Three things Bill Gates wishes he could have done 20 years ago

Earned wisdom.
Earned wisdom.
Image: Reuters/Norsk Telegrambyra AS
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The Bill Gates of 2014 is very different than the Gates of 1994. Then, his sole focus was building Microsoft into a software and technology behemoth. Now he’s only just stepping back into a prominent role after years focused on one of the world’s most significant charitable foundations.

In an “ask me anything” question and answer session on Reddit, Gates revealed some of what he’d do differently given what he’s experienced and learned. These are a few of the most fascinating bits:

Get ahead of the game on machine learning

When asked what he would focus on if he were currently a computer science student, and what would be the most significant type of technology in coming years, Gates’ answer focused on machine learning:

The ultimate is computers that learn. So called deep learning which started at Microsoft and is now being used by many researchers looks like a real advance that may finally learn.

There has already been more progress in the last three years in video and audio recognition than had ever been made before, he says. This encompasses everything from basic machine-learning algorithms to ones that will one day be able to read a book and understand what it means.

Start giving back earlier

Philanthropy is Gates’ main job. Even as he takes on an bigger role at Microsoft, he’ll spend two-thirds of his time working at his foundation. But before making that transition, he spent a long time with his head down building his company.

David Hewlett, an actor famous for work on the Stargate television series, asked how entrepreneurs should balance their business and charitable interests.

Mr. Gates,

Any advice on how entrepreneurs of today and tomorrow should go about balancing business and philanthropy… or do they have to succeed first in order to give later?

And Gates’ response:

Just creating an innovative company is a huge contribution to the world. During my 20’s and 30’s that was all I focused on. Ideally people can start to mix in some philanthropy like Mark Zuckerberg has early in his career. I have enjoyed talking to some of the Valley entrepreneurs about this and I am impressed and how early they are thinking about giving back – much earlier than I did.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was the single largest donor in the United States last year at the age of 29, giving nearly a billion dollars, primarily to the Silicon Valley Community foundation.

Spend more time away from the office

When asked how he’s changed over the past 20 years, Gates acknowledged that age has taken off some of his edge in a positive way.

20 years ago I would stay in the office for days at a time and not think twice about it—so I had energy and naivete on my side. Now hopefully I am a bit more mellow but with a little extra wisdom.