Bill Gates: ‘My biggest fears for the world’

Giving to the poor: Bill Gates has donated around $50 billion to charity over his lifetime.

How should we react? Yesterday, Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft and former world’s richest person, outlined his greatest worries for the future of the world. Here are the big three.

1/ The next global pandemic. “We are not fully prepared for the next global pandemic,” Bill Gates says. “The threat of the unknown pathogen … is real. It could be a mutated flu strain or something else entirely. The Swine Flu and 2014 Ebola outbreaks underscored the threat.”

This next big unknown disease is simply called “Disease X” by the World Health Organisation.

2/ Africa’s population explosion. According to Gates, this is the “elephant in the room” for international development. Africa’s current population is one billion. By 2100, it could be four billion.

This could go one of two ways: it either fuels poverty and instability leading to conflict and a biblical exodus of refugees, or an explosion of youth could supercharge Africa’s development.

3/ Tech out of control. The “honeymoon period,” he says, is over. Gates now advocates for stronger regulation of the tech industry.

He sees big tech as a field that is almost too new to fully understand. Speaking about the recent controversies at Facebook, he says: “Even he [Zuckerberg] didn’t predict everything that would go on in terms of it being used as a platform for political influence.”

It all sounds quite worrying. But surely there have been far greater concerns in the past?

First world problems

One thing connects these three fears. They are all by-products of the incredible progress made by humans in the past few decades. We are better placed than ever to deal with a global pandemic. And problems at Facebook? It’s hardly the Black Death or the Second World War.

Wrong, reply others. The world is so interconnected now that disasters spread much quicker. Africa’s problems are now Europe’s problems. Our recent progress means that countries are developing in previously untested ways. Gates is right to be worried about where that could lead.

You Decide

  1. Do you agree with Bill Gates’s choices as the three things we should fear most?

Activities

  1. Draw a graph showing the expected population explosion in Africa compared with the world’s other continents.

Some People Say...

“Innovation is moving at a scarily fast pace.”

Bill Gates

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, is worth $97.4 billion. However, this does not make him the world’s richest man. He was recently stripped of that title by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
What do we not know?
Whether Gates’s fears are correct. There are often alarms about new diseases, but few ever become truly global.

Word Watch

Pandemic
A disease that spreads around the world.
Pathogen
A bacterium or virus that can cause a disease.
Flu
In 1918, a flu pandemic killed between 50 million and 100 million people — 3-5% of the world’s population.
Africa’s current population
In 1950, Africa’s population was just over 200 million.
Black Death
One of the deadliest pandemics in world history, the Black Death swept through Europe and Asia in the 14th century, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 75 million to 200 million people.

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