Misguided Environmentalism – Don’t let it happen to YOU!

When ideology gets in the way of feeding people, everybody needs to start shouting “Stop the Madness”.    Try it, it’s cathartic.

Mega-philanthropist Bill Gates is no longer busy with Microsoft.  Instead, he’s one of the key people spearheading the largest and best funded effort in history to bring better health to hundreds of millions in the developing world.    The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has already saved over a *million people* with their international health efforts and they are on track to save tens of millions more.

Speaking at a Food Prize conference last week Gates observed that misguided environmentalism – specifically the fight to ban genetically modified foods – threatens to thwart some very innovative food programs.

I cannot agree more emphatically although I have to be less diplomatic than Gates, because it’s imperative that we stop paying so much attention to the incoherent rantings of those who oppose such innovations on the basis of their non-hunger-focused principles rather than because they have studied the science and the cost benefit relationships that often make this type of agriculture so compelling.

Too many who claim to be promoting environmentalism are busy with agendas that are often at odds with basic human needs.     The concept of  “sustainability” is invoked far too often now as an excuse to disparage business practices and promote questionable actions rather than address the real and optimized long term needs of planet earth and the human race.

Genetically Modified Food:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_food

Gates on this issue: http://www.reuters.com/article/marketsNews/idUSN1530051720091015

The importance of the Green Revolution:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Revolution

Bill Gates on Zakaria GPS

Fareed Zakaria continues his amazing series of interviews on his CNN GPS show with Bill Gates.

Like Warren Buffett, a close friend of Gates, Gates will give away almost all of his wealth over the next decades via the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which focuses on global health and education initiatives.

Gates supports “some” inheritance taxes because we are all beneficiaries of the education and stability provided by the US infrastructure.

His preference for foreign development investment seems to be based on the idea that the need is much greater there, the return on the charity giving is much greater, reducing infant mortality wll *decrease* birth rates [this is a profoundly important observation that is well documented but poorly reported – many think helping the poor tends to increase births when this is false]. They talked about the book “The Bottom BIllion”.

On the future of computing and the Internet:

Shape of computers will change.  VIrtual wallpapers, tablet computing.

The whole economy is using software simulation, which makes development less expensive.

China as largest broadband market – probably for the rest of the century.  He seemed to think India was unlikely to catch up to China.


He’s focusing more now on how to create visibility for issues like malaria prevention.

When asked how he’d be remembered – as a software pioneer or philanthropist – Gates didn’t answer but I think the answer is increasingly clear.  Gates more than any other person has brought a new era of Innovative huge scale development work that could turn back the tidal wave of poverty in our generation.  He’s helping to make it not only fashionable, but somewhat obligatory for the rich to pay a lot more attention to those in need.

Gates on Yahoo: “It’s the People” | Yahoo on Gates “OMG! He’s making Soylent Green!”

As Microsoft prepares for a proxy fight that will pit them agains the Yahoo board in the fight over control of Yahoo, Bill Gates is talking up the deal as a way for Microsoft to access the great talent pool of Yahoo.    Although he’s certainly right that Yahoo’s got a lot of great talent, it is not at all clear that most of them will stay and work for Microsoft.   I think a lot of the Yahoo staff will see MS as trying to consume them into the Micro Borg mother ship, rather than work with them to make a better Yahoo/MS to fight the Google wars.

I suspect they will if MS treats them right, and I think MS would treat them right, but it would not take an extraordinary poaching effort from Google to effectively dismantle the really great parts of Yahoo.   Oh, yes, and this Google poaching has already begun. 

A couple years ago – at the Google Party no less – I was involved in a fascinating conversation with one of the key search guys from Microsoft’s search engineering team and another top engineer from Google.  One of the most interesting topics was how MS felt that Google had very selectively poached a key Microsoft search insider.    The MS guy said until that point he felt Google had been basically playing fair, but that he knew from that episode that Google was strategically picking off people not so much because they wanted them but because Microsoft *needed* them.      He felt this defied the “don’t be evil” Google mantra and had soured him on Google’s honesty in these matters.    Suffice it to say that as much as I think Google *usually* does follow the “don’t be evil” mantra there was some pretty interesting clandestine activity going on at that party to record the MS guy as several beers got him to spill more beans about the MS algorithm.    In fact it was then I realized how weak the MS search effort was with what he said were only 300 engineers working in search, while Google had *thousands*.

Gates is certainly wrong that the cultures are the same.   Based on my experiences with people from these three companies I’d suggest the cultures are pretty clear:   MS culture is a massive corporate empire with lots of heirarchies, corporate bloat, somewhat overbearing, and diminishes the role of the individual as a key part of the big team.  People are not proud to be with MS – they are often almost apologetic.

Google is flexible with lots of lateral motion in terms of project and ideas.   Ideas and cleverness will trump formal designations which are few anyway.   You can stand next to a top engineer worth tens of millions and a new hire and you can’t tell which is which – not even from the way they treat each other and certainly not from the casual dress or styles.    Google people are smart and confident, and generally very helpful and well-informed with the notable exception of questions about ranking quirks where transparency goes pretty much out the window.

Yahoo?   I think they *used to be* just like Google, but managed to mov in the direction of managerial bloat and questionable treatment of engineers several years ago.  They paid people well, but I think the focus moved away from search and engineering and towards a content and entertainment empire.  This was a mistake, and Yahoo’s about to to pay the price – they are about to get absorbed into the MS empire.    But don’t worry Yahoo engineers – they are not making much Soylent Green over there anymore.  Right Bill?

Ina on Gates

Disclosure:  Long on YHOO 

Bill Gates’ Critics – they just can’t handle the truth!

I get so tired of reading the innane drivel criticizing Bill Gates’ excellent vision of global prosperity through more innovative approaches to global capitalism.    Gates is right on, and this should be obvious to those who care about capitalism OR who care about bringing prosperity to the billions who suffer in developing countries.

Over at TechCrunch people are ranting irrationally about bootstrap prosperity in the selfish and foolish way US technophiles often do, oblivious to the causes and circumstances of poverty in the developing world and without any compassion for the *hundreds of millions* of children mired in poverty around the world.  

Here’s how I vented over there:

Bravo to Gates. Many of the comments here floored me with their lack of insight.
First, to suggest Gates is not sincere is nonsensical. His record of philanthropy is clear, focused, and brilliant. Whatever you think of Microsoft’s history of sometimes ruthless corporate dominance you simply are not paying attention to think Gates vision of global prosperity is not genuine. I’d even go so far as to suggest Gates fortune was made largely through the purchases of other affluent people, and now he’s giving most of it to the poor. That is a virtuous cycle if I ever saw one.

Second, the notion that unfettered capitalism is the most expeditious way to feed the poor and improve the infrastructures of poor countries is naive and dangerous. Even Adam Smith noted that types of intervention are needed to preserve the integrity and power of free market forces. In nations that suffer from corrupt or short sighted leadership and cumbersome bureaucracies (that is to say, all nations), we need to bring modified capitalism to bear ASAP if we want to stabilize prosperity and lift the billion+ people who are simply out of the virtuous globalized capital loop. Gates point is that more innovative approaches to capitalism will benefit everybody, and he’s spot on.

Meanwhile Open Sourcer Matt Asay is conflating open source issues and Microsoft with global development, seeming to suggest that the fastest way to global prosperity is to bring Open Source to the world and kill Microsoft.   Here’s what I wrote over there:

No. Emphatically. You are correct that Open Source is great, and also that Microsoft has strategically fought against open source. But Gates is correctly working to reallocate personal and corporate responsibilities. He’s saying that more of the big profits and big innovation should be focused on improving the lot of those in the developing world. This is a profound approach and a virtuous one.

I don’t think it is reasonable to ask Microsoft to be a key player in dismanting decades of their corporate dominance, even though I’m happy to see that fade. It’s also unreasonable to suggest the benefits of Open Source development will necessarily flow to the world’s poorest people. More likely they’ll flow to those of us in first world who are able to take advantage of them. I’m big on Open Source, but hardly think Microsoft should be a leader in that space. I’m even bigger on focusing attention on developing world problems and the kind of conflation of issues here simply confuses people.

Gates is speaking today at the Davos conference.   It would be nice if  people actually listen to what he is saying.

Bill Gates on the second “digital decade”

Tonight at CES Bill Gates delivered his final CES (and perhaps final in the industry) keynote. The key announcements included a partnership with NBC to deliver video online for *every single sport* at the Olympics – some 3600 hours in total and I think he indicated close to real time. Also impressive was Microsoft’s work with partner “Tellme” and MS mapping to bring powerful voice and map navigation capabilities to the mobile space. They noted that mobile advertising will be some (11 billion?) by 2011, and that although they feel PCs will remain very important it’s clearly the mobile phone space where a lot of key innovation will be seen.

Back at MIX06 I noted that Microsoft had not yet embraced the social media revolution that clearly was going to dominate the online experience. I think they have now done so, but they may be too late. The demos of something called “Zune Social” were neat, but I noted the key feature was the ability to integrated with a Facebook profile. I’d argue that Open Social (or some variation on that theme), that is very largely company agnostic, will ultimately prevail. I didn’t get the idea Zune Social would be a big winner over time, but …

(posted from the CES Bloghaus! Thanks Seagate and Podtech!)

Update:  Engadget will have an interview up soon