Bill Gates Takes Another Shot at Those Who Prioritize the Cause of Worldwide Internet Access

    November 1, 2013
    Josh Wolford
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Bill Gates thinks it’s stupid to prioritize the goal of worldwide internet connectivity over malaria research. This is now the second time that he’s made the sentiment clear.

Speaking in an interview with the Financial Times, the Microsoft founder said that making connecting the billions of unconnected people on the planet to reliable internet access a priority is “a joke.”

“Take this malaria vaccine, [this] weird thing that I’m thinking of. Hmm, which is more important, connectivity or malaria vaccine? If you think connectivity is the key thing, that’s great. I don’t,” he said.

“Innovation is a good thing. The human condition – put aside bioterrorism and a few footnotes – is improving because of innovation…technology’s amazing, [but] it doesn’t get down to the people most in need in anything near the timeframe we should want it to.

[W]hen we want to improve lives, you’ve got to deal with more basic things like child survival, child nutrition.”

As you may know, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently launched internet.org, a new initiative that aims to make the internet available to all.

This isn’t the first time that Gates has expressed this view. A couple of months ago, when asked about Google’s Project Loon, Gates said:

“When you’re dying of malaria, I suppose you’ll look up and see that balloon, and I’m not sure how it’ll help you. When a kid gets diarrhea, no, there’s no website that relieves that. Certainly I’m a huge believer in the digital revolution. And connecting up primary-health-care centers, connecting up schools, those are good things. But no, those are not, for the really low-income countries, unless you directly say we’re going to do something about malaria.”

Project Loon is Google’s newest “moonshot” initiative to bring the internet to remote areas via giant balloons that float around stratospheric winds and beam access down to people on the ground.

I’m of mixed thoughts here, and I’ll just repost my previous argument. Just replace “Google” with “Facebook” and “Project Loon” with “Internet.org” and it’s pretty much the same thing.

I mean, Gates has a point here. There’s no immediate benefit to kids dying of malaria that can be afforded by a giant, floating balloon that gives internet access. But it’s always been Google’s assertion that expanding internet access to underprivileged areas can lead to a ton of secondary benefits. Sure, accessing a website can’t cure disease – but it can provide information on how one would go about preventing or treating disease. Plus, institutions that help to deal with the real problems faced by the poor can be aided immensely by reliable internet access.

And in response to Gates’ comments, you have to ask the question: are all charitable institutions made equal? Shouldn’t Google focus on providing free internet access to poor areas – since that’s something that they would presumably be quite qualified to do? Can’t Google’s Project Loon provide an equal, but different benefit to the same people Gates is trying to help with his numerous programs to eradicate disease?

Isn’t Facebook better-equipped to tear down the barriers that block billions from accessing the internet? Can’t one organization prioritize one important task while another prioritizes a different (but still important) task? What do you think?

  • http://articleroster.com Michelle Bailey

    Bill is absolutely right of course. In our country, only 10% of the population has internet access and 90% has cellphones. Now the government goes and informs us that flood warnings, typhoons and etc are going to be posted on social media sites and government websites. Well how is it going to help everyone when only 10% have access and not all of them access daily. I don’t know who funds these ideas but these should really be kept in check.

    • @Michelle

      Actually, 71% of America has internet access. I am assuming you live in America though. Maybe you don’t since you mentioned typhoons and America really doesn’t have those too often.

      I agree with you though. There are too many people with real needs that internet connectivity will not solve. In fact, the internet really does not provide a lot of real benefit for most people.

      We need to create industry (make things), address sanitation, address disease, address parasites, address food production, address drought —- connecting people to the net is an extremely low priority.

  • http://www.fantastic-machine.com/penina Penina

    I think Josh’s point is to question why this has to be an “either-or” question. We can aim to end malaria AND expand internet access. Leaders and activists of developing nations have stated that they want both.