I’m Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Ask Me Anything.
I’m excited to be back for my fourth AMA.
I already answered a few of the questions I get asked a lot: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GTXt0hq_yQU. But I’m excited to hear what you’re interested in.
Melinda and I recently published our eighth Annual Letter. This year, we talk about the two superpowers we wish we had (spoiler alert: I picked more energy). Check it out here: http://www.gatesletter.com and let me know what you think.
For my verification photo I recreated my high school yearbook photo: http://i.imgur.com/j9j4L7E.jpg
EDIT: I’ve got to sign off. Thanks for another great AMA: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZiFFOOcElLg
I will look into this. How many empires do you need?
Come on Reddit! We can make this the top question!
I think you did - sorry I can't deliver an Empire (or an Age) easily.
Bill, would you pick up $40,000 if you found it on the sidewalk? Referencing this video.
EDIT - Your proof is amazing.
Since our Foundation can basically save a life for every $1,000 we spend I would pick it up since that would be enough to save 40 lives which is a big deal.
What's your fastest time in expert minesweeper without editing the .ini file?
Sometimes you just get very lucky based on the configuration. I forget the exact time but I think I had a time below 10 when it was just right.
Some people (Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, etc) have come out in favor of regulating Artificial Intelligence before it is too late. What is your stance on the issue, and do you think humanity will ever reach a point where we won't be able to control our own artificially intelligent designs?
I haven't seen any concrete proposal on how you would do the regulation. I think it is worth discussing because I share the view of Musk and Hawking that when a few people control a platform with extreme intelligence it creates dangers in terms of power and eventually control.
What's a technological advancement that's come about in the past few years that you think we were actually better off without?
I am concerned about biological tools that could be used by a bioterrorist. However the same tools can be used for good things as well.
Some people think Hoverboards were bad because they caught on fire. I never got to try one.
As a tagalong question: what's a fantasy technological advancement you wish existed?
I recently saw a company working on "robotic" surgery where the ability to work at small scales was stunning. The idea that this will make surgeries higher quality, faster and less expensive is pretty exciting. It will probably take a decade before this gets mainstream - to date it has mostly been used for prostate surgery.
In the Foundation work there are a lot of tools we are working on we don't have yet. For example an implant to protect a woman from getting HIV because it releases a protective drug.
Hey Bill! Has there been a problem or challenge that's made you, as a billionaire, feel completely powerless? Did you manage to overcome it, and if so, how?
Now for a less serious question: sushi or thai food?
Thanks for doing this AMA!
The problem of how we prevent a small group of terrorists using nuclear or biological means to kill millions is something I worry about. If Government does their best work they have a good chance of detecting it and stopping it but I don't think it is getting enough attention and I know I can't solve it.
I love both sushi and thai food. Since I like them better than my family does I have them for lunch a lot.
Are there any purchases that you are adamant about being frugal over? That one thing you just won’t spend much money on?
I think people's spending instincts are set when they are in high school. I don't like spending a lot of money on clothes or jewelry (for me - I do like to buy nice things for my wife).
What do you see human society accomplishing in the next 20 years? What are you most excited for?
I will mention three things.
First is an energy innovation to lower the cost and get rid of green house gases. This isn't guaranteed so we need a lot of public and private risk taking.
EDIT: I talked about this recently in my annual letter: https://www.gatesnotes.com/2016-Annual-Letter
Second is progress on disease particularly infectious disease. Polio, Malaria, HIV, TB, etc.. are all diseases we should be able to either eliminate of bring down close to zero. There is amazing science that makes us optimistic this will happen.
Third are tools to help make education better - to help teachers learn how to teach better and to help students learn and understand why they should learn and reinforce their confidence.
What's your take on the recent FBI/Apple situation?
I think there needs to be a discussion about when the government should be able to gather information. What if we had never had wiretapping? Also the government needs to talk openly about safeguards. Right now a lot of people don't think the government has the right checks to make sure information is only used in criminal situations. So this case will be viewed as the start of a discussion. I think very few people take the extreme view that the government should be blind to financial and communication data but very few people think giving the government carte blanche without safeguards makes sense. A lot of countries like the UK and France are also going through this debate. For tech companies there needs to be some consistency including how governments work with each other. The sooner we modernize the laws the better.
so what would you do if you were apple?
Maybe they could propose an overall plan for striking the balance between government being able to know things in some cases and having safeguards to make sure those powers are confined to appropriate cases. There is no avoiding this debate and they could contribute to how the balance should be struck.
Hello Mr. Gates,
You have previously said that, through organizations like Khan Academy and Wikipedia and the Internet in general, getting access to knowledge is now easier than ever. While that is certainly true, K-12 education seems to have stayed frozen in time.
How do you think the school system will or should change in the decades to come?
Thank you for continually coming back to reddit to let us ask you anything!
I agree that our schools have not improved as much as we want them to. There are a lot of great teachers but we don't do enough to figure out what they do so well and make sure others benefit from that. Most teachers get very little feedback about what they do well and what they need to improve including tools that let them see what the exemplars are doing.
Technology is starting to improve education. Unfortunately so far it is mostly the motivated students who have benefited from it. I think we will get tools like personalized learning to all students in the next decade.
A lot of the issue is helping kids stay engaged. If they don't feel the material is relevant or they don't have a sense of their own ability they can check out too easily. The technology has not done enough to help with this yet.
Mr. Gates! How soon do you think quantum computing will catch on, and what do you think about the future of cryptography if it does? Thanks!
Microsoft and others are working on quantum computing. It isn't clear when it will work or become mainstream. There is a chance that within 6-10 years that cloud computing will offer super-computation by using quantum. It could help use solve some very important science problems including materials and catalyst design.
Bill, why aren't you running for president?
I like my current job at the Foundation better than I would being President. Also I wouldn't be good at doing what you need to do to get elected. I thought Michael Bloomberg was thoughtful about why it didn't make sense for him to try and run even though he is a great executive.
Or Warren. Tell your ol' pal Mr Buffet to run.
Warren also loves his current job too much to give it up!
You dance anymore?
Edit: Relevant https://m.imgur.com/YpsPXwy.gifv
Not much. Jimmy Fallon had me dance in a video but the hard stuff was not done by me. When I am at weddings I get to dance.
What's your fondest memory at Harvard?
I decided that I would be different and never attend any class I was signed up for but always attend a class I wasn't signed up for. This worked out in a funny way when the final exam for a Combinatorics class (which I signed up for) was given at the same table as my Brain studies class (which I attended and did not sign up for). My friends from Brain studies thought it was very strange that I sat on the wrong side of the table and took the Combinatorics exam even when I was the most vocal student in the Brain class.
How did this even work? You passed the classes you didn't attend?
I studied super hard during reading period and almost always got A's. The big exception was organic chemistry where the promised video tapes of the lectures sometimes had no sound or no video - that spooked me and I ended up getting a C+ in the course!
Sql server on Linux was announced yesterday as I'm sure you are aware. What do you think this means or says about the company's direction, culture and future?
I think it shows Satya looking at how the market is changing and being willing to change how things have been done. His embrace of the cloud and mobile including doing software on other people's mobile platforms are also great examples of that.
What are your thoughts on the many politicians that completely disregard climate change?
Politics operates in 4 years cycles and climate change is a challenge that needs decades of work to reduce green house gas emission. I am disappointed that the US is where the debate has been the most difficult. November in Paris was a positive milestone with a commitment to reductions and a commitment to innovation by the governments and private sector.
I'm about to graduate high school, do you have any life tips that I should know about moving forward in my life?
I think the value of getting a great education - that is going to college - is easy to underestimate. The most interesting jobs require a college education. The STEM related jobs are probably the most interesting although they are not for everyone. The value of staying curious - reading a lot and learning new things even after college is also underestimated.
What's your personal computer specs?
I just recently switched to the Surface Book. I only detach the screen a few times a week and I like the keyboard better than my previous Surface.
Hello Mr. Gates,
I know you love to read, carry a lot of books around and learned how to speed-read, is there some technique you use to make this easier? More generally, how do you "attack" a book you're interested in?
It is worth learning how to read a bit faster. I am not sure what the best course for that is nowadays. I had a friend who took Evelyn Wood and told me what they said.
I have a rule that I always finish a book once I start it. This might now work for everyone. I only read 2 books at a time - in fact usually just one unless one of them is so complex I need to mix things up. I read a lot at night and my biggest problem is that I stay up to late and regret it the next day when I haven't had as much sleep as I would like.
Any plans to retire and enjoy a quieter life? It strikes me that you must be sacrificing a lot to remain so active on these projects.
I love my work. I love meeting the scientists and field workers. I have the flexibility to work less if I wanted to and I do take vacations now. When I was in my 20's I didn't believe in vacation so I have mellowed. I feel super lucky that I can be involved in the Foundation work with Melinda for another 30 years assuming my health holds up.
Hi Bill! You began Microsoft with the easy goal of putting a computer in every home. If you were to start all over today, what would your goal be instead?
I think it looks easier in retrospect than it did at the time. People thought we were a bit crazy - even leaders in the industry like Ken Olsen said they didn't need a computer at home. Being young allowed us to think about computers in a different way.
Today the challenge is to make computers more intelligent. Software still doesn't understand what thing I should pay attention to next - in fact the proliferation of various tools like texting and email and notifications mean the user has a lot of complexity to deal with. Eventually the software will understand what you should pay attention to by knowing the context and learning about your preferences.
What was the most useful thing you ever learned?
To read? To type? To think before speaking?
I'm gonna take a wild guess and say it was probably programming.
Programming does help you think logically. I was obsessed with programming from age 14 to 19 and that is a good time to keep trying to improve.
I recently saw Pirates of Silicon Valley, a film that claims to portray both Apple and Microsoft's rise to fame. Regarding that, I have a few questions for you, Mr. Gates.
- Have you seen this movie, and if so did it seem accurate in portraying yourself and Steve Jobs??
- If you could go back in time and do it all over again, would you do anything different?
- Any other interesting run-ins with the government besides the Porsche 911 incident?
- Would you rather jump a horse-sized chair or 100 chair-sized horses?
- What's your biggest "first world problem"?
- What version of Windows do you use?
Thank you for taking the time to handle all these AMAs.
Pirates of Silicon Valley was a reasonable recapitulation of the early days of the PC industry.
I don't jump chairs at all now. Maybe I should since when I go snow skiing with my kids I need more exercise so I don't get tired by the end of the day.
I use the latest version of Windows - always updated Windows 10.
Afternoon Mr. Gates,
I was curious about your thoughts on VR. We've all seen the great strides in AR made by the Hololens but nothing on VR from you guys at this time. Does that market interest you?
VR is the extreme case of AR when nothing from the real world gets mixed in. It can be tricky if you are walking around that you might run into things. Mixed systems which seems like VR but when you might hit something it shows you that seem better than pure VR. So I don't think these two things will stay as separate as they are now.
Would you consider marrying Melinda to be one of the top three decisions of your life?
Because I do! :)
You are correct! I would put it at the top. Deciding to work on software was a good decision but that just crept up on me rather than being some choice.
What do you think will be the next biggest advancement in technology in the next 20 years?
I think robots that have vision and manipulation as good as humans is a huge milestone that will happen in the next decade and is being underestimated.
I think medical advances will also be amazing and unbelievable. Like the robots some of the capabilities like gene editing will bring challenges with them.
Hi, Mr Gates! Big fan of your work.
For someone that's currently 17 years old, what can I do to help or improve the world either now or in the future?
Also, if you could give 17 year old Bill some advice, what would it be?
I hope some people your age take on the need to innovate in energy. Most breakthrough things are done by young people and we need to surprise people with new ideas. The value of cheaper energy is hard to overstate.
I also hope your generation focuses on helping poor countries solve their health and education problems. The more people see themselves as global citizens rather than only being focused on one country the better.
EDIT Melinda and I wrote our annual letter this year to teenagers because you’re the ones who will ultimately be solving these problems: https://www.gatesnotes.com/2016-Annual-Letter
Mr. Gates, can we please have another Age of Empires? Not sure if this is your department, but I figured I'd ask since you were here...
Edit: Bill plz I know you can see this.
Edit 2: First gold, thanks stranger! Just goes to show the power of reddit. One of the most powerful people on the planet came here to discuss humanitarian issues, and all we want to do is discuss video games.
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