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Saturday, October 02, 2004

Gates At Berkeley: Thoughts On Research, Overseas Innovation, Computing's Challenges

In the spirit of being at the university, the Microsoft chairman also talked about when open-source licenses make sense.The United States needs to invest more in research, better fund its universities, and make "risky" investments in China and India in order to better compete in science and technology, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates said Friday at the University of California, Berkeley.Gates said computer science and biotechnology hold the greatest promise of increasing people's quality of life in coming decades, but that the United States needs to "rededicate itself to the research university system" by putting more money into schools.

Gates said he's disappointed that corporate research spending in the United States is lower than it's historically been, and that the failure of Bell Labs and Xerox Corp. to turn their research into successful products set a "bad precedent" for future investment. U.S. companies need to look overseas for innovation, too, he said. If China and India become rich, it won't be bad for the United States, because research isn't a "zero-sum game," Gates said. "China and India are the big change agents in the years ahead." Being able to tap advances from those "risky new areas" would also benefit the United States.And it's not just the cost of PCs that's limiting technology adoption in India and other developing countries--it's the cost of Internet connectivity. Microsoft Research is working on a networking project that could one day connect villages in India wirelessly, he said.In computer science, the problems of the next 10 to 20 years will be more interesting than those of the past 20, Gates predicted. Gates said Microsoft advocates open-source licenses in the style of the one that governs Berkeley Systems Distribution Unix, which arose from the university, has helped computer-science students for decades, and led to the launch of Sun Microsystems. Open-source licenses that let users create new commercial works, build companies around them, and create jobs and pay taxes benefit the economy, he said. Others, such as the GNU General Public License that governs Linux, "just create more free software." Very insightful and powerful speech.

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