One of the things I really enjoy is talking with college students about how they can use the power of computing to improve people’s lives, especially in the world’s poorest countries. Yesterday I spent an afternoon at the University of Washington, where I spoke about how inexpensive data storage, memory, and digital sensors, faster processors, and some great software innovations are giving scientists and entrepreneurs amazing new tools.
On the software side, we’re seeing fantastic advances like the natural user interface in Kinect, speech recognition in smartphones, powerful cloud computing networks, and machine learning that uses algorithms to model and predict what’s likely to occur in the real world.
We’re using this modeling a lot to identify effective strategies in health research. For example, researchers at the UW worked with a group of non-scientist gamers to model and identify a million different protein structures, which will help in the research to develop new AIDS drugs.
I’m also excited about epidemiological modeling being used to determine effective interventions against diseases that disproportionally affect the world’s poor. With malaria, a disease that still kills 750,000 people a year, the modeling is giving us insight into the benefits of certain control strategies, such as the percentage of female mosquitos we need to target to set them on a path to extinction.
We’re also looking at how we can use computers to make it more interesting for kids to learn math, using games that draw them in and provide feedback that will let students and teacher know when it’s time to progress to the next level. It’s not easy to figure out what draws people in, but just imagine what a huge contribution it would be if we could make math fun and personalized.
As I told the UW students, this is an amazing time to be involved in computer science. Besides the great things we’re seeing in health and education, there are exciting opportunities to use the power of computers in areas like climate modeling, creating new low-carbon energy sources, and creating more drought-resistant and higher-yield crops.
You can download the transcript of Bill's Q&A session with University of Washington students - The Opportunity Ahead Q&A (pdf file)