DAVOS, Switzerland, February 1, 1999 — As information technology brings the world closer together, it’s important to remember that the effect globalization has on commerce is only part of the story. Tremendous growth in the use of PCs and the Internet may have revolutionized business, but there are significant cultural and social impacts as well. At this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where the theme is global responsibility, Microsoft Chairman and CEO Bill Gates spoke about the role information technology can play not only in the office, but also at school, at home and everywhere in between.
In his remarks, Gates pointed out that the growing use of PCs and the Internet in the office and at home is not just a U.S. phenomenon. While 1998 was a great year in the United States for PC sales and online commerce, European trends are just as impressive, he said. PCs costing under $1,000 (U.S.) are increasingly popular in Europe; many are even sold in supermarkets, priced at as little as $400 (U.S.). Meanwhile, countries such as Sweden are encouraging businesses to offer PCs to their employees for home use, a program that is bringing PC ownership to levels comparable to those in the United States. “This is a great example of an innovative partnership between government and business that helps close the local skills gap and makes information more accessible to a broader range of people,” he said.
He predicted that in the coming years digital distribution of books and music will increase greatly, noting that 1999 will bring the first eBook products capitalizing on developments in screen technology and software innovations like Microsoft ClearType. Gates also spoke of the need for a global encryption standard to support the momentum behind electronic commerce: He praised the recent French liberalization of encryption controls, noting that Europe is far ahead of the United States in this area.
Following his remarks, Gates answered questions from the press, remarking on the future of newspapers and books, the connecting of developing countries to the Internet and other subjects. On the topic of electronic newspapers and books, Gates said that although electronic delivery of information changes the business dynamics of the media, “the screen doesn’t change the need for great writers and editors.”
Gates said that linking developing countries to the Internet is proceeding nicely: “I think the connecting of hospitals, schools, universities and government institutions will proceed rapidly, even in poorer countries. Over the next five or six years, partially through satellite technology, you will get a very high penetration, even in Africa, where [connecting] is quite challenging.” He mentioned that one of his personal ventures, Teledesic, which is building a network of low-earth-orbit satellites, is partnering with many countries to make high-speed network access affordable. But even without the satellite network, he said, “There’s more being done to make sure that universities in urban centers have the PCs and network connections they need.”
He also speculated about the role of the Internet as more than a platform for commerce, noting the tremendous affect it has on education: “If you’re a motivated learner, [the Internet] is an incredible tool, because the best lectures, the best quizzes, videos and animated explanations will be out there.”
After the World Economic Forum in Davos, Gates will travel to several other countries in Europe to meet with leaders in business and government. Throughout the week, PressPass will provide coverage of Gates’ activities. Check back daily for further news and updates.