Gates Discusses the Liberating Benefits of Personal Computers and Communication Technology

NEW YORK, Dec. 2, 1998 — In a speech to 200 scholars and opinion leaders at the Manhattan Policy Institute, Microsoft Chairman and CEO Bill Gates spoke about the ways in which technology has linked the world, strengthened democracy and improved our quality of life. The challenge for the future, Gates said, is to ensure that the benefits of innovation are spread as widely as possible.

Gates delivered his remarks as part of the 1998 Wriston lecture, an annual event that brings together eminent economists, business leaders, public officials and heads of state to address the Institute on matters of history, society and public policy. Previous Wriston lecturers have included Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, former Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus and authors Tom Wolfe and V.S. Naipaul.

Within the past 50 years, there has been more technological, scientific, economic and biomedical progress than in all of human history, Gates said. The airplane and automobile have brought the world closer together, giving individuals unprecedented freedom to travel and providing the framework for a truly international economy. Meanwhile, telephones and personal computers have revolutionized communication, linking people around the globe.

The liberating benefits of engineering breakthroughs are clear to see, according to Gates. Personal computers and communication technology have strengthened democracy, improved education and made businesses more efficient, he said. The World Wide Web has made possible a new way of life, as more people begin to read, learn, make purchases and find information online. The Web also liberates communication, giving all human beings their own virtual printing press, Gates said. This allows them to be producers as well as consumers of information.

Computing technology is also saving lives. Collision avoidance and navigation systems are making air travel quicker and safer, while automotive technologies such as airbags and anti-lock brakes save thousands of lives every year. Organizations such as Healthnet use satellite technology and email to monitor viral outbreaks and alert medical professionals to potential health hazards. In medical research, the Human Genome Project is using technology to unlock the secrets of life, while scientists in all fields are using the Internet to collaborate and share research findings.

The tremendous progress of the 20th century shows the potential for shared ideas and resources to improve all of our lives, Gates said. At the start of the 21st century, we should continue to innovate, and work to make technology the “common wealth of the world,” he said.

Technology can continue to improve our lives in many ways, Gates said. By focusing on education and libraries, we can ensure that small communities have the same access to information as visitors to the Library of Congress. By emphasizing public health, we can make comprehensive and accurate health information available to all. And by applying innovations in technology to medicine, we can speed the arrival of new vaccines, saving millions of lives every year.

Gates has committed more than $2 billion to the realization of these goals. The William H. Gates Foundation supports philanthropic initiatives in the areas of education, public health and the arts. The Gates Library Foundation works to bring access to computers and the Internet to low-income communities. This week, Bill and Melinda Gates announced the formation of the Children’s Vaccine Program, a $100 million initiative to ensure that children in the developing world have access to new vaccines.

The Manhattan Policy Institute, established in 1978, is a nonpartisan, independent research and educational organization committed to developing and promoting public policies at all levels of government. Its aim is to promote policies that allow individuals the greatest scope to achieve their potential, both as members of a functioning society and participants in a productive economy.

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