If Bill Gates met a time traveler from the 12 months 2100, his first query would not be about his family, or Microsoft’s stock price.
As an alternative, he’d ask: Are humans thriving? “Ultimately, it’s all measured through human welfare,” Gates said on essentially the most recent episode of his podcast, “Unconfuse Me.”
Within the episode, the billionaire Microsoft co-founder interviewed University of Oxford data scientist Hannah Ritchie, whose book “Not the End of the World” offers an optimistic tackle how the world can win its battle against climate change.
Gates asked Ritchie for her “top questions” to ask a time traveler from the long run. Her response: What percentage of the world’s population can survive as much as $20 a day in 2100? The reply would reveal quite a bit about poverty rates in the long run, and whether “we have now made progress on health, agriculture, poverty,” Ritchie said.
Currently, greater than 9% of the world — over 700 million people — has to subsist on lower than $2.15 per day, a level that indicates extreme poverty, in accordance with the World Bank. If a good portion of individuals are living on closer to $20 a day by 2100, especially in lower income countries, that “can be a tremendous achievement,” said Ritchie — and an indication that humanity likely made progress in mitigating climate change.
“My assumption can be that climate change hadn’t had extremely devastating impacts, where agriculture was ruined and health outcomes were really poor, and other people were plunged into poverty,” Ritchie said.
At first, Gates said he’d prefer to inquire about energy production and artificial intelligence. “How are you generating energy? Is it fusion or fission or some unexpected thing?” he asked. “After which understand how the AI was either helping them come together … or how they handled that challenge.”
Fusion and fission are kinds of nuclear energy. Gates has touted each as promising clean energy sources — co-founding nuclear energy startup TerraPower in 2006 — that may help fight climate change.
Gates has also pushed back on various doomsday scenarios across the advancement of AI, saying the technology can eventually help the world solve global challenges in areas like health and education. He still serves as an advisor to Microsoft, which has invested billions of dollars in AI research startup OpenAI, after leaving its board of directors in 2020.
But upon reflection, despite his personal interests in energy and AI, Gates modified his mind and aligned his response more closely with Ritchie’s query. The very best inquiry can be one which reveals the overall well-being of humans across the globe, he said.
“You are right,” said Gates. “The report card is not the tactics. It’s the standard of life.”