hen Bill Gates suggests that Elon Musk is more talented than him, take it with a pinch of salt. The two tech pioneers have long been locking horns over the future of mankind.
Now Gates has paid his “frenemy” a lighthearted compliment, telling Amol Rajan in a BBC2 interview, which is broadcast tonight: “I didn’t run three companies at a time. So you could say he’s more talented than I was.”
However, the former Microsoft chief was quick to add that, unlike Musk, who runs Tesla, Twitter and SpaceX, he wasn’t “going out to the public and insulting the president of the United States”. Musk has been a frequent critic of President Biden since he took office two years ago.
The philanthropist also criticised Musk’s mission to make humans an interplanetary species, saying that it was “actually quite expensive to go to Mars” and that he doesn’t think it’s a good use of money.
He conceded that the two men may have one thing in common: a fanatical work ethic.
“Working for me was a guaranteed way to make tens or hundreds of millions of dollars and to work on some of the most interesting, amazing things possible,” Gates says.
Musk is also a well-known workaholic who has declared that his Twitter employees must be “hardcore” and even installed beds in the office for all-nighters.
Both men have also had their troubles with allegations about their behaviour towards female members of staff. Gates had an affair with a Microsoft engineer in 2000 and sent flirtatious emails to another employee in 2007. When asked about this by Rajan he “refused to be drawn into specifics about who he was sorry to”, the BBC said. Gates also repeated that his association with the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein was a mistake.
Musk was accused of harassing a flight attendant for SpaceX, but has said the claims are wildly untrue. He has also taunted his rival, tweeting: “Billy G is not my lover”, a play on a line from the Michael Jackson song Billie Jean.
The friction between Gates and Musk began during the pandemic. Gates pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to combat the virus, while Musk was a critic of lockdowns and questioned how serious the disease was. They were, however, connected by the biotech firm CureVac, in which Gates invested and Musk helped build portable RNA printers for vaccine production.
Gates has said that Tesla is “one of the greatest contributions to climate change anyone’s ever made” and said that “underestimating Elon is not a good idea”. But friction between the two has focused on Musk’s belief that Gates has been short-selling shares in the electric car maker.
During an interview with a French YouTuber in 2002, Gates said: “I give a lot more to climate change than Elon or anyone else.” When he was asked if the two men were friends, Gates responded: “I like him. I think he does great work. I don’t know him very well.”