Bill Gates: Where Innovation Should Focus Now

Bill Gates is one of the founders of the computer revolution. The idea of putting a computer on every desk and software in every computer wasn’t his alone, but he executed to make his company, Microsoft, one of the most innovative bringers of that revolution.

For several decades now, Gates has been a philanthropist rather than focusing on business leadership or business strategy. But his dual roles — philanthropist and business leader — makes him uniquely positioned to consider where innovation should take us now.

The Pew Charitable Trusts, a leading philanthropic organization, recently published one of Gates’s own blogs on where he currently sees the biggest need for innovation.

Intriguingly, he mentions the interrelationship of private enterprise and government as being a linchpin of high-powered innovation, citing the drive to get men on the moon in the late 1950s and 1960s as an example of a goal-directed partnership that resulted in innovation. The innovations in satellites and communications, for example, were both permanently augmented by the race to the moon. It also provided an example of how powerful synergy between public and private can change how people view the possible.

Where does Gates think innovative energy should be focused now? He pinpoints four areas.

Technology can help both teachers and students.

  1. Affordable and Clean Energy

As one might expect, some of Gates’s beliefs about focus draw from a belief in technology to better the lives of people around the globe. The technologies currently exist, he points out, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by moving to renewable energy. The technologies exist to have battery powered cars that can run for significant periods of time between charges. So the first part of clean and affordable energy is simply harnessing the technologies that exist.

Energy is also a Gatesian example of how private investors and governments can work together. Currently, 21 countries and 28 private investors have committed to the goal of affordable energy. For the U.S. specifically, clean energy could reduce U.S. dependence on imported energy.

  1. Vaccines for HIV and a Cure for Neurodegenerative Diseases

Although AIDS has faded from the forefront of consciousness in the U.S., it is responsible for 1 million fatalities worldwide, on average. A vaccine for HIV would end a large proportion of those fatalities.

Neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s devastate not only the lives of patients, but the lives of entire families. A cure would be a boon for an exponential number of people.

In addition, the cost for treatment of both conditions, combined with the number of people affected, are among the factors driving U.S. healthcare costs higher. Vaccines and cures would thus not only reduce fatalities from these conditions but make U.S. funds available for other uses than healthcare.

  1. Protection Against Potential Epidemics

Many people believe a major global epidemic is possible within the next decade. Both Ebola and the Zika virus are examples of how new diseases can develop. They are also examples of how quickly healthcare systems can respond to developing diseases and changing situations.

Gates points out that the need for similar responses against potential epidemics going forward is a key innovation need. Epidemics have the potential to compromise the healthcare system and future of entire countries.

  1. Education

The fourth area of innovation need is education. Gates cites more sophisticated and tailored online systems, real-time feedback, modeling of online teaching, and metrics as key ways that technology can help drive innovation in the educational system. Conversations about what is working and what not are also imperative.

It’s always interesting to know what a leading innovator thinks about innovation. Bill Gates believes that energy, medicine, health, and education should be the top priorities for new thinking going forward.