I Didn’t Copy From Steve Jobs, Says Bill Gates

The highlights from the Microsoft co-founder's fifth AMA

Image: Twitter

Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and now the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation took to Reddit for his fifth AMA (Ask Me Anything). The current richest person in the world stepped down as CEO of Microsoft in 2000 and as Chairman in 2008. He now works full-time at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation which donates large sums of money to various charities and scientific research programs. He is also the technology adviser to Microsoft. We pick the top questions from the AMA.

1. What is your idea of success? [simonlecomber]

Warren Buffett has always said the measure is whether the people close to you are happy and love you. It is also nice to feel like you made a difference – inventing something or raising kids or helping people in need.

2. Do you ever disguise yourself and just walk around incognito? [Navarath]

I sometimes wear a hat. For example when I did college tours with my son I wanted the focus to be totally on him. A lot less people recognize me when I have a hat on or else they realize I am trying to be incognito.

Mostly when people do recognize me they are super nice so I don’t feel it is a burden to be noticed most of the time.

3. What do you personally find as your greatest achievement? [INeedGentleHands]

Although the Foundation work is super promising and will be the biggest thing over the decades ahead I still think the chance to be part of the software revolution empowering people was the biggest thing I have gotten to do.

Right now I am very focused on making sure we successfully eradicate polio – that will be amazing if we do it – as good as shipping even the best software product.

4. If you could give 19-year-old Bill Gates some advice, what would it be?[UncomfortableChuckle]

I would explain that smartness is not single dimensional and not quite as important as I thought it was back then. I would say you might explore the developing world before you get into your forties. I wasn’t very good socially back then but I am not sure there is advice that would fix that – maybe I had to be awkward and just grow up….

5. Can you still jump over an office chair from a standing position? [TooShiftyForYou]

No. Perhaps a small chair – a stool. I do exercise and ski but my main sport is tennis which doesn’t involve jumping. Some people jump over the net but that isn’t part of the sport.

6. Do you think social media – and perhaps the internet in general – has played a role in helping divide this country? Instead of expanding knowledge and obtaining greater understandings of the world, many people seem to use it to:

1) seek and spread information – including false information – confirming their existing biases and beliefs, and

2) converse and interact only with others who share their worldview [terrashine]

I felt sure that allowing anyone to publish information and making it easy to find would enhance democracy and the overall quality of political debate. However the partitioning you talk about which started on cable TV and might be even stronger in the digital world is a concern. We all need to think about how to avoid this problem. It would seem strange to have to force people to look at ideas they disagree with so that probably isn’t the solution. We don’t want to get to where American politics partitions people into isolated groups. I am interested in anyones suggestion on how we avoid this.

7. What do you think is the most pressing issue that we could feasibly solve in the next ten years? [sushideception]

A lot of people feel a sense of isolation. I still wonder if digital tools can help people find opportunities to get together with others – not Tinder but more like adults who want to mentor kids or hang out with each other. It is great that kids go off and pursue opportunities but when you get communities where the economy is weak and a lot of young people have left then something should be done to help.

8. What kind of technological advancement do you wish to see in your lifetime? [qaziee]

The big milestone is when computers can read and understand information like humans do. There is a lot of work going on in this field – Google, Microsoft, Facebook, academia,… Right now computers don’t know how to represent knowledge so they can’t read a text book and pass a test.

Another whole area is vaccines. We need a vaccine for HIV, Malaria and TB and I hope we have them in the next 10-15 years.

9. If you could create a new IP and business with Elon Musk, what would you make happen? [IT_guys_rule]

We need clean, reliable cheap energy – which we don’t have. It is too bad the sun doesn’t shine all the time and the wind doesn’t blow all the time. The Economist had a good piece on this this week. So we need some invention – perhaps miracle batteries or super safe nuclear or making sun into gasoline directly.

10. Any thoughts on the current state of the U.S.? [FluffyTopicsOnly]

Overall like Warren Buffett I am optimistic about the long run. I am concerned in the short run that the huge benefits of how the US works with other countries may get lost. This includes the aid we give to Africa to help countries there get out of the poverty trap.

11. What are the limits of money when it comes to philanthropy? [suaveitguy]

Philanthropy is small as a part of the overall economy so it can’t do things like fund health care or education for everyone. Government and the private sector are the big players so philanthropy has to be more innovative and fund pilot programs to help the other sectors. A good example is funding new medicines or charter schools where non-obvious approaches might provide the best solution.

One thing that is a challenge for our Foundation is that poor countries often have weak governance – small budgets, and the people in the ministries don’t have much training. This makes it harder to get things done.

If we had more money we could do more good things – even though we are the biggest foundation we are still resource limited.

12. Did you copy Steve Jobs or did he copy you? [HalesOwnShrek]

The main “copying” that went on relative to Steve and me is that we both benefited from the work that Xerox Parc did in creating graphical interface – it wasn’t just them but they did the best work. Steve hired Bob Belville, I hired Charles Simonyi. We didn’t violate any IP rights Xerox had but their work showed the way that led to the Mac and Windows.

13. What are you most curious about, Bill? [dick-nipples]

I still find the creation of life and the way the brain works the most fascinating areas. Nick Lane has some great books exploring what we know about how life started. It is amazing how little we know about the brain still but I expect we will know a lot more in 10 years.