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Bill Gates - Carnegie Mellon University

September 22, 2009
Prepared remarks by Bill Gates, co-chair and trustee

Thank you. I’m excited to be part of this celebration to dedicate the Gates Center for Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon. It’s an honor to be here, and it’s a privilege to be involved in the creation of this incredible new building.

Of course many other people have played important roles in making this day possible. I’d like to thank Carnegie Mellon president Jerry Cohon and CMU’s board of trustees for their vision and support, as well as professor Guy Blelloch, who travelled across the country to gather ideas from successful academic buildings to ensure that the Gates and Hillman Centers meet the demanding goals laid out by the faculty of the School of Computer Science.

I’d also like to thank Henry and Elise Hillman for their vital contributions to this project.

Many other people have given generously to make these buildings possible, including more than 20 current Microsoft employees. It’s not an accident or a coincidence that so many Microsoft people have contributed to this project. The link between Microsoft and Carnegie Mellon has always been strong. The list of distinguished alumnae and former professors who have been a key part of Microsoft’s success is long, and includes Rick Rashid, Anoop Gupta, Arnold Blinn, and Harry Shum.

Many of these people provided significant donations to help make this building possible. I know they are all thrilled to have this opportunity to give back to CMU for the important role it has played in their careers, and for the many groundbreaking contributions this university has made to the field of computer science during the past half century.

If anything, the connection between Microsoft and CMU is stronger than ever. We work with Carnegie Mellon to recruit the brightest young minds in the industry every year. And today, Microsoft Research and CMU are collaborating on a wide range of projects spanning some of the most promising areas for progress in computer science.

The Gates Foundation also works closely with CMU. One example is the Foundation’s support for Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative. This important effort aims to develop innovative online learning environments based on adaptive and intelligent tutoring systems, virtual labs, and simulations. I’m excited by the early results of this work, which have shown that students in a course that combines classroom instruction and an online learning environment can master material twice as fast as students studying in a traditional classroom alone.

The goal of Gates Foundation support for the Online Learning Initiative is to develop online learning environments and use them at 40 community colleges to achieve a 25 percent increase in completion rates for class requirements that are critical to graduation. Eventually, this work could serve as a model for new approaches that will transform learning at all levels of our education system.

There are a lot of reasons to be impressed by this building. It incorporates innovative energy conservation features and it was designed to connect students, teachers, and researchers to each other here and across the campus in a way that will encourage the kind of interdisciplinary collaboration that is essential to discovery in today’s interconnected world.

As impressive as this building is, it’s the thinking that will take place here that impresses me the most.

The fact is that pioneering work in computer science research and computer science education has been going on here for more than half a century. And when I look across the School of Computer Science, I know this legacy of progress, innovation, and discovery will continue through the incredible work underway today to advance the state of the art in computing, and transform the way we use digital technology in every aspect of science, research, medicine, and our day-to-day lives.

Robotics is just one example. For more than 30 years, CMU’s Robotics Institute has defined the field of robotics research. Advances in robotic technology developed here have played a significant role in everything from the cleanup of Three Mile Island to the exploration of Mars.

Today, work underway at Carnegie Mellon includes efforts to understand how to create cognitive behavioral states that enable robots to focus only on information that is relevant to the task at hand, and research that will help teams of robots communicate with each other. The results will move us closer to the day when robots that can operate efficiently, effectively, and autonomously on our behalf in the real world.

In addition, projects to explore issues related to human-robot social interaction will help open the door to a new generation of robots that can recognize our intent, detect our level of interest, and perform in ways that are personalized and socially appropriate.

Microsoft has long had great ongoing relationships with a number of researchers at the Robotics Institute, including Red Whitaker, Manuela Veloso, Matt Mason, and many others. We appreciate the encouragement they offered that helped Microsoft make the decision to participate in the emerging robotics industry. We’re glad to have played a role in the launch of the Center for Innovative Robotics, which was created to bring the robotics community together to share knowledge and ideas so that individuals and businesses can help drive progress in robotic technology. And we’re excited to be part of the innovative research to define human-robot interaction through the use of a robot that roams the halls of Carnegie Mellon distributing snacks.

Language Technologies is another area where Carnegie Mellon researchers have long been at the forefront of progress. The use of Hidden Markov Models for speech recognition was pioneered here in 1974. Other breakthroughs include Lycos, the first large-scale search engine, and Sphinx, the first speech recognition system that could understand untrained speakers.


Today, researchers at the Language Technologies Institute are focused on some of the challenges that still make it difficult for people to access the right information at the right time in a form that is truly useful. Natural language processing and computational linguistics are just two areas where CMU researchers are leading the way. The efforts to automate linguistic analysis and understand and model human language have profound implications for the way people use technology to tackle issues in global health, education, and development.

In particular, I’m excited by work here on spoken language systems that have the potential to make it far easier and far more cost effective to deliver healthcare information and educational resources to people who have little or no access today. I’m also deeply interested in efforts to develop collaborative learning environments that use digital technology to improve learning and expand the reach of high-quality instruction.

During the past half-century, Carnegie Mellon has built an amazing record of achievement in computer science. But I firmly believe you are just at the start of a much longer path that will lead to many more pioneering advances.

Today, we’re in the midst of a remarkable transformation that will see computing revolutionize scientific discovery. Already, computing technology is the foundation for almost all scientific research. The ability to collect massive amounts of data in digital form and share it across the Internet has changed the way we drive progress in every field of science.

But that’s just the beginning. We’re on the verge of truly transformative change as multicore architectures, client plus cloud computing, natural user interfaces, and even quantum computing provide the foundation for new approaches to understanding the world around us.

These advances will enable us to create a data-driven approach to science that will allow us to tackle some of the extraordinary challenges we face in healthcare, education, energy and the environment, privacy, public safety, and more.

In healthcare, data-driven medicine and the ability to compute genomics and proteomics on a personal scale will fundamentally change how medicine is practiced. Medical data will be available in real time to be analyzed against each person’s individual characteristics, ensuring that medical care is truly personal. Massive-scale data analytics will allow us to track disease so we can respond quickly to potential pandemics. All of these advances will help medicine scale to meet the needs of the more than 4 billion people who lack even basic care today.

Similar advances combined with the widespread use of low-cost sensors will help us tackle a wide range of environmental and climate issues. These advances will help us understand the impact of climate change. More important, they will lead to breakthroughs in energy technologies that will enable us to reduce emissions from transportation and electricity generation to zero. I believe it is these advances that will be the key to addressing global warming successfully.

We’ll also see the emergence of computing systems that have contextual awareness and can provide the kind of proactive assistance that takes human helpers today. For researchers, this will mean deeper scientific insight, richer discovery, and faster breakthroughs. We’ll also see new data delivery systems that offer new ways to visualize, analyze, and interact with data.

Some of these advances are being developed here at Carnegie Mellon right now. Others will shape the way a new generation of students and faculty use the classrooms, lecture halls, and public spaces of the Gates Center to drive tomorrow’s breakthroughs.

For more than 50 years, the smartest minds in the world have come to this department at this university to work together to explore what is possible when you apply digital technology to the world’s most challenging problems.

I have no doubt that the next 50 years will see an incredible outpouring of new ideas and important advances here at Carnegie Mellon. My hope is that this new building will serve as a catalyst for some of the great work to come.

I’m inspired by what I see here before me today. I’m inspired by the building itself and the people who came together to make it possible. More than that, I’m inspired by the collection of great minds who will work and learn here, and by the opportunities that lie before all of you to use your creativity and knowledge to continue to change the world for the better.

I look forward to following your work. I can’t wait to see the advances you deliver and the progress you make possible. Thank you.

In this speech to Carnegie Mellon University, Bill Gates speaks about the research and scientific advances that "will allow us to tackle some of the extraordinary challenges we face in healthcare, education, energy and the environment, privacy, public safety, and more."
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