Bill Gates addresses students in University visit

Steve Koppes
Associate News DirectorUniversity Communications

Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft Corp., spoke Wednesday afternoon to more than 400 students at the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business. Hundreds more students listened at remote locations on campus. 

The talk, titled “Bill Gates Unplugged: On Software, Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Giving Back,” covered a variety of topics, including how Gates got interested in computers, where he sees technology heading and how Microsoft researchers collaborate with university researchers and others worldwide.

Gates’ visit to the University of Chicago is part of a five-campus university tour, in which he is emphasizing the importance of digital innovation in driving the global economy. He also is addressing societal issues and the benefits afforded careers based in mathematics and science.

While at the University, Gates met with Ian Foster, the Arthur Holly Compton Distinguished Service Professor in Computer Sciences at the University, Director of the Computation Institute and Associate Director of the Mathematics and Computer Science Division at Argonne National Laboratory, as well as other faculty members and University leaders.

Bill Gates' Transcribed Remarks (02.20.2008, University of Chicago)

Thank you. Well, good afternoon. It's great to be here in Chicago, and have a chance to answer some questions, and talk a bit about the future of software. The University of Chicago, of course, is a world class institution, and there's a lot of ways that there are important connections. It was mentioned some of the collaborations with the foundation on education. That's a big, big focus and something that I'm looking forward to spending more time on myself.

The university also has great connection to Microsoft in terms of joint projects and some great people that have joined Microsoft. I'll just give one example: Satya Nadella, who has perhaps one of the most challenging jobs at Microsoft, he's merely in charge of competing with Google, runs our search business. He's a graduate from the school, and we're in very good hands with the great talent and education that he received.

Well, as was mentioned, I will be making a bit of a shift this summer. I'll stay quite involved in Microsoft on a few projects, but the very broad role I've had in terms of overseeing all the R&D and knowing all the projects, I'll get a chance to turn that over to some very capable people, including Craig Mundie and Ray Ozzie at the company.

And what I'll get to do is spend more time on how technology can be applied to some broad needs, particularly the needs of the poorest: how it will change education, how it will change health. So, I am looking forward to that.

It's the first time I've changed my focus literally since I was 17. Writing software products for Microsoft, and thinking about that day and night is what I've been doing most of my life.

So, as I approach this last day and this change, it's hard to imagine what that's going to be like. So, to help me out, to make sure I'm ready for it, some friends volunteered to help make a little video so that I'd be prepared. So, let's go ahead and take a look at that.

(Video segment.)

Well, we had fun making that, but I'm sure it will be a fun and busy day, and no challenge keeping my time busy, partly because the period ahead of us in terms of the role of software is even more exciting than the past, and, in fact, I think people are vastly underestimating the advances that will take place, and the central role that will play, not just in the sciences but in all types of endeavors, and different types of jobs, and in even our activities outside of work.

It really goes back to the early days of the microprocessor. At that time, the 1970s, computers were very few in number and very, very expensive. And when you thought about them, you thought about something that only governments or big companies could buy, and they would track data about you, and might send you a bill that was wrong, and if you stapled the punch card, you might mess up the machine somehow. So, it was viewed as not really for the individual.

Now, personal computing, which started in the '70s, changed that, and the dream there was to build the best tool to leverage our creativity and to let us communicate that we'd ever had, something that was completely open-ended in our ability to model and try things.

An important element of that was the creation of a big software industry. So, Microsoft created a platform, starting with BASIC and then MS-DOS and Windows, to let other companies come in with their expertise and write software packages.

But there was a heroic assumption there, which was that we needed to get millions of these machines in use so that it would be economic for companies to spend tens of millions developing software, and yet be able to offer that for only $100 or less, and yet be able to fund their R&D and the success model to keep making that software better and better.

And as we achieved that, it became a virtuous cycle: The more machines that got out, the more demand there was for software, and therefore the more opportunity for new software companies to come in, and do a diverse set of things. And that really got going in the 1980s. ...