Do you ever wonder about what goes on in the inner-workings of brilliant minds? Netflix’s Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates, seeks to unveil just this, delving into Gates’ mind by uncovering details of his upbringing, his character-defining relationship with his mother, and his friendships. It also features personal Q&A’s with Mr. Gates and his ever-charming, intellectual and witty wife, Melinda Gates, who describes her husband’s brain as total “chaos.”
But in doing so, the three-part documentary accomplishes more than unearthing Bill Gates’ day-to-day routines, superhuman reading abilities and tremendous successes as the co-founder of Microsoft. What is at the heart of this documentary is Gates’ unquenchable thirst to push the bounds of innovation in order to tackle some of the most pressing global health and environmental issues jeopardizing the planet. Each episode highlights a different philanthropic effort Gates is dedicated to, ranging from ending enteric and diarrheal disease deaths, eradicating polio, and addressing climate change through clean energy solutions (read: advanced nuclear energy) for our future. The philanthropic pioneer will stop at nothing, honorably donating his earnings as the second-richest person on Earth to fight for the greater good of humanity.
Inside Bill’s Brain first focuses on Gate’s efforts to absolve the prevalence of diarrheal disease, which is the second leading cause of death in children under five years old worldwide, killing around 525,000 children in this age range each year. While diarrheal disease is preventable and treatable, the lack of accessibility to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation and sewage systems in developing countries hinders advancements in the prevention, treatment, and solution to this crisis.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are around 1.7 billion annual cases of childhood diarrheal disease globally, and it is a leading cause of malnutrition in children under five. Most cases are spread by feces-contaminated water, and in 2017, it was reported that just 45% of the global population “used a safely managed sanitation service,” (WHO). While this is surely an improvement from the 39% reported in 2015, WHO also reported that “2.0 billion people still do not have basic sanitation facilities such as toilets or latrines, [and] of this number, 673 million still defecate in the open, for example in street gutters, behind bushes or into open bodies of water.” Gates notes that unsafe sanitation costs also puts a “huge economic burden on countries that can least afford it,” costing an estimated $223 billion a year “in the form of higher health costs and lost productivity wages” globally.
So, Gates turned his mind to the toilet (get those potty-talk giggles out now), as a means to achieve better sanitation in the developing world. Gates is determined to implement an alternative to the flush toilet, which would require implementing sewer systems, an option he deems as unfeasible and faulty. Rather, Gates is determined to help foster the invention of a toilet that “operates without connections to water, sewer or electrical lines,” and could rather transpose human waste into energy, safe drinking water, and fertilizer by removing its germs and recovering its “valuable resources.”
How could such an invention be achieved? The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded an initial $200 million to launch the ‘Reinvent the Toilet Challenge” in 2011, where universities across the globe worked on inventing impressive off-grid alternatives. Seven years later in 2018, Gates launched the “Reinvented Toilet Expo” in Beijing, where he gave a bold keynote presentation alongside a jar of human feces, stating: “It’s a good reminder that in (the jar) there could be 200 trillion rotavirus cells, 20 billion Shigella bacteria, and 100,000 parasitic worm eggs,” he said, “In places without safe sanitation, there is much more than one small beaker’s worth in the environment. These and other pathogens cause diseases like diarrhea, cholera, and typhoid that kill nearly 500,000 children under the age of five every year.
At the expo, engineers refined early prototypes to now showcase. Cranfield University impressively invented a toilet that “utilizes a screw to separate urine from feces, burning the waste generates energy to power the screw, so all that’s left is a small pile of ash.” The University of Toronto created a Squat Toilet that “dries, then burns waste to create heat that disinfects the urine.” And CalTech invented a solar-panel powered toilet, that uses an oxygen composting process, with the only byproducts being fertilizer and water for flushing.
Though these toilets require no outside electricity or plumbing, the biggest barrier is the cost. However, some of the models of these toilets have been implemented in developing countries, and recently, one of the largest manufacturing companies in the world, LIXIL, announced it would enter the reinvented toilet market, a huge move toward helping lower the cost of a reinvented toilet. There also have been recent developments in the Tiger Toilet, powered by worms that compost human waste, costing around $350. More than 4,000 have been installed across India and could pose a truly feasible solution. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave around $4.8 million to continue developing the technology. Gates announced at the Beijing conference that he is prepared to donate another $200 million toward the next phase of toilet developments.
So, what does this all say about Bill’s Brain? Well in addition to these efforts, Gate’s is also committed to eradicating polio worldwide, achieving tremendous success in helping to decrease the incidence of polio worldwide by 99 percent globally. Gates is also focused on combatting climate change through advanced nuclear power to create “safe, affordable, abundant carbon-free energy,” founding the nuclear innovation company TerraPower. So, Melinda Gates must be right when she says his mind is “chaos,” remarking that he thrives on complexity, ”Bill has a giant Excel spreadsheet in his head and everything has a spot…. He will be reading something else but then processing at the same time…He makes a framework in his mind, then he starts slotting in the information. If something doesn’t line up, he gets really frustrated… but when Bill stills himself, he can pull ideas together that other people can’t see.” While we may never be able to truly ‘decode’ Bill Gates’ brain, what is evident is that his mind holds the power to solve what everyone else has deemed to be unsolvable.