Bill Gates' Vision for the Future
Speaking to a packed room of Northern Virginia technology executives, this morning Bill Gates reiterated some of the messages he's said in the past, including how powerful research investment can be and how important a role software continues to play in how we use technology. I shot some video from the event and you can see it by clicking here.
Gates spoke to members of the Northern Virginia Technology Council this morning at the Capitol Hilton downtown. He opened by thanking the Virginians for crossing the river for the event.
He spent a few minutes talking about the biggest change he sees coming to the world of computers. In a familiar pitch, Gates said he envisions software that can interact with us on more human levels by recognizing our voices, our faces and hand gestures. Equipped with cheap digital cameras, computers will someday have sight. You'll someday be able to put a digital camera on your coffee table and have pictures automatically displayed. "Right now we use the keyboard and mouse," he said. "We'll finally be able to compliment that with a natural user interface."
He sees interactive tablet PCs replacing textbooks and notebooks in schools. Students will call up everything they need on their tablet PCs and write everything directly on the screen to be stored there. His daughter's school, he said, is already using this technology. But, for most schools, the cost of the new computers will not come down enough to be a reasonable alternative to traditional textbooks for another two to four years, he predicted.
After Gates testified before Congress yesterday, he and Craig Mundie, Microsoft's chief of research and strategy, visited lawmakers on Capitol Hill to talk about their concerns over U.S. competitiveness and the need for more money going toward research and education. Mundie joined Gates on stage to answer questions from the audience, and hammered home his idea that policymakers often make short-sighted decisions rather than investing in what would be best for the future.
One example of such a decision, Mundie said, was the FCC's decision to auction off available public spectrum rather than allocating some of the airwaves to white space technology. White space technology is a project Microsoft believes could expand Wi-Fi signals and connect more people to broadband. (The auction of those airwaves is underway now and should be wrapping up soon. A Microsoft prototype that would use such white spaces is being tested by the FCC.)
Congress and the FCC "decided it would be better to balance the budget and auction off that spectrum," Mundie said. "If we don't make informed policy choices, the country may fall farther behind" in terms of broadband penetration.
Gates pointed to another example of the government trading the potential for longer-term benefits from research funding for a quick economic boost with tax rebates. "Compared to a tax-payer rebate, putting money into more research benefit has a multiplier benefit, but in more of a 10-year time-frame," he said. "We're very concerned about those kinds of trade-offs."
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