Bill Gates points beyond the digital decade

Bill Gates came to Ottawa with a speech and left with an NHL Senators jersey, after addressing some 2,500 residents at the National Arts Centre.

Members of the business community – some paying upwards of $80 for seats – and students from at least five Ottawa-area post-secondary institutions came to hear the Microsoft Corp. chairman speak Tuesday.

His 40-minute speech, titled “Beyond the digital decade,” centered on technological advancements in the last 20 years, and gave predictions on what he thought might be in store over the next decade.

Software was the most “empowering” invention ever, he said, and that it will do more to equalize the developed world with the developing than anything that preceded it.

“It’s a very exciting time in the world of technology,” he said. “The last 20 years were very incredible. It’s hard to believe that the next 10 will be even more so.”

Noting that Microsoft has the largest R&D budget in the world at US$6 billion a year, Gates referred to “trends” aiming to digitize activities at work and at home. He also touched on the convergence of phones, TVs, the Internet, even automobiles, in the years to come.

“Today, we’re blurring the line between what’s a website and what’s software,” he said. “Today, when we think about news, we think about the Internet, about blogs . . . When we think about photographs, 10 years ago we thought about developing,” while today, people routinely edit their pictures digitally on their home computers.

A decade ago, a map was a piece pf paper, he said. Today, Microsoft’s Virtual Earth will provide a three-dimensional map showing current traffic flows, he predicted.

“The telephone system is completely disappearing, and becoming an application of the Internet,” he added.

However, with new technology comes new challenges, particularly in the areas of privacy and security.

“Many of the laws that talk about (privacy) did not anticipate these changes,” he said, and lawyers and judges will be busy over the coming years catching up.

Controlling spam, he added, will require the co-operation of governments worldwide.

Responding to a question about his charitable Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Gates said high tech will save lives. Just by getting rid of paperwork, often the first thing that is lost in developing countries, lives will be saved in epidemics and other emergencies.

Convergence between the technology and health sectors is a positive factor, he said.

“Software is the most empowering tool that there has ever been,” he said. “We’re in the most exciting business, and it’ll be interesting to see how it will all come together.”

ITAC CEO Bernard Courtois  was among the dignitaries who presented him with an Ottawa Senators jersey with “Gates 07” sewn on the back.

Ottawa Senators COO Cyril Leeder congratulated Gates for his foundation’s philanthropic work throughout the world, for which the Microsoft chair received the longest applause of the morning.

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