Genius Week is underway, and I have my own story about Bill Gates, and how I came to understand his genius.
Yesterday, while giving blood, I finally got around to reading the Gates Letter, which has been sitting open on my iPad since it came out a few weeks ago. The Letter is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation annual report of sorts. In this, their 15th anniversary year, they take the opportunity to look at three important checkpoints – where things stood for the world’s poorest in 2000, progress made since then, and some bold and exciting predictions about where we might be 15 years from now, if the current pace of innovation and level of support continue.
The overarching theme is that life for the world’s poor improved significantly in the past 15 years, and will improve even more in the next 15. And, that relatively speaking, life for the poor will improve way more than life for the rich. As the letter profoundly asserts, it’s fine that rich people will be able to watch ever-more highly defined video on ever more impossibly tiny screens, but changes for the poor will literally be life & death.
- Diseases such as polio, HIV and malaria can be significantly reduced or eradicated in the next 5-15 years.
- Infant mortality, which has been reduced by 50% in the past 25 years, could be reduced by 50% again in the next 15.
- Hunger – Africa currently spends $50B per year importing By 2030, African farmers could increase crop yields by 50%, enabling Africa to be much closer to self-sufficiency; and reducing malnutrition, famine and starvation in the process.
- Education – Literacy rates worldwide have increased, most significantly for females. If the trend continues, it could lead to a 12% increase in GDP for poor countries by 2030.
What I love about what the Gates Foundation is doing is that they are applying simple & elegant scientific solutions – married with caring and compassion – to some of the world’s most pressing problems.
My introduction to the way Bill thinks, or more accurately, creates; came in a speech I heard him give to a group of engineers at Microsoft. Bill was speaking at a semi-annual gathering of Systems Engineers, which was the job title I held at the start of my Microsoft career. He was talking about how we might imagine the possibilities and then make them a reality.
Specifically, he said:
Imagine a world of unlimited storage. A world of unlimited CPU processing power. And a world of unlimited communications bandwidth. Now go design software for that world.
And that speech was given in ‘93 or ‘94, before 5 cents a gigabyte, before ubiquitous fiber optics, and >10 Moore’s Law doublings ago! (That’s 1000 times more processing at 1/1000th the cost, for you math geniuses.)
It’s amazing to see the clarity of thinking and consistency between Bill then and Bill now.
I think Bill’s genius is that he is able to envision the world as it is, as it was, and as it could be; and then drive the huge engines needed to help realize his vision. That his vision is now mainly about repairing the world is a blessing for us all.