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Bill Gates sounds the alarm on resurging pandemic

Tech leaders typically use their TED talks to sketch out an optimistic vision of the future, but today Bill Gates used his to warn about a rough autumn ahead due to the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

“There’s good progress … but nothing that would fundamentally alter the fact that this fall in the United States could be quite bad, and that’s worse than I would have predicted a month ago,” he told moderator Chris Anderson during a live-streamed TED2020 Q&A.

Although Gates didn’t mention President Donald Trump by name, he faulted a lack of American leadership for making things worse.

“We need leadership in terms of admitting that we’ve still got a huge problem here, and not turning that into almost a political thing,” he said. “You know, ‘Isn’t it brilliant, what we did?’ No, it’s not brilliant. … We need a leader who keeps us up to date, is realistic, and shows us the right behavior as well as driving the innovation track.”

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Bill Gates: We’ll need 7 billion doses of vaccine

Bill Gates has been big on vaccines since before the start of the coronavirus pandemic, but in a new blog posting, the Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist says the only way to end the pandemic for good is to offer a vaccine to almost all of the planet’s 7 billion inhabitants.

That’s big.

“We’ve never delivered something to every corner of the world before,” Gates notes.

It’s especially big considering that a vaccine hasn’t yet been approved for widespread use, and that it may take as long as a year to 18 months to win approval and start distribution.

Some companies are aiming for a faster pace: Oxford University says its vaccine candidate has shown encouraging results in trials with rhesus macaque monkeys, and if it clears accelerated human trials, a few million doses could be available by September.

Meanwhile, the White House is pressing an initiative called Operation Warp Speed that Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, could result in hundreds of millions of vaccine doses being manufactured by January.

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Even Bill Gates feels the pandemic’s psychic punch

Sal Khan and Bill Gates
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates discusses the repercussions of the coronavirus outbreak with Khan Academy founder Sal Khan during a “Daily Homeroom” live-streamed session. (Khan Academy via YouTube)

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates may be one of the world’s richest individuals, but even he sometimes finds it hard to cope with the huge social changes brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I never lived through anything this dramatic,” Gates admitted today during a “Daily Homeroom” live-streamed chat with Sal Khan, founder of the Khan Academy, a non-profit online learning venture.

That may seem ironic, given that the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been working for years on efforts to tamp down diseases, and that Gates himself issued a warning about a global virus outbreak in a prescient 2015 TED talk. But now that it’s happened, Gates isn’t immune to the outbreak’s effects.

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Gates Foundation to boost COVID-19 detection

Bill Gates
Bill Gates at the American Association for the Advancement of Science 2020 annual meeting in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop)

By Todd Bishop and Alan Boyle

A report says the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is preparing to fund at-home testing kits for the novel coronavirus in Seattle.

However, the Gates Foundation cautions that the plans aren’t final.

The kits, to be available in the “coming weeks,” would quickly identify hot spots where the disease is spreading, according to The Seattle Times. The newspaper quotes Scott Dowell, leader of coronavirus response at the Gates Foundation, as saying it the initiative “has enormous potential to turn the tide of the epidemic.”

Dowell cautions in the story, however, that there are many details to work out, and a launch date hasn’t been set.

In a statement to GeekWire, the Gates Foundation said, “The Seattle Times article today addressed the potential to adapt the Seattle Flu Study to support local public health agencies in the greater Seattle area in detecting COVID-19.  Our team has and will continue to actively explore ways that we can contribute to local response through the application of the study. While we’re working quickly with our partners to determine what’s possible, details of this support have not yet been finalized.”

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Bill Gates touts AI and gene editing for global health

Margaret Hamburg and Bill Gates
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates makes a point during a Q&A with Margaret Hamburg, board chair for the American Association for the Advancement of Science. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has been working to improve the state of global health through his nonprofit foundation for 20 years, and today he told the nation’s premier scientific gathering that advances in artificial intelligence and gene editing could accelerate those improvements exponentially in the years ahead.

“We have an opportunity with the advance of tools like artificial intelligence and gene-based editing technologies to build this new generation of health solutions so that they are available to everyone on the planet. And I’m very excited about this,” Gates said in Seattle during a keynote address at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Such tools promise to have a dramatic impact on several of the biggest challenges on the agenda for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, created by the tech guru and his wife in 2000.

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Heliogen claims solar power breakthrough

Heliogen plant
Heliogen’s commercial facility in Lancaster, Calif., was able to concentrate sunlight at a temperature high enough to replace fossil fuels in industrial processes. (Heliogen Photo)

By Todd Bishop and Alan Boyle

solar energy tech company founded by serial entrepreneur and inventor Bill Gross — and backed by investors including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates — says it has developed a way to create concentrated solar energy at temperatures hot enough to replace fossil fuels in industrial processes that contribute significantly to global carbon emissions.

It works by using cutting-edge computer vision technology to align a large array of mirrors to reflect sunlight to a precise target. The process creates immense heat, exceeding 1,000 degrees Celsius (1,832 Fahrenheit), that can replace traditional fuels such as coal, gas and oil in the production of materials such as cement, steel and petrochemicals.

The Los Angeles-based company, Heliogen, said this morning that it achieved the high-temperature milestone at its commercial facility in Lancaster, Calif.

It described the innovation as a “major step towards solving climate change” that could dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from industrial processes. Such processes are thought to account for one-fifth of the world’s carbon emissions.

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Bill Gates predicts the future of global health

Bill Gates
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates lays out his predictions for global health in 2040 during a lecture given at the Cambridge Union in honor of Stephen Hawking. (Cambridge Union via YouTube)

What’s the shape of global health to come? Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates issued two hopeful predictions for the year 2040 today during a lecture given at the late physicist Stephen Hawking’s home university in his honor.

Spoiler alert: Gates says insights into how our microbiome works, and efforts to cut down on infectious diseases such as malaria and HIV, will make life dramatically better for wide swaths of the world’s population by 2040.

Gates drew upon his experience as the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — and upon data relating to global health trends — to support the case he laid out in the Professor Hawking Fellowship Lecture, presented by the Cambridge Union.

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Bill Gates touts European clean-energy fund

Iceland geothermal energy
One of the companies in Breakthrough Energy Ventures’ portfolio is Sweden’s Baseload Capital, which invests in geothermal facilities including Varmaorka in Iceland. (Photo Courtesy of Baseload Capital)

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is celebrating the official launch of Breakthrough Energy Ventures Europe, an investment fund that aims to boost clean-energy innovation in Europe to the tune of 100 million euros. That translates to $112 million at the current rate of exchange.

Half of the money is coming from the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 program, via a financing channel known as InnovFin. The other half is coming from Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the $1 billion fund backed by Gates and other heavyweight investors including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Softbank Group CEO Masayoshi Son, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and Alibaba Group executive chairman Jack Ma.

Breakthrough Energy Ventures was created in 2016 to invest in zero-carbon energy technologies, and it’s laid down bets on 15 ventures since then. But most of those ventures are based in the U.S. and Canada. Breakthrough Energy Ventures Europe, or BEV-E, will make sure Europe is well-represented on the clean-energy frontier.

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Bill Gates connects ‘Star Trek’ to fighting malaria

Mosquito
Anopheles mosquitoes are carriers for the malaria parasite. (CDC Photo / James Gathany)

It’s Mosquito Week at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a time to focus on the global campaign to eradicate malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases. And if delving into the nuts and bolts of developing an effective malaria vaccine doesn’t grab you, how about adding a “Star Trek” angle?

That’s exactly what Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is doing in today’s Gates Notes posting to kick off Mosquito Week.

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Bill Gates endorses bill to boost nuclear power

TerraPower test
A technician places a full-size test fuel pin bundle in TerraPower’s pin duct interaction test apparatus. TerraPower, founded by Bill Gates, is working on traveling-wave reactor technology. (TerraPower Photo)

If dollars were votes, newly reintroduced legislation aimed at boosting nuclear energy innovation and advanced reactors would be a winner, thanks to Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates’ strong endorsement today.

The world’s second-richest person is the founder and chairman of Bellevue, Wash.-based TerraPower, a startup that’s working on next-generation nuclear fission reactors. Back in December, Gates listed nuclear energy research as one of his top policy priorities, and he reportedly followed up by promising lawmakers he’d invest $1 billion of his own money and line up another $1 billion in private capital if federal funds were approved for a TerraPower pilot project in the United States.

TerraPower had planned a pilot in China, but trade tensions upset the plan.

During the waning days of the previous congressional session, a bipartisan group in the Senate introduced a measure called the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act, which would promote next-generation nuclear power by boosting research and setting up long-term agreements for federal power purchases from newly licensed reactors.

The bill would require the Department of Energy to demonstrate two advanced reactor concepts by 2025, followed by another two to five concepts by 2035.

That would brighten the outlook for TerraPower as well as other next-gen nuclear power companies such as Oregon-based NuScale Power, which is planning to build a small-scale modular reactor at the Idaho National Laboratory by 2026.

There wasn’t enough time to move the bill out of committee last year — but on Wednesday, the legislation was reintroduced by 15 senators, including Republicans such as Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham as well as Democrats such as New Jersey’s Cory Booker and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin.

That came as music to Gates’ ears, and today he let the world know on Twitter.

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