Losing ground in the innovation race?

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates says that despite the promise of the technology industry, fewer young people than ever are choosing to study computer science.

3 min read
Computers will change our lives more in the next 10 years than they have in the last 20.

Not only are people relying on them for more of the things they do every day, but the pace of computing innovation has never been faster. Processing power continues to advance, according to Moore's Law, while network bandwidth, wireless, storage and graphics capabilities are growing at even faster rates.

This is revolutionizing how we live. Many of the things we use every day--from entertainment systems and telephones to kitchen appliances and even wristwatches--are morphing into computers capable of communicating with PCs or any other computerized device in our homes.

The next generation of scientists, engineers and researchers will really make this happen.
The result is that computers are becoming so ubiquitous, they are literally disappearing into the fabric of our lives--and becoming so intuitive to use that we hardly notice them.

All this makes it a great time to be in the computer industry. The abundance of hardware and connectivity is making it possible to tackle some of the biggest challenges in computer science.

Can we make tomorrow's computers unfailingly reliable and secure? Is it possible to create computers that can see, listen, speak and learn like human beings can?

Can we find new ways to seamlessly connect the technology in our lives--so that, for instance, the minute you add new songs to your digital music collection, you'll be able to listen to them on everything from your portable media player to your car's stereo system?

Can we create innovative new technologies to help people navigate the growing world of digital information to find the data they really need?

These kinds of breakthroughs are the engine of our country's economy, and they depend on a number of key factors.

Federal support for research and development, particularly through our universities, is crucial. It drives long-term technology advances that help create new companies and jobs--or entire industries--which, in turn, generates tax revenue that can be invested in further innovation.

The abundance of hardware and connectivity is making it possible to tackle some of the biggest challenges in computer science.
The Internet boom was the result of this cycle of innovation: As a product of government, business and academic work, it accounted for more than one-third of economic growth in the United States during the late 1990s.

But we're losing ground in another part of the innovation process: finding the smart, motivated people that can make these breakthroughs happen. Fewer young people are choosing to study computer science, despite all the challenging problems we have yet to solve and the incredible potential of the technology industry.

We need talented computer scientists more than ever. As computers become increasingly central to our lives, they must achieve a level of reliability far beyond anything we can achieve today. We need new ways to understand the large-scale computer systems of tomorrow and new ways to program them.

Software and hardware advances have cleared the way for more natural interfaces, yet we still have lots of work to do in bringing the speech and vision capabilities of the computer closer to that of humans. Computers are becoming better learners, distinguishing legitimate e-mail from spam and translating simple documents or modeling specific areas of human knowledge. But we still haven't achieved a level of computer intelligence that would pass the famous "Turing test."

Many of these challenges are software problems, and I think that the solutions are within reach. Moreover, the commitment of government and the private sector to invest in the future remains strong. This year, for example, Microsoft will invest $6.8 billion in research and development, working alongside governments and universities to create the fundamental software breakthroughs that will help push computing forward.

But it's the next generation of scientists, engineers and researchers that will really make this happen. That's why I'm spending this week visiting some of our country's best universities, talking to students and faculty about how we can work together and encouraging a larger and more diverse pool of computer science students.

Some of these students might join technology companies like Microsoft after they graduate, while others may stay and teach, work in other industries or launch their own ventures. Regardless of what they do when they leave school, my priority is to help them realize their own incredible potential--and that of America's computer industry. The future won't happen without them.