[Link] 50 breakthroughs needed for sustainable global development

June 2015

The Lawrence Berkeley National Lab Institute for Globally Transformative Technologies recently put out this paper. Possibly of interest to tech-minded EAers like myself, especially if you’re not as enthused about earning to give for whatever reason.

Landing page here, full report here, list here. Especially interesting list items:

‘Smart’ electronic textbooks which dynamically adapt content for different skill levels, languages and other user specific needs.

I’m not sure why they think this is the best solution to school quality (though developing world school quality is definitely a huge problem with potentially technical solutions).

A new generation of homes with advanced construction material, especially for the urban poor: durable, lightweight, and affordable, with integrated solar-powered lighting, ventilation, and toilets.

This would be pretty awesome in the US too! I’m continually flabbergasted by how much money construction and stuff costs. Did you know that the annual interest alone on US mortgages is larger than all the revenue of the technology industry?

Low cost off-grid refrigerators for preserving vaccines (and other temperature sensitive pharmaceuticals) in remote settings.

Thermo-stabilizing mechanisms for preserving vaccines and other temperature sensitive, lifesaving pharmaceuticals so that they do not require refrigeration.

Affordable off-grid refrigeration for smallholder farmers and small agribusinesses.

Low cost refrigerated vehicles, sturdy enough for unpaved roads in rural areas.

So I just totally didn’t realize how severe of a problem refrigeration is, but it takes up almost 10% of what these people think are the 50 top breakthroughs.

Notably missing: anything about indoor stoves, which kill a huge number of people (one 2010 source estimates 1.9 million). Is this already solved or something?

I’m not sure how EA-aligned the authors of this report are; they seem to care a lot more about renewable energy and environmentalism than I would if I were going for most impact per unit effort, for instance. But I think you can take most of the things where they say “solar X would be a breakthrough” and replace it with “X would be a breakthrough” and still be basically right. I’m not sure if their perspective is skewed away from EA in other ways. Anyway, an interesting read either way.

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Howie Lempel

“Did you know that the annual interest alone on US mortgages is larger than all the revenue of the technology industry?”

-That’s surprising to me although probably heavily influenced by the mortgage interest tax deduction.