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GATES: The power of cheap software and cheap computing has brought enormous economic power to millions of people who in the past lacked it. It has helped democratize nations and economies around the world. It is bringing about the death of distance, as high-speed telecommunications link people, companies and countries faster and cheaper than ever before. And while this Information Revolution hasn’t yet reached deeply into the poorest regions of the world, it will-look at what is happening in India and China, for example. The Industrial Age did in many ways bypass poorer countries; the Information Age actually gives those countries a chance to compete on equal footing with richer countries. In fact many of the poorer countries have a comparative advantage in that they can now leverage their cheaper labor around the world-not just locally-using the power of the PC, the Internet and cheap telecommunications. The poor are not standing still; they are catching up faster than they ever did in the Industrial Age.

DERTOUZOS: I share the view that the poor could rise out of poverty, by using the new world of information to learn how to read and write, take care of their health, cultivate the land, and acquire language and other skills that they may use to sell services in the information marketplace. However, for this to happen, the poor will need communications, workstations and training-all of which cost a great deal, and therefore cannot materialize spontaneously. The people you allude to, in Bangalore and elsewhere, who deliver software services over the Net, speak English and know how to program. They are but a drop in the ocean of six billion people on Earth, barely 2 percent of whom are interconnected. My point is that all the benefits that we envision will not become available to the poor if we leave the Information Revolution to its own devices. We need to take an active role as individuals, companies and governments of the industrially rich world to help the poor ascend along this path. How can you disagree, in light of all you have done along these lines?

GATES: Unfortunately, the benefits of every new technology tend to trickle down slowly. Even the earliest tools of the communications revolution-the auto, the airplane, the telephone-have yet to benefit some poorer parts of the world. But what will clearly help the spread of information technology is the amazing speed at which computing costs have dropped, along with information technology’s ability to break down borders. We’re already seeing examples of how cheap PCs can transform companies and government agencies in poorer countries, and the benefits of these changes feed directly to the population. But generally, you are right: companies and individuals in rich countries will have to contribute technology and cash to kick-start a truly global Information Revolution.

I am a big believer in philanthropy, and I’m excited about the impact it can have. I think it is also important to consider priorities. I have chosen to focus on making sure that children in poor countries get access to vaccines so they can live a healthy life. This has to come before making sure they have access to computers. I have put more than $6 billion into my two foundations because of my enthusiasm for taking the great advances in medicine and information technology and giving more people access. We can do some great things here.

DERTOUZOS: I wish other people and organizations would follow your philanthropic lead. And thanks for this enjoyable and informative discussion.

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