Bill Gates Weighs In on US Pandemic Response, Encryption, and Grilling Tech Executives

Bill Gates gave a wide-ranging new interview to Wired’s Steven Levy (also republished at Ars Technica.) The interview’s first question: as a man who’d been warning about a pandemic for years, are you disappointed with the response of the United States?

Bill Gates: Yeah. There’s three time periods, all of which have disappointments. There is 2015 until this particular pandemic hit. If we had built up the diagnostic, therapeutic, and vaccine platforms, and if we’d done the simulations to understand what the key steps were, we’d be dramatically better off. Then there’s the time period of the first few months of the pandemic, when the U.S. actually made it harder for the commercial testing companies to get their tests approved, the CDC had this very low volume test that didn’t work at first, and they weren’t letting people test. The travel ban came too late, and it was too narrow to do anything. Then, after the first few months, eventually we figured out about masks, and that leadership is important… [America’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] have basically been muzzled since the beginning. We called the CDC, but they told us we had to talk to the White House a bunch of times. Now they say, “Look, we’re doing a great job on testing, we don’t want to talk to you.” Even the simplest things, which would greatly improve this system, they feel would be admitting there is some imperfection and so they are not interested.

Wired: Do you think it’s the agencies that fell down or just the leadership at the top, the White House?

Bill Gates: We can do the postmortem at some point. We still have a pandemic going on, and we should focus on that….

Wired: At this point, are you optimistic?

Bill Gates: Yes. You have to admit there’s been trillions of dollars of economic damage done and a lot of debts, but the innovation pipeline on scaling up diagnostics, on new therapeutics, on vaccines is actually quite impressive. And that makes me feel like, for the rich world, we should largely be able to end this thing by the end of 2021, and for the world at large by the end of 2022. That is only because of the scale of the innovation that’s taking place…

This disease, from both the animal data and the phase 1 data, seems to be very vaccine preventable.
Gates also believes the government shouldn’t allow encryption to hide “lies or fraud or child pornography” on apps like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp — prompting the interviewer to ask whether he’s talked to his friend Mark Zuckerberg about it. “After I said this publicly, he sent me mail. I like Mark, I think he’s got very good values, but he and I do disagree on the trade-offs involved there…”

Gates also thought today’s tech executives got off easy with five hours of testifying before a Congressional subcommittee as a group of four. “Jesus Christ, what’s the Congress coming to? If you want to give a guy a hard time, give him at least a whole day that he has to sit there on the hot seat by himself! And they didn’t even have to get on a plane…!”

Gates added later that “there are a lot of valid issues, and if you’re super-successful, the pleasure of going in front of the Congress comes with the territory.”

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