Bill Gates Heads Back to School

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Cynics are already calling it MSMIT. Software giant Microsoft is funding the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in a five-year, $25 million research venture called "Project I-Campus" to develop technology to enhance higher education. Projects under consideration include the improvement of long-distance learning via the Internet, web-based virtual museums and "global classrooms."

What’s in this for Bill Gates? Plenty, although you wouldn’t know it from Microsoft research veep Rick Rashid, who told the Associated Press, "Microsoft views education as one of the great frontiers where information-based service and advanced technology can improve people’s lives." Lofty sentiments aside, Microsoft researchers will have access to MIT's facilities and the brainpower of its faculty and students, and, most important, will also get first options on patent innovations arising from the project.

Microsoft-wary TIME Digital editor Josh Quittner doesn’t see any need to panic over Gates’s latest move. "It’s hardly unusual that the private sector and a big university are teaming up to create new technology," he says. And don’t worry about absent-minded academics being hoodwinked by Gates and his gang. "MIT is filled with bright people," says Quittner, "who can weigh the risks versus the benefits of this deal better than anyone."