Bill Gates, Microsoft cofounder and billionaire philanthropist, just published his 2013 Annual Letter, a well-designed web screed in which he focuses on the importance of data and measurement in the fight against poverty.
“In this year’s letter,” Gates writes, “I discuss how innovations in measurement are critical to finding new, effective ways to deliver these tools and services to the clinics, family farms, and classrooms that need them.”
But, for Gates, publishing his letter on the Internet wasn't enough. He wanted to get out there and talk about it.
So, on Monday, Gates took questions on the popular link-sharing website Reddit in a format known as an AMA, which stands for “ask me anything.” In the wide-ranging Q&A with users of the site, Gates discussed his relationship with Steve Jobs ("He and I respected each other"), Bing's superiority over Google, and how close we are to eradicating polio. We've published our favorite responses below.
Will you be leaving money to your kids?
“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.”
How was your relationship with Steve Jobs?
“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...”
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?
“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.”
If Microsoft didn’t take off, what would you have done and be doing instead?
"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."
Do you still write code?
“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...”
Since becoming wealthy, what’s something cheap that gives you the most pleasure?
“Kids. Cheap cheeseburgers. Open Course Ware courses...”
What’s one Microsoft product that was never released but you wish had made it to market?
“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.”
In a subsequent comment Gates verified that the product was called WinFS.
What is the greatest achievement of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in your opinion?
“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.”
Given the recent targeting of health professionals in Pakistan and Nigeria, do you think eradication of polio is attainable in the next decade?
“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.”
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?
“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.”
Is eradication of Polio attainable in the next decade?
"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 at www.billsletter.com)"
Can you still jump over chairs?
“Less than I used to. It was part of exercise for snow skiing. I still ski but I am not as hard core...”
Do you guys really use Bing? I mean seriously…
“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.”
What do people get you for your birthday?
"Free software. Just kidding. Books actually."
What’s your favorite book?
"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?)"
Is Weezer still your favorite band?
“Weezer.... Actually U2 is a favorite.. I keep waiting for Spinal Tap to go back on tour...”
What do you do for fun?
“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).”