Bill Gates: I feel stupid for only speaking English

Technically Incorrect: The Microsoft co-founder admires Mark Zuckerberg's grasp of Chinese and laments his own linguistic inabilities.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


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"Je would like un coupe de cafe, s'il vous please." American Enterprise Institute/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Having spoken two languages since my earliest years, I can reveal there is one advantage.

If someone really annoys you -- especially a referee during a tense soccer match -- you can say the most glorious things to them and watch their blank faces not being able to register what was said.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates must have been on the receiving end, once or twice in his life, of someone saying something about him in a foreign tongue, while he is none the wiser.

He's a lot shorter in real life, isn't he Jose?

Today, Gates gave his third AMA ("AskMeAnything") to Reddit and perhaps his greatest personal confession was this: "I feel pretty stupid that I don't know any foreign languages. I took Latin and Greek in high school and got A's and I guess it helps my vocabulary but I wish I knew French or Arabic or Chinese."

It's interesting that he has a desire to speak French. It's not as if this language has become in any way universal. Does Gates like how it sounds? Could he think speaking French would add to his sex appeal? All he would say is that of his three target languages, French is "the easiest."

In American companies, there's the simple expectation that everyone will speak English. However, the Microsoft co-founder expressed wonder at Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's dedication to a foreign tongue.

He said: "Mark Zuckerberg amazingly learned Mandarin and did a Q&A with Chinese students -- incredible."

The deeply cynical will suggest that Zuckerberg has two vast motivations: a wife of Chinese heritage and the desperate urge to ingratiate himself with the Chinese government, which isn't too keen on Facebook.

In the AMA, Gates also expressed his enthusiasm for the pace of technological change. "There will be more progress in the next 30 years than ever," he said.

Well, it all depends on your definition of progress.

For Gates, it means, for example: "Mechanical robot tasks like picking fruit or moving a hospital patient will be solved."

Are those humanity's priorities? Are we all desperate for machines to do these jobs?

Gates isn't quite as chipper -- as is VC Peter Thiel -- about living until he's 120.

Asked about extending his life and immortality research, he said: "It seems pretty egocentric, while we still have malaria and TB, for rich people to fund things so they can live longer. It would be nice to live longer though, I admit."

He also admitted that, despite his enthusiasm for robots, he really wants them to stay fairly stupid. He said: "I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence. First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don't understand why some people are not concerned."

We'd better not teach those robots French then.

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