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Hello Reddit – I’m Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Microsoft founder. Ask me anything.

Feb 10th 2014 by thisisbillgates • 29 Questions • 4058 Points

I had a lot of fun doing last year’s AMA and am excited to come back for another round of questions about everything from philanthropy to technology to how to lose a chess match in less than 90 seconds (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=84NwnSltHFo). (Step 1: Play the world champion. There is no step 2.)

I hope you’ll read my annual letter (http://annualletter.gatesfoundation.org/). Melinda and I talk about three myths that block progress for the poor.

I’ll be answering your questions live from my office, starting at 10 a.m. Pacific time.

Proof: http://i.imgur.com/iqvPs7N.jpg

UPDATE: I’ve responded to a few myths ahead of time, including one that involves me and a $100 bill. Take a look: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YZnmpDrjtDc

UPDATE: This is great… though I have to admit I’m a bit surprised by the turnout. http://i.imgur.com/U5PNnZi.jpg

UPDATE: Thanks for hanging out with me today, Reddit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ynQ5ZhxYAss

UPDATE: OK, final update. Thanks for all the great questions – this has been a lot of fun. I hope you’ll read the Annual Letter, www.gatesletter.com, and check out my blog, www.thegatesnotes.com.

Q:

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

A:

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.


Q:

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?

A:

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.


Q:

Who is your role model?

A:

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.


Q:

What's one of your goals for the next year... and how can we help?

A:

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.


Q:

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

Honest.

A:

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.


Q:

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:

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.


Q:

Any luck with the condom design competition?

A:

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,


Q:

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

A:

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.


Q:

Was that a Christopher Walken impersonation in your myth video?

A:

I love him but any similarity was not intentional.

One of my favorite movies is Brainstorm - I highly recommend it!


Q:

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

A:

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.


Q:

You're working with TerraPower to bring a large scale source of low carbon energy onto the commercial grid.

What, in your opinion, is the biggest impediment to bringing new nuclear technology onto the global market?

A:

We need low cost energy that is totally reliable. Most renewables will require storage which is expensive to do this. Nuclear will make a contribution if we can make it safer, cheaper and deal with waste better. Terrapower has a design (on paper) that addresses all of these issues so now we are talking to countries about building it. It is a 4th generation reactor design that uses depleted uranium.


Q:

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!!)

A:

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.


Q:

What smartphone and/or tablet are you currently using?

Thanks Bill! :)

A:

I am using a Surface 2 PRO which works well for me.


Q:

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

A:

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.


Q:

How close are you to wiping out polio worldwide?

A:

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.


Q:

Vista: First Blood Part II

A:

I think this was supposed to be sarcastic...


Q:

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?

A:

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.


Q:

What is your most expensive guilty pleasure purchase?

EDIT: I left for class and came back to see that Bill Gates answered my question and CNET decided to make it a headline. I am so starstruck right now.

http://news.cnet.com/8301-10805_3-57618651-75/bill-gates-fesses-up-on-reddit-to-his-one-expensive-guilty-pleasure-purchase/

A:

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.


Q:

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

Be honest.

A:

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.


Q:

It probably still depends on the size of the chair...

A:

Yes. A small enough chair I can still jump over.


Q:

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

A:

Invest in your education.


Q:

I feel like he is probably one of the least qualified people to answer this question. When was the last time Bill Gates made less than $100,000 per year?

Edit: Not to say he doesn't know the value of money or have an immense knowledge of business and finance, i just don't think Bill Gates has a lot of experience living off of a 5 figure salary.

A:

I never went for a big salary but your basic point is correct.


Q:

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

Edit: PC Master race reigns supreme

A:

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!


Q:

Bill,

Nuclear is notoriously expensive. How do you make sure that you manage/pick people to manage Terrapower so that it financially succeeds by building a product which makes money--and doesn't just make a dream plant?

Right now I know that Terrapower is looking at both sodium, and molten salt on the side, as a heat transfer fluid--why bridge out to so many technologies? Why not maintain a narrow focus?

Lastly, sodium plants have notoriously had issues over the history of nuclear power--both safety and cost wise--what is being done at Terrapower to make sure history isn't repeated?

I work on Molten Salts at U-Wisconsin Madison where I do a bunch of salt chemistry, which involves pushing hot salt through pipes/tubes at temperatures very similar to what Terrapower wants to run at. I'll be giving you guys a call when I get my PhD next December.

A:

Terrapower is like most fast reactors which use Sodium cooling. We tried to stick to proven approaches wherever we could. There have been about 10 Fast Reactors. By using this approach we have no fuel problems and very limited waste generation. Most important is the inherent safety - no human involvement for shut down.


Q:

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

A:

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


Q:

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.

A:

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)


Q:

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).

A:

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.


Q:

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?

That's all for now. Thanks once again.

A:

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.


Q:

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

A:

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.