Speaking at the Misk Global Forum in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia this week, Microsoft co-founder and now billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates shared his thoughts on today’s technological advancements, including artificial intelligence (AI). Gates, who has previously warned about the challenges AI could bring, told audiences at a CNBC-moderated panel during the forum that the benefits of AI will far outweigh these potential pitfalls — particularly in the case of healthcare AI.
“We are in a world of shortage, but these advances will help us take on all of the top problems,” Gates said, CNBC reports. “We need to solve these infectious diseases … We need to help healthcare workers do their job.”
Gates also pointed out how AI and robotics will reshape the labor landscape in the developed world. “As we free labor up from things like manufacturing, we can shift it to some of these very human-centric needs,” he explained, giving society time to take care of the elderly, for example. Boston Dynamics CEO and founder Marc Raibert talked about the same benefits from robotics earlier on October, when he spoke at the Future Investment Initiative also held in Riyadh.
Gates added, however, that there’s a danger that these advances will not help everyone if developed the wrong way. “If we’re not careful, technology will actually accentuate the difference between the well off and the poor because if it’s expensive, if you learn about it only in a rich country school, then you’ll have the difference between the well off and the poor people even worse,” he warned.
A Difference of Opinion
Although Gates has always acknowledged that AI could cause job loss, as well as concerns about a dangerous superintelligence, he has asserted that there’s no reason to panic about it. In this regard, Gates finds himself at the opposite side of the fence compared to Tesla CEO and founder Elon Musk, who’s been rather vocal about the perils of super-intelligent AI.
In an interview for The Wall Street Journal on September, Gates described this difference in opinion to be “a case where Elon and I disagree.” He added, “The so-called control problem that Elon is worried about isn’t something that people should feel is imminent.”
And like Musk, Hawking calls for more appropriate regulation for AI development. “We simply need to be aware of the dangers, identify them, employ the best possible practice and management, and prepare for its consequences well in advance,” he said.
In the United States, one in nine people above the age of 65 has Alzheimer’s disease, a brain disease that slowly destroys memory and mental function. Amongst the nation’s top ten causes of death, it’s the only one with no significant medical treatment. Now, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is investing in Alzheimer’s research in the hopes of changing that fact.
The billionaire has pledged $50 million of his own money toward the Dementia Discovery Fund, a venture capital fund for both industry and government efforts investigating dementia, as well as an additional $50 million toward as-yet-unnamed start-ups specifically researching Alzheimer’s disease.
“It’s a huge problem, a growing problem, and the scale of the tragedy — even for the people who stay alive — is very high,” Gates told Reuters.
According to a blog post, Gates is investing in Alzheimer’s research in the hopes that researchers will be able to achieve any or all of the the five goals that he believes will make the biggest difference:
“By improving in each of these areas, I think we can develop an intervention that drastically reduces the impact of Alzheimer’s,” wrote Gates.
Older Population, Higher Risks
As medical advancements allow people to live longer than ever before, the number of people older than 65 — when risk factors for Alzheimer’s are highest — is increasing. As Gates noted in his blog post, that means the cost and impact of Alzheimer’s is only expected to increase in the coming years.
With the first wave of baby boomers currently aging past 65, the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that the number of elderly Americans with Alzheimer’s will reach 7.1 million by 2025, a 40 percent increase from 2016 numbers. If no significant treatments are found by 2050, that number could reach 13.8 million.
According to his blog post, Gates is investing in Alzheimer’s research in part because of its costs.
Unlike many chronic diseases, a patient with Alzheimer’s can live for decades, requiring extensive long-term care. As a result, Alzheimer’s patients spend four times more on healthcare out-of-pocket than seniors without a neurodegenerative disease. Additionally, Medicaid payments for Alzheimer’s patients are nearly three times higher than those for elderly citizens without a form of dementia.
“Absent a major breakthrough, expenditures will continue to squeeze healthcare budgets in the years and decades to come,” Gates wrote. “This is something that governments all over the world need to be thinking about, including in low- and middle-income countries where life expectancies are catching up to the global average and the number of people with dementia is on the rise.”
The financial costs are easier to quantify, but Gates also has personal reasons for his investment. He’s watched members of his own family struggle with Alzheimer’s and noted the significant emotional toll that the disease takes.
“I know how awful it is to watch people you love struggle as the disease robs them of their mental capacity, and there is nothing you can do about it,” wrote Gates. “It feels a lot like you’re experiencing a gradual death of the person that you knew.”
As Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society charity, told Reuters, Gates is a welcome ally in the fight against Alzheimer’s: “With Bill Gates now joining all those already united against dementia, there is new hope for advances in the care and cure of dementia.”
Belmont Partners, an Arizona-based real-estate group, said in a press release that “Belmont will create a forward-thinking community with a communication and infrastructure spine that embraces cutting-edge technology, designed around high-speed digital networks, data centers, new manufacturing technologies and distribution models, autonomous vehicles and autonomous logistics hubs.”
Gates is no stranger to being one step ahead of the game, and this “smart city” could be both a breeding and testing ground for futuristic technologies. As for the location, there is a proposed freeway that would cut right through this small city and lead directly to Las Vegas. Traffic to and from such a major hub would allow the city to grow and flourish independently.
Belmont Properties stated that the land “will transform a raw, blank slate into a purpose-built edge city built around a flexible infrastructure model.” It has a prime location, plenty of space, and not much else. This lack of existing structure will allow the “smart city” to be molded into a completely unique space. Belmont has the potential to drive design and ingenuity forward, all while supporting the state.
This is not the first “smart city” to be proposed: the “groundwork” is being laid in Denver, as well as across the globe in China, to develop existing cities into “smart cities” through technology and innovation initiatives. Perhaps one day in the not-too-far-off future, the terms will be the same — as all our cities will be “smart cities.”
For a long time, polio was one of the most feared diseases around the world. And although its first recorded case dates back to 1789, polio epidemics actually predate recorded history. Currently, in 2017, it looks like polio’s long reign of terror is about to officially end, according to updates on Tuesday from the Rotary International’s fifth annual World Polio Day celebration co-hosted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“Progress in fighting polio might be one of the world’s best-kept secrets in global health,” Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates wrote in his foundation’s 2017 annual letter. “If things stay stable in the conflicted areas, humanity will see its last case of polio this year.”
The head of the foundation’s polio eradication efforts, Dr. Jay Wenger, is hopeful that polio could indeed disappear by this year’s end — two years earlier than what Gates previously predicted. “What we’re looking at now is sort of the endgame of polio eradication. We are closer than ever, and we’re optimistic that we can see the end of wild poliovirus disease by as early as this year,” he said, as reported by USA Today.
A Victory for Vaccines
Polio could very well be the second disease eradicated in our lifetime, next to smallpox. Dr. Wenger said that there are now only 12 cases of polio in the entire world, and all of them are found within two countries: Afghanistan and Pakistan. “In the last couple of years, we’ve seen unprecedented progress. In 2015 we could only find 74 cases; in 2016 we found 37, and then this year so far we’ve found only 12 in only two countries.”
This success comes from the unsung heroes that World Polio Day celebrates, those that have helped to spread the first safe and effective oral vaccine against polio, developed by Jonas Salk in 1955. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative, launched in 1988 by the World Health Assembly, has since reduced polio incidence by 99.9 percent. This mass vaccination campaign, supported by numerous institutions around the world, made this victory against polio possible.
The Gates Foundation pledged $450 million in June to continue supporting efforts against polio. “You might be wondering why we’re spending so much money when there’s only 12 cases,” Dr. Wenger said. “We want to be sure we finish it off.”
Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of today’s hottest topics. In fact, it’s so hot that many of the tech industry’s heavyweights — Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, etc. — have been investing huge sums of money to improve their machine-learning technologies.
An ongoing debate rages on alongside all this AI development, and in one corner is SpaceX CEO and OpenAI co-chairman Elon Musk, who has been issuing repeated warnings about AI as a potential threat to humankind’s existence.
Now, Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates is sharing his opinion on Musk’s assertions.
In a rare joint interview with Microsoft’s current CEO Satya Nadella, Gates told WSJ. Magazine that the subject of AI is “a case where Elon and I disagree.” According to Gates, “The so-called control problem that Elon is worried about isn’t something that people should feel is imminent. We shouldn’t panic about it.”
Fear of AI?
While the perks of AI are rather obvious — optimized processes, autonomous vehicles, and generally smarter machines — Musk is simply pointing out the other side of the coin. With some nations intent on developing autonomous weapons systems, irresponsible AI development has an undeniable potential for destruction. Musk’s strong language may make him sound like he’s overreacting, but is he?
As he’s always been sure to point out, Musk isn’t against AI. All he’s advocating is informed policy-making to ensure that these potential dangers don’t get in the way of the benefits AI can deliver.
Judging by what Nadella told the WSJ. Magazine, much of this conflict may actually be mostly imagined. “The core AI principle that guides us at this stage is: How do we bet on humans and enhance their capability? There are still a lot of design decisions that get made, even in a self-learning system, that humans can be accountable for,” he said.
“There’s a lot I think we can do to shape our own future instead of thinking, ‘This is just going to happen to us’,” Nadella added. “Control is a choice. We should try to keep that control.”
In the end, it’s not so much AI itself that we should watch out for. It’s how human beings use it. The enemy here is not technology. It’s recklessness.
At a 2010 TED expo, Nathan Myhrvold — former Microsoft CTO and current project lead of Intellectual Ventures — debuted a “photonic fence” that zaps disease-ridden mosquitoes to an early grave à la laser. The machine locates, targets, and shoots the pests mid-flight in a Lucite box. Myhrvold’s phonetic fence was widely lauded not just because bug bites are a downer, but because of the increased fear of mosquito-spread malaria, yellow fever, dengue, West Nile, and Zika.
Funded by Bill Gates, the skeeter-zapping device sounds great on paper: its laser is aimed by a mirror synced to a camera capable of recognizing mosquitoes by its size, shape, and even the unique flutter of its wings, which differs between male and female. All of this happens autonomously, in the span of 100 milliseconds. Only 25 of those milliseconds are actually spent zapping the bug, which is observed by a high-speed camera, body parts and insides falling away from the rest.
After his TED talk, it was easy to assume that real-life use of the Intellectual Ventures laser was just around the corner. (The public certainly seemed to hope so, as the video of his talk has been watched over 847,000 times.) But while the infrared lethal laser is real, the demo Myhrvold gave in 2010 was a little bit faked. Myhrvold actually used a green laser pointer that zapped at the Lucite box of bugs from across the stage. He followed up the nonlethal light-show with a slow-motion kill video of a scrupulously staged target practice, previously recorded in his lab — with one notable closeup accomplished by gluing a mosquito to a pin to keep it from flying away.
The reality is that, despite seven years of rapt attention, the anti-mosquito laser has proved difficult to actually build. Intellectual Ventures has spent years figuring out how to continuously track and identify the unique qualities of a mosquito, and not other (relatively) benign bugs, like butterflies and bumblebees. At a recent demonstration, Carl Swanson of New York Magazine had to don protective goggles because the kind of laser used is not safe for the eyes. Myhrvold guaranteed that this possible hazard will be corrected before the laser hits the market, but it represents yet another obstacle.
Lastly, no one seems to know how to make the device on a budget that doesn’t price out its widest consumer base: people who go to sleep at night under a mosquito net. Consequently, Myhrvold has considered the possibility of selling the device to the military, since soldiers tend to be sent to intervene in Malaria-laden areas of the world.
Myhrvold isn’t the only scientist using lasers to fend off unwanted pests. University of Missouri researchers Heidi Appel and Rex Cocroft have discovered they can incite Rockcress plants to produce higher levels of natural pesticides by playing them the tiny, laser-measured vibrations produced by munching caterpillars. At the University of California Riverside, the Computational Entomology Lab is working on laser-based technology that classifies insect species based on their the sound of their movements. The goal of lead scientists Eomann Keogh’s work is to spot insect infestations of grain in silos and fields before the infestation ruins a crop.
But unlike Mhyrvold, these researchers are largely addressing problems with a much smaller scale of social impact. Mosquitoes kill an estimated 1 million people per year, with over 400,000 of those deaths caused by malaria alone. And in the past few years, urgent concerns about these biting pests have been raised by the spread of Zika virus in South America and the threat that climate change will produce more of them.
If there was ever a time for a laser-shooting mosquito zapper, it’s now.
Jeremy Auger, a Chief Strategy Officer at D2L, an educational technology company, has asserted in a post on entrepreneur.com that the way for humans to maintain their relevance in the labor force in the face of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation developments is through ongoing, career-long retraining. His voice is added to a choir of individuals who are preaching the same message.
Auger argues that AI represents an unprecedented challenge to the work force on account of its cerebral capabilities, which could see it replacing the human workforce “in the cognitive space as well as the physical one.” He argues that
learning can’t end with graduation. To be competitive, companies will need to step up and provide education opportunities themselves, while encouraging self-directed learning so they can ensure that their workers are continually acquiring new skills
Firstly, he argues that we need to change what people learn. Rather than attempt to match AI in ability, we should instead aim to cultivate the skills that AI is unlikely to develop, such as “innovation and creativity: seeing connections in seemingly unrelated things.” This is the impetus behind other related programs like IBM’s P-Tech, which seeks to give children today a more tech-oriented education that befits tomorrow’s automation-driven world.
He also argues that we should shift the onus of education away from parents and schools, and towards ourselves and the companies we are part of, who should “take responsibility for continually providing opportunities for their employees to develop.” This is a view shared by David Kenny, IBM’s senior Vice President for Watson, who wrote in an article for Wired that we should be
updating the Federal Work-Study program, something long overdue, [which] would give college students meaningful, career-focused internships at companies rather than jobs in the school cafeteria or library
Is there Another Answer?
However, retraining and re-educating is not the end-all-be-all answer to the ever-growing issue that is automation. There are rival choirs who are lauding different solutions to AI joining the workforce, which Stephen Hawking states will cause “job destruction deep into the middle classes,” and Oxford University researchers claim that 47 percent of US jobs are at risk because of it.
Bill Gates has proposed taxing robots and corporations in order to provide for people whose jobs are being replaced: he has asserted that “Right now, the human worker who does, say, $50,000 worth of work in a factory, that income is taxed and you get income tax, Social Security tax, all those things. If a robot comes in to do the same thing, you’d think that we’d tax the robot at a similar level.”
Others have proposed a system of universal basic income (UBI) — an income prescribed by the government to any citizen — to give individuals the money that they would have earned through a job replaced by automation. People would then be able to work to augment their pay, but would always be able to survive regardless of whether they are employed.
There are a spectrum of views concerning the best response to increasing automation of the working world — although none of them seem to guarantee the best situation for AI and humans. However, it is important that we continue to have these conversations now rather than face them after the problem has progressed much further.
In 1999, Bill Gates wrote a book titled “Business @ the Speed of Thought.”
In it, Gates made 15 bold predictions that at the time might have sounded outrageous.
But as Markus Kirjonen, a business student, said on his blog, Gates’ forecasts turned out to be eerily prescient.
Here are the 15 predictions Gates made nearly 20 years ago — and how close they’ve come to being true.
No. 1: Price-Comparison Sites.
Gates’ prediction: “Automated price comparison services will be developed, allowing people to see prices across multiple websites, making it effortless to find the cheapest product for all industries.”
What we see now: You can easily search for a product on Google or Amazon and get different prices. Sites like NexTag and PriceGrabber are built specifically to compare prices.
No. 2: Mobile Devices.
Gates’ prediction: “People will carry around small devices that allow them to constantly stay in touch and do electronic business from wherever they are. They will be able to check the news, see flights they have booked, get information from financial markets, and do just about anything else on these devices.”
What we see now: Smartphones, and now smartwatches, do all of this.
No. 3: Instant Payments and Financing Online, and Better Healthcare Through the Web.
Gates’ prediction: “People will pay their bills, take care of their finances, and communicate with their doctors over the internet.”
What we see now: Tech hasn’t been able to change healthcare the way Uber changed transportation, but sites like ZocDoc aim to make finding a doctor and scheduling easier. Startups like One Medical and Forward are trying to change what the doctor’s office is like by offering monthly memberships for online and data-driven healthcare.
You can also now borrow money online through sites like Lending Club and easily make payments through sites and apps like PayPal and Venmo.
No. 4: Personal Assistants and the Internet of Things.
Gates’ prediction: “‘Personal companions’ will be developed. They will connect and sync all your devices in a smart way, whether they are at home or in the office, and allow them to exchange data. The device will check your email or notifications, and present the information that you need. When you go to the store, you can tell it what recipes you want to prepare, and it will generate a list of ingredients that you need to pick up. It will inform all the devices that you use of your purchases and schedule, allowing them to automatically adjust to what you’re doing.”
What we see now: Google Now, a smart assistant that runs on mobile devices, is starting to head in this direction. Meanwhile, smart devices like Nest collect data on your daily routines and automatically adjust your house’s temperature.
There’s also a wave of voice-controlled devices, like Amazon’s Echo and the Google Home, that you can ask to read your email to you or guide you through recipes as you cook.
No. 5: Online Home-Monitoring.
Gates’ prediction: “Constant video feeds of your house will become common, which inform you when somebody visits while you are not home.”
What we see now: Google bought Dropcam, the maker of a home-surveillance camera, for $555 million in 2014. But that was just the beginning — Ring makes a smart doorbell camera that can let you see who is at your door. There are even cameras like the Petcube that let you control a laser so you can play with your pets while you’re away.
No. 6: Social Media.
Gates’ prediction: “Private websites for your friends and family will be common, allowing you to chat and plan for events.”
What we see now: Two billion people already use Facebook to see what their friends are doing and plan events. There’s also Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger alongside an explosion of other smaller social networks that more than cover this prediction.
No. 7: Automated Promotional Offers.
Gates’ prediction: “Software that knows when you’ve booked a trip and uses that information to suggest activities at the local destination. It suggests activities, discounts, offers, and cheaper prices for all the things that you want to take part in.”
What we see now: Travel sites like Expedia and Kayak offer deals based on a user’s past purchase data. Google and Facebook can offer promotional ads based on the user’s location and interests. Airbnb, which lets people stay in homes rather than hotels, started to offer specialized trips at destinations so you can live like a local, too.
No. 8: Live Sports Discussion Sites.
Gates’ prediction: “While watching a sports competition on television, services will allow you to discuss what is going on live, and enter a contest where you vote on who you think will win.”
What we see now: A bunch of social media sites allow this, with Twitter being the clear leader — and even streaming some games. You can also leave comments in real time on sports sites like ESPN.
No. 9: Smart Advertising.
Gates’ prediction: “Devices will have smart advertising. They will know your purchasing trends, and will display advertisements that are tailored toward your preferences.”
What we see now: Just look at the ads you see on Facebook or Google — most online advertising services have this feature, where advertisers can target users based on their click history, interests, and purchasing patterns.
No. 10: Links to Sites During Live TV.
Gates’ prediction: “Television broadcast will include links to relevant websites and content that complement what you are watching.”
What we see now: Almost every commercial these days has a callout asking the viewer to go to a website, follow the business on Twitter, or a scan a QR code to add it on Snapchat. It’s rare to see a broadcast without a website linked at all.
No. 11: Online Discussion Boards.
Gates’ prediction: “Residents of cities and countries will be able to have internet-based discussions concerning issues that affect them, such as local politics, city planning, or safety.”
What we see now: Most news sites have comment sections where people can have live discussions, and many sites have forums where people can ask and respond to certain questions. Twitter and Facebook played roles in political revolutions in Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia, as well as the Black Lives Matter movement in the US.
No. 12: Interest-based Online Sites.
Gates’ prediction: “Online communities will not be influenced by your location, but rather, your interest.”
What we see now: All kinds of news sites and online communities focus on single topics. Many news sites have expanded to include separate verticals, offering more in-depth coverage on a given topic. Reddit is a great example of a website that’s divided into subgroups, or “subreddits,” that focus on interests rather than who you know or where you are.
No. 13: Project-Management Software.
Gates’ prediction: “Project managers looking to put a team together will be able to go online, describe the project, and receive recommendations for available people who would fit their requirements.”
What we see now: Tons of workflow software in the enterprise space is revolutionizing how you recruit, form teams, and assign work to others.
No. 14: Online Recruiting.
Gates’ prediction: “Similarly, people looking for work will be able to find employment opportunities online by declaring their interest, needs, and specialized skills.”
What we see now: Sites like LinkedIn allow users to upload résumés and find jobs based on interests and needs, and recruiters can search based on specialized skills.
No. 15: Business Community Software.
Gates’ prediction: “Companies will be able to bid on jobs, whether they are looking for a construction project, a movie production, or an advertising campaign. This will be efficient for both big companies that want to outsource work that they don’t usually face, businesses looking for new clients, and corporations that don’t have a go-to provider for the said service.”
What we see now: Much enterprise software is focused on social aspects, so users can reach out to other businesses and start a conversation that could lead to bigger projects directly within their apps. The so-called gig economy, with sites like Upwork, lets big businesses easily connect with freelance designers, writers, or engineers to do work they’re looking to outsource.
Photosynthesis is an essential natural process that keeps not just plants, but just about everything else on Earth alive — including us. When plants convert carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates, they feed themselves and emit oxygen for us to breathe. But what if we took a page out of nature’s book, and figured out how to use sunlight to produce hydrogen for fuel? “If it works it would be magical,” Bill Gates told Reuters, “because with liquids you don’t have the intermittency problem batteries. You can put the liquid into a big tank and burn it whenever you want.”
Artificial photosynthesis (AP) aims to split water in oceans, and possibly even rivers, into its hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon components using sunlight. Hydrogen produced via AP is readily usable in the fuel cells of electric cars being manufactured right now, and it can also be used to store solar energy. Liquid fuels like hydrogen have a distinct advantage over batteries, as they are lighter and less bulky.
Combining the fruits of AP in the right proportions produces methanol, which can fuel combustion engines. China has become the largest consumer of methanol in the world, blending it with gas at levels of 15 percent or less for consumer vehicles at gas stations, and running transit vehicles on blends as high as 85 percent methanol.
A variation on the AP process was also used to metabolically engineer nitrogen-generating bacteria to produce nitrogen-based fertilizer right in soil —a technique that could boost crops yields in places without ready access to conventional fertilizers. Eventually, these kinds of bacteria might be able to “breathe in” the hydrogen produced by AP and use it to produce a range of goods, including drugs, fertilizers, fuels, and plastics, all determined by the metabolic engineering of the bacteria.
A Mandate, Potential Pitfalls
The main challenge presented by AP is that photosynthesis in nature is inefficient. Plants convert only about 1 percent of carbon and water into carbohydrates. That efficiency has increased to about 10 percent in the lab, however, and researchers at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, have hit a level of 22 percent efficiency.
Meanwhile, Gates — ever an advocate for new energy technologies in general and AP in particular — has founded the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a global coalition of private investors who intend to supplement government-funded research into clean energy with seed money. He sees development of new forms of energy such as AP an imperative, and hopes that disrupting the energy sector will prompt these kinds of discoveries and positive changes. “We need to surprise them that these alternative ways of doing energy can come along and come along in an economic way,” he told Big Think. “If we are to avoid the levels of warming that are dangerous we need to move at full speed.”
They say there’s no alternative to hard work, but most researchers probably wouldn’t turn down the opportunity for more collaborative research that’s well-funded. That’s the philosophy behind what the Broad Institute at MIT calls the Miracle Machine. The Miracle Machine produces amazing advances in science and technology as a result of federal support an funding for the public and private sectors of the research community. However, as a video narrated by Broad Institute director Eric Lander explains, one of America’s greatest assets is “falling into disrepair.”
Microsoft founder and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates retweeted Lander’s post that linked to the video, echoing some of its major points. One of which is that research can do wonders for the “economy, health, energy, and defense” of the United States — or any nation for that matter.
Investing in basic scientific research drives remarkable returns for America’s economy, health, energy, and defense. https://t.co/oVvgy63Nuy
Unfortunately, federal support for research has been dwindling. Over the past decade, funding for a number of research institutions has been on the decline, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH) which has lost 25 percent of its budget over the past 13 years. The most recent budget proposed by the U.S. Congress wouldn’t do much to improve those number, either.
In the same way that this private and public sector partnership pushed basic scientific research forward, much to the benefit of many sectors in the U.S., the decline in federal support will have a ripple effect across several industries. “We may wake up to find the next generation of technologies, and industries […] are being produced elsewhere,” Lander points out in the video. With Europe, China, Dubai, and other nations investing more in scientific research rather than less, it isn’t a stretch to think that the U.S. could fall behind.
Polio is a dangerous viral infection. Most people will never know they were infected and about 5 percent will experience only flu-like symptoms. However, polio attacks spinal nerves and the base of the brain in around one percent of cases, leading to paralysis in a matter of hours or days. The paralysis can be treated, but roughly one of every 200 people affected develops a permanent condition such as muscle weakness, muscle shrinking, tight joints, or deformities, including twisted feet or legs.
Polio used to be fairly common worldwide, but it is now rare thanks to a vaccination that was introduced in the mid-1950s. In 2016, the only countries to have any cases of polio at all were Pakistan, Nigeria, and Afghanistan, and as Bill Gates noted in his remarks at the Rotary International Convention on June 12, those cases were a significant drop off from years past: “We’ve gone from 40 cases an hour back in 1988 to just 40 cases in all of 2016.”
The Rotary Foundation has been pivotal in combatting the spread of polio, traveling to some of the world’s most remote and dangerous places to administer vaccines. Rotary and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have raised a combined total of $1.5 billion in funding to combat polio, and the organization is largely responsible for its rapidly decreasing prevalence in the world today.
In total, infection rates have decreased by 99 percent since 1988, and over that period, 16 million people have been saved from paralysis. However, the disease is potent and highly contagious, which means a single infected person could lead to 200,000 cases a year within ten years if the global effort to eradicate polio does not continue.
Vaccine Myths vs. Facts
The impact of the polio vaccine is a testament to just how successful the method can be in fighting diseases. However, while much of the work toward fighting polio has already been done, other diseases are still rampant, and the potential for vaccines to fight these diseases has been compromised by both fraudulent news stories and cultural beliefs.
In his remarks, Gates provided one such example of cultural superstition and distrust of vaccines, noting how one of Northern Nigeria’s most prominent traditional leaders, His Highness, the Emir of Kano, had to “consume an entire vial of vaccine [in front of a village] to reassure people that it was safe.”
Misinformation has affected how people perceive vaccines as well. Incidents such as Andrew Wakefield falsely claiming that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine leads to autism, as well as the false claim that too many vaccines can overwhelm a child’s immune system, have impacted the use of vaccinations in the developed world, with measles outbreaks occurring amongst unvaccinated children in the United States.
Vaccines hold the key to eliminating many diseases that cause irreparable harm to individuals and communities. Success stories like polio, the work of individuals such as Bill Gates, and constant development in the sector — which includes a vaccine for malaria and the invention of single-use needles — are all vital to ensuring as many people worldwide as possible are vaccinated.
Our technology prophets are talking in the lexicon of magic, gods, and monsters when it comes to artificial intelligence (AI). They predict every scenario from utopias to apocalypses, overlords to angels.
Elon Musk stated at an MIT Symposium in 2014 that with AI we are “summoning the demon,” but, as with Faust’s Mephistopheles, the demon may help before it hates. Musk believes the AI-mediated extinction of humanity might be an “unintended consequence” rather than a deliberate aim.
Musk envisions an AI being given the utility function of getting rid of spam mail, and perhaps the AI thinks “the best way to get rid of spam is to get rid of humans.” Likewise, he has postulated to Vanity Fair an AI designed to pick strawberries that gets “better and better at picking…and it is self-improving, so all it really wants to do is pick strawberries. So then it would have all the world be strawberry fields,” leaving no room for human beings.
Recently he worked with Sam Altman to establish Open AI , a billion-dollar non-profit research company that aims to work for safer AI. Altman told Vanity Fair that this is to prepare for the next decade in which AI will reign and huge amounts of investment be given to a few “wizards” who know the “incantations.” That magical lexicon again.
Many other technology giants, though, expect a far more utopian scenario. Mark Zuckerberg said in 2016 Facebook post that “I think we can build AI so it works for us and helps us,” and encouraged humanity to “choose hope over fear” at a F8 2016 Keynote. Larry Page, co-founder of Google, predicts a world in which AI allow people to “have more time with their family or to pursue their own interests.”
Steve Wozniak summarized the possibilities by pondering in an interview with Australian Financial Review: “Will we be the gods? Will we be the family pets? Or will we be ants that get stepped on?” Among the grand predictions there is one line of thought that is hard to dispute, though, and it is that which of Eliezer Yudkowsky, a Research Fellow at the Machine Intelligence Research Institute, told Vanity Fair: “It’s impossible for me to predict…because the A.I. will be smarter than I am.”
The progress of AI is stepping confidently and firmly through the whirlwind of verbiage. Closest to home, it is being used as facial recognition software on Facebook and as a digital assistant in the form of Siri and Cortana.
It also has the potential to revolutionize other sectors. Harpreet Buttar, analyst at Frost & Sullivan, said in a company press release that, “By 2025, AI systems could be involved in everything from population health management, to digital avatars capable of answering specific patient queries.” In addition, AI is being used to improve automobile transport. Recently, the University of Illinois has shown it has the potential to prevent traffic jams from forming — soon, it could make car crashes a thing of the past.
AI, like any technology, is not morally good or bad in itself — it all depends on how it is used. While the technology community is split on the direction we should take with AI, what ultimately matters is that these conversations are occurring. This is a powerful technology, and whatever impact on our lives it has, it’s bound to be a powerful one.
Mya Systems (short for “my assistant”) has developed an AI that can streamline the recruitment process in multiple ways, including approving resumes, garnering further information on candidates, asking pay-related follow up questions, and scheduling interviews. The AI chatbot — designed to work in tandem with humans rather than replacing them — has the potential to free up human recruiters and lessen the bureaucratic aspects of the hiring process. Its founder, Eyal Grayevesky, told CNN tech that “Recruiters are overwhelmed with so much work because they’re doing boilerplate tasks.”
Since its launch in 2016, the technology has already been adopted by Fortune 500 companies in banking, consulting and retail sectors: Mya’s website reports that it has been phenomenally successful, averaging a 9.8 out of 10 on overall candidate experience, increasing recruiting output by 200%, and reducing overheads by 80%. An additional $11.8 million in funding, acquired earlier this week, may help Grayevesky achieve his goal of eliminating frictional employment — the market failure of a decrease in efficiency due to people being in between jobs.
Mya provides a new angle on the current debate concerning the ethics of using robots in the workplace: unlike some AI concepts, it does not replace humans, but rather, works with them to improve the overall service. The idea that AI would replace, and displace, human workers has long been controversial: it could put up to 47% of U.S jobs at risk. Presently, the replacement of human workers by AI has most notably already undertaken by BlackRock money. The New York based Construction Robotics created a Semi-Automated Mason, called SAM, that can lay 3,000 bricks per day. Companies like InsideSales.com use AI to analyze data and find the best leads for sales teams to follow up on. While the fear of automation looms large in “blue-collar” industries, white-collar industries won’t be completely immune. That being said, because there’s generally more opportunity to shuffle employees around, or slowly phase out jobs, the threat of automation won’t likely feel as dramatic.
When it comes to putting robots to work in any industry, Bill Gates has said that if robots replace humans, they should pay taxes: “If a robot comes in to do the same thing, you’d think that we’d tax the robot at a similar level” he told Quartz. Ray Kurzweil, Director of Engineering at Google, argues that this is just another step in an age-old cycle of new jobs being created in response to technological replacement: “We are going to have new types of jobs creating new types of dollars that don’t exist yet and that has been the trend.”
Since Mya’s on the recruiting side, workers won’t be competing with the AI for work. In fact, Mya just might help them nab one of the new jobs being created as technology continues to advance.
Bill Gates has been almost prophetic in his past predictions: his 1999 list was hauntingly accurate, foreseeing the advent of price comparison websites, smartphones, social media, and bots. Over the last few years, in interviews and annual letters, he has continued predicting: here are a selection of seven of his insights.
1. In the next 15 years, 33 million people could be wiped out in less than a year by a pathogen.
At the Munich Security conference, Gates warned that “epidemiologists say a fast-moving airborne pathogen could kill more than 30 million people in less than a year.” This could be due to mutation, accident, or terrorist intent. While this may seem outlandish, similar events have occurred before: the most obvious example is the Black Death, which killed almost a third of Europe, but more recently, in 1918, the Spanish Flu wiped out between 50 and 100 million people.
He believes Africa will achieve the goal due to a number of structural changes:
First, better fertilizers and crops being developed will cause an upward spiral of greater nutrition leading to greater productivity.
Second, developments in infrastructure that are already taking place, such as Ghana increasing the width of highways connecting production zones to distribution zones and Senegal removing checkpoints that cause delays.
Third, as phones become more widespread, this will allow the communication of information such as weather reports and market prices.
3. The lives of the poor will be transformed by mobile banking.
Electronic banking systems will allow the poor to store and protect money digitally: he said in his 2015 annual letter that “by 2030, 2 billion people who don’t have a bank account today will be storing money and making payment with their phones.”
Gates cites how much the world has changed during his own lifetime — moving from a world segmented into the Soviet Union, the Western Allies, and “everyone else” to the world we see today — as a precedent for how much it has the potential to change. He wrote in his 2014 letter that “aid is a fantastic investment, and we should be doing more. It saves and improves lives very effectively, laying the groundwork for […] long-term economic progress.”
5. By 2030 there will be a clean energy breakthrough that will revolutionize our world.
In an interview with Quartz, Bill Gates envisages, as many industry leaders do, a world in which humans are put out of work by robots. Gates, though, has provided a possible plan of action: to tax robots in order to fund more jobs that can only be performed by humans, like taking care of the elderly or working with children.
7. Polio could be eliminated worldwide by 2019.
In his 2013 Annual Letter, Gates revealed statistics showing that the prevalence of polio has been reduced from impacting millions of people in hundreds of countries to now being active in only three countries worldwide. The key, he states, is measurement: “You have to measure accurately, as well as create an environment where problems can be discussed openly so you can effectively evaluate what’s working and what’s not.”
Although Bill Gates has said that robots who take jobs from human should pay taxes, billionaire Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross doesn’t agree that a tax can mitigate the threat of job automation. “I’m not in favor of trying to hold back technological advance,” Ross told CNBC. “And if we don’t employ robots, the Chinese will, the Vietnamese will, the Europeans will, the Japanese will. Everyone will.”
This is not a surprising position from Ross, who took his place as a member of the new Republican administration this year. Ross has called overregulation the “single most important thing that bars” effective business decisions. His personal wealth as a billionaire was made mostly from buying and “flipping” distressed businesses. His dealings have at times been perceived as controversial, as Ross has fired workers and eliminated pensions in order to maximize profit.
Ross believes that companies should decide whether innovations, including robots, benefit them. Instead of taxing robots—and essentially passing on that cost to the business owning class—Ross has stated that people in the workforce need to adjust to become part of the workforce of the future, and that improvements to the community college system might be one way they can prepare to do that. Beyond that, Ross has not articulated a specific plan for coping with changes to the workforce wrought by advances in AI and increased numbers of working robots.
Although Ross is not eager to regulate U.S. businesses, he recently leveled a $900 million punishment against Chinese smartphone company ZTE based on their violation of U.S. sanctions against Iran. “Industrial power is, at the end of the day, a national security issue,” Ross said.
It remains to be seen whether mass unemployment without transition plans will be perceived as a national security issue as well.
We have come far in our pursuit of the perfect computer companion. From mastering games to running our homes, artificial intelligence (AI) has been steadily improving.
However, Microsoft co-founder and richest person in the world Bill Gates isn’t that impressed. While he does note that we have made some advancements, he stated in his reddit AMA that he believes that “the big milestone is when computers can read and understand information like humans do.”
Moreover, he stated that “right now computers don’t know how to represent knowledge so they can’t read a text book and pass a test.”
What We Need Tomorrow
While Gates doesn’t highlight this as a particular failure of AI, he does insinuate that we have much farther to go in terms of the new technology. With that said, many companies have developed systems that are racing to the top, such as Alphabet’s DeepMind and GoogleBrain, Microsoft’s many projects, FAIR (Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research), and IBM’s Watson, to just name a few.
But of the technologies and companies mentioned, the AI systems lack the ability to represent knowledge. Essentially, knowledge representation is the ability of AI to glean information about the world that it can then use to solve complicated problems. It would mean artificial intelligence could reason about the world rather than just solely taking action within it, similar to how humans problem solve. This is what Bill Gates believes our current AI systems are lacking.
While we have programs that don’t just best professional players in their games of choice but dominate them, our current AI is not capable of representing knowledge, a difficult task but an important one. However, the companies mentioned above are putting significant time and money into developing their technologies and are getting closer to this important milestone in AI. Perhaps we won’t have to wait too much longer for that perfect computer companion.
In theory, a universal basic income (UBI) would be great. Under such a system, all citizens of a country are entitled to an unconditional amount of money on top of income they already generate through other means. It could spur productivity, improve health, alleviate poverty, reduce crime, raise education, and improve quality of life. It’s also especially relevant, given the reality of automation taking over more and more jobs.
UBI’s potential has prompted several nations to study and test its viability. Among the pioneers are Finland, which just started implementing a UBI program that gives 2,000 randomly selected citizens $587 tax-free per month; India, which proposed the system as a solution to job loss caused by increased automation; and Canada, which saw leaders of four political parties unanimously support the decision to establish a program that will guarantee income.
It’s all going well so far, but until the trials are able to deliver definitive results showing UBI’s effectiveness, we are left to ponder the many questions surrounding it. For instance, how much income should be distributed? Should it be limited to the minimum needed, similar to welfare state programs? Would a higher amount be more effective? Would UBI prompt people to lose their motivation to work? Is it enough of a response to address job displacement caused by automation? Can countries around the world afford it?
Bill Gates Weighs In
The urgency that most UBI advocates feel, given the current state of the economy and realities of job displacement, isn’t shared by Bill Gates. While the co-chair of the Gates Foundation isn’t exactly opposed to the concept, he doesn’t think the program is ready for public implementation just yet.
“Over time, countries will be rich enough to do this. However, we still have a lot of work that should be done — helping older people, helping kids with special needs, having more adults helping in education,” said Gates during a recent AMA on Reddit.
While others worry about impending employee displacement in the age of automation, Gates believes that technology will open more opportunities for countries, allowing them to raise money that could be used to finance sectors that need people in the jobs he mentioned. Governments can use this added income as an opportunity to train the unemployed to fill new roles in the job market.
Gates also added during his AMA that countries aren’t financially equipped to finance a stable UBI program. “Even the U.S. isn’t rich enough to allow people not to work. Someday we will be, but until then, things like the Earned Income Tax Credit will help increase the demand for labor.”
The Microsoft co-founder could be right and now may not be the right time for a UBI, but thanks to the countries giving it a shot, we should know for sure rather soon.
When billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates gave a speech at the Munich Security Conference for the first time Saturday, he argued a very alarming possibility: the future of international security will be fought on the biological front. Specifically, Gates warned about the dangers of a bioterrorist attack that could wipe out 30 million people in less than a year and how we’re not prepared for it.
“We ignore the link between health security and international security at our peril,” warned Gates, who has been spending the better part of 20 years funding global health campaigns. He went on to share some alarming statistics: “Whether it occurs by a quirk of nature or at the hand of a terrorist, epidemiologists say a fast-moving airborne pathogen could kill more than 30 million people in less than a year. And they say there is a reasonable probability the world will experience such an outbreak in the next 10-15 years.”
What makes Gate’s warning even more alarming is that fact that bioterrorism can now be done from behind a computer. “It’s also true that the next epidemic could originate on the computer screen of a terrorist intent on using genetic engineering to create a synthetic version of the smallpox virus . . . or a super contagious and deadly strain of the flu,” said Gates.
Fight Fire with Fire
Gates’ warnings aren’t at all farfetched. According to The Guardian, “US and UK intelligence agencies have said that Islamic State has been trying to develop biological weapons at its bases in Syria and Iraq.”
In order to fight such a threat, Gates recommended using the very same technology that allows for the development of deadly pathogens: genetic engineering. “First and most importantly, we have to build an arsenal of new weapons—vaccines, drugs, and diagnostics,” he said.
Gates went on to explain in further detail what he thinks needs to be done:
Vaccines can be especially important in containing epidemics. But today, it typically takes up to 10 years to develop and license a new vaccine. To significantly curb deaths from a fast-moving airborne pathogen, we would have to get that down considerably—to 90 days or less. […] The really big breakthrough potential is in emerging technology platforms that leverage recent advances in genomics to dramatically reduce the time needed to develop vaccines.
Of course, these efforts have to be supported by a public health systems that can easily detect the emergence of a deadly pathogen. “Because epidemics can quickly take root in the places least equipped to fight them, we also need to improve surveillance,” Gates said. “That starts with strengthening basic public health systems in the most vulnerable countries. We also have to ensure that every country is conducting routine surveillance to gather and verify disease outbreak intelligence.”
Right now, there is still time for us to get ready to fight a bioterrorism pandemic or even avoid one altogether. The key is in how we prepare. As Gates told the conference, “Getting ready for a global pandemic is every bit as important as nuclear deterrence and avoiding a climate catastrophe. Innovation, cooperation and careful planning can dramatically mitigate the risks presented by each of these threats.”
It’s possible that robots will take over some human jobs. In fact, it seems like it could be only a matter of time before they do. Increasing automation will lead to massive job displacement, and less people working means less employed citizens paying taxes. So, the question is, how will communities make up the difference if automation is inevitable in the future of employment?
Co-founder of Microsoft Bill Gates suggests that robots that take human jobs should pay taxes.
“Right now, the human worker who does, say, $50,000 worth of work in a factory, that income is taxed and you get income tax, Social Security tax, all those things. If a robot comes in to do the same thing, you’d think that we’d tax the robot at a similar level,” Gates explained in an interview with Quartz.
This robot tax money could be taken from what companies would save given the efficiencies that an automated workforce provides them, or a tax imposed on companies that employ robots. The collected taxes could be used for anything from the care of the elderly or to support youth projects in public schools. Gates believes there will be little resistance from companies that employ a robot workforce.
Making Up the Difference
Half of jobs today are already at risk of becoming obsolete due to automation, and evidence of an industrial future defined by an automated workforce is steadily building. According to a report by McKinsey, about 60 percent of all occupations could have 30 percent, or more, of their activities automated with technology that exists today. And, as technology rapidly advances, those numbers will only climb higher.
Gates’ tax idea has already been proposed by European Union lawmakers, but the law was rejected. Another proposal that looks to also provide a solution is the implementation of a universal basic income (UBI), which tech industrialist Elon Musk is a strong proponent of.
Regardless of what solution is put into place or how governments will treat taxes and a waning organic workforce in the age of automation, Gates asserts that this is something that people should start talking about now:
“Exactly how you’d do it, measure it, you know, it’s interesting for people to start talking about now. There will be some great conversations and be some ideas about new investments that can be made.”
The organization has started a new initiative to partner with world leaders to better prepare the world to tackle the next big epidemics. So far, with the help of governments in Germany, Japan, and Norway, the foundation has been able to raise $490 million of their $1 billion goal.
“Ebola and Zika showed that the world is tragically unprepared to detect local outbreaks and respond quickly enough to prevent them from becoming global pandemics,” said Bill Gates in a statement. “Without investments in research and development, we will remain unequipped when we face the next threat.”
The effort is called the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and the plan is to begin by targeting such viruses as MERS-CoV, Lassa, and Nipah. Vaccinations are the key to stopping these epidemics from happening and the best tool to use in the fight should one start. CEPI is hoping to develop two vaccines for each virus.
According to Dr. Joanne Liu, the international president of Doctors Without Borders, “For new vaccines to be game changers, they must be developed and tested before outbreaks hit and made accessible and affordable for all communities in times of health crisis.”
Vaccines save lives. Millions of deaths have been prevented thanks to their development and successful deployment. Diseases that have killed countless people through the ages have been eradicated, and many more are on the radar. Hopefully, through the work of CEPI and the countries that support it, we’ll be able to add some new viruses to the list of those that are no longer a threat.
While U.S. President-elect Donald Trump is busy filling his presidential cabinet with climate-change deniers and fossil fuel execs, high-profile environmental advocates are responding by investing in a $1 billion clean energy fund with a 20-year duration.
The Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV) fund will focus on research and technology dedicated to lowering greenhouse-gas emissions in areas such as electricity generation, storage, transportation, industrial processes, and agriculture. That focus may be pretty broad, but given the amount of money and attention investors plan to put into the project, we can certainly be hopeful that the climate change action plan will be bolstered by significant technological innovation in the future.
The people behind the BRV fund have the capital to make real change happen — Quartz estimates the total net worth of the BEV directors to be nearly $170 billion. Joining Microsoft-founder Bill Gates at BEV are Alibaba founder Jack Ma, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Softbank’s Masayoshi Son, Virgin Group’s Richard Branson, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, and tech investors John Doerr and Vinod Khosla, and many others.
Addressing Climate Change
2015 holds the distinction of having the highest annual surface temperature on record. Ocean temperatures also broke records last year, with the eastern Pacific 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the longterm average and the Arctic 8 degrees Celsius (14.4 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the average. Because of thermal expansion and the melting of glaciers, 2015 set the record for highest global sea level, as well. As 2016 winds to a close, it looks like this year’s statistics are poised to overtake last year’s numbers.
Multiple scientific institutions have issued public statements pointing to human activity as the primary driver of climate change. Though it faces a new White House administration that has shown outright skepticism on the realities of climate change in the past, the BEV fund is ready to tackle the challenge head on.
“The dialogue with the new administration as it comes in about how they see energy research will be important,” Gates said in an interview with Quartz. “The general idea that research is a good deal fortunately is not a partisan thing.”
Gates adds that the success of this venture goes beyond funding, significant though it may be, and shared that he will be working personally to engage more partners that can support this vision. If his impact on helping the environment is anything like the mark he made on the world of technology, we should be in capable hands.