Mr Gates took the time to answer a decent amount of questions in an "ask me anything" thread over on reddit.
The basics of the optical telegraph are relatively simple. You stand in a tower and perform an action which can be seen by a person in another tower. That action is translated into a message, which can then be routed to another tower until it reaches its intended recipient.What I find interesting is that there was nothing fundamentally to stop the Romans - or any other ancient civilization - from creating such a network. The Greeks experimented with it in 4BCE but it seems it never really caught on. Tower building is easy, as is flag waving or other mechanical forms of signalling. Their technology was certainly capable of building a proto-Internet. That would have had some profound changes to our history.
Warren Buffett, probably the world's most successful investor, has said that anything good that happened to him could be traced back to the fact that he was born in the right country, the United States, at the right time (1930). A quarter of a century ago, when The World in 1988 light-heartedly ranked 50 countries according to where would be the best place to be born in 1988, America indeed came top. But which country will be the best for a baby born in 2013?
When is the last time you heard a statement that caused you to stop dead in your tracks? It doesn't happen very often, but for each of us, there are a few unusual sound bites that will permeate our senses and sway our thinking. On these rare occasions, it's usually a statement by someone we trust, with the power, authority, and credibility to make such a declaration. However, inside all of the statements the world finds important are the creme de la creme, the Richter scale shifting assertions that really stand out. These are statements so insightful and memorable that they have the power to change the course of history. For this reason, I wanted to focus on eight shocking statements made in 2012, and discuss briefly how they will invariably shift our outlook on the future. Here are the eight statements we've judged to be trend-setters for 2013 and beyond.
For more than 260 years, the contents of that page--and the details of this ritual--remained a secret. They were hidden in a coded manuscript, one of thousands produced by secret societies in the 18th and 19th centuries. At the peak of their power, these clandestine organizations, most notably the Freemasons, had hundreds of thousands of adherents, from colonial New York to imperial St. Petersburg. Dismissed today as fodder for conspiracy theorists and History Channel specials, they once served an important purpose: Their lodges were safe houses where freethinkers could explore everything from the laws of physics to the rights of man to the nature of God, all hidden from the oppressive, authoritarian eyes of church and state. But largely because they were so secretive, little is known about most of these organizations. Membership in all but the biggest died out over a century ago, and many of their encrypted texts have remained uncracked, dismissed by historians as impenetrable novelties.
Looking forward 500 years requires us to make some assumptions. In the absence of breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, mind uploading, or longevity research (which it would be foolhardy to dismiss on this kind of timescale) none of us are going to be around in any form to observe it. We appear to be living close to the peak of a demographic bubble that will see our population max out or be in decline by 2100. Longevity breakthroughs (as in: a cure for the aging process, and all diseases that currently prevent us from reaching our maximum age) might smear out the descent, but unless old people suddenly start to have more children, it's not going to change it. Longevity breakthroughs would slow down the rate of change of demographic groups, but only in the medium term. 500 years is close to the human mean life expectancy if all medical causes of death are abolished: eventually an accident or violence will get you. So, demographically, the world of 2512 isn't going to resemble our world very closely at all, although it's anyone's guess at this stage as to who will prosper.
Sixty five years ago today, Captain Charles Yeager became the first man to travel faster than the speed of sound in his X-1 aircraft. Daredevil Felix Baumgartner just became the first man to accomplish the same feat without a plane -- or indeed any assistance at all. In an almost unimaginable stunt, the 43-year old Austrian has jumped from a specially constructed balloon at over 128,000 feet (39km) above the earth, breaking the world record for high-altitude skydives and speeds in free fall.
Not once in any Star Wars movie does someone pick up a book or newspaper, magazine, literary journal, or chapbook handmade by an aspiring Jawa poet. If something is read by someone in Star Wars, it's almost certainly off of a screen (and even then, maybe being translated by a droid), and it's definitely not for entertainment purposes. As early as the 1990s-era expanded Star Wars books and comic books, we're introduced to ancient Jedi "texts" called holocrons, which are basically talking holographic video recordings. Just how long has the Star Wars universe been reliant on fancy technology to transfer information as opposed to the written word? Is it possible that a good number of people in Star Wars are completely illiterate?
Tina Porter, 26. She's what you need for the transpacific trade issues you just mentioned, Alan. Her dissertation speaks for itself, she even learned Korean..." He pauses. "But?..." Asks the HR guy. "She's afflicted with acute migraine. It occurs at least a couple of times a month. She's good at concealing it, but our data shows it could be a problem", Chen said. "How the hell do you know that?" "Well, she falls into this particular Health Cluster. In her Facebook babbling, she sometimes refers to a spike in her olfactory sensitivity -- a known precursor to a migraine crisis. In addition, each time, for a period of several days, we see a slight drop in the number of words she uses in her posts, her vocabulary shrinks a bit, and her tweets, usually sharp, become less frequent and more nebulous. That's an obvious pattern for people suffering from serious migraine. In addition, the Zeo Sleeping Manager website and the stress management site HeartMath -- both now connected with Facebook - suggest she suffers from insomnia. In other words, Alan, we think you can't take Ms Porter in the firm. Our Predictive Workforce Expenditure Model shows that she will cost you at least 15% more in lost productivity. Not to mention the patterns in her Facebook entries suggesting a 75% chance for her to become pregnant in the next 18 months, again according to our models." "Not exactly a disease from what I know. But OK, let's move on".
Salt consumption is said to raise blood pressure, cause hypertension and increase the risk of premature death. This is why the Department of Agriculture's dietary guidelines still consider salt Public Enemy No. 1, coming before fats, sugars and alcohol. It's why the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has suggested that reducing salt consumption is as critical to long-term health as quitting cigarettes.And yet, this eat-less-salt argument has been surprisingly controversial -- and difficult to defend. Not because the food industry opposes it, but because the actual evidence to support it has always been so weak.