Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t exactly have the best reputation in the world. The Facebook creator has a bit of a trust issue, to the point where his efforts to offer “free basic internet” to the world has caused a serious backlash with many accusing him of trying to destroy the web as we know it. Hating on ultra rich tech leaders is nothing new … Bill Gates used to get a lot of the same shade as Mark, but now he’s largely revered due to his work through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Whether his reasons are entirely benevolent or not, Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan are following in Bill’s footsteps with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Last year the two declared they’d be dedicating 99 percent of his Facebook shares (valued at around $45 billion) to “personalized learning, curing disease, connecting people and building strong communities.” In April, Zuckerberg sharpened that focus to “curing all disease by the end of the century.” And at a press conference today, the couple detailed their first steps of that journey.
“We spend about 50 times more treating people who are sick than we invest in research so you won’t get sick in the first place,” Zuckerberg said. A chart showing the world’s worst health problems and the amount of deaths they caused per year was shown. The initiative will focus first on the big four: heart disease, infectious disease, cancer, and neurological disease.
“It’s actually pretty easy to imagine what new tools we need to develop to make progress on the four major disease categories,” Zuckerberg said. “AI software to help with imaging the brain to make progress on neurological diseases, machine learning to analyze large databases of cancer genomes, a chip to be able to diagnose any infectious disease, continuous bloodstream monitoring to be able to identify and catch any disease early, or a map of all of the kinds of cell types in our bodies and the different states that they can be in so that people who are designing drugs can reference that to quickly design something for any given disease that’s out there.”
Cell mapping and sequencing is one of the biggest focuses at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s cool sounding Biohub center, and is being run under the even cooler project name Cell Atlas. Another Biohub focus will be the Infectious Disease Project, designed to respond quickly to problems like Zika and Ebola since governments seem to keep failing to do so themselves. They also outlined a plan to offer bounties and rewards to encourage researchers outside their Initiative to work with them. All work done by the Institute will be completely open source.
Google CEO Larry Page once said the world was full of “zero million dollar problems,” meaning problems that only exist because no one is willing to put in a few million in funding to solve them. Eliminating disease is a much bigger goal, but with Zuckerberg willing to pour in his fortune of over $45 billion and growing, who knows what could be achieved? Just having someone looking to cure diseases before they happen rather than profit off treatment after the fact is pretty heartening. Here’s hoping the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has as much success as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Then maybe we’ll hate on him a little less for the stuff we saw in The Social Network.