Bill Gates may be the richest man in the world, but he doesn't shy away from difficult questions. The Microsoft co-founder turned philanthropist regularly visits Reddit to answer the queries of its user base.
In an Ask Me Anything session yesterday, Gates addressed a range of topics, from AI, to Social Media, to success. However, there was also insight into GUI creation and accusations of theft between Apple and Microsoft.
“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,” said Gates. “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.”
Gates is referring to GUI use in the Xerox Alto, the first computer with a mouse-driven interface. Though the use was was not commercial, it's widely accepted that the devices influenced both Jobs and Gates in the early days.
AI and Social Media
The AMA also explored topics that are arguably more important. Gate's vision of the future has a natural alignment with Microsoft – the use of AI for good.
“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.”
Gate's response mirrors that of prominent Microsoft researchers. Thanks to internal development, the Redmond giant has already managed to create an AI that can record conversation as well as humans. However, lead researcher Harry Shum believes “It will be much longer, much further down the road until computers can understand the real meaning of what's being said or shown.”
Social media was another vital topic. Gates agreed with concerns about the creation of an echo chamber – a bubble in which users only expose themselves to media that agrees with their worldview.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Finally, Gates turned to more trivial questions. Despite his success, the man has a simple taste in sandwiches. In response to queries of his favorite, he simply said:
“Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger.”
You can read the full AMA on Reddit.