In a recent interview with Bloomberg News, Microsoft founder Bill Gates showed a flair for competitive altruism, repeatedly knocking Google’s Project Loon in favor of his own efforts to combat malaria.
Project Loon, Google’s ambitious new effort to send internet-connected balloons in the skies over undeveloped regions to provide wireless internet access, is apparently just not humanitarian enough for Mr. Gates, who seems to think that malaria is the only game in town. “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,” said Gates.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has spent multiple millions combating malaria in developing countries around the world, and so it is understandable that Gates is passionate about this cause. But is Google’s effort really so trivial as to merit a dismissive rant from a fellow philanthropist?
According to the Project Loon website, “Project Loon balloons float in the stratosphere, twice as high as airplanes and the weather. They are carried around the Earth by winds and they can be steered by rising or descending to an altitude with winds moving in the desired direction. People connect to the balloon network using a special Internet antenna attached to their building. The signal bounces from balloon to balloon, then to the global Internet back on Earth.”
From where I am sitting this is an astounding idea, and if it works as intended it could be a major game changer for entrepreneurs in the world’s poorest countries. But I am not Bill Gates, for whom this project may be neat, just not malaria-cure neat. “Certainly I’m a huge believer in the digital revolution,” Gates said to Bloomberg. “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.”
So there you have it: Google’s little project, which incidentally could change the world, is just a distraction from the malaria menace, which Google would be focusing on if it had any sense. Call me cynical, but it seems that the world’s richest man is a tad too competitive when it comes to doing good for the world’s poor.
See a video explanation of Project Loon here: How Project Loon works