The worst tragedy of climate change is that it will cause the most harm for the people who have done the least to cause it.
This week I did my 11th Ask Me Anything on Reddit. I love the AMA format—its unfiltered approach allows me to answer smart questions on a range of topics in real time. This year Redditors asked about everything from climate change and the rising cost of living to veganism to my views on Scotland.
You can read through the questions and answers in the below transcript. Thanks to everyone who joined in on this annual tradition!
Redditor’s question: Hi Bill, what are your views on generative AI? How do you think this will impact the world?
My answer: I am quite impressed with the rate of improvement in these AIs. I think they will have a huge impact. Thinking of it in the Gates Foundation context we want to have tutors that help kids learn math and stay interested. We want medical help for people in Africa who can't access a doctor. I still work with Microsoft some, so I am following this very closely.
Do you think that using technology to push teachers and doctors out of jobs will have a positive impact on our world? What about, instead, we use AI to give equitable access to education and training for more human teachers and doctors, without the $500,000 price tag. Do you think that might have a more positive impact on, ya know, humans?
I think we need more teachers and doctors, not less. In the Foundation’s work, the shortage of doctors means that most people never see a doctor and they suffer because of that. We want class sizes to be smaller. Digital tools can help although their impact so far has been modest.
Recently on GatesNotes you mentioned you're going to be a Grandfather, congrats! What life lesson(s) could you tell your grandchild that will make life happier, more meaningful, and more purposeful?
I think you mostly help kids by setting a good example and giving them time when they want it. I hope to get lots of time with whatever grandchildren I have sharing my fascination with the world. A grandchild does make you think about how we make sure the future is better – politics, health, climate, etc..
What's your daily driver smartphone? Last time when you did one of these I think it was a Galaxy Fold. Is it still the case? Are you up to date with Microsoft's upcoming projects? Do you get insights into what's gonna launch next? Some recent rumors claim that the next Microsoft Duo will ditch the dual display in favor of a foldable screen. Not that you need to confirm the rumors or anything but do you have knowledge of the upcoming projects or you don't really care about that side of things anymore?
I have a Samsung Fold 4 which JY Lee the Chairman of Samsung gave me when I saw him in South Korea to update my Fold 3. Of course, I use Outlook and a lot of Microsoft software on it. The screen size means I don't use a tablet but just the phone and my portable PC - a Windows machine.
Microsoft involves me in some of the research and product plans. I really enjoy working with Satya and his teams. I am not up to date on their hardware roadmap. My desktop PC is Windows Surface Studio which is great. I also love the whiteboard Surface Hub and we have a lot of those in the office.
Hello Mr. Gates, I saw a bit about the “Think week” you take yearly on your Netflix series. Could you elaborate a bit more on it (e.g., how do you plan a day on that). And like how do you stay focussed for long hours (e.g. while reading on a specific topic) without being distracted by any other thing ? or without your mind wandering over to other things ? Or just focussed with a general outline of bigger picture in mind for a topic ?
I really needed to set aside time to read new ideas when I was CEO at Microsoft since the day-to-day issues meant I would fall behind if I didn't. Now I mix my learning sessions into my schedule on a regular basis since the day-to-day demands are not like being the CEO of Microsoft. I love the mix of things I get to do between travelling and seeing work in action and then meeting with scientists/engineers to figure out how to innovate in climate or software.
Hi Bill, my question is what your favourite band is of all time, and what’s your favourite thing about the Country Scotland ? Thank you!
I have only been to Scotland 5 times, I think. All of the visits have been great. The Foundation does a lot of the livestock work we do there with great partners. We have done a lot for farmers who keep cows and chickens (and sheep and goats) in poor countries using the vaccines and other tools created by the partners there.
My favorite bands include U2 - I loved Bono's recent book and he is a good friend (Ok - they are from Ireland - I don't have a particular Scottish band in mind since bagpipes don't make my top 10).
Amazingly Chicken Tikka Masala is from Scotland even though it is considered an Indian dish (and mostly eaten there and in Indian restaurants)!
Climate: We f***ed or super-turbo f***ed?
It's important to keep in mind that life in poor countries is difficult right now. There are parts of the world where over 10% of the kids die before 5 and over 30% have malnutrition so their brains and bodies don't fully develop. Climate will slow down the progress we make on improving the human condition, but I still believe we can avoid a terrible outcome. The pace of innovation is really picking up even though we won't make the current timelines or avoid going over 1.5.
Hi Mr. Gates, what are your views on OpenAI's ChatGPT?
It gives a glimpse of what is to come. I am impressed with this whole approach and the rate of innovation.
Why are you buying up so much farmland, do you think this is a problem with billionaire wealth and how much you can disproportionally acquire?
I own less than 1/4000 of the farmland in the US. I have invested in these farms to make them more productive and create more jobs. There isn't some grand scheme involved - in fact all these decisions are made by a professional investment team.
In terms of the very rich I think they should pay a lot more in taxes and they should give away their wealth over time. It has been very fulfilling for me and is my full-time job.
Can there be ethical billionaires?
Being rich can easily make you out of touch. The incentive to create new companies is still a good thing, I think. Even if taxes go up, I still wouldn't ban anyone from being worth a billion but that is just one opinion. I have been very lucky.
The Gates foundation fought for the Oxford vaccine to NOT be open-source and to instead be sold for profit. I'm sure they don't mind.
This is not correct. Even though neither I nor the Foundation were involved in the license from Oxford to AstraZeneca, AstraZeneca did a strong job offering their help to any vaccine manufacturer who could make it. A great example is Serum which the Foundation funded and made over 2B vaccines that saved millions of lives.
Isn’t it contradictory to be a humanitarian and then accumulate most scarce resource-land under one?
Everything I own will be sold as money moves into the Foundation. In the meantime, my investment group tries to invest in productive assets including farmland although that is less than 4% of the total.
Hi Bill. Many years ago, I think around 2000, I heard you say something on TV like, “people are vastly overestimating what the internet will be like in 5 years, and vastly underestimating what it will be like in 10 years.” Is any mammoth technology shift at a similar stage right now? Any tech shift - not necessarily the Internet
AI is the big one. I don't think Web3 was that big or that metaverse stuff alone was revolutionary, but AI is quite revolutionary.
Most of my time is on innovations like helping pregnant women know if they need to get to a hospital in advance (the ultrasound work I mentioned in my end of the year letter). Malnutrition and anemia are important areas we see a lot of promise in right now.
Hi Mr Gates, long time fan here and fellow programmer. Are you making any progress recently with your molten salt Thorium reactors? Or at least help destigmatise use of nuclear power that could so much help the world now and in the coming years.
The Terrapower reactor designs (there are 2) both use liquid sodium as the coolant and uranium as the fuel. We are making excellent progress although the Ukrainian war meant our uranium fuel is delayed. The first reactor is being built in Wyoming and should be running by 2030. This can make a huge contribution to climate challenges since it will be low cost and super safe. I was just in West Virginia learning about their energy economy and hearing about projects there like the FORM battery factory (a BEV company) that was just committed.
The cost of living has skyrocketed, wages ate stagnant. A lot of people are effectively in survival mode. How do we get corporations and the ultra wealthy to pay better wages, pay their taxes. More rather, what steps do we take to create an economy that's beneficial for the masses, not a select few?
I am surprised taxes have not been increased more. For example, capital gains rates could be the same as ordinary income rates. I know things are tough for a lot of people.
Mr Gates, with the benefit of hindsight regarding your years of involvement with Microsoft, what is the single biggest thing you wish you had done differently?
I was CEO until 2000. I certainly know a lot now that I didn't back then. Two areas I would change would be our work in phone Operating systems (Android won) and trying to settle the antitrust lawsuit sooner.
Hi Bill, what's your view on veganism/plant-based diets as a mean to reduce climate impact Also, how can this be educated to people on a wider scale on how to make this choice? Today we have a lot of subsides for meat/dairy to make them affordable for people and that certainly doesn't help either.
For people who want to go Vegan that is great, but I don't think most people will do that. There are companies making "beef" in new ways and people working to still use cows but reduce the methane emissions. I have backed a number of innovators in this space including Beyond and Impossible and Memphis. I think eventually these products will be very good even though their share is small today.
Is technology only functional for you nowadays, or is there a still hobby aspect to it? Do you for instance still do nerdy or geeky things in your spare time; e.g. write code?
Yes. I like to play around and code. The last time my code shipped in a Microsoft product was 1985 - so a long time ago. I can no longer threaten when I think a schedule is too long that "I will come in and code it over the weekend."
Why are you so focused on healthcare & vaccines?
When I saw that kids were dying who could be saved for less than $1000 per life, I knew that had to be the top priority for my giving back. There was almost no one funding work on diseases like malaria which was killing over a million kids a year then. We have made progress, but it is still 400K and we are committed to get it to zero eventually.
Hey Bill, what are some of your new generation ideas for adopting better and safer climate change?
The key on climate is making the clean products as cheap as the dirty products in every area of emission - planes, concrete, meat etc... This is the only way we can ask all the countries in the world to change. If it costs a lot extra, we won't succeed.
What are you excited about in the year ahead?
First being a grandfather. Second being a good friend and father. Third progress in health and climate innovation. Fourth helping to shape the AI advances in a positive way.
Have you gotten around to reading David Foster Wallace yet?
I have read most of what he has written except Infinite Jest. I have it on my shelf. If someone wants something great from David Foster Wallace look at his commencement speech called This is Water (Kenyon College 2005). It is profound. The movie on his book tour called The End of the Tour is also very good.
What are you currently reading?
I am reading the book The Song of the Cell by Sid Mukherjee. All of his books are excellent - right up there with Atul Gawande. I have a lot of books about China to help me figure out how we avoid a lose-lose relationship.
What is your favorite time period in history and why?
I have studied the Victorian Era in the UK and some of the great US Presidents most of all. I find the periods of scientific innovation fascinating. In terms of the best time to live though the current time is dramatically by far the best time to be alive - as one of my favorite authors Steven Pinker explains in several of his books.
You have a great friend with Warren Buffett (the oracle of Omaha) and sit on his board with Berkshire Hathaway. Do you help to choose a company to look into buying? Also do you still team up with Warren to play competitive bridge?
I had dinner with Warren on Sunday and he is doing well at age 93! He is incredibly wise. I am no longer on the board of Berkshire, but he still shares a lot of advice with me and his generosity to all the foundations he gives to, including the Gates Foundation, is incredible. We still play some bridge but not as much as we used to. He got me hooked on bridge and I play with some of his friends including some tournaments.
What’s the biggest way an individual can contribute to the climate solution?
You are a voter, a consumer, a giver, and a worker. In every one of those roles, you can help. Buying an electric car helps. There will be options to pay a bit extra to offset your travel emissions coming soon (I do this for all of my emissions and my family). We need support on climate from both parties in the US and in all countries. Staying hopeful is a good thing!
Mr Gates, what was your favorite movie or TV show you saw this past year?
White Lotus Season 2 was quite good if I can say that. Congratulations to Jennifer Coolidge on her Golden Globe. The Bernie Madoff special was also good. Tehran was suspenseful. The latest Avatar was good.