In 2014 Bill Gates offered a prediction:
By 2035, there will be almost no poor countries left in the world. Almost all countries will be what we now call lower-middle income or richer. Countries will learn from their most productive neighbors and benefit from innovations like new vaccines, better seeds, and the digital revolution.
From the litany of bad predictions made by technological optimists, Gates would have done well to recall that in 1959 CP Snow had made a similar one, albeit with a longer deadline:
This disparity between the rich and the poor has been noticed… Whatever else in the world we know survives to the year 2000, that won’t.
These statements suggest great faith in the power of science to cure social ills. Needless to say, the gap between rich and poor has grown since Snow’s day. Poor people have got better-off thanks in part to the benefits of science and innovation, but the rich have benefited more, and the problems of poverty persist. Tackling grand challenges means going beyond what Evgeny Morozov calls ‘solutionism’, in which problems are redefined by technologists to suit the tools they have available.