Bill Gates
Bret Hartman/TED

It's sickening

By Laura Lorenzetti
May 28, 2015

Bill Gates is the richest man in the world. He essentially invented personal computing and co-founded a major multinational corporation. But what really keeps him up at night has nothing to do with technology–it’s about humanity.

“I rate the chance of a nuclear war within my lifetime as being fairly low,” Gates told Vox’s Ezra Klein. “I rate the chance of a widespread epidemic, far worse than Ebola, in my lifetime, as well over 50%.”

Gates, who is 59 years old, referenced a death chart that shows the rise and fall in number of deaths throughout the 20th century. There was a spike during World War I, about 25 million, and another for World War II, about 65 million. In the middle of those two eras, you’ll see a spike that’s almost as large as World War II.

“Well, that was the Spanish flu,” said Gates.

The 1918-1919 Spanish flu pandemic killed somewhere between 30 and 50 million people, according to recent estimates. Given the delayed global reaction to the Ebola crisis in Africa, Gates fears that we are not ready to effectively battle a wide-reaching epidemic.

Controlling the spread of a virulent disease is even more complicated today, given that 50 times more people cross borders now than they did in 1918, according to Gates’ modeling. Using an algorithmic model, Gates estimates that a Spanish flu-like disease could kill 33 million people in 250 days.

“Within 60 days it’s basically in all urban centers around the entire globe,” Gates said. “We’ve created, in terms of spread, the most dangerous environment that we’ve ever had in the history of mankind.”

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