Gates Chides Facebook And Google For Choosing Connectivity Over Global Health
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Renown philanthropist Bill Gates has been focusing much of his attention on developing and distributing a cure for malaria in poverty-stricken parts of the world. Other tech titans, too, have recently turned their eyes towards improving conditions in these areas by delivering Internet connectivity either through balloons or a complex system of data compression technologies and cheap broadband towers. Though Gates likely believes that helping the farthest reaches of the world connect with developed nations is important, he told the Financial Times that he thinks making this a priority is “a joke.”
“I certainly love the IT thing,” said Gates in the exclusive interview. “But when we want to improve lives, you’ve got to deal with more basic things like child survival, child nutrition.”
The Microsoft co-founder and ex-CEO is likely referring to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his new organization, Internet.org. In August Zuckerberg announced his role in the coalition which aims to connect some five billion people in the world who have never been given access to the World Wide Web.
In a blog post entitled “Is Connectivity a Human Right?” Zuckerberg offered the first look at what he called a “rough draft” explaining how Internet.org plans to make the Internet accessible to these billions. Joined by companies like Nokia, Qualcomm and Samsung, Zuckerberg believes the next wave of connectivity will be driven by mobile broadband networks delivering tightly compressed data sent out by highly efficient servers.
In his interview, Bill Gates never took umbrage with the notion of helping the rest of the world connect to the Internet but did question the idea of making connectivity a priority over health and wellness. Since stepping down as Microsoft’s CEO in 2000 Gates has been spending much of his time working with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a non-profit he started in 1997, which aims to rid the world of malaria and other diseases.
Last month, for example, drug company GlaxoSmithKline said they planned to seek regulatory approval for a drug which could cut malaria diagnoses in half. The drug was developed with financial help from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
“Take this malaria vaccine, [this] weird thing that I’m thinking of. Hmm, which is more important, connectivity or malaria vaccine? If you think connectivity is the key thing, that’s great. I don’t,” said Gates. When discussing the goal of connecting five billion people to the mobile Internet, Gates said: “As a priority? It’s a joke.”
Gates’ ire wasn’t aimed directly at Zuckerberg or Google’s Eric Schmidt. Google also has plans to connect the rest of the world by way of repurposed television spectrum and Wi-Fi connected balloons. According to Gates, those who choose to financially back the building of a new museum wing rather than take measures to improve global health are just as guilty of misguided priorities.
“The moral equivalent is, we’re going to take 1 per cent of the people who visit this [museum] and blind them,” said Gates. “Are they willing, because it has the new wing, to take that risk? Hmm, maybe this blinding thing is slightly barbaric.”