Bill Gates: U.S.-Japan Diet Members Reception (National Diet of Japan)

Remarks by Bill Gates, Chairman, Microsoft Corporation
Tokyo, May 7, 2008

BILL GATES: Well, thank you. And it’s great to see everyone here. I think we share in common a desire to see Japan do well, and for Japan and the United States to have a very positive, constructive relationship. As was said, it was just over 30 years ago when I made my first trip to Japan, and that was as a guest of a young entrepreneur in Japan, Kazuhiko Nishi, and very soon I was lucky enough to establish relationships, both with the large companies in Japan, NEC, Sony, Toshiba, Fujitsu, many, many others, and with some of the young, new software developers, and Microsoft has had an amazing success this country because of these partnerships. It’s really been a great situation in terms of getting personal computing not only to be used in the country, but also to seize the opportunity for the customers here, companies here, to be a part of the global PC market, whether it was at the hardware level, or the software level, or services level, that’s been an incredibly positive story. Throughout our history here, we’ve had a very good relationship with the government, which I’m appreciative of. As we look forward, I think there are some opportunities right now that we could seize in working together even more closely and for Japan to take advantage of the Internet, and the new things going on there.

Another milestone, besides it being 30 years since I first visited, is that it was about 10 years ago that the Internet first exploded, and so we can say that that first decade, the First Digital Decade, is over. At the beginning, people in some ways overestimated how quickly things would change. There was almost an Internet bubble about will banking change, and retailing change overnight. And then when some of those promises weren’t fulfilled, then some people thought, well, maybe the Internet is not such a big deal. Well, in fact, those dreams, although they didn’t happen overnight, many of them are really quite correct, it just takes more time, more investment for those things to come true. And so in the next 10 years, what I call the Second Digital Decade, we’ll have a far more dramatic impact on the way business is done, on the way people learn, and on the way people are entertained than ever before. And many of these things touch on policy issues that are important to all of you. For example, taking full advantage of the Internet in education. When I think about a young person now able to get onto the Internet and get the latest information, and find people of similar interests, it’s a very empowering tool. In fact, it’s so empowering that we should want everyone to have access, whether or not they can buy it and use it in their own home, or whether they get it in their local school, local community center, local library, this has become very critical. Many countries have now gotten a very high penetration in the schools and in the libraries, so that every young person can get to the Internet. If we look at the statistics for Japan there is still a lot to be done. In fact, I would say that one of the big breakthroughs will be that instead of having textbooks people will have an Internet device, a personal computer that will give them that information. So the way they’ll learn will be far better, far more interactive, far more personalized than what they have today.

I’m always trying to stay up to date and learn new things. So for me the fact that the top universities in the world are now putting their courses online, including not just the tests and the materials, but the lectures, means that you can go online for free and watch those courses. And that idea of sharing the best lectures, that’s something that a lot of universities are saying they want to take advantage of that and put their lectures online, and then also take advantage of what other people are doing. So education can improve. It can improve as well as make this tool a central part of what’s done.

Around the world we have a few thousand schools now using this Internet PC approach. Here in Japan we have a few pilot schools where this is being done. One is the school system in Wakayama, but over the next few years we want to do a lot more of those advanced, innovative schools so that we can start to get the curriculum digitized, and get the teachers, get their input, and get them involved in this, because after all, education is so much at the center of how innovative a company is.

We also can look at the tough problems of healthcare, and say that it’s really by using the Internet, both for the research to make that more efficient, and by having the entire healthcare system move away from the paperwork that exists today, to getting things online, so you can schedule your appointments, you can have consultation without a face-to-face appointment when that’s not necessary. So much efficiency is possible through the use of these Internet techniques. Every country will move to this in their own way, but when you look at those increasing costs I encourage you to realize that if the Internet is used something very exciting can take place there.

Another area that we think the Internet will be interesting is in the case of TV. Japan, of course, has a great broadband infrastructure. The performance level of what’s been installed is, on average, higher than any other country. Yet, in some ways the applications are not happening as quickly. When we think about delivering the Internet over TV, it’s a far richer experience. So if you’re watching the news you get to skip over the topics you don’t care about, learn more about the things you do. The ads are targeted to you, and so more valuable to you and the other person. And topics like elections, or watching the Olympics, or an educational show, all these can be far, far better if we get this Internet TV thing up and going.

Another big area, of course, is e-government. And this is a place where I’d say there are lessons all over the world. I wouldn’t say the United States, or Japan have all the answers. In fact, in many cases it’s smaller countries, where getting all the departments to work together and do something new seems to be much easier than in the large countries, that some great things have been done. So countries like Singapore, some of the Scandinavian countries really have eliminated paperwork, made the citizens’ ability to approach the government, and understand what they need to do in a very simple way, they’ve made it a lot better.

Now, people are underestimating the advances that will take place. I’d say that’s true in medicine, I’d say that’s true for the Internet and software. One of these elements in software is the way that we interact with the computer.

So far, whether it’s your phone or personal computer you’re mostly using a keyboard. And we’re finally at the point where we can use speech, we can use touching, just the information and asking it to be expanded on, we’ll have the pen to write notes very easily, and so this will make the computer easier to work with. In fact, if you think of your office your desktop can be very interactive, your whiteboard can be very interactive, and finding out what’s going on, what your colleagues are up to, how they’d like to work with you, that can be very straightforward.

Even if we think of a political campaign, the idea of reaching out to your constituents, whether it’s to get their feedback, to raise money, to share your thoughts, all of those things the Internet in the United States now it’s very exciting to see that in this election that’s something that’s being used very effectively.

So I’m an optimist, and I think even our toughest problems, whether it’s energy where we need new breakthroughs, or making these systems more secure, preserving privacy, I think all of these things are very solvable, if we build the right partnerships, and we make the right kind of investments.

So I have nothing but praise for the opportunities we’ve had to work here in Japan. This visit does mark an important milestone for me, and also in terms of my future focus. I’ll continue after July 1 being the Chairman of Microsoft, and overlooking the strategy, but my full-time work will be focused on the Gates Foundation, and that’s the organization my wife and I have created to focus on tough issues like diseases around the world, and helping the poorest countries move forward.

That’s an area where I expect we’ll have an opportunity in the future to talk about some of those things, because Japan is a great donor to those activities, and there are some great companies here that some partnerships definitely could help drive things forward there.

So my message overall is that your work, in terms of thinking about the Internet and your policies, will be important in the years ahead, and I know that Microsoft, and I am personally very committed to work with you and help you in any way on that.

Thank you. (Applause.)