Bill Gates: Center for Democracy and Technology

Transcript of Remarks by Bill Gates, Chairman, Microsoft Corporation

Center for Democracy and Technology Annual Dinner 2007

Washington, D.C.

March 7, 2007

BILL GATES: Thank you. It’s a great pleasure to be here with so many people that have worked with us over the years to make sure that the Internet is a positive online experience for all users. I particularly want to thank Chairman Leahy, Congressmen Goodlatte and Cannon and Congresswoman Solis; FTC Chairman Majoras, Commissioners Harbour and Liebowitz; FCC Commissioner Tate and all the Attorney Generals who are here tonight. They’ve provided leadership in this important area.

It’s particularly appropriate that we are here under the auspices of the Center for Democracy and Technology. CDT has done so much to bring the right people together so that they can work on these key issues, making sure that Internet access, online safety, security, privacy, censorship, all of these issues are dealt with in a way to keep the Internet a robust and evolving platform for innovation.

I particularly want to thank Jerry Berman for his leadership. (Applause.)

Although we’re here from different backgrounds, we’re here for the same reason, which is to maintain stewardship of this incredible combination of the empowering personal computer, which combined with the Internet, has become the most amazing tool of all time.

During the last decade, it’s really transformed how we create, how we share, how we communicate, how we entertain ourselves and much more. And we’re really just at the very beginning. It’s very exciting to be part of this.

You can go and visit any library in this country and many other countries and there, there are state-of-the-art PCs, a project that my foundation and Microsoft are involved with. And it’s been amazing to track the things that people do when they come into those libraries, staying in touch with relatives, learning new subjects, finding jobs that are available. Simply gaining the skills, the training, so that they’ll be qualified for new jobs.

Another audience that has benefited immensely is a small one but an important one, which is people with disabilities. If you’re completely blind, in the past, all you had access to were a few books that were, after a long period of time, moved from print into a Braille format. Well, today, with the benefit of software enablement and speech synthesis, you can browse the entire Internet and have all of the latest up-to-date-information. And that completely transforms the lives and the employability of everybody with that disability.

The vision of what a great tool this could be and how it’s about the individual – not the government, not businesses, but rather the creativity, the thinking of every person, it goes back a long ways. The ideas – the ideas that came out around the original productivity tools, the dreams that Paul Allen and I had starting the company; these are still yet to be fully realized. And yet, the pace of innovation is more rapid than ever before.

Whether it’s having enough storage that lets us dream about tracking all the memories of our kids that are interesting and being able to go back and examine those any way that we want, or whether it’s about having high-resolution screens that make things so realistic that meeting with people or playing games can be done in a phenomenal way.

The Moore’s Law prediction that we would have exponential improvement, that continues unabated with no limit in sight, whether it’s about the performance, about the storage, about the band width, all of those things improving at the same time that they’re becoming less and less expensive.

Communications is being revolutionized by this. Whether you look at people now sharing information, to edit that information at a distance, or even things like gamers who play something like Xbox Live and find their friends and they can talk to them as they can play, they have a camera, they can gloat when they win. They can meet new people, it’s an amazing thing.

One of the great changes coming right now is the move of video onto the Internet. Five years ago, that was a very rare thing. Today, we’re starting to take it for granted. In fact, Time Magazine, in naming the Person of the Year, decided it was all about user-generated content and so they put a little mirror on the cover.

I was glad to see that, because it meant I was Time Person of the Year two years in a row. (Laughter and applause.) I have to share it with a lot more people this time than last time, but at least it’s still there.

The videos that we’re creating there run the full range from silly, little short videos that are just kind of goofing around to the most profound information about topics that people need to learn about and need to work with each other on. Today, when I want to learn about a new topic, theology or immunology, I can find courses that are out on the Internet either for free or very inexpensive, call those up, watch those whenever I want.

I can take tests that universities have put out and made available to test whether I’m understanding and I have the knowledge or need to go back and learn more about those things. That’s really changing a lot of things when we think about corporate training, when we think about somebody who is motivated to learn new things, all of that will be there.

If you think about a university, one of its great, unique aspects has been the incredible lectures that it’s provided. Well, if those get out there and are available literally to anyone, a lot of universities can say, well, maybe we should focus in on the study group element, maybe we should draw on those lectures and simply convene people to talk about the topics and what they’re confused about. Likewise, even the third part of the university, the accreditation piece, that piece as well could be separated off and done largely in a digital facet.

So the ability to make education different, to make it more efficient, to let teachers actually create great examples of how they taught and motivated kids, what pictures, what animations did they use, put those out there on the Internet and let the power of search capabilities let other teachers find it, let them edit it, because the software creativity tools let you do that, let them put it up there as well, let people read it so it gets a reputation, and all the teachers can start learning from each other.

That makes teaching from being a subject that’s very isolated and you might – you don’t know who’s the best or what the best practices are, you could say, hey, the best math teacher was somebody who taught a hundred years ago and you couldn’t contradict that because there hasn’t been this accretion of ideas and knowledge and sharing in an easy way that now the digital world makes possible.

My daughter is lucky enough to go to school where they all have Tablet computers. And although those are expensive today, over the next four years, the cost of those will come down such that the costs they save – that is, not having the textbooks that you have to carry around that are fairly rigid in what they present or how they make the subject exciting, once you eliminate those, the cost of putting this in will be quite modest.

And so that ability during the class to take notes, for the teacher to see who is really following along, getting the things right, the ability to share your homework with your parents – every day when I go to dinner with my daughter, I’ve seen how she did on her homework that day. So I know to say, hey, good job or, let’s talk about fractions after dessert tonight. I still remember how to do those. I’d like to help out. (Laughter.)

Under the old system where, you know, a week later you get those results, it’s not fresh in the student’s mind since they’ve moved on to some other hot topic. It’s really just not the same at all.

So the Internet, we’re just at the very beginning. It will replace the telephony system, make it cheaper, make it better. We’ll get rid of phone numbers. We’ll make the quality higher. We’ll make it easier for people to get in touch with you, where you control whether you get interrupted or not by determining who and what context you want to communicate with, independent of which phone or what place you are will make that very, very simple.

Many of these advances really touch on key issues related to democracy. Historically, economically it only made sense to have a few TV channels and a few newspapers. So there were – there was always the saying that you should never argue with somebody who buys ink by the barrel. There were only a few voices that had that kind of projection out into the public.

As the Internet is becoming widespread, as access is getting into more and more homes, people are understanding – particularly young people – how to connect up and find topics that they find of interest, literally anyone can publish information. And if it’s interesting, you can see the traffic there, you can see the links to that traffic and people essentially vote by their activity about what they like, what’s popular and other people see that, they join in. And it’s an amazing phenomenon. It’s much better at selecting topics that resonate with the public than simply the editor deciding exactly what those things will be.

And so even though it was impossible, I think the founders of our democratic society would have celebrated the values that come with the Internet – the equal access, the breadth of information that can be made available.

In some ways today, one of the challenges I think we face is that many issues have gotten complex enough that if you just read the print media, a weekly magazine and that’s – even if you’re very diligent and read about it, you really can’t get to the essence, for example, about say the tradeoffs that are made in the budget. Take foreign aid, which is a topic, because my foundation, I’ve spent some time reading about. It’s very complex.

You know, is the U.S. as generous as other countries? How much do you have to learn to understand what the numbers are and how various things affect that? It is quite complex.

Only a medium like the Internet allows you to have experts out there who are publishing information in depth, letting you click in and see real detail, comment on that detail, go back and forth and have people who may not be in the same location and get into a deep dialogue about a subject that’s just a little too complex without that tool having been there.

And so by having this capability, we can let people engage in government, even a complex government with tough issues, in a way that was not possible before.

And when I think about my foundation, one of the great challenges is that people don’t see the inequities that are out there. They don’t see the health problems that are particularly acute in Africa. If those people lived next door to them, if there was a girl dying of malaria or a family infected with AIDS, they would take action, because human compassion would be activated and they would do the right things.

The research budgets would reflect that these big killers should be the top priority. That might delay a baldness drug or two, maybe even erectile dysfunction might get delayed. That would be OK. (Laughter and applause.)

But how can we take this tool and use it to eliminate that distance? Well, I think it is very doable. We can take somebody who wants to be generous and provide AIDS drugs and let them see how the life they saved – somebody wants to borrow a few hundred dollars to buy fertilizer, buy some tools and have more productivity, you can look at them out on the web, decide if you want to take that risk and decide that it’s your money that’s been put at risk. And so this idea of micro loans can be done in a way that feels very personal, as though you were helping your neighbor.

And, of course, the United States in terms of philanthropy, generosity, nonprofits is the leader. And now with this tool, we can take that generosity and feel like we’re in touch with the issues that are far away from us. And that eliminates the complexity of not really being sure of those things that are far away or those different organizations, are they doing what you expect, is it making a difference, the way you can experience that when something is nearby.

The Internet is also the reason we can hope for very rapid progress in medical breakthroughs. The breadth of information, genetic information and experimental information, the idea of sharing that, if we didn’t have the Internet, of being able to browse through and find papers and work by other people, that would be more difficult.

As Tom Friedman says, the world is getting more flat. And part of that is that more brains are working on these tough issues. More very smart people are working on great software, great drug discovery. And why can that scale up? Why doesn’t that reach a limit in terms of people collaborating together?

Well, the answer is, these digital tools really provide the framework for allowing that range of science to scale up and continue to have incredible productivity. And so we can expect that the big breakthroughs, like an AIDS vaccine, will come from scientific work done on many continents by literally dozens of groups who learn about each other over the Internet, share over the Internet and eventually bring the pieces together that make that breakthrough. And that’s why it’s very timely to be providing them with the economic incentive and the optimism that backs them, despite the fact that there’s not a market for the work that’s there.

Some of the changes that are not far away in terms of the use of the Internet include things like natural interface, speech recognition, visual capability. These are things we’ve been working on, many companies, for a long, long time. But they bring new power to the Internet.

Machine translation, taking documents from one language into another. There have been vast improvements in that. In fact, within a specific subject area, like technical documents, that already works extremely well and it can provide outreach to different kinds of languages.

Perhaps the impact on education is the most interesting. This morning, I had a chance in front of the Senate education committee [Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions] to share some of my concern about American education and also some optimism that we let the experiments take place, how we manage things, how we measure things and technology, including the Internet coming in in a strong way, there’s every reason to be optimistic.

This Tablet device is part of that, where the kid gets the information and can deal with it. I envy kids growing up today. When I was young, I picked up the World Book, started at A, went to B, went to C, went to D. Believe me, that’s a very confusing way to learn things compared to following a subject outline or a chronological outline that the Internet would let you do today, way, way easier to learn these things.

Certainly the focus for the Center of Democracy and Technology is some of the challenges that these advances bring. All of our information will be on the Internet. Our health records. Historically, we’ve essentially relied on I guess you could call it incompetence to protect our privacy. (Laughter and applause.)

This idea that, no, don’t give out your Social Security – the idea that not using a Social Security number is the great magic to privacy, that relies on an inability to correlate two databases. Well, believe me, even without that number, the ability to do that correlation is now there in a very deep way.

So instead of relying on difficulty or people not doing things right, we have to rely on explicit policies. We have to decide, you know, when you’re going to hire a bus driver for your school, should you be able to know that person’s driving record? Or is that a privileged function? Should your nosy neighbor be able to determine that?

These privacy issues are not as easy as you might think. You know, when I give a speech, if I said to people, how much privacy do you want, I think people would say, as much as possible.

Well, in fact, many issues that relate to security, the ability to track someone down who is putting malware onto systems or, in the extreme case, somebody who is a terrorist and using biological weapons or nuclear weapons, the ability to track that down relies on some degree of information being retained.

I totally agree with Senator Leahy that we can strike a balance here. That is, having explicit policies about where information can be used, while at the same time having enough information to be able to track down egregious behavior. That is absolutely achievable. It’s a touch challenge. It’s one that everyone here is going to have to work hard on.

I think over the last few years we have seen progress. Things like having parental controls built in to the operating system. You know, for me, that means I let my daughter go to lots of different sites, I don’t lock that down very much. But I can go and look at the log and see where she has been and decide, you know, some of those things that I want to discuss with her. You know, I figure eventually she’ll go to sites – I’m glad if she does it while I’m still around and she is interested in talking to me, so I have that kind of log.

A lot of issues about identity. There’s some progress being made. Standards like Open ID, work like what we call CardSpace, a move away from passwords that are a very weak thing to Smartcards, reducing the amount of ID theft that’s out there. (Applause.)

I think some of the regulations like HIPAA show us that you don’t always get it right the first time. (Applause.)

All I know is I keep signing those forms. Every time I go to the doctor, I sign the forms. I’m willing to sign one that says, forget it, it’s OK, I’ve signed enough. (Laughter.)

So there’s some great work going on: Industry collaboration around things like the National Cyber Security Alliance, work at the FTC like their On Guard Online program and work on ID theft, including Deter, Detect and Defend. Many of these issues require not only industry entities but government entities to come and work together.

There’s a lot of nonprofits that have gotten involved in helping to educate kids. And everyone in this room needs to continue to come together to raise consumer awareness about online safety.

You know, certainly we’re committed to working with consumer advocates, government agencies including FTC and attorneys general, and all our industry colleagues in educating consumers about the tools available to them so people are safe online.

One of the things that we think would be a strong milestone is to have an all-inclusive uniform privacy law at the federal level that would give consumers control over their personal information. This would increase their confidence in providing information to legitimate businesses and other organizations. And certainly the concern nowadays about using your credit card or providing other information is very strong.

Legislation should provide people with control and should provide transparency about collection. And it should involve strict limits on how that information is protected, including rules for what happens when there is a breach, when people aren’t protecting that information.

So I urge Congress to hold hearings and work together with interested parties to try and come up with a comprehensive privacy bill this year. (Applause.)

I hope you got a clear sense of my excitement about where this is all going. In fact, you know, I think we’ll look back on where we are today and say, okay, this machine we have is so limited, it can’t think, it can’t see, it can’t hear, it’s heavy, it’s expensive. Why do we put up with that? There are so many things it can’t do. And yet, it is the stepping stone that is going to get us to that next step.

The level of R&D by Microsoft, by many others, is really showing the optimism that there is that these breakthroughs will take place.

And to make sure that it’s a safe place that consumers trust really involves the people in this room. And I’m confident that we can foster an environment of trust where access is enabled by good public policy and user education along with the advances that will come.

And so I’m very excited to see how it all comes together. And thank you all for your support. (Applause.)