5 Simple Solutions to Global Problems

PHOTO What if the answers to global crises -- from devastating hurricanes to the malaria epidemic to global warming -- were simple and relatively inexpensive?

What if the answers to global crises -- from devastating hurricanes to the malaria epidemic to global warming -- were simple and relatively inexpensive?

Journalist Stephen Dubner and economist Steven Levitt, the authors of "SuperFreakonomics," say that throughout history, "cheap and simple fixes" often solved the world's biggest problems.

Take the medical crisis that more than 50 years ago endangered every American child and nearly crippled the American health care system. The problem was polio, and the solution was not more hospitals or more efficient iron lungs that would make breathing easier. The answer was a vaccine.

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"Polio's just one of thousands of examples like that, where a simple solution will prevent so much heartache going down the road," Dubner said.

The "SuperFreakonomics" duo argue that it's no different in modern times. "We love to think the world is terrible and difficult, and that it's much worse now than it's ever been. But the fact of the matter is that's almost always wrong," Dubner said. "The world is actually better now than it ever was and all the unsolvable problems that keep cropping up keep getting solved."

Intellectual Ventures, or IV, a company in Bellevue, Wash., has been in the business of solving problems since 2000. The self-proclaimed invention company harnesses ingenuity from some of the smartest scientists, mathematicians, software engineers and patent experts in the world, including Nathan Myhrvold, the former chief technology officer at Microsoft and co-founder.

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"Our only job is to invent. And so we try to swing for the fences and try to solve really big problems. And sometimes we do!" Myhrvold said.

Although their ideas are sometimes wacky and outrageous, IV currently ranks in the top 50 among companies that file patents worldwide. Myhrvold said the key components are "simple, and cheap and effective. And when you're lucky and when things are going all right, you can come up with an idea that's all of them."

So, with the help of technology, innovation and "SuperFreakonomics," here are five simple solutions to global problems.

1. Problem: Hurricanes.

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Solution: Wave-powered vessel that cools the surface of the ocean.

IV believes that it can simply -- and relatively inexpensively -- control hurricanes, which account for thousands of deaths and billions of dollars in damage in this country alone. Warm water on the ocean's surface fuels hurricanes, making them more powerful and deadly. Using "hurricane suppression technology," the goal is to reduce the storms' power by cooling the ocean's surface and mixing it with the cold water sitting 100 to 300 feet below.


Courtesy Intellectual Ventures

The device they've created is a floating inner tube between a hundred and several hundred feet wide, connected to a flexible cylinder a few hundred feet deep. The force of the waves crashing over the tube pushes warm water from the surface to the bottom of the cylinder, thereby lowering the ocean's surface temperature. "If you wanted to eliminate hurricanes or to reduce the strength of hurricanes, you would have to deploy a few thousand of these in, for example, the Gulf of Mexico," Myhrvold said.

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2. Problem: Earth's rising temperature and melting ice caps.

Solution: A garden hose. Bonus: Saving polar bears from extinction.

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