Bill Gates Warned Us. We Didn’t Listen.

Stop. Watch Bill Gates give a TED Talk: The next outbreak? We’re not ready.

When YouTube recommended this video to me last night, I assumed that Bill Gates recently recorded his TED Talk and TED just released it. While I watched it, I couldn’t believe what he was saying. It was as if Bill Gates predicted the future and got it right. I was shocked to see this video was released on April 3, 2015. I admit that I probably watched this video before. I didn’t do anything to help. I ignored Bill’s call to action.


In the United States, the COVID-19 epidemic has further divided us. Nothing pulls us together. This pandemic will be the worst thing that Americans face in recent memory. People’s lives will be impacted by sickness and death. The economic impacts will be felt for a long time. We should be working together. We are not. A virus is not political. How we handle the virus is. If you view all the information through a political lens, you only see what you want to see. Everything validates what you believe. We keep dividing.

Microbes and Misinformation

There are two epidemics happening at the same time. COVID-19 is being passed all around the world at an alarming rate, but misinformation is propagating faster.

“More people will buy toilet paper than will vote in the 2020 presidential election.”

Hans Scharler

Imagine a world where we mobilize for a common cause. People literally bought all of the toilet paper in a manner of days because of memes being shared on social media. This incited panic. Misinformation leverages the same mechanism. Ideas of all sorts of validity spread like wildfire across Facebook. People believe what they hear from their friends. Where did their friends get the information? Where did your friends of friends get their information? Information can be injected into the system and at some point hordes of people believe what they are reading since their friend from high school shared it.

I felt bad when I heard the innocent words of Bill Gates. He said that we have an advantage with the next outbreak since people can use their phones to tell central bodies where issues are and have them get information out to people. He said all of those words in 2015 before the presidential election in 2016. Bill didn’t realize how phones and communications channels were going to be used and how easily they are manipulated. The communications channels work well, but they are agnostic about the type of information.

$3 Trillion Impact on the Global Economy

Bill tried to estimate the budget needed to prepare for the next epidemic. He was concerned that the next virus would be spread through the air and have a long incubation period. A virus like the one he described would have a $3 trillion impact on the global economy. With a figure like that in mind, he estimated that the budget would be far less to get prepared for the next outbreak. The Fed has already injected $1.5 trillion in loans. Imagine if we would have spent some percentage of that on diagnostic systems, information channels, preparedness, germ games, and vaccine research.

Call To Action

What are the key pieces to deal with an epidemic? Where should we invest?

  1. Strengthen health systems
  2. Create a medical reserve corps
  3. Pair medical and military
  4. Run germ games and simulations
  5. Step up research and development with vaccines and diagnostics

“There’s no need to panic … but we need to get going.”

Bill Gates

Ebola and H1N1 should have served as a wake call. Now, it’s COVID-19. Will we wake up?

Thanks, Bill Gates. Keep predicting the future. It would be great if we didn’t have to keep proving you right by doing nothing. We should be trying to prove you wrong.

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