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Bill Gates H-1B Remarks Miss the Mark

BG's Remarks About H-1B Visas Got SYS-CON's West Coast Bureau Chief Thinking

Bill Gates doesn't want to deny smart people the chance to come to this country. Speaking in front of politicians, this viewpoint should resonate well. After all, we're a nation of immigrants, and it's our smarts, our ingenuity, that makes America great, right?

Yet the man is getting hammered (metaphorically) by people who think his view that to eliminate the H-1B visa would be a good thing is, in fact, disingenuous, cynical, greedful, and other bad things.

With unemployment among programmers at levels that probably exceed 50%, if you count all the "independent contractors" and "consultants" making almost nothing, as well as those who have simply given up and found work in construction or sales, the idea of allowing unlimited numbers of immigrant programmers who will presumably work for below-market wages is going to be controversial. Actually, it's going to be very, very controversial, unpopular, and ridiculed. Not very smart, Bill.

But I want to take him to task over the words he used, not the idea he espoused. He sarcastically implied that there are those who would not let "too many smart people" into this country. In doing so, he not only damned those of us who might not be as smart as he thinks we should be. He has damned all those American immigrants who might not have had 140+ IQs, but who did know how to work hard, raise families, and make voluntary and positive contributions to society in their precious off-hours.

Bill, alas, has also fallen prey to that great bugbear of "smart" people, the Platonic fallacy. Had he stayed at Harvard just another year, he might have learned about this. Not an official doctrine or even surgically-wielded verity, the Platonic fallacy notes that Plato's idealistically visualized reality depended on perfectly wise leaders who possessed the ultimate truths and were thus the most qualified to make the rules and enact them.

A simplified, yet I hope not simplistic, way to state the Platonic fallacy is "intelligence equals virtue." Its reasoning is thus: Smart people should be favored, because smart people make the right decisions, make the cool things, and are just better to have around because they're, you know, smart.

But one doesn't have to be a rocket scientist or Microsoft programmer to know that many very bad people are very smart and many very smart people are very bad. Aristotle knew this, and was the first proponent of the Platonic fallacy. Aristotle saw things as they were, categorized them, and harbored no illusions about the goodness of anything.

Where does one enter the smart zone, anyway? At what IQ level? What correlation is there between IQ and good? What is IQ, anyway? How many monkeys would it take before one of them got a perfect 1600 (excuse me, 2400) on the SAT? Would you hire the monkey that did it? How many angels can dance on the pin of a chip? How smart is your average angel, anyway?

Bill Gates writes like a 10-year-old. I know, I've read his books. (Or maybe he writes like Arthur Miller but has a 10-year-old for a ghostwriter.) There is nothing wrong with this. Many 10-year-olds have work that is worth reading.  But Gates might be expected to be a more compelling writer, and speaker, than someone so very "smart," in fact, is.

I don't read Bill for enjoyment. I don't read him because he's smart. I read him because he has the resources to wield tremendous power over society, worldwide. Through his philanthropic efforts, he seems to be succeeding brilliantly. You don't have to be smart to help stamp out childhood disease. You simply have to be human (and wealthy). Bill's efforts in this area may some day obviate any wounds he's inflicted by careless use of the word "smart."

But yet, I can't get off this topic. Through his company, Bill still seems hung up on this "smart" thing. As if the tangled mess that was DOS (pretending to be CP/M), the series of crash-prone kludges known as the early versions of Windows (pretending to be the Macintosh), and the virus/trojan horse/spyware/malware-prone browser called Explorer (pretending to be Navigator) are all the products of the "smartest" people on the planet. If "smart" equals great engineering, then Microsoft needs to find another adjective.

Now Bill wants to extend the misery by implying that, really, we need to make sure that we don't turn away any smart people at the border. "What's the capital of Assyria?" You don't know, you're plunged into the pit of eternal doom.

So, sorry Bill, to appear so saturnine in contrast to your jovial fixation on the word "smart." Go back to school, do as Bill Joy says, and read the Greeks. Then tell us again why you believe that there should be no restrictions on immigrant programmers. You might have a strong case. You might convince people, especially if you never use that awful word "smart" again.

More Stories By Roger Strukhoff

Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040) is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, and Editor of SYS-CON Media's CloudComputing BigData & IoT Journals. He holds a BA from Knox College & conducted MBA studies at CSU-East Bay.

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