The Facebook Initiative – Bill Gates's greatest invention
Taking the hardship out of friendship
April Fool I'd interviewed Bill Gates so many times over the past 20 years but had never seen him in this kind of mood. On this unusual day last month, the typically unemotional man displayed a profound, passionate glimmer of the eye.
"I've come up with something that will make Steve Jobs cry," he told me. "This is a taste, refinement and a glorious user interface on a scale that he's never imagined."
Without hyperbole, I can say that the moments which followed changed my life forever.
Gates fired up a PowerPoint presentation that displayed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on the first slide.
"You bought them?" I asked.
"Not even close," Gates said.
Gates went on to explain that Zuckerberg – wait for it - was actually his lovechild.
During frequent visits to New York, Gates would always go see an off-Broadway production called Little Morphine Annie. It resembled the original Annie story except that most of the action took place in a trailer park rather than an orphanage, and Annie was a 35-year-old junky rather than a perky young albino.
Gates fell in love with the actress portraying Annie. This woman has since been revealed to me as Sally Sue Conniption – a former erotic clown from Topeka, Kansas.
Off stage, Conniption cast a spell over Gates during their numerous dinners and rendezvous at seedy hotels in the meat-packing district. Eventually, Gates impregnated Conniption, who bore the billionaire a son. Obviously, the couple could not let word of the youngster reach the public, so they shuffled the kid off to a wanting rich couple in New York.
It was around this same time that Gates' anxieties about his legacy began to prove tortuous. He knew that no one took his coding prowess seriously. In addition, people had little respect for Gates' fortune, seeing him more as a lucky thief than an industrialist legend. Even worse, Gates failed to win respect with his efforts to rid the world of infectious diseases. It's hard to take a billionaire Mother Teresa seriously.
Gates, however, had an idea to fix all of this, and it involved his Annie-haired son.
He set up a small software lab at his Washington cabin where the fabled "Think Weeks" take place.
You'll recall that reporters at publications such as the Wall Street Journal and New York Times love the Think Week concept. The idea is that Gates goes off into the woods to ponder the really big questions facing Microsoft and Man.
As legend has it, the Think Weeks have resulted in Microsoft's work around the internet and gaming consoles. You would have thought the reporters might display more curiosity wondering why Gates needed a week's worth of grilled cheese sandwiches and quiet to discover the internet or Nintendo and Sony's raging success with video game consoles. But such questions never came up from the hacks who traded their inquisitive instincts for executive access long ago.
Rather than working on, er, papers about how to add a browser to Windows, as he told the press, Gates was actually building out a social networking platform long before people knew what a social networking platform looked like. Unlike webby applications such as MySpace or LinkedIn, however, this social network code-named Facebook ran inside one's brain.
Through a lucrative donation, Gates struck a deal with Harvard and gained access to his son Mark Zuckerberg. Gates drugged the uninspiring youth and flew him back to Washington when needed for experiments.
After much trial and error, Gates implanted a working chip filled with sophisticated software in Zuckerberg's brain, resulting in the system that became the Facebook Initiative.
Gates finds it somewhat amusing that no one discovered his work given the obvious dual nature of the creature.
When talking to friends, for example, Zuckerberg will behave like a normal human being, exchanging information about his likes and dislikes. When in public, however, Zuckerberg's privacy filters are activated, resulting in a stiff, reserved entity.
"I feel sort of bad because I expected people to pick up on the differences between the two Zuckerbergs and realize that there was something really quite awesome going on," Gates said. "Instead, the press and Zuckerberg's co-workers just ridiculed the privacy-enabled version and thought he was simply a bad public speaker."
Several months ago, Gates picked up the green cabin phone and called the Wall Street Journal's Rob Guth to chat about the Zuckerberg Initiative.
"As usual, I promised Rob the early scoop on the story, figuring that he would spin in it in the right light. I figured we'd do the leaked memo, the front page story follow-up and the podcast thing, but Rob thought the idea was too 'niche.' Whatever. After about 27 other reporters passed up on the idea, I called you."
As Gates tells it, Zuckerberg has no idea that his reality has been altered.
During an interview with both men, Zuckerberg refused to answer my direct questions on this topic.
"You're screwed," Gates said. "I've got his press filter enabled."
"I'm just all about creating a platform that helps people communicate better," Zuckerberg said. "My team and I are just totally focused night and day on communicating better and creating systems for communication and interacting with those communicating systems to help people figure out what they have in common with their friends and what they like to talk about with their friends."
Gates is contemplating implanting the filter chip into his own brain later this year. The software genius believes that human interaction can be improved by removing some of the "rough edges" that result when people talk.
"I envision a day when people meet each other and their filters immediately identify their likes and dislikes. Then, the users can talk about what they have in common rather than bickering or wasting time on irrelevant issues."
Next up for Gates is a system that will display text-based ads in Zuckerberg's eyes. So, for example, when he's talking to his mom, an ad in his right eye will display "I want a Nintendo Wii", while an ad in the left eye will display "Kiss me on the right cheek if you want tulips for Mother's Day or the left cheek if you want waffles".
Looking ahead, the eye displays could help negotiate discussions between friends by putting up information about the brand of clothes you're wearing or music you recently stole online. "Isn't this green sweater nice? Ask me where I bought it. Shake my right hand for an e-coupon."
Gates explains that, "People shouldn't have to dedicate brain cells to telling their peers about their favorite bands or movies. That's the type of stuff that can be handled in software."
As you would expect, I'm next in line after Gates for the implant. Discounted waffles, here I come. ®