As a humanist, Bill Gates has been on something of a roll. Recently, he launched Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a $1 billion fund for startups working on promising sustainable energy solutions. This isn’t actually that much money compared to what’s needed for a game-changing solution, but Breakthrough Energy will be only part of the funding picture, and $1 billion is undoubtedly a real boost.
A prolific philanthropist, Gates is perhaps making up for the years when the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation held $1.4 billion in fossil fuel investments, a commitment the Foundation has since walked back by 85 percent, including complete divestment from ExxonMobil and BP. The Foundation’s primary focus has been global health initiatives, but lately Gates has been taking a different tack, speaking out on an issue that, given his tech mastery, is close to his heart: Artificial Intelligence and the world of work.
His idea has a socialist undertone, which is surprising coming from the richest man on Earth. Gates made his fortune through the full-blown capitalist thrust of the computer revolution. The Microsoft mission under Gates was to put a computer on every desk and in every home. If the coming rise of artificially intelligent robots, which will replace human workers, is a logical result of the Microsoft mission coming to fruition, then Gates’ new resolve is the sign of a man willing to evaluate the implications of his mark on the world. But is Gates’ idea even viable, and is it the right thing to do in order to spur innovation?