Bill Gates: Bo’ao Forum for Asia

Transcript of Keynote Remarks by Bill Gates, Chairman, Microsoft Corporation
Bo’ao Forum for Asia
Bo’ao, China
April 21, 2007

BILL GATES: Good morning, it’s a great honor to be on the panel with these distinguished leaders. This is my first time at the conference and I am very impressed with the important dialogue that is taking place as part of this meeting. I hope I wasn’t asked to be on the panel to represent the county with the lowest growth rate and highest deficit. I think what I’ll focus on is what’s changing in technology. I was surprised to see that the Thomas Friedman’s book, “The World is Flat,” is not only popular in the Unites States but also countries throughout Asia.  It’s a big best-seller here in China. That book does an amazing job of talking about how two amazing things have come together. First, the economic development in Asia, particularly the investment, and the focus on education. Second are the advances in technology and the arrival of the Internet. What this has done is changed the rules. One simple way that I like to describe it is the opportunity of a person used to be determined by the country they are living in. Now we can say that the opportunity is much more determined on the education that they receive.

Advances in Asia

The advances in Asia are incredible. Even as I follow the numbers, it’s amazing to see it in person. To see the construction and go to the universities to see how the classes have become very world-class in their capabilities. Microsoft started a research center here in Asia just 10 years ago. The results have been quite amazing, among the best work in the world. Not only is Asia benefiting from technology, but Asia will be a major source of the breakthroughs and advances of technology. That will come from having companies start here. There was a survey done in the United States that asked where the next Bill Gates will come from. Sixty percent of the United States said that the next stunning success would come from Asia. I think it’s true and amazing that it’s so well recognized that the investment and changes here are leading to very innovative work.

What has technology done for us?

What has technology done for us? It’s given us the mobile phone, the PC and the Internet. We can say that a worker that has a PC can look at information in ways far better than a paper-based approach. They can use databases, communicate with customers and see trends. Things like video have allowed people to refresh their skills simply by clicking on a video or a quiz that will test their knowledge. The ability to ask their employees about their projects and their goals. The ability to reach out and share with them the goals of the company, and have constant tracking of the metrics that are important for your organization. More and more workers are empowered with this tool, the PC connected to the Internet. It is the greatest tool that mankind has ever created to leverage our creativity. It allows them to communicate and share information in rich ways. Today, for students, that means a shared machine that they can only use a limited time during the day in their school, library or community center. It’s our goal that the cost of machine is so low, that it’s something every student can have. By that time we expect it to take a new form. It will look like the size of a tablet of paper. You will be able to talk to the computer and have your speech recognized. You will be able to use a pen with ink and your writing will be recognized as well. That device, through connection to the Internet, will give you educational material beyond what any textbook can provide. It will eliminate that need for textbooks because the information will be presented on the screen.

The recent advances include things like video as a standard thing on the Internet. It includes bringing the telephone network together with the data network. You won’t have a separate desktop phone or a PBX in your organization. We can use software that connects over the Internet that gets a communications capability that’s not only lower cost but more effective than the phone system today. You can share documents and edit them together. If you want video conference, that will be very straight forward. If you come back to your office to see who has called, you will see that list immediately. This type of communication can have a very beneficial impact on productivity.

Technology and Government Transparency

For citizens, the use of technology allows governments to be more transparent. To see where the money is being spent. It allows them to share and voice common interest about where they see things that the government can do better. That’s a way to get people to share their views and solve the complex issues and complex tradeoffs that governments often face. Everyone today has cited the issue of equity. As we have these incredible economic, medical and education advances, will they share on an equal basis so that everyone can benefit? This is a huge challenge. As powerful as market incentives are, we often need to compliment them with government action and philanthropy and special incentives to make sure the benefits are very widespread.

We can look at drug development. Ninety percent of the developed drugs are aimed at the disease conditions of the richest 20 percent. I remember when my foundation organized a $20-million grant for a malaria vaccine and I was told it doubled the amount of money going towards that work. That’s really a stunning thing because this disease kills over a million children a year. There has not been enough energy put into it. For a number of reasons, the market incentives have not caused those achievements to be made. I am optimistic. I think with government efforts and commitments of companies, these equity initiatives are capable of making these advances widespread. For Microsoft that means give every kid a chance to use a computer connected to the Internet. In many countries, our projects with the governments have gone out to libraries and many are going out to schools. In China we have pilot programs out in the rural areas, training the teachers and bringing down the cost of connectivity. It’s very exciting to see that work proceeding.

Need for Increase in Educational Investment

The increase in educational investment needs to come at all levels. Universities are important factors, but also broad-based education is an important challenge. I think we can make that more effective. The world’s best lectures on any topic can be found on the Internet. If you want to learn about chemistry or physics, that information is there. We are seeing TV that used to be limited to channels, by moving to Internet TV, not only do you eliminate that channel, but you allow all video of interest to be accessed whenever it might be interesting. Academic material will easily be there. Students will be able to watch video, test their knowledge, and talk to other students. I do think that we can revolutionize education. It’s not just students, but also teachers, seeing the best practice or seeing what material they might use to do their job more effectively. Healthcare and education are increasing portions of every economy in the world. Making sure that we bring technology and equity to these sectors is very important.

Microsoft in Asia

Microsoft sees immense opportunity to make better software. We are initiating a great campus in Beijing and Shanghai that will more than double the capacity to bring great R&D people in those locations. It’s us and other major players driving this expansion throughout Asia. I think there is no doubt that as Asia corresponds with it’s part of the population, which is over 60 percent, the R&D base will also migrate in that direction. If we look at the number of science and engineering students, Asia is a high percentage of that. The quality of those students continues to improve to a level where they will be able to make contributions. Technology has already made the world a smaller place. It’s already made it easier to find information. In not too many years, you will be able to talk to your cell phone and ask information. You will be able to see maps and have digital currency. You will be able to communicate without thinking about phone numbers. It’s as easy as picking a person and asking to be in touch with them. It won’t just be the cell phone or the personal computer. The TV set and the car, we will have technology in a very pervasive way and make it incredibly user-centric.

The Asian Miracle

Let me close by saying the rapid peaceful economic development of Asia really is a miracle. It’s having incredible benefits on a worldwide basis. Understanding the key elements and how we can continue that, how technology can come in to play an increasingly positive role, that’s something I am very excited about and very committed to. I know that Microsoft can play its part and I believe my foundation can also play a part, so it’s exciting to be a part of this.

Thank you.