In his second Ask Me Anything (AMA) on Reddit (the first took place about the same time last year and both followed the release of his annual letter), Bill Gates answered questions Reddit users tossed his way.
Photo from Reddit
Their questions were random, touching upon his fast food preferences and book recommendations. Reddit users got to know some novel facts about Gates including his love for doing dishes every night or what his path may have looked like had he not founded Microsoft.
Besides questions about Microsoft, users were curious about the work of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. They asked if there was a time when philanthropy backfired and what his predictions are of the future. The following are excerpts from the AMA.
1. I hear way back when you were a fast food connoisseur. What was your favorite fast food and why?
Burger King and McDonalds are fine but In-N-Out is a very good burger. Dicks and Burgermaster are the local special burgers.
2. Hey Bill, thank you so much for doing this AMA. 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.
3. 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.
4. Thank you Bill for another AMA. My question to you is, what’s your biggest fear?
Kids getting hurt or sick.
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. Are you a fan of video games? If so, what is your favourite video game?
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!
7. Hey Bill, have you made any plans to artificially prolong your life? Honest.
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.
8. Hi Bill, so awesome for you to do an AMA! University student here with an entrepreneurial mindset. What role would you say higher education (university and beyond) played in your success? What is your current opinion of the higher education system? What is the best advice you can give to someone looking to create successful startup ventures? I would be honored if you could answer these questions!
I love college courses. I still watch a lot of them. I read a lot about people who had been successful. College was fun for me. So the part of the higher education system I got to experience was amazing – unfortunately most people don’t get to go to Harvard or the equivalent.
It is strange to call me a college drop out in all but the most literal sense. I went for 3 years and took enough courses to graduate. So I am kind of a failure as a drop out and I don’t have a degree…
9. Hey Bill, 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)
10. 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.
11. 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.
12. On ways to get funding and aid to developing countries: What are your thoughts on direct cash transfers like Give Directly? So instead of tying up aid into a potentially bureaucratic mess of requirements, just give cash to families and let them work out what they will do with the money. Do you envision a bigger buy in by other philanthropists for this type of work if the numbers look promising (they already do).
I favor improving the health of a country to enable them to be self-sufficient. I will be interested to see how cash transfer works out – in some cases like helping someone pay a school fee it could be catalytic. Our focus is health and agriculture which can transform a country. As long as kids don’t have enough nutrition a country won’t be able to support itself.
13. How do you deal with the anti-vaccination sentiment that seems to be growing in our society? Have you ever found yourself justifying your efforts to reduce polio? (I’d like to give you an enormous thank you from myself personally. Thank you!!)
In all countries vaccine rumors seem to always get ahead of vaccine facts. This is unfortunate since it has meant measles and pertussis deaths in communities where enough kids don’t get vaccinated.
14. 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 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation 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? That’s all for now. Thanks once again.
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 children’s 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.
15. What’s one of your goals for the next year… and how can we help?
Wow. That is a nice thing to ask. I wish the debate about education would focus on helping teachers improve and what we know about that. Right now it is caught up in state versus federal and testing versus no-testing. In general politics needs to focus on the problems rather than attacking the other side. Asian countries are helping their teachers improve and the impact is huge.
16. 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.
17. You and Melinda recently posted a piece of writing about your optimism for future. Could you elaborate as to the path you see the world taking in the next 50 years or so?
I think in the next 20-30 years we will be able to almost eliminate gross inequity like the fact a child in a poor country has 30x more chance of dying than a child in a middle income or rich country. Literacy, nutrition… These are basic things that we can afford to give to every child. In the meantime the rich world needs to make sure we handle the environment and the diseases of the rich.
18. I am going to hit you with a tough one. What is the worst case that you know of where your philanthropy backfired? Here I mean the worst party possible benefitted from the gift. I am curious because I think there are important lessons to be learned from these kinds of stories for myself and others passionate about giving to the people who need it most .
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.
19. 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.
20. Hey Bill, 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. Thanks
My time will be about 2/3 Foundation and 1/3 Microsoft. I will focus on product work mostly.
21. 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.
22. What are your thoughts about cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin?
The Foundation is involved in digital money but unlike Bitcoin it would not be anonymous digital money. In Kenya M-pesa is being used for almost half of all transactions. Digital money has low transaction costs which is great for the poor because they need to do financial transactions with small amounts of money. Over the next 5 years I think digital money will catch on in India and parts of Africa and help the poorest a lot.
23. Any luck with the condom design competition?
This is a sensitive topic. The idea was that men don’t like the current design so perhaps something they would be more open to would allow for less HIV transmission. We still haven’t gotten the results. One grantee is using carbon nanotubes to reduce the thickness.
24. Mr. Gates, 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.
Editor’s note: Questions and answers have been edited for style. The original thread can be found on Reddit.
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