The United States must do a better job of educating its young people in science and technology if we're going to compete with China and India over the next century, according to Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft and an American computer pioneer.
In a wide-ranging interview with Wired.com, Allen called for President Obama and other American policy-makers to "fully internalize the fact that we need to do something to better prepare our kids to compete in this hyper-competitive future that's rapidly approaching."
Allen, who is chairman of the billion-dollar investment firm Vulcan, gives few interviews. But in our conversation, he opened up on a number of topics, including his new book, Idea Man, his battle with cancer, his relationship with his childhood friend and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, his intense focus on brain science, and his love of music, and in particular, guitars.
Allen went out of his way to stress the need for science and technology education. "In terms of chip design and software in general, we're still the leaders," Allen said. "But you have to ask yourself about 20 years from now and 50 years from now. It would be great if we could focus more effort on the competition, because it's coming in spades."
Education is absolutely crucial.
"In junior high and high school is when Bill and I gravitated towards high-technology, and I don't think there's enough being done to expose young people to the fascination and excitement of it," Allen said.
The 58-year-old Allen, who is one of the wealthiest people in the world with an estimated net worth of $14 billion, will be in New York City this week for the launch of Idea Man, which Allen began writing while undergoing chemotherapy treatments for cancer.
Among other things, the book represents an effort by Allen to recount the history of Microsoft, the software company he co-founded with Gates 36 years ago.
In the interview, Allen sounded like a man who feels lucky to be alive. I asked him, why write the book now?
"I was very sick with a life-threatening illness, and it had been on my list of things I wanted to do for many years, and I finally decided, the time is now to work on this," Allen said.
In an interview with 60 Minutes that aired Sunday night, Allen told Leslie Stahl of CBS News that he had hoped to "be alive to see it published." Idea Man will be released on Tuesday, April 19th.
In the fall of 2009, Allen was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. In 1982, Allen had been diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, which he survived after radiation therapy and a bone marrow transplant. Allen told Stahl that during his recent chemotherapy, Gates came to his Mercer Island, Washington, home, "multiple times and we had some great talks."
Allen, who is now cancer-free, said that he really began to work on the book in November of 2009 after his first cycle of chemotherapy.
Allen said that writing Idea Man "was very helpful in getting me through chemotherapy because I would struggle to get going every day, and I would start describing things that happened and then eventually when I was toward the end of my chemo and then afterward, I would spend a long time editing and editing and editing. I went through every word in the book eight times."