If Bill Gates was not into computers what would he be doing? Find out…

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Bill Gates, co-founder and technology advisor at Microsoft Corporation and co-chair at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation took to the popular social news website Reddit for his second AMA (ask me anything). Users responded with all type of questions. Gates posted a video before the start of the AMA to dispel three myths: one of them was about whether he will pick up a $100 bill if he saw one lying around (read the background here). Bill’s answer? He would. Here are 20 interesting questions and answers from the AMA.

Picture credit: www.reddit.com

Picture credit: www.reddit.com

1) What is different about Bill Gates age 20 years and today, except for the time?

20 years ago I would stay in the office for days at a time and not think twice about it – so I had energy and naivete on my side. Now hopefully I am a bit more mellow but with a little extra wisdom.

2) Hey Bill, have you made any plans to artificially prolong your life?

No I don’t. Other people think about that but I wouldn’t want to extend my last few years unless that is happening for most people.

3) I’d just like to know, what is something you enjoy doing that you think no one would expect from you?

Playing Bridge is a pretty old fashioned thing in a way that I really like. I was watching my daughter ride horses this weekend and that is also a bit old fashioned but fun. I do the dishes every night – other people volunteer but I like the way I do it.

4) Who is your role model?

People who devote their lives to working in poor countries are doing amazing work with very little visibility. I have gotten to meet some of them.

5) Hey Bill, if you didn’t go into computers and later found Microsoft, what do you think you would be doing?

I considered law and math. My Dad was a lawyer. I think though I would have ended up in physics if I didn’t end up in computer science.

6) If you were a current computer science student what area would you start studying heavily?

If you feel like expanding on that, why do you think this area deserves the attention and how do you see it changing the technology game in the next 10 years?

Yes – the terms are a little confusing. Learning can mean a low level thing which all machine learning algorithms do or the high level idea of reading a book and understanding what it means.

The ultimate is computers that learn. So called deep learning which started at Microsoft and is now being used by many researchers looks like a real advance that may finally learn. It has already made a big difference in video and audio recognition – more progress in the last 3 years than ever before.

7) Can you describe your new role at Microsoft?

I make sure we pick ambitious scenarios and that we have a strong architecture to deliver on them. I encourage good work (hopefully).

I am excited about how the cloud and new devices can help us communicate and collaborate in new ways. The OS won’t just be on one device and the information won’t just be files – it will be your history including being able to review memories of things like kids growing up. I was thrilled Satya asked me to pitch in to make sure Microsoft is ambitious with its innovation. Even in Office there is a lot more than can be done.

8) What is the biggest obstacle the developed world needs to overcome, in order to help the developing world?

The greatest tragedy is kids who die or never get enough food to develop physically or mentally to achieve their potential. We need vaccines and nutrition to solve this. We are making progress but not fast enough. Cynicism is the biggest barrier - www.gatesletter.com talks about this.

9) Any advice on how entrepreneurs of today and tomorrow should go about balancing business and philanthropy… or do they have to succeed first in order to give later?

Just creating an innovative company is a huge contribution to the world. During my 20′s and 30′s that was all I focused on. Ideally people can start to mix in some philanthropy like Mark Zuckerberg has early in his career. I have enjoyed talking to some of the Valley entrepreneurs about this and I am impressed and how early they are thinking about giving back – much earlier than I did.

10) Besides improving the education system in the U.S., what do you believe is the next big issue that we need to address domestically?

Education would be the top issue since it is key to individual opportunity and to the country as a whole and we are not doing as well as other countries. After that I would say immigration since the injustice of the current system is incredible.

11) How close are you to wiping out polio worldwide?

We are very close. India just went 3 years with no cases. Pakistan is our toughest location right now because some parts of the Taliban have not allowed vaccinators to come in and have even attacked vaccinators. We are hopeful this will get resolved since no one wants their kid to be paralyzed. I spend a lot of time making sure the polio campaign is doing the best it can. We have great computer models that help guide our activities.

12) What is your most expensive guilty pleasure purchase?

Owning a plane is a guilty pleasure. Warren Buffett called his the Indefensible. I do get to a lot of places for Foundation work I wouldn’t be able to go to without it.

13) Dear Mr. Gates…can you still do this? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8TCxE0bWQeQ

No I cannot. I can still jump but not over a full sized garbage can like I used to be able to. Be careful – it can hurt if you don’t succeed. Yes. A small enough chair I can still jump over.

14) Are you a fan of Video Games? If so, What is your favourite Video Game?

Edit: PC Master race reigns supreme

I am not a huge gamer. My son knows a LOT more than I do about what is cool on Xbox. I played Halo but the sports games that the whole family can use are the things I use the most. I threw the javelin very very far!

15) What is your best personal financial advice for people who make under $100,000 per year?

Invest in your education.

16) I’m actually an intern at Microsoft right now. How will your time be divided up between the foundation and Microsoft now that the CEO has asked you to step up. Also, could you host a talk for the interns. We’d love to hear about your work at the foundation and your thoughts on the future of tech.

My time will be about 2/3 Foundation and 1/3 Microsoft. I will focus on product work mostly.

17) I love your book lists. What are you currently reading, or plan to read next, that you suggest Reddit pick up?

Thanks for doing another one of these, your first one was great.

Well Smil keeps writing great books like Made in the USA and Making the Modern World: Materials and Dematerialization. Paul Farmer has 3 books recently – to Repair the World is very accessible. In the Company of the Poor is a harder read but also good. www.gatesnotes.com tracks my reading closely. (http://www.thegatesnotes.com/books)

18) First of all, thanks for doing the AMA. And congrats to you on your spanking-new CEO.

My questions:

1) How does Mr. Nadella’s vision differ from yours and Mr Ballmer’s?

2) A couple of articles I read recently mentioned that the board is going to be putting pressure on the new CEO to exit the devices business and focus more sharply on enterprise customers. Your thoughts on that? If it means anything, I am a huge fan of the Surface. Can’t afford one, but I have used the first one . Hugely impressed.

3) Also, this is pertinent to where I live — India. A few people have a somewhat negative impression of the work that the B&MGF is doing; specifically, they claim it has an agenda to push products manufactured by American drug companies. Would you like to respond to that?

4) Can I have a tour of your home if I am ever in the area?

Satya is taking a fresh view of where Microsoft is – strengths and weaknesses. A new person gets to step back and change the focus in some ways. He is off to a great start.

In terms of the Foundation we fund vaccines that save childrens lives. The majority of those are made in India. In fact ironically India makes a lot of vaccines that are used in other countries but not in India. The Foundation is not trying to help anyone make money – simply to reduce the number of children who die from things like diarrhea and pneumonia.

19) Hi Bill! What is your favorite project you have ever worked on at Microsoft?

The Windows project which required a lot of patience was great. Office was also great. Together they defined the big success of the 1990s for Microsoft. Office connected to the cloud has a LOT of potential and we are off to a good start. Cloud Storage needs to be a lot richer though.

20) What is the worst case that you know of where your philanthropy backfired?

A lot of our failures have been backing science that didn’t work out. One thing that is tough is when you think the government will take over something you start but they don’t–we had that with a school lunch program. It might have been better if we hadn’t done it.

Read the whole transcript here, and go here for last year’s AMA.

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