During the Q&A, just days before the US presidential election, Gates made an incredibly understated reference to the prospect of a Trump presidency – something that has now taken on a very real and frightening tangibility.
“You might find it interesting that, for some reason, I’ve never met with Donald Trump,” he told the amused crowd.
Although he thought that both Republican and Democrat administrations have been good when it comes to science spending, particularly on disease, Gates said that, in reference to Trump, “I do think this one is a bit… different.”
“As I travel around the world, people care a lot that the US is well run,” he added. “As much as they like to criticize the US, it sort of sets the standard, it is expected to help out with global problems, certainly in terms of innovation – it’s the only country that does even more than the UK in terms of great science.
“And so this [election] is of great importance to the world.”
Prompted by will.i.am to consider running for President himself someday – after all, he was mentioned in a leaked email as one of Clinton’s potential picks for VP, along with his wife – Gates confirmed that he would not ever seek the highest office in the land.
“I think what I’m best at is my full-time work at the Foundation,” he said, nodding slowly in the affirmative.
Back to the Future
At the Q&A, Gates was asked how he sees the world half a century from now. He gleefully describes the ever-accelerating pace of scientific innovation, and suggests that what we see as commonplace work today will fade into obscurity in 50 years’ time.
“The US in the 1900s had most of its workforce on the farms. We weren’t a big exporter, we barely made enough to feed the country,” he explains. “Today less than 2 percent of the labor force is on the farms, and yet the US is a big food exporter.”
“If you had said to people – hey, this is gonna happen – they would have said that farming is what life is all about and there isn’t anything else to do.” It’s difficult to predict the future, but Gates is confident that it will be unrecognizable from today’s society.
Prompted by will.i.am’s fondness for artificial intelligence (AI), Gates quickly agrees that it is in this sector that the world will see its next technological revolution. The first jobs he sees that will be either replaced or augmented with AI and intricate robotics will be manufacturing and security-type occupations, including the military.
“As you get to more sophisticated things, like robots helping with medical operations, then they’re just magnifying the skill sets for the foreseeable future,” he told the crowd. “They’re not replacing them.”