Bill Gates, the cofounder of Microsoft who left the company’s board in 2020, wrote an end-of-the-year note on Thursday filled with reflections on the pandemic and the year 2021. But Gates also included some predictions for the future, and they could give some indication of where tech companies are looking for the next 2-5 years.
From the outset, it should be noted that Gates has a mixed record on predictions. Gates accurately predicted back in 1987 that the world of the 21st century would be filled with flat-panel displays, but he also believed we’d get rid of credit cards by 2007. We’re still waiting on that one.
What does Gates see in his crystal ball for the next few years? We’ve pulled five of his predictions below, but you can read the entire post over at his website.
1) The worst of the COVID-19 pandemic will be over in 2022.
First, the good news. Gates believes the worst of the pandemic will be done sometime in 2022. That doesn’t mean everything will go back to the normal of 2019, but it’ll be a lot better, according to Gates.
From the blog post by Gates, emphasis his:
Because of the Delta variant and challenges with vaccine uptake, we’re not as close to the end of the pandemic as I hoped by now. I didn’t foresee that such a highly transmissible variant would come along, and I underestimated how tough it would be to convince people to take the vaccine and continue to use masks.
I am hopeful, though, that the end is finally in sight. It might be foolish to make another prediction, but I think the acute phase of the pandemic will come to a close some time in 2022.
Notably, Gates didn’t make a prediction about how the unvaccinated will fare by the end of 2022. The U.S. reported 123,484 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and 1,294 deaths, with the most seriously sick still among the unvaccinated.
2) Meetings will be commonplace in the metaverse within 2-3 years.
Gates is fully invested in the idea that the metaverse is just over the horizon, much like Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook. And Gates thinks it’s going to transform the way we conduct meetings.
Within the next two or three years, I predict most virtual meetings will move from 2D camera image grids — which I call the Hollywood Squares model, although I know that probably dates me — to the metaverse, a 3D space with digital avatars. Both Facebook and Microsoft recently unveiled their visions for this, which gave most people their first view of what it will look like.
The idea is that you will eventually use your avatar to meet with people in a virtual space that replicates the feeling of being in an actual room with them. To do this, you’ll need something like VR goggles and motion capture gloves to accurately capture your expressions, body language, and the quality of your voice. Most people don’t own these tools yet, which will slow adoption somewhat. (One of the things that enabled the rapid change to video meetings was the fact that many people already had PCs or phones with cameras.) Microsoft plans to roll out an interim version next year, which uses your webcam to animate an avatar that’s used in the current 2D set-up.
The first question you may be asking is, “why?” What does this accomplish? That’s a great question. And if you have an answer we’d love to hear it. Because we don’t know either.
3) People will have robust health diagnostic capabilities at home.
Back in the 1960s, people were predicting that everyone would eventually have a computer that could do medical diagnostics at home. And Gates hasn’t given up on that dream.
Right now, when it’s time for your annual physical, you probably need to go into your doctor’s office to get your vitals taken and your blood drawn. But what if you had a device at home that your doctor could control remotely to test your blood pressure? What if he or she could look at data collected from your smart watch to see how you’re sleeping and what your active heart rate is? What if you could get your blood tested at a convenient place in your neighbourhood — maybe at your local pharmacy — that sends the results directly to your doctor? What if you could keep seeing a primary care physician you like even if you moved to another state?
These are all real possibilities in the future, and I’m curious to see how they transform health care. Beyond the technology and privacy limits, there are also regulatory hurdles we need to figure out before digital health care becomes truly mainstream. Some states still make it hard to see patients virtually in a different state because of how licensing currently works.
The possibilities for your smartwatch to become a home health monitor seem extremely likely. But we’re honestly still waiting on a lot of the apps and sensors that would make that happen.
4) A blood test for Alzheimer’s will likely be approved.
Gates is extremely optimistic about a lot of medical advances he believes are very close, including a blood test for Alzheimer’s disease.
Another area to watch for in 2022 is Alzheimer’s diagnostics. Huge progress has been made on this front recently, and there’s a decent chance that the first affordable, accessible blood test for Alzheimer’s will get approved next year. Although this won’t be a gamechanger yet for people who have the disease — which currently has no cure or even a way to slow it down — this test will accelerate progress in the quest for a treatment breakthrough.
5) 2022 will be a year for the “new normal.”
While Gates said he believes the worst of the pandemic will end in 2022, he explains by the end of his post that we’ll all settle into a new version of normal, even if many remnants of the COVID-19 health crisis continues.
I think 2022 will be a year when many of us finally settle into a post-pandemic new normal. For me, that will mean going into the office a bit more as COVID cases hopefully go down. I want to find a new rhythm at home now that all three of my kids have moved away and my day isn’t as structured around finding time to spend with them. I’m looking forward to spending more time engaging with people through my blog and other channels. I’d like to keep up my COVID-era habit of watching lots of educational videos on YouTube and subscription services like Wondrium, because they’re a really great way to learn about obscure topics. (I now know more about glassmaking, birdwatching, and the history of American Samoa than I ever expected.)
Again, Gates has a spotty record of predictions. But it’s hard to fault his optimism for most of the predictions on this list. Everyone a little healthier and a little more normal? Sign us up, please.