13 things we learned about Bill Gates from his Reddit AMA

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Bill Gates

Reddit’s Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions have hosted everyone from US president Barack Obama to William Shatner and adult entertainment star James Deen. When the geek world found out that Bill Gates would be the latest big name to host an AMA though, our collective ears pricked.

Getting the Microsoft founder on a public platform meant that Redditors would have a chance to find out answers to questions that no journalist would ever dare ask. The people participating in the session definitely delivered as did Gates, whose answers were frank and, at times candid.

We’ve picked through the aftermath of the session to find a few things about a man who turned away from the day-to-day running of one of the world’s biggest tech companies to try and eradicate malaria with lasers.

1. He doesn’t mind his portrayal in Pirates of Silicon Valley

When the made for TV movie Pirates of Silicon Valley came out, the overriding opinion was that Bill Gates came out looking a bit of a prat. Thing is, the billionaire philanthropist doesn’t actually seem to mind. When asked how he felt about his portrayal in the film, he said:

That portrayal was reasonably accurate….

2. He likes the way Nordic countries do business

Gates was incredibly pragmatic when asked about what the world needs that money can’t buy. More rationality is, apparently, the answer:

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/)

3. His hobbies look like they’d keep him busier than most of our jobs

Gates is often portrayed as the model nerd, but he actually seems to lead a pretty active social life. Admittedly some of the places he likes to take his kids are pretty geeky, but his love of tennis should explode some myths.

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)..

4. He’s still really excited about the future of technology

It would’ve been incredibly easy for Gates to sit back with his millions and forget about new developments in technology. Here are a few of the technologies that he thinks will have the same impact on you and me as the home computer did all those 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..

5. He’s optimistic about our chances of eradicating certain diseases

Since founding the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Microsoft founder has pumped billions of dollars of his own money into the eradication of some of the world’s deadliest diseases. In the face of what, to many, would seem an impossible task, Gates is resolutely optimistic. He even thinks we could see the last cases of certain diseases, like Polio, within the next few years:

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…

6. His sense of humour is drier than you’d think

In response to the question, “Anything left on your bucket list?”, Gates’ answer was:

Don’t die…

Then again, he could be serious.

7. He wants us all to go green

Who would you rather hear tell you about the need to change our behaviour to address climate change, Bill Gates or Al Gore? Judging by his answer to a question about the world’s reliance on fossil fuel, I get the feeling Gates might be a slightly more coherent ambassador:

I did a TED talk about the climate crisis. Over time we have to dramatically reduce CO2 emissions so using fossil fuels will require us to do carbon capture and sequestration. There has been far too little work on this. (http://www.thegatesnotes.com/Topics/Energy/Talking-About-Energy-Miracles-at-TED)

8. He still believes in the evolution of Windows

When asked about whether Windows 7 or 8 was better, Gates had this to say:

Higher is better.

Straightforward enough then.

9. He’s optimistic about the future but wants governments to spend more on R&D

Despite his hopes for the future, Gates does think governments need to do more to prevent dangerous weapons getting into the hands of “terrorists” and that they should be spending more on developing clean energy sources:

Hopefully we won’t have terrorists using nuclear weapons or biological weapons. We should make sure that stays hard.

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.

Overall I am pretty optimistic. Things are a lot better than they were 200 years ago..

10. He can haz cheezburger

There are a couple of simple pleasures that Gates still enjoys despite his immense wealth:

Kids. Cheap cheeseburgers. Open Course Ware courses…

11. He owns a Surface Pro but thinks we could all soon be using giant smart whiteboards

Yup, that’s right Gates owns one of Microsoft’s tablet-come-ultrabook devices, but he’s really excited about what Perceptive Pixel (the display company Microsoft bought in 2012) is doing:

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… (http://i.imgur.com/1JqrLVc.jpg)

12. He’s a big Weezer fan

But he has other bands that he also enjoys a few other big names in music:

Weezer…. Actually U2 is a favorite.. I keep waiting for Spinal Tap to go back on tour…

If you’re anything like us, you’re now trying to imagine Gates turning the dial up to 11.

13. He regrets that Microsoft didn’t get a jump on the cloud movement

It’s become accepted wisdom that Microsoft missed the bus a little when it comes to cloud computing. According to Gates though, the Redmond-based giant actually had something ready to go called WinFS, which was first demonstrated in 2003. It was, apparently ahead of its time:

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.

What were your favourite moments from the AMA? Let us know in the comments section.

Image: World Economic Forum via Wikimedia Commons

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