Bill Gates Speaks: On Physics, Terrapower, and Google Chrome

Includes: GOOG, MSFT
by: The Deal Economy

gates,bill125x100.jpgIn a wide-ranging interview with Cnet's Ina Fried, Bill Gates talks about some of the projects he's been working on since retiring from day-to-day operations at Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ:MSFT) a year ago, including a startup called TerraPower, which is developing a new design for nuclear power plants.

TerraPower is "focused on a new, very radically improved nuclear power plant design, which is a hard thing to get done, but extremely valuable if it comes through," Gates says in the interview.

TerraPower's approach is to develop nuclear reactors that run primarily on depleted uranium, which may be more efficient and create less waste than the enriched uranium used by traditional nuclear reactors. The company is a spinoff of Intellectual Ventures, a think tank founded in 2000 by former Microsoft chief technologist Nathan Myhrvold. Microsoft is an investor in Intellectual Ventures, and Gates participates in the firm's brainstorming sessions.

In the interview with Cnet, Gates also comments on Google Inc.'s (NASDAQ:GOOG) foray into the operating system business:

I'm surprised people are acting like there's something new. I mean, you've got Android running on Netbooks; it's got a browser in it. In any case, you should make them be concrete about what they're doing. It is kind of a typical thing. When Google is doing anything it gets this--the more vague they are, the more interesting it is. ... It just shows the word browser has become a truly meaningless word. Anyway, what's a browser, what's not a browser? If you're playing a movie, is that a browser or not a browser? If you're doing annotations is that a browser or not a browser? If you're editing text, is that a browser or not a browser? In large part it's more an abuse of terminology than a real change.

Most of the interview focuses on Gates' efforts to make available a series of classic lectures on physics given by Nobel Prize winning physics professor Richard Feynman in 1964 and filmed by the BBC.

Gates first saw the lectures 20 years ago and has been working on making them widely available ever since.

I sort of had this project in mind, and (have been) making some progress in understanding who had the rights, and eventually doing deals for the rights, and then getting these things scanned, and then getting Microsoft Research agreed to host the stuff and create some innovative software around it, which Curtis (Wong) has run. It's taken a long time, but with lots of PCs and the Internet, and my willingness to spend some money, now these things are just going to be out there.

The lectures are available now from Microsoft Research and offer a glimpse of Gates' vision of how technology can be used to improve education, one of the focal points of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. - Mary Kathleen Flynn