Bill Gates' Q&A with Chris Anderson: Video unveiled

Posted by: Emily McManus

And here’s the much-discussed Q&A between Bill Gates and TED’s Chris Anderson, which follows Gates’ brand-new TEDTalk. Listen for the answers to more big questions:


Download the Q&A here:

Bill Gates + Chris Anderson Q&A (Standard MP4)

Bill Gates + Chris Anderson Q&A (Hi-Res MP4)

Bill Gates + Chris Anderson Q&A (Zipped MP4)

Read the transcript of this Q&A >>

Chris Anderson: So you were at Davos last week, and the mood was reported as being pretty bleak. Do you have any fixes for the crisis?

Bill Gates: Well, I think it’s good that the mood was bleak. You know, we’re going through a period of years here where a 50-year credit expansion has moved to contraction. And there’s no doubt the U.S. consumer was overspending and to get the consumer balance sheet back, to get the savings rate up you’re going to have a number of years where aggregate demand is very low. And people expecting that the government is magically going to change that — if you actually went back to that heavy spending, you’d just be extending the problem and making it worse when you have to come and deal with it. So, it was a great meeting where people really had to say: “How’s your economy falling apart?” “Oh, that’s slightly different than the way mine is.” (Laughter) “What’s your solution?” And here are different ideas.

But there’s no doubt we’ve got three, four years here that are going to be very tough. I know we’re going to get past it. The kind of invention being talked about here is the reason why the economy will go onto a very positive path. But it was a great checkpoint, and for me it was a chance to say: I hope that the aid for the poorest doesn’t get cut because in past economic problems that’s the first thing that’s been eliminated. But now I think we have a broader constituency. I don’t think that has to happen this time.

CA: You have conversations all the time with the foundation about these big issues, but your foundation is often the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Is there any danger that you almost inadvertently gain a monopoly of ideas and that other people in the room are afraid to tell you what they really think because you’re so powerful?

BG: Well, I’m here, anybody can tell me what they think. Our foundation is, relative to other foundations, large. We will spend 3.8 billion this year — about half of that on global health. If you divide that down and say: okay, tuberculosis gets a couple hundred million, malaria gets a few hundred million — I don’t think of it as that much, I think geez, I’d like to have more because they’re interesting problems. And we do measure — are we getting others involved? In fact, the baseline on infectious diseases or teacher effectiveness — the amount of money that was going into those things before was minuscule. And I do feel good that we’ve drawn many other people into these things by working with them, by packaging things, just by sharing the success stories. We do need a diversity of ideas and we need people to disagree, try different things out and so …


BG: It’s fine.

CA: I’m not distracted, I’m reading a question.


There’s an associate member here, Tyler Donald, who’s writing from Chester Springs, saying: “It’s obvious you’re doing wonderful things to prevent deaths, you’re a self-proclaimed optimist. Another view is that your charity is adding enormously to the problem of overpopulation in the world.” Do you have an optimistic solution to that problem?

BG: Okay, this is a very important question to get right because it was absolutely key for me. When our foundation first started up, it was focused on reproductive health. That was the main thing we did because I thought population growth in poor countries is the biggest problem they face. You’ve got to help mothers who want to limit family size, have the tools and education to do that. That’s the only thing that really counts. Well then, I came across articles that showed that the key thing you can do to reduce population growth is actually improve health.

And that sounds paradoxical. You think: Okay, better health means more kids not less kids. Well in fact, what parents are doing is they’re trying to have two kids survive to adulthood to take care of them. And so, the more disease burden there is, the more kids they have to have to have that high probability. So there’s a perfect correlation, that as you improve health, within a half generation, the population growth rate goes down. In fact, Hans Rosling, here at this conference in two of my favorite speeches actually showed that unbelievable correlation that population growth has gone down. Today, where is there high population growth? It’s in the places with the worst health conditions — Northern Nigeria, Northern India … And so the two problems go exactly hand in hand and if we improve health rapidly we will get the peak population to be as much as a billion below the current expected peak — that is about 8.3 billion versus 9.3.


CA: Another of our associate members, D. Howard, who’s writing from New York he says — I like this — “Yeah, all the great teachers in my life have been eccentrics with a passion, how can we get a school system to tolerate dotty, humorous people with a lot of opinions, fascinating the pants off the children, without following a strict curriculum but opening minds and challenging kids to think for themselves?” Are those the kind of teachers that your charter school support?

BG: Well, we need to bring in all the people who can teach well and objectively look if they are teaching well then they should get better rewards. If they don’t stay for their pension, they should still have a very good salary. You know, if they don’t get a master’s degree, they should still have a very good salary. So it shouldn’t be a system that tries to look at lack of eccentricities as some positive thing. In fact, if you go into a teacher’s personnel file today you won’t find some deep analysis of their skills. You’ll find checklists like: keeps classroom clean. And I’ll bet those eccentric guys didn’t get that nice check mark next to keeps classroom clean. So today’s system is driving out those kinds of teachers.

CA: So Malcolm Gladwell just published a book, “Outliers,” where he has a whole chapter devoted to you. And he says the traditional view of your huge success as this sort of a brilliant, genius, software coder, determined young man, changing the world through those personal skills is basically wrong and that the way to think of you is as someone who was born in the right place at the right time. You had these incredible advantages of going to the right school at the right time, getting to computers early and so forth. What do you make of that?


BG: Malcolm interviewed me for that book and it was because he and I agreed about these things that he put that in there. I mean, he didn’t want to write a book where the person he wrote about said: Oh, what a bunch of garbage. It’s not quite as simple as what you’ve described. What the book says is that if you get opportunities, which are partly a matter of luck and partly a matter of skill, those compound. So, when I was young I got to use computers that was very lucky. I got to work at a computer company because I was pretty good — these senior people looked at my code and told me: Nah, that’s not as good as it can be. And so I got better. And then I had another experience where a great developer looked at my code and told me how to do it better. So it’s a cycle, where luck and skill come and mess with each other and that’s what leads to a great — from my point of view — a great outcome.

CA: Bill, you’ve led this incredible life, where you’ve changed the lives of so many people around the world, you’ve been feared by many, you’ve been regarded as bad Bill, good Bill, I mean — in ten or fifteen years, what words, what would you want written on your tombstone?


BG: Well, I hope I’m alive a lot longer than that.


Warren Buffet always likes to say that the tombstone should say: check my pulse.


I don’t think anyone optimizes for having a good funeral or a nice epitaph.

CA: No, but –


CA: But I’m serious though, your legacy, you must think about your legacy a bit. You’ve already got an incredible legacy in software. Is that how you want most to be remembered? Are you really excited by this philanthropic stuff to the same level or is it kind of a hobby?

BG: I’m as engaged in the new work as I’ve ever been in anything so the same as I was in software but it’s because of the day-to-day activity and the ambitious goals. It’s not about legacy. It’s working with smart people, you know, some of the drugs fail. I was in Nigeria the last three days and polio — we’ve had a huge setback in polio eradication there. The cases doubled in the last year and in the North, they don’t have very good coverage. It was thrilling to go meet the Sultan of Sokoto and have him say that he’d get his religious people out to educate the parents that the vaccine really is a good thing. These are amazing issues, and it’s fun to work on them. It’s also fun when you achieve the ambitious goal. So, in that sense, it’s magic in the same way that software was.

CA: Well it certainly feels like the moment where you turned — you decided to turn your incredible success into giving a huge portion of your wealth back to the world — that was actually a big moment for the world and there a lot of people in the room who are also incredibly successful, building businesses and I believe many of them, including me, have been inspired by what you’ve done. So thank you so much for coming here today.

BG: Thank you, great.

CA: It was fantastic.


Comments (27)

  • Austin Slater commented on Mar 20 2009

    My respect and admiration for Mr. Gates is enormous. I truly believe and agree, from a logical as well as an optimistic perspective, that a vast majority of our world’s current major problems can and will be solved in the very near future. I also hold true to the belief that this positive outcome can only be reached if the knowledge, wisdom, advice and inspiration of such organizations as TED reaches the general masses. It is in the hearts, minds and spirits of these, often profoundly ignorant and brain-washed, people that we will find the key to our success. I am presently twenty three years old and I dearly hope and believe that my grandchildren will live in a far better world than the one we see around us today. My gratitude and appreciation for TED is nearly overwhelming. Thank you all and godspeed.

  • Sandy Chung commented on Mar 1 2009

    我想成功的人大部份都具備著十足的幽默感! 比爾蓋茲就是其中之一.
    I think most of the successful people have great sense of humor and Mr. Gates is one of them!
    Very good website. Thanks!

  • Rosemary Schwedes commented on Feb 25 2009

    In his TED speech, Bill Gates showed a graph indicating that a Masters’ degree does not make a person into a better teacher. I think that point should be modified to say a Masters’ degree in education. Education courses are often useless except when they are very ideological, in which case they are destructive.

    Mr. Gates also criticized school systems in which principals are allowed in classrooms only infrequently. If you want to improve teachers, do not depend on principals. Principals have Ph.D.’s in education; what could be worse?. If you want to improve teachers, have successful teachers to visit classrooms.

    We hear a lot about the success of KIPP. I am familiar with one KIPP school in NYC. Its program pretty much crushes the teachers with the work load. What is clear from KIPP and other schools that are successful with at-risk children is that the schools are very expensive. Education can’t be done on the cheap for any students, but especially for those who are at risk.

  • Eddie Garcia commented on Feb 20 2009

    I echo the comments below. The part where you bring out the Mac was a bit funny and uncomfortable, Chris. In all due fairness though, I would have been a little nervous too.God knows I do clumsy things when I get nervous, too.

    I have to say, I’m not a fan of Microsoft at all…however, I am a big fan of Mr. Gates and all he has done for the world. In my 10-15 words, “Mr. Gates is a man who changed the world not once… but twice.”

  • anand suppiah commented on Feb 22 2009

    I just love the part he pulled out a Mac infront of gates.. I wouldn’t dare do that. Anyway, a nice must see video

  • Francois Aubert commented on Feb 9 2009

    That is a great interview. I am not a particular fan of Microsoft, to say the least. But Bill Gates is worth respect for his business success and now his foundation’s great work. And what an interview we have here!

  • Ancuta Maria-Manuela commented on Feb 9 2009

    Hello,sir!Are so many solution for this problem from world.

    And i am fan number 1.

  • Paulo Roberto commented on Feb 8 2009

    Hi, I only know how to read/write English. Can you send me a transcript of BG talk, please?

    Thank you very much Mr Gates!
    from a MS/BG fan number 1


  • Harold Barre commented on Feb 8 2009

    Could you turn the volume of the music down and could Bill help me with my new found deafness?

  • Marek Czajkowski commented on Feb 7 2009

    will it be possible to dl this video? or is it already?

  • Matthew Gillentine commented on Feb 6 2009

    I’d bet that Bill is a pretty good guy behind closed doors. I’d also like to think that even though Microsoft’s Vista is a lame duck, I can still respect the man. Good going Bill. But what do I know…?

  • Omar Caneo commented on Feb 9 2009

    Great interview. I’ve admired Bill for the longest time now but that admiration just went up some more. How can you not respect the man, he is truly humble and benevolent.

  • Nikhil Chopra commented on Feb 9 2009

    definitely one of the best talks from a guy who is really working on great ideas to a greater depth.

  • Lisa Fields commented on Feb 10 2009

    When Chris pulled out his Macbook during his discussion with Bill Gates I felt uncomfortable.

    While it could have just been a natural “move” on the part of Chris, when I heard the audience laugh and appeared as though Bill Gates looked uncomfortable I was hoping this was not a “set up.”

    “You don’t make your candle any brighter by blowing someone else’s out.”

    This picture of Bill Gates and Chris Anderson certainly does give Apple a predominate display of the celebrated logo.

    I”m thankful for TED and the way it has expanded my work as a public speaker/trainer so I want to give Chris the benefit of doubt.

    In the interest of transparency, I think it’s also important to note that I’m working on this response from my Macbook.

    Again, thank you for making TED available.


    Lisa Fields

  • paul martin commented on Feb 10 2009

    Great talk, but for great teaching come to Aberdeen, Scotland

  • David Cohen commented on Feb 18 2009

    Very interesting, hopefully all this misinterpreted talk about 10-15 years of life remaining: the understandable fixation on longevity: an unintended yet propitious serendipitous omen: will, via a renewed visceral sense of urgency, catalyze Bill Gates to shift ALL his remaining energy and attention to parleying his Robotics offerings http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/robotics/ into the massive technological combined global government synergy necessary to roll out the ROBOTIC WAGELESS ECONOMY http://RoboEco.com/visceral to ubiquitously permeate and phase change global humanity’s relationship to each other and as consequence to the economy: forever emancipating all humankind from its machinery: as the wise noble elite have always been since the beginnings of time.

    Clearly we are now experiencing intended or not, a transition to the post Capitalism-Socialism-Communism era, where ALL children WILL, for 1rst time in history, be able to the retain their humanity instead of becoming the human-robots that Cap-Soc-Communism each were equally predicated on: as real robots are better at that anyway.

    We clearly find ourselves, and Bill has ably demonstrated his recognition of such opportunities: at the best point in time to make our shift from the post Capitalism-Socialism-Communism Era interregnum to the THE ROBOTIC WAGELESS ECONOMY

    All other wasting of time on half-measures that can be compartmentalized as part of the payload: ride the coat tails of the superset mission: the Accelerated graceful Rollout of THE ROBOTIC WAGELESS ECONOMY, notwithstanding are mere myopic pusillanimous distractions.

    Think not of the details, think of the goal: details always take care of themselves when the goal is correct. See the solution: the details vanish: See the details: the solution vanishes.

    Bill Gates, you have exhibited magnanimous noble characteristics: your destiny is to ROLLOUT THE ROBOTIC WAGELESS ECONOMY http://RoboEco.com/visceral in your lifetime: and may you bask long in its presence with us.

    Congrats to Bill & Chris for the great interview !!!

  • Matthew Gillentine commented on Feb 10 2009

    Lisa, I would hope that Bill Gates is a strong enough guy that Chris pulling a Mac out was no big deal. He’s well aware of Apple’s presence in the world and I doubt he’d begrudge anyone for choosing to use a Mac. I have several Mac’s and a PC with xp running on it. No stupid Vista! Anyway, Bill sure better be able to deal with real problems if he’s going to do all this philanthropy. It’s a messy shituation out there. Not everyone can have an iPod, iPhone, iThis or iThat. I do like your quote, “You don’t make your candle any brighter by blowing someone else’s out.” This is a sentiment that reflects my own ideals. But what do I know?

  • Chris Anderson commented on Feb 10 2009

    Yeah, the Mac was definitely not intended as an insult. It just happens to be the computer I use. I forgot there’s a giant glowing logo on the back! And when I asked him about his epitaph in 10-15 words, he heard 10-15 YEARS. Hence “I hope to live longer than that!” Oops. My bad. The bigger picture is that he made a fantastic impression at TED, and I thought his answers in this interview were impressive.

  • Mateus Pinho commented on Feb 12 2009

    I don’t think Chris ever ment to be insultful to Bil (he has a 88% monopoly on OSes!) yet I do agree the interview could have been more successful on the number and quality of the answers. But I don’t blame Chris for that, God knows what he goes through on Conferences. :)

  • Taylor McCarthy commented on Feb 11 2009

    I really enjoyed the TED talk by Bill Gates, however, I felt that the interview which followed by Chris Anderson was awful and rather humiliating for Mr. Gates. I’m not sure whether or not Mr. Anderson’s actions were due to nervousness or ignorance, but his lack of attention during more than one of Gates’ answers (he pulled out his Mac and quite literally cut off the end of Bill’s response) and his awkward questions (how do you want to be remembered?) were a disappointing ending to a fantastic presentation.