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14 Ways the World Would Be Different Without Bill Gates

A look at some of the billionaire businessman and philanthropist's contributions, from technology to education to global health.

Bill Gates,Nati Harnik/AP/Shutterstock

Bill Gates

The founder of Microsoft turned humanitarian/philanthropist celebrates his birthday on October 28. Here are all of the things we owe him credit for.

Icon, Logo, Microsoft Word, Text Edigate, Macro shot, Detail, full frame, screen shotValentin Wolf/imageBROKER/Shutterstock

We’d be using a different word processing system

Microsoft Word has been around since 1983, and six years later, the first official version of Microsoft Office—which included Word, Excel, and PowerPoint—was released in 1989. Since then, these have been our main tools for creating documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.

“Life without Bill Gates would be fundamentally different: we’d be living life without these programs,” Jennifer R. Bowen, Ph.D., associate professor of mathematics at the College of Wooster, tells Reader’s Digest. “What would professional and school life look like without these mainstays? ” These are the women you should thank every time you use a computer.

PAUL ALLEN AND BILL GATESSipa/Shutterstock

Technology-enabled in-home healthcare would look different

Without Bill Gates, we would not be where we are today when it comes to technology that enables greater healthcare access for those who need it most, Eric Rock, founder and CEO of Vivify Health, a mobile digital health platform, tells Reader’s Digest. Rock previously served as an advisor for Microsoft’s touchscreen and healthcare teams.

“Gates’ groundbreaking work and the development of the personal computer served as a jumping-off point for today’s mobile technologies that bring healthcare to more people than ever before—even in their own homes,” he explains. “Bill Gates’ work with Microsoft enabled health data to live in the cloud which made it easier for hospitals and health systems to mobilize, ultimately leading to web applications and telemedicine. These are leveraged not only by major corporations like Walgreens but also within my own organization. Gates’ contributions with advanced operating systems and database platforms have even helped unlock the full potential of analytics and machine learning.”

Gates Foundation Poverty, KirklandTed S Warren/AP/Shutterstock

India would not be five years polio-free

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s commitment to the causes of vaccine delivery and global immunization has yielded significant impacts. “Thanks in large part to the Foundation’s polio eradication campaigns, India is now marking five years polio-free—which bodes promise for progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well,” Henna Hundal, a nationally syndicated radio host of The Henna Hundal Show who has interviewed Gates on her program, tells Reader’s Digest. “Without Bill Gates, we would be considerably further behind in the global efforts to eradicate polio.” Discover the 13 world-changing ideas that literally came from dreams.

Bill Gates New Schools ProgramTed S Warren/AP/Shutterstock

There would be fewer health innovations for refugee populations

The issues faced by displaced communities are deep-rooted, complex, and multifaceted. And according to Hundal, who is also the co-founder of the Azal Trust, an international 501(c)(3) nonprofit working on digital and clinical solutions to streamline healthcare access for refugees, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s work in conjunction with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in the area of health innovations that support refugee populations “is an outstanding example of fruitful collaborations grounded in bridge-building with community stakeholders,” she says.

Satellite and Aerial PhotographyPlanet Observer/UIG/Shutterstock

There wouldn’t be detailed maps of parts of Nigeria

When Gates and his team started planning how they would deliver polio vaccines to underserved parts of Nigeria, they realized that detailed maps of certain areas had not yet been made. So using geographic information systems (GIS)—which combines satellites, mobile device, and mapping software capabilities to capture, analyze, and present data as legible and informative maps—they were able to create new, more accurate maps of some of the more remote, rural parts of the country. Here’s how you can use GPS to track just about everything.

Bill Gates, Chicago, USAMike Fisher/AP/Shutterstock

The computer software market as we know it would look different

According to J. Scott Christianson, assistant teaching professor at the University of Missouri, Bill Gates single-handedly created the computer software market. “First by providing basic and other computer language compilers for the Altair, and then an operating system and application software for the IBM PC, Microsoft defined the modern software company,” he tells Reader’s Digest. “Before Bill Gates, third party software developers had to also be hardware developers (Wang, etc.). Microsoft defined most of what we take for granted in a software company—licensing, upgrades, support, etc.—that is independent of the hardware manufacturer. And along the way, had to work through all the distribution, licensing, and regulatory frameworks.”

BILL GATES CHAIRMAN AND CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF MICROSOFT CORPORATIONAustral International/Shutterstock

The automation industry would operate differently

In 1998, Microsoft introduced Windows NT—a game-changer for the automation industry, according to Maryanne Steidinger, head of marketing for Webalo, and a 30 year veteran of the industrial automation manufacturing industry. She explains that it was the first time that it was commercially viable to bring different technology into the market for visualization and process control.

It was easier to code compared to Unix (the only other option at the time) and so the market opened up and hundreds of thousands of developers, and end-users were able to use the technology. “Windows NT was the defining moment that changed automation forever—and it was thanks to Bill Gates and Microsoft. The proliferation now of low-cost solutions, simplicity of coding, and automation at most companies (even the small ones) can be attributed to Bill Gates and his amazing contributions to industry. Without him, I doubt if you would have seen the scale, the adoption, and the proliferation of solutions.” Like Gates, these 22 businesses are also changing the world.

Apple iPhone 11 smartphone officially launched, Shanghai, China - 20 Sep 2019Alex Tai/SOPA Images/Shutterstock

The development of smartphones and apps may have taken longer

When Gates developed a unified system in the 1980s—which allowed software to be created and distributed at a much faster rate—he unknowingly helped pave the way for smartphones, according to Steven Fruchter, CEO of GrowthMed, Inc. “Most people know how when the iPhone and Android came out, how fast everything happened and how many applications were made for them because it was easy for developers to create an application and then have it run on hundreds of different devices,” Fruchter tells Reader’s Digest. Check out this important advice that Bill Gates would give his younger self. 

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The Khan Academy may not exist

Without Gates, high school and college students everywhere would likely be living without Khan Academy which offers free practice exercises, instructional videos, and other learning materials to allow people to study at their own pace in and outside of the classroom. “Students in the United States and abroad wouldn’t benefit from academic support and problem solving that Salman Khan offers,” Bowen explains.

 

Construction site with new Water Pipes in the groundThomBal/Shutterstock

We wouldn’t be as close to developing toilets that don’t require sewers or water lines

Recognizing the importance of having access to toilets, Gates and his foundation hosted the Reinvented Toilet Expo in Beijing in November 2018, hoping to find feasible, scalable solutions to a worldwide sanitation crisis. Specifically, having new, off-grid sanitation products and systems could reduce deaths of half a million children under the age of five each year and the more than $200 billion that is lost due to health care costs and decreased income and productivity, according to the foundation’s website.

“This Expo showcases for the first time radically new, decentralized sanitation technologies and products that are business-ready,” Gates said during the opening plenary of the Reinvented Toilet Expo. “It’s no longer a question of if we can reinvent the toilet and other sanitation systems. It’s a question of how quickly this new category of off-grid solutions will scale.”

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We would know less about certain tropical diseases

In 2016, the Gates Foundation gave a $27 million grant to London’s Natural History Museum as part of an initiative to address neglected tropical diseases. The project will focus on soil-transmitted helminths: a group of parasitic intestinal worms including roundworm, whipworm, and hookworm that can result in diseases with devastating consequences.

“These diseases severely affect quality of life for millions of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. Developing successful strategies to interrupt the transmission of these infections will alleviate this burden, helping to reduce poverty and having a positive economic impact,” museum director Sir Michael Dixon said in a statement.

Pediatric care and child nursing healthcare service concept with kid patient's hands supporting red heart with medical stethoscopeChinnapong/Shutterstock

More than 43 million Filipinos wouldn’t have health insurance

Since 2008, the Gates Foundation has committed more than $225 million to partners who are working to address the tobacco epidemic in more than 30 countries in Africa and Asia. Part of that has gone to the Philippines, where, in 2013, the government implemented the Sin Tax Law, which increased taxes on tobacco by up to 820 percent. As a result, these taxes have financed the enrollment of more than 43 million Filipinos in the country’s health insurance program, according to the Gates Foundation.

Aside from being an attractive tourist spot, Dieng, Central Java, Indonesia also has many geothermal power plants that are fully utilized by local residents.rezky_purnama/Shutterstock

We would have fewer tools to fight climate change

Gates founded the clean-energy investment firm, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, which will invest in promising but underfunded technologies that will help stall climate change. Some project areas include grid-scale storage, liquid fuels, mini-grids, alternative building materials, and geothermal power, CNBC reports. “Breakthroughs in storage—for example, storing energy as heat or in flywheels—would make today’s renewable technology more practical and affordable,” he tells CNBC. These 22 big companies are getting rid of plastic for good.

Blood Test tubes in laboratory , in the hospital.Chompoo Suriyo/Shutterstock

A diagnostic test for Alzheimer’s disease would be further away

In 2017, Gates invested $50 million in the Dementia Discovery Fund, a private-public partnership focused on Alzheimer’s research, marking the first time he made a financial commitment to non-infectious diseases. One of the major objectives of this investment is to create a reliable and affordable test for Alzheimer’s.

“We need a better way of diagnosing Alzheimer’s—like a simple blood test or eye exam—before we’re able to slow the progression of the disease,” Gates wrote in a statement announcing the investment. “Imagine a world where diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease is as simple as getting your blood tested during your annual physical.” Next, read on to find out the 20 books Bill Gates thinks you should read.

Elizabeth Yuko
Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist and writer specializing in health and the intersection of bioethics and popular culture. She is an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University and has written for print and online publications including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, Salon and Playboy, and has given a TEDX talk on The Golden Girls and bioethics.