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So how exactly do you talk to a 5-year-old about engineering?

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Five questions from the Twitterverse

Last week, I did an onstage Q&A with Twitter founder Jack Dorsey at the annual investors summit hosted by Vinod Khosla. Jack also solicited questions from the Twitterverse. Here are my thoughts on a few of the questions from his followers.


Last week, I did an onstage Q&A with Twitter founder Jack Dorsey at the annual investors summit hosted by Vinod Khosla. Jack also solicited questions from the Twitterverse. Here are my thoughts on a few of the questions from his followers:

BILL GATES: @barronstechblog, the great advantage of solar and wind is that they don’t require fuel. They also have disadvantages. One is that, to reach the scale we need, they require energy farms that cover many square miles. Another is that they are intermittent. What do you do when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow? If you depend on these sources, you need some way of getting the energy during those time periods when it’s not available.

BILL GATES: When it comes to technology, there are four areas where I think a lot of exciting things will happen in the coming decades: big data, machine learning, genomics, and ubiquitous computing. So if I were 20 years old today, I’d be looking into one (or maybe more!) of those fields.

@fesja, I’d like to think that I also would be far more aware of the problems of the world’s poorest people than I was when I was 20. This is my one big regret from the time I spent in college. When I left Harvard, I had no real awareness of the disparities of health, and wealth, and opportunity that affect millions of people. It took me decades to find out about these things, and to start trying to do something about them.

Young people today have amazing opportunities. You have communications technology that I never had at that age, and you are far more aware of global inequity. So whether it’s in the career you pick or a volunteer project you do on the side, you can start sooner than I did.

BILL GATES: @realshawnisaac, Right now, polio is the single disease I’m spending the most time on, because we’re so close to eradicating it. It exists in just three countries: Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. If we can wipe it out completely, it’ll be only the second time humanity has eradicated a disease (the first was smallpox).

It’s hard to single out one disease after polio, but there are several areas where the world will make a lot of progress in the coming years. For example, our foundation is very focused on malaria. New drugs will drive down the number of malaria deaths dramatically.  Another example is tuberculosis;  the drugs and diagnostic tools we have today are good enough to cut the death rate by quite a bit, but it will take 6 or 7 years before we have the innovations that allow us to start talking about eradicating TB.

BILL GATES: No matter how much money you have, you can’t buy time, @DanPierson. There are only 24 hours in every person’s day. So I set clear priorities, like my family and my work, and am pretty hardcore about sticking to them. It helps that I’m lucky enough to be able to free up some time by choosing not to do certain things. For example, I don’t mow the lawn.

BILL GATES: @JohnValentine2, I had an interesting discussion with the journalist Thomas Friedman about this topic last year, which you can watch here.

As I told Tom, it’s no secret that American politics are pretty polarized right now. Personally, I’d like to see more of our leaders take a technocratic approach to solving our biggest problems.

I know some people use “technocrat” as an insult, but I mean it as a compliment. We should be asking ourselves: Given the things that the country wants to get done, what’s the most efficient way to accomplish them? In areas like our energy supply or the budget, the current course won’t get us where we want to go. So the debate should be focused on the choices that are available to us.  What are the facts? What do the numbers tell us about what’s working and what isn’t?

That’s essentially what we try to do with the foundation. For example, we’re trying to help improve the U.S. education system. I wake up every day asking myself, how can we provide some examples of what works? How can we identify what makes a teacher really effective, and help all teachers be as good as the best ones? I think the country would have healthier political debates if more of our leaders brought a similar analytic approach to their work.