Watch the enitre "The Notorious B.G." forum on MTV Overdrive.
Bill Gates is the most successful entrepreneur in American history. Every day, the products his company has created are used by more than a billion people, especially young people who probably have no idea the role Mr. Gates and Microsoft play in their everyday life. But who is he? How did he rise to become the youngest multi-billionaire ever in the U.S.? What is his vision for the future — the world of work, school and leisure — that awaits young people who increasingly lead a new digital lifestyle where they can, on demand, get what they want, when they want and how they want?
"The Notorious B.G." is a special that features the first MTV forum with Microsoft founder Bill Gates and MTV News correspondent Gideon Yago discussing the road ahead with a diverse group of approximately 80 tech-savvy 16- to 24-year-olds.
Gideon Yago: One of the causes you've become a steward of has been the education of high school students, and yet you're launching the Xbox 360, possibly the biggest black hole of student study time out there. How do you reconcile the two?
Bill Gates: I think the big thing that video games are going to do is cut into passive TV watching. The United States is amazing in terms of how much people watch TV. The Internet has started to reduce that some. The popularity of video games is dropping that down a little bit. I think it's fine to have fun part of the time. ... The interactivity, the richness and depth of those games means that [players] are developing some type of skills, and more and more we're making them social so you can connect up, talk with other people, and it's not just as isolated as it used to be.
Yago: Earlier this year you wrote an op-ed in the L.A. Times, where you said a majority of today's high schools are "obsolete, broken, flawed and underfunded," and until that's addressed, our country will keep "limiting — even ruining — the lives of millions of Americans."
Gates: I think there is a small percentage of kids who get a great high school education. They get a sense of their potential, they learn that it's fun to read, they're ready for college, they're excited about college, they know the kind of work that it will allow them to do. All we want is to provide what we're giving to that top 20 percent to all of the students, and right now we're failing at that. It's inequitable, it's wrong, particularly given where the jobs are going to be in the future.
Audience member: What do you think the role of humans will be in a couple of hundred years considering that automatic computing has taken on many human jobs and every day will take on more?
Gates: Well, today's computers are really tools that help us magnify our creativity and our desire to communicate and collaborate with other people. Whether it's sharing photos with grandparents or looking at sales, understanding what your customers are doing. ... It just takes us and gives us more leverage, just like other tools that have been invented. There is a lot of talk that computers could eventually become very smart and even in some ways as smart as people are. That's certainly not going to happen in the next 20 or 30 years, but a question that we'll have to face is what will we do when there's that opportunity. Not anytime soon, but during your lifetime, there will be a lot of discussion about whether we should take that step or not.
Audience member: With the rapid growth of personal technology, is our society doomed to be one that caters solely to the individual?
Gates: People will use these new tools in the ways that meet their basic needs. For example, when you are far away from your family, you want to stay in touch with them. So the idea that you can video conference, that you can play games at a distance, you can send those photos; that meets a need we have. And it's wonderful because in the past if you were far away, you couldn't get in touch that way. ... I think we will use these personal tools to make the world more like we want it to be.
Audience member: In recent years we've seen the digital divide that's existed socioeconomically in this country being bridged. What needs to be done to further bridge this gap?
Gates: One of the best things that happened that I got to be involved with is we worked with libraries all over the country, about 20,000, and made sure that virtually every library would have personal computers connected to the Internet. So even if you don't have the chance to have it in your home, then you can go down to a library and get access to all that information. Really, libraries and schools are the great equalizers in this country. Everybody should have all the books they want in their library, and you should have a great education in school.
Audience member: What kind of strides do you think the United States government needs to make in education to ensure we have the technology to compete with Asia and other markets?
Gates: I think our current high school system was designed for an era where there were lots of jobs that didn't require a college education. We had a lot of manufacturing and service jobs that were fairly straightforward. Now that's changed and yet we haven't gone back and changed the design. What my foundation is doing is working on a thousand experiments — schools that are designed a bit differently, bit of a different curriculum, often with a theme; schools that will focus on arts or outward bound schools, technology focus, different things that really can make the curriculum more relevant for the students. Over the next several years as we try out these new high schools, I think some models will emerge, and we hope there's some open-mindedness to change the curriculum, to change the measurement and incentive systems and get a more modern approach.
Yago: Before we reach that day, certainly I know a lot of people in high school and college are hearing a lot about how India and China will take over a lot of American jobs. What do you say to that generation of young people now that's in college, that's now in high school or approaching high school?
Gates: India and China advancing and getting rich is fantastic news. What that means is that people who have been living in poverty, had ill health and illiteracy, are now getting jobs that allow them to be educated and realize their potential. If we had a choice today where India and China would be as rich as the United States, we should all want that, because not only would it be great for them, but they'd be buying more of our products. ... Their advancing isn't taking away from a finite pool of jobs. What it does is it grows the global economy. It does mean that we have to renew our skills, renew our leadership, and that largely means investing in the education system. So it doesn't have to be a bad thing, it just highlights that we've underinvested in education and in fact other countries do a better job.
Audience member: The original reason you were so successful is you took the computer, something that everybody needs, and made it accessible by making a good operating system that anyone could use. Where are we going with that? How are we going to interact with our computer 15, 20, 30 years from now?
Gates: The future computer will be a lot more imbedded into the environment instead of something that you can identify. Whenever you are in your house you'll be able to ask for something, and whatever wall or counter you're near, that information will just be projected onto it. So computers will be able to understand speech, that's one of those tough problems we've been working on for a long time, and we can say with great certainty that over the next five years we'll be able to do that very well. We'll be able to recognize handwriting so you can just, you know, go to a little piece of paper of a screen and just scribble a little note on it and we'll see what that is and do the appropriate thing. So the computers, you'll feel like they're kind of everywhere — on your wrist you'll have a glanceable little screen, in your pocket you'll have the phone of the future. It will be a lot better. You'll have the tablet [PC] that you can carry around ... and even your living room TV will be a full-powered computer for playing games, for doing video conferences, connecting up with friends, or watching the redefined type of TV that comes over the Internet.
Audience member: I wanted to ask you about the digital divide that we were talking about a little bit earlier. In underdeveloped countries, a lot of times the huge capitalist ventures there contribute to the digital divide between the technology haves and the have-nots — the disparity is just growing and growing, but at the same time, you're so committed to trying to eliminate that divide. How do you reconcile the two: the business aspect of that and the goal of global development?
Gates: The world has improved more dramatically than I think people recognize. If you go back just 100 years or so, out of 1,000 babies that were born, 250 would die before the age of 5 in every country. And today even in the worst country in the world we do quite a bit better than that. Now, that doesn't justify the inequity, but year by year with the advances in medicine we're making improvement, so that's a case where we all are benefiting. Likewise, as computers have become inexpensive, as I go to hospitals in Africa, there are personal computers there being used to gather data, do drug trials, and so it feels great to be involved in computing that is quite accessible, which is very different than computers when Microsoft was started. They were very expensive, and you always thought of them as sort of an impersonal enemy because they would have information about you and they'd send you bills that were wrong. The idea that you could sit down and you would be empowered against that big organization and that you could share information with your friends, that really has turned around how people think about computing. So I see it as a force for bridging the divide.
Yago: Sadly, that is all the time we have for today, but before we go, would you like to give us a final thought?
Gates: Well, I certainly encourage all of you to invest in yourself. That's the best piece of advice I have, and that means learning new things, pursuing your curiosity, finding something that's fun to do and, you know, I got a chance because I love to learn, I had a few good teachers, and everybody should have what I had.
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