Power Players

Can we predict the future? Bill Gates says yes, in this one area

Microsoft founder Bill Gates
Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

When Bill Gates gave the 2019 Professor Hawking Fellowship Lecture at Cambridge University on Oct. 7, he answered a question posed by Stephen Hawking in his final book, "Brief Answers to the Big Questions": Can we predict the future?

"I believe the answer is yes — we can" when it comes to the future of health, Gates said.

"I'm lucky that my work gives me a view of all the amazing discoveries in the works right now," said Gates. "That's why I'm able to predict the future."

Gates has made global health his priority, funding research and solutions for some of the world's largest health epidemics via the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

So what does that future look like? Based on the technology innovation he sees, here are three of the predictions Gates made about the future of health.

'We will solve malnutrition'

Hundreds of millions of adults and children around the world suffer from some form of malnutrition, according to the World Health Organization.

But according to Gates, through understanding the role of the microbiome, or the "good bacteria" in the body, and in particular in the gut, malnutrition can be solved.

"We've learned a lot about [the microbiome] in recent years, and will continue to learn more over the next two decades," Gates said during the lecture. "That deeper understanding is why I predict we're going to solve malnutrition."

For example, Gates predicts that "we'll be able to create next-generation probiotic pills that contain ideal combinations of bacteria—even ones that are tailored to your specific gut."

In addition, he also predicts the creation of "microbiota directed complementary foods," which would be consumed to help digest food, protect from infection and help the microbiome.

Gates says that understanding how the gut gets "messed up" and how to fix the microbiome will not only help end malnutrition, but also other diseases, including asthma, allergies and some autoimmune diseases.

"If we can figure nutrition out—and I believe we will within the next two decades—we'll save millions of lives and improve even more," Gates said.

Malaria will be virtually eliminated by 2040

Malaria kills 435,000 people around the world each year, according to the World Health Organization.

However, "promising new developments" in mosquito control (which is more effective at fighting malaria than trying to vaccinate or treat it, according to Gates) lead him to believe "we'll have virtually eliminated malaria by 2040," he said.

"For one thing, we finally know where the mosquitoes are," Gates said, which allows more targeted anti-mosquito efforts. Gates also cited gene-editing to eliminate malaria-carrying types of mosquitoes while leaving the others so as not to disrupt the ecosystem.

Healthcare will focus on not just saving lives, but improving them

Gates said the focus of healthcare will shift over the next 20 years to improving lives, rather than just saving lives.

"It seems like a subtle difference, but it has a huge impact on how you approach healthcare," Gates said. "Within two decades, I believe every country on earth will be able to focus on not just keeping you alive but healthy and well."

As the number of preventable deaths around the world decline, which he predicts will happen as problems like malnutrition and diseases like malaria are eradicated, healthcare priorities can shift focus.

"The shift from longevity to wellness doesn't just change how we approach healthcare," he said. "It unlocks all sorts of amazing opportunities for people and societies to thrive."

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