Gates, Allen & Yesterday’s Terabyte

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates wrote a heartfelt eulogy for his co-founder, Paul Allen, who passed away (earlier this month.) The eulogy has since been reprinted in The Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic and has been widely covered in other media outlets. He wrote:

Paul foresaw that computers would change the world. Even in high school, before any of us knew what a personal computer was, he was predicting that computer chips would get super-powerful and would eventually give rise to a whole new industry. That insight of his was the cornerstone of everything we did together.

In 2011, Paul Allen released his book, Ideas Man, he noted a particular incident in the book where Steve Ballmer (then Microsoft CEO) and Gates were deep in conversation when Allen walked in on them.

They were bemoaning my recent lack of production and discussing how they might dilute my Microsoft equity by issuing options to themselves and other shareholders. It was clear that they’d been thinking about this for some time. Unable to stand it any longer, I burst in on them and shouted: “This is unbelievable! It shows your true character, once and for all.” I was speaking to both of them, but staring straight at Bill. Caught red-handed, they were struck dumb. Before they could respond, I turned on my heel and left. I replayed their dialogue in my mind while driving home, and it felt more and more heinous to me.

The reality probably is somewhere in between, and we shall never know. But while reading Gates’ eulogy, I had a few thoughts run through my mind.

  • History is always revisionist. And those who have the platform, get to rewrite it based on their version of the truth, which in turn becomes the prevailing and dominant narrative.
  • Google has dreams of being an artificial intelligence giant. And yet, it can’t sift through its own index and add context and texture to the information. And nothing illustrates this more than Gates’ eulogy. The tortured history of the two protagonists is as important as the news itself.
  • If we need to fight the scourge of fake news, we need systems of record — Google, Facebook, and Twitter — to shift from being dominated by a time-based news feed to a contextual information system. It is the only way to find facts in this world dominated by half-truths and even more half-lies.

Otherwise, everything that is real is going to be buried under yesterday’s terabyte.

A letter from Om

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