By Andy Amend Hoya Staff Writer

Heralding a computer age he has been instrumental in bringing about, Microsoft Chairman and CEO William H. Gates stressed Thursday the need for businesses to adapt to new technology. Gates was promoting his second book, “Business The Speed of Thought: Using a Digital Nervous System,” in front of a Gaston Hall crowd of 750, mostly business students.

Gates, donning a navy McDonough School of Business sweatshirt, drew laughter from the crowd with his opening remarks that he was nervous to talk to students because “I’m a drop-out.” Gates, who is now the wealthiest man in the world, dropped out of Harvard during his junior year to work full-time at Microsoft, now the world’s leading software company.

Gates proceeded to outline the content of his book and reflect on technological advances he expects to see in the future, such as the hand-held personal computer, the automobile personal computer and Internet television. He emphasized the special role students have to play in spreading the use of technology, due to their familiarity with computers and willingness to use new products.

“Business is going to change more in the next 10 years than it has in the last 50,” said Gates, quoting from his book. Computer chips are doubling in speed every two years while the Internet continues to expand, creating to a technological revolution, Gates said. Only those companies that respond to these changes will remain competitive, he said.

Gates referred to three major aspects of the impact of technology, saying that individual consumers need to develop a “web-lifestyle,” workers should adjust to a “web-workstyle” and businesses must create a “digital nervous system.”

Having a web-lifestyle means that people should expect to find more and more information and services on the Internet, Gates said. He praised amazon.com, a service which sells books over the web, as the “poster child of electronic commerce.”

A web-workstyle refers to the way people expect to get information necessary for their jobs, according to Gates. Using the example of sales data, Gates said these important figures may not be immediately available to workers with innovative ideas. Successful companies will commit to putting personal computers on every desktop to allow for easy access to this sort of information, Gates said.

Gates told an amusing story about how he was once required to fill out a paper form at Microsoft that he did not completely understand. He responded by pushing Microsoft to eliminate all paper forms – replacing them with electronic forms that could be explained by software or email – except those required by the government.

“Now we have to work on the government,” Gates said, eliciting a chuckle from the audience. The federal government is currently prosecuting an anti-trust suit against Microsoft.

Gates compared the flow of information in an ideal business to that of the human nervous system – efficient and prioritized.

Businesses should be able to exchange information and perform transactions over the Internet, Gates said, while basic customer service jobs should be replaced by electronic services. As a result, all workers will eventually be free to contribute to companies in more productive ways, he said.

Gates also stressed the importance of using technology to keep communication lines open within businesses, allowing “bad news” to travel fast. It is crucial that companies recognize early warning signs that change is necessary, Gates said.

He later referred to an example in which Steve Sinofsky, a Cornell graduate, made a visit to the Ithaca, N.Y. campus in January 1994 and was amazed at the use and availability of technology on campus. Sinofsky’s memo, in which he marveled Cornell, circulated by email at Microsoft, helped lead to what Gates called in his book a “firestorm of electronic deliberation.”

That process was instrumental in Microsoft’s decision to concentrate on developing its products around the Internet. icrosoft’s open digital communication made the difference in its ability to stay competitive in this case, Gates said.

Gates then pointed out the importance of universities and students as leaders in the integration of technology into society, referring to the fact that over 95 percent of college students have access to personal computers and that more than half of college students log-on every day.

In addition, Gates talked about how the Internet was becoming an increasingly important tool for matching buyers and sellers who otherwise might not have come into contact with one another. He mentioned Dell Computer, a company which sells personal computers online through web-sites Microsoft helped develop. Although the French version of the site went online with no advertisement, Gates said that within 15 minutes of its launch, it had its first customer.

Gates stressed the growth potential of the Internet, stating that only 153 million people are online worldwide, more than half of them as email users only. Less than one percent of the populations of South America, Africa, Asia/Pacific and the Middle East are online, he said.

Showing his more humorous side, Gates then showed a clip on the video screens flanking the stage that featured Jay Leno interviewing people on the street about Microsoft. It also showcased Gates dressed up as one of “Saturday Night Live’s” “Night at the Roxbury” dancers.

He concluded his speech with a look at products he anticipates in coming years. “The rate of innovation is actually faster today than it’s ever been,” he said, mentioning ever-faster Internet connections, better monitor screens and simpler software.

In the future, Gates said he envisions better network connections, voice recognition programs – which would allow users to dictate instructions to their computers verbally – and “tablet” personal computers with a high-resolution screens that could be held in the palm of users’ hands.

Following the speech, Gates took four questions from audience members, one of which asked about the impact on society when jobs are replaced by electronic services. Gates responded that past technological growth has demonstrated that while individual companies may get smaller, there is an infinite demand for jobs. The real question, he said, is making sure that people get the right skills to move to different kinds of work. Fortunately, he said, the U.S. economy has embraced technological changes more than any other nation, creating the most new jobs in the process.

“I think the bottom line here is that there’s incredible opportunity for all of you,” Gates said.

The McDonough School of Business sponsored the event, and the school’s Senior Associate Dean William Droms introduced Gates. Tickets were made available to MBA and undergraduate business students. Copies of Gates’ book were distributed at no cost after the speech.

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