Bill Gates: Software innovation poses privacy challenge

Bill Gates told a Hong Kong gathering that society will need more explicit rules governing privacy boundaries around software as the mobile/PC line blurs.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor
As software gets more powerful, privacy issues pose "an interesting software challenge", said Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates.

Recounting a short history of software development, Gates said innovations in natural interaction technology are making technology more pervasive. "When interaction gets more natural, computers can be everywhere to listen to you," he said, adding that "society will have to have more explicit rules" governing privacy boundaries around software as technology develops.

Gates was speaking in Hong Kong at the 10th Anniversary of Microsoft Research Asia, the software giant's research arm based in Beijing, China.

Explaining the company's focus on software research and development (R&D), he said its $7 billion investment in that direction is necessary to push innovation in a market that is "increasingly software-driven".

He explained: "Even in a field like astronomy, it's not just looking through an eyepiece but testing theories, and software lets you do that."

Noting software is extending beyond PCs, Gates said mobile software is a market that is growing rapidly in importance. He added: "Mobile phones are increasingly becoming software-driven platforms, although they were just for voice before."

But, it is a hardware innovation that will make mobiles more accessible for high-end functions. Amid developments in phone processors and mobile applications, it is screen technology that holds the key to bridging the divide between mobile devices and PCs, Gates noted.

Gates said: "As we get screens that can roll or fold out to be bigger, or mobile devices that have small screens but can project larger images on walls, that line between what's a PC and a mobile will keep getting grayer."

Another device that is expected to overlap with the PC's capabilities is the TV, he noted.

He said: "Software innovation will be pervasive; it will happen to other things in our lives, like our cars and our TVs." Microsoft is working to place its R&D efforts in speech recognition technology to make TV watching more interactive, according to Gates.

In a demonstration shortly after his address, a Microsoft executive showcased a TV that was pulling a video clip from the internet. He performed a search through the video content by way of speech recognition. This provides more comprehensive search results beyond current methods of running a text query through a video's title and summary, the Microsoft executive explained.

Touching briefly on cloud computing--a concept Microsoft prefers to call "software plus services"--Gates said it will lead to service providers coming to market with "lots of [computing] capacity and storage, and at low cost".

Beyond these developments, more important for the developing world is in putting computers within reach, he added. "Digital access is almost becoming like literacy... Children in poor countries need to get it too," Gates said.

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