Billy Boy Gates has surprised the IT world by saying that computers are next to useless when it comes to solving the world's worst problems. "The world's poorest two billion people desperately need healthcare, not laptops," he said.
Which may seem startlingly obvious but then you wouldn't expect it to come from the mouth of a man who has become the richest in the world thanks to the little blighters. And he chose to make his remarks at a conference dedicated to using PCs to help the Third World.
What is going on here? Has Bill finally grown up? Has he [shock!] grown a conscience? It would appear so. While he still believes technology can make the world a better place, he doubts that computers or capitalism can effectively tackle the world's great problems of poverty and famine. He didn't finish there either. He pointed out that people were living on $1 a day. With that "you're just buying food, you're trying to stay alive". The latest e-commerce Web sites are unlikely to appeal in this position, even if you could afford the electricity to run the PC in the first place.
And if you had any doubt that Bill was a new man, check out this quote: "Mothers are going to walk right up to that computer and say: 'My children are dying, what can you do?' They're not going to sit there and, like, browse eBay or something. What they want is for their children to live. Do you really have to put in computers to figure that out?"
To be fair, Bill has been giving a lot of money away to charity in the last few years. Cynics suggested this might have something to do with the DoJ court case or just an overriding sense of guilt that he was worth more than even medium-sized countries. But since he visited Africa, he said, his priorities have changed. Two-thirds of the $21 billion in grants from his wife's foundation will now go to the Third World.
Surprise to say, other technology heads at the conference were not too impressed with Gates' performance. After all, they had been planning to make a few bucks or two thankyouverymuch out of human deprivation while feeling all charitable and good at the same time. Once they were multi-billionaires they too could play the humanist card but Bill beat 'em to it.
This must be the first time as well that The Reg has agreed with Gates. We got a little annoyed back in July when the G8 leaders told us their plans for the Third World. Bill appears to be saying much the same thing, but with one difference: he has yet to criticise anyone directly.
We're not going to say that we admire Bill Gates. After all, the man can afford to save millions of lives and still live in the lap of luxury for the rest of his life. How many of us would kill for that opportunity? His conversion to the human race, you'll note, also came after he was earning more per second that most of us earn in a year. That said, if Bill really does start to use his power, money and influence to push these beliefs, at the risk of upsetting important people and damaging his own finances, then he may enter the history books not just as the architect of PC software and richest man in the world but also as a truly great human being.
Of course, a cynic may interject that once you have managed to become the head of one of the world's biggest companies and become richer than anyone else in the history of the world, the only takeover target remaining for an insanely ambitious man would be the hearts and minds of the common people. Now that is a corporate challenge. ®