WhaleTech: Bill Gates does an AMA


What is an AMA, you may ask?

Social networking site Reddit has a ‘thing’ where those aloft and aloof drop by and get interviewed by people like you an me.  AMA stands for, Ask Me Anything.  And the public genuinely get access to the actual person, and are able to pose questions.

This used to be a relatively pure experience, but over the last year or so, PR people and publicists add a “Do an AMA” to the list of to-do’s to promote a new movie, book, or whatever.

Some people don’t understand the concept behind the AMA and fail badly, but most are are aware before they arrive that the last A in AMA does really mean Anything, so they tend to make it an equal exchange, much to the delight of those posing the questions.

And so, Bill Gates, of Microsoft fame, has been on his philanthropic kick for a number of years now, and together with his wife Melinda, they run the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.  This foundation is doing a lot of good all round the world.

Isn’t it nice to know that all that yelling you’ve done at your PC over the years is paying off in vaccines and better education?  Well, at least it is something.

Over the break, some of the most popular questions, and Bill’s answers.

Anything left on your bucket list?
Don’t die…

What is something that needs to be changed in the world, but money wont help?
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. (http://www.moibrahimfoundation.org/IIAG/)

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..

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?
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)..

What is the greatest achievement of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in your opinion and how do you choose which causes to support?
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.

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…

Since becoming wealthy, what’s the cheapest thing that gives you the most pleasure?
Kids. Cheap cheeseburgers. Open Course Ware courses…

What type of computer are you using right now?
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…


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?
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 at www.billsletter.com and you can learn more about the progress against polio with this infographic: http://annualletter.gatesfoundation.org/#nav=section4&slide=2)

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?
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.

To read all of the AMA, you can find the Bill Gates AMA on Reddit here.

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