YouTuber Ingrid Nilsen sat down with Bill Gates to play “How much does the world suck?” and discuss some surprisingly optimistic facts about humanity. The video is a tie-in with Bill and Melinda Gates’ recently released 10th Annual Letter, which this year centers on optimism. You can read the full letter on Gates’ website, but here’s an excerpt of its opening paragraphs:
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We are outspoken about our optimism. These days, though, optimism seems to be in short supply.
The headlines are filled with awful news. Every day brings a different story of political division, violence, or natural disaster.
Despite the headlines, we see a world that’s getting better.
Compare today to the way things were a decade or a century ago. The world is healthier and safer than ever. The number of children who die every year has been cut in half since 1990 and keeps going down. The number of mothers who die has also dropped dramatically. So has extreme poverty—declining by nearly half in just 20 years. More children are attending school. The list goes on and on.
But being an optimist isn’t about knowing that life used to be worse. It’s about knowing how life can get better. And that’s what really fuels our optimism. Although we see a lot of disease and poverty in our work—and many other big problems that need to be solved—we also see the best of humanity. We spend our time learning from scientists who are inventing cutting-edge tools to cure disease.
I was honored to be yesterday's guest on my favorite interview podcast, Erik Davis's Expanding Mind. Erik and I have been friends since the cyberdelic early 1990s. He is a brilliant head and prolific writer who explores the cultures of consciousness with rigor, wit, and genuine curiosity. On the podcast, Erik and I had a freewheeling conversation about the Voyager Golden Record vinyl release that I co-produced with Tim Daly and Lawrence Azerrad, my work at the Institute for the Future, and the intersection of science, art, and magic to spark the imagination. Have a listen:
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In 2012, Kim Stanley Robinson published 2312
, imagining how the world and its neighbors might look in 300 years, loosely coupled with the seminal Red Mars
books, a futuristically pastoral novel about the way that technology can celebrate the glories of nature; in 2015, Robinson followed it up with Aurora
, the best book I read that year, which used 2312's futures to demolish the idea that we can treat space colonization (and other muscular technological projects) as Plan B for climate change -- a belief that is very comforting to those who don't or can't imagine transforming capitalism into a political system that doesn't demolish the planet. Now, with New York 2140
, Robinson starts to connect the dots between these different futures with a bold, exhilarating story of life in a permanent climate crisis, where most people come together in adversity, but where a small rump of greedy, powerful people get in their way.