Digging through nearly 35,000 posts and comments, I set out to find more personal questions--not so much about his foundation's enormous philanthropic efforts to make our future better and safer (although they're included here), but questions that revealed the humanity of Bill Gates.
Here are the 9 top questions (and some rather surprisingly candid answers by Gates) that captured my attention.
What do you think the greatest threat to humanity is at this moment?
Gates: There are some things that aren't likely but we should worry about: nuclear bombs and bioterrorism (from nation states or terrorism), or a big pandemic. This is the 100th anniversary of the Spanish flu and if it came back the amount of travel would make it spread faster than it did last time.
Once you get past those threats then the biggest question is global cooperation to avoid climate change and reduce the risk of war. It is disconcerting to see a rise of countries turning inwards and not investing in alliances which have helped us avoid big wars since World War 2.
Climate change is a real test of how we can work together globally since it is a complex problem where major changes need to be done well in advance of the big harms.
What do you think you, personally, should be paying in taxes each year?
Gates: I think our system can be a lot more progressive (that is, richer people paying a higher share). A key element is making capital gains taxation more like ordinary income (some have suggested making them the same) and having an estate tax more like we had in the past (55 percent above $3.5M). If people want the government to do more it needs to be funded and I see us needing to improve our education and health services. So yes, I have paid $10B, but I should have had to pay more on my capital gains.
What would you still like to achieve that you haven't?
Gates: The goal of the Foundation is that all kids grow up healthy, no matter where they are born. That means getting rid of malaria and many of the other diseases that affect poor countries. It should be achievable in my lifetime.
What's a piece of technology that's theoretical now that you wish you could make possible immediately?
Gates: If I had one wish to make a new technology it would be a solution to malnutrition. Almost half the kids in poor countries grow up without their body or brain developing fully so they miss most of their potential. Second would be an HIV vaccine.
What have you been watching on Netflix and/or TV right now?
Gates: Melinda and I watch things like "Silicon Valley," "This is Us," and "A Million Little Things." I watched "The Americans" with my son (too violent for Melinda). I watched "Narcos" by myself. "Billions," "Lie to Me," "Friday Night Lights," "American Vandal," "Black Mirror." There are so many good shows--people tell me about them but I can't watch them all!
What are your book recommendations that will make an impact on people, professionally or personally?
Gates: I read a lot of non-fiction. There are so many great books. I do reviews on gatesnotes.com. I am reading Hacking Darwin now -- about gene editing getting very popular and what policies should control the usage. I love books that explain things like Smil's Energy and Civilization or all of Pinker's books. Factfulness by The Roslings is very readable -- a great place to start to get a framework for the progress of humanity.
Are you happy?
Gates: Yes! When I was in my 30's I didn't think people in their 60s were very smart or had much fun. Now I have had a counter-revelation. Ask me in 20 years and I will tell you how smart 80 year olds are.
Through it all...what makes you happy?
Gates: Some recently said that when your children are doing well it really is very special, and as a parent, I completely agree. Sometimes following through on commitments to yourself, like doing more exercise also improves your happiness.
If you could go back in time and give your younger self advice, what would you say?
Gates: I was overly intense and socially inept. I would try and make myself more self-aware without getting rid of the focus and desire to learn. You get a chance with your kids to help them avoid the mistakes you made.