Beyond Gadgets

Article excerpt

Byline: Daniel Lyons

Silicon Valley is experiencing one of its periodic spasms of hype and zaniness over the Next Big Thing from Apple, in this case a new tablet computer that people hope will reshape the media industry, save newspapers, change television, and possibly cure baldness and help you lose weight. As always with Apple, people are going nuts.

But in the midst of this feeding frenzy, I had the chance to speak one-on-one with Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates, and the experience gave me some perspective. While Gates's old rival Steve Jobs continues to focus on creating cool new products, Gates has mostly left tech behind. He seems not to miss it one bit.

Gates just completed his first year of working full time at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the organization he created with his wife. The foundation is aiming high, hoping to eliminate malaria and AIDS and to improve education around the world. It's pretty heady stuff, and I got the sense that Gates, at 54, is more fired up than he's ever been. Sure, working on the next big thing, as Jobs has done to create the tablet, is intense and exciting. Becoming one of the world's richest people probably feels good, too.

But Gates has found a higher calling--one that's worth noting as the world continues to try to help the people of Haiti. Instead of fretting about what features can fit into the next version of Word or Excel, he's working with scientists who are studying genetic modifications for plants that could help poor countries grow more food. He's funding research that could help create vaccines for malaria and HIV and find better ways to deliver existing vaccines to kids in the developing world.

Oddly enough, this work has a lot in common with the work he used to do in technology. …