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Bill Gates says putting worldwide internet access before malaria research is 'a joke'

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Bill Gates (JStone /
Bill Gates (JStone /

Bill Gates is once again speaking out against the internet-first approach many tech leaders have taken to philanthropy. "As a priority? It’s a joke," Gates tells the Financial Times, when asked about how Mark Zuckerberg's plan to bring the whole world online compared to malaria research. "Hmm, which is more important, connectivity or malaria vaccine? If you think connectivity is the key thing, that’s great. I don’t." Though Gates still serves as Microsoft's chairman, most of his focus these days is in philanthropy through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, addressing quality of life issues including eradicating diseases and preventing childhood deaths.

"I certainly love the IT thing," Gates tells FT. "But when we want to improve lives, you've got to deal with more basic things like child survival, child nutrition."

"You've got to deal with more basic things like child survival, child nutrition."

Gates has previously criticized Google's Project Loon — which plans to use giant balloons to bring internet connections to developing countries — saying it wouldn't do much good if you were dying of malaria. While Gates' goal used to be seeing the proliferation of the PC, nowadays such things are far from a priority. "The world is not flat and PCs are not, in the hierarchy of human needs, in the first five rungs," Gates tells FT. He continues the thought later, while shooting down the idea that building new industries can be more important than giving away money. "We need children not to die, we need people to have an opportunity to get a good education."

But while Gates may want to spend his focus on philanthropy, he tells FT that Microsoft still takes up a large portion of his time. He's part of the committee looking for a replacement to Ballmer, and he still regularly meets with various Microsoft product groups. Even though Gates' can't leave his company behind, he consistently makes his priorities clear. While "technology's amazing," he tells FT, "It doesn't get down to the people most in need in anything near the timeframe we should want it to."