Gheorghe Curelet-Balan Blog

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A software rocking star legend in town.

Bill Gates doesn't need any introduction. He is the living image of a dream coming true. And the University of Waterloo (UW) is part of his dream as around 500 UW alumni are working at Microsoft.

This should be enough to justify his second visit to UW in the last 2.5 years. But once his dream accomplished he is chasing another big dream: to help the poor of the world.

I read in the Stephen Manes and Paul Andrews' book: "Gates. How Microsoft's Mogul Reinvented an Industry and Made Himself the Richest Man in America" (page 15) that Bill carried a childhood rocking habit into adulthood and Microsoft.

He rocked the Waterloo Region last week when he talked to the young generation about the importance of software, innovation, the new computing frontiers of the next decade and the importance of his philantropy work at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Follow this link to watch the video recording of the lecture. Below I highlighted some of his ideas making references to the video in the approximate "(minute:second)" format.

After a short introduction[PDF] by UW President David Johnston, Bill Gates started his lecture by saying that UW is a special place, being in the top 3 universities from where Microsoft hires (4:18). Then, in order to connect with people, as he usually does in his presentations, he entertained the audience with a funny clip . This time, the clip was about his last day of work (6:20), in the wake of his retiring from Microsoft in July.

At (14:30) he starts talking about software as the best tool ever created, the birth by Microsoft of the software industry in 1975 and gives a short history of computing evolution till the beginning of the first digital decade, that is ending now. Globally there are 1 billion PCs, 2 billion cell phones (17:12) and 300 million broadband users.

The next digital decade will be phenomenal. Hardware inventions will not slow down (19:00) even though transistors reached their miniaturization limit. He expects that, unless there is a breakthrough, the current processor speed limit of 3-5GHz will stay with us for a while. The solution to this limit is multicore systems that create the need for software support for development of parallel code. Graphic displays will change dramatically so that any surface could be used to display information.

Another change factor will be in the way we interact with devices (21:00): natural user interfaces, touch, pen, tablet, whiteboard, speech, vision recognition. Office desk surface could become computational (24:40).

TV signals will be delivered over internet (29:20) changing the TV experience.

The progress in science relies now not only on math but on software too (31:00). The research in astronomy, genomics and malaria use computer simulation.

Funding the research activities is very important (33:08). The advances in computer science are the result of commercial and university investments. The huge success of Microsoft Research is a proof of this. Microsoft invests $6 billion per year into research. Governments need to be reached for funding research due to jobs creation and innovation effects. This are fun jobs, that are about changing the world and working with people.

The first part of the lecture ends with the story of how Microsoft is reaching out to scientists in other domains about their software needs (34:40) and the example of Harward brain research is given.

The second part of the lecture is about Bill Gates philantropy work. Here are some highlights:
- 39:40 the world population is divided in 3 tiers: rich, middle, poor. While the rich tier has a market voice driven by money, innovation is more important for the poor tier since they have no market voice. Therefore it is important to allocate research resources to solve the problems of the poor. The reality is opposite, as more research is done on baldness than on malaria.
- 44:00 technology could be used to help the poor
- 47:16 encourage the audience to get familiar with the situation of those people and try to help
- 47:50 get businesses involved to outreach poor (use creative capitalism).

Issues discussed during Q&A:
51:50 Microsoft willingness to invest in Canada
54:00 what's next in wireless networking?
57:40 Google and Apple execute now the best in innovation
60:40 the thing that surprised Bill Gates was the online advertising economics
65:30 education curricula
68:50 free internet
71:08 entrepreneurship in the big vs small companies
74:10 idea percolating process at Microsoft
76:20 how did he have the courage to start Microsoft?

On the same page cited in the above book we read how Bill was inspired by the "Century 21" technology vision of the 1962 World's Fair organized in Seattle. Who knows, maybe his talks will inspire the next generation to have the courage to dream big.

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