Since his retirement from Microsoft, I’ve become something of a fan of Bill Gates. His foundation is doing and has done so much tremendous work in the world that he’s on the verge of atoning for the many terrible things he and his company did over the years.
But he made some comments in an interview the other day that are just silly and, as my headline says, downright catty.
See, Google is talking about mounting a series of balloons that would hover over remote locations to give people living there access to the Internet. It’s a pretty ingenious idea on the face of it and in keeping with the lofty goals Google has in areas like self-driving cars and Google Fiber.
But Gates’ foundation focuses on less technical kinds of problems like eradicating malaria. Obviously much higher-impact stuff.
When Gates was asked by Business Week in an interview what he thought of the Google effort, he said, ““When you’re dying of malaria, I suppose you’ll look up and see that balloon, and I’m not sure how it’ll help you.” In other words, “My projects saves lives, yours makes you money while it solves a less urgent problem for the same people. That makes me better than you and able to utter contemptuous statements that make me sound like the kid who couldn’t get picked in baseball.”
Never mind that in the same interview Gates allows as how it might be useful for clinics and schools in those same areas to be interconnected through the Google Loons project (that’s actually what they call it!). He’s proud that he doesn’t undertake projects that help his old company.
Except that he does. And in some fairly insidious ways, particularly when it comes to imposing his ideas about education on the American systems. And all of that’s beside the point. These are both giant, good ideas. Why can’t Gates just be gracious?