Rock star Bono embraced his inner nerd on Tuesday as he made a case that extreme poverty could be eliminated by the year 2030 with the help of technology.
“Forget the rock opera, forget the bombast,” Bono told a rapt audience at a prestigious TED gathering in Southern California. “The only thing singing today is the facts. I have truly embraced my inner nerd.”He playfully put his trademark tinted glasses on upside down to highlight his point.
“Exit the rock star,” he said. “Enter the evidence-based activist. The factavist.”The famed U2 front man was awarded the first TED Prize in 2005 and used the “wish” granted by the influential group – which includes thinkers, celebrities, scientists, entrepreneurs and politicians – to help wage war on extreme poverty.
The cash award with the prize at that time was $100,000, and the TED community was essential to building a grassroots network underpinning efforts of the humanitarian ONE campaign Bono co-founded.
TED curator Chris Anderson played a pivotal role in helping get the One.com online address for Bono’s campaign, according to ONE co-founder Jamie Drummond.
Bono was back on the stage Tuesday to provide an update on his efforts. He seized the moment to revel in progress made and urge people not to let the momentum stall.
Thanks in great part to technology, some of it in the form of medical breakthroughs, more people with Aids are getting life-saving drugs and deaths from malaria have dropped.
The child mortality rate meanwhile has fallen to the tune of 7,256 fewer children dying daily, according to Bono.
And the percentage of people living in extreme poverty, as defined by those living on less than $1.25 a day, was 21 percent as of 2010, slightly less than half of what it was in 1990.
“The rate is still too high, but it is mind-blowing heart-stopping stuff,”Bono said, noting that if the trajectory continues the extreme poverty rate
would hit zero by the year 2030.
“We get to the Zero Zone, for number crunchers like us that is the erogenous zone. I am sexually aroused by the collating of data.”He cautioned that the momentum could still be lost without pressure on politicians to continue supporting programs such as his ONE campaign despite economic challenges.
Companies such as big oil are fighting hard against laws that would require making public how much they pay to extract resources from the ground, making it harder to tell whether money is fairly shared with citizens, Bono said.
“We know that the biggest disease of all is not a disease, it is corruption,” he said. “There is a cure for that too, it’s called transparency,” he continued.
“Technology is really turbo-charging this; it is harder to hide when you are doing bad stuff.”
He referred to the role mobile technology has played in the Arab Spring and in Uganda, where an SMS messaging network is used by people to expose corruption.
“I like to think that the talk I gave was about the past as an incentive toward the future,” Bono said after leaving the stage, noting that the end to measurable extreme poverty didn’t mean all poverty would be gone.
Bono joked that payoffs to eliminating extreme poverty would mean “you won’t have to listen to an insufferable jumped-up Jesus like myself” and that the year 2030 was so close that it was “only three Rolling Stone farewell concerts away.”
Watch Bono's TED talk from 2005 below: