Solving One Problem at a Time

I must say, as Bill Gates gets older I find him more and more annoying. The man becomes more of a petty authoritarian ever day. In a recent interview with Bloomberg Business Week he was asked about Google’s plan to launch weather balloons to provide Internet connectivity to developing societies:

One of Google’s (GOOG) convictions is that bringing Internet connectivity to less-developed countries can lead to all sorts of secondary benefits. It has a project to float broadband transmitters on balloons. Can bringing Internet access to parts of the world that don’t have it help solve problems?

His answer?

When you’re dying of malaria, I suppose you’ll look up and see that balloon, and I’m not sure how it’ll help you. When a kid gets diarrhea, no, there’s no website that relieves that. Certainly I’m a huge believer in the digital revolution. And connecting up primary-health-care centers, connecting up schools, those are good things. But no, those are not, for the really low-income countries, unless you directly say we’re going to do something about malaria.

Google started out saying they were going to do a broad set of things. They hired Larry Brilliant, and they got fantastic publicity. And then they shut it all down. Now they’re just doing their core thing. Fine. But the actors who just do their core thing are not going to uplift the poor.

Apparently it’s impossible to solve multiple problems at once. The reason I referred to him as an authoritarian is because of his attitude that things can only be accomplished his way. In his opinion we must cure malaria before any other problems are solved in developing societies. He doesn’t consider the possibility that getting access to the collected knowledge of mankind may allow somebody in one of those developing societies, somebody who is used to solving large problems with few resources, may be able to come up with a more efficient way of solving the malaria problem than vaccinations.

There’s no reason multiple problems can’t be worked on simultaneously. Eradicating malaria and providing Internet connectivity can be done at the same time. In fact achieving one goal may help achieve the other.

As the saying goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Just because the solution you’ve developed may work in the long run doesn’t mean it’s the only, or even best, solution.