Bill Gates is a a very well-known name. Gates, who co-founded Microsoft with Paul Allen, his childhood friend, is a philanthropist, technologist, and business leader. When he and Allen first launched Microsoft, they had a vision of computers being on every desktop and in every home. This idea seemed improbably at the time, but their vision is now a reality in many parts of the world. In addition, personal technology has become a basic necessity of today’s society.
Although Gates stepped down as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Microsoft in 2000, he remains an important part of the company, with his hand still on its pulse, so to speak. He is also technological advisor for Satya Nadella, an Indian-American business executive who is the current CEO of Microsoft.
Gates now has a warning for Silicon Valley, which basically boils down to not turning into Microsoft. During the 1990s, Microsoft became the US anti-trust regulators enemy number one. The software giant not only dominated the market, but used their position in order to push out other potential competitors of software and hardware developers.
Eventually, regulators were able to force Microsoft to restrict their aggressive practices in newer markets. However, it’s because these new markets have been claimed by tech giants like Google, Facebook, and Apple that therein lies the problem, according to Gates.
Gates claims these companies need to be put on notice about being more careful about not advocating things that would ultimately prevent our government to perform as we’ve come to expect it to. Gates addressed concerns over the potential negative impact technological advancements may have. His words were primarily directed at tech giants who are currently dominated the market, such as Google, Facebook, and Apple.
Gates Speaks Out
Gates points out that such tech company monopolies aren’t just about smartphones and computers. He says a small group or company can have an enormous impact on the world, such as with nuclear weapons, which could affect millions, and biological warfare, or bio-terror, which could affect billions. He says this is scary to him and it is, in fact, scary. No one group should have access to that much power.
Gates spoke specifically about the information access issue, again alluding to the aforementioned tech giants. He said that these companies are in favor of anonymous financial transactions as well as the opinion that private communication, even if it’s that of a mass-murderer, shouldn’t be available to the government.
Microsoft’s Own Battle
Gates is no stranger to government oversight. His own battle with Microsoft and government regulators lasted twenty-one years. In fact, the company only barely escaped being split up. The tech giant had used its position and the Windows operating system in order to extinguish competing products, such as Navigator by Netscape, for one example. Regulators eventually were able to force Microsoft to allow potential competitors into the market and to make their own products compatible with others.
Gates feels this dramatic move also effectively changed the company’s culture, making Microsoft both less aggressive and more cautious and that more companies need to practice this type of approach as well.
Gates Final Warning
Gates says that the freewheeling libertarianism of Silicon Valley and the successful strategy used by tech companies which were revolutionaries, won’t work at the same scale as Amazon or Apple. He goes on to say that companies have to be extremely careful to not think their own opinion is more important than that of the government’s.
Gates says now more than ever those who are creating new technologies need to keep in mind what type of impact their creations may have. There is little to no legislature to address these types of problems and because of this complacency, there is insufficient legislation which deals with the ever-rising threat of a tech arms race. Gates includes that this type of race involves software which is capable of taking down entire power grids, vehicles being hijacked, and even the creation of fake video and audio which is generally indistinguishable from genuine video and audio.
Gates says that the bottom line is that there is always the unanswered question of just how much technology is able to empower a small company or group of people who wish to cause damage. He goes on to reiterate that even a small group has the potential to have an impact on millions and billions of others.
The final question, however, is how governments can go about mitigating the threat. Gates believes that tech giants should alternate between conducting independent business and allowing government oversight. Gates says this is a lesson he learned the hard way with Microsoft, that one company should not be able to monopolize the market. In addition, as the world becomes more adept at hacking, the potential for abuse also multiplies accordingly.
Gates advice for companies to self-evaluate comes with experience and he believes if companies will listen and heed his advice, that they may be able to avoid the nightmare he endured with Microsoft at the hand of government intervention. He also goes on to say that whatever the values, goals, and ideals of a company are, they are not above or beside the law.