The Internet could provide a model for dealing with many of the challenges of the 21st century, according to Bill Clinton, former President of the United States.

Speaking in a keynote session at the Dell World conference in Texas this week, Clinton spoke about “the power of creative cooperation,” pointing to examples of how the Internet is used to drive progress by enabling people all over the world to collaborate on ground-breaking projects.

“I love the way the Internet enables people to make unusual partnerships and to do things differently and try not to be afraid to fail and go on and do something else,” he said. 

“I love it because of the way I think the world works, and how the opportunities have to be seized and the problems have to be solved.” 

He cited the St. Jude medical centre in Memphis, which is the largest children's cancer hospital in America and does a lot of research into the human genome. All of St. Jude's research is made available online and is also sent to every children's hospital in the world.

Some of this research was recently used to work out why an FDA-approved drug for treating a rare form of children's brain cancer was killing patients with a particular genome variant. It was discovered that by cutting the dose in half, the drug could cure the children in this category too.

“This genome research was done mostly by scientists working in university laboratories, paid for mostly by governments – not just the United States but from Europe, from the UK, from Japan and elsewhere around the world,” said Clinton.

American biologist and entrepreneur Craig Venter headed and funded a parallel primary research effort, and the two initiatives were later joined together. 

“Between Venter and the biggest computer company out there, Qualcomm, they have spawned 700 new computer companies to do pieces of this applied human genome work, along with support from the state and city, and the University of California in San Diego – networks of creative cooperation.”

Clinton said there has never been so much information, so many people, so many cultural ideas, so many political debates and so many security threats crossing national boarders. We are therefore compelled to share the future, and everyone has an obligation to try to build the positive and reduce the negative forces of global interdependence.

He talked about the need for “non-zero-sum games,” a reference to game theory whereby you win by making sure everybody else wins.

“In a world that seems to be full of zero-sum games and conflict based on trying to hold onto a yesterday that can't be recovered, I believe the future belongs to networks and community cooperation,” he said.

“The availability of technology to short-circuit the otherwise very lengthy process of building effective systems can make a real difference.”