GREECE: World’s richest man looking for a job

Bill Gates, the world’s richest man, dropped in to Athens for six hours to launch Microsoft’s innovation centre, meet with the Greek Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition, the chancellor and the Education Secretary – and still had enough energy left to laugh and joke about his forthcoming…unemployment.

During his brief sojourn in the country, the 52 year-old co-founder of Microsoft signed an agreement with the Greek government which includes greater cooperation between the two sides for the dissemination of information and of digital technology in higher education institutions.

The agreement also includes measures against programme piracy, the establishment of an innovation centre in Athens and another 10 similar regional centres for the use of modern technology by the less privileged sections of the population as well as reductions of up to 20% for the purchase of Microsoft products.

The aim is to link the country’s universities and other higher education institutions electronically and for students and researchers to have access to vast data banks and e-libraries.

The government welcomed the agreement as extremely beneficial for social and economic progress of Greece, but particularly its importance for the further development of education in the age of information technology.

Opposition parties on the other hand accused the government of a ‘sell-out’ at a time when Microsoft is in trouble with the EU’s anti-trust laws and when many countries worldwide are turning towards open programmes like Linux.

During the inauguration of the innovation centre, Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis underlined that investment in communications technology was a necessary requirement for the wider possible reforms and “the rift with the past which is what the country needs”.

Greek economy supremo, George Alogoskoufis, said the innovation centre was intended to work as an incubator for the development of new and innovative applications and services; a view echoed by Education Secretary Everipidis Stylianidis.

Opposition parties however mounted scathing attacks on the government. The Greek Communist Party accused the government of “selling out the country’s research in new technologies and its scientific potential to private interests” and called the government’s announcements about the upgrading of higher education misleading.

The left-wing Alliance Party said the agreement would appear to be extremely profitable for Microsoft but not for the Greek nation. A spokesman called it “an unprecedented attack on the public nature of knowledge”.

Speaking to a packed audience at the Athens Music Palace, Gates predicted that progress would accelerate enormously in the near future.

“We will see far greater innovation in the next 10 years than we have seen in the last 30,” he said, declaring that soon practically everyone would be ‘information workers’.

“Modern technology will transform not only the way we learn but also the way we function.”

He repeated his views on ‘creative capitalism’, a concept he outlined at the recent World Economic Forum in Switzerland, and proudly presented Microsoft’s latest gadget – a table whose surface was a touch-screen on which one could write and draw with one’s finger.

Highlight of the visit was the presentation of a video in which he appears to be searching for work following his expressed decision to retire next summer and devote himself to charity work.