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Gates: Today's PCs only a 'rough draft'

Bill Gates spoke at MIT about the future challenges offered by the field of computer science.
Bill Gates spoke at MIT about the future challenges offered by the field of computer science.
Photo / Donna Coveney

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates called today's personal computers "a good rough draft" in a presentation to MIT undergraduates aimed at attracting them to the software industry.

"It's not yet the machine we envisioned," Gates told the audience of mostly freshmen and electrical engineering and computer science majors on Feb. 26, after explaining how he had dropped out of Harvard to pursue his dream of placing a personal computer in every home and on every desktop.

Although Gates is the richest man in the world, his demeanor revealed none of the flash shown by other wealthy, high-tech entrepreneurs who have appeared on stage. Dressed simply in an open-collar shirt, black slacks and black pullover sweater, and wearing an average-Joe haircut and eyeglasses, Gates looked more like a guy who might sell PCs at your local shop than the man credited with dreaming up the concept of the personal computer.

Better computer visuals

At the MIT event, he predicted the next 10 years in personal computing will be all about cool software applications for portable and wireless devices and will bring substantial improvements to screen resolution and imaging. "We believe that reading will move onto the screen," he said, adding that very-high-resolution screens soon will be light enough to hold comfortably on a lap.

Gates urged students interested in artificial intelligence and biology to look carefully at computer science, since the next big leaps in computing will probably involve those fields.

He mentioned that Microsoft's rather alluring R&D budget of $6.8 billion a year is the largest in the world. But it can't hold a candle to Gates'personal worth, which Forbes magazine estimates at $46.6 billion, making him the wealthiest man in the world--for the 10th year in a row.

During the question-and-answer period following his presentation, Gates was asked who his personal heros are. After a pause, he said he really admired Warren Buffet's way of looking at the world and doing business. Buffet was listed the second-richest man in the world by Forbes magazine.

After the last question, President Charles M. Vest approached Gates to present him with a gift. So what do you give the man who has more money than anyone else on the planet? An MIT sweatshirt, of course--and a hard hat bearing a picture of the new Gates Building, part of the Ray and Maria Stata Center for Computer, Information and Intelligence Sciences, which will open this spring.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 3, 2004.

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