Bill Gates: Innovation, Tech to Bolster Economy

Dennis Faas's picture

Former Microsoft head Bill Gates has said technology can help the world's poorest people survive and even thrive amidst the economic downturn. But he warned that innovations are often only driven by the prospect of a profitable market.

Gates, who quit Microsoft two years ago to concentrate on philanthropic work, made the comments in his annual letter to supporters of his charitable foundation. He opened by arguing that innovation "can make the difference between a bleak future and a bright one." (Source:

Tech Projects Must Be Self-Sustaining

The letter warns that without innovation, rising costs will limit the number of people who can benefit from healthcare and quality education. But Gates notes that the purpose of his foundation is to invest in technological innovations which wouldn't happen if left solely to profit-driven markets. He adds that projects his foundation supports must become self-sustaining once established.

While some of the foundation's current programs are related to medicine or agriculture, there are some projects which specifically relate to technology and computing. For example, one project is examining ways of using tech to cut financial transaction cost, such as making payments via cellphone, with the aim of making it easier for the poorest people to save money.

Technology, Education a Key Area

Within the U.S., Gates wants to expand the range and availability of free online courses, including video and interactive content. One example he gives is videos of lectures available at, though he notes that there is more to online learning than simply lectures: for example, online courses for remedial students can adapt and concentrate on the particular areas in which a child is struggling.

Another area where technology could improve education is in teacher training and feedback. Gates believes that affordable and discreet video systems could make it possible for a teacher to record themselves teaching a difficult class, then pass the video on to colleagues and advisors to get advice about how they might improve.

This would avoid the need to have an advisor sit in on a class, an option that is both more expensive and likely to distort how the class behaves. (Source:

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