Gates Dishes On SOPA, Robots, Speech, Steve Jobs, Surface and His 80-inch Touch Panel

As we reported on earlier, geek super hero Bill Gates took to Reddit's AMA section to tackle as many questions from users as possible in the span of just a single hour. In the end, he did quite well, answering a total of 35 questions tackling a wide-range of different subjects.

One question that just has to be asked during any Bill Gates interview has got to be "What type of computer are you using right now?". After all, wouldn't we all love to know if he just so happened to be using a Mac at the time? Alas, that wasn't the case this time, but I am not sure anyone would have guessed appropriately. You see, Bill was conducting his entire AMA with the help of an 80-inch display connected to a Windows 8 PC. It's quite clear he took his AMA seriously.

Bill Gates' Perceptive Pixel 80-inch Screen

On a side note, he did mention that he got his Surface Pro last week and loves it. Was there any doubt?

With a penchant for what's up-and-coming, Bill was asked what technology he feels will create a big stir for the average consumer much in the same way that personal computers did decades ago. One word: robots!

"Robots, pervasive screens, speech interaction will all change the way we look at "computers". Once seeing, hearing, and reading (including handwriting) work very well you will interact in new ways.."

When you're a man who seemingly has everything, what on earth do people get you for your birthday? "Free software. Just kidding. Books actually." What's the cheapest thing you can buy yourself that gives you the most pleasure? "Kids. Cheap cheeseburgers. Open Course Ware courses..."

Sometimes, it might be easy to picture Bill as someone who never takes a rest, but he did assure us that he has quite a portfolio of hobbies to help pass the time.

"I love playing tennis. I am an avid bridge player (a card game if you have not heard of it - it was more popular in the past!). I like to tour interesting things with my kids like power plants, garbage dumps, the Large Hadron Collider, Antarctica, missile Silos (Arizona),... I read a lot and watch courses (online or the Learning Company)."

While it's obvious that Bill doesn't get his hands dirty in code as much today as in his earlier days, his passion for software is still very much evident. Throughout his reigning years at Microsoft, he's seen many successes, and unfortunately, many flops. Of these, which one does he wish wasn't.

"We had a rich database as the client/cloud store that was part of a Windows release that was before its time. This is an idea that will remerge since your cloud store will be rich with schema rather than just a bunch of files and the client will be a partial replica of it with rich schema understanding."

He's referencing WinFS, the ill-fated feature that was originally planned for Longhorn, which was dropped before Longhorn transformed into Vista. On the topic of love / hates, Bill was also questioned about his relationship with Steve Jobs, which many are led to believe involved poor feelings against one another. Not so.

"He and I respected each other. Our biggest joint project was the Mac where Microsoft had more people on the project than Apple did as we wrote a lot of applications. I saw Steve regularly over the years including spending an afternoon with him a few months before he tragically passed away..."

While Bill took the time to answer many humorous questions, he didn't want to avoid the more serious ones. A notable one involved the push for a "free" Internet and those that oppose it (SOPA).

"There are two things this could reference. One is the free/pay for software mix. The Internet has benefited from having lots of free stuff and lots of commercial software. It has been interesting see people inventing hybrid models. Even stuff that is pretty commercial often has free versions for some audiences. Even the most open stuff often have services people choose to pay for.

The second thing is the anonymous versus identified tension. This is another one where both will probably thrive since you want anonymity for some things and full identity for others. I am surprised how little progress has been made in the identity space but it will improve."

On the topic of health - one that Bill's heavily invested in - he was asked about which disease is on the verge of being cured, but just needs that next big push to get it done.

"Polio is the first thing to get done since we are close. Within 6 years we will have the last case. After that we will go after malaria and measles. Malaria kills over 500,000 kids every year mostly in Africa and did not get enough attention until the last decade. We also need vaccines to prevent HIV and TB which are making progress..."

Where non-tech subjects were concerned, one answer that stood out to me was in response to a question talking about world issues, and what needs to be done where money wouldn't help anything:

"It would be nice if all governments were as rational as the Nordic governments - reaching compromise and providing services broadly. The Economist had a nice special section on this last week. Africa governments have often been weak but you can't write a check to change that. Fortunately the average quality is going up. Mo Ibrahim tracks this in a great way."

Bill Gates for president?

Another great question was, "Anything left on your bucket list?", to which Bill replied, "Don't die...". Good words to live by.

To read through all of Bill's responses, you can stalk his Reddit profile and click the little "Context" links under each one of his responses to see the question. As expected, the AMA was a great success, and Bill did well to answer as many questions as he did, given the short time-frame! He also couldn't have wrapped it up any better. For his final thought, he left with this:

Can you blame him?