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Bill Gates slams Google's 'Project Loon' balloon internet plans

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Project Loon
Google Project Loon

Former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates has hit out at Google's plans to provide internet access to people in developing nations, by suspending hot air balloons in the sky.

Gates, who now spends most of his time and money trying to wipe out malaria and polio through his charity foundation, says Google's lofty plans won't be of much use to the millions of children dying of the disease in third-world countries.

Google's 'pie in the sky' Project Loon scheme aims to provide internet access to the two thirds of the world that can't yet get online, by floating Wi-Fi-enabled balloons on the edge of space.

The plan, which is still very much in the proof of concept stage, is to those in the developing world and remote areas access to education and medical professionals.

However Gates says Google's plans won't help the core issues, while insinuating Google should be doing more to help the poor and, essentially, be more like Bill.

He told Bloomberg: When you’re dying of malaria, I suppose you’ll look up and see that balloon, and I’m not sure how it’ll help you. When a kid gets diarrhea, no, there’s no website that relieves that. Certainly I’m a huge believer in the digital revolution. And connecting up primary-health-care centers, connecting up schools, those are good things. But no, those are not, for the really low-income countries, unless you directly say we’re going to do something about malaria.

"Google started out saying they were going to do a broad set of things. They hired Larry Brilliant [the former director of Google's charitable arm Google.org], and they got fantastic publicity. And then they shut it all down. Now they’re just doing their core thing. Fine. But the actors who just do their core thing are not going to uplift the poor."

What are your thoughts on Bill's explosive comments? Is Google doing its bit through increasing tech opportunities in the developing world, or should it turn its attentions to directly helping those in need? Let us know in the comments below.

Meanwhile, here's a look at what Google's up to with Project Loon.

David

August 9, 2013, 6:46 am

If the picture at the top is anything to go by, the third-world countries they are targeting first are Australia and New Zealand.

Prem Desai

August 9, 2013, 8:55 am

Though I have a soft spot for Bill nowadays, I do believe he needs to look at the wider picture.

Google is an information company - not a disease healer. Let them do what they do best.

By providing internet access to these areas, it can actually facilitate medical treatment to those who need it.

I
have witnessed video-conferencing between a city doctor and a villager
who needed treatment. Without internet access in place, this would not
have been a possibility.

NotOverlyConvinced

August 9, 2013, 8:57 am

having grown up in various 3rd world countries I truly believe that education (and information) is more important that a cure for anything. What is point of all of these children surviving when there is no clean water (or any water), famines, wars etc. Education can teach people how to combat most ailments themselves. How to prevent mosquito breeding by ensuring that there is no stagnant water, how to avoid cholera by building latrines. Then in addition teach them to build wells, to manage crops and so on.

Gates is not breaking the cycle, just ensuring that the next generation of children will be larger, hungrier and thirstier than before. Rather than saving a life, Gates should be thinking about saving a generation, and information can do that...

Emil Albihn Henriksson

August 9, 2013, 9:47 am

You can always argue about whether anyone is sufficiently charitable in light of their means as well as questioning whether something will actually help at all before something else is done (and maybe Gate's comment has merit in these respects). That being said, I think there's an important distinction to be made between charity/CSR and CSV (creating shared value), and on the face of it, this seems to be the latter, which even Gates seems to appreciate, i.e. Google doing something related to its business (and which it is good at) while at the same time creating value for others. Thus, any critique that they should do more in other fields seems unrelated to this, albeit that if the project creates no value (e.g. because there are no access to computers in the first place), then that would be a relevant critique

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