Bill Gates is an optimist.
Ask him, and he'll tell you himself. "I'm very optimistic," he says. See?
And why shouldn't Bill Gates be an optimist? He's one of the richest men in the world. He basically invented the form of personal computing that dominated for decades. He runs a foundation immersed in the world's worst problems — child mortality, malaria, polio — but he can see them getting better. Hell, he can measure them getting better. Child mortality has fallen by half since 1990. To him, optimism is simply realism.
But lately, Gates has been obsessing over a dark question: what's likeliest to kill more than 10 million human beings in the next 20 years? He ticks off the disaster movie stuff — "big volcanic explosion, gigantic earthquake, asteroid" — but says the more he learns about them, the more he realizes the probability is "very low."
Then there's war, of course. But Gates isn't that worried about war because the entire human race worries about war pretty much all the time, and the most dangerous kind of war, nuclear war, seems pretty contained, at least for now.
But there's something out there that's as bad as war, something that kills as many people as war, and Gates doesn't think we're ready for it.
"Look at the death chart of the 20th century," he says, because he's the kind of guy that looks at death charts. "I think everybody would say there must be a spike for World War I. Sure enough, there it is, like 25 million. And there must be a big spike for World War II, and there it is, it's like 65 million. But then you'll see this other spike that is as large as World War II right after World War I, and most people, would say, 'What was that?'"
"Well, that was the Spanish flu."
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