On Monday, February 11, co-founder and chairman of Microsoft Bill Gates took part in an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit, a popular social networking/water cooler site. The AMA ended up being one of the most popular Reddit has ever hosted, with 12k comments and counting. While a large part of the conversation focused on his work at the head of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Mr. Gates also spent quite a bit of time answering questions based on his time at Microsoft and his views on the current and future state of technology. In this article, we’ll take a look at a few of the questions Mr. Gates was asked along with his answers.
On how technology could enhance our education:
“The ability to test your knowledge and get refreshed on a topic you are making mistakes on will personalize a lot of the learning experience. People like Sal Khan (founder of The Khan Academy, one of the most popular online destinations for free learning materials) are out in front figuring out how to do this well. My foundation has funded a lot of MOOCs focused on community college kids or kids who have to take remedial math. I am optimistic these will make a big difference.”
On the state of the Internet:
"There are two things this could reference. One is the free/pay for software mix. The Internet has benefited from having lots of free stuff and lots of commercial software. It has been interesting to see people inventing hybrid models. Even stuff that is pretty commercial often has free versions for some audiences. Even the most open stuff often has services people choose to pay for.
The second thing is the anonymous versus identified tension. This is another one where both will probably thrive, since you want anonymity for some things and full identity for others. I am surprised how little progress has been made in the identity space, but it will improve."
"It is a huge advance for Windows, which people will see even more as the great applications and hardware come out."
On whether he still codes:
“Not as much as I would like to. I write some C, C# and some Basic. I am surprised new languages have not made more progress in simplifying programming. It would be great if most high school kids were exposed to programming.”
On new technology that will change people’s lives, much like the home computer did when it first came out:
“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.”
On the Microsoft product that “got away”:
“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 reemerge 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.”
Note: this was later confirmed by Mr. Gates as WinFS, a project that would save files as bits of information with tags and attributes use to describe them, making them easily linked, sorted, and searched.
On the type of computing devices he’s 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.”
What would you ask?
What would you ask Mr. Gates if you could? Let us know in the comments section below.