Soon-To-Be Grandfather Bill Gates Is Betting On AI, Gene Therapy And Other New Technologies To Solve Global Problems

The Microsoft cofounder outlines in his 14th annual letter how and where the Gates Foundation plans to give its next billions.

Soon-To-Be Grandfather Bill Gates Is Betting On AI, Gene Therapy And Other New Technologies To Solve Global Problems

Bill Gates will soon become a grandfather and weighs in on the technologies being evaluated by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help solve some global problems. Getty Images

Despite the many problems facing the world today-Russia's war with Ukraine, extreme weather, and the Covid pandemic-Bill Gates remains optimistic about the future. Why? The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation adopts and supports new technology like artificial intelligence and gene therapy in order to address global challenges such as childhood mortality and HIV.

Forbes spoke with Gates just before the publication of his annual Gates Notes letter, a tradition that he began in 2009. Gates and his ex-wife Melinda French Gates, who co-chair the Gates Foundation, recently concluded a series strategy sessions and mapped out the foundation's budget for 2023. Gates stated that the foundation's budget would be the largest ever. This is due to the largest one-year increase in foundation history of 22 years. Gates is thinking more about the future as he will be a grandfather next year. His older daughter Jennifer, who married him last year, will have a baby in February. According to Forbes, the renowned cofounder and CEO of Microsoft is currently the sixth-richest person in the world. He would be worth at most $162 billion and rank as No. If he had not given $59 billion to the Gates Foundation over time, mostly in gifts of Microsoft stock, he would be ranked No. 3 in the world. His plan is to drop his ranking among the wealthiest people in the world. He expects to drop off the billionaire list altogether, according to Gates. His commitment to giving nearly all of his fortune to The Gates Foundation, America's largest charitable foundation, is the reason. Gates, who turns 67 in October, wrote that he doesn't care about his ranking on the list. However, he did write in his new annual letter. In July, Gates made a major move to get himself off the top of the list by transferring $20 billion to the Gates Foundation. He explained that he made the transfer to allow the foundation to increase its annual expenditure and grantmaking by half, to $9 billion per year by 2026. Gates says that the $9 billion in annual distributions is not something you can keep steady and remain a 'forever foundation'. Gates said that he will continue to give at this rate, even with Warren Buffett's multi-billion-dollar stock gifts to the foundation, and that he will also shift some of his fortune, currently estimated by Forbes at $103 trillion, to the foundation. "There will be lots of money from me." Gates estimates that the foundation will cease its activities in 25 to 30 years.

Here are some of Gates' enthusiasm for the foundation's efforts in the interim:

Engaging math education in the U.S.

While the Gates Foundation is best known for its work in healthcare, the foundation has also invested resources in improving public education in the United States over the years with mixed results. The latest effort is to accelerate math education for students in Kindergarten-12th grade. Gates' letter explains that students who have passed Algebra I by 9th Grade are twice as likely get their high school diplomas and more likely go on to college to earn a bachelor's degree. The pandemic hit hard. Gates wrote that only 26% of eighth graders in the United States were proficient in math according to a report card called the National Assessment of Economic Progress. This is a drop of 9 percentage points over 2019 and one of the lowest numbers in almost two decades. The foundation announced in October that it would spend $1.1 billion over four year to improve the teaching of math. Gates wrote that teachers have repeatedly told him that they find the mathematics curriculum boring and inapplicable. The idea is to make the best use of the teacher's skills and time. The foundation supports non-profit partners such as Zearn, Khan Academy, and Mastory. These online tools are interactive and help to make math more fun. Gates said that he is optimistic about AI being used in such tools. 'The AI can determine what engages you, whether it's health or sports examples. What things do you understand and not understand. An AI could tune this even better than standard software.

AI-powered ultrasounds can reduce childhood mortality

Gates points out, however, that although childhood deaths have declined by half since 2000 (the number of children dying in childhood has fallen by half), the number of infants who die within the first 30 days of life-the neonatal phase-is still rising. In 2019, 1.9 million babies died. In 2019, 1.9 million newborns died. The Gates Foundation has teamed up with partners to create a simplified ultrasound tool that can be used in developing countries. It is a probe that plugs into a mobile phone, tablet, or other device. The probe can be swept over the abdomen of a pregnant woman a few times. Gates says that the software can detect any normal problems, including a breech position or an abnormal [umbilical] cord. The software can also indicate whether pregnancies are high-risk and whether the mother may need to have a C section. Gates noted that most births in developing countries are not attended by doctors.

Gates explained that the AI software was developed by The Gates Foundation with Google as a partner, and Philips, who makes traditional ultrasound machines. It is currently being tested in South Africa and Kenya. If it makes a difference, it will take another two to three more years before it can be used widely.

Gene therapy is a treatment for HIV.

The goal of finding a cure to HIV has been a long-held dream. It's still far away. Gates believes that gene therapy, which allows for small changes to the genetic makeup of an individual's genome, may prove beneficial. The foundation has supported research at several academic centers and startus, and collaborated with Novartis as well as the National Institutes of Health in gene therapy. One injection could give the body a way of fighting off the virus, according to the foundation's hope. Gates stated in his letter that there is still much to be done before any of these methods are found safe and effective.

Nuclear Power And Low-Carbon Innovations

Bill Gates spends a lot of his time focusing on TerraPower, his nuclear energy startup that uses depleted-uranium for its fuel. Gates claims that he has invested a little over $1 billion in TerraPower over the past decade. This company is currently developing a demonstration facility in Wyoming, partially funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. Gates claims that it will be until 2030 before we can determine if the new reactor design is a success.

He is also passionate about Breakthrough Energy, which is a portfolio that includes more than 100 companies. It has been supported by a group of billionaires, including Jeff Bezos and Vinod Khosla. Gates mentioned two companies that are of interest to him: Redwood Materials, a lithium ion battery manufacturer, headed by JB Straubel (Tesla cofounder) and Form Energy, a low-cost energy storage company, which raised $450m from investors in October. Gates says that any profits from these companies will be reinvested in climate investing and the Gates Foundation.