‘To help banish or manage all disease’
In the movie “The Social Network,” which tells of the beginnings of what would be Facebook and the legal tussle over its ownership and management, FB founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, played by Jesse Eisenberg, is portrayed as a sloppy, arrogant and single-minded techie. As the movie tells it, Zuckerberg founded his social media company mainly as a means to attract women and have men “rate” them according to physical attributes. The film also implied that he founded FB to get back at former girlfriends.
In 2014, Zuckerberg met with reporters at FB headquarters and talked for the first time about the movie, saying that “feelings had been hurt” by the feature that was released in 2010.
More specifically, he said the movie had “made up a bunch of stuff that I found kind of hurtful.” For starters, as I remember it, the movie portrays the FB founder as a loner, if not a misogynist. In real life, though, at the time covered by the movie, Zuckerberg was in a serious relationship with a woman who is now his wife, the mother of his newborn daughter.
In the years since “The Social Network” was released, though, FB has grown into the dominant presence in social media (in fact, it defines social media). And Zuckerberg, despite his laid-back persona, has steadily begun to burnish his public image and transform himself into a philanthropist, in the mold of the “other” dominant presence in the techie field, Bill Gates.
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Just this week, Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, a pediatrician, publicly pledged $3 billion over the next decade “to help banish or manage all disease,” with some of that amount to be directed toward “innovative research.”
Speaking at the launch of the “Chan Zuckerberg Initiative” in San Francisco, the FB founder admitted they were taking on a “big goal.” But, he explained, “we spent the last few years speaking with experts who think it is possible, so we dug in.”
When the couple had their daughter Max last year, they pledged to donate 99 percent of their Facebook holdings, or some $45 billion, to “advance human potential and promote equality.” By providing a timeline to their pledge, the couple are in effect showing their determination to put their plan into action at once. They clarified that while their funding goal stretches over the next decade, they really “hope to achieve their objective by the end of this century.” Zuckerberg added that the end goal is really “to cure all disease, or at least turn catastrophic illnesses from terminal to manageable or preventable” within their daughter’s lifetime.
A report adds that “Chan, fighting back tears at times, said that curing all disease within Max’s lifetime will not mean children won’t ever get sick, but it would happen less often and be less severe.”
Indeed, the billions of dollars being poured into research and projects to eradicate major diseases have grown tremendously over the last decades, with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation leading the way with funding to fight tuberculosis and malaria around the world, and to also promote global family planning and reproductive health. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative can only speed up and streamline these efforts further.
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A report says the first investment being made as part of the “collective” effort will be $600 million for the creation of a “Biohub” in San Francisco where, it is reported, “researchers, scientists and others will work to build tools to better study and understand diseases.”
Zuckerberg told the audience at the event that “throughout the history of science, most breakthroughs have been preceded by the invention of some new technology that lets you see things in new ways,” mentioning, among other things, the microscope and DNA sequencing.
The Biohub, said the report, will bring together engineers and scientists from three prestigious California universities to help build the tools and put them into full use. “This is hard and we need to be patient; that’s important,” Zuckerberg said.
Renowned neuroscientist Cori Bargmann of Rockefeller University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute was brought on to lead the project.
Aside from funding large research projects, Zuckerberg and Chan said they hoped the initiative would “power a movement to fund more medical research around the world.”
Also present at the event was Bill Gates, who praised the couple for taking on a “very bold, very ambitious challenge,” adding: “I have no doubt they will make progress.”
Gates also said he hopes Zuckerberg and Chan will set an example for a younger generation of the superwealthy, noting that they “are inspiring a whole new generation of philanthropists who will do amazing things.”
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Perhaps it’s time to ask what other billionaires around the world plan to do with their wealth, if they would be willing to follow the example of the Gateses and Zuckerbergs of the world.
After all, one can only have so much room in one’s vaults, closets, or storage rooms for designer bags and shoes, couture, jewelry, or “toys for big boys.” What would one more sports car or limousine mean to someone who has one or two or more garages full of such automobiles? How much more luxury does one person need in this world?
Perhaps the fact that the super rich could seemingly walk away from their great wealth to fund projects to make life better for everyone on this planet should tell all of us, whatever our station in life, that money—and the goods it can buy—is good only while we’re on this earth. Indeed, you can’t take it with you. But you can leave with a good name and the gratitude of humanity.
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