Gates Talks Tech, Health and Education

STANFORD, Calif. — Even though Bill Gates has left day to day responsibilities at Microsoft, the company he co-founded with Paul Allen in 1975, he remains excited about technology.

The chairman of Microsoft  spoke before an audience of potential future employees (computer science students) here on the campus of Stanford University.

He was the third and only solo discussion here at the TechNet Innovation Summit series of interviews, all of which were taped for Charlie Rose’s PBS interview show. The chat between Gates and Rose alternated between technology and his new love, medical research and philanthropy.

Gates described being late to a market as “the worst. I hate those. If you’re early, that’s ok. We can keep improving it and wait for the trends to come together. If you’re late, then everything coalesces around who is doing and you have to wait for a paradigm shift before you can come into the market,” he said.

He said he’ll miss being a part of the day-to-day work at Microsoft, but said that Microsoft was in good hands. Many hands. “I think the people who will remain will do a great job finding the twists and turns. There’s always been this illusion of one person playing such a key role. It’s always been thousands of people playing little roles,” he said.

On the subject of health care, his new passion, Gates compared cutting through the red tape to get drug trials done faster to the changes that took place when the microprocessor came along. To take advantage of the new technology required a whole different way of assembly.

He also knocked the press for its focus on disasters like a plane crash, but not daily events of greater tragedy, such as thousands of times more children dying from disease.

“I understand there is no news, no big angle, and also it doesn’t have the visual element of a crash site. But the big, stunning thing is to not only to be there but see how common these situations are,” he said.

He also spoke on the emerging international competition and what that will mean for the U.S. “The U.S. has a lot of things that are good for it in this global economy and a lot of things that will hold it back. We need to renew our strength, our fantastic universities,” he said.

Unfortunately, he sees fewer students going into math and computer sciences than he did years ago, and that’s going to be a problem for the U.S. if it wishes to remain competitive.

“We will have a better future than present no matter what. The question is will we do as well as we should have. The only jobs left in a high-cost economy require a much higher cost of education than they did 20 years ago,” he said

He also said the U.S. will also have to accept that as the rest of the world increases in wealth and living standard our relative share of everything, our ability to make decisions, our nation’s power and influence “won’t be so out of line with our five percent of world population as it is today.”

But, he added, that’s not a zero sum gain. As India’s standard of living rises, the U.S.’s won’t suffer as a result. “We can say if they are as rich as us today, the world is way better off because of that,” said the richest man in the world.

He’s finding it more difficult to have an impact on education in this country than having an effect on global health.

“Once you’ve got a vaccine, no one can come along an uninvent it,” said Gates. “Even when you prove new [teaching ideas], they won’t necessarily get adopted because things are not black and white.”

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