Sunday, June 17, 2007

Bill Gates: Harvard Commencement

"Humanity's greatest advances are not in its discoveries -- but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity," Mr. Gates declared. "Whether through democracy, strong public education, quality health care or broad economic opportunity -- reducing inequity is the highest human achievement."

"I left Harvard with no real awareness of the awful inequalities in the world -- the appalling disparities of health and wealth and opportunity that condemn millions of people to lives of poverty, disease and despair," he said.

In the analytical style for which he became famous in high-tech circles, Mr. Gates recommended a four-point plan for attacking a complex problem: determine a goal, find the "highest-leverage approach," discover the ideal technology for that approach, "and in the meantime, make the smartest application of the technology that you already have."

He continued: "The AIDS epidemic offers an example. The broad goal, of course, is to end the disease. The highest-leverage approach is prevention. The ideal technology would be a vaccine that gives lifetime immunity with a single dose. So governments, drug companies, and foundations fund vaccine research. But their work is likely to take more than a decade, so in the meantime, we have to work with what we have in hand -- and the best prevention approach we have now is getting people to avoid risky behavior" -- a goal that requires its own four-point plan.

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