In a fascinating interview in Financial Times Magazine, Bill Gates took a shot at tech billionaires trying to provide internet connections in the developing world, dismissing their efforts as unimportant when compared to providing the basics like running water.
“Take this malaria vaccine, [this] weird thing that I’m thinking of,” Gates told Richard Waters of FT. “Hmm, which is more important, connectivity or malaria vaccine? If you think connectivity is the key thing, that’s great. I don’t.”
It’s a not-so-thinly-veiled shot at tech giants like Google and Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who wrote that “connecting the world is one of the greatest challenges of our generation” back in August.
According to the World Health Organisation, roughly 768 million people didn’t have access to safe drinking water in 2011. Approximately 1.2 billion people still live in extreme poverty (less than $US1 per day).
Gates, the 58-year-old former CEO of Microsoft, has been working to improve world health and fight poverty since launching the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 1997. Nowadays, it seems he’s at odds with some in Silicon Valley who think tech is the way to save the world.
“I certainly love the IT thing,” Gates said in the interview. “But when we want to improve lives, you’ve got to deal with more basic things like child survival, child nutrition.”
This isn’t the first time Gates has criticised the idea of getting the poor online ahead of other necessities. After Google announced their “Project Loon” plan to use balloons to deliver internet access to remote areas, Gates criticised Google’s efforts in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek:
“When you’re dying of malaria, I suppose you’ll look up and see that balloon, and I’m not sure how it’ll help you. When a kid gets diarrhoea, no, there’s no website that relieves that. Certainly I’m a huge believer in the digital revolution. And connecting up primary-health-care centres, connecting up schools, those are good things. But no, those are not, for the really low-income countries, unless you directly say we’re going to do something about malaria.”
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