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Bill Gates is more worried about bio-terrorism than robots

Bill Gates has warned that governments and researchers need to prepare for bio-terrorism attacks and unintentional outbreaks of particularly virulent diseases to avoid the deaths of tens of millions of people in the future.

The Microsoft co-founder turned philanthropist delivered the warning on Saturday at a security conference in Munich, saying that the threat posed by malicious actors is significant if they manage to engineer bio-weapons, which is arguably easier than ever given developments in technology.

“The next epidemic could originate on the computer screen of a terrorist intent on using genetic engineering to create a synthetic version of the smallpox virus […] or a super contagious and deadly strain of the flu,” Gates said, according to The Guardian, adding that just because a widescale pandemic hasn’t happened in the last 100 years, it’s still a very real threat.

With little re-assurance, Gates went on to liken preparedness for a global healthcare catastrophe to being “every bit as important as nuclear deterrence,” though he did offer a bone of consolation, saying that advances in bio-technology and new drugs could help stop the spread of potential future disease outbreaks.

Meanwhile, earlier in the week, just as the European Parliament found that robots shouldn’t be subject to additional taxes to offset the effect on jobs and industry, Gates took the opposite position. In an interview with Quartz, he argued that by levying an additional tax on the use of robots in place of humans, additional jobs could be created in roles that are particularly well suited to people, like taking care of elderly people or kids.

“At a time when people are saying that the arrival of that robot is a net loss because of displacement, you ought to be willing to raise the tax level and even slow down the speed of that adoption somewhat to figure out, ‘OK, what about the communities where this has a particularly big impact? Which transition programs have worked and what type of funding do those require.’You cross the threshold of job-replacement of certain activities all sort of at once.”

Therefore, by allowing taxation, as an example, you could offset some of the threat posed by robot workers, he says.

With factories like Qualcomm already replacing tens of thousands of workers with robots it’s a question that’ll need an answer sooner rather than later, provided a biological disaster doesn’t take care of things first, of course.

Related: Bill Gates says AR and VR won’t stay separate forever

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