The one thing Bill Gates would tell his 19-yr-old self—plus 10 other lessons from his online Q&A

Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates has taken to internet aggregate website Reddit to give his thoughts on sandwiches, success, philanthropy, and the future of tech in a five-hour question and answer session.

Gates is fond of fielding questions from people online, having held four previous AMA (Ask Me Anything) sessions on the website, each time receiving tens of thousands of questions.

This time he , covering an array of different topics, some more serious than others.

From this, here are 11 things we learnt from Gates’ AMA. You can read the entire thread here.

I’m on @reddit right now if you want to ask me anything: https://t.co/C1TJrZDdcU pic.twitter.com/cjOfm7h6bk

1. Gates believes isolation is a major issue

In response to the question, “What do you think is the most pressing issue that we could feasibly solve in the next ten years?”, Gates revealed he believes digital tools can help people who are feeling a “sense of isolation”.

“I still wonder if digital tools can help people find opportunities to get together with others – not Tinder but more like adults who want to mentor kids or hang out with each other,” Gates said in the AMA.

“It is great that kids go off and pursue opportunities but when you get communities where the economy is weak and a lot of young people have left then something should be done to help.”

2. Gates goes “incognito” to spend time with kids

Gates told Reddit users he goes out into public to spend time with his children, while trying not to be recognised to keep the focus away from him.

Responding to a user asking if he ever disguised himself, Gates responded: “I sometimes wear a hat”.

“For example when I did college tours with my son I wanted the focus to be totally on him. A lot less people recognize me when I have a hat on or else they realize I am trying to be incognito,” Gates says.

Despite being the co-chair of the massive Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Gates also revealed he tries to find time to spend with his three children whenever he can, and with a little help from his wife.

“Melinda is very creative about helping me find chances to spend time with the kids. Even just driving them to school is a great time to talk to them,” Gates said in response to a user asking for some “dad-to-dad” advice.

3. “Smartness is not single-dimensional”

When asked what advice he would give his 19-year-old self, Gates said he would have chosen to explore the world more and be a little less awkward.

“I would explain that smartness is not single dimensional and not quite as important as I thought it was back then. I would say you might explore the developing world before you get into your forties,” Gates said in the AMA.

“I wasn’t very good socially back then but I am not sure there is advice that would fix that – maybe I had to be awkward and just grow up….”

Previously, when Gates appeared on Australian television program Q&A, he told viewers about his difficulty of building a company as an introvert.

“If you’re clever, you can learn to get the benefits of being an introvert, [such as] being willing to go off for a few days to think of a tough problem, read everything you can, being willing to push out to the edge of that area,” Gates said at the time.

“And then if you want to come up with something, to build a company to use that idea, you need to learn what extroverts do. You better hire some extroverts.”

4. His chair-jumping days are over.

A famous clip from a CBS Money interview in 1994 shows Gates clearing an office chair with a single jump, a feat he says he can sadly no longer achieve.

When asked if he still could perform such a jump, Gates said no, unless the chair was small.

“Perhaps a small chair – a stool. I do exercise and ski but my main sport is tennis which doesn’t involve jumping. Some people jump over the net but that isn’t part of the sport,” Gates said.

For reference, here is the clip, displaying young Gates’ surprising agility.

5. His greatest achievement

Asked to what he personally believes is his greatest achievement, Gates said the opportunity to be part of a software revolution was “the biggest thing I have gotten to do”.

“Although the Foundation work is super promising and will be the biggest thing over the decades ahead I still think the chance to be part of the software revolution empowering people was the biggest thing I have gotten to do,” Gates said in the AMA.

Looking forward, he says his attempts to eradicate polio through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will be just as satisfying if he achieves it.

“Right now I am very focused on making sure we successfully eradicate polio – that will be amazing if we do it – as good as shipping even the best software product,” he said.

Gates recently personally thanked his close friend Warren Buffett for the difference Buffett’s contributions to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had made to saving lives.

“We don’t have sales and profits to show you. But there are numbers we watch closely to guide our work and measure our progress,” both Bill and Melinda wrote in the letter.

“If you add up each year’s gains, 122 million children under age five have been saved over the past 25 years. Thank you for putting your trust in us, Warren. We won’t let you down.”

6. He wants to see comprehensive AI in his lifetime

Asked “What kind of technological advancement do you wish to see in your lifetime?”, Gates said human-like Artificial Intelligence would be his choice, so computers can “read a text book and pass a test”.

“The big milestone is when computers can read and understand information like humans do. There is a lot of work going on in this field – Google, Microsoft, Facebook, academia,” Gates said.

“Right now computers don’t know how to represent knowledge so they can’t read a text book and pass a test.”

On top of this, Gates also said he wants to see developments in vaccines for diseases such as HIV and Malaria.

7. The importance of curiosity

Gates and Warren Buffett spoke about curiosity at an event at Columbia University in January, with Buffett saying “We both certainly share a curiosity about the world”, reports CNBC.

Asked if curiosity was an innate trait, or if it could be “cultivated and strengthened”, Gates told Reddit users he believes parents and teachers are essential for cultivating an interest in the world.

“I think having parents and teachers reinforce your curiosity and explain what they are fascinated with makes a big difference. A lot of people lose their curiosity as they get older which is a shame,” he said.

“One thing that helps nowadays is that if you get confused about something it is easier than ever to find an article or video to make things clear.”

In a follow-up question asking Gates about his personal curiosities, Gates revealed the human brain to be his greatest fascination.

“I still find the creation of life and the way the brain works the most fascinating areas. It is amazing how little we know about the brain still but I expect we will know a lot more in 10 years,” he said.

8. Gates’ idea of success? Happiness.

Asked simply, “what is your idea of success”, Gates repeated something Buffett had once said to him.

“Warren Buffett has always said the measure is whether the people close to you are happy and love you,” Gates said.

“It is also nice to feel like you made a difference – inventing something or raising kids or helping people in need.”

9. Australia a favourite location

“Australia is particularly nice. It is summer there when it is winter here so going there in December and January is especially nice. I spent Thanksgiving there last year,” Gates said when responding to a question about  his favourite vacation spots.

“I have gotten to travel to a lot of great places like the Amazon in Brazil which I recommend.”

10. He has some strong food related opinions

If Gates could have only one sandwich on earth, it would be a cheeseburger.

In fact, it might be three, with Gates responding to the question about his ultimate “sandwich” with “Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger”.

Keeping in line with food-related questions, Gates answered the age-old question if a hot dog can be considered a sandwich.

“Good question. If you don’t have a bun then it absolutely is not,” Gates definitively said.

“If you slice the hot dog and put it on a normal piece of bread…then it is. When you use a hot dog bun then it is ambiguous.”

11. Where he sees himself in 15 years

In 15 years, Gates will be 76, a grandfather, and hopefully still a fast typer, he says. The Foundation will have also achieved numerous things.

“I will be 76 at that time. Hopefully a grandfather. The Foundation with its partners will have eradicated a number of diseases and health in poor countries will be a lot better – specifically instead of 5% of children under 5 dying it should be at 2.5% which is still a lot,” Gates says.

“I hope I can still type fast enough to do Reddit sessions without someone transcribing for me.”

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