Microsoft founder and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates recently sat down for a candid conversation with Harvard students and faculty. During the chat, the former Harvard-undergrad shared what he believes to be the greatest issues the world is facing in 2018: inequity.
Inequity comes in many forms, from unfair access to healthcare and education to unequal distributions of wealth and information. In his Q&A session with students, Gates discussed the many ways these affect people around the world.
Let's start with the unequal access to information, which has led to an anti-science rhetoric both in the American public and its government. For example, only 66 percent of young Americans accept Earth is round. Furthermore, the US is seeing a shift in government leaders that parallels this attitude; US EPA administrator Scott Pruitt recently issued a rule to delete decades worth of science while the newly-appointed NASA administrator has questioned whether climate change is caused by humans.
When it comes to issues like genetically modified organisms, Gates says it is difficult to engage in meaningful ways to push change because most Americans, including politicians, have only basic science literacy.
"When people don’t see the immediate effect of something, it’s hard to motivate them to do something different, but even that is not the real hurdle," reports The Harvard Gazette.
The real hurdle could in part be blamed on a continuously-widening educational gap. Unequal access to rigorous schooling, specifically math, is only further pushing disparities in literacy between low and high-income students globally.
“[The US] is a country that has essentially a credo of equal opportunity more than anything else, and the only way you execute equal opportunity is by having a great education system,” he said. “We’re spending $800 million a year. And our goal, which was to move the average quality of US education up into that top three, [we've had] no noticeable impact after almost 20 years. But we’re committed; we’re going to keep doing it.”
In addition to education, a decade of research cites income inequality – which is the highest it's been since the Great Depression – as a major barrier to healthcare. Each day, 16,000 children under five die from diseases and ailments easily treated in developed countries. As many as 3 million children will die each year from malnutrition globally.
It may be a scary time, but it’s also an interesting one. Gates says he hopes future generations will work to better the advancement of humanity, society, and the environment.
“Whether it’s health costs or climate change or robots that do good things and not bad things, or the policies around those things, this is a fascinating time to be alive,” he said.
He also said if he were in college today he’d focus on artificial intelligence (hint, hint).
[H/T: The Harvard Gazette]