Bill Gates on Reddit: What he thinks of VR, the presidency, and Microsoft's Linux push

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates takes to Reddit to offer his thoughts in his latest "Ask Me Anything."

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Bill Gates

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No, Michael Bloomberg is not running for president. And neither (surprise!) is Bill Gates. 

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates dropped by Reddit for his fourth “Ask Me Anything” session on Tuesday, a random collection of question posed to Gates by the Reddit community. Although there were no truly off-the-wall questions or answers, Gates was asked about two issues of the day: the U.S. presidential race, as well as his thoughts on Microsoft’s impending release of SQL Server on Linux.

SQL Server shows Microsoft is willing to change

The port of SQL Server to Linux is significant in that Gates originally referred to Linux as a "cancer" in a 2001 interview. Times have changed, however, and Gates was generally positive about the move made by his successor (once removed), Satya Nadella. 

“I think it shows Satya looking at how the market is changing and being willing to change how things have been done,” Gates wrote. “His embrace of the cloud and mobile including doing software on other people’s mobile platforms are also great examples of that.”

No President Gates, for now

Gates, of course, now runs the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation with his wife Melinda, and recently released his annual letter addressing the problems that his organization hoped to solve. Gates said that he likes his current job at the Foundation more than he would the White House. “Also I wouldn’t be good at doing what you need to do to get elected,” Gates wrote. “I thought Michael Bloomberg was thoughtful about why it didn’t make sense for him to try and run even though he is a great executive.”

What Apple needs to do with the locked iPhone

Gates originally appeared to come out on the side of the government in the debate over  what to do with the locked iPhone that the FBI wants Apple to unlock. 

Gates later claimed that he was misquoted, however, so Reddit offered an opportunity to present his unfiltered opinion. 

“I think there needs to be a discussion about when the government should be able to gather information,” Gates said in part. “What if we had never had wiretapping? Also the government needs to talk openly about safeguards. Right now a lot of people don’t think the government has the right checks to make sure information is only used in criminal situations. So this case will be viewed as the start of a discussion.”

After trying to pin down Gates on what he would do if he were in Apple’s shoes, though, Gates responded: “Maybe they could propose an overall plan for striking the balance between government being able to know things in some cases and having safeguards to make sure those powers are confined to appropriate cases. There is no avoiding this debate and they could contribute to how the balance should be struck.”

Technology we don’t need

What technology scares Bill Gates? Well, the obvious: bioterrorism.

“I am concerned about biological tools that could be used by a bioterrorist. However the same tools can be used for good things as well,” Gates wrote. “Some people think Hoverboards were bad because they caught on fire. I never got to try one.”

AR, VR may converge

The Oculus Rift is a virtual reality device. Microsoft’s HoloLens is an augmented reality device. The HTC Vive leans heavily toward VR, but includes elements of AR. Gates thinks this trend may continue.

“VR is the extreme case of AR when nothing from the real world gets mixed in,” Gates wrote. “It can be tricky if you are walking around that you might run into things." Gates felt a mix of AR and VR might end up making the most sense. "I don’t think these two things will stay as separate as they are now.”

AI regulation is worth discussing

As digital assistants become more aware, should there be some sort of government oversight before it becomes true artificial intelligence? Gates took a diplomatic view: 

“I haven’t seen any concrete proposal on how you would do the regulation,” Gates wrote, seeming eager for regulation to keep up with the times. “I think it is worth discussing because I share the view of Musk and Hawking that when a few people control a platform with extreme intelligence it creates dangers in terms of power and eventually control.”

The fate of Age of Empires 

A small group of “redditors” tried to pin down Gates down on whether a new Age of Empires game would ever see the light of day. Given that Gates a) does not work at Microsoft and b) was never really active in game development, his actual influence over this matter is uncertain.

The response from Gates, however, was classic: “I will look into this. How many empires do you need?”

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