Feb. 11, 2013 at 3:08 PM ET
Bill Gates appeared on social news site Reddit this morning for an "ask me anything" or AMA post, in which he responded to unfiltered questions from a horde of anonymous users. The discussion ranged from broader Internet and computing issues to personal details and his work at the Foundation.
Gates is currently the co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but is more well-known for heading Microsoft during its salad days in the '90s — and, of course, for being among the world's richest individuals.
The AMA post was put up at about 10 AM Pacific time, alerting users that Gates would be answering questions starting at 10:45. This delay gives the users of Reddit some time to write in and vote up answers they would like to hear the billionaire philanthropist answer.
Gates "verified" the post was real in the traditional manner of taking a picture of himself holding a piece of paper with his username. The answers started rolling in promptly at 10:45; here are a few of the more interesting ones:
On the goals and accomplishments of the Gates Foundation:
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.
Our goals are focused on helping the poorest (globally) and improving education (in the US). We spend half of our money on global health. One metric to look at is reducing the number of children (under 5) who die. My annual letter talks about the amazing progress that has been made on this. Amazingly as health improves families choose to have less kids so paradoxically population growth goes DOWN as you improve health helping with almost every issue - from stability to the environment..
On what still needs to be done:
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.
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.
Polio is the first thing to get done [eliminate] 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...
On his hobbies:
I love playing tennis. I am an avid bridge player (a card game if you have not heard of it - it was more popular in the past!). I like to tour interesting things with my kids like power plants, garbage dumps, the Large Hadron Collider, Antarctica, missile Silos (Arizona),... I read a lot and watch courses (online or the Learning Company)..
On what he gives people for their birthdays:
Free software. Just kidding. Books actually.
On his favorite book...
My favorite of the last decade in Pinker's Better Angels of our Nature. It is long but profound look at the reduction in violence and discrimination over time. I review a lot of the books I read at gatesnotes.com (is that too self-promotional?)
Weezer.... Actually U2 is a favorite.. I keep waiting for Spinal Tap to go back on tour...
...And programming language:
I write some C, C# and some Basic. I am surprised new languages have not made more progress in simplifying programming. It would be great if most high school kids were exposed to programming...
On what he'd do if Microsoft hadn't taken off:
If the microprocessor had NOT come along I am not sure what I would have done. Maybe medicine or theoretical math but it is hard to say.
On Steve Jobs:
He and I respected each other. Our biggest joint project was the Mac where Microsoft had more people on the project than Apple did as we wrote a lot of applications. I saw Steve regularly over the years including spending an afternoon with him a few months before he tragically passed away...
On what the non-wealthy can do improve the world:
Most giving is done by the middle class so it is the backbone of generosity particularly in the United States. A key thing is to support government aid which is only 1% of the budget but helps poor countries in incredible ways.
On the next big thing in computers:
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..
On Microsoft's next big thing in computers:
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...
On the last thing on his "bucket list":
Lastly, a user named t_zidd had not a question but aheartfelt "thank you" message:
I need you to see this, MR GATES! I don't have any questions. But I just want to thank you for 100% funding my undergraduate and masters. If not for the Gates Millennium Scholarship, I don't think I could have gone to college. So, once again, from the absolute bottom of my heart, THANK YOU. You have NO idea how much this means to me.
No doubt many who have benefited from the Foundation's work would say the same if they could.
Gates signed off about an hour after he started, suggesting readers visit his website for more information (or follow the many links he provided). The rest of his posts can be found at his Reddit profile. But he left the community one last gift, poking fun at a himself with an infamous picture of him from the 80s, captioned in "meme" style:
Of course, he of all people knows it's not going anywhere.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.