Bill Gates has a long history of philanthropy in Africa and he’s decidedly unimpressed with Google’s initiative to help more people in Africa get Internet connectivity through the use of weather balloons that act as ad hoc wireless networks. During an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, Gates said that Google’s African Internet initiative would do very little to help people on the continent who are suffering from disease and starvation, which he says are the main problems that most rural Africans face.
“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,” Gates said. “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.”
While it’s true that Google’s Project Loon won’t help cure malaria, there is an argument to be made that it will still help African countries by providing some critical infrastructure for education, health care and businesses. Gates, however, seems to think that these aren’t as immediate problems for many in Africa and he also thinks that Google is acting much more in its own interest than in others’.
“Google started out saying they were going to do a broad set of things,” explained. “They hired Larry Brilliant, and they got fantastic publicity. And then they shut it all down. Now they’re just doing their core thing. Fine. But the actors who just do their core thing are not going to uplift the poor.”