10 Questions For Bill Gates

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He's not just the chairman of Microsoft and the richest man in the world, with $46 billion in his bank account. Later this year the Queen of England will make Bill Gates a Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for his philanthropic work. TIME's Lev Grossman caught up with him on a speaking tour of college campuses.

IS THERE SOMETHING IRONIC ABOUT A COLLEGE DROPOUT LECTURING PEOPLE ON THE IMPORTANCE OF A GOOD EDUCATION? You could say that. If you've got a chance to be at the beginning of a paradigm shift, like we were, then going on leave for a year or two to see if you've really got it might make sense. But by and large, finishing your education is a great thing to do.


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I THINK THE MOST IMPORTANT THING I LEARNED IN COLLEGE WAS THAT THERE ARE A LOT OF PEOPLE OUT THERE WHO ARE SMARTER THAN I AM. WHAT ABOUT YOU? I certainly learned that. I took this class, Math 55, where everybody had an 800 on their SAT and 5 on their AP, and that was quite a neat experience.

WHAT DO WE NEED BEFORE THE EXPERIENCE OF USING A COMPUTER IS REALLY WHAT IT SHOULD BE? Every year it'll get better. It's the most empowering tool we've ever created. Nothing compares in terms of rate of improvement and the new things people do with it. Letting you organize your memories, making that easy to share, easy to go back to — we don't do that today. And yet now that digital photography's mainstream, we're going to do that.

LATELY SPAM E-MAIL HAS BECOME A REAL PAIN IN MY INBOX. IS THAT A BEATABLE PROBLEM? Yes, by and large it's beatable. It's going to take several years of work and industry partnerships and rolling out some new things. But between the things going on on the legal front and the technical front, absolutely.

WHAT DOES MICROSOFT PLAN TO DO ABOUT IT? We're doing the software that will change the rules in terms of authenticating e-mail. We call that caller ID for e-mail. We're making it so that somebody you exchange with regularly always gets passed through, and in the more exceptional case where it's a stranger, to make sure their mail is not confused with a spam e-mail. And we're making sure other people who do mail systems understand this so they can partner in and be part of the solution.

I HEAR YOU GUYS ARE WORKING ON A NEW SEARCH ENGINE. WHAT HAVE YOU GOT THAT, OH, SAY, GOOGLE DOESN'T? A lot of the innovation comes with our natural-language understanding. Today if you type in a term like chips, you can get something about potato chips or microprocessor chips. You often get back pretty funny stuff. You really need the computer to read the articles and have a little bit of understanding of what's in there.

WHAT EFFECT IS OUTSOURCING GOING TO HAVE ON THE TECHNOLOGY JOB MARKET? The kind of top-notch skills that the U.S. universities create will always be in demand. The challenge for the U.S. is to have an ever higher percentage of its work force have these incredibly world-class skills.

THE FOUNDATION WITH YOUR NAME ON IT HAS A $26 BILLION ENDOWMENT. HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHO GETS YOUR MONEY? The biggest priority is world health. And we measure that by saying, How can we save the most lives? And so, clearly, about 30 diseases jump out as needing better medicines or better delivery of medicines or vaccinations — some way of making sure these diseases are eliminated. Already, through the increased vaccination work we've done, we're well past saving a million lives.

HAVE YOU BROKEN IT TO YOUR KIDS THAT YOU'RE GIVING AWAY MOST OF THEIR INHERITANCE? Well, my oldest is 7, so she understands that when we're going off to Africa or India, it's because we're lucky enough to have some money that we want to use to help improve the health of these people and give back in the right way. So they have a notion of that.

AND THEY'RE O.K. WITH IT? Well, when they're 21, you should give them a call and ask them.