Podium: Introducing the web workstyle

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The Independent Culture
Bill Gates

From a speech given

by the chairman of Microsoft to the

Manhattan Institute,

a New York think-tank

IT'S INTERESTING to consider that two decades ago, when people thought about the future, they had a very different view. They saw the US as falling behind. Everybody looked at the industrial model, particularly in Japan, and its willingness to invest very long term, and its larger innovations, and thought that these companies would lead the way in the computer industry. In fact, much the opposite took place. Today we can say without a doubt that the US is at the centre of the information and medical technology that's really changing the world.

Now, why is this? Perhaps the humility that we had 20 years ago, and going back and re-examining how we did things, was part of it. But I would say even more central was the attitude toward risk, and toward free markets.

We see incredible levels of investment in this country in new and unproven things. And even though some of these Internet valuations will certainly be proven to be excessive, the basic idea of accelerating the investment into this new area is really a fantastic thing. We're also seeing proof of the importance of collaboration between businesses and the great universities in this country. I believe that the world of information technology will continue to surprise people.

There are several reasons for this. The first is that exponential improvement just is unknown in any other endeavour. Having something get twice as good again, again, and again moves it past absolute limits.

The ability to have kids make animated movies and store them and edit them, which today would require a workstation worth hundreds of thousands of dollars - that will certainly be a standard feature of a computer that costs only a few hundred dollars. The fact that computers will be able to understand speech; the fact that they'll be able to speak to you; the fact that you'll be able to hand-write on a tablet that has resolution as good as paper and those notes will be recorded and transmitted in the way that you want them to be - those things change how we relate to the device very, very dramatically.

And every one of those things will happen within the next decade.

The other reason that people are still underestimating the impact is that, as this device gets to critical mass, as it's broadly accepted, then we'll start to take even more advantage of it. It will become the medium for business and communication. In schools today textbooks are designed to be on paper. The investment that the textbook industry makes is totally assuming that form factor. But some time in the next decade that will shift, and all the curriculum will be designed to help the teacher in a digital fashion

And the world of business is still very, very paper-oriented.

I want to introduce a new term, which is the Web work style. This is the idea of a new style of work that's utterly dependent on using digital information. It's quite different from the way people work right now. Although they may use personal computers to create documents, edit documents and annotate documents, and they may use e-mail to stay in touch, most of the information they work with ends up on paper.

If they want to see a sales report, if they want to send a bill to another company, if they want to go to a meeting and have something to hand out to people, that is done totally in paper. And what it means is that there's an incredible overhead. If you get one of those bits of paper and you don't understand it, if you disagree with it, then you're calling up somebody who has to find somebody to look into that. If you want to take that information - say it's your phone bill - and you want to relate it to various cost centres you have in the company, you have to re-enter the data and classify the data. Well, all of that will go away. It will simply be a series of bits that are transmitted and then automatically categorised. And there will be rules that you set up that can trigger and say: "Is this unusually large? Is it different from what I would have expected?" And notify somebody who will pay attention to that.

This ability to collaborate in a digital form will change more than the efficiency of business. Efficiency is an amazing thing, and it's not just companies that you think of as being in the information business.

Even companies you think of as manufacturers devote more money to their information workers than they do to their factory workers. And those workers are doing product design; they're doing things that will be dramatically better when done in a digital fashion. This Web work style will change the boundaries of business. So, let's keep innovating.