Remarks by Bill Gates, Chairman, Microsoft Corporation
Government Leaders Forum Europe 2008
“Perspectives of Modernizing Government”
Jan. 23, 2008
ASTRID FROHLOFF: Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to welcome you back to the plenary forum this afternoon. It’s going to be the last part, and surely most outstanding part of the Government Leaders Forum. Let me quickly introduce myself. My name is Astrid Frohloff. I’m a TV journalist and presenter at the German TV station RBB. And I have the great honor to facilitate the following Q&A session now.
We’re going to start in about just one minute. We’re going to welcome the German Chancellor, Dr. Angela Merkel, and Bill Gates, the chairman of Microsoft Corporation. And as I see, you are seated already, so just give us a moment until Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Bill Gates will arrive, and we can give them a very warm welcome. So, just wait one moment, please.
(Break for direction.)
ACHIM BERG (through interpreter): So, ladies and gentlemen, would you please welcome now the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, Mrs. Angela Merkel, and Mr. Bill Gates, the chairman of Microsoft Corporation. (Applause.)
Ladies and gentlemen, I hope that you have enjoyed the lunch break, and that you have had interesting discussions, and that you’re also excited as I am to attend the next item on the agenda, the next discussion. And it is my honor to be able to be the facilitator for the last session. On this occasion I’d like to extend a cordial welcome to the Chancellor, Dr. Angela Merkel, and also Bill Gates, founder and chairman of Microsoft. (Applause.)
I would also like to welcome somebody who is quite well known here in Germany, our facilitator, Astrid Frohloff. (Applause.) She is going to facilitate and host the discussion.
In English now.
Mrs. Chancellor, thank you very much for your participation. We are delighted that you, as one of the political leaders in Europe, came here today to enrich our debate. Our focus in the last two days was the challenges which economies and societies will face in the future. We are therefore excited to hear about your ideas, how governments can meet those challenges, and how they can raise their potential of their people.
IT and software have evolved to be the key elements to enable our people to realize their full potential, and Bill, over the past 30 years, you have made a strong contribution to these developments. Thank you very much for this.
So, today we are eager to learn what role do IT and software play when it comes to the big challenges of the upcoming 21st century. How can software and IT benefit the people?
Ladies and gentlemen, continuous dialogue and collaboration between industry and politics are essential for establishing best practices, which they can help us to modernize our societies.
From this point of view I am most curious to hear your next speakers’ contributions to the discussions on first the perspectives of modernizing government, and second, the ways in which we can better access Europe’s diverse multicultural human potential to deliver economic and social benefits.
Bill, I think you agreed to start, please, the floor is yours. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
BILL GATES: Well, good afternoon. It’s great to be here, and this time I’m pleased to be speaking to a live audience. The last time the chancellor and I did an event together, it was 2 o’clock in the morning, and I was speaking by satellite, which I enjoyed but it’s not nearly as nice as being here with you and being able to have the dialogue we’ll have today.
The first thing I want to touch on is that the technology that we’re all talking about to deliver e-government and better education, this technology is improving very rapidly. In fact, I call this year the start of the second digital decade; that is, it was about 10 years ago that we first started to think of computing as a way to change government and provide information. And, of course, the Internet explosion came out of that. And today, whether it’s government Web sites or business Web sites or simply doing e-mail or organizing homework, people very broadly think about the Internet as a very key tool.
But the personal computer, the mobile phone and the Internet are not standing still. In fact, over the last few years, I’m sure you’ve seen that video is now becoming a standard element of the Internet.
The total number of Windows personal computers is now over 1 billion, and the number of those connected to broadband is over 250 million. The biggest number, and an amazing number, is that 40 percent of the people in the world, about 2.5 billion, have a mobile phone. And so these represent a huge advance in these last 10 years.
So, how will it change, how will it get better? Well, in some ways it’s simply a quantitative improvement. The cost of the personal computer will continue to go down, the power of the machine in terms of its resolution, its readability, the size of its storage, the richness of the software, will get to be far better.
But also we have improvements that will change the nature of the way we use the computer. Part of that is that we’ll have such high quality, the high-definition screen, the interactive graphics. When you look at a map, it won’t just be a 2D representation, it will be actually a 3D representation of the real map of the city, and you can go in and move around and look at what the traffic is or see what’s going on inside of the buildings that you pick.
These devices, the phones, the personal computer, but also your TV set or the electronics in your car will connect together to the Internet and provide a personal experience for you across these different devices.
So, for example, the news items that you’re interested in, or the sports that you care about, all of that will be shared between these different devices. So, it will be incredibly user-centric, unlike today where you, as you move between the devices, you have to move the information around, and that’s very difficult.
Finally, the way we interact with these devices will change. To date it’s been overwhelmingly the keyboard and the mouse, and those will continue to be important, but those will be added to as we have the ability to touch, to touch the surface of a table or a display to give a command. We’ll have the ability to use a pen so that we can take notes and annotate things. We’ll have the ability to use speech, so we can just say to our mobile phone, you know, where is the nearest gas station, where are my family right now, what are they doing, and it will understand our voice and be able to respond to that.
So, vision and touch and speech and ink, all of those I call natural user interface. And along with the lower cost computers, this natural interface will make computing far more pervasive. Something that today you would think of as very difficult, like organizing all of the photos and things you have about your child growing up, this type of new interface will make that very, very natural. And you won’t think of a boundary as you move from your phone to your PC to the TV in the living room to your car; you’ll think of all your information being with you wherever you go.
One measure of these advances is the doubling in the number of transistors every two years, so it just says to us, as that continues, we’ll have an unbelievable ability to do great things using those capabilities.
Now, so we take this advancing technology, and the rich software advances where it’s easier to develop applications, it’s easier to make those applications be very rich and work on any device, it’s easier to exchange information between applications and to visualize information, we take that and in this conference we look at how that can be used in some major areas, in particular e-government and education and in health. And as we think of the needs for solutions in these spaces, we see how this technology can make a very big difference, making government more approachable, more efficient, more effective, and really having a relationship with the citizen that’s very different than what we have today.
Now, for all the citizens they’ll be changing a wide range of their activities, the way they buy and sell, the way they learn, the way they entertain themselves, and so e-government gets to ride on the same platform, the same tools and a very large industry that’s been built up around the personal computer and the Internet.
Each government is pursuing this in its own way, and that’s why it’s important to have get-togethers like this one where people can share their ideas about what their priorities are, share their best practices.
Microsoft has been very involved in this, going back over 10 years, and it’s been a pleasure for me to see how e-government applications are getting better and better. At the very beginning just simply taking paper forms and putting them online, that was considered amazing, taking the things that you print and making sure those were online and searchable, that was amazing. Now we’re moving up to a new level where keeping a citizen record for things like healthcare and education, being able to have teachers compare their results, being able to eliminate people having to think about the different levels of government, the applications are far more sophisticated today because the standards, the technology and the examples that people are learning from are far better. I think governments that can build on other government successes are the ones that are going the furthest.
I wanted to announce a few milestones in terms of partnerships that we have to push this forward. One is called Project ServiceLine 115, and this is with Germany’s Association of Towns and Municipalities, as well as the Fraunhofer Institute, where we’ll develop a Project ServiceLine 115 program. What this means is that citizens will be able to dial this number and access all the government services in a simple way.
We did a project like this, different phone number, for New York City in the United States, and that was very, very successful, and this is a solution that meets the EU directive on these common services. So, we’re pleased to be working with partners, and think some great things will come out of that.
Around Europe we’ve developed a number of centers of excellence, and I’m pleased to say we have an additional one that very appropriately, since Slovenia now has the EU presidency, we’re adding an EU e-government center that will be located in Slovenia, and it will particularly do some leading edge things with an interest on the best practices for the governments in that region, the southeastern Europe region, drawing on the successes around Europe.
Another example is an announcement that we just made about the Citizen Services Platform, which is a SharePoint solution where citizens can come in and interact with what would have been paper systems in the past, and making it easy to have these forms be rich and have the right authentication, which we call CardSpace, making sure the data is private and is only used by the government in the appropriate way, making sure the database lets you analyze that information and track what’s going on. Now this kind of application is very, very easy to build, and so having that as a standard platform for people to start with will mean that you can execute on projects within a matter of months instead of years.
Well, let me now turn to education. Education is I think the most important investment that a government makes. Historically, if we wanted to understand what level of income somebody had, we’d mostly ask what country are you from, because that was the primary determinant. In the future we won’t ask that; we’ll ask someone what level of education they have, because their opportunity, no matter where they are in the world, will be dependent on education. And particularly for the richer countries the new jobs are connected with comfort with technology and a high level of education.
So, it’s a challenge for all of the developed countries to renew their commitment to education, bring it to a new level of quality, and have that as the key tool for equity.
Now, it’s a big challenge for teachers. Teachers have students that are more diverse, coming from different backgrounds. The teachers feel like they have more that they have to teach as there are new advances, so staying up with the content and being good at that. And even for the teacher, being capable of knowing how to use technology, being as good as, say, the students that are very involved in using technology, that’s a big challenge for them.
So, the question the teacher asks is will this technology simplify the work I do, will it help me track student achievement, will it let me reach out and have a dialogue with the parents, will it let me find what other teachers are doing, and bringing to the classroom great examples and demonstrations that can make a big difference.
We Microsoft just worked out with over a hundred companies to tailor our partnership with their education activities to what they need, and we call this Partners in Learning. We announced recently that we’re extending our commitment by doubling that commitment over the next five years to get out to even more students, and so we’re going to the over 100 countries we worked with and looking at what works for them in this new phase of activity, you know, what is it they would like to see.
A great example of this is a program that I announced just over a year and a half ago, which is the IT Fitness Initiative, and that’s already off to a very strong start. We’ve got over a half million people who have been involved with that. And the goal is to take that much further, and get up to 4 million people. So, we have a half million who have taken the online test and a goal to get that to over 4 million.
And the reception of that from the people involved who have had a chance to be exposed to it has been very strong, and we have a lot of great partners here in Germany who are part of that IT Fitness Initiative.
So, the different varieties of activities that relate to using technology in education are really quite amazing. Worldwide those partnerships have touched over 80 million students. A good example is what we did in Hungary. When we sat down in 2005 to talk to them, they found that a third of their students were not getting any IT exposure at all as part of their education. So, by bringing in the teachers, and coming up with new ideas so that teachers would do new things, and putting together tips for how they could build that into the curriculum, we’ve now just in a little over two years reduced the number of students without these skills to less than 8 percent.
Of course, the program is also different as we move to developing countries. In India the numbers are quite amazing of the students, the total number of students, and so here we focused on training teachers as our primary activity, and we’re able to reach over 160,000 teachers in how to use information technology.
We even tailored the program to the various states there, because after all, several of these Indian states are actually over 100 million in population, and have unique requirements. So, for example, in one of them, Maharastra, we were able to change the curriculum and get world class curriculum into over 500 colleges, and that was their top priority.
So, over the next three years we want to double the number of students we get to and the number of teachers we get to, to address the opportunity there.
Our investment is, of course, often free software and very reduced price software, but we also have our employees get involved in these programs, really put their time into it. We do some cash grants in these programs that we’ve spent about a little over 200 million at this point, and in the next five years, with the additional money we’ll put in, we’ll get up to over 500 million. The goal is to get to over 250 million additional students, so a very ambitious goal but I think one that’s achievable and certainly needed.
I really am pleased that in many of these areas not only do we have the partnership with the government but with other technology companies as well. The ability to take technology and be socially responsible in making sure it’s used widely, not just by the richest, is something that motivates our employees, and has become a key part of our culture.
Well, now I want to talk about a program that I personally think is quite fantastic, and I hope we can spread very broadly, and that’s what we call our Tablet PC Program. That’s the idea of an individual student having a tablet computer that they can use so that they get to browse the Internet and do their homework, and even taking the textbook, the curriculum, and getting those down onto the PC so that it’s interactive, it connects up to the Internet, and so you can actually take the money that was invested in printing those textbooks and actually spend it on making sure they can have a great tablet computer.
This is something we’ve been doing in a number of pilot computers around the world, and helping them with the curriculum, and really learning, having conferences with them and spreading this around.
One of the largest projects, actually the largest in the world, is in Spain, in Aragon, Spain, which, of course, is in northeastern Spain, and these are primary school students who are doing amazing things with their tablet computers.
This started almost five years ago, but recently they added a number of schools, 48 schools two years ago, and then just last year 170 schools, and so they’re reaching a very high part of the region with this amazing approach.
You can see on the video some examples of the students using this thing. Our role was to provide the training, support, curriculum, a lot of the software, so that this wouldn’t just be outside the normal learning experience, it would be a central part of it.
The reaction of the students and teachers has been amazing, and for people who like objective results, it’s also been great to see that the PISA test scores, which are benchmarks used across all OECD countries, those have significantly improved as well, particularly in the areas like math and science where the tablet is being used most heavily, and there are now new ideas for using the tablet in even some new ways.
So, it’s very innovative, I’m sure other people will learn from what’s been done there, and benefit a lot, and so I’d like to thank Aragon for being such a pioneer in this, and, in fact, I’d like to invite Eva Almunia to come on stage — she’s the Education Minister from Aragon — and give us a sense of how they were able to do this, and how that’s worked. So, let’s welcome Eva to the stage. (Applause.)
EVA ALMUNIA: Thank you, Mr. Gates.
(Through interpreter.) Ladies and gentlemen, Chancellor, five years ago, the School of the Future has already been present and active in Aragon, and the driving force has been the Tablet PC. We started in 2003 in an education center. We started in Areno. Nowadays we have 70 percent of the schools of the autonomous community participating in this. We started off with 16 units of Tablet PCs; now we have 12,500 units of Tablet PCs. We started with 16 students, and now we have more than 10,000 students participating in this program.
The program started in the rural environment where we have almost half of the population of Aragon, with one objective, not to go deeper into the digital divide. Now this has already been implemented in most of the schools in that region.
In five years, in fact, we see that Aragon is already placed in the future, thanks to the enthusiasm of the students and the motivation of the teachers, and the indication and participation of the families. From the government of Aragon we believed in a project, but they themselves have turned this into a reality, a project where the support, the constant support has been a key element, the one that we’ve received from Microsoft Spain, and particularly the president, Rosa Garcia.
And I’d like to express my very special gratitude for the confidence bestowed on the school of Aragon. This concept of a digital PC announced in 2003 an educational revolution. In 2008 we already know that this revolution is also a social revolution. Nowadays in the classrooms of Aragon each student has its own Tablet PC connected to the Internet through a wireless network. Each pupil becomes the protagonist of this learning process, while the professor has to now become a guidance element, an orientator in the classroom.
The use of Tablet PCs has introduced the new technologies within the household. They brought this into the family. In the municipality of Areno, which is a mining area where we have 900 inhabitants living there, the students have voiced, but they’ve also taught their parents to use a computer.
For the children the use of these new technologies, IT, information and communication technologies as part of their intuition, and now we can assure that in Aragon the students have acquired during this basic education stage full digital skill. This has not been the case with the professors, with the teachers, because they’ve had to go through different stages that they’ve also wanted to deploy huge effort in order to be adapted to this.
And undoubtedly we’re very grateful for this, and we’ve so promoted the use of Tablet PCs also in our universities and colleges, starting this year in Aragon, also future professors, our professors of the future.
Besides the excellent results of the students and the pupils of Aragon in the PISA assessment 2006, the PISA scores are an incentive in order to continue to moving forward, and to continue innovating. So, our challenge now is that of enhancing and expanding the program to other levels. In this course we’ve already expanded this to secondary school at an experimental stage, because believe me, we still have a future to conquer, and in Aragon we’re determined to go towards that.
Thank you very much to Microsoft, and thank you very much for paying attention to our school, and particularly for having the students and pupils, the girls and boys and the professors of the Areno school, the pioneer, the first one. They are the true protagonists, the true heroes of this revolution. Thank you. (Applause.)
BILL GATES: Well, of course, the ideal would be if we could all go to one of these schools and see it in action, because I know it’s quite amazing, but almost as good, we’ve actually been lucky enough to have Alvaro Rodriguez and one of his students, Vicente, actually here, and so let me welcome them to the stage to show us a little bit about what the experience is like, and how it’s worked. (Applause.)
ALVARO RODRIGUEZ: Thanks, Bill.
My students and I are excited to show you how we use new technologies. Before we used to work with this kind of textbook, but today computers, with computers learning can happen anywhere. In fact, today we have been continuing our lesson backstage.
Here is a OneNote lesson. As you can see, the lesson has all the information and all the exercises for them to do.
And here with four of my students, Patryck, Rosana, Elena, and Vicente, let’s see how they are doing the lesson.
Vicente, please show us your progress.
VICENTE PARICIO RODRIGO: My friend Elena is in charge of taking notes during the lesson, and finding some pictures related to the topic. She is going to upload them now to our Windows Live Space and create a blog to share the lesson with the students who are back in Areno, and allow them to add their own thoughts and comments. We can see that she writes with the digital ink exactly as if she used to write with the old pen.
Rosana has gone to Live Search, a European map, and has to fill it with information related to the main mountain ranges. She will save this map in her notes, and we share with our classmates when we get back home.
Patryck has been looking for information on the Internet about the surface area of the different countries, and now he is creating a chart to show us the various ones.
When all of my classmates have finished each piece of work, we will consolidate everything into a PowerPoint presentation, and upload each into the circle inside for teacher review.
Teacher, I think we are done already.
ALVARO RODRIGUEZ: Well done, students. (Applause.)
BILL GATES: So, Vicente, how old are you?
VICENTE PARICIO RODRIGO: I am 11.
BILL GATES: Well, you’re getting to be quite an expert. And are you enjoying using the Tablet PC?
VICENTE PARICIO RODRIGO: Mm-hmm. Yes, I like it a lot. The rest of my classmates are in Areno, and I have a request for you. Can you send an e-mail for them in Areno? Can you say hello with me?
BILL GATES: Great. It’s pretty easy. There we go. I’ll just go ahead and send it with my nice ink notes.
ALVARO RODRIGUEZ: Thank you.
BILL GATES: Well, thank you so much. I won’t take your pen, but great work, and thanks for coming.
ALVARO RODRIGUEZ: Thank you.
VICENTE PARICIO RODRIGO: Thanks. (Applause.)
BILL GATES: Actually the school my daughter goes to is also a Tablet PC school, and so whenever she finishes her homework and gets it back, it’s set up so it automatically copies, so I see the results of her homework. So, every time we have dinner I can talk to her about what she got right and what she didn’t get right, and it’s a very, very powerful tool. It’s up to her if she wants to let it work that way.
So, I think that gives you a glimpse of some of the creative ways that technology is improving. Something like the Tablet PC would not have been economic in the past, and in the future I think it’s the kind of thing that we can make available to everyone. Whether you’re a worker going into meetings and taking notes, a student, a doctor, a salesperson in the field, the ability to use ink, to use speech, to have applications that are written in a rich and powerful way, we’re really just at the beginning.
So, I use this term, the second digital decade, to say that once again people will be surprised with the amazing things that can be done.
I think a key element of that is working with governments, and the partnerships and relationships that we have, particularly for e-government, healthcare, and education. So, I’m always optimistic when I see a great group like this getting together, and thinking about public-private partnerships, not just Microsoft but also organizations like the foundation that I have that I’ll spend full time on, thinking about the best roles for everyone in taking advantage of these technology advances and really giving opportunity to everyone.
So, thank you for coming, and I look forward to the discussion. Thank you. (Applause.)
ASTRID FROHLOFF: Thank you very much, Mr. Gates. Thank you very much.
Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Gates made clear how much Microsoft is involved in a large number of interesting ICT projects all over Europe, and he also mentioned that the German government is very eager to improve its citizen services and to help people in getting better knowledge and skills about information and communication technologies.
So, it’s going to be very interesting now to listen to the speech of the German chancellor, Mrs. Merkel. Please take the stage now. (Applause.)
CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL: Well, Bill Gates and Mr. Berg, ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you I’m delighted to be with you here this afternoon, and to be able to address the Government Leaders Forum, and, in fact, sharing a few ideas with you.
In the overall context of IT technology, Internet, and also its effects and its impact on political activities and policies, it’s my topic for today. Since we’re a bit short of time, and we would also like to have a discussion later on, let me limit myself to a few key ideas.
I think that we may as yet not fully understand the sheer cultural revolution that information technology has brought about. I am absolutely convinced that the fact that I am able to be here today with you, that there is no longer a wall dividing the city of Berlin, that the Cold War is in effect over, that there is an enormous movement of liberalization, of freedom all over the world, is indeed a direct consequence, a product of the information technology, of this capacity of people to interact, to exchange communication instantly.
The systems that we still have of a dictatorship will increasingly run into trouble, because if you have information freely available, and accessible for people today, this is the one prerequisite to have economic success and progress, but that also means in turn you need to open it up fully to all of your citizens, and you have to render them capable through the educational system to be able to link up information and build knowledge out of that.
If you have an information system that works like that, you immediately have a conflict here if you work in a dictatorship, because you have to see to it that people at their place of work actually trained in those capacities, at the same you have to see to it that people are not let’s say politically mature enough, that outside of their place of work they commence criticizing the form of government that they live under. And even during my time this created an enormous pressure on the dictatorship in the GDR, because either people who were thinking people would sort of rise up against the government, would criticize the government, or leave the government. All people became resigned to their fate, never using, never tapping their full creativity, their full potential, never therefore contributing to the overall economy and the development of the society, so that rendered them automatically weaker, that system.
Later on the Internet I think has brought about this first historic achievement of opening up the world, and it will be very interesting to see how in the future countries the world over will deal with this conflict. The classical communist systems collapsed because they were not able to reconcile these different interests.
Secondly, this revolution of information technology even today, and I’m speaking now of Germany, hasn’t been fully recognized. I think we have seen what sort of revolutionary changes there will be in the education field, and also the opportunities that open up. I mean, just think of the current discussion going on in Germany whether we should allow schools to choose their textbooks freely, the sort of expenditure for textbooks that is still there, the sort of obsolete textbooks that we still use. I mean, the sort of computers that are being used here, that have been presented here will enable us to actually teach our students in a much cheaper way, much more effectively, this whole textbook controversy will be sort of dealt with automatically.
The exchange between parents and their children seems to be getting much more easy, though I have my doubts as to whether children actually appreciate their father looking into their homework in quite this way that you described, Bill, over dinner. I think dinner actually should be that one period when you talk about something less serious, something pleasant.
Now, what’s also true, and what’s also important is that education will be key to further development. When you don’t have access to education, you will not be able to share in the prosperity of your society, and this is why integration of each and everyone, also, for example, immigrants in our country is such a key factor. The question of access to education is key. And for such a highly developed, such a prosperous country as our country, I have serious doubts as to whether we will be able to maintain this prosperity if we do not allow each and everyone to share in education, and to render our system ever better.
But the computer too actually allows us to facilitate the process of benchmarking. Global learning has become much easier. For example, the impact that the PISA study is so massive, that it has yielded a massive interest to compete in this competition of educational systems, and that has in many ways triggered changes that would have been inconceivable before, and we would have needed hours and hours of discussion, and this has gone very, very quickly.
Now, the impact of information technology in all areas is obviously keenly felt here. It is somewhat a difficult issue, for example, to translate that on government, in the government field, because we have this federal setup, and people do feel that it’s difficult solving these individual software problems, so as to render this citizen friendly. But I think the citizens in the end will force us to think in this way, and to think of him or her, and his or her needs.
We have been able to actually develop revolutionary changes in the health system. Whether that makes it possible for elderly people, for example, to get advice of their doctors from their home, then we have the most modern, most state of the art medical equipment, which is inconceivable without modern software. We have networks in the health system, for example, such as the health card that allow us to network with each other. That indeed was a cultural revolution in the health system, because obviously insurance companies had become used to nobody actually knowing exactly what they’re doing, and the doctors themselves not really knowing whether that patient that they see has already been through three different doctors. Now there are certain areas which so far were the domain of specialists, which no longer need to be, when the patient can communicate directly with his or her insurance company, or with doctors. So there will be revolutionary changes with more competition, more possibilities to render the system more efficient, which so far we haven’t tapped at all in Germany.
Now, to give you one last example, in our budget we will also have a totally new form of using information technology, something that will change our day-to-day life, and the same goes for the automotive industry where actually we seem to be heading towards a situation where the driver essentially is in a way sort of a decorative element behind the steering wheel, and everything is being taken care of by computers, by software. Well, maybe I’m overstating my case, but it’s quite interesting to see how many of these different functions have already been taken over by the computer, by software.
So, we’re living in an age, and I think that’s the most interesting thing when you’re lucky enough to live in such a revolutionary era, that is comparable in many ways to the introduction of printing, the printing press in the 15th century, and that in many ways gave an enormous boost to the European civilization. For many, many years it was very Euro-centrist. Then later on it became also concentrated on the United States and America, and we now have to look at the role of Europe in the 21st century. It will depend on to what extent we allow this IT technology to make an impact.
We were actually at the end of the 21st century every 14th person on this planet will be a European, and so we’re losing out on the others. And if we’re not in the vanguard of this movement, if we’re not really there, then this whole technical advance and also cultural advances will simply pass us by, which is why it’s so important to pen up this world of the computer even to our youngest, to create that sort of passion for it, which you, Bill Gates, through the sort of life that you have led, you have always shown us is so important.
IT Fitness, this initiative is something that I feel very strongly about. I think we create a potential here indeed and a possibility for creating this sort of passion that I think and simply feel is necessary to be able to be there where the competition is. And we need to think globally. That is something that I think for my generation is very, very interesting, and all those of you who are here with us today have just such a passion and interest as I have. Thank you very much for my being able to address you today. (Applause.)
ASTRID FROHLOFF: So, thank you very much, Mrs. Merkel; thank you very much, Mr. Gates.
Ladies and gentlemen, we will start our Q&A session now. You have the opportunity to put questions to both of them. We’ll provide you with microphones here in the room.
I was given — I was told that there are some questions already. Yesterday you got the chance to write down some questions. And I would like to give one question, which was put yesterday or written down yesterday, to you, Mrs. Merkel. It’s a question from Denmark. Adam Lebek is asking — he is head of strategy division at the National IT and Telecom Agency in Denmark. He is asking, how do we foster e-government innovation in the public sector, and how do we make sure IT will not only remain a strategy but actually lead to change?
CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL: Well, I can tell you perhaps a little bit about what we do here in Germany. We have launched an IT initiative where the realms of politics and our business community cooperate. We are holding at certain regular intervals also summit meetings and we also have set up permanent working groups. One of those working groups is working on e-government.
I think we shouldn’t engage too much in the theoretical sort of reflections. We need to get to the practical matters at hand. We for a very long time argued over establishing one single service line, which allows it to the citizens to sort of through one single uniform phone number access government services.
Now, that presupposes obviously that we as politicians understand what our citizens are actually demanding from us. We all know that when you’re developing sort of technical equipment, and you lose sight of your consumers’ demands and needs, then you’re in trouble, and I think that was one of the secrets behind Microsoft’s success to make it as easy as possible for a user to actually use your software. I mean, it’s not so you don’t have to after all convince him of how difficult it is to access government services.
So, for some in Germany that has been rather difficult. Each and everyone has his or her own tradition, they wanted to see their services valued, then knowledge obviously is power, that means you don’t want to share it with others. So, you will have immediately a sort of inherent resistance to any sort of opening up of the system, and you can only do this by way of persuasion, and I think our government agencies too have to get used to the fact that apart from a paper file, e-mails too are of a certain importance.
And that is why I’m telling you looking at it, and putting myself in the citizen’s shoes I think makes it incumbent upon us to look at practical examples, now think of who is responsible, which level is responsible, but there is sometimes a big disaster, because each and everyone tries to organize this independently of others, own Web sites, own sort of providers, but we’re getting now to a stage where we have responsibility vested in one body, but people don’t like to do that, they would like — ministries don’t like to do that, they would like to have their own information platform, but I think we have to work on this consistently.
ASTRID FROHLOFF: The opinion of Mrs. Merkel, you’re nodding; what kind of experiences do you have?
BILL GATES: Well, I think she’s made the really key point, which is that you want to take the solution, and you want to see how well it’s adapted. You know, for example, many countries have said, okay, let’s take businesses and how they pay taxes, and make that completely digital. Let’s make it more efficient, let’s make the collection rate even higher by doing that, and they’ve engaged the business community and achieved that.
Something like the medical record, some countries have really taken that on, made a lot of progress, but you have to get all the medical providers to step up and be enthused about that system, and then you need to address issues like privacy, making sure that it’s actually more private, since you can audit any access that was made to it, more private than when it was a paper system.
So, I think concrete goals are what really help. I think measuring the usage — some of these systems you give people a choice to still use the paper system versus the digital system. Sometimes a small incentive, a little bit of a discount, a little bit of maybe getting your refund a little quicker say if you go through that system can be quite effective.
The way that you get the different departments to work together has been one of the tougher things. Certainly in the United States I wouldn’t say it’s the most advanced country in e-government. Its businesses use IT as well as any country in the world, but the government does not. The larger the government the tougher it is, and the more levels of government you have the tougher it’s going to be, and in those respects Germany and the United States are in a fairly similar situation where we both had some very good successes but there’s still more to be done.
ASTRID FROHLOFF: Okay, thank you.
Do you have questions? Simply raise your fingers, and we will provide you with a microphone. There is a question over there. So, do you have a microphone? Okay, I think this is the table of the representatives of the European Youth Forum. Is that correct? Yes. So, please put your question.
QUESTION: Okay. I am a delegate from the European Youth Forum, and as a youth organization we recognize the widening gap of access to and knowledge of ICT within Europe, and between Europe and other developing countries.
In Europe ICT has become a size of criteria of employability. Vulnerable youths such as young migrants face additional restraints to use ICT, and therefore they are excluded from the society.
So, how do you think can we close this widening gap of ICT access and knowledge, and how can ICT contribute to youth development, education, and entrepreneurship, especially in developing countries?
ASTRID FROHLOFF: Mrs. Merkel?
CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL: Maybe I ought to start with the first part of the question, namely how can we reduce this gap between those who have access to information and communication technology and those who don’t.
Right now we see that there is a generation coming up, that there is a generation that when they were in school did not have access to that, and also in their professional training never were confronted with that, although the number of people who don’t have that sort of experience is dwindling.
Germany is a very industry based country. Sixty percent of the people who work in this country have to know how to use a computer. So, it’s significantly more than half of our population that is going to increase at the very latest in school, but actually already in kindergarten, and before they actually enter school it would be a very good thing. We have to open up access to the world of computers to our children.
If we think ahead to a few generations, I mean, living in the Internet and knowing your way about it, trying to sort out what is important, what is not so important, how to get rid of spam and that sort of thing, all of that is for us who are of a certain age trying to grapple with I think is going to be easier. I mean, at some point in time we know it will become part and parcel of the cultural legacy of our countries. And at some point in time somebody who doesn’t know how to use a computer will almost be seen as illiterate, as somebody who’s illiterate today is seen.
So, what we have to be careful about is to get through that phase as quickly as possible, so that on the innovation side too we can contribute a little bit to further development here.
ASTRID FROHLOFF: The widening gap.
BILL GATES: I think the analogy to what literacy was in the past, not totally solved but a challenge that at least the developed countries have faced very well, now the IT Fitness fits into that category. So, I agree with the analogy.
In some countries what that’s meant is that literally the libraries, which provided access to books to any child or any person who wanted those books, that’s also become the location where there’s a personal computer connected up to the Internet. And where that’s been done, letting people come in to communicate with relatives in other locations, or to learn how to use software, or to look for job opportunities, they’ve made very constructive use of it, and, in fact, the librarians have embraced that.
So, there’s a number of countries where taking the community centers or the libraries, the place that kids and others can get to, and making sure the technology is there, that’s been a very key initiative.
There are countries like China that are doing a very good job of making the Internet available. Some places it’s free and other places they have these Internet cafes that are actually very inexpensive, and so that often becomes a way that you have very easy access.
China is now the country with more broadband users than any other country in the world, and nobody will ever catch them because they’re going to have more broadband users than anybody except India has people in about three years. And so it’s kind of mind-blowing to think of China as the biggest market in the world. It’s the biggest mobile phone market, the biggest broadband market, and so certainly those citizens are getting the very broad exposure, which is good. I mean, it means as consumers and as innovators they’ll be smart, but it sets a level that challenges the rich countries to do as well or better.
ASTRID FROHLOFF: Another question from the audience?
Okay, so I pass forward another question here from the University of Helsinki in Finland. He is asking also about education. He’s asking, what is the role of teacher education in specific in promoting quality and innovation in e-education, the role of teachers?
CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL: So, you require good teachers, and if technology is changed at a fast speed, then, of course, teachers have to embark on lifelong learning as well. And that means that you have to be fit, the teachers have to be fit for the new technology, and, of course, this is also difficult when you consider that sometimes the pupils, the students are much faster in their computer skills than the teachers, and that means that you have to support the teachers and give them good education, and train them, because otherwise they would be kind of a barrier and would not be able to teach the kids anything. Because it is not really very pleasant if you are a teacher and you have to ask a pupil how to continue.
Therefore this is a cultural problem, particularly in that transitional period, and that, of course, will go away with the coming generation. But I consider this key, and I think that educators are able to promote these matters a great deal, and there are many teachers who do exactly that, but at the same time it can also be a barrier.
BILL GATES: Yeah, I certainly agree with that. There is some small number of students who are extremely self-motivated, particularly as you get to older ages, and for them the fact that the world’s best courses from universities like MIT and others, the video is being put onto the Internet and the course problems are being put onto the Internet, that allows those students from around the world to get at those courses, that is a great thing.
But for the bulk of students the discussion and the motivation is the most important thing, and the teacher plays the central role there.
As we look at a project like this Aragon project, the success isn’t as much the technology as the teachers being willing to embrace it and change the curriculum. I applaud them for the success that they’ve had at that.
So, nothing about all this technology reduces the importance of the teacher. In fact, we have to reinvest in them. Often a very good approach is giving them a portable computer a year before you expect them to do much, so that at least they’re comfortable and they can learn at home in a private way before they’re confronted with these students that may be very avid users.
ASTRID FROHLOFF: Okay. In regard of the time, ladies and gentlemen, we must close now the Q&A session. It’s almost 3:00.
Well, we talked about some problems about the ICT, but let me allow to finish this session, and let me remind you to what Albert Einstein once said, the Nobel Prize laureate in physics. He said, “Intellectuals solve problems; geniuses prevent them.” So, let’s hope he’s right.
Thank you very much, and thank you very much indeed to Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Gates. Thank you. (Applause.)
GERRI ELLIOTT: My role very quickly is to send you off with some proper thanks. So, Chancellor Merkel, our deepest gratitude for joining us here today, and we’d like to also thank you for so graciously hosting us here in Berlin.
Bill, thank you for your comments and your leadership, as always.
Astrid, thank you for your excellent facilitation.
On behalf of the entire Microsoft company to our delegates, thank you so much for joining us for the Government Leaders Forum. Please remain seated while Chancellor Merkel exits the stage, and we wish you all best wishes and safe passage home. Thank you so much. (Applause.)