I’m excited to be back for my fifth AMA.

Melinda and I recently published our latest Annual Letter: http://www.gatesletter.com.

This year it’s addressed to our dear friend Warren Buffett, who donated the bulk of his fortune to our foundation in 2006. In the letter we tell Warren about the impact his amazing gift has had on the world.

My idea for a David Pumpkins sequel at Saturday Night Live didn't make the cut last Christmas, but I thought it deserved a second chance: https://youtu.be/56dRczBgMiA.

Proof: https://twitter.com/BillGates/status/836260338366459904

Edit: Great questions so far. Keep them coming: http://imgur.com/ECr4qNv

Edit: I’ve got to sign off. Thank you Reddit for another great AMA. And thanks especially to: https://youtu.be/3ogdsXEuATs

Comments: 17164 • Responses: 29  • Date: 

suaveitguy10274 karma

What are the limits of money when it comes to philanthropy?

thisisbillgates11355 karma

Philanthropy is small as a part of the overall economy so it can't do things like fund health care or education for everyone. Government and the private sector are the big players so philanthropy has to be more innovative and fund pilot programs to help the other sectors. A good example is funding new medicines or charter schools where non-obvious approaches might provide the best solution.

One thing that is a challenge for our Foundation is that poor countries often have weak governance - small budgets, and the people in the ministries don't have much training. This makes it harder to get things done.

If we had more money we could do more good things - even though we are the biggest foundation we are still resource limited.

Edit: We discuss this in our annual letter this year: www.gatesletter.com

Navarath8344 karma

Do you ever disguise yourself and just walk around incognito?

thisisbillgates17984 karma

I sometimes wear a hat. For example when I did college tours with my son I wanted the focus to be totally on him. A lot less people recognize me when I have a hat on or else they realize I am trying to be incognito.

Mostly when people do recognize me they are super nice so I don't feel it is a burden to be noticed most of the time.

TooShiftyForYou7825 karma

Can you still jump over an office chair from a standing position?

Edit: Reference for those who need it.

thisisbillgates12178 karma

No. Perhaps a small chair - a stool. I do exercise and ski but my main sport is tennis which doesn't involve jumping. Some people jump over the net but that isn't part of the sport.

qaziee7357 karma

What kind of technological advancement do you wish to see in your lifetime?

thisisbillgates14822 karma

The big milestone is when computers can read and understand information like humans do. There is a lot of work going on in this field - Google, Microsoft, Facebook, academia,... Right now computers don't know how to represent knowledge so they can't read a text book and pass a test.

Another whole area is vaccines. We need a vaccine for HIV, Malaria and TB and I hope we have them in the next 10-15 years.

badoo1233288 karma

Just wanted to reply to say that I love you Bill

thisisbillgates4344 karma


fortunefvrsthebold5974 karma

In your talk at Columbia University last month, you and Warren Buffet both emphasized the importance of “curiosity” as a personal quality.

Do you believe curiosity is a trait that is naturally inherited or a trait that can be cultivated and strengthened? If the latter, what methods would you recommend for people to develop and stimulate their own curiosity?

thisisbillgates7425 karma

Good question. I think having parents and teachers reinforce your curiosity and explain what they are fascinated with makes a big difference. A lot of people lose their curiosity as they get older which is a shame. One thing that helps nowadays is that if you get confused about something it is easier than ever to find an article or video to make things clear.

dick-nipples3469 karma

What are you most curious about, Bill?

thisisbillgates5775 karma

I still find the creation of life and the way the brain works the most fascinating areas. Nick Lane has some great books exploring what we know about how life started. It is amazing how little we know about the brain still but I expect we will know a lot more in 10 years.

terrashine5820 karma

Hey Bill! I have a question pertaining to an issue in the U.S. and it's one that we're all get sick of hearing.

Do you think social media - and perhaps the internet in general - has played a role in helping divide this country?

Instead of expanding knowledge and obtaining greater understandings of the world, many people seem to use it to

1) seek and spread information - including false information - confirming their existing biases and beliefs, and

2) converse and interact only with others who share their worldview

(these are things I'm guilty of doing myself)

Follow up q: What steps should we take to help bridge this social, cultural, economic, educational and regional divide?

thisisbillgates7322 karma

This is a great question. I felt sure that allowing anyone to publish information and making it easy to find would enhance democracy and the overall quality of political debate. However the partitioning you talk about which started on cable TV and might be even stronger in the digital world is a concern. We all need to think about how to avoid this problem. It would seem strange to have to force people to look at ideas they disagree with so that probably isn't the solution. We don't want to get to where American politics partitions people into isolated groups. I am interested in anyones suggestion on how we avoid this.

UncomfortableChuckle5522 karma

If you could give 19 year old Bill Gates some advice, what would it be?

thisisbillgates13744 karma

I would explain that smartness is not single dimensional and not quite as important as I thought it was back then. I would say you might explore the developing world before you get into your forties. I wasn't very good socially back then but I am not sure there is advice that would fix that - maybe I had to be awkward and just grow up....

sushideception4825 karma

What do you think is the most pressing issue that we could feasibly solve in the next ten years?

thisisbillgates10678 karma

A lot of people feel a sense of isolation. I still wonder if digital tools can help people find opportunities to get together with others - not Tinder but more like adults who want to mentor kids or hang out with each other. It is great that kids go off and pursue opportunities but when you get communities where the economy is weak and a lot of young people have left then something should be done to help.

simonlecomber3593 karma

Hello Bill Gates. What is your idea of success?

thisisbillgates9766 karma

Warren Buffett has always said the measure is whether the people close to you are happy and love you. It is also nice to feel like you made a difference - inventing something or raising kids or helping people in need.

Exekias3473 karma

Why do you think our healthcare systems have such a hard time leveraging the revolutionary changes in scalability that we've seen in software? Amazon is able to predict what we want, often before we realize we want it, but healthcare systems struggle to even schedule routine appointments and labs.

Having worked on both the healthcare and tech sides, I think people underestimate just how big the differences are between the two fields, but I have a hard time saying who needs to bend more for us to reach a happy compromise. Also, any idea on what we as concerned patients and family members can help to encourage this compromise? I just feel like we're so close to using technology to improve efficiency and thus increase accessibility to care.

Thanks for your time!

thisisbillgates3384 karma

It is super important to improve our healthcare system - both to reduce chronic disease but if we don't do better health costs will squeeze out spending on all other government functions.

I agree it is surprising how tough it has been to get digital medical records right and to learn from looking at those records.

Still there are some very promising things going on. For example the idea of looking at a blood sample to find cancer very early so it can be treated. We will be able to use genomic data to tune treatments.

There are a few big problems like diabetes, obesity and neurological conditions including Alzheimer's that we really need to solve.

My_Diet_DrKelp3394 karma

Ok, Mr. Gates, what's a typical Bill sandwich consist of? I'm talking breads, meats, cheeses, condiments. if you could only have one sandwich on earth, what would it be?

thisisbillgates9718 karma

Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger.

INeedGentleHands3110 karma

What do you personally find as your greatest achievement?

thisisbillgates7178 karma

Although the Foundation work is super promising and will be the biggest thing over the decades ahead I still think the chance to be part of the software revolution empowering people was the biggest thing I have gotten to do.

Right now I am very focused on making sure we successfully eradicate polio - that will be amazing if we do it - as good as shipping even the best software product.

IT_guys_rule2736 karma

If you could create a new IP and business with Elon Musk, what would you make happen?

thisisbillgates5456 karma

We need clean, reliable cheap energy - which we don't have. It is too bad the sun doesn't shine all the time and the wind doesn't blow all the time. The Economist had a good piece on this this week. So we need some invention - perhaps miracle batteries or super safe nuclear or making sun into gasoline directly.

zgold21922531 karma

I have to know.. I saw what you got your secret Santa this year and it was amazing but what did YOU end up receiving?

Edit: Helpful Redditors answered my question below so thank you!! Follow up---- what did you think of it and what would you suggest to get you, if I were lucky enough to pull your name this year?

thisisbillgates3649 karma

A contribution to Rotary to help end polio is a gift I would appreciate. Also any great book you have read and found interesting.

frumious882529 karma

I am sure you have traveled to all types of famous places.

Do you have a favorite vacation spot?

thisisbillgates4919 karma

Australia is particularly nice. It is summer there when it is winter here so going there in December and January is especially nice. I spent Thanksgiving there last year.

I have gotten to travel to a lot of great places like the Amazon in Brazil which I recommend.

FluffyTopicsOnly1800 karma

Mr Gates!

Any thoughts on the current state of the U.S.?

thisisbillgates3687 karma

Overall like Warren Buffett I am optimistic about the long run. I am concerned in the short run that the huge benefits of how the US works with other countries may get lost. This includes the aid we give to Africa to help countries there get out of the poverty trap.

hooshtin1712 karma

Hi Bill,

I'm going to become a father this summer. Do you have any advice you wouldn't mind sharing, from one dad to a dad-to-be?


thisisbillgates2820 karma

I just went on a trip with my 17 year old son to see 6 colleges. He is a junior in High School and trying to figure out where he should go. Trips like that have been a great way to spend time together. He reads even more about politics than I do so I let him pick books for me to read.

Melinda is very creative about helping me find chances to spend time with the kids. Even just driving them to school is a great time to talk to them.

HalesOwnShrek1542 karma

Did you copy Steve Jobs or did he copy you?

thisisbillgates4138 karma

The main "copying" that went on relative to Steve and me is that we both benefited from the work that Xerox Parc did in creating graphical interface - it wasn't just them but they did the best work. Steve hired Bob Belville, I hired Charles Simonyi. We didn't violate any IP rights Xerox had but their work showed the way that led to the Mac and Windows.

TitusRex1524 karma

What do you think about Universal Basic Income?

thisisbillgates2579 karma

Over time countries will be rich enough to do this. However we still have a lot of work that should be done - helping older people, helping kids with special needs, having more adults helping in education. Even the US isn't rich enough to allow people not to work. Some day we will be but until then things like the Earned Income Tax Credit will help increase the demand for labor.

V6Oscar1231274 karma

Hi Bill, what's the biggest 1st world problem you get?

thisisbillgates2901 karma

I would say education is the key problem. If you can solve that then it helps with a lot of things.

Maybe I didn't understand the question - maybe it supposed to be some idiosyncratic thing that bothers me....

Mabenga988 karma

Where do you see yourself in 15 years?

thisisbillgates2892 karma

I will be 76 at that time. Hopefully a grandfather. The Foundation with its partners will have eradicated a number of diseases and health in poor countries will be a lot better - specifically instead of 5% of children under 5 dying it should be at 2.5% which is still a lot.

I hope I can still type fast enough to do Reddit sessions without someone transcribing for me.

Maxidaz835 karma

Bill, big fan but I've got a question and I need you to formally settle it.

Is a hot dog a sandwich?

thisisbillgates1743 karma

Good question. If you don't have a bun then it absolutely is not. If you slice the hot dog and put it on a normal piece of bread (like Burgermaster) then it is. When you use a hot dog bun then it is ambiguous.

suaveitguy741 karma


thisisbillgates2304 karma

I am not sure if Steam here means the gaming platform or adding Arts to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. I have always been a big STEM fan but I have nothing against either STEAM.

hiredantispammer565 karma

Hi Mr. Gates!

Thanks for doing this AMA! You are doing a lot of work eradicating diseases like Polio. In fact you've said that the diseases malaria and polio could be eradicated within the next 15 years, with polio gone as soon as 2019. I'd like to know which other deadly diseases that you think could be either 100% curable affordably or gone completely by 2050?

And one more thing, you have said previously that you think AI can pose a serious threleat to humanity. I'd like to ask, apart from a killswitch, which other precautionary measures we could take to ensure that AI behaves well and doesn't wipe us out?,

Thanks a lot Mr. Gates!

thisisbillgates864 karma

One thing to make sure the people who create the first strong AI have the right values and ideally that it isn't just one group way out in front of others. I am glad to see this question being discussed. Google and others are taking it seriously.

sraffetto6529 karma

Hi Bill and thanks for doing this. I recently read 2017 annual letter in response to Warren Buffet on the impact of his donation (2006) to your foundation, and the world it serves, and I thought the information you highlighted was incredibly powerful and insightful. For those of us that cannot start our own foundation, or even if we could, how do you recommend finding a cause worth fighting for? Clearly your access to information and resources has allowed you to isolate some of the world's larger problems and find those folks who can actually make a difference. But where did you start? (For those who haven't seen it- https://www.gatesnotes.com/2017-Annual-Letter?WT.mc_id=02_14_2017_02_AL2017GFO_GF-GFO_&WT.tsrc=GFGFO)

Lastly, can I ask for your opinion on the status of the world refugee crisis. I've seen a lot of information on both sides of the fence, but I think I lean towards the belief that charity/donations need go into these communities and the folks that relocate are often the top thinkers/earners that could truly change their home country if they stayed. Here is a rather oversimplified video that summarizes the basis of my thoughts, I'd love to hear your view on all of this. (Poverty/refugee by numbers- https://youtu.be/LPjzfGChGlE)

Thanks again for taking the time. You truly are a visionary, role model, and hero without a cape to many of us worldwide.

Edit: formatting

thisisbillgates725 karma

There are so many ways to get involved - schools have mentorship and volunteering opportunities. Small gifts to things like Donors Choose have a big impact. I think most people start getting involved in local social service organizations. If you can travel to developing countries and see the needs there that is also great. It is great to start philanthropy when you are young.

In the long run the way to avoid refugee problems is to help countries develop by having good health, education and governance - fortunately the overall trend is good despite huge setbacks like Syria, South Sudan and Somalia. Unicef has a lot of good information about how to help with the current refugee challenges: http://uni.cf/2ltdjfr

NaruEmi3000136 karma

Hey, Mr. Gates! Was there any book that helped you through your career?

thisisbillgates285 karma

I have recommended a book called Business Adventures that chronicles some big successes and failures - I learned a lot from that.

Privacyrise35 karma

Mr. Gates, how do you feel about President Trump and his views on global climate change?

thisisbillgates6 karma

I hope his administration will decide that funding R&D to invent the next generation of energy (clean, cheap, reliable) is a good deal for the US and for the world. Climate change requires cooperation between countries over a period of decades but we don't have much time to waste.