In a Reddit Ask-Me-Anything last night, Microsoft founder Bill Gates talked about where he sees the world and society heading, and what we can do to solve some of the issues coming our way.
Here are some excerpts from the Q&A. It would be a good idea to sit down and read the rest of this story…
How do you see automation affecting our economy over the next 10-20 years?
Gates says automation has been something steadily driving productivity ever since the industrial revolution. That has, of course, increased in pace since the entry of software, and he believes we now need to address how we educate people for different jobs. After all, when the factory floor is filled with automated robots instead of humans, we don’t need assembly line workers anymore but we do need more mechanics, engineers, coders, and AI developers. “Overall automation is a great thing,” Gates said. “Eventually we won’t have to work as much but we are still at least a generation away from a big change there.”
What technology are you most looking forward to in the next 10 years and what impact do you think it could have?
Gates says the technology he’s most excited about is natural language processing. “The most amazing thing will be when computers can read and understand the text like humans do,” he said. “Today computers can do simple things like search for specific words but concepts like vacation or career or family are not “understood”.” Microsoft, Google, and other AI research teams are already working on this, trying to get us digital assistants that can better understand our needs.
“Another frontier is robotics where the human ability to move and manipulate is amazing and experts disagree on whether it will take just a decade or a lot longer to achieve the equivalent,” Gates added
Do you think in the near future, we will have another financial crisis similar to the one in 2008?
According to Gates, a financial crisis is a certainty, though he says it’s unsure when that may happen. “Warren (Buffett) has talked about this and he understands this area far better than I do,” Gates admits. “Despite this prediction of bumps ahead I am quite optimistic about how innovation and capitalism will improve the situation for humans everywhere.”
What are the most promising new ways to fight malaria?
One of the things the Gates Foundation is working towards is cutting down on malaria fatalities in the world. They believe they’re making headway, using simple tools like bed nets, spraying new insecticides, and distributing new drugs. However, Bill and Melinda Gates also believe there’s more that needs to be done. “For the future we need new tools since resistance is developing to all the current tools,” Gates said. “We don’t have a vaccine that protects for long enough to help out yet but we are investing heavily in one.” Another method he suggests, that’s currently being tested is one called gene drive. Here, the mosquito populations are cut down for a few years at a time, making it easier to treat people afflicted without malaria with continuous exposure to the infection.
What do you think needs to be done to ensure that everyone has adequate food in the future?
When asked about whether we’ll run out of food in the future, Gates is pretty confident that it’s a problem we can solve, especially as we have three avenues of attack. He points out ongoing experiments with lab-grown animal meat. It’s been in the works for a while now, and could possibly be the perfect compromise between meat eaters and anti-slaughter activists; tasty meat that no animal had to suffer or die for. Gates also indicates his charity is funding research into improving photosynthetic efficiency, which could theoretically give us plants and crops with more biomass and therefore higher output.
“If we can get African productivity up then we will be able to feed the world but we need to innovate to help them have much better seeds,” he adds.