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Gates Says Microsoft Committed To Bridging Digital Divide

Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates sketched out a vision for the future in which a cell phone will become a "digital wallet," able to get e-mail and even scan business cards, while computers and TVs will merge.

Microsoft, the world's largest computer software maker, also wants to "redefine the way that citizens think about how they work with government and how efficient communication takes place," Gates told about 300 political, business and academic leaders from Canada, Latin America and the United States at the company's Government Leaders Forum.

The two-day event is intended to explore ways to improve government use of computers, as well as the transition to what Gates called the "knowledge economy."

Gates, the keynote speaker, pledged to continue Microsoft's commitment to Latin America. "I'm very optimistic about the countries in Latin America. It's a market that we've invested in, and the growth opportunities that come out of that have been great for us," he said.

Gates and other Microsoft officials cited a "Partnerships for Technology Access" initiative, in which the company aims to help governments and local industries in underserved countries and regions.

In Mexico, for instance, Microsoft is working with hardware vendors, local Internet service providers and government agencies to help families buy so-called "smart homes" equipped with computers, said Gerri Elliott, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Worldwide Public Sector.

She and Gates called such programs critical to bridging the "digital divide" between developed and less-developed countries.

Debbie Karcher, executive officer of information technology services at the Miami-Dade County School District in Florida, called the forum impressive. "It was great to see the three Americas -- from Canada to South America -- all in one room, in spite of our economic differences," she said.

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