Gates plans an end to spam in two years

A spam-free world by 2006? That's what Microsoft chairman Bill Gates is promising.

"Two years from now, spam will be solved," he told a select group of World Economic Forum participants in Davis, Switzerland. Gates said his company is working on a "magic solution" based on the concept of "proof" - identifying the sender of the e-mail.

One method involves requiring the sender to solve a puzzle that only a flesh-and-blood person can handle. Another is a "computational puzzle" that a computer sending only a few messages could easily handle, but that would be prohibitively expensive for a mass-mailer.

But the most promising, Gates said, was a method that would hit the sender of an e-mail in the pocket. People would set a level of monetary risk - low or high, depending on their own choice - for receiving e-mail from strangers.

If the e-mail turned out to be from a long-lost relative, for example, the recipient would charge nothing. But if it is unwanted spam, the sender would have to fork out the cash. "In the long run, the monetary [method] will be dominant," Gates predicted.

He conceded, however, that his prognostications have not always been on the mark. He misjudged the rising popularity of open-source software, epitomised by Linux, and the success of the Google search engine.

* Gates is to be awarded an honorary knighthood for "services to global enterprise". It is believed the recommendation was made by Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown.

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