‘A Conversation with Bill Gates’ Q&A at Harvard University

‘A Conversation with Bill Gates’ Q&A at Harvard University

October 15, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs


Well I’ve been at a lot of events in
this room but that is the warmest welcome I think Frank Doyle has ever had. Thank you all for being here. This is not
too subtle I am very pleased to welcome my college classmate Bill Gates and I
just want to say a word or two about Bill. The first I ever heard about Bill
was when we were freshmen and a friend of mine, another classmate told me keep
an eye keep an eye out for Bill Gates. He’s going to do some really amazing
things and this classmate was pretty impressive himself somebody who I
expected great things of and I dare say that none of us could have predicted the
great things that Bill would do. When I was an undergraduate, when Bill and
I were undergraduates you have to understand that the world especially
when it came to computation look very different. To the best of my knowledge
and Bill may correct me about this the only computer on Harvard campus was in
the Science Center. Now I was a research assistant as an undergrad and I would
work at a building that was on Cambridge Street where CJIS North is today and I would
cross the street to go to the Harvard computer center where CGA CJIs South is
today where I would run jobs there wasn’t absolutely a computer there the
computer was at MIT so we were just connected to the mainframe at MIT and in
those days the greatest anxiety that anybody could have in a job like mine
was to drop the box of punch cards, because if you did that you would lose
maybe a week’s worth of work. Bill had a vision and I understand it went back
even then that computing would be ubiquitous
it would be part of all of our lives and indeed as you all know he executed on
that vision and the world today has changed so dramatically in large part
due to the work that Bill has done throughout the years so indeed he has
changed the world he has done amazing things in technology. Arguably he has
done even more if you want to call it that his second career as a
philanthropist. Bill has an incisive analytic mind. He demands rigor, he relies
on data, and he looks at outcomes. If any of us reflect for a little bit about the
good things that we try to do the altruistic acts that we engage in we
have to admit that from time to time we wonder whether we’re doing it more to
make ourselves feel good about doing the right thing or whether we’re actually
helping the people we want to help. Bill has removed all doubt about helping
other people because the measures and the effects of his philanthropy has simply
have simply been profound. Today the New England Journal of
Medicine published an article, I kid you not the name of the study is Mordor, a study about the use of some very simple antibiotics given twice a
year to preschool children in three countries in Africa and on average it
reduced childhood mortality by 13% and what’s even more encouraging the effects
were larger in Niger which had the greatest childhood mortality
rates this is a cheap easy to implement intervention and this work was sponsored
by the Gates Foundation. There is example after example of the work that Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have supported over the year
that have transformed health and maybe not as much as Bill would like as we
just heard from him, education as well. Few people in history
have had as profound an impact on mortality and on human well-being as
Bill has and I dare say that none of us will know the full impact during our
lives the work that he has done will pay off for many many years. So to close let
me just say my friend whose name as Bill probably knows, is Steve Ballmer,
he’s not always right but he’s often right, and in this case he was right but he
probably had no idea how right he would be when he said “Bill will do amazing
things”, so Bill-thank you for the amazing things you do, thank you for the
inspiration, and we all look forward to your dialogue with Frank, please welcome
again Bill Gates. Well it’s terrific to welcome you back
here to Harvard I’m hoping you can explain this piece of paper that’s
projected up on the screen here break the ice. Well I took a course called
2010 that was at my expense taught on microeconomics and that’s part of my
final. My whole thing was that I didn’t want to attend to any of the course I
was signed up for and I had all these other courses that I attended. I
remember when I went into that final everybody was in my study group was kind
of mad at me because, “Hey you never showed up, what you know now all of a
sudden here you are.” But it was an amazing course, the people of majored in
economics were at a disadvantage because knowing math was very helpful in that
fact course. But it was fantastic. The people in the back, I don’t know if you can read
it, but the instructors comment in the lower corner there says ‘arithmetic error
no sweat’. Well Bill we just had a really fun hour and a half, two hours with
the robotics folks in the engineering school here, touring various labs, and I’m
wondering if you would share with this community, your impressions of what you saw
happening in robotics and the implications of that technology for
humans. The impact good, bad, and otherwise. Well robotics is a very broad field at a
very early stage and there’s some exciting and promising things that
come out of it. Normally when we think that we think of a human-sized sort of a
lot of metal type contraption that’s doing things humans would do like
cleaning up a room or being an infantry soldier are some sort of manufacturing
job. The work here is taking robotics in in many dimensions, into different realms.
So I saw the robot bee which is a tiny little pea-sized robot that can fly
around, it doesn’t quite go anywhere yet but it’s a I’m sure they’ll get that
figured out. I also saw a lot of what they called ‘soft robotics’ where
instead of having metal parts you have actually fabric and either through
hydraulics or pneumatics you’re manipulating this, you know, I wore a
glove that the air pressure pneumatically would provide gripping and
so it’s both thinking of enhancing humans who have normal functionality and
taking people who have had a stroke or ALS, and and allowing them to do normal
functions despite that disability. So robotics
is very cool because it’s a lot of sciences there, yes there’s some good
software that’s in it, but actually, looking at evolution how do insects fly,
you know understanding Reynolds numbers, and turbulence and how you modeled, that
which at small scale it’s amazing.Nobody really understands
how insects fhy slowly but surely we’re figuring it out so I saw a variety of
robots that are really amazing and of course nowadays people share their
latest ideas so the collaboration between the various teams was amazing to
see. You know, as I was preparing for this, I went back and I
found one of your former professors, who’s still on the faculty. Harry Lewis,
in computer science, to try to get some insight into your character. Back in the
day when the picture we saw earlier was a reflection and one of the things Harry
recalled was you had this voracious appetite for reading, you have this
immense capacity for learning, a sense of curiosity that as we’ve watched over your
career that doesn’t seem to have narrowed any. Especially as we think about in
Alan’s introduction the the array of topics that your foundation touches on
that you have expertise in the knowledge in from public health to education
reform to renewable energy. How is it that where many of us who get to a
certain level in our career dive deep, and narrow, and specialized, you’ve
managed to not narrow and keep your curiosity very very broad. Yes, certainly
during the time I was Harvard I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. The idea
that where it was this field that was the
opportunity was unbelievable that became more obvious during the three-year
period I was here. But my dad had been a lawyer,
I thought of mathematics you know like doing him all on the Putnam that was the
coolest thing and the computer software I didn’t think those people were smart
just the math people. So it’s like, well am I gonna go into the easy field, or
this really hard field, but anyway math was fantastic, when I finally picked and
decided to go do Microsoft. Then I got into a period from age 19 to about 40
where I wasn’t able to look at the latest on you know how tornadoes work or
how mitochondria at work I was pretty monomaniacal and when I was able to ask
Steve, this is the year 2000, Steve Ballmer, he he mistakenly graduated, [laughter]he
started at Stanford, I was trying to hire him but his parents told him you’re supposed
to graduate; which was fine, but then he started at Stanford Business
School and he was in his first year and I thought, ‘oh this is perfect I’ll get
him to drop out of Stanford Business School!’, so in a certain sense he is a
dropout and he was very key to the success of Microsoft. I mean he knew a
lot of things but during that period I didn’t get to do much at Harvard you
know I took all these courses because it was just so amazing that people were
interested in talking about my and I I have to say I never went to a lecture
during reading period or any anything because the courses that I was actually
signed up for I finally started to work on those so I was in Hallel the minute
would open to the minute it would close during reading period trying to catch up
on on that other set of courses. So people say I’m a dropout which is
literally true but because I like college courses the online college
courses there’s a company called the learning company that I buy tons and
tons of their stuff and I do in at least four or five courses a year. In a sense I
like going to college more than anyone so I’m sort of made sure my job
certainly post Microsoft, that I get to spend my time meeting with scientists,
learning new things, you know, seeing what the hard problems are, in some cases
giving money to people to take on those very very hard problems. So knowing you
have such a passion for education reform and you touched on MOOCs what’s your
vision of how MOOCs will or will not transform education there’s been a lot
of prophecies about the doom of universities as we know it and that
mercifully has not come to pass; but what are your thoughts about where MOOCs are
going to fit in, whether at the k-12 level,or at the the higher level? Well
education is essentially a social construct, it’s not that the universities
have secret knowledge that only they have available. You know I took these
numbers, this won’t make any sense anymore, but the hardest freshman math class was
called math 55, I assume it’s not called that anymore,
but it was it was a group of of 80 people whose personal positioning
was, they were the best person at math that they had ever met, so there were 79
frauds. One person who really was the the best at math. The guy who came
in first in the class is a lawyer in New York now, the guy who came in second is a
professor of chaos theory at Princeton, and then I came in third. So I knew, ‘okay Math-
jeez that’s interesting’, anyway I didn’t take physics 55 but I read the Fineman
book and so if you’re motivated, seriously, you don’t have to take a
course the Fineman book if you’re hardcore, just read the Fineman and book
and work through the problems, if you want to learn to do software, read the Art of Computer
Programming – good luck doing the problems. But you know anyone that’s rated 30 or
harder is like super hard to do and so a MOOC in a sense doesn’t change what
counts you know it’s always been in the textbook but the percentage of students
who just buy textbooks and and read them and know the subject is vanishingly
small you kind of have to have this thing where a bunch of kids all come at
the same time and you know if you don’t study you’re gonna get a bad grade and
your parents may not like that you have to create all these social things in
order for people to get into this mode of hyper concentrating and actually
understanding why should I concentrate you know, if I’m a high school student
they put X’s and Y’s up on the board, ‘how does that relate to my life now?’, if you
understood that being good at math lets you get a good job, travel the world, you
might say ‘okay it does relate to me’ but that’s a very indirect thing and the
kind of discipline to care about that, to concentrate, that’s what’s missing, and
so MOOCs – to the degree that it’s easier to take a MOOC than it is to read a
textbook – yeah that’s nice, it’s a little bit interactive there’s a video, that’s
part of the what I like about the Learning Company, like all their economics, there’s
a guy named Timothy Taylor who has five courses on economics, I super recommend
and you learn to like him and his way of explaining things. So a MOOC is a
slightly more digestible form of learning but it doesn’t take
particularly for somebody at a young age it in no way changes this question of
– why should people engage in that learning and how do you create the
environment and the sense of achievement and the sense of capability that sitting
in there and you know looking at X’s and Y’s manipulating them seems like a smart
thing to do. Terrific insights. Well Bill let me ask you to kind of reflect back
to when you were the age of the folks in the room here, 20 or so, with the
experience that you’ve accumulated since that time. We’ve got a bunch of
incredibly smart ambitious, creative folks in the room here who are going to be
the future doers and makers and influencers. What advice would you, in
part based upon your recollection when you were sitting in this seat
at that age? Well I think it’s if anything a more interesting time to be
lucky enough to be a student at Harvard. The ability to take innovation and solve
problems including the class of problems I’ll call ‘inequity problems’, how do you,
you know, how low-income students do as well as high income students, how do you
go to Africa and help the health and education taken the incredible population
growth that will be there and make that a positive asset for that continent.
These are very tough problems and you know they’ve eluded being solved. So
obviously the easy problems are not the ones you’ll you’ll get to work on so
whether it’s you know, health costs, or climate change, or you know robots that
do good things and not bad things or the policies around those things; this is
a fascinating time to be alive you know. I don’t know what it’ll be like 50 or 60
years from now or what the problems will be but in your generation you know cancer,
infectious disease so many things will be solved and the societal framework of
how you avoid polarization and how you maintain trust, those things will also
need some brilliant breakthroughs. Terrific, good, I hope you’re all inspired.
I could sit here and ask him questions all day but we’ve got some really
inquisitive folks out here in the audience so I know Shirley has some
questions. Let me remind you of some of the Harvard ground rules here, so first
of all introduce yourself, say what school or what concentration you’re
coming from second keep your question brief, third
make it a question, it’s something that ends with a question mark as opposed to
a statement. Okay we’ve got some mic runners we’re going to go around and I’m
going to start with this person right here we could get a mic halfway up right
at the aisle there yeah. Thank you very much Mr. Gates so I’m a
3L and Harvard Law School and my name is David and I’m from China.
I also went to a University of Washington for my graduate studies I got
my PhD there so my question is uh so University of Washington is a great public
school and you also you and Mr. Paul Allen helped us grow so much but
to be honest in the U.S. the public schools have a hard time competing with
private schools especially for undergraduate studies so I wonder how you
see this problem and is there going to be any change in the future? Thank you very much. Yeah our Foundation has two things that
we work on one which is global in nature; improving health and we now
complement that with agriculture and a few other things, and then here in the US
about 20% of what we do is U.S. education. So we did a thing called the Millennium
Scholarship which was 20,000 diverse kids who got scholarships but a lot of
what we do is try to be the R&D funding. You can look at industry by industry you
know pharmaceutical, software and say ‘okay how much do they work on their next
breakthrough?’ if your thought ‘okay what are the returns to society?’ you’d
probably want education to have the highest R&D percentage, in fact, it
effectively has a zero percent R&D, you know public schools don’t do R&D,
Department of Education essentially doesn’t, there’s a little bit of money. So
we thought ‘okay that’s a market failure a systems failure’ we can go in and,
there’s a professor here Tom Kane, who we supported a lot he came to us early on
and said, “Hey there are some teachers are super good and if you could just move
people, the average teacher, to be at the boundary of the top quartile, then US
education would be as good as Singapore. Which is- Singapore, Korea, and Shanghai
are the three best in the world, and so that was very intriguing. So we went
around and did 20,000 hours of video of the really good teachers,
and then we did 20,000 hours of the other teachers and compared and learned
a lot about how good teachers interact. They were way more interactive with
their class than the others and we thought ‘ok we’ll put this online, people
will watch this they’ll all learn how to teach like those people.’ Well so far we
haven’t managed to move the the needle on that in a big way.
But you know we’re working hard. There are very good schools,
you know maintenance schools that sort of cheat by picking their student body,
there are charter schools that even in the inner city
some of them like Kipp do extremely well by creating a culture and the cost of
those schools is not as high as the nearby public school which can often
have 50 percent type dropout rates so at the micro level it feels like we
understand some tactics. Some of the tactics involve the use of computers and
software but that may be less profound than you might think at the
early grades because it’s all about this motivational stuff and just
computerizing it a little bit in math you can get to somebody’s level and
therefore they’re feeling more positive feedback so that that is working but
that’s not the whole equation. So in education we’re spending 800 million a
year and our goal which was to move the average quality of the US education up
into that top 3 we have had no noticeable impact after almost 20 years of working
in that space but we we’re committed we’re going to keep keep doing it.
Frustratingly inertial system. There was a hand up here earlier, the
young lady and the black sweater. Hi I’m Danica Gutierrez, I am
a sophomore at the college studying economics and I’m a Gates Millennium
scholar and I just I just wanted to personally thank you
for supporting my education and the ambitions of other students like me and
my question for you is, “what is something that you regret doing or maybe not doing
while you were here at Harvard? Thank you. Well, I wish I’d been more sociable. [Laughter] I think they got rid of them, but there were these things called Men’s Clubs and I was so anti social I would have even known they existed but Steve
Ballmer decided I needed to have some exposure to I guess drinking so he got
me punched for the Fox Club so I’d go to those events and that that was highly
educational but that I think they shut them down or something cuz they couldn’t
cure…that’s’ sensitive… so anyway I’m no I’m not trying…it’s fine, there’s lots of
places to drink. So you know I wish I’d mixed around a bit more you know. I just,
it was a fun time though because you know you had people around you could
talk 24 hours a day and you know the classes were so so interesting and they
fed you. I lived up a career because she could get hamburger and for every meal
you could have a hamburger for breakfast or lunch or dinner and the the male-female
ratio was one-to-one which that was an unusual thing at the time. It didn’t help
me but [laughter] it was a visual improvement for me so yeah
I wish I’d gotten to know more people. I was just so into being good at the
classes and taking lots of classes, it you know it worked out in the end
but I missed a lot of well. I never went to a football game or a basketball game
or whatever other sports teams Harvard might happen to have just a few right?
So maybe from this side of the room this time right over here. Hi my name is
Angelina Yee I’m from Sycamore Illinois and I’m a sophomore at the College so as
someone as famous and has like, has done so much in society, outside of your
family, I was wondering what something what is something that you’re most proud
of and you feel like is your biggest accomplishment? Well in work you know
the saw the Microsoft work I’m very proud of, the magic of software, and how
software’s empowering people. You know the Foundation,the fact that we took a
field of helping, you know, the poor countries, the developing countries,
really improve their health systems in a dramatic way I’d say the statistic that
I’d be most proud of is that when we got started there are 11 million children a
year under the age of 5 would die every year and now that number has been cut
more than in half so it’s little over 5 million. Now and that’s because we’ve
gotten new vaccines and drugs out in you know India, Africa, all of these
developing countries and so you know having it be in half, that’s
pretty amazing and we did not expect to do that.
I thought improving the U.S. education system would be way easier than that.
We’re on a path by 2030 to cut it in half again so it’ll go to less than two
and a half million which will mean that only at that point
only about two percent of children will died before the age of five, that’s
pretty incredible because for a variety factors it’s hard even for a rich
country to get much full of 1% so it means the risk of death in a poor
country is only about a factor of 2 higher. There are a few places left in
the world where 15% of the kids die that’s sort of central Africa including
northern Nigeria historically before medicine came along that number was
about 35% no matter what your wealth was but then as countries got richer you’ve
got this huge gap particularly because you had diseases like malaria that
nobody once the rich world solved their malaria problem then there was zero
dollars going into it there was no market incentive if it’s only very poor
people who have a disease. So I hope that, so I feel good about
where we are. I hope that we get polio done we’re very close that would be a
big day to have polio be fully eradicated. [Applause] And you know then that would give the
world the energy and hopefully the commitment to go get malaria which would
be about a 20-year quest and requires a lot of breakthroughs you know. I I’m also
trying to be a good parent which is harder to measure and
like twice as good a parent as I was ten years ago or anything like that
but I put a lot of effort in into that. Fantastic, alright how about in the
middle of the back there yeah exactly. Hi my name is Shanti Scott Norman I am
an arts and education student at the Graduate School of Education I’m a
middle school art teacher and I commend you for the work that you do in public
education and I’m curious to know about your thoughts on teacher pay especially
these days. I don’t think education public education is
going to get much better if teachers don’t get paid more. Yeah absolutely the you know education in the U.S., the way K
through 12 is funded is very different than the way higher education is funded.
So let me just talk about the biggest part which is the K through 12. We
definitely want more resources to go into that sector but at the state level
the trends unfortunately are not favorable because the amount of money
that’s raised at the state level as a percentage of GDP is is quite flat often
slightly down because they tax goods and not services and often are fairly
regressive as you look at the demands on that resource pool: the pension costs
which have been approximately mis- accounted, and the medical costs, the prison system, current employees, retired employees,
Medicaid, those are all going up very dramatically and so unless a state is
willing to increase its tax level what happens is; first they start cutting all
the maintenance of everything then they start cutting the higher ed piece and
so you’ve seen state university tuition triple over the the last decade and then
K through 12. is a priority but so many states have cut so much that they’re
actually in some cases cutting it and you’ve seen recently to some teacher
strikes that came out of the fact that they had quote ‘reformed the tax system’
had not have enough money to pay for K through 12 and so I’m hopeful that the
percentage of GDP we put into the K through 12 system can go up but it won’t
go up by a factor of two you know even if we raise taxes in an appropriate
progressive way because of those other liabilities if we were really smart we
put another 20 or 30 percent in, most of which would go to increase salaries so
that it’s attractive to be in that profession. It is a profession that has
an unusual salary structure that the younger teachers are relatively paid
less than they should – anyway – and you know so – this is all decided state
by state and there’s a factor of three variation. Massachusetts actually spends
a lot of money on K through 12 I wouldn’t suggest it needs to spend more
but there’s only about eight states that you can say that for the rest of them
are at about ten thousand per student per year and it’s it’s it’s not enough.
As these systems get squeezed right now what they’re doing is they’re taking out
a lot of elective activities which have extremely high returns relative to the
amount of money put into them but you know all the music, after school
athletics, those things get squeezed so the system actually is when you see a
funding cut say you see a negative 4% cut your image should be that that
system is working twenty percent worse because they’re not actually very
rational about how they do things, but you know
it’s going to be a political fight. You know being pro tax, you know
not many people, you know I’ve been fighting for the estate tax to be bigger
and higher you know a higher percentage and it’s a lonely thing to be a pro tax
person especially much my peers. The gentleman in the salmon
colored shirt. Hi my name is Peter Jankowski, freshmen here at the
college studying applied math and I am from California, San Fransisco. I just wanted to ask you if you
think there’s a lack of scientific literacy in U.S. politics right now and if
so how do you go about tackling that challenge.
Well definitely there are several topics like climate change or reducing medical
costs or using the latest techniques to make food productivity and nutrition
better, so-called GMO techniques, the understanding of that is very limited.
But it’s not just the politicians, if you take an issue like GMOs and you ask the
general public or you ask about, you know evolution, so the electorate, the problem
is when you get issues climate change maybe the best example, where the
science and understanding is fairly important because the sacrifices have to
be made now in order to get the benefits later. You know if the effect of
climate change your neighbor you were seeing it today you would it
would be politically different. HIV is like that, where you get infected and you go
almost eight years before you start to get sick. So motivating people to behave
so they protect themselves particularly in a very poor country where your time
horizon, that you think about trade-offs, is much shorter than we would typically
have, so yes we you know in the same way that,
the women’s movement is doing a great job of identifying candidates and they
have more candidates we’re gonna run for office in this midterm election cycle
than ever before you know there’s other attributes like being good at managing
things and understanding science and we don’t need you know half the politicians
but enough and you know if they can specialize in push in those areas.It’s the anti science that’s a problem. It’s not there was a book that was
written called Physics for Future Presidents and it’s great. You know
explains why fear of radiation is kind of insane and why getting rid of
gasoline because it’s so energy dence and might be a lot harder than we might
think. We we need to push back
right now, we’re sort of in a dip in terms of that science being an argument
for good policies. So can I pick it up on that for a minute and just say even with
what was happening in Washington three weeks ago four weeks ago with Mark
Zuckerberg the question of data privacy and technology the kind of questions
they’re near and dear to your heart again seem to be something that is
sorely lacking in understanding and experience in the Congress, how do we
close that gap? I realize I’m not going to train a bunch of computer scientists
to be elected officers but how can we bridge the divide between the current
state of knowledge and what they really should know to do effective regulation?
Well the they there are some very cutting-edge issues that even if I think
if we took this audience and say ‘okay what do we think the solutions these
problems are the ideas would be, you know hundred times better than asking the
Congress, but the boundary is even so though the boundary between hate speech
and free speech is super complicated the idea that people like to listen to
things that that are agreeable to them even if they’re not true that reinforce
their biases and that society is becoming more polarized in terms of what
we read where we live and the digital tools are sort of the ultimate
accelerator of this polarization. What do you do do you
force people to see things they disagree Should Facebook sign up to
the ‘hey you know 25% of articles will piss you off’
pledge ? Yyou know so that we’re reading the same headlines and that we can see
that some of the facts are are not facts I think those are super tough things. It
was kind of nice for Mark that at least a few of the questions were malformed
enough they did get a little bit of a break. Refreshing way of looking at it
but if we swing back here maybe down near the front with the HLS jacket we
get a mic right over down front in the middle here. Hi my name’s Lawrence David I’m from
Harvard Law School LLM student from Canada. So you’ve mentioned a few issues
that are currently plaguing American society whether its scientific
illiteracy, education things of that nature. I know your foundation focuses a
lot on improving educational outcomes, what do you regard as the most
significant challenge facing the United States today and moving forwards in the
coming decades? Well you had to pick one I’d say the quality the education system
I mean there’s a country that has essentially a credo of equal opportunity
more than anything else and the only way you really execute equal opportunity is
by having a great education system. There are a few other issues like, staying out
of wars would be a good thing, and making sure that some negative events like a
pandemic, either naturally caused or from bioterrorism that were prepared for
those things, which are fairly low probability things.
Tomorrow I give the thing called the Shattuck lecture which is about how we
should get organized for pandemics and it it won’t take you know 0.2% of
society’s resources to be more ready for those things. So overall I’m quite
optimistic and my general framework is a very optimistic framework you know the
there’s a book by Hans Rolsing that just came out that I super recommend it’s
called FAQ from us very easy to read that kind of creates a framework okay of
what problems have we solved and why when asked questions about the state of
the world do people pick the wrong answers? Not at a random level but a way
worse than random level and actually, university professors were the worst
group they polled you know, so they’d say like what’s happened to poverty in the
last 25 years? It’s you know gone up stayed the same been cut in half, four
percent of university professors picked the right answer.
Which is kind of weird because you’d think they would have this notion of
okay this country did it well. I’ve seen what Vietnam did I’ve seen
what China did their whole framework would be in the frame of how time has
improved things so you know we have the innovation on our side the US has one
problem that it won’t be as unique a country in the future
despite percent two people in terms of political power and scientific discovery
won’t be as much at the center as the other ninety five percent which is a
good thing by most ways of looking at it. Getting us used to the fact that
we’re in a multilateral world particularly given current attitudes is
is an adjustment problem but education is if I out of wand if I don’t want for
the world I fix malnutrition and want for the u.s. I fix education. How about
the gentleman sitting right there. Hello I’m Michael Chang I’m a junior at
the college studying physics and electrical engineering and I admire
you because you did what you love, you seized the right opportunities and you
gave back to society when you succeeded. So my question for you is besides
dropping out of Harvard what was; what were some of the best things that you
did looking back and what at the time made you think of doing these things?
Well I’ve been you know so lucky in terms of my progression you know I had
parents who read a lot and came and shared even at the dinner table like my
dad was working on lawsuits and my mom was working on various social service
type things and so I had an exposure to that and they gave me an arbitrary
budget to buy books so I got to just just read a lot. They sent me to a super
nice school for high school then they sent me into a super nice school for
college and you know they basically paid for it so it the idea that computers
were going to be a change agent you know I was lucky enough to meet Paul Allen
and early on we brainstormed about this chip and the chip changed the
rules I mean most things don’t get a million times better not you know engine
efficiency or you know most things have theoretical minimums. Computation is
something that we’re not even close to the theoretical minimum and yet we’ve
improved so much; so seeing that that was going to come and weirdly that most
people didn’t see that was going to come so, you know, even people at IBM were
still thinking in terms of big computers you know now all the the software and
service turbine companies are worth even more than IBM. When I was growing up IBM
was the monolith and it was always ‘okay are we going to beat them are we gonna
join him those bastards?’ Actually there were very nice people but
we always thought of them and they, they sort of stood for these big computers
that only big companies and governments could get the benefit for so actually we
played off of that, power to the people personal computing
type thing of course now we’re a big company and somebody can play off of us.
You know it’s hard to say what the benches are I mean being able to
concentrate on something in an extreme way you know is that nature is it
nurture? Maintaining curiosity a lot of people lose curiosity in their 20s or
30s so if you hand them a big thick book they’re like “what am I gonna read that?’. I
used to tell everybody to read Steven Pinker but i think it which is if if you
want to it’s the it’s even as an intellectual framework even better than
Rosling but I’m afraid a lot of people don’t make time to read what’s a fairly
academic and super profound, both Better Angels of our Nature and Enlightenment.
Now and then you know I was born at a time where I can go out and learn all
these things and then I have friends you know if I’m trying to understand quantum
computing a lot of times I get confused so it helps to have friends who can come
and say try to straighten you out and it makes your willingness to try to learn
something even trying to understand poor Nadeau’s which are this funny 3d thing
you know having somebody could show me where the visualization was and okay
what are the unique conditions I don’t think I would have done that if I didn’t
have a group of people that had stayed in electric curious and that we had the
internet to kind of feed us access to the the latest thing so I think you know
the time I was born in a meeting Paul seeing the microprocessor. The idea that
a young person could start a company here is a super nice thing because
although people at first are skeptical as soon as they realized their normal
model of what I knew and what I could do that I didn’t fit that normal model then
they assumed I knew way more than I did and I could solve all sorts of problems
I had no clue you know how to solve but you know it was nice that people were
kind of a gog that we had built this company and done these things from a
young age. So I think the culture of America that you know almost the
American Dream type success story worked out and then you know not being in
Silicon Valley but not being far from Silicon
that ended up I think working for the company in a great way but way. In the
back there and gentlemen yeah right there you still have your hand up yep
you. [Inaudible] Yeah if you want to have impact usually
delegation is important although you know individual contributors in terms of
inventing a drug or a new approach to things that’s phenomenal
so when Microsoft first got started I wrote most of code and everybody else’s
code I read and kind of rewrote [laughter] and that got us up to ten people and then I had
to say to myself okay we were gonna ship code that I didn’t edit and that was
hard for me but I you know I kinda got over that then I still said okay I’m
gonna interview everyone and I’m at least look at samples of their code well
that got us up to about forty people and that was at a point where I had sold way
more software than we could write because everybody was so impressed and I
thought well I need to keep enough collect enough money to you know keep
hiring all these people but the demand was so high that you know we were
actually falling behind. That’s when I hired Steve and Steve figured out a how
to control what promises I made to people and B how to hire lots of people
and good really good people and create organizations and teams. So I delegated
to Steve that and he was constantly saying to me okay we’re gonna hire
programmers that you’ve never met and I’d say ‘no we’re not’ and then he would show
me numerically that the constraint wasn’t gonna work
you know so then I said okay then I would you know know all the man
interests of the people and so over time and of course you know I could say the
quality per person was falling monotonically [laughter] according to me but you know large
problems if you want to know right the most popular office productivity
software that one person absolutely can’t do that you can write pretty code
so everyone has to decide what scale of organization they want to work in
eventually you know my role was very much as a leader and a reviewer of
managers but the top people and I hired some super experienced people I would
make sure they were pursuing a common vision and they were well coordinated
but in terms of a lot of management stuff they were way better than I was
and I had to have the framework to know what mix of skills that we needed and
you know when they were working well enough together but a lot of you know my
value added was picking say to do graphics user interface or to do an
integrated office type thing or to go global and not use agents to have
Microsoft be present all over the world and so yeah picking what you’re good at
and how you find the other people to fill in those things that’s super
important and most founders don’t aren’t able to scale that up and kind of give
up the hands-on things that they used to get a lot of pleasure and comfort from.
Careful balance – by the way if people are interested in seeing a piece of code
there’s a piece of bills code from 1975 that adorns the wall at Maxwell Dworkin
so…That is a great piece of code! [laughter] How about over here in the the red sweater
about half way up yeah. Hi I’m Venteen I’m a PhD student in chemistry and I
really admire your work your effort, in training, improving the education overall
so I wonder what is your general parenting philosophy say if your
daughter wants to drop out of college as well? Mmm thank you for example if your
daughter wanted to drop out of college? well she my eldest graduates from
Stanford in June so I’m I’m optimistic. she won’t follow in my footsteps they
there’s a group of writings that all come under the heading Love and Logic
which is my philosophy of parenting and it’s basically a view that no matter
what you say your kid will look at how you deal with the world and they’ll end
up dealing with it like you do and so if you’re calm and predictable you set
rules you enforce those rules in a non-emotional very straightforward way
then their whole sense of the world the world is not chaotic the world can be
predictable they and if they you know behave in certain fashions it’ll work
out that way I was not raised that way. So I decided okay this is how I’m gonna
do it so far so good I have to say I’ve delegated 80% of not delegated but my
wife does 80 percent of and she is way better parent than I am she’s not a
perfect love and logic person so every once in a while a certain emotional will
come into her tone that she just looks at me and you know she knows I’m like
hey can you get rid of the emotion but you can’t totally do it but that there’s
some brilliant books and online courses about this
I think partnering was the word you were looking for. Yeah absolutely! How about right
here? Young lady so can we get a mic over [Inaudable] Well when I was in high school I thought
“hey I’m a good student and therefore I should go be like a professor
mathematics’ and those are the hardest problems to solve and you know I like
hard problems and you know there’s a certain purity to it and then the
computer came along and it was actually my original partner Paul Allen who said
to me ‘oh you think you’re so smart can you figure out this computer’ and I was
like ‘well yes I can’ and you know it was very actually then together he and I
went on this journey that even when I was here at Harvard he got a job when
was out here and we were brainstorming and then decided that because we saw in
Harvard Square this first computer of the microprocessor it was time to drop
out and go really build Microsoft to be the first in that business so you know
that idea of a being an academic to being a CEO manager, leader type that
sort of developed over time. Even the idea that Microsoft would be a big
company I never would admit that to myself because I was always so into cost
control that I always thought okay we’ll double in size but that’s it and I
didn’t want to get ahead of myself that I couldn’t pay people someday
because we had a lot of customers that would go out of business and not pay us
so that you know I didn’t want to be- well Digital Equipment and Wang were
two companies I grew up, you know thinking those were Godlike companies
and Wayne went bankrupt fairly early on even though they had great innovation
and later Dec essentially goes bankrupt and that that was the coolest company
ever and boom it’s gone so at least it does create a model that hey things are
risky you better not miss a turn in the road. Then you know as Microsoft was
becoming super successful the idea of okay what am I going to do with this
money you know I could spend a little bit on myself
you know and I could give some to kids and you know make sure they got a good
education whatever but it’s a percentage even the max and under those two outlets
you know became tiny and so then it was ok what do philanthropist do and
studying Rockefeller and all sorts of people who done all that stuff I thought
oh well this is interesting are there research topics that aren’t
getting enough money and that’s where I started to learn about global health and
realized that like malaria nobody was putting any money into
malaria. The US Army historically had put money in because troops were exposed to
malaria but then they got these drugs prophylactic drugs like math laQuan
Laurium larium ah and so they didn’t need to put him for money into it and so
our first 30 million we became the biggest funder in a disease that kills a
million children a year at that at that time we’re down to 400,000 now so it was
a progression you know meeting working with Paul Allen and high school working
with Steve Ballmer at Microsoft then meeting and marrying Melinda each of
those you know were very very important in getting my mind you know shaping
whatever abilities I have toward something worthwhile. Terrific well I
know the hour is almost up we’ve got time for one more question how about the
gentlemen here in the white shirt yeah. Hi thank you Bill for coming I really
appreciate your letter to the… annual letter..I literally forgot the name okay
well anyway my name is Jerry I’m a freshman at the college studying stem
cell biology and my question to you is, if you suddenly found yourself to be say
a sophomore in college at Harvard what do you think you would study and how do
you think you spend your time engaging activities? Well the thing that you’re
likely to be world-class at is whatever you obsessed over from say age 12 to 18
you know in my case it was writing software. Where I would think I was good
and then I would meet somebody who would tell me I wasn’t and I would look at
their code and I went through four sort of
comeuppance –is of oh that’s what a really good programmer looks like and
part of the reason I worship Digital Equipment was eventually it was a couple
of their very best programmers who came and shared with me how they thought
about how they did thing and I had studied their code and and that and
there there were several people who are so key am i doing that so today I would
go into you know software which today that means going into artificial
intelligence you know computers still can’t read they they cannot take a book
of information and say pass an AP test on that book and that’s a solvable
problem but it’s a knowledge representation problem and you know I’ve
always want me to solve that problem I’m jealous that maybe one of you gets to
work on that I’m you know unlikely to go back and be hands-on in that in that way
but it’s the juiciest problem ever I’ve thought about it for a long time
so I I would go into AI. Well Bill it has been a privilege to have you here for
the hour please join me in thanking Bill – come back and visit anytime. [Applause] Thank You good luck good luck on
your finals you have to send it to me alright thank you.