Ask Bill Gates Anything: Being a Billionaire is Strange, Microsoft Co-Founder Tells Students

How’s the life of a billionaire? “Quite strange,” says Bill Gates, who fielded questions from University of Washington students on Thursday evening as part of a lecture on the future of computing.

Gates’ talk, at a packed hall in the UW’s computer science building, focused on some areas where he thinks cheap, powerful computing will have a major impact on society, including education, disease, and robotics.

Gates recalled spending time on the UW campus as a young man, back in the days when computers were huge, powerful machines locked up in big research facilities.

“At strange hours you could essentially break in and use computer time,” Gates said. “I never did get a degree here, or anywhere else. But fortunately for me, my addiction to computers became easier to satisfy.”

Given the chance to ask Gates about anything, students treated the evening like a visit with the oracle, asking the Microsoft co-founder to expound on problems with the political system and the tax code, predict the future of computer interfaces, and more.

Gates didn’t disappoint, giving long answers that included some glimpses at his personal life, such as meeting his daughter’s boyfriend’s parents over Skype and being such a bookworm as a kid that “I had to have a quota about how much I was allowed to read.”

The webcast will be archived online by UW, but here are the highlights from where I sat:

BEING RICH
A student from Beijing said her dream as a child was to be one of the richest people on Earth, so she asked Gates “what is one word of advice that you would give to someone like me to become someone like you?”

“I didn’t start out with the dream of being super-rich. And even after we started Microsoft, and the guys who ran Intel—Gordon Moore and those guys—were billionaires, I was like, ‘Wow, that must be strange.’ And so—it is, it’s quite strange,” he said to laughs from the crowd.

“But I think most people who’ve done well have sort of found something that they just are kind of nuts about doing. And then they figure out a system to hire their friends to do it with them. And if it’s an area of great impact, then sometimes you get financial independence,” Gates said.

“But wealth above a certain level, really, it’s a responsibility that then you’re going have to either, a.) leave it to your children, which may or may not be good for them, or b.) try to be smart about giving it away.

“So I can understand wanting to have millions of dollars, because there’s meaningful freedom that comes with that. But once you get much beyond that—you know, I have to tell you, it’s the same hamburger. Dick’s has not raised their prices enough,” Gates said to laughs. “But, you know, being ambitious is good. You just have to pick what you enjoy doing.”

MONEY & POLITICS
Asked if he thought there was a societal problem of wealth being concentrated in the hands of too few powerful forces with an outsized ability to influence politics, Gates pointed out that worldwide poverty is getting far better over time. But he also acknowledged … Next Page »

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  • I like the way he think that wealth above a certain level is responsibility to do something for others. Although he doesn’t have to do that, this way of thinking make our world a better place to live.

  • Eric Belko

    Ask you anything?
    How about how we are going to survive after the corrupt politicians and globalists remove all our wealth, take away our homes, and destroy any prospect of getting a decent job? I’m a firm believer you must be able to take care of yourself, before you can take care of anyone else. Our nation is crumbling. You and the rest of the Global Elite are picking our bones so we can’t even pay our bills and buy food, and giving it away to the world’s homeless. The main reason Socialism always fails is because, soon, there is nobody left with anything to pay the bills.

  • Nate Ramos

    @Eric Belko

    What world are you living in? First off, you have no idea what Bill Gates does for the world, local communities and U.S. economy. He is willing to pay more taxes so we can have roads, dams, electricity, etc.

    You want to talk about taking care of yourself? Do you produce your own electricity? Own entertainment? Own food? Are you a farmer? Do you heard sheep? Probably not, you’re more likely to heard the sheep to slaughter than salvation.

    Society is about doing for each other using our individual talents and skills to do for others a whole what we can not do for ourselves. You want to take care of yourself? Cool, don’t pay taxes. But by the way, teach your kids at home, don’t use the roads, farm your own food, disconnect from the power grid and sewer system, mill your own clothes and then tell me how successful you are, how you’re rich and how taxes are unnecessary.

    Until you disconnect yourself from reality and society…keep paying taxes so you can use social services and STFU!!! You need society, you need government and you need resources and so do businesses. What’s wrong with government isn’t size, it’s efficiency. Get that through your thick head, focus on efficiency as Gates talks about and maybe you might be worth listening to.

  • Abey Fagbenro

    Just send me one Million to kick off my own business, thanks

  • greg

    @Eric Belko

    Hey, Eric… before you go blathering on about Gates not giving back to the world…

    http://www.gatesfoundation.org/Pages/home.aspx

  • Janet Rousch

    Mr. Bill Gates:

    Please explain how you came to the decision to use vaccines to KILL OLD PEOPLE. After working nearly 40 years of my life I feel I deserve to live as long as possible (retired at 68 years of age due to having bad knees and ankles).
    Would much appreciate an honest answer to my question.
    Thank you,
    Janet Rousch
    DOB: 7-24-1942