004 11:10 PM
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