Gates On A Plane: Samuel L. Jackson As Bill?

Bill Gates uses Reddit chat to discuss new role advising Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella -- and he names the actor Melinda Gates would like to watch play Bill in a movie.

Michael Endler, Associate Editor,

February 11, 2014

6 Min Read

What kind of counsel will Bill Gates provide in his role as adviser to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella? The Microsoft co-founder and former CEO provided insight into his new job during an "Ask Me Anything" chat Monday on Reddit.

"I make sure we pick ambitious scenarios and that we have a strong architecture to deliver on them," Gates said when asked to describe his duties.

"I am excited about how the cloud and new devices can help us communicate and collaborate in new ways," he continued. "The OS won't just be on one device and the information won't just be files -- it will be your history including being able to review memories of things like kids growing up."

[Nadella's priorities should also be your priorities. See Microsoft's Satya Nadella: Marching Orders For Digital Business.]

Gates, who reiterated he will spend a third of his time at Microsoft, said he was "thrilled" Nadella asked him "to pitch in," and that the cloud can transform even well-established products, such as Office.

He also identified growth in deep learning technologies as one of today's most important trends. "The ultimate is computers that learn," he stated.

Bill Gates

As a seasoned media figure, Gates confined his Microsoft-related comments to abstract, high-level remarks. But they link to statements he and other Microsoft execs have made over the last year in support of retiring CEO Steve Ballmer's "One Microsoft" strategy.

Last summer, Ballmer sent employees a memo detailing his plans and the company-wide reorganization they would entail.

"Our machine-learning infrastructure will understand people's needs and what is available in the world, and will provide information and assistance. We will be great at anticipating needs in people's daily routines and providing insight and assistance when they need it," Ballmer wrote in that memo, evoking the same cloud and deep-learning concepts that Gates referenced Monday.

Ballmer elaborated in his memo, stating Microsoft will provide users a "deeply personalized [experience], based on the advanced, almost magical, intelligence in our cloud that learns more and more over time about people and the world. Our shell will natively support all of our essential services, and will be great at responding seamlessly to what people ask for, and even anticipating what they need before they ask for it."

At July's Microsoft Faculty Summit, Gates echoed some of these remarks. He noted that the cloud has made "infinite computing and infinite storage ... almost a reality," enabling software to become "a powerful assistant that can help us get things done, and help us derive deep insights."

Last November, Nadella, who was at the time running Microsoft's cloud and enterprise group, told journalist David Kirkpatrick that Microsoft has the assets to be "a relevant infrastructure guy in the future" because it supports a range of SaaS applications on its own cloud service, which gives it the perspective, expertise, and resources necessary to become a cloud mega-provider.

What do all these comments from recent months have in common? They all paint Microsoft as an ecosystem-based, cloud-driven corporation. The company became the most important software maker in the world when PCs were the stewards of our files and data, and, with the cloud usurping many of these duties, Microsoft sees a way to maintain its world-beating stature.

But the remarks also hint at Microsoft's controversial effort to chase consumers, instead of fully throwing its resources behind lucrative enterprise services.

"If you're going to be in email, you're going to be in email. You can't say, okay, I only want to be enterprise email," Ballmer said last fall, adding that the alternative is to "be like Oracle and not participate in certain high-value activities."

In his conversation with Kirkpatrick, Nadella appeared to agree. He argued that his company's cloud platform, Windows Azure, has only become popular as an infrastructure service because it first supported a range of Microsoft products, including consumer-oriented properties such as Xbox Live and Bing. This experience, Nadella said, gives Microsoft the insight to support clouds efficiently and at scale.

Gates seemed in high spirits during the Reddit chat. He advertised his appearance with a short animated video in which he praised less heralded philanthropists and espoused the value of aid efforts.

He didn't speak specifically to any consumer products, but his reference to "memories of kids growing up" doesn't sound like a workplace-oriented service. Rather, his words suggest a world in which Microsoft services flow across devices, from the living room to the office and everywhere between.

Moreover, the Microsoft leader's references to machine learning likely refer to

Bing. The search engine has faced criticism for failing to challenge Google, but Bing's underlying technologies have expanded beyond web queries, branching into location-aware apps and, one day soon, perhaps even a Siri-like personal assistant.

Even if Gates, Ballmer, and Nadella agree on many of the same broad goals, the devil will be in the details. Coming months will tell whether the Gates-Nadella pairing helps Microsoft bring some of its most promising ideas to fruition.

In addition to hinting at future Microsoft strategies, Gates also expressed support for digital currency and repeatedly championed education. He also said his Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation doesn't yet have results from its condom project, which is intended to decrease the transmission of HIV.

Noting that Ashton Kutcher recently portrayed Apple founder Steve Jobs in a film, one Redditor asked who should be cast in a movie about Gates's life. Gates declined to reveal his ideal choice but said his wife "would probably watch" a version with Samuel L. Jackson in the lead. Chat participants responded with a deluge of "Pulp Fiction" and "Snakes on a Plane"-inspired quotes, including gems such as, "C++, mother****er, do you speak it?"

Gates's affluence naturally attracted questions. He said "owning a plane is a guilty pleasure," but noted it allows him to visit "a lot of places for foundation work I wouldn't be able to go to without it." He also said he washes the dishes at home, stating that he likes the way he cleans them, and that he wouldn't use his wealth to "artificially prolong" his life, declaring, "I wouldn't want to extend my last few years unless that is happening for most people."

When asked to give advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, Gates said that simply creating an innovative company is already "a huge contribution to the world."

But he said successful people will "ideally" begin to "mix in some philanthropy like Mark Zuckerberg has early in his career."

Gates concluded his chat by releasing a second video.

In this one, he and the Reddit alien spend a day hanging out, playing chess, and even collaborating on a complex math problem.

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About the Author(s)

Michael Endler

Associate Editor,

Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 and, pending the completion of a long-gestating thesis, will hold an MA in Cinema Studies from San Francisco State.

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