These are just a few glimmers into the psyche of one of the world’s most brilliant, generous, and influential people. Today, at 10:45 a.m. Pacific, Bill Gates hosted an Ask Me Anything (AMA) on Reddit. Topics included humanitarian efforts as chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the open-source movement, and the technology that will change the future.
During the session, Gates emphasized the need for government compromise and the impact that health has on the overall human condition. The Foundation has put significant resources into eradicating polio, and as soon as that is accomplished, it plans to take on malaria and measles. (And in case you are wondering, he led the session using a Perceptive Pixel display and got his Surface Pro last week.)
“Our goals are focused on helping the poorest [globally] and improving education [in the U.S.],” he said. “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.”
Gates was referring to his recently published 2013 Annual Letter, where he discusses the impact that setting trackable goals, analyzing data, and measuring progress have on efforts to improve the human condition.
He also used the AMA to emphasize the need for policies that address climate change.
“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. […] There has been far too little work on this.”
In addition to health and the environment, education is another key component to Gates’ vision for a better world. The foundation backs organizations (and startups) that make education more accessible and effective, and he talked about how the Internet is changing the education industry.
“The ability to test your knowledge and get refreshed on a topic you are making mistakes on will personalize a lot of the learning experience. People like Sal Khan [of the online Khan University] are out in front figuring out how to do this well. My foundation has funded a lot of MOOCs focused on community college kids or kids who have to take remedial math. I am optimistic these will make a big difference.”
He also said that “robots, pervasive screens, and speech interaction” will change the way people interact with computers.
Gates has spoken extensively on the need for improvements in health, education, economic development, and climate change. Many of the Redditers thus used the opportunity to ask personal questions. Beyond expressing his love of tennis and playing bridge, Gates also talked about Microsoft and his 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.”