Is the world getting better or worse? A look at the numbers | Steven Pinker
Is the world getting better or worse A look at the numbers Steven Pinker

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Was 2017 really the "worst year ever," as some would have us believe? In his analysis of recent data on homicide, war, poverty, pollution and more, psychologist Steven Pinker finds that we're doing better now in every one of them when compared with 30 years ago. But progress isn't inevitable, and it doesn't mean everything gets better for everyone all the time, Pinker says. Instead, progress is problem-solving, and we should look at things like climate change and nuclear war as problems to be solved, not apocalypses in waiting. "We will never have a perfect world, and it would be dangerous to seek one," he says. "But there's no limit to the betterments we can attain if we continue to apply knowledge to enhance human flourishing." Check out more TED Talks: The TED Talks channel features the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world's leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes (or less). Look for talks on Technology, Entertainment and Design -- plus science, business, global issues, the arts and more. Follow TED on Twitter: Like TED on Facebook: Subscribe to our channel:


Estabanwatersaz : Cheered me up. Thank you sir!

*alittlelost* : The world isn't getting worse, but the spread of bad news has become easier.

Wael Fadhel : People, he said it clearly , We are not perfect but we are better and we are making a progress. Not perfect.

yapdog : You wouldn't believe how harshly I always get attacked online when I said we're better off now than we were by nearly every measure. I've been saying this for the past 10 years, but, no matter their political leanings, people really don't like to hear it, calling me ignorant.

Goose Games : i think social media has amplified everything. things may not be as bad as 30 years ago but with social media people just love to complain, hate and voice their negative opinions.

Captain Ron : Wonderful talk! However, despite the convincing numbers that the world is a better place today than it was in the past, many people are incapable of seeing progress and instead dwell on current issues and problems. This is not a bad thing but focusing on the world's miseries (without acknowledging the amazing progress of human society) is a depressing way of living one's life.

Georgios Tsirtsidis : One thing Dr. Pinker didn't mention is that 30 years ago 1 person (mostly man) could feed a family with 1 job, and now 2 people have to work 1 or even 2 jobs. It kinda sucks doesn't it? I don't know if I'm being naive here. Of course women are more than welcome to work, my problem is that they HAVE to work.

Ed Paha : Hans Rosling has many interesting presentations along these lines. As Spock would say " Live long and prosper"

Pierre Taichou : Good TED talk, but I wanted to see graphs on suicide rates.

Joy Marcus : Scala Sans! Excellent choice of typeface, Dr. Pinker.

Belarithian : I'm a TINY BIT sceptic about the statistics. Do you know how they "solved" extreme (below subsistence level) poverty in my country's statistics? They lowered the bar... (our govt. also has the habit of encrypting "sensitive" [pronounced: it's about a LOT of money] data for 50+yrs) Just like Churchill said, "I only believe the statistics I faked myself."

Δέσποινα Γαλανοπούλου : Why is he only taking about us and western Europe ?

Martín Paz : You just answered most of my darkest questions about ourselves. Wow. Thank you!

Vaes Joren : I was wondering if there may be a relation with perceived poverty due to what is shown around 8:00 regarding work hours, domestic appliances, and time spent on "housework". As we spend less time working, and less time doing house work, we free up time to do other things in our spare time. This means we have more time to spend money, an even if we have more money, we feel like we don't because we don't have as much of an increase in income as we have an increase in time. So where maybe you could go out for a nice dinner every time you got all the work done, now we have so much more opportunities to do so we can no longer fill all of them (we still fill more of them, but the ratio declined). Add to this the fact that we now have more stuff to spend money on that we perceive as basic necessities - TV, microwave, computer, laptop, smartphone, internet, ... all of which we didn't spend (as much) money on before, this leads to the perception of lower wealth - when we are done buying the things we feel we ''have'' to buy, we might have less money left, even though our luxury and well-being has gone up (the convenience of the phone for communicative, navigation etc, being able to watch videos on the internet or read wikipedia when we have questions, reheating food easily allowing us more freedom to schedule our meals,...). I think perhaps, at least to some extent, this also impacts people feeling like things were better before - we didn't have the time to notice they weren't.

JakulaithWolff : I think shorter hair would make him look more handsome, but this is also cute. He reminds me of Beethoven.

thomas makucevich : In the 1980's I was in my 30's now I'm in my 60's. No improvement there. (Physically speaking)

Saraoushka .n : #super ★★★★★ Thank you for speaking my mind

Abhilash S : "Knowledge is better than superstition" Thank you TED

Christos Panagiotidis : 8:40 How does one measure happiness? Don't see any chart there.

Nguyễn Nhân : I just need his statistical sources:).

David Ward : This is an interesting discussion, as I find assessing it can easily swing both ways. There's no doubt that, statistically speaking, Pinker is showing what appears to be progress in our modern time. Yet, on the other hand, the tools for measuring certain pieces of this progress can probably be called into question. For example, the notion that there are more democracies in the world and more people living within those democracies doesn't get anywhere near to the heart of the corporate takeover of said democracies. Anyone who lives in, say, North America, probably understands this very well today. As a voting Canadian citizen in a first-past-the-post system, I don't really feel like there's any real democratic situation here. I know I'm not alone in that. That said, Pinker's stats when it comes to poverty, homicide rates, and war, for example, are hard to dispute. In some ways, the world today is more peaceful than it has ever been in the history of humanity.

Liveaboard : Kinda brushed over the happiness stat didn't he?

Attila Szigeti : Is it just me or he sounds a little like Michio Kaku? Nice speech btw

Jonathan Lebon : So eloquently put. Every journalist should watch this...

Doaa Altarawy : Thanks. But How do we measure happiness? there is no measure we can all agree upon. If the use of antidepressants is a measure then we are getting more miserable!

Jorge Ramirez : Jehova Witness are in trouble.

Paul Gracey : Steven has been selling this Panglosian trop for some time now. It would be wonderful if he is totally right about this thesis. There remains a truth that cannot be overlooked. Cataclysm is always a possibility through natural causes, not just human folly. We have but one Earth we know we can exist upon. Keeping it habitable will require a major change in human behavior. The best social systems are already under attack in favor of some of the worst from the past. Ideal Socialism was proved deficient by crass Capitalistic human nature. China has shown that Pluttocracy and Capitalism can coexist in a sham form of Communism so long as the state can control enough of the information flow sufficient to its benefit. While the carrying capacity of the Earth has been strengthened through our expenditures of stored solar energy (fossil fuels) and our greater efficiencies of transport using those fuels, it remains that additional progress that improves the lives of the poor only encourages more births and produces longer lives with fewer deaths. More births and longer lives include more people surviving who cannot have a typical work life and are in need of extra care themselves. fThis will give livelihood to the caregivers, but such care may devolve to our robotic workers, and the need for compensated human labor will diminish. What then of our usefulness to our robotic masters? We cannot all make a living giving TED talks about our brilliant futures. Even professor Pinker's specialty will become all too common and handed over to a robot. Here at YouTube the Bots are beginning to take over that function too. Alas.

IRON60 BITCH : You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. … This crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not before Bypassing laws and suppressing civil rights. Rom Emmanuel

George Pligor : The metrics are good but who told you that one would give the same value that you are giving to those metrics? One might measure society success in other metrics such as "how frequently one would visit a family member in person?" etc.

Ellen Frog : I wonder where he got his data? I was struggling with a number of the data highlights he had such as the 10% poverty rate. What is his definition of poverty? I enjoyed the talk though...THANKS for posting it. It gave me a lot to think about.

evolor : Has the population growth ever taken into account here? There are more people on earth now than 30 years ago, even if the percentages of people in poverty have been reduced, there are still far more people in poverty or extreme poverty than 30 years ago. Now are we happier now that a smaller percentage of people are no longer in poverty or should we be happier with more people now in poverty?

el koku : I think in a perfect world without problems we create problems. We can't stand a world without problems, we thrive for them and feel uncomfortable when all is fine, and no drama to live around.

Steven M. : The paradox of progress is that we are surviving better, but today we are less connected to each other and our communities, thus being more pessimistic, open to the media indoctrinating us with imagery and unethical values. Yet we still need this kind of balancing for accuracy and feeling better about our problems. Thank you, Steven.

Meek Lobster : Thank you for this. I needed it.

Earthbjorn Nahkaimurrao : 9:15 - someone with ability should start a news organization that focuses on tracking the improvements we are making. This would greatly inspire people to contribute to society by becoming engineers, teachers, doctors, etc.

SAM chandler : Steven Pinker, Jordan Peterson, Jonathan Haidt, Christopher Hitchins, Camille Paglia, Theres others, but I think these folks set the tone - work with truth, move outwards.

MostlyLoveOfMusic : Even so, let's do better. Thanks Steven

Nehemiah James : That end bit reminded me of a poem I wrote. Information of singles and noughts Imprinting to our minds From whence it came to where it's going Could be truth or could be lies

Gandalf : Good. But it ignores Max Weber.

Gg Ff : I agreed with everything up to the happiness stat that is practically immeasurable and also what about suicides i think they've gone up (but that's a hunch of mine)

Amateur Gedankenexperiment : Pinker is a level 98 warrior.

Miroslav Kocúr : I actually stated that 2016 was the worst year in my life, and I did so on 31.december 2016. 2017 wasnt that bad.

LD51 : How do you measure happiness?

mooxim : :D I could see his eyes welling up as he finished. I'm glad he kept his cool while speaking instead of getting too preachy and passionate but these are thoughts worth getting emotional about.

Ken Wells : This guy is AWESOME! No more Malcom Gladwell until I've exhausted Pinkerton.

Jessie Watson : Much needed analysis. It shouldn't require a cognitive psychologist to highlight such progress.

GOGETA GOD : Coming out of extreme poverty dosent mean u r out of poverty lol

Georgios Tsirtsidis : The world does get better, a sign of which news diffusion has gotten better (despite its problems), thus the feeling that the world gets worse. In a summary, the world feels worse because the news travel further than ever before, which happens because the world gets better.

iambiggus : "In understanding humanities tribulations and woes, human nature is the problem. But human nature, channeled by enlightenment, norms, and institutions, is also the solution." Steven Pinker