06 June 2008

Bill Gates' Closed Source World

Here's a frightening thought: Bill Gates is not so much giving up on his misguided closed-source approach to software as moving on to apply it to all the world's most pressing problems:

Finally, Bill Gates got me thinking a lot. His speech on what he is doing next was well worth attending. Bill's thesis is that if we can apply the principles of capitalism to solving the world's problems, we can eradicate hunger, poverty, disease, lack of power and climate change. Market and financial incentives alone are insufficient. We should all acting based upon self-interest and incentivized to work in that self-interest. Governments can help with tax incentives, but giving recognition to those companies and individuals are potentially more powerful. Companies should also be incentivized not to give money, but talent, which in turn provides recognition of the individual and organization making a difference. This recognition can be its own market-based reward since it will benefit the company in the competitive marketplace. This approach can be used to provide not just manpower, but solutions to accessibility of information, medicine and healthcare.

The Vista solution to hunger, poverty, disease, lack of power and climate change? Eeek.


Deepak said...


When it comes to disease, he gets a pass. First, he is actually doing something about it, more than everyone else put together, when it comes to funding infectious disease research.

The pharma industry is not doing a good job with infectious disease research, for all kinds of reasons and he has been very critical (scathingly even). But I completely agree about the competitive, capitalist approach. India, where I am from, would be nowhere without it. That's what incentivizes my generation and the one after to do something useful, to take on new challenges. Openness != social solutions.

I see no mention of keeping things closed in that post. He funds non-profits up the wazoo (the SBRI, which is almost completely infectious disease focused in Gates funded), etc etc.

IMO he deserves every accolade for what he is doing for infectious disease research. At least he is doing something about it.

Microsoft's life science efforts are mostly OS, he is funding projects no one else will, and most of that research is publicly available. I agree with some of his opinions. Social efforts don't work, pharma is not interested. IMO if infectious disease issues are addressed, he will have more to do with it than most people (I sit right next to a non-profit that's heavily Gates funded).

glyn moody said...

Well, I hope your optimism proves correct. What surprised me was that his statements in the quotation seemed at odds with what I'd read before. He seemed to be take much more of an old Microsoft line. But maybe he was just misrepresented in the posting.

msurman said...

Just are we need open to balance closed in technology, so it is with philanthropy. Two thoughts on this:




Solving social problems needs innovation, which is where open wins in spades. However, most Foundations -- including Gates -- lean the opposite direction.

glyn moody said...

I'd already read - and enjoyed - those posts earlier, but hadn't quite got round to posting about them here: thanks for rectifying my double omission.

You won't be surprised to learn from the witterings on this blog (and its title) that I'm pretty much in agreement with all the things you say - about the centrality of openness, sharing, the importance of the community and the benefits of creating/nurturing various kinds of commons.

I very much see open source and its growing success as the demonstration that all this theory works - which is why proprietary software's attempts to block or even stifle it can be a little tiresome....

Freeman said...

I sure do get tired of the arm-chair Randians. Encouraging people to "act[] based upon self-interest" is:
1) redundant and unnecessary (human nature insures it without the need for conscious effort).
2) ineffective at solving problems.

The only way this concept is positive, is when people realize they are part of a larger whole, and that yielding our own immediate self-interest to that of the larger whole is often the best way to act in our own self-interest in the long-term vision. For example, it's not in my self-interest to stop for traffic signals (if I can go on through the intersection without getting in an accident), but if I and everyone else were to act solely in our own self-interest at all intersections, we would have chaos on the streets that would be worse than waiting for the traffic signals. The interests of the larger society that we are part of must take precedence. But you never hear those arm-chair Randians clarifying that point, because a lot of them don't understand it. They just hear that the answer to everything is easy: just go with your human nature and act in your own self-interest at all times. Then they repeat that.

People don't need to be reminded to act in their own interests, they need to be reminded of the importance of acting in the interests of the larger whole we are all part of.

If Bill Gates were following that philosophy (the way it was stated in Newton's blog post), he would not be giving away money to fight infectious disease.

glyn moody said...

Moreover, acting in self-interest hasn't got a very good track record over the millennia....

Gopal said...

@deepak - ".... At least he is doing something about it..."
Pls read the article in the link below. It will clear your M(i)Sconceptions.

Gopal said...

Full link is - http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/02/18/

msurman said...

Yup, the attempts to stifle open source are tiresome. The upside is that there is huge scope to that this open 'theory that works' into whole new domains. Just as Bill is taking his closed thinking into philanthropy and social investment, we can and must do the same with open thinking. Btw, thanks for the Chris Kelty post. Amazing book in terms of taking these ideas beyond software.

glyn moody said...

@msurman: Yes, the Kelty book is good thing to have in terms of spreading the word.