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  #1  
Old 07-14-2003, 10:17 AM
Skeptico Skeptico is offline
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What was Bill Gates' undergraduate major?

What was Gates' major before he dropped out of Harvard? Some google pages say math, others say philosophy. What's the scoop?
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Old 07-14-2003, 11:14 AM
biqu biqu is offline
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Bill Gates dropped out of college towards the end of his sophomore year (Gates 14--18). He might not have been required to declare a major at that point in his college career.

At one point he considered majoring in economics (Gates 4). He changed his mind, but my reference doesn't say what took its place.

However, not even a former mathematics major could be excused for this egregious error: "The obvious mathematical breakthrough would be development of an easy way to factor large prime numbers" (Gates 265).

On the other hand, it's unlikely that a philosophy major would have been given access to the college computer lab. Access to campus computer resources was not given out as casually in those days, but he could probably have made the case that his technological enthusiasm and above-average computer skills warranted at least some accomodation.

I have no definitive answer, I know. Just evidence that can be interpreted to defend either claim.

Works cited:
Gates, Bill. The Road Ahead. New York: Viking, 1995.
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Old 07-14-2003, 11:38 AM
friedo friedo is online now
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What's erronious about stating that a method for easily factoring large prime numbers would be a mathematical breakthrough?

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Old 07-14-2003, 11:45 AM
3waygeek 3waygeek is offline
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A prime number is one whose only factors are 1 and itself, so factoring one is trivial. Proving that a given number is prime is a bit trickier; that may have been what Gates was referring to.
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Old 07-14-2003, 01:04 PM
The Weak Force The Weak Force is offline
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More likely he was referring to the difficulty of factoring large numbers. Deciding whether a given number is prime, though tricky, can now be done reasonably efficiently.
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Old 07-14-2003, 04:55 PM
Really Not All That Bright Really Not All That Bright is offline
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Wait... I thought primes could be factored using non-integers...decimals, I mean, not irrationals? The big deal is that you can't use integers to factor them, right?
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Old 07-14-2003, 05:23 PM
ultrafilter ultrafilter is offline
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Whether that's true or not, integer factorization of primes is one of those problems that a lot of people would like to find a fast way to do.
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Old 07-14-2003, 05:28 PM
friedo friedo is online now
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Quote:
Originally posted by 3waygeek
A prime number is one whose only factors are 1 and itself, so factoring one is trivial. Proving that a given number is prime is a bit trickier; that may have been what Gates was referring to.
Duh. I feel dumb. When reading the sentence I assumed he was talking about finding prime factors of large numbers, not factoring large prime numbers.

Nebbermind.
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Old 07-15-2003, 02:03 AM
j.c. j.c. is offline
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For the record - Bill Gates did not drop out of Harvard. He went to a great deal of trouble to go on leave so that he could, if necessary, go back. He could still go back.

http://www.microsoft.com/billgates/s...13malaysia.asp

See it in his own speech! Also covered in many books on the man.

He used to suppor the myth, but not since his first book.
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