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Bill Gates Expresses Crypto Currency Concerns in Reddit AMA

Don’t try to tell Bill Gates that crypto currency is a good thing. In a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) session last week, the Microsoft founder decried crypto currency’s anonymity as a bad thing and harshly tagged it with killing people in a “fairly direct way.”

“The main feature of crypto currencies is their anonymity,” Gates said. “I don’t think this is a good thing. The government’s ability to find money laundering and tax evasion and terrorist funding is a good thing.”

Without saying the word “opiate” directly, Gates linked crypto currency to the monsterous drug epidemic. “Right now crypto currencies are used for buying fentanyl and other drugs so it is a rare technology that has caused deaths in a fairly direct way.” He also cast a dark cloud on the “speculative wave” surrounding crypto currency: “I think the speculative wave around ICOs [initial coin offerings] and crypto currencies is super risky for those who go long.”

Gates appears to have walked back an earlier position on crypto currency. As the BBC pointed out, he described bitcoin as “better than currency,” in a 2014 Bloomberg interview. And, as an aside, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has backed blockchain — the technology behind crypto currency –development in Kenya. In addition, Microsoft is looking to blockchain technology to develop digital identity verification (via the BBC).

Pushing Back

A number of Reddit users challenged Gates’ on both the anonymity of crypto currency, with one saying he didn’t understand how the technology functions.

“One would have to make their initial transaction in person to avoid signing up with an exchange (and the requisite very-unanonymous bank transfer). And if at any point your person is tied to your address, your entire transaction history and the flow of every “penny” you ever spent is easily and immediately known. It’s easier than traditional currency to trace at that point, because the ledgers are public to the world…there are no institutional barriers.”

The poster said that people think bitcoin protects their identity for now but law enforcement will soon catch up the more it becomes knowledgeable about crypto currency.

More Crypto Currency Debate Debate

Another Reddit user pointed out to Gates that cash is also used for illegitimate activities. While acknowledging that “anonymous cash” is also used “for these kinds of things…you have to be physically present to transfer it which makes things like kidnapping payments more difficult.”

The billionaire philanthropist’s remarks were part of a wide-ranging discussion that touched on his top goals for his Foundation  — reduce childhood death, combat malnutrition and end polio. Gates said the Foundation is eyeing how “we might expand our work in the U.S. beyond education…to help people up move up the economic ladder.”

The whole Reddit exchange wasn’t completely one-directional. At the end, Gates asked the posters this question: “With all of the negative headlines dominating the news these days, it can be difficult to spot signs of progress. What makes you optimistic about the future?”

It’s a good question.

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