no PCs for 3rd World sez Gates

Chris Brady chris_brady at
Thu Nov 9 02:01:41 MST 2000

Did you see this?
(Maybe the most effective solution ain't on the list):

Bill Gates Turns Skeptical on Digital Solution's Scope

NYT, November 3, 2000
REDMOND, Wash., Nov. 1
— As the "Creating Digital Dividends" conference drew to a close
in Seattle recently, the final speaker arrived and started asking
skeptical questions. The premise was that "market drivers" could be
used "to bring the benefits of connectivity and participation in
the e-economy to all of the world's six billion people," according to
conference materials, but the speaker would have little of it.

"I mean, do people have a clear view of what it means to live on
1 a day?" the speaker, William H. Gates, asked.
"There's no electricity in that house. None."

When a moderator brought up solar  power, Mr. Gates shot back, "No!
You can't afford a solar power system for less than $1 a day."
And, "You're just buying food, you're trying to stay alive."

It is a theme to which Mr. Gates, the world's richest man, returns in
an interview at his office here at the Microsoft Corporation, the
giant software maker he founded.  Pacing the room, waving his hands,
he conjures up an image of an African village that receives a computer.

"The mothers are going to walk right up to that computer and say,
My children are dying, what can you do?" Mr. Gates says.
"They're not going to sit there and like, browse eBay or something.
What they want is for their children to live. They don't want their
children's growth to be stunted. Do you really have to put in computers
to figure that out?"

For a man often thought of as the world's chief evangelist for
technology, Mr. Gates is assuming a surprising role these days,
in which he seems to be taking his own industry to task for having
far too much faith in digital solutions to the planet's worst ills.
He openly dismisses the notion that the world's poorest people
constitute a significant market for high-tech products anytime soon.
Such thoughts, he says, may undercut the case for urgent aid to the
most impoverished people.

But in a way, the man who has also become the world's biggest
philanthropist seems to be taking himself to task, offering the
confession that he himself was "naïve — very naïve"
when he began his charitable endeavors six years ago.

When he did so, he said in the interview, he expected that
projects involving computers and information technology would
make up the bulk of his giving. But now his priorities are otherwise,
with health care, especially development and distribution of
vaccines, soon expected to account for at least two-thirds of the
grants offered by the $21 billion Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Or, as he put it at the Seattle conference, the world's poorest two
billion people desperately need health care right now, not laptops.

Mr. Gates said he had certainly not lost his faith in the
long-term promise of technology to deliver a better
world. But he has lost much of the faith he once had that
global capitalism would prove capable of solving the
most immediate catastrophes facing the world's poorest
people, especially the 40,000 deaths a day from
preventable diseases. More philanthropy and more
government aid — especially a greater contribution to
foreign health programs by American taxpayers — are
needed for that, he says.

And it also explains, he said, why he has taken on the
unaccustomed role of self-described "troublemaker"
about the promises of technology. It is a role he
assumed at the Seattle conference, which created a stir
in his industry and irritation among at least some of the
organizers, but one that he seems to have played at
other recent appearances.

"Whenever the computer industry has a panel about
the digital divide and I'm on the panel, I always think,
`O.K., you want to send computers to Africa, what
about food and electricity — those computers aren't
going to be that valuable,' " he explained in a speech
last month before the Global Foundation in Melbourne, Australia.

"They want to sit on the panel and talk about how the
computers will solve all the world's problems," Mr.
Gates continued. "They're amazing in what they can do,
but they have to be put into the perspective of human
values. And certainly as a father of two children,
thinking about the medicines I take for granted that are
not available elsewhere, that sort of rises to the top of
the list."

Some people in Mr. Gates's industry have commended
him for his recent comments, while others have accused
him of setting up a straw man. Nothing in the quest for a
more wired world, they say, is at odds with the notion
that food and health care remain a more immediate concern.

And still others, including some of Microsoft's
principal competitors, argue that Mr. Gates is
downright wrong. They say there are all kinds of
tangible, profitable products that their industry is
developing that will help improve people's lives,
including the world's poorest people. Some directly
involved in the conference here, sponsored by the
nonprofit World Resources Institute, seemed annoyed
by Mr. Gates's comments.

"After listening to three days of serious analysis and
work, and then to have Gates rather flippantly say,
`You've got to have clean water and food,' to hear that
simple repetition of Maslow's hierarchy, that wasn't
exactly furthering the point of the entire meeting," said
John Gage, the chief research officer for Sun
Microsystems and the founder of Netday, a global
volunteer effort to connect schools to the Internet.

Mr. Gage's reference was to Abraham H. Maslow, the
psychologist who suggested that human beings reach
fulfillment through satisfying a series of needs, which
begins with basic physiological needs like food and
water and rises to others that include love, self-esteem
and personal expression. Where Mr. Gates has it
wrong, Mr. Gage argued, is that technology is rapidly
being used to satisfy even the most basic needs on the

Mr. Gage, known as a periodic critic of Mr. Gates, said
that the declining cost of cell phones and other
hand-held mobile technology would soon make them
immensely useful for even the poorest people. They
might use the devices to share important information
about health care and food conditions, he said.

Others in the industry were more measured in their
response to Mr. Gates's recent comments. "I think he's
right and he's wrong," said James F. Moore, chairman
of GeoPartners Research Inc., which specializes in
technology and economic-development issues. "He's
right, and I'd emphatically support him on this, that
other divides are more important than the digital
divide: the divide on health care, the human-rights
divide, the education divide."

But in the view of Mr. Moore, a policy adviser to
Hewlett-Packard, which recently announced a $1
billion program to focus on new markets in the third
world, "what's going on here is that people are really
trying to think about the essence of high technology and
what it can do. And I would say I think he's missing
something by being so dismissive of these markets."

Mr. Gates, however, seems adamant on the point.
"Anybody who says, `Oh sure, we'll sell to the people
who live on a dollar a day,' they just don't get it," he said.

{so has Gates 1)gone Red? or 2) bleeding heart liberal?}

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