PITTSBURGH - Even Bill Gates gets spam. The Microsoft Corp. chairman showed a Carnegie Mellon University audience of several hundred people, many of them computer science and computer engineer students, examples of the unsolicited e-mail he sometimes gets in his inbox.
One piece of spam offered university diplomas. Another promised an easy way out of debt. A third asked if the recipient was frustrated about legal concerns.
Gates, a billionaire college dropout whose company agreed to settle antitrust complaints with the U.S. Justice Department and 18 states, said he gets a kick out of what ends up in his inbox.
Wednesday marked Gates' first trip to Carnegie Mellon University and was part of a five-campus tour during which he will also visit Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cornell. On Tuesday, Gates spoke at the University of Illinois.
Not only is spam a way for people to spread malicious code, but it's is also an extreme example of inefficiencies that lead to sluggish productivity, Gates said. Multiple phone numbers and other ineffective modes of communication and business activity also slow workers down, Gates said.
Sophisticated software, such as one that streamlines e-mail, instant messaging and other methods of communication, is the key to improving productivity and should arrive soon, Gates said. This software will also change the way people document their personal lives and interests, he said.
"The economy is largely made up of people dealing with information. If you have somebody designing a new product or providing customer service or working with a customer on a purchasing situation, their ability to do their job is based on navigating through information, knowing what's going on, communicating with people at a distance," Gates said. "Advancing productivity is the magic thing that creates jobs and makes the products and goods available far better. And the productivity we gave (in the 1990s) is a very small percentage of what will be able to give in the next decade."
Microsoft and Carnegie Mellon have had a relationship for about two decades. The company is one of the founders of Carnegie Mellon's West Coast campus and it has provided the school with several research grants.
Andrew J. Klosterman, a Carnegie Mellon doctoral candidate, said Gates sent students a message the industry has made sufficient advancements in hardware development and in the next 10 or 15 years there needs to be a leap in software development.
"We had the hardware for 20 years and understand it pretty well. It's getting smaller and smaller. It's getting cheaper and showing up everywhere. It the advancements in software and networking that will tie all these pieces together," Klosterman said.
Gates predicted that the average computer user will be able to store all the movies they have ever watched, all the books they have ever read and much more information on a desktop computer, a laptop or a device as small as a watch.
"There's clearly a revolution taking place in how consume music, how we deal with photos. And it won't only be photos, it will be movies, and photos, and audio, and animation, and simple presentation ... dealing with cherished memories and making them accessible," Gates said. "A lot of things need to be done to take advantage of this revolution for digital media."