Microsoft’s original co-founder Paul Allen was honored posthumously with a lifetime achievement award for philanthropy this week at the Forbes Philanthropy summit.
Bill Gates remembers Allen as “one of the most intellectually curious people I’ve ever known,” adding “I wish more people understood just how wide-ranging his giving was,” and shared his remembrances at the ceremony:
Later in life, Paul gave to a huge spectrum of issues that seem unrelated at first glance. He wanted to prevent elephant poaching, improve ocean health, and promote smart cities. He funded new housing for the homeless and arts education in the Puget Sound region. In 2014 alone, he supported research into the polio virus and efforts to contain the Ebola outbreak in West Africa — all while standing up an amazing new institute for studying artificial intelligence.
If you knew him, the logic in Paul’s portfolio is easy to see. He gave to the things that he was most interested in, and to the places where he thought he could have the most impact. Even though Paul cared about a lot of different things, he was deeply passionate about each of them.
There’s a picture of a young Bill Gates in the eighth grade watching Paul Allen on a teletype terminal. “The only way for us to get computer time was by exploiting a bug in the system.”
“We eventually got busted, but that led to our first official partnership between Paul and me: we worked out a deal with the company to use computers for free if we would identify problems. We spent just about all our free time messing around with any machine we could get our hands on.”
One day — when Paul and I were both in Boston — he insisted that I rush over to a nearby newsstand with him. He wanted to show me the cover of the January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics. It featured a new computer called the Altair 8800, which ran on a powerful new chip. I remember him holding up the cover and saying, “This is happening without us!”
Paul always wanted to push the boundaries of science. He did it when we were testing the limits of what a chip could do at Microsoft, and he continues to do it today — even after he’s gone — through the work of the Allen Institute. When I first heard he was creating an organization to study brain science, I thought, “Of course….”
I wish Paul had gotten to see all of the good his generosity will do. He was one of the most thoughtful, brilliant, and curious people I’ve ever met….
I will miss him tremendously.