billgatesBill Gates does not have high hopes for Google’s plan to provide Internet access to the developing world through a network of balloons.

Gates spoke critically of the project in a new interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek about a variety of topics relating to his philanthropy through the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and the technology industry. While Gates said that he remains an optimist, many of his comments focused on what he saw tech industry folks doing wrong in the realm of improving the world.

Google has claimed that “Project Loon,” an idea from its Google X team, would help improve healthcare outcomes in the developing world by giving people access to medical information at 3G speeds. Gates thinks that’s bunk.

“When you’re dying of malaria, I suppose you’ll look up and see that balloon, and I’m not sure how it’ll help you. When a kid gets diarrhea, no, there’s no website that relieves that. Certainly I’m a huge believer in the digital revolution. And connecting up primary-health-care centers, connecting up schools, those are good things. But no, those are not, for the really low-income countries, unless you directly say we’re going to do something about malaria.”

Google's illustration of Project Loon
Google’s illustration of Project Loon

He also had strong words for fellow tech moguls who have thrown their weight behind going into space exploration, saying that he didn’t see how it would improve the human condition.

“Everybody’s got their own priorities. In terms of improving the state of humanity, I don’t see the direct connection. I guess it’s fun, because you shoot rockets up in the air. But it’s not an area that I’ll be putting money into.”

While Gates didn’t call out specific people in the interview, one of the members of the tech elite who’s focused on going into space is former Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who founded Stratolaunch Systems.

Previously on GeekWire: GeekWire Radio: Bill Gates on tech, philanthropy, robots, and why you don’t want be a billionaire

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  • RobertinSeattle

    When you’re dying of malaria, I suppose you’ll look up and see that Windows 8 tablet, and I’m not sure how it’ll help you.

    Maybe – just maybe – that doctor out in that remote village giving out those shots you’re providing just might need some backup and support when he’s out there in the wilderness actually doing the work of vaccination? Or those school children you’ve just saved from malaria might just have access to knowledge that they couldn’t receive from the books they do not have?

    This is one of the most egregious and ignorant NIH (not-invented-here) comments I have ever heard from someone who has long been named as a visionary and worldly philanthropist.


    • Jim K

      Gates is neither worldly, never was visionary, and his cred as a philanthropist can be arguably partly deconstructed by careful examination of even what’s publicly known about his charitable trusts. I.e., don’t worry about Bill and his heirs going shoeless any time soon.

      And that’s without examining the whole fetid history of how he got into the position of having so much wealth to manage. Even JP Morgan, John D. Rockefeller Sr. and others in the “Trusts” that Teddy Roosevelt “busted,” while world-class ravagers in their own right, are more sympathetic characters to me .

      I been having years-long arguments about this with a friend whose son is an MS honcho, and she’d almost convinced me I was being too harsh.

      However, his holier than thou-ness here is not only thoroughly offensive, but also utterly wrong on the vision part.

      I.e., if we don’t become a space-faring civilization we likely won’t be a civilization at for long, IMO. And without space visionaries there would be, for example, no world-wide web at all at this point).

      So put that in your Tang glass and drink it, Bill.

    • Guest

      Maybe – just maybe – years spent on the ground and studying the issues in detail makes Gates more knowledgeable about the enormity of the situation than you? And while you apparently have a high regard for your own intelligence, I’m quite sure Bill is capable of envisioning and considering every corner case scenario you’re capable of coming up with. So when he says this isn’t a great idea relative to the overall need, maybe – just maybe – you should consider it for a second, instead of discounting it out of hand?

  • RobertinSeattle

    To “Guest” who chooses to attack me personally as an anonymous troll instead of having a real identity:

    While I don’t know you, you certainly don’t know me either. So who the hell are you to come right out and attack me with no basis? Can you honestly say you’ve made a million dollars in your lifetime? Or given it away to a philanthropic project? I have. Until you know who you’re attacking, keep your personal opinions to yourself.

    My point to Bill Gates’ comments were simply intended to point out that no one holds the exclusivity on philanthropy. Or ideas for that matter. If Bill Gates chooses to put a lot of his foundation’s focus on eliminating malaria, that’s his prerogative. But to openly declare that your project is the only real deal and that no one else has anything else worth pursuing “to save the world” smacks of what I called NIH (not invented here) syndrome. None of us can truly ever know the consequences of Google – or others – from trying to create a global network for the poorest of the poor to access information freely that the rest of us take for granted. As I stated, that doctor who just happens to need information to save that one child in the remote village where he’s giving out those malaria shots could just as easily be the beneficiary of this proposed technology. Who is anyone to try and second-guess the work of others? And I mean ANYONE. Not you. Not me. Not Bill Gates. And I rather doubt that Bill needs your attitude to defend his words.

    Nothing goes unrelated in this globe whether it’s in the fight against disease, fighting hunger or educating the masses.

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