Gates shares optimism with U. of I. students
March 1, 2004
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
At 48, Bill Gates hasn't
lost his mojo. He's visionary, cerebral and at times downright
funny. He sounds and acts like a statesman. He's optimistic, and
still sees lots of potential in technology.
founder of Microsoft held rock star appeal for the estimated 2,000
students who welcomed him to the University of Illinois in Champaign
last week on the first leg of a five-campus swing to discuss the
future of computing.
Testifying to our region's
importance as a trainer of technology talent, in a post-speech
interview, Gates praised the University of Illinois, saying, "This
is absolutely one of the top computer science schools in the world."
That's why Gates came
to Illinois first. "We hire more people from here than any
other place," Gates says. Microsoft will increase college
recruiting 10 percent this year, which is welcome news for 2,200
students studying computing at Illinois.
Walsh, 21, of Park Ridge, says she's "curious to know what
Gates is like." The Maine South grad adds, "People don't
expect women to be in computer science." Walsh is precisely
the kind of student Gates came to Champaign to motivate.
Gates didn't disappoint.
In a 75-minute presentation,
the chairman and chief software architect of Microsoft took the
audience on a fast-paced tour through the history of computing.
He described the days of 80-column punch cards, computer compatibility
problems of the '70s and his dream of enabling everyone to have
a computer. "A dream that to some degree came true,"
Gates says with a touch of modesty. He adds, "600 million
people get up every day and have personal computers."
There was talk of graphical
user interfaces, and praise for the pioneering work done on the
Internet browser at Illinois -- all innovations we take for granted.
Gates reminded his
audience of past economic downturns and recoveries, describing
a time when Japan's dominance in memory chip technology was considered
a major economic threat. His point: America will prosper, provided
we invest in human capital.
Of the post-Internet
bubble, Gates says, "Some people are kind of burned out because
of the over-promises that came along with the Internet wave."
He cautions against nay-saying, insisting the promise of technology
handled tough questions about the open source movement. He described
the potential of hard-disk and computer-screen technologies. He
talked about digital inks, and a near-term future where we'll
carry digital scrolls. He predicted progress on voice recognition
Gates showed off his
interactive SmartWatch, picking up news and information over the
wireless network. He demonstrated Microsoft's Portable Media Center
and two research projects code-named Media Variations and MSR
Media Browser, and both of these slick new tools for organizing
and searching media drew positive crowd reaction.
Gates described his
commitment to research and development at $6.8 billion. He plans
to keep most Microsoft R&D staff based in Redmond, Wash. but
hinted at continuing support for the university.
'You've won money'
Gates sees computer reliability, spam and security as major challenges.
In a light-hearted anecdote, he described how a couple of days
earlier, he was interrupted by his 7-year old daughter, who was
playing on the computer. "We won money! We won money!"
his daughter announced. "We don't need any more money,"
Gates said playfully, and of course it was spam his daughter found.
The audience loved the story. A highlight of the night was a spontaneous
round of applause from 25 Gates Millennium Scholars. Senior Alexis
Clarke, 21, a graduate of Chicago's Hyde Park High School was
among those applauding. "I thought the speech was great,"
said Clarke, who emphasized that academic performance is a requirement
to retain her scholarship. Beginning in 2003, Microsoft committed
more than $1 billion to programs to bridge the digital divide
over the next five years.
a simple message out of my speech," Gates says, "it's
an optimism about how much fun it's going to be to work in computer
science and the benefits that those advances are going to bring."
Gates came to learn
and to teach. He won over part of a new generation.
Michael Krauss is a Chicago-based tech writer and consultant,
and senior vice president for Hostway Corp., Chicago.