America's Energy Future

Bill Gates

Co-Chairman, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Chairman, Microsoft


Portrait of Bill Gates
Bill Gates is the Chairman of the Board and co-founder of Microsoft, and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

In 1973, Gates entered Harvard University, where he lived down the hall from Steve Ballmer, now Microsoft’s chief executive officer. While at Harvard, Gates developed a version of the programming language BASIC for the first microcomputer – the MITS Altair. In his junior year, Gates left Harvard to devote his energies to Microsoft, a company he had begun in 1975 with his childhood friend Paul Allen. Guided by a belief that the computer would be a valuable tool on every office desktop and in every home, they began developing software for personal computers.

Under Gates’ leadership, Microsoft’s mission has been to continually advance and improve software technology, and to make it easier, more cost-effective and more enjoyable for people to use computers. The company is committed to a long-term view, reflected in its investment of approximately $9 billion on research and development in the 2009 fiscal year.

In 1999, Gates wrote Business @ the Speed of Thought, a book that shows how computer technology can solve business problems in fundamentally new ways. The book was published in 25 languages and is available in more than 60 countries. Business @ the Speed of Thought has received wide critical acclaim, and was listed on the best-seller lists of the New York Times, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal and Amazon.com. Gates’ previous book, The Road Ahead, published in 1995, held the No. 1 spot on the New York Times’ bestseller list for seven weeks.

Together with his wife, Melinda French Gates, Bill Gates has worked to expand opportunity to the world’s most disadvantaged people.

Together with his wife, Melinda French Gates, Bill Gates has worked to expand opportunity to the world’s most disadvantaged people. Gates began his major philanthropic efforts in 1994, when he created the William H. Gates Foundation, which focused on global health. Three years later, he and Melinda created the Gates Library Foundation, which worked to bring public access computers with Internet connections to libraries in the United States. Its name changed to the Gates Learning Foundation in 1999 to reflect its focus on ensuring that low-income minority students are prepared for college and have the means to attend. In 2000, to increase efficiency and communication, the two groups merged into the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

In addition to his work with Microsoft and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Gates founded Corbis, which is developing one of the world’s largest resources of visual information – a comprehensive digital archive of art and photography from public and private collections around the globe. He is also a member of the board of directors of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Gates was married on Jan. 1, 1994, to Melinda French Gates. They have three children. Gates is an avid reader, and enjoys playing golf and bridge.

America is the world leader in pharmaceutical and medical innovation. It’s easy to see why.

Over the last 100 years, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) has funded groundbreaking medical research leading to discoveries that have dramatically increased the lifespan of Americans, reduced the death rate from cancer and heart attacks, and proven the value of preventive health care.

We can and should play a similar role in new energy technologies.

We are in critical need of a government commitment to research into new energy technologies that can free us from our dependence on foreign oil, create affordable clean-energy alternatives, and slow the rate of global warming.

Yet, today, the U.S. government spends only one-sixth as much on energy innovation as it does on medical research.

At Microsoft, we saw R&D investment as fundamental to our success. Throughout the high-tech sector, R&D investment represents a sizeable percentage of operating budgets. It is essential to fueling innovation and remaining competitive.

Understandably, people ask why the private sector can’t fund the necessary research into energy alternatives. Fundamentally, we can’t rely on the marketplace alone to address a critical national interest. No matter how well intentioned, utility companies and other private investors simply are not going to invest deeply in the kind of R&D needed to create scalable, low-carbon energy innovations.

We have seen time and again the catalyzing role the federal government can play in technological breakthroughs - GPS, the Internet, and commercial aviation to name a few - with important societal and economic benefits. Today, there is no more important issue deserving of increased government research funding than clean energy.

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America's Energy Future