Bill Gates Doesn't Have All The Answers
Democratizing data science.
A fantastic documentary about Bill Gates recently came out on Netflix
, titled "Inside Bill's Brain: Decoding Bill Gates." It's all about how Gates uses his massively powerful thinking mind to solve complex problems within given constraints, from the health space to energy to climate change.
While critics say that Bill Gates thinks technology can solve everything, Gates admits that he's a technologist at heart, so that's the tool he uses to try to solve the world's biggest challenges.
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
Created equally with his wife, Melinda, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
has made tremendous progress in efforts like eradicating Polio and creating and deploying off-grid sanitary toilets in emerging markets to prevent the needless deaths of millions of children due to diarrhea caused by lack of sewage systems.
Bill is also the founder of TerraPower, which created a newer, safer form of nuclear energy that uses passive cooling and runs on unenriched Uranium, solving the two greatest challenges with nuclear energy: Safety and waste.
This doesn't even scratch the surface of what Gates has accomplished. On the business side, of course, he became the richest person in the world by founding Microsoft. Accused of being a monopolist, he gave Apple a hand just to even out the playing field, helping Apple become what it is today.
The tech industry today stands on the shoulders of Bill Gates.
What the documentary succeeds in is making clear that Bill, while a "normal person" like the rest of us, is nothing short of a true genius. He's surrounded by the best and brightest minds in the world, while constantly devouring complex information in the form of daily reading, which sticks in his mind and merges with his existing knowledge due to both his incredible memory and cerebral flexibility.
It's reported that
the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has assets of $40.3 billion and has given away $41 billion since 2000. Bill Gates' personal net worth is currently around $110 billion
. This is far beyond the GDP of many countries
Incomprehensible Wealth of Resources
The financial, intellectual, and political resources at the disposal of someone like Bill Gates would make you think no problem could get in his way.
And yet, Gates' journey is marked with failures. From Muslim imams preaching anti-vaccination to Boko Haram terrorists killing vaccinators, eliminating Polio was of far greater complexity than even Gates had imagined. The documentary described their efforts to eliminate Polio like playing a game of "whack-a-mole," where they'd rid one area of the disease, only for it to pop-up in a neighboring area.
Gates continued to throw resources
on the problem, hoping that providing hundreds of millions of dollars more than asked for could solve the few remaining cases of Polio that kept popping up.
As mentioned, Gates is also working on solving the energy problem. This too has proven to be more difficult than imagined. Building his new energy reactors would require efficient resource allocation at scale, and the best partner to do that with would be China, given their history in nuclear. Everything was ready to go, until Trump's trade war axed the project
Gates was on the verge of shifting the world away from fossil fuels for good, until an unforeseeable event derailed his mission.
Failure is Inevitable
All this goes to show: Anomalous events are inevitable, and always have been, from Caesar’s betrayal to Jesus’ crucifixion. It doesn't matter how smart, rich, or powerful you are, you can't control everything.
While people often meet unexpected endings, ideas burn on. Humans can be pushed to their limits, and then transcend them, with hard times demanding adaptation and resilience, ensuring the progression of humanity.
Scientists marvel at human strength in hard times, from holocaust survivors
to victims of Mao’s Great Famine
. More than the strength of individuals, tragedies reflect the strength of networks. Many people together, or networks, can handle far greater complexity than any individual. Complex solutions are needed for complex problems from the health space to energy to climate change.
Entrepreneurial networks benefit from the phenomenon of emergence—the greater intelligence present in a network than the sum of its parts. Entrepreneurial networks also benefit from the lack of a single point of failure. Any one individual can die, but their legacy, and most importantly, ideas to change the world, live on through networks.
"Inside Bill's Brain" remarks how the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is well aware that the clock is ticking. Bill Gates won't live forever, not that he would have all the answers even if he did.
While Gates' projects to save the world have been blighted by unforeseen events, knowledge of this history won't eliminate such events in the future. Such is the nature of randomness.
So What's the Solution?
If Bill Gates doesn't have all the answers, then, who does? As mentioned, failure is inevitable, no matter how many resources you have. However, networks have many advantages. A network, such as a global community of entrepreneurs attacking a problem rather than one person, has no single point of failure.
Further, the emergent intelligence of a network is able to handle greater complexity than any individual, pre-disposing networks to be a better source of solutions to every global challenge than any individual.
Of course, this is precisely the point of a foundation like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It enables better management and distribution of resources, while eliminating a single point of failure. But I'm not talking about foundations, I'm talking about global entrepreneurial networks.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of the difficulty of solving a challenge in a certain region, say Polio in Nigeria, is the distribution of resources in that region. If you have impact entrepreneurs in Nigeria, the distribution equation is solved a lot more easily. The problem then becomes a tremendous resource constraint, as African startups have virtually no funding
compared to startups in developed markets.
The new challenge to solve, then, is efficiently allocating resources to those impact entrepreneurs closest to the problem.
In other words: Impact crowdinvesting. This combines equity crowdfunding, which benefits from accessing the resources of a network of investors rather than fewer individuals, and impact investing, which suffers from a lack of accessibility. Impact crowdinvesting gives resources to those with the greatest chance to solve global challenges: Entrepreneurs close to those challenges.
But that's just the how, the answer to this article, or "who has all the answers?," is you. It's networks of entrepreneurs, especially those in fast-growing emerging markets, which are also suffering the most from the global challenges we see today.
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