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12 things we learnt about Bill Gates from his Reddit AMA on Tuesday

When Bill Gates hosts an AMA, expect the kitchen sink. Everything from energy, elections, education, philosophy to Age of Empires being discussed shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. Being the super-nerd that Bill Gates is, he shares his wisdom on reading, humanities and how he feels philosophers can be depressing. Here a dozen exchanges from Bill Gates’ recent AMA.

tech Updated: Mar 09, 2016 12:00 IST
Bill Gates loves both sushi and thai food. Since he likes them better than his family does, he has them for lunch a lot.(Twitter/‎@BillGates)

When Bill Gates hosts an AMA, expect the kitchen sink. Everything from energy, elections, education, philosophy to Age of Empires being discussed shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. Being the super-nerd that Bill Gates is, he shares his wisdom on reading, humanities and how he feels philosophers can be depressing. Here a dozen exchanges from Bill Gates’ recent AMA.

flagsfly: What do you see human society accomplishing in the next 20 years? What are you most excited for?

thisisbillgates: I will mention three things.

First is an energy innovation to lower the cost and get rid of green house gases. This isn’t guaranteed so we need a lot of public and private risk taking.

EDIT: I talked about this recently in my annual letter:

Second is progress on disease particularly infectious disease. Polio, Malaria, HIV, TB, etc.. are all diseases we should be able to either eliminate of bring down close to zero. There is amazing science that makes us optimistic this will happen.

Third are tools to help make education better - to help teachers learn how to teach better and to help students learn and understand why they should learn and reinforce their confidence.

alieninators: For someone that’s currently 17 years old, what can I do to help or improve the world either now or in the future?

Also, if you could give 17 year old Bill some advice, what would it be?

thisisbillgates: I hope some people your age take on the need to innovate in energy. Most breakthrough things are done by young people and we need to surprise people with new ideas. The value of cheaper energy is hard to overstate.

I also hope your generation focuses on helping poor countries solve their health and education problems. The more people see themselves as global citizens rather than only being focused on one country the better.

Reddit user: I know you love to read, carry a lot of books around and learned how to speed-read, is there some technique you use to make this easier? More generally, how do you “attack” a book you’re interested in?

thisisbillgates: It is worth learning how to read a bit faster. I am not sure what the best course for that is nowadays. I had a friend who took Evelyn Wood and told me what they said.

I have a rule that I always finish a book once I start it. This might now work for everyone. I only read 2 books at a time -- in fact usually just one unless one of them is so complex I need to mix things up. I read a lot at night and my biggest problem is that I stay up to late and regret it the next day when I haven’t had as much sleep as I would like.

TheSlitheringSerpent: Has there been a problem or challenge that’s made you, as a billionaire, feel completely powerless? Did you manage to overcome it, and if so, how?

Now for a less serious question: sushi or thai food?

thisisbillgates: The problem of how we prevent a small group of terrorists using nuclear or biological means to kill millions is something I worry about. If Government does their best work they have a good chance of detecting it and stopping it but I don’t think it is getting enough attention and I know I can’t solve it.

I love both sushi and thai food. Since I like them better than my family does I have them for lunch a lot.

TeaTrousers: Some people (Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, etc) have come out in favor of regulating Artificial Intelligence before it is too late. What is your stance on the issue, and do you think humanity will ever reach a point where we won’t be able to control our own artificially intelligent designs?

thisisbillgates: I haven’t seen any concrete proposal on how you would do the regulation. I think it is worth discussing because I share the view of Musk and Hawking that when a few people control a platform with extreme intelligence it creates dangers in terms of power and eventually control.

Day_Rider: What’s your take on the recent FBI/Apple situation?

thisisbillgates: I think there needs to be a discussion about when the government should be able to gather information. What if we had never had wiretapping? Also the government needs to talk openly about safeguards. Right now a lot of people don’t think the government has the right checks to make sure information is only used in criminal situations. So this case will be viewed as the start of a discussion. I think very few people take the extreme view that the government should be blind to financial and communication data but very few people think giving the government carte blanche without safeguards makes sense. A lot of countries like the UK and France are also going through this debate. For tech companies there needs to be some consistency including how governments work with each other. The sooner we modernize the laws the better.

Maybe they [Apple] could propose an overall plan for striking the balance between government being able to know things in some cases and having safeguards to make sure those powers are confined to appropriate cases. There is no avoiding this debate and they could contribute to how the balance should be struck.

CourtesyAccount: Any plans to retire and enjoy a quieter life? It strikes me that you must be sacrificing a lot to remain so active on these projects.

thisisbillgates: I love my work. I love meeting the scientists and field workers. I have the flexibility to work less if I wanted to and I do take vacations now. When I was in my 20’s I didn’t believe in vacation so I have mellowed. I feel super lucky that I can be involved in the Foundation work with Melinda for another 30 years assuming my health holds up.

y2knole: Sql server on Linux was announced yesterday as I’m sure you are aware. What do you think this means or says about the company’s direction, culture and future?

thisisbillgates: I think it shows Satya [Nadella] looking at how the market is changing and being willing to change how things have been done. His embrace of the cloud and mobile including doing software on other people’s mobile platforms are also great examples of that.

RyanKinder: As a tagalong question: what’s a fantasy technological advancement you wish existed?

thisisbillgates: I recently saw a company working on “robotic” surgery where the ability to work at small scales was stunning. The idea that this will make surgeries higher quality, faster and less expensive is pretty exciting. It will probably take a decade before this gets mainstream - to date it has mostly been used for prostate surgery.

In the Foundation work there are a lot of tools we are working on we don’t have yet. For example an implant to protect a woman from getting HIV because it releases a protective drug.

le-click: Mr. Gates, can we please have another Age of Empires? Not sure if this is your department, but I figured I’d ask since you were here...


Edit: Bill plz I know you can see this.

Edit 2: First gold, thanks stranger! Just goes to show the power of reddit. One of the most powerful people on the planet came here to discuss humanitarian issues, and all we want to do is discuss video games.

thisisbillgates: I will look into this. How many empires do you need?

No_longer_invisible: Bill, why aren’t you running for president?

thisisbillgates: I like my current job at the Foundation better than I would being President. Also I wouldn’t be good at doing what you need to do to get elected. I thought Michael Bloomberg was thoughtful about why it didn’t make sense for him to try and run even though he is a great executive.

Yajirobe404: Who is your favorite philosopher?

thisisbillgates: I didn’t study philosophy a lot. Adam Smith wrote a book about Human Sentiments before he wrote the book on capitalism which I like. Some philosophers like Sartre seem a bit depressed to me.

First Published: Mar 09, 2016 11:59 IST