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So long, succour: Bill Gates is taking out a copyright on kindness


IT looks as though Bill Gates is going to use his immense ‘leverage’ to do with disease control what he did with the computer industry. 

Over the course of two decades, I attended many a press announcement by Gates’s computer company. Monopolosoft – I think that’s what they were called. Based on this experience, I have low expectation of the soon-to-be-renamed Billanthropy sector.

Hang on, he’s a rich man using his own hard-earned money to benefit society. So, jealousy aside, what’s my problem with his cure for Covid? Why can’t his Corona Coup be compatible with my happiness?

It’s the power lust and the lack of humility that worry me about William H Gates III. Gates 3.0 exemplifies the philanthropy paradox. You don’t get to be a philanthropist by being nice.

Gates is giving away billions of dollars. He was the world’s richest man for some time, leaving softies like George Soros, Elon Musk and Warren Buffet trailing in his wake.

It’s dangerous criticising anyone from the Surveillance Classes these days. They don’t just know where you live, they know 12,000 other ‘data points’ (sources of intelligence) about you, according to industry veteran Jaron Lanier. 

As Lanier says in his book, having raked up your private life more ruthlessly than the combined efforts of Piers Morgan and Ben The Bin Man Pell the Silicon Stasi aren’t too fussy about who they sell your intimacy to.

Who cares though? Surely all is fair in love, war and software licensing agreements. If Gates has emerged from the brutal business of technology with billions of dollars to spend on vaccine research, surely we all benefit. 

Where’s the harm in a geek bearing gifts?

Even questioning the motives of Mr Gates makes you a ‘conspiracy theorist’, according to this writer in Forbes magazine. 

There is something about this article that exemplifies my unease with Billanthropy. The tone of the piece shows how much the technology industry has changed reporting. I remember when technology writers wanted to be journalists rather than a channel of the advertising ‘revenue stream’.

Should we worry about the future of philanthropy once Bill Gates takes it over? 

I don’t expect Billanthropy to be widely compatible with any other types of good deed. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Gates Foundation’s legal team starts to take out patents on virtues.

Soon, if a Boy Scout wants to help an old lady across the road, he’ll have to pay a Benefactor-ware License Agreement. If he doesn’t, of course, his parents will be tracked down through the judicious planting of software agents and they’ll be fined accordingly.

Naturally, Gates will celebrate diversity in the largesse league. However, any Succour start-ups that are tempted to invent new types of kindness can expect to be neutralised pretty quickly. 

Sometimes their methods will be copied. Sometimes – if the company has good lawyers – they will be bought up and then kicked into the long grass, where they will die out.

As students of the 1998 United States v Microsoft case will know, Gates is great at arguing. Wikipedia reports that he wrangled with examiner David Boies over the contextual meaning of pretty unambiguous words such as competeconcerned and even we

Even the judge was seen laughing and shaking his head and he ruled that Microsoft had committed monopolisation, tying and blocking competition, each in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. But by then Microsoft had won the war, if not the legal battle.

If Billanthropy does lead to the creation of a vaccine, it won’t necessarily be compatible with any other form of medicine. It might later transpire, a few global pandemics later, that the vaccine was rushed out and was full of bugs. 

In collaboration with the appropriate authorities, there may have to be a co-ordinated switching off and switching on again of the global economy.

This is the era of ‘the cloud’, which means we can expect the software of Private Initiatives and the hardware of The Public Good to be decoupled. This means you can do the creative stuff, telling people how wonderful you are, without having to provide any of the tiresome old hardware of proof.

This decoupling of software and hardware gave virtuosity unlimited liquidity and it can be applied anywhere in the world. So you can ignore that old lady next door (who is going to see that?) and instead travel to London and ‘take the knee’ in Trafalgar Square in front of the world’s media.

This virtuosity created the conditions for the Emotional Currency Exchange (EMOTEX), which has liberalised moral grandstanding. This in turn has created the perfect conditions for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s takeover of the philanthropy space.

Who will be able to offer competitive insights into the human condition? Not Elon Musk, sadly. The astronaut was emerging as an Alpha Altruist, according to Which Corporate Gesture magazine. 

‘When Musk is in a meeting with other compassionistas, he’s got to be the most relaxed guy in the room,’ an admirer once said. But then came that incident in 2018, when Musk queered his pitch in a spat with a rival rescuer. Sadly, his choice of language couldn’t have been worse.  

Musk, the would-be spaceman, has ‘one small step for a man and a giant lip for mankind’.

Gates, the offspring of two corporate lawyers, is not a creative technologist as much as an estate agent who saw how huge Computerville was getting and invested in the intellectual property market. 

I fear for our future once Mr Gates becomes the de facto proprietor of human coding. 

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Nick Booth
Nick Booth
Nick Booth is a freelance writer.

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