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Tech Trends

When Bill Gates Speaks, the Industry Listens

When Bill Gates Speaks, the Industry Listens
July 17, 2013 9:27AM

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"I think wearable technology is a very cool thing, but I don't couple it too much to education. I think the way you'll be able to review what you've learned, have the system understand the state of your knowledge, that's a very good thing, but I'm not sure how I connect that to wearable," said Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates.

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Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates made an appearance at a Microsoft Research Faculty Summit on Monday and the tech world is still ablaze over what he shared, from his thoughts on wearable computers to the return of Microsoft Bob.

That's right, Microsoft Bob, which Gates introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show in 1995, is finding new life as virtual assistants reemerge. In case you don't remember, Microsoft Bob was a software product that offered a non-technical interface to desktop computing operations. It largely failed at the time.

"We were just ahead of our time, like most of our mistakes," Gates said. He went on to say that the next-gen Bob would be better at planning tasks, such as organizing trips or finding gifts. And Bob won't don the persona of a dog in its new life. Instead, it will be a voice in the cloud that understands your commands.

Thoughts on Wearable Tech, Social Media

With wearable technologies, most notably Google Glass and smart watches, generating plenty of buzz in the industry, Gates also addressed this emerging trend. From his perspective, he's not seeing clear benefits, at least not in the education space.

"I think wearable technology is a very cool thing, but I don't couple it too much to education," he said. "I think the way you'll be able to review what you've learned, have the system understand the state of your knowledge, that's a very good thing, but I'm not sure how I connect that to wearable."

And in terms of social media, Gates has positive feelings about this communication vehicle.

"People can make fun of it [social media] because a lot of it is used for 'what my cat had for breakfast'-type things, but I think of it in a more broader context, which is the enrichment of communications for people who have common interests. Social media will be profound in terms of people getting advice about their life and learning different things, [but] it's not at that level yet."

A Philanthropic Gates

We caught up with Roger Kay, senior analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates, to get his reaction to Gates' appearance at the summit. He told us it was intriguing and almost enheartening. But Kay was most interested in Gates philanthropic efforts.

"I say almost enheartening because as much as Gates is basically an optimist, I remain pretty much a pessimist," Kay said. "But I can be a hopeful pessimist, even as he can be a guarded optimist."

Kay noted that Gates' speech was neat and to the point. The Microsoft chairman gave a brief synopsis of four areas where he thinks his foundation can contribute, highlighting where it is focusing its energy and investment: education in the United States and health care, agriculture and finance around the world.

"He has reason to be proud of, if not fully satisfied with, his efforts to date. The year he was born, 1955, 20 million children around the world died from preventable diseases," Kay said. "When the Gates Foundation got started, in 1994, that number had been reduced to 12 million, mostly via vaccines. Today, that figure stands at 7 million. Ever the pragmatist, Gates says he expects to get it down to 3 million in the next 15 years."

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