12/09/2013 07:00 am ET Updated Feb 08, 2014

A Challenge to the 'Techies' of the World -- Let's Save Our Children

This is a challenge to the technological geniuses of America.

We Americans have twice as many people in jail as any other western country.

When you look at who is in jail, the fact is that most of the people who are prisoners -- 70 percent -- can't read. They either read badly or they can't read at all.

Here is the challenge for our technical adepts -- the mental capacity to be a good reader is actually developed primarily in the first three years of life. We are programmed to have our brains grow and we are programmed to create the brain internal connections that strengthen our brains in the first three golden years of each life.

We can predict with a high level of accuracy by age three which children will be able to read. So what is the factor that helps each child be able to read? Exercise. Our brains are strengthened in the first years of life by interactions with other people who exercise their brains. Other people are key to the process. Direct interactions are needed for each child to strengthen each child's brain.

A fascinating new learning is that the biological programming that is used and needed to stimulate each child's brain is only turned on and fully activated when the child is in proximity to another person and interacting with that person. We are not programmed to learn by sheer observation. The learning part of our brain is only turned on when there is direct human interaction between the child and an adult -- usually the mother or a family member -- and learning explodes when that interaction happens. An isolated child who is alone and just watching a TV at that age can be entertained, but that child's brain isn't activated and strengthened by that TV watching process. That critical and essential brain biological growth function is only activated by direct human contact... by having a direct link from another person to the child that triggers the learning and growth processes for each child's brain.

So the opportunity for our technological geniuses is huge. We need a technological solution. We need to strengthen the brains of many children in the first three years of life -- and it would be wonderful if we could use technology to help with that work. How can we create systems that interact with mothers and families to help them with their children to exercise their children's brains? How can we create ways to somehow use tools like touch screens to activate the part of each child's brain that makes the brain strong, but only does that strengthening while the brain of the child is in activation status and strengthening mode because of actual and immediate human contact?

This is incredibly important work.

We have far too many people in prison. We lead the world in people in prisons and we have over half a million of school dropouts. In health care, we managed to cut the death rate for stroke in half by going upstream in the disease process to intervene in multiple ways to reduce deaths. We used technology to support some of those stroke processes. We need a similar strategic and functional intervention upstream in the incarceration process to strengthen the brains of our pre-Kindergarten children. Part of that intervention process needs to be the right set of tools, because it is too hard for many mothers to do the needed work without some help. We really need to help mothers help exercise the brains of their children.

Ages zero to three are the key target years. Watch the "Brain Changes and Childhood Learning" session from the 2013 Aspen Institute Ideas Festival to learn more about the science.

Technological geniuses -- your mothers clearly read to you. You have been blessed. This is your chance to actually save a very important part of the world. This is your chance to change the entire lives for millions of our children.

Sign on to that challenge. Figure things out. Make a difference.

The time to do that work is now.