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Gates highlights critical role of university research to maintain U.S. leadership in technology

– When the world's richest man gives his thoughts about the future of technology, people - especially engineering students seeking sage advice - listen.

On Friday, Bill Gates, chairman and chief software architect of Microsoft, spoke with Dean A. Richard Newton of the University of California, Berkeley's College of Engineering in a public conversation at Zellerbach Hall. The event drew an audience of nearly 1,500 people, consisting primarily of UC Berkeley students from the College of Engineering and the rest of campus, as well as a number of engineering faculty members.

When asked by Newton to advise the students about which areas of technology hold the most promise in the near future, Gates pointed out the growing importance of computer science in health and medical research. He also emphasized the promise of research in artificial intelligence that would allow computers to "see" and understand both text and images.

Gates addressed the effect of globalization on the technology industry, noting that competition from China and India is challenging the United States in a way that hasn't happened before.

"It's a fantastic thing that a large part of the world's population gets to participate in a capitalistic society," he said. "It's not a zero-sum game. It's not like war, where there's one winner and one loser."

During a question-and-answer session with students, Gates was asked how he balances being a philanthropist and a businessman, about the computer industry's impact on the environment, whether Microsoft would attract more students to its workforce if it didn't have antitrust troubles with the U.S. Justice Department and the European Commission, and to identify hot areas in the computer industry's future.

Gates emphasized during his hour on stage that research universities like Berkeley are a key part of continuing innovation in the field of technology, especially in the United States.

"I believe the university system is the number one thing that has allowed the U.S. to stay at the center of innovation," he said.

The event was sponsored by the UC Berkeley College of Engineering.