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Gates: Privacy a 'challenge' as software advances

Microsoft's chairman says society will need "more explicit rules" for privacy as software further develops and technology becomes more pervasive.

HONG KONG--As software gets more powerful, privacy issues pose an "interesting software challenge," says 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 here to mark the 10th anniversary of Microsoft Research Asia, one of the software giant's research arms.

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

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

Noting that 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.

"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," Gates said.

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

"Software innovation will be pervasive; it will happen to other things in our lives, like our cars and our TVs," he said.

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,

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.

Victoria Ho of ZDNet Asia reported from Hong Kong.