Bill Gates finds his audience: Reddit

If you're geek, and even if not, Bill Gates' Reddit chat is worth reading, if you missed the live event at 1:45 pm EST today. Microsoft's cofounder held the "Ask Me Anything" in part to promote the annual letter for the foundation he runs with wife Melinda.

I've seen Gates give speeches in numerous venues, many not suited to him. The worst must be about a decade of Consumer Electronics Show keynotes. Gates and CES mixed like positively-charged particles. I never saw one presentation there that really zinged. These weren't his people, no matter how much geekier the attendees after Comdex died.

But today, Gates found his audience and comfort zone, banging on keyboard unseen, firing off fast answers with charisma, wit and believability. Reddit seemed so right to start and proved to be in practice. On the same day that the Pope announced he would step down on February 28, another global shaker rocked the purest, most-modern incarnation of the computer bulletin boards of Gates' youth.

Select highlights

I've grabbed some questions (from Reddit users) and Gates' answers. The real charm (and annoyance) of Reddit are the comments. What I present below lacks the extended context and storytelling you can get by going directly to the AMA.

Q. "What is the greatest achievement of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in your opinion and how do you choose which causes to support?"

Gates answers: "So far our biggest impact has been getting vaccines for things like diarrhea and pneumonia out which has saved millions of lives. Polio will be a great achievement along with key partners when that gets done".

Q. "Which world-wide health cause are we perfectly capable of easily solving and on the cusp of achieving but just need to put it over the top with a little more attention or resources to actually solve?"

Gates answers: "Polio is the first thing to get done since we are close. Within 6 years we will have the last case. After that we will go after malaria and measles. Malaria kills over 500,000 kids every year mostly in Africa and did not get enough attention until the last decade. We also need vaccines to prevent HIV and TB which are making progress".

Q. "What is something that needs to be changed in the world, but money won't help?"

Gates answers: "It would be nice if all governments were as rational as the Nordic governments - reaching compromise and providing services broadly. The Economist had a nice special section on this last week. Africa governments have often been weak but you can't write a check to change that. Fortunately the average quality is going up. Mo Ibrahim tracks this in a great way. (http://www.moibrahimfoundation.org/IIAG/)"

Q. "What's your worst fear for the future of the world? (edit: I terms of policy/politics/etc -- e.g. SOPA/ITU)"

Gates answers: "Hopefully we won't have terrorists using nuclear weapons or biological weapons. We should make sure that stays hard. I am disappointed more isn't being done to reduce carbon emissions. Governments need to spend more on basic energy R&D to make sure we get cheap non-CO2 emitting sources as soon as possible. Overall I am pretty optimistic. Things are a lot better than they were 200 years ago".

Q. "Windows 7 or Windows 8? Be honest, Bill".

Gates answers: "Higher is better".

Q. "What emerging technology today do you think will cause another big stir for the average consumer in the same way that the home computer did years ago?"

Gates answers: "Robots, pervasive screens, speech interaction will all change the way we look at 'computers'. Once seeing, hearing, and reading (including handwriting) work very well you will interact in new ways".

Q. "Since becoming wealthy, what's the cheapest thing that gives you the most pleasure?"

Gates answers: "Kids. Cheap cheeseburgers. Open Course Ware courses".

Q. "What type of computer are you using right now?"

Gates answers: "I just got my Surface Pro a week ago and it is very nice. I am using a Perceptive Pixel display right now - huge Windows 8 touch whiteboard. These will come down in price over time and be pervasive... (http://i.imgur.com/1JqrLVc.jpg)"

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