In a recent “Ask Me Anything (AMA)” session on Reddit, Bill Gates answered curious Redditor’s question: “What is your opinion on bitcoins or digital currency as a whole? Also do you own any yourself?” And Bill Gates answered:
“Bitcoin is an exciting new technology. For our Foundation work we are doing digital currency to help the poor get banking services. We don’t use bitcoin specifically for two reasons.
One is that the poor shouldn’t have a currency whose value goes up and down a lot compared to their local currency. Second is that if a mistake is made in who you pay then you need to be able to reverse it so anonymity wouldn’t work.
Overall financial transactions will get cheaper using the work we do and Bitcoin related approaches. Making sure that it doesn’t help terrorists is a challenge for all new technology.”
Looking back, this year Gates Foundation annual letter included the goal of bringing mobile banking to developing countries to help people protect themselves and make spending and sharing money easy, and Gates said that Bitcoin wouldn’t be the distributed payment system:
“There’s a lot that bitcoin or Ripple and variants can do to make moving money between countries easier and getting fees down pretty dramatically. But Bitcoin won’t be the dominant system. When you talk about a domestic economy, the idea of attributed transactions, where if you sent it to the wrong person you can actually get the transaction reversed. [The fact that the existing system] doesn’t have this huge fluctuation where the value of your account is going up and down by a factor of two.”
Bitcoin has been promoted as a potential banking tool for the poor, and it seems like Gates’ remarks will aggravate the Bitcoin community. However, he offered an alternative, emphasizing the uses of local digital currency like Kenya’s M-Pesa over anonymous digital currencies:
The foundation is involved in digital money but unlike Bitcoin it would not be anonymous digital money. In Kenya M-pesa is being used for almost half of all transactions. Digital money has low transaction costs which is great for the poor because they need to do financial transactions with small amounts of money. Over the next 5 years I think digital money will catch on in India and parts of Africa and help the poorest a lot.
In addition, Bill Gates is worried that machines will gain super intelligence one day:
“I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence. First, the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that, though, the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don’t understand why some people are not concerned.”