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Bill Gates talks Apple/FBI standoff, skipping classes at Harvard, and much more

Bill Gates talks Apple FBI

Long since removed from running the day-to-day operations of Microsoft, Bill Gates seems to be enjoying retirement. Not only does he have time to spend on any number of philanthropic endeavors, he’s also not shy about engaging in a Reddit AMA every now and again.

That said, Gates on Tuesday afternoon returned to Reddit for the fourth time where he answered questions on a whole host of topics, including the FBI’s ongoing legal battle with Apple, how he used to skip class while he was a student at Harvard, and much more.

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With respect to the mobile encryption issue that Apple and the FBI are currently embroiled in, Gates took a middle of the road approach when asked for his take on the issue.

“I think there needs to be a discussion about when the government should be able to gather information,” Gates answered. “What if we had never had wiretapping? Also the government needs to talk openly about safeguards. Right now a lot of people don’t think the government has the right checks to make sure information is only used in criminal situations. So this case will be viewed as the start of a discussion. I think very few people take the extreme view that the government should be blind to financial and communication data but very few people think giving the government carte blanche without safeguards makes sense. A lot of countries like the UK and France are also going through this debate. For tech companies there needs to be some consistency including how governments work with each other. The sooner we modernize the laws the better.”

When asked what he would do if he found himself in Apple’s position, Gates answered: “Maybe they could propose an overall plan for striking the balance between government being able to know things in some cases and having safeguards to make sure those powers are confined to appropriate cases. There is no avoiding this debate and they could contribute to how the balance should be struck.”

Of course, the entirety of the AMA wasn’t exclusively devoted to serious topics. For instance, when asked what his fondest memory from Harvard was, Gates recalled a rather amusing story.

I decided that I would be different and never attend any class I was signed up for but always attend a class I wasn’t signed up for. This worked out in a funny way when the final exam for a Combinatorics class (which I signed up for) was given at the same table as my Brain studies class (which I attended and did not sign up for). My friends from Brain studies thought it was very strange that I sat on the wrong side of the table and took the Combinatorics exam even when I was the most vocal student in the Brain class.

When asked how he was able to make this work, given that he was taking an exam for a class he never attended, Gates added:

I studied super hard during reading period and almost always got A’s. The big exception was organic chemistry where the promised video tapes of the lectures sometimes had no sound or no video – that spooked me and I ended up getting a C+ in the course!

Oh that Gates, always tough to keep tabs on that guy. And truth be told, a C+ in organic chemistry without attending any classes is impressive in its own right.

When asked for his thoughts on what the next biggest advancement in technology will be over the next two decades, Gates said that robots with vision “and manipulation as good as humans” will be something that will achieved within a 10-year window. Gates further added that “medical advances will also be amazing and unbelievable.”

As for what type of technological advancements scare Gates, the Microsoft founder said that biological tools would certainly pose a threat should they wind up in the wrong hands.

Some other notable tidbits from the AMA include:

  • Gates believes Pirates of Silicon Valley “was a reasonable recapitulation of the early days of the PC industry.”
  • Gates always uses the latest version of Windows, hardly a shocker.
  • Programming was the most useful thing Gates ever learned. “I was obsessed with programming from age 14 to 19 and that is a good time to keep trying to improve.”

Make sure to hit the source link below for the full run down of Gates’ Reddit AMA.

A life long Mac user and Apple enthusiast, Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large for over 6 years. His writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and most recently, TUAW. When not writing about and analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions, the most recent examples being The Walking Dead and Broad City.