Business Advice, Startup Advice

Bill Gates has a new favourite book — and a warning about who should control robots

Emma Koehn /

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has a new favourite book for the first time in five years and while the title isn’t even out yet, he says entrepreneurs can learn a lot from its message that good ideas have contributed one-by-one to social progress across the world.

In 2012, Gates proclaimed The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined, by Harvard University academic and psychologist Steven Pinker, was the most important book he’d ever read because of the well-researched thesis that humankind has become more humane as we have developed.

Writing on the Gates Notes blog this week, Gates now says Pinker’s second book, Enlightenment Now, which will be released in February, has overtaken Better Angels as his number-one read.

Enlightenment Now argues that the values championed during the Enlightenment — including humanism, science and reason — are responsible for the world getting better across a broad range of metrics, from road safety to infant mortality rates.

“The world is getting better, even if it doesn’t always feel that way,” Gates writes.

In a video conversation with Pinker, Gates champions the idea of highlighting the globe’s wins. He says looking at the ideas behind these victories can give humans hints about how to move forward in future.

However, in discussing the book’s take on one significant idea, that of artificial intelligence, Gates says we still have to make tough decisions about the governance of robots in the future. 

Pinker is quick to “dismiss the idea of robots overthrowing humans”, but Gates says he isn’t so sure.

“While I don’t think we’re in danger of a Terminator-style scenario, the question underlying that fear — who exactly controls the robots? — is a valid one. We’re not there yet, but at some point, who has AI and who controls it will be an important issue for global institutions to address,” he said.

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is a former senior journalist at SmartCompany.

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