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Nathan Myhrvold, Do-Gooder 109

Posted by timothy
from the not-to-mention-serious-cook dept.
theodp writes "Perturbed by a GigaOm item which likened him to 'Darth Vader doing some charity work as he completes the Death Star,' Intellectual Ventures CEO Nathan Myhrvold talks about the goals of his 'Global Good' program and fires back at critics in an interview with GeekWire's Todd Bishop. The technology industry is a little too obsessed with 'sending little messages to each other and having fun on a social network' for Myhrvold, who hopes to tackle bigger problems like malaria, polio, and HIV with the help of funding from buddy Bill Gates. 'I don't mean to call Zynga out in a negative way,' says Myhrvold, 'but is Zynga doing God's work? Is Facebook doing God's work? Even setting aside what God's work means, I think it's pretty easy to say, those companies are doing wonderful things, but they are for-profit ventures. It's either tools or toys for the rich.' BTW, if you're ready to do God's work, IV's looking for a Vice President, Global Good."
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Nathan Myhrvold, Do-Gooder

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  • Or... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 11, 2012 @10:38AM (#40957483)

    I'd rather they do good, than God's work.

    • Re:Or... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) on Saturday August 11, 2012 @10:45AM (#40957545)

      Which god is he talking about, is what I want to know. I mean does he want us to start hitting people with hammers, praying for the undead lord to return from another dimension to cleanse the world of unbelievers with fire, start talking to our ancestors through their severed heads, raise Cthulhu from his watery grave, or what?

      • Re:Or... (Score:5, Informative)

        by girlintraining (1395911) on Saturday August 11, 2012 @10:58AM (#40957647)

        Which god is he talking about, is what I want to know. I mean does he want us to start hitting people with hammers, praying for the undead lord to return from another dimension to cleanse the world of unbelievers with fire, start talking to our ancestors through their severed heads, raise Cthulhu from his watery grave, or what?

        One of the crazy ones, anyway. His plan for solving global warming is to pump sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere and hand out uranium to private citizens to build small personal reactors. His hobbies include searching for alien life, barbequing french food, and photographing wildlife. I'm not sure if the last two are related or not...

        • Re:Or... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by postbigbang (761081) on Saturday August 11, 2012 @11:44AM (#40958067)

          Gack. Messiah complex-with-money-and-patent-portfolio.... and really judgmental, too. Do gooders, doing God's work. Not bad, of course, but when you ostensibly have God's work to do, your agency can do no wrong, hurt no one, and the ends justify the means. You're inherently right, and others are apostates. Wait, wear did we hear that before?

          • Re:Or... (Score:5, Insightful)

            by flyingsquid (813711) on Saturday August 11, 2012 @12:34PM (#40958523)
            Is this story some kind of sick joke? Nathan Myrvold lecturing us all about being better people? What the hell has Nathan F***ing Myrhvold ever done for the world? Myrhvold first became filthy rich as chief technology officer for Microsoft. He helped the company make billions of dollars abusing their monopoly power to get consumers to buy crappy software.

            Unlike Bill Gates, who sees the light and decides to devote his life to charity, Myrhvold goes on to devote his life to setting up Intellectual Ventures, the world's largest patent troll. Gate's post-Microsoft career is dictated by his desire to work at something other than making money. Myrhvold's post-Microsoft career is dictated by the idea that he still wants to make an assload of money, he just doesn't want to actually do any work any more. He'd rather screw around in the kitchen and write a cookbook, while his company makes money by threatening to sue the people who are actually trying to innovate and create something.

            Hell, he's not even funding this effort. Guess who's funding it? The article says it's "funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Asset Trust". So Gates is putting up the money, and Myrhvold is running around trying to take all the credit for being this great philanthropist. Well, I've got a suggestion for you Nathan. Want to make the world a better place? Shut down Intellectual Ventures. That would do far more to spur innovation than anything you've ever done.

            What a pretentious douche.

            • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

              by BenoitRen (998927)

              Unlike Bill Gates, who sees the light and decides to devote his life to charity

              I suggest you read up on what his Foundation actually does to the world. Especially pay attention to who it gives money.

            • by ultranova (717540)

              So Gates is putting up the money, and Myrhvold is running around trying to take all the credit for being this great philanthropist.

              In other breaking news: local alcoholic seen drinking wine, researchers shocked. "We never expected this might happen", commented Dr. N. S. Sherlock. "People behaving according to their nature completely revolutionizes our view of the nature of reality."

              Some future experiments suggested by this amazing discovery include testing the long-ridiculed hypotheses that things get wet

      • I think the truth is to be found somewhere in between these two statements..

        Let us not forget that human knowledge and skills alone cannot lead humanity to a happy and dignified life. Humanity has every reason to place the proclaimers of high moral standards and values above the discoverers of objective truth. What humanity owes to personalities like Buddha, Moses, and Jesus ranks for me higher than all the achievements of the enquiring and constructive mind.

        What these blessed men have given us we must guar

    • Re:Or... (Score:5, Funny)

      by AmazingRuss (555076) on Saturday August 11, 2012 @10:48AM (#40957563)

      God is supposed to be omnipotent. He can get off his ass and do his own work.

      • God is supposed to be omnipotent. He can get off his ass and do his own work.

        Perhaps, but he also has a twisted sense of humor.

        • Don't go giving kids ideas.

          "Clean up your room"

          "Sure mom, I'll do it right away"

          *one hour later*

          "Hey! You didn't clean up your room. What's happened?"

          "I lied to you. Do you like my twisted sense of humour?"

          "Ow, Ouch! Not the ears! I was doing God's work, honest! It was explained on slashdot! Ouch!"

    • Re:Or... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Saturday August 11, 2012 @11:01AM (#40957675)
      They aim for "Global Good", while asking for you to do "God's work". They should make up their minds and either aim for "Global God" or do "Good's work". Right now, the message is inconsistent.
      • They aim for "Global Good", while asking for you to do "God's work". They should make up their minds and either aim for "Global God" or do "Good's work". Right now, the message is inconsistent.

        I don't know about you, but I would prefer people worship gods who say that global good is God's work (you may move the apostrophe if needed to accomodate your religious view). So the message isn't inconsistent, unless you worship a god that considers its work to be something else. Dollarus Maximus, for example... Good for personal fortune, not so good for property values.

        • by Velex (120469)

          I don't know about you, but I would prefer people worship gods who say that global good is God's work

          Well, but the trouble is that depending on how you interpret parts of the bible, that might be considered devil worship. For example, according to my ex-parents, free blacks are an abomination before their god because god made their skin dark to mark them as slaves after that incident when Noah got drunk off his hind end.

      • by Shavano (2541114)
        Doing god's work is a colloquialism for doing good. Non native english speakers might not know this but the rest of you have no excuse.
        • That sounds an awful lot like an ethnolect or a sociolect, not like a universal synonym. Do Buddhists, atheists, and, say, neopagans use the same expression?
          • by Alex Belits (437) *

            We (atheists) see "doing God's work" as something fanatical religious people do to spread their superstitions for the benefit of their religious organizations.

          • Buddhists don't exactly have a "God". Buddha himself made a point to insist he was just "an enlightened man". Very sloppily put, when you do good work, you improve the world around you. Someone remembers and does good for you someday. But sidestepping the literalism interpretations of reincarnation, there's no other external entity doing the whole Santa/God "Naughty-Nice" calculation on you all day long. In some of the "soft and long" (my words) interpretations of Buddhism, if you make a sin that *truly* hu

        • Doing god's work is a colloquialism for doing good. Non native english speakers might not know this but the rest of you have no excuse.

          BTW, I've looked it up in the Oxford English Dictionary, which usually contains even some pretty far-fetched stuff, and in the past, I actually did find there virtually all the colloquialisms I've ever needed to find out about, but "God's work" isn't anywhere to be seen.

    • Re:Or... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by The Mighty Buzzard (878441) on Saturday August 11, 2012 @11:11AM (#40957785)
      Yeah, assuming he's being absolutely truthful, it's a lot like a maffia Don using his protection money to feed the homeless. That's great and all but he's still a scumbag.
      • Re:Or... (Score:5, Informative)

        by flyingsquid (813711) on Saturday August 11, 2012 @03:27PM (#40959777)

        Yeah, assuming he's being absolutely truthful, it's a lot like a maffia Don using his protection money to feed the homeless.

        Which would be great if that's what Myrhvold was doing. Here's what the article says:

        Scientists and researchers working with Intellectual Ventures have come up with lots of wild ideas over the years. Some of them have the potential to help the world, ranging from a laser to zap mosquitoes to a container for preserving vaccines for long periods of time. And now Nathan Myhrvold, the former Microsoft chief technology officer who founded Intellectual Ventures, wants to see those ideas rolled out and made available to the developing world. That’s the story behind Intellectual Ventures’ decision to seek a new vice president to lead its “Global Good” initiative. Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Asset Trust..."

        So it's not even Myrhvold's money, he's actually using Bill Gates and Warren Buffett's money and then lecturing to others about how they should do more. Yes, Nathan, by using other people's money to help people and then boasting about it, you've really shown us the way. Your selfless sacrifice, nobility and sense of humility have truly touched us all... you're up there with Jesus and Gandhi.

    • by SpzToid (869795)

      Lasers that can identify and vaporize female mosquitos, (because only females bite humans). Is that good, or God's work?

      http://intellectualventures.com/OurInventions/PhotonicFence.aspx [intellectualventures.com]

      You be the judge, but how do I find one of these on amazon.com for overnight delivery? This looks like some awesome redneck fun.

  • smear campaign (Score:5, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Saturday August 11, 2012 @10:41AM (#40957509)

    'Darth Vader doing some charity work as he completes the Death Star',

    Slashdot editors need to stop posting what is clearly rebel rhetoric. The first Death Star was used on Alderaan to save lives. The planet was partly hollow and heavily fortified; A great many imperial lives would have been sacrificed to end the war in a conventional ground-based attack. By destroying Alderann with the Death Star instead, billions of lives were saved. After that, the galaxy enjoyed its longest period of peace and prosperity in centuries.

    The second Death Star was blown up before it was even completed, and it's construction was solely as a deterrent against future war -- it would have reduced the cost of maintaining a fleet of thousands of flag ships as fewer would have been needed for routine patrols. There were not many military personnel on the base at the time, most of those people were contractors working during the recession, caused by supply shortages because funds were diverted to combat the constant terrorist attacks by the rebels. When the Death Star fell, millions of contractors and private citizens lost their lives in an unparalleled terrorist attack. The Empire had no choice then but to respond to these right-wing religious nutjobs with overwhelming force.

    Never Forget the Liberty Star disasters!

    • Instant classic

      • Instant classic

        In that case I'll claim that my use of "It's" was intentional then, when I write my memoirs, along with my excessive use, of the comma.

    • Re:smear campaign (Score:4, Informative)

      by Shavano (2541114) on Saturday August 11, 2012 @11:09AM (#40957763)

      'Darth Vader doing some charity work as he completes the Death Star',

      Slashdot editors need to stop posting what is clearly rebel rhetoric. The first Death Star was used on Alderaan to save lives. The planet was partly hollow and heavily fortified; A great many imperial lives would have been sacrificed to end the war in a conventional ground-based attack. By destroying Alderann with the Death Star instead, billions of lives were saved. After that, the galaxy enjoyed its longest period of peace and prosperity in centuries.

      Besides, calling the Deployable Advanced Theatre Defense Station Armament a "Death Star" is highly inflammatory. Only the rebels call it that.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Sorry, but that's insane and highly political.

  • by gbjbaanb (229885) on Saturday August 11, 2012 @10:53AM (#40957597)

    I'm ready to do God's work.... just, erm, how much does it pay?

  • by russotto (537200) on Saturday August 11, 2012 @10:53AM (#40957599) Journal

    Not directly related, but whenever an evil asshole starts prattling on about "God's work" or anything similar, it brings to mind this C.S. Lewis quote

    âoeOf all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.â

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I find it eternally hilarious that a Christian apologist, and an incredibly lousy one at that, bitched and moaned about omnipotent moral busybodies. Just what does he think his God is?

      • by Shavano (2541114)
        For all his faults, Lewis actually believed in God but he was smart enough to identify jackasses who were doing a lot of evil in his god's name.
    • by girlintraining (1395911) on Saturday August 11, 2012 @11:10AM (#40957773)

      Not directly related, but whenever an evil asshole starts prattling on about "God's work" or anything similar, it brings to mind this C.S. Lewis quote...

      I suppose now is a bad time to point out he was an ardent Christian who would take great offense to you misusing his words like that. I believe he might even respond with something like, "What you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing; it also depends on what kind of a person you are."

      For every religious extremist who hurts others in the name of God, there are dozens more who help. I'm not suggesting that belief in God is necessary to help others, or in the final analysis, even related. I am saying it's the height of religious arrogance and intolerance to imply that anyone who uses the phrase "God's work" to describe their actions is an "evil asshole" who goes "prattling on". Would you cast them into a reputation and role from which they cannot escape? I have little time or sympathy for a man who believes another is incapable of doing good simply because he disagrees with that person's religious views.

      • by russotto (537200) on Saturday August 11, 2012 @01:37PM (#40958989) Journal

        I'm well aware that C.S. Lewis was an ardent Christian, but I do not believe I misused his words. I wasn't suggesting that anyone who uses "God's work" to describe their actions is an "evil asshole". I'm suggesting that Nathan Myhrvold, founder of major patent troll Intellectual Ventures, is an evil asshole, and that therefore when he claims to be doing God's work I'm immediately reminded of Lewis's words.

      • by CAIMLAS (41445)

        For every religious extremist who hurts others in the name of God, there are dozens more who help

        Unless the religion in question is Islam.

        Q: Did you hear about the rich Imam who died and gave all his worldly possessions to charity?
        A: No? Neither has anyone else.

        A good Muslim friend laughed and laughed and laughed at that joke. Why? Because it's so true.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      How many douchebags / sociopaths / crappy human beings do we know that actually believe they are such? Nathan reminds me of lawyers we have in Houston that make fortunes being litigious parasites on the medical industry, then turn around and trumpet their own virtues when they donate 10 million back to some medical institute. He's a douchebag, he has utterly rationalized to himself that he -is not- a douchebag, and that's the way it's going to stay. It would be nice if Nathan would just go away.

  • Nathan Myhrvold is just a sock puppet for Wallace Breen.

    "Well, we’ve had that name for a long time. I think we do a whole lot more good for the world than GigaOm does. How big is their malaria research project? How much effort do they put into polio? I’m quite curious! What on Earth have they done that is —"

    vs

    "Tell me, Dr. Freeman, if you can. You have destroyed so much. What is it, exactly, that you have created? Can you name even one thing? I thought not."

    • "Tell me, Dr. Freeman, if you can. You have destroyed so much. What is it, exactly, that you have created? Can you name even one thing? I thought not."

      "Money."

  • by MaxTardiveau (629919) on Saturday August 11, 2012 @11:04AM (#40957707) Homepage

    >> is Zynga doing God's work? Is Facebook doing God's work?

    Yes, Nathan, you're doing a lot of wonderful work. But that doesn't excuse *how* you're getting your money these days. Your business practices are hurting the entire industry, and putting a big crimp on innovation. The end does not justify the means.

    Anyone who has not yet listened to This American Life's episode on Mr. Myhrvold really ought to:

    http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/441/when-patents-attack/ [thisamericanlife.org]

  • by flydpnkrtn (114575) on Saturday August 11, 2012 @11:05AM (#40957721)

    More intellect than he knows what to do with, and he chooses to leave MS and start a patent troll company... ugh.

    "Myhrvold was born in Seattle, Washington. He attended Mirman School,[4] and began college at age 14.[5] He studied mathematics, geophysics, and space physics at UCLA (BSc, Masters). He was awarded a Hertz Foundation Fellowship for graduate study and he chose to study at Princeton University, where he earned a master's degree in mathematical economics and completed a PhD in theoretical and mathematical physics by age 23."

  • From the article (Score:4, Insightful)

    by thePowerOfGrayskull (905905) <marc.paradise@gma i l . c om> on Saturday August 11, 2012 @11:15AM (#40957813) Homepage Journal

    From the article:

    So what somebody says, why don’t you tell me which patents you have, Nathan, so I can avoid them, you’re supposed to be avoiding all of them! You’re saying, Nathan, I’d like to be honest with you but cheat everybody else. What’s up with that?

    That's an interesting twist.

    Of course it's my responsibility as a developer to avoid all of them. Specifically, all 8 million+ of them. What I can do, then, is start researching my idea now... and many lifetimes from now when my descendents have evaluated every patent that may be relevant, they can bring my product to market. Oh, wait - the number of patents will have grown by then...

    Considering how smart he is, I find it difficult to believe that he made such an absurd statement -- and even more preposterous that he thinks it's a reasonable, realistic expectation.

  • Organizing for good (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Shavano (2541114) on Saturday August 11, 2012 @11:26AM (#40957903)

    Putting aside the question of what is or isn't God's work, I think it would be more effective to establish and fund a nonprofit foundation to develop technology for solving the problems of the world's poor (and problems that potentially affect everybody like climate change and antibiotic resistance).

    Running a little bit of charity work out of a for-profit corporation creates a conflict of interest between the need to generate profit for the owners/shareholders and the needs of those who are served. And if you can work full-time on the pro-bono technology, you'll get it done faster and better than if you are diverting time from your "real job."

    • by Relayman (1068986)
      I read more than that into the article. I think Nathan is trying to patent technology that can be used in Africa and then get someone to make the products so that he can get nice licensing fees. It's really about making money off of patents, something Nathan already does in a different way in the U.S.
      • by Shavano (2541114)

        If these are really products for the third world, I doubt there's a lot of money to be made. The world's poor can't afford to give guys like him a healthy profit margin. What's wrong with taking the man at his word that he is doing some projects that aren't going to help his bottom much compared to using the same people to develop products for the world's vast middle-income class? Sometimes even people who are complete shits in their business with you have some sort of humanitarian impulse. Look at Bill

  • by mattr (78516) <mattr@telebod[ ]om ['y.c' in gap]> on Saturday August 11, 2012 @12:07PM (#40958273) Homepage Journal

    This is the guy who dreamed of charging for all Internet based transactions with his own money scheme.
    When he starts saying the word God several times in a row I start getting violently nauseated.
    I also question his statement, "We’re going to have to find who’s the best company in China to manufacture our malaria diagnostic device" while "using first world invention, product development, and business development techniques."
    I state this having helped projects to reduce malaria and treat the sick in Cambodia. When $5 would buy mosquito nets. Does he really need to develop advanced technology, or could the money not be spent on existing projects using low technology? The key really is not Chinese manufacturing. The key which he hinted at is having motivated, experienced problem solvers on the ground who can see what things will work and why, and get immediate feedback and support from home base.
    The idea of structuring it as a for profit venture, no matter what reasoning he gives, is just the way a shark smiles. It distracts you. Just like how he is pushing the God button. You have to wonder why. Is he a wacko? Maybe, but it is most likely because that is where he plans on getting money. Religious figures do sometimes put money into these things.

  • by Tom (822) on Saturday August 11, 2012 @12:16PM (#40958359) Homepage Journal

    Darth Vader doing some charity work as he completes the Death Star

    Which is not unthinkable. Humans are complex creatures, very few of us are entirely black or white. The main damage that religion has done to us is not the omnipotent father nonsense, but the strict seperation of the world into "good" and "bad". Which you don't find in the real world if you open your mind and really see. Even your worst enemy has some interest or some trait that you'd consider positive if it weren't for your dislike of the man. And even your best friend and ally has a skeleton in the closet.

    So, aside from the nonsensical choice of words (there can be no such thing as "god's work", because an omnipotent being could get its own work done with no effort), why not simply take the guy at face value?

    Because, you know, he's kind of right about Zynga and Facebook, too. Yeah, maybe he's an evil business bastard, but if he genuinely wants to do good - shouldn't we encourage and welcome that?

    • Is that cognitive dissonance I smell?

      Humans are complex and most of use are not psychopaths. So the only way he can live with himself for being a truly rotten person whose purpose is to crush dreams of innovators and start-ups with extortion!

      So he lies to himself so he can get up every morning and he tells himself for the greater good and then goes on even boosts his ego about how generous he is! Incredible!

      What he doesn't see or chooses not too is that businesses and innovators help the world as much if no

      • by Tom (822)

        Is that cognitive dissonance I smell?

        Probably. It drips strongly out of TFS.

        So he lies to himself so he can get up every morning

        Every single one of us does. Oh, granted, some of us have more and heavier lies to say than others, but every serial killer, every mafia goon, every investment banker, Wall Street trader, drug dealer, kiddie-fucking catholic priest, every single one thinks of himself as a good person. Maybe flawed, maybe unhappy, maybe even deeply troubled, but in their hearts they all think they are good people.

        I'd rather have one screwed-up asshole who gives back some of his ill-gain

        • I'd rather have one screwed-up asshole who gives back some of his ill-gained wealth than ten who clear their conscious through prayer or just by telling themselves they're good people.

          The problem with this is that his donations and charity make him much more difficult to stop and put him beyond moral controls which would apply to others. Look at how Bill Gates uses charity to force schools to use Windows and gets seen as a philanthropist where his actions, otherwise, would be seen as illegally forcing forward a monopoly.

          • by Tom (822)

            Good point. There is a difference between giving and moving your exploitive business into the charity sector.

            I never trust an "about face". The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation per se sounds like a good idea. That it is de facto run by the same guy we all hate for his business methods should ring some alarm bells. Stripes on a tiger don't wash away. And we're seing it. Not everyone wants to believe it, but the Gates Foundation does plenty of bad mixed in with its good.

  • The technology industry is a little too obsessed with 'sending little messages to each other and having fun on a social network'

    Regardless of who said it, that's a good point. Computing has become a branch of the advertising industry. As computing has become cheaper, the applications have become more banal.

    This is a real problem for society. Advertising mostly moves demand around. With most people in the US spending all their disposable income, it doesn't create new demand. What it does do is drive up product prices. There are many products, from movies to prescription drugs, where the marketing cost exceeds the manufacturing cost

  • by Anonymous Coward

    So go ahead a join the Open Invention Network [swpat.org].

    Put your money where your mouth is.

  • Here's an executive summary:
    1. Obama signed a law last year that "reformed" patents so that means the US government fixed any problems.
    2. Patents actually weren't broken anyway. (kind of conflicts with #1)
    3. Patents are superb for the biotech industry. (Comparing apples to oranges here)
    4. We're just helping the little guy mostly.
    5. Lots of people make money in the IT industry so it's not broken.
    6. We're the only thing stopping pure outright thievery of IT patents.
  • by BobandMax (95054)

    Who is this "God" to whom he refers? Baal? Zeus? Jehovah? Sorry. Just too many to track.

  • Yeah, I think we have more than enough people doing God's work. Dan Cathy and Pat Robertson are doing a fine job there.

"'Tis true, 'tis pity, and pity 'tis 'tis true." -- Poloniouius, in Willie the Shake's _Hamlet, Prince of Darkness_

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