RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

Goodell writes: "At 58, Bill Gates is not only the richest man in the world, with a fortune that now exceeds $76 billion, but he may also be the most optimistic."

 (photo: unknown)
(photo: unknown)

Bill Gates: The Rolling Stone Interview

By Jeff Goodell, Rolling Stone

16 March 14


t 58, Bill Gates is not only the richest man in the world, with a fortune that now exceeds $76 billion, but he may also be the most optimistic. In his view, the world is a giant operating system that just needs to be debugged. Gates' driving idea – the idea that animates his life, that guides his philanthropy, that keeps him late in his sleek book-lined office overlooking Lake Washington, outside Seattle – is the hacker's notion that the code for these problems can be rewritten, that errors can be fixed, that huge systems – whether it's Windows 8, global poverty or climate change – can be improved if you have the right tools and the right skills. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the philanthropic organization with a $36 billion endowment that he runs with his wife, is like a giant startup whose target market is human civilization.

Personally, Gates has very little Master of the Universe swagger and, given the scale of his wealth, his possessions are modest: three houses, one plane, no yachts. He wears loafers and khakis and V-neck sweaters. He often needs a haircut. His glasses haven't changed much in 40 years. For fun, he attends bridge tournaments.

But if his social ambitions are modest, his intellectual scope is mind-boggling: climate, energy, agriculture, infectious diseases and education reform, to name a few. He has former nuclear physicists helping cook up nutritional cookies to feed the developing world. A polio SWAT team has already spent $1.5 billion (and is committed to another $1.8 billion through 2018) to eradicate the virus. He's engineering better toilets and funding research into condoms made of carbon nanotubes.

It's a long way from the early days of the digital revolution, when Gates was almost a caricature of a greedy monopolist hell-bent on installing Windows on every computer in the galaxy ("The trouble with Bill," Steve Jobs once told me, "is that he wants to take a nickel for himself out of every dollar that passes through his hands"). But when Gates stepped down as Microsoft CEO in 2000, he found a way to transform his aggressive drive to conquer the desktop into an aggressive drive to conquer poverty and disease.

Now he's returning to Microsoft as a "technology adviser" to Satya Nadella, Microsoft's new CEO. "Satya has asked me to review the product plans and come in and help make some quick decisions and pick some new directions," Gates told me as we talked in his office on a rainy day a few weeks ago. He estimates­ that he'll devote a third of his time to Microsoft and two-thirds to his foundation and other work. But the Microsoft of today is nothing like the world-dominating behemoth of the Nineties. The company remained shackled to the desktop for too long, while competitors – namely, Apple and Google – moved on to phones and tablets. And instead of talking in visionary terms about the company's future, Gates talks of challenges­ that sound almost mundane for a man of his ambitions, like reinventing Windows and Office for the era of cloud computing. But in some ways, that's not unexpected: Unlike, say, Jobs, who returned to Apple with a religious zeal, Gates clearly has bigger things on his mind than figuring out how to make spreadsheets workable in the cloud.

When you started Microsoft, you had a crazy-sounding idea that someday there would be a computer on every desktop. Now, as you return to Microsoft 40 years later, we have computers not just on our desktops, but in our pockets – and everywhere else. What is the biggest surprise to you in the way this has all played out?
Well, it's pretty amazing to go from a world where computers were unheard of and very complex to where they're a tool of everyday life. That was the dream that I wanted to make come true, and in a large part it's unfolded as I'd expected. You can argue about advertising business models or which networking protocol would catch on or which screen sizes would be used for which things. There are less robots now than I would have guessed. Vision and speech have come a little later than I had guessed. But these are things that will probably emerge within five years, and certainly within 10 years.

If there's a deal that symbolizes where Silicon Valley is today, it's Facebook's $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp. What does that say about the economics of Silicon Valley right now?
It means that Mark Zuckerberg wants Facebook to be the next Facebook. Mark has the credibility to say, "I'm going to spend $19 billion to buy something that has essentially no revenue model." I think his aggressiveness is wise – although the price is higher than I would have expected. It shows that user bases are extremely valuable. It's software; it can morph into a broad set of things – once you're set up communicating with somebody, you're not just going to do text. You're going to do photos, you're going to share documents, you're going to play games together.

Apparently, Google was looking at it.
Yeah, yeah. Microsoft would have been willing to buy it, too.?.?.?.?I don't know for $19 billion, but the company's extremely valuable.

You mentioned Mark Zuckerberg. When you look at what he's done, do you see some of yourself in him?
Oh, sure. We're both Harvard dropouts, we both had strong, stubborn views of what software could do. I give him more credit for shaping the user interface of his product. He's more of a product manager than I was. I'm more of a coder, down in the bowels and the architecture, than he is. But, you know, that's not that major of a difference. I start with architecture, and Mark starts with products, and Steve Jobs started with aesthetics.

What are the implications of the transition to mobile and the cloud for Microsoft?
Office and the other Microsoft assets that we built in the Nineties and kept tuning up have lasted a long time. Now, they need more than a tuneup. But that's pretty exciting for the people inside who say, "We need to take a little risk and do some new stuff" – Google, which is a very strong company across a huge number of things right now.

Yeah, they were sort of born in the cloud.
The fact is, search generates a lot of money. And when you have a lot of money, it allows you to go down a lot of dead ends. We had that luxury at Microsoft in the Nineties. You can pursue things that are way out there. We did massive interactive­TV stuff, we did digital-wallet stuff. A lot of it was ahead of its time, but we could afford it.

When people think about the cloud, it's not only the accessibility of information and their documents that comes to mind, but also their privacy – or lack of it.
Should there be cameras everywhere in outdoor streets? My personal view is having cameras in inner cities is a very good thing. In the case of London, petty crime has gone down. They catch terrorists because of it. And if something really bad happens, most of the time you can figure out who did it. There's a general view there that it's not used to invade privacy in some way. Yet in an American city, in order to take advantage of that in the same way, you have to trust what this information is going to be used for.

Do you think some of these concerns people have are overblown?
There's always been a lot of information about your activities. Every phone number you dial, every credit-card charge you make. It's long since passed that a typical person doesn't leave footprints. But we need explicit rules. If you were in a divorce lawsuit 20 years ago, is that a public document on the Web that a nosy neighbor should be able to pull up with a Bing or Google search? When I apply for a job, should my speeding tickets be available? Well, I'm a bus driver, how about in that case? And society does have an overriding interest in some activities, like, "Am I gathering nuclear-weapons plans, and am I going to kill millions of people?" If we think there's an increasing chance of that, who do you trust? I actually wish we were having more intense debates about these things.

Thanks to Edward Snowden, who has leaked tens of thousands of NSA documents, we are. Do you consider him a hero or a traitor? I think he broke the law, so I certainly wouldn't characterize him as a hero. If he wanted to raise the issues and stay in the country and engage in civil disobedience or something of that kind, or if he had been careful in terms of what he had released, then it would fit more of the model of "OK, I'm really trying to improve things." You won't find much admiration from me.

Even so, do you think it's better now that we know what we know about government surveillance?
The government has such ability to do these things. There has to be a debate. But the specific techniques they use become unavailable if they're discussed in detail. So the debate needs to be about the general notion of under what circumstances should they be allowed to do things.

It's difficult, though, because no one knows really what's going on. We want safety, but we also want privacy.
But even in abstract – let's say you knew nothing was going on. How would you feel? I mean, seriously. I would be very worried. Technology arms the bad guys with orders of magnitude more [power]. Not just bad guys. Crazy guys. Fertilizer wasn't too good for the federal building in Oklahoma City, but there's stuff out there now that makes fertilizer look like a joke.

You mean like a dirty bomb?
Or biological [weapons]. In the U.S., at least it's going to take a lot of explaining about who was in the surveillance videos. "You've told us things in the past that didn't turn out to be true, so can we really trust that you're only going to use them in this way?"

Should surveillance be usable for petty crimes like jaywalking or minor drug possession? Or is there a higher threshold for certain information? Those aren't easy questions. Should the rules be different for U.S. citizens versus non-U.S. citizens? There is the question of terrorist interdiction versus law-enforcement situations. If you think the state is overzealous in any of its activities, even if you agree with its sort of anti-large-scale-terrorism efforts, you might say, "Well, I think the abuse will outweigh the benefits. I'll just take the risk." But the people who say that sometimes having this information is valuable – they're not being very articulate right now.

Let's talk about income inequality, which economist Paul Krugman and others have written a lot about. As a person who's at the very top of the one percent, do you see this as one of the great issues of our time?
Well, now you're getting into sort of complicated issues. In general, on taxation-type things, you'd think of me as a Democrat. That is, when tax rates are below, say, 50 percent, I believe there often is room for additional taxation. And I've been very upfront on the need to increase estate taxes. Particularly given the medical obligations that the state is taking on and the costs that those have over time. You can't have a rigid view that all new taxes are evil. Yes, they have negative effects, but I'm like Krugman in that if you expect the state to do these things, they are going to cost money.

Should the state be playing a greater role in helping people at the lowest end of the income scale? Poverty today looks very different than poverty in the past. The real thing you want to look at is consumption and use that as a metric and say, "Have you been worried about having enough to eat? Do you have enough warmth, shelter? Do you think of yourself as having a place to go?" The poor are better off than they were before, even though they're still in the bottom group in terms of income.

The way we help the poor out today [is also a problem]. You have Section 8 housing, food stamps, fuel programs, very complex medical programs. It's all high-overhead, capricious, not well-designed. Its ability to distinguish between somebody who has family that could take care of them versus someone who's really out on their own is not very good, either. It's a totally gameable system – not everybody games it, but lots of people do. Why aren't the technocrats taking the poverty programs, looking at them as a whole, and then redesigning them? Well, they are afraid that if they do, their funding is going to be cut back, so they defend the thing that is absolutely horrific. Just look at low-cost housing and the various forms, the wait lists, things like that.

When we get things right, it benefits the entire world. The world's governments don't copy everything we do. They see some things we do – like the way we run our postal service, or Puerto Rico – are just wrong. But they look to us for so many things. And we can do better.

In the past, you have sounded cynical about the role that government can play in solving complex problems like health care or reforming anti-poverty policies.
Not cynicism. You have to have a certain realism that government is a pretty­ blunt instrument and without the constant attention of highly qualified people with the right metrics, it will fall into not doing things very well. The U.S. government in general is one of the better governments in the world. It's the best in many, many respects. Lack of corruption, for instance, and a reasonable justice system.

If I could wave a wand and fix one thing, it'd be political deadlock, the education system or health care costs. One of those three, I don't know which. But I see governments in very poor countries that can't even get teachers to show up. So in countries like that, how can you get very basic things to work? That's something I spend a lot of time on. And these things are all solvable.

What did you make of the whole health care rollout debacle?
They should have done better. But that's a minor issue compared to the notion of "Will they get enough people in the risk pool so that the pricing is OK?" And some of the price-rigging they've done, where the young overpay relative to the old, is a problem. You know, it's all intended for a good thing, which is access. But it's layered on top of a system that has huge pricing-capacity problems. Which it basically did not address.

You'd normally want to be able to tune something of this complexity. But because you have a political deadlock, you can't. Even the tuning that's being done – like delaying some of the mandates – is claimed to be against the law. So we're doing something novel and complex in a very rancorous environment, in an area where our achievements in the past have been pretty weak.

Health care reform is one of the areas where there is a lot of discussion about the corrupting role of money in politics. And as Washington becomes increasingly unable to address big problems, you hear more and more about the corrosive role of special interests. Do you agree?
Money has always been in politics. And I'm not sure you'd want money to be completely out of politics. You know, I don't give a lot of political contributions, and I'm glad there are limits on political contributions. I wish there were more limits. But our government wasn't designed to be efficient. We've got a system with a lot of checks and balances. When you get into a period of crisis where the overwhelming majority agrees on something, government can work amazingly well, like during World War II.

But now you have people who are shrill about the size of government or how we're not doing enough about climate change. But they don't have enough of a consensus, and they're looking at a government system whose default answer is the status quo. Look at people who say, "I'm going to shrink the government!" Well, show me when they actually did shrink the government. They caused it not to grow as much, but shrink? When? You know, good luck on that. The principle of shrinkage may be agreed on, but when they get into the particulars, it's not as easy as you might think. Farm subsidies, yes or no? Research for medicine, yes or no? Loans for students, yes or no? So you have this frustration. But to label that as coming from an increasing amount of money in politics, that's only one of many things going on.

Well, there certainly is plenty of frustration with our political system.
But I do think, in most cases, when you get this negative view of the situation, you're forgetting about the innovation that goes on outside of government. Thank God they actually do fund basic research. That's part of the reason the U.S. is so good [at things like health care]. But innovation can actually be your enemy in health care if you are not careful.

How's that?
If you accelerate certain things but aren't careful about whether you want to make those innovations available to everyone, then you're intensifying the cost in such a way that you'll overwhelm all the resources.

Like million-dollar chemotherapy treatments.
Yeah, or organ transplants for people in their seventies from new artificial organs being grown. There is a lot of medical technology for which, unless you can make judgments about who should buy it, you will have to invade other government functions to find the money. Joint replacement is another example. There are four or five of these innovations down the pipe that are huge, huge things.

Yeah, but when people start talking about these issues, we start hearing loaded phrases like "death panels" and suggestions that government bureaucrats are going to decide when it's time to pull the plug on Grandma.
The idea that there aren't trade-offs is an outrageous thing. Most countries know that there are trade-offs, but here, we manage to have the notion that there aren't any. So that's unfortunate, to not have people think, "Hey, there are finite resources here."

Let's change the subject and talk about your foundation. How do you make the moral judgment between, say, spending your time and energy on polio eradication versus, say, climate change?
I want to focus on things where I think my experience working with innovation gives me an opportunity to do something unique. The majority of the foundation's money goes to a finite number of things that focus on health inequity – why a person from a poor country is so much worse off than somebody from a country that's well-off. It's mostly infectious diseases. There's about 15 of those we're focusing on – polio is the single thing I work on the most. And then, because of the importance of nutrition and because most poor people are farmers, we're in agriculture as well.

Agriculture is hugely important, especially in a rapidly warming world, and especially with the Earth's population projected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050. How are we going to feed them all?
In the 1960s, there was this thing called the Green Revolution, where new seeds and other improvements drove up agricultural productivity in Asia and Latin America. It saved millions of lives and lifted many people out of poverty. But it basically bypassed sub-Saharan Africa. Today, the average farmer there is only about a third as productive as an American farmer. If we can get that number up, and I think we can, it will help a lot.

There is also this problem where as people get richer and join the global middle class, they want to eat more protein. It's a nice problem to have that people are getting richer. But eating meat is hard on the environment – it demands a lot of land and water. And yet we can't go around telling everyone they have to be vegetarians. So coming up with affordable plant-based proteins, basically meat substitutes, that really taste like meat is another area that can make a big difference. I've tasted a few of them, and I really couldn't tell the difference between them and the real thing.

In your annual letter from the foundation, you argued that there will essentially be no poor countries in the world by 2035. Why do you believe that?
We made really unbelievable progress in international development. Countries like Brazil, Mexico, Thailand, Indonesia – there's an unbelievable number of success stories. The places that haven't done well are clustered in Africa, and we still have Haiti, where I was last week, as well as Yemen, Afghanistan and North Korea, which is kind of a special case. But assuming there's no war or anything, we ought to be able to take even the coastal African countries and get them up to a reasonable situation over the next 20 years. You get more leverage because the number of countries that need aid is going down, and countries like China and India will still have problems, but they're self-sufficient. And over the next 20 years, you get better tools, new vaccines, a better understanding of diseases and, hopefully, cheaper ways of making energy. So time is very much on your side in terms of raising the human condition. Even things like decent toilets, which is a particular project of the foundation, can make a big difference.

Progress depends on such simple things – like functioning toilets.
We take things like TV or Internet or a microwave or a refrigerator for granted, but moving people from basic lives to decent lives requires a lot less than that. You know, development sometimes is viewed as a project in which you give people things and nothing much happens, which is perfectly valid, but if you just focus on that, then you'd also have to say that venture capital is pretty stupid, too. Its hit rate is pathetic. But occasionally, you get successes, you fund a Google or something, and suddenly venture capital is vaunted as the most amazing field of all time. Our hit rate in development is better than theirs, but we should strive to make it better.

Polio eradication is a big focus of yours. The eradication program has made remarkable progress; India is now free of the virus. But it's hanging on in a few places, including remote regions of Pakistan, Afghanistan and northern Nigeria, where vaccines are viewed suspiciously and vaccinators have been attacked. In some ways, it seems that wiping out the disease is now more of a political problem than a logistical problem. Would you agree?
That's only partially correct. Those last three countries are, by definition, the toughest countries. We've improved the vaccine and are using disease modeling to understand when to use which flavors of the vaccine in different regions. We're using satellite maps to figure out the population counts. We use GPS to track where the people are going. So the tools are improving. But it is true that we'd be done in Pakistan if it wasn't for politics – the intentional spread of misinformation about the vaccine and its benefits, as well as attacks on the people doing the work.

So are you as much of an optimist about being able to eradicate this virus as you were a couple of years ago?
Yeah, I'd say I'm more optimistic now, even though there have been some setbacks this year. We could get lucky and get access into Waziristan [a remote region of Pakistan where the vaccine has been banned by the Taliban], or we could get unlucky and not. We also had two re-infections last year – one in Somalia and one in Syria, and usually we have one of those a year, so to have two is not good luck. Syria was doing fine; it was just that because of the war, the vaccination system broke down, so very young kids there were getting paralyzed. In Somalia, the vaccination system has never been that good.

In the world of viruses, polio is a devil we know. Newly emerging viruses are potentially more frightening. How concerned are you about global pandemics?
It's a serious risk, and it's something the world could be smarter about. The worst pandemic in modern history was the Spanish flu of 1918, which killed tens of millions of people. Today, with how interconnected the world is, it would spread faster. But we are most worried about outbreaks where you don't show symptoms for a long time. AIDS is kind of the extreme case where you typically don't show symptoms for more than six years after you're infected. Viruses that stay latent create the huge problems – you literally can get hundreds of millions of people infected before you understand what is happening.

Let's talk about climate change. Many scientists and politicians see it as the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced.
It's a big challenge, but I'm not sure I would put it above everything. One of the reasons it's hard is that by the time we see that climate change is really bad, your ability to fix it is extremely limited. Like with viruses, the problem is latency. The carbon gets up there, but the heating effect is delayed. And then the effect of that heat on the species and ecosystem is delayed. That means that even when you turn virtuous, things are actually going to get worse for quite a while.

Right?.?.?.?we're not virtuous yet, are we?
We're not even close – we're emitting more CO2 every year. In order to get a 90 percent reduction of carbon, which is what we need, the first thing you might want to get is a year of global reduction, and we have not had that. U.S. emissions are down right now, partly because we buy more goods from overseas. But even if you invented some zero-carbon energy source today, the deployment of that magic device would take a long time.

Are you hopeful that global climate talks will lead to a solution?
Many climate-change discussions are off-target because they've focused on things like the $100 billion per year that some people believe should be spent by the rich world to help the developing world, which is not really addressing the problem. At the same time, discussion about how to increase funding of research-and-development budgets to accelerate innovation is surprisingly missing. We haven't increased R&D spending, we haven't put a price signal [like a carbon tax] in, and this is certainly very disappointing. I think it's a real test of the boundary of science and politics – and an acid test of people's time horizons. Before the economic downturn, attitudes in the U.S. about climate change had become quite enlightened, and then there was a big reversal, which I believe was a result of people's worries about their immediate economic situation. Talking about problems that will have a significant effect 30 or 40 years out just gets off the agenda, and there's this shrill political debate that is distracting people. So we've made some progress, but you can't take the progress we've made and linearize it – if you do, you really are going to find out how bad climate change can be.

Let's say climate change was delayed 100 years. If that were the case, science would take care of this one. We wouldn't have to double the Department of Energy budget, because there's five or six different paths to go down. And 100 years, at the current rate and speed of science, is a long time.

We're heading for big trouble, right?
Absolutely. That's why I happen to think we should explore geo-engineering.­ But one of the complaints people have against that is that if it looks like an easy out, it'll reduce the political will to cut emissions. If that's the case, then, hey, we should take away heart surgery so that people know not to overeat. I happened to be having dinner with Charles Koch last Saturday, and we talked a little bit about climate change.

And what was the conversation like?
He's a very nice person, and he has this incredible business track record. He was pointing out that the U.S. alone can't solve the problem, and that's factually correct. But you have to view the U.S. doing something as a catalyst for getting China and others to do things. The atmosphere is the ultimate commons. We all benefit from it, and we're all polluting it. It's amazing how few problems there are in terms of the atmosphere.?.?.?.?There's just this one crazy thing that CO2 hangs around for a long, long time, and the oceans absorb it, which acidifies them, which is itself a huge problem we should do something about.

Like cut carbon emissions fast.
Yes, but people need energy. It's a gigantic business. The main thing that's missing in energy is an incentive to create things that are zero-CO2-emitting and that have the right scale and reliability characteristics.

It leads to your interest in nuclear power, right?
If you could make nuclear really, really safe, and deal with the economics, deal with waste, then it becomes the nirvana you want: a cheaper solution with very little CO2 emissions. If we don't get that, you've got a problem. Because you are not going to reduce the amount of energy used. For each year between now and 2100, the globe will use more energy. So that means more CO2 emissions every year. TerraPower, which is the nuclear-energy company that I'm backing, required a very long time to get the right people together, it required computer modeling to get the right technology together, and even now it's going to require the U.S. government to work with whatever country decides to build a pilot project – China, maybe. In a normal sort of private market, that project probably wouldn't have emerged. It took a fascination with science, concern about climate change and a very long-term view. Now, I'm not saying it's guaranteed to be successful, although it's going super, super well, but it's an example of an innovation that might not happen without the proper support.

Nuclear power has failed to fulfill its promises for a variety of economic and technical reasons for 40 years. Why continue investing in nuclear power instead of, say, cheap solar and energy storage?
Well, we have a real problem, and so we should pursue many solutions to the problem. Even the Manhattan Project pursued both the plutonium bomb and the uranium bomb – and both worked! Intermittent energy sources [like wind and solar]?.?.?.?yeah, you can crank those up, depending on the quality of the grid and the nature of your demand. You can scale that up 20 percent, 30 percent and, in some cases, even 40 percent. But when it comes to climate change, that's not interesting. You're talking about needing factors of, like, 90 percent.

But you can't just dismiss renewables, can you?
Solar is much, much harder than people think it is. When the sun shines, electricity is going to be worth zero, so all the money will be reserved for the guy who brings you power when there's no wind and no sun. There are some interesting things on the horizon along those lines. There's one called solar chemical. It's very nascent, but it comes with a built-in storage solution, because you actually secrete hydrocarbons. We're investing probably one-twentieth of what we should in that. There's another form of solar called solar thermal, which is cool because you can store heat. Heat's not easy to store, but it's a lot easier to store than electricity.

Given the scale of problems like climate change and the slow economic recovery and political gridlock and rising health care costs, it's easy for people to feel pessimistic about the way the world is going.
Really? That's too bad. I think that's overly focusing on the negatives. I think it's a pretty bright picture, myself. But that doesn't mean I think, because we've always gotten through problems in the past, "just chill out, relax, someone else will worry about it." I don't see it that way.

When you look on the horizon over the next 50 years, what is your biggest fear?
I think we will get our act together on climate change. That's very important. I hope we get our act together on large-scale terrorism and avoid that being a huge setback for the world. On health equity, we can reduce the number of poor children who die from more than 6 million down to 2 million, eventually 1 million. Will the U.S. political system right itself in terms of how it focuses on complex problems? Will the medical costs overwhelm the sense of what people expect government to do?

I do worry about things like the war in Syria and what that means. You wouldn't have predicted that that country in particular would fall into horrific civil war where the suffering is just unbelievable, and it is not obvious to anybody what can be done to stop it. It raises questions for somebody who thinks they can fix Africa overnight. I understand how every healthy child, every new road, puts a country on a better path, but instability and war will arise from time to time, and I'm not an expert on how you get out of those things. I wish there was an invention or advance to fix that. So there'll be some really bad things that'll happen in the next 50 or 100 years, but hopefully none of them on the scale of, say, a million people that you didn't expect to die from a pandemic, or nuclear or bioterrorism.

What do you say to people who argue that America's best days are behind us?
That's almost laughable. The only definition by which America's best days are behind it is on a purely relative basis. That is, in 1946, when we made up about six percent of humanity, but we dominated everything. But America's way better today than it's ever been. Say you're a woman in America, would you go back 50 years? Say you're gay in America, would you go back 50 years? Say you're sick in America, do you want to go back 50 years? I mean, who are we kidding?

Does bad politics kill innovation? Immigration reform, for example, is a big issue in Silicon Valley right now.
Yes, the U.S. immigration laws are bad – really, really bad. I'd say treatment of immigrants is one of the greatest injustices done in our government's name. Well, our bad education system might top it – but immigration is pretty insane. You've got 12 million people living in fear of arbitrary things that can happen to them. But you can't argue that all innovation has seized up because of the problem – I'm sorry. Innovation in California is at its absolute peak right now. Sure, half of the companies are silly, and you know two-thirds of them are going to go bankrupt, but the dozen or so ideas that emerge out of that are going to be really important.

Our modern lifestyle is not a political creation. Before 1700, everybody was poor as hell. Life was short and brutish. It wasn't because we didn't have good politicians; we had some really good politicians. But then we started inventing – electricity, steam engines, microprocessors, understanding genetics and medicine and things like that. Yes, stability and education are important – I'm not taking anything away from that – but innovation is the real driver of progress.

Speaking of innovation, I want to ask you about Steve Jobs. When was the last time you talked to him?
It was two or three months before he passed away. And then I wrote a long letter to him after that, which he had by his bedside. Steve and I actually stayed in touch fairly well, and we had a couple of good, long conversations in the last year, about our wives, about life, about what technology achieved or had not achieved.

Steve and I were very different. But we were both good at picking people. We were both hyperenergetic and worked super­hard. We were close partners in doing the original Mac software, and that was an amazing thing, because we had more people working on it than Apple did. But we were very naive. Steve promised us this was going to be this $499 machine, and next thing we knew, it was $1,999. Anyway, the Mac project was an incredible experience. The team that worked on the Mac side completely and totally burned out. Within two years, none of them were still there. But it was a mythic thing that we did together. Steve was a genius.

You're a technologist, but a lot of your work now with the foundation has a moral dimension. Has your thinking about the value of religion changed over the years?
The moral systems of religion, I think, are superimportant. We've raised our kids in a religious way; they've gone to the Catholic church that Melinda goes to and I participate in. I've been very lucky, and therefore I owe it to try and reduce the inequity in the world. And that's kind of a religious belief. I mean, it's at least a moral belief.

Do you believe in God?
I agree with people like Richard Dawkins that mankind felt the need for creation myths. Before we really began to understand disease and the weather and things like that, we sought false explanations for them. Now science has filled in some of the realm – not all – that religion used to fill. But the mystery and the beauty of the world is overwhelmingly amazing, and there's no scientific explanation of how it came about. To say that it was generated by random numbers, that does seem, you know, sort of an uncharitable view [laughs]. I think it makes sense to believe in God, but exactly what decision in your life you make differently because of it, I don't know. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+64 # artistinaspen 2014-03-16 13:26
I think he broke the law, so I certainly wouldn't characterize him as a hero. If he wanted to raise the issues and stay in the country and engage in civil disobedience or something of that kind, or if he had been careful in terms of what he had released, then it would fit more of the model of "OK, I'm really trying to improve things." You won't find much admiration from me."-Bill Gates

Really, Bill? Really?

You didn't risk your life, just a small part of your fortune, to help humanity.

Shame on you for such a small minded comment. Someday sunshine may reveal why you said this. I bet it ain't gonna be pretty or complimentary.

Giant overreaching illegal NSA #FAIL
+11 # tedrey 2014-03-16 18:00
Well, I certainly disagree with Gates about Snowden and some other issues, but he also has some level-headed points and is doing some good things. If someone isn't a perfect angel, do we have to consider him a demon? Just weigh him, all in all, with the other titans of wealth, and he's not so bad.
+25 # Eldon J. Bloedorn 2014-03-16 20:33
Good post. Perhaps a reason Bill did not look so kindly toward Snowden, Gates may have substantial U.S. government contracts. Why should he put himself at odds with the government? Could be other reasons which he may have? But, you know when he said, "I had dinner with Charles Koch Saturday night.......... ....he is a nice guy...." "there will be no poor countries by 2035." He did forget to mention why he believes in the Noah's "big boat" story. Well, Bill could buy those poor countries, bring them up to standards I suppose. Sorry, I puked. And I did not have to put my finger down my throat.

For several decades, some really brilliant scientists have stated that to solve the energy problem, all we need do is use solar power to break down sea water. We know what we get when we break down sea water, any water, hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen could be stored off- shore in massive containers. Gas, piped on-shore to facilities as needed. What a way to go. Virtually carbon free emissions from cars, trucks, power plants. Not a word of this marvelous idea from Bill Gates. He is so far behind the times (incompetent) in so many practical, socially enriching ideas, yet so brillant in others.
+8 # brux 2014-03-16 17:09
It seems peculiar to me that out of all the things that Bill Gates could be doing, he is working on Polio. I really wonder why that is?

There is a lot of talk here, but on the one hand we have a guy with a solid expertise in "systems", well, Windows, so maybe not that solid, but better than anything else he knows.

Polio has been and is being worked on and will be solved, in fact it is mostly solved now. Why would he spend time and money on that ... except for maybe a PR thing?

There are very complex problems, like energy, global warming, politics, running a government, thing that are all about the management and running of very complex systems, and systems with human beings in them.

So I have to wonder what this guy really knows and what he is really after? Is he now investing in the pharmaceutical industry and all about infiltrating foreign markets with American drugs?

There is sure a lot wrong with the world, and a lot someone with Bill Gates' expertise could contribute.
+18 # dquandle 2014-03-16 20:54
Problem is, he's trying to force his "contribution" about things he knows virtually nothing about, like say….education… on the rest of us, and he feels his billions give him the right to do this, no matter how profound his well of ignorance is, and how abysmally and disastrously wrong his attempts and policies are, in this sphere.
His take on privacy and the powers governments and corporations should be afforded, over the lives, livelihoods, and rights of human beings is appalling. As to polio, the reason why good portions of Pakistan etc. do not allow in people to treat and help and prevent polio, is because the US government, through its appallingly criminal "intelligence" agencies, contaminated the providing of health care by using a fake "healthcare" and "vaccination" program operated by the CIA, with info from the NSA, to commit murder. Somehow, as someone who "cares" deeply about polio, he doesn't see fit to mention the most heinous and egregious obstacle to the attempts to stamp it out, namely the absolutely staggering US abuse of "healthcare" provision and monitoring for the gain of empire and the projection of power.

The fact that anyone could write, non-ironically, about a man worth $75 billion, extracted by his filthy greed and the greed of the company he ran, that he is optimistic, would be flat out hilarious, if it weren't so sickening.
0 # brux 2014-03-21 14:50
Bill Gates does not need to know everything, he has people coming to him telling him the stories and he can make up his own mind ... pursuant to his own agenda ... that's the problem. There is no public agenda or public say in this.
+31 # curmudgeon 2014-03-16 17:19
I am sorry....this man's empire is built on greed and dishonesty.

He is really just a Koch clone...wearing nicer clothes and being less confrontive.

What a piece of crap about a piece of crap...I don't care how much money he has.

His Snowden comments show his true colors.....just another member of the oligarchy, with all the greed and arrogance personified.

Thanks to Edward Snowden, who has leaked tens of thousands of NSA documents, we are. Do you consider him a hero or a traitor? I think he broke the law, so I certainly wouldn't characterize him as a hero. If he wanted to raise the issues and stay in the country and engage in civil disobedience or something of that kind, or if he had been careful in terms of what he had released, then it would fit more of the model of "OK, I'm really trying to improve things." You won't find much admiration from me."

Ask him how he obtained the rights to th eoriginal MS operating system...the old rumors contain more than a bit of truth.
-45 # bingers 2014-03-16 18:15
I find myself in disagreement with many of my liberal friends regarding Snowden.. One must not forget his original plan in working there was to harm Obama, not to do something good for the country. While I believe telling America about NSA spying on us was a good thing, telling China and Russia what we were doing in regards to them was high treason and because of that, he deserves zero support from us.
+27 # babaregi 2014-03-16 19:30
Quoting bingers:
I find myself in disagreement with many of my liberal friends regarding Snowden.. One must not forget his original plan in working there was to harm Obama, not to do something good for the country. While I believe telling America about NSA spying on us was a good thing, telling China and Russia what we were doing in regards to them was high treason and because of that, he deserves zero support from us.

That's a lie. Back it up about what you said his intentions were or about helping other countries know anything that puts Americans at risk.
+14 # ericlipps 2014-03-16 20:46
Someone should remind Gates that the legal definition of "high treason" is treason committed in support of an adversary with whom we are actively at war. Last time I looked, we weren't at war with either Russia or China.
+1 # vicnada 2014-03-17 11:08
Treason doth never prosper: what ’s the reason?
Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason.
--Sir John Harrington (1561-1612)

So should we be so confident that our current administration and its policy slaves are not committing "high treason" in their much vaulted "war on terror"? Just because there is no one honest or powerful enough to put them in the stockade?
+5 # jcdav 2014-03-17 06:02
Have you ANY evidence that Snowden has shared ANY information with anyone other than the press? your ASSumption is baseless.
+28 # Farafalla 2014-03-16 19:30
I'm surprised to find a paean to a monopolistic capitalist posted on RSN. Bill Gates is an asshole. He created a monopoly (DOS) from his privatization of a public good (BASIC) and created a mediocre copy of the Apple OS, Windoze. He is totally in bed with Monsanto and hoarding seeds in Norway which he hopes to make zillions of dollars on patented life. What's to like? His optimism? If I had a bazillion dollars I too would be optimistic.
+7 # dquandle 2014-03-16 20:56
You got it.
+33 # PaineRad 2014-03-16 17:37
I have little respect for Billy as an innovator considering that he bought, copied or stole most of Microsoft's products. The primary things he was good at, he copied from hundred year old practices of the robber barons. Monopoly is nothing new to marketing. Getting away with it under the pretense of "new" and "complicated" is his only real achievement. After all, had it not been for his mother being on IBMs Board of Directors, the world would probably never have heard of him, and we would all be using open source software like Linux.

Instead, he, Paul, Steve and crew have sucked up billions upon billions that could have been better used elsewhere. Whether those better uses would have materialized is a different question, the answer to which we will never know.

Billy may play the aw shucks game really well and he may have "only" three homes, but when one is 66,000 sq ft. with a 60 ft. pool and underwater sound system, I think this author is striving very, very hard to put a specific spin on things. His style, philanthropy and musings will do nothing to change the economic and social paradigms that have created the problems he pretends to care about. They attack symptoms and leave the causes unmolested. Hell, Billy's money, business practices and power are the central causes.
+6 # dquandle 2014-03-16 21:01
Yes indeed. Musings of a billionaire on the lives of the peons surrounding him are less than worthless. He's just fishing for applause from the neolib/neocon apologists for filthy capitalism.
-20 # fredboy 2014-03-16 18:01
Will any critic who has done more for others -- in terms of technology, health, and education--plea se step forward.
+15 # babaregi 2014-03-16 19:33
Quoting fredboy:
Will any critic who has done more for others -- in terms of technology, health, and education--please step forward.

The truth is the truth and doesn't depend on the accomplishments of the source.
+5 # curmudgeon 2014-03-16 20:55
How aabout any critics who have done more harm stepping forward....a much smaller number IMHO
+10 # Staceyjo 2014-03-16 18:43
I'd be optimistic too if I had more money than God.
-1 # 2014-03-16 18:46
He claims "spend $19 billion to buy something that has essentially no revenue model." I think his aggressiveness is wise – although the price is higher than I would have expected."

Well as he says ark is more a crook, the price is all capitalised and saves tax of the difference he overpaid.

He has a dirtier plan he will sell shares in that as he did in Facebook at far more than real worth in dividend valuation of any asset. He will then have new vendor shares to bail out of after he causes a demand price hike beyond real worth then he will cry all the way to the bank and the government leverage powers he accumulates, he already owns sec state POTUS next.
+24 # m... 2014-03-16 19:02
I would like to ask Mr Gates if he would consider buying a big chunk of the Corporate owned Press and then SET IT FREE to once again become the 'FREE PRESS' as envisioned by our Founding Fathers... And, if he thinks having a FREE PRESS once again in America might not help the world move along in better fashion through time and even towards a world more like what he envisions…?
+10 # ritawalpoleague 2014-03-16 19:36
Thank you for this interesting plus article on Bill Gates. Must say, it was very good to read his take on immigration
being so dreadful in this country. The crucifixion of immigrants, brought into this country as cheaper than cheap labor for a number of corps., is tragic plus.
0 # NAVYVET 2014-03-17 10:07
Are you kidding? He would NEVER set it free!
+14 # giraffee2012 2014-03-16 21:17
About 5 years ago I SAW (C-Span) Bill G requesting more H1B visas be released. I had just been replaced by an H1B and my 2nd son (also a programmer) had been replaced about 5 times by H1B visa persons.

Nobody seems to request an H1B to leave when their visa runs out and now many companies' IT divisions are filled with H1B visa people while I KNOW many unemployed programmers (and engineers, etc.)

As if his company couldn't afford to pay the American his wage -- The committee he was requesting more visas from were kissing his arse (dead give away that he is one of those who fund our bought for Congress so the top 1% continues to dodge paying their fair share of taxes.)

I agree with most posts who don't consider Bill a hero. Most of what I've thought has already been said in above posts.
+16 # RODNOX 2014-03-16 21:29
sorry but his support of MONSANTO and his mis-interpertat ion of SNOWDEN etc gain him a big ZERO in my book
+5 # James Marcus 2014-03-16 21:45
Barf! (mostly)
+13 # babaregi 2014-03-16 22:39
Noam Chomsky pegged Gates correctly in 1997 when he called him a parasite.

He got rich off of the public paid R & D that brought the Internet, computers, and semiconductor technology.

The taxpayer pays for the research and then the results enrich the private business sector.
0 # liteguy 2014-03-17 08:45
I'd be pretty optimistic too if I even had a billion. $$$$
+2 # economagic 2014-03-17 10:32
I read about half of the interview just to see if I had missed anything significant about Mr. Gates' character over these past thirty-five years. I didn't find anything new. I still think he is extremely naive in the way that technophiles often are, and in some ways downright stupid. Intelligence is not wisdom, knowledge is not intelligence, and making boatloads of money does not take a boatload of any of those, only a combination of luck, guile, and ruthlessness. And other posts above have pointed out where that often leads.
+4 # ganymede 2014-03-17 12:28
We live in a very crazy world. Yes, Bill Gates is certainly one of the better plutocrats in that he sincerely cares about many liberal and progressive issues, but is really doing a tiny fraction of what he could be doing with his money. What really floored me was his sitting down with one of the Koch Bros. for a la-de-da conversation while the Koch Bros are doing whatever they can to destroy us. Bill Gates could be doing a lot more with his money. He's no better than Andrew Carnegie who at least built the free public library system, which was one of the greatest gifts we got from the plutocrats.
+1 # seeuingoa 2014-03-17 14:26
What does it say about a guy who wants
to spend an evening with the Koch brothers ?
+1 # Activista 2014-03-17 23:09
I think that it is good interview - Gates reads a lot - i many areas he is educationally challenged - has huge (both positive and negative) influence at Microsoft - can not say much to hurt MS stock.
The paragraph on Syria - how war is destructive was good. His "war on terrorism" is naive - stop wars and stop World domination and terrorism is solved. Not a word on energy saving - not much on the destruction of nature by Homo Sapiens ..
0 # Activista 2014-03-19 20:49
BillG -
we spend 40% plus on military/bombs (compared to the rest of the World) - wars causing extreme damage -
big profit in stock market - like Boeing in WA, makes 1% rich.
If USA cuts military, there will be enough resources to solve global issues - to profit from military spending and then devote fraction of these resources to "help" the poor countries is very hypocritical.
-1 # Even 2014-03-18 04:51
Never could stand this guy and this didn't help.

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.