Answering questions about everything from his favorite book (The Better Angels of our Nature) to his favorite band (Weezer) to the Microsoft product he wished made it to the market (WinFS), Bill Gates just completed his first Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) this morning.
The Microsoft co-founder and chairman touched on a variety of subjects, whether it was the computer he currently uses or the cheapest thing that gives him the most pleasure.
His humor also came through and especially with his closing remarks. “I’d just like to leave you with the thought that helping others can be very gratifying,” he wrote, leaving a link to an image that Gates is trying to delete from the internet.
Here’s a recap of all the questions and answers:
What are your thoughts on the push against the open and free Internet that we have been seeing in the recent past and present (such as sopa, etc)?
Gates: There are two things this could reference. One is the free/pay for software mix. The Internet has benefited from having lots of free stuff and lots of commercial software. It has been interesting see people inventing hybrid models. Even stuff that is pretty commercial often has free versions for some audiences. Even the most open stuff often have services people choose to pay for.
The second thing is the anonymous versus identified tension. This is another one where both will probably thrive since you want anonymity for some things and full identity for others. I am surprised how little progress has been made in the identity space but it will improve.”
Since becoming wealthy, what’s the cheapest thing that gives you the most pleasure?
Gates: Kids. Cheap cheeseburgers. Open Course Ware courses…
Reddit user: Where are you acquiring these cheap kids from?
Gates: The stork.
What one Microsoft program or product that was never fully developed or released do you wish had made it to market?
Gates: We had a rich database as the client/cloud store that was part of a Windows release that was before its time. This is an idea that will remerge since your cloud store will be rich with schema rather than just a bunch of files and the client will be a partial replica of it with rich schema understanding.
How have other extremely wealthy people reacted to your excessively generous philanthropy?
Gates: I have enjoyed meeting other philanthropists and talking about what they work on. I think there is a movement to do more, start sooner and be smarter about giving. Philanthropy is mostly about a broad set of people giving but it helps if the most wealthy set a strong example…
Reddit user: I’m not Bill Gates, but he has made a huge positive influence. Many wealthy people I know point to Bill Gates as their idol. Not for his Microsoft days, but for his philanthropy. He also simultaneously killed many of my friend’s hundred million dollar trust funds after their parents discovered that Bill was only leaving $10 million for his children.
Gates: I definitely think leaving kids massive amounts of money is not a favor to them. Warren Buffett was part of an article in Fortune talking about this in 1986 before I met him and it made me think about it and decide he was right. Some people disagree with this but Melinda and I feel good about it.
What do people give you for your birthday, given that you can buy anything you want?
Gates: Free software. Just kidding. Books actually.
Do you still code ?, if so which language ? :)
Gates: Not as much as I would like to. I write some C, C# and some Basic. I am surprised new languages have not made more progress in simplifying programming. It would be great if most high school kids were exposed to programming…
Oh! What’s your favorite book?
Gates: My favorite of the last decade in Pinker’s Better Angels of our Nature. It is long but profound look at the reduction in violence and discrimination over time. I review a lot of the books I read at gatesnotes.com (is that too self-promotional?)
Given the recent targeting of health professionals in Pakistan and Nigeria, do you think eradication of polio is attainable in the next decade? How is the Gates Foundation going to get over this barrier to eradication? Also, what is your opinion on the anti-vaccination movement in general?
Gates: The violence against the vaccinators in both Pakistan and Nigeria is a terrible thing. However both countries are committed to finishing the eradication. This is the project I spent most of my time on. We should be able to finish by 2018 although that will require raising funds and some great execution. We have some innovations like the way we use satellite maps to find all the villages and GPS tracking to make sure the teams go to every hut that are helping out. Polio is a harder disease than smallpox was but it is doable. (I discuss this more atwww.billsletter.com)
What type of computer are you using right now?
Gates: I just got my Surface Pro a week ago and it is very nice. I am using a Perceptive Pixel display right now – huge Windows 8 touch whiteboard. These will come down in price over time and be pervasive…
Can you still jump over chairs?
Gates: Less than I used to. It was part of exercise for snow skiing. I still ski but I am not as hard core…
What emerging technology today do you think will cause another big stir for the average consumer in the same way that the home computer did years ago?
Gates: Robots, pervasive screens, speech interaction will all change the way we look at “computers”. Once seeing, hearing, and reading (including handwriting) work very well you will interact in new ways..
How was your relationship with Steve jobs? I always hoped that y’all were really good friends and competitors.
Gates: He and I respected each other. Our biggest joint project was the Mac where Microsoft had more people on the project than Apple did as we wrote a lot of applications. I saw Steve regularly over the years including spending an afternoon with him a few months before he tragically passed away…
Do you guys really use Bing? I mean seriously…
Gates: Seriously Bing is the better product at this point. Try the challenge. I am biased but the work to make Bing better has been amazing.
Which world-wide health cause are we perfectly capable of easily solving and on the cusp of achieving but just need to put it over the top with a little more attention or resources to actually solve?
Gates: Polio is the first thing to get done since we are close. Within 6 years we will have the last case. After that we will go after malaria and measles. Malaria kills over 500,000 kids every year mostly in Africa and did not get enough attention until the last decade. We also need vaccines to prevent HIV and TB which are making progress…
What is something that needs to be changed in the world, but money wont help?
Gates: It would be nice if all governments were as rational as the Nordic governments – reaching compromise and providing services broadly. The Economist had a nice special section on this last week. Africa governments have often been weak but you can’t write a check to change that. Fortunately the average quality is going up. Mo Ibrahim tracks this in a great way.
If Microsoft didn’t take off, what would you have done and be doing instead? You are a leader in the ultra-wealthy philanthropists, but what do you think that people of median income can do to help improve the world the most?
Gates: If the microprocessor had NOT come along I am not sure what I would have done. Maybe medicine or theoretical math but it is hard to say. Most giving is done by the middle class so it is the backbone of generosity particularly in the United States. A key thing is to support government aid which is only 1% of the budget but helps poor countries in incredible ways.
I just wanted to say thanks for responding to my letter that I wrote to you in the second grade. I still have your autograph. Out of all the celebrities that were written to in my class you were the only to to respond. Thanks for making me the coolest second grader for a little while.
Gates: I am glad you kept it!
Gates: So far our biggest impact has been getting vaccines for things like diarrhea and pneumonia out which has saved millions of lives. Polio will be a great achievement along with key partners when that gets done.
How do you measure the success of the foundation? How does the foundation differ from other large philanthropic organizations? Thanks for all that you and Melinda have done and continue to do!
Gates: Our goals are focused on helping the poorest (globally) and improving education (in the US). We spend half of our money on global health. One metric to look at is reducing the number of children (under 5) who die. My annual letter talks about the amazing progress that has been made on this. Amazingly as health improves families choose to have less kids so paradoxically population growth goes DOWN as you improve health helping with almost every issue – from stability to the environment..The Rosling video talks about this
Is Weezer still your favorite band?
Gatse: Weezer…. Actually U2 is a favorite.. I keep waiting for Spinal Tap to go back on tour…
What do you do for fun? I find it hard to fathom how someone like you can just disconnect. Disconnect from the emails, calls ,the media. All of it. What would be your definition of a chill and fun day?
Gates: I love playing tennis. I am an avid bridge player (a card game if you have not heard of it – it was more popular in the past!). I like to tour interesting things with my kids like power plants, garbage dumps, the Large Hadron Collider, Antarctica, missile Silos (Arizona),… I read a lot and watch courses (online or the Learning Company)..
The anti-vaccine movement does not only exist in developing countries, such as Pakistan, but is quite popular here in the United States as well. As a result, the number of flu and whooping cough cases are bigger than ever. Are you planning on working domestically as well? edit for related question: Which countries do you think serve as models for their initiatives towards an overall healthier society? ie. who’s doing the best?
Gates: Vaccines are very important in all countries. Some of the bad rumors have lead to kids dying of measles and pertussis. We have backed some information campaigns on the importance of vaccination even in the US. The Nordic countries do a good job on health like they do on many things…
I’m from India. What do you think are some of the biggest challenges India currently faces that’s hindering its progress?
Gates: India is making progress but there is still a lot to do particularly up in the North. They still need to add some of the vaccines that poorer countries are already using and saving lots of lives. India did a great job on polio and is increasing the health budget. We work closely with the federal and state governments to help out…
What’s your worst fear for the future of the world? (edit: I terms of policy/politics/etc — e.g. SOPA/ITU)
Gates: Hopefully we won’t have terrorists using nuclear weapons or biological weapons. We should make sure that stays hard. I am disappointed more isn’t being done to reduce carbon emissions. Governments need to spend more on basic energy R&D to make sure we get cheap non-CO2 emitting sources as soon as possible. Overall I am pretty optimistic. Things are a lot better than they were 200 years ago..
Gates: I did a TED talk about the climate crisis. Over time we have to dramatically reduce CO2 emissions so using fossil fuels will require us to do carbon capture and sequestration. There has been far too little work on this.
How did you feel about your portrayal in Pirates of Silicon Valley, and who do you want to play you next in a movie?
Gates: That portrayal was reasonably accurate….
Anything left on your bucket list?
Gates: Don’t die…
Windows 7 or Windows 8? Be honest Bill.
Gates: Higher is better.
Previously on GeekWire: Bill Gates says Steve Jobs “was always cooler than me” … Bill Gates says you should read these 5 books in 2013
Reach staff reporter Taylor Soper at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Taylor_Soper