Bill Gates’ Definition of Human

The Big History Project is a joint effort by scientists, scholars, teachers, and others to bring a multi-disciplinary approach to history, examining it as a whole rather than as an isolated subject separate from others.  It is primarily aimed at high school students, but is accessible to anyone looking to better understand the history of the universe in a more holistic way.

Big History Project is having an international video contest asking for people to submit 60-90 second videos that answer the question, “What does it mean to be human?”  The winner gets $5000 and a contract to make three more videos for the project.  Those who place second and third receive $1000, and the top 25 videos will appear on both Bill Gates’ and Big History Project’s YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook accounts. (For entry information, click here.)

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates made a of video his own giving his take on what it means to be human.  According to him, what separates us as humans is our extremely social nature and our ability to pass information down from generation to generation.  This ability allows us to build on the knowledge of previous generations, and grow from there.  In other words, Gates feels that what sets our species apart is that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel (or any other innovation) with every generation; we have the ability to move our tools and technology forward and expand, thanks to our ability to communicate our knowledge even after we are gone.

This is a question that has been discussed and debated for thousands of years; the fact that we are humans does not seem to necessarily give us a complete understanding about what it is that makes us human.  It is a question tackled by philosophers, theologians, scientists, scholars, and non-academics alike.  One could argue that the fact that we try to answer this question in and of itself is what sets us apart.  Another might argue that our ability to create and appreciate art is what makes us human.  Still another might argue that it is our ability to build advanced technology that separates us from others in the animal kingdom.

When it comes to what separates us from animals, or even what separates us from the technology we create, Bill Gates may be right, partially right, or wrong about what it means to be human.  And we may never have the full, definitive answer to that question.  And that may not matter; it may just matter that we ask.

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