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Forbes magazine just came out with their annual list of the 400 richest Americans and, for the 21st year in a row, Bill Gates tops the list, with over $80 billion. Just to qualify for the Forbes 400 this year, you need about $1.5 billion. It’s interesting to speculate on what Bill Gates’ IQ might be. In India, Gates was asked exactly that, though he didn’t give a number:

Way back in 1997, columnist Dan Seligman wrote the following:

It seems marvelously symbolic that William H. Gates III, the guy listed as number one on The Four Hundred, has an obviously breathtaking IQ. The figure 170 keeps getting into print, which would make him almost certainly the highest on this list or any other list you’re likely to be looking at soon. To be sure, one occasionally sees conjectures that Steven Ballmer, Microsoft’s executive vice president, worldwide sales and support, is in the same IQ league as Bill himself. Ballmer is number six among The Four Hundred. It also seems symbolic of the new order that their company has made IQ a public and explicit criterion for hires of senior personnel.

Anyhow, it seems reasonable to view The Four Hundred as a subset;an especially lucky subset;of the emerging cognitive elite.

One wonders where the 170 figure originated. I remember leafing through one of Gates’ biographies and seeing a quote from a teacher estimating his IQ to be about 160 or 170, but no actual test score was cited. So my guess is that’s where the 170 figure started. It’s also been widely reported that Gates scored a perfect 800 on the math section of the notoriously difficult old SAT (before the test was dumbed down circa 1995). Reports about his verbal score are a little inconsistent. For example, biographers Stephen Manes and Paul Andrews write:

Toward the end of the year, Lakeside senior classman Bill Gates took on a different marketing project: the selling of William Henry Gates. Potential customers? College admissions officers. Bill had scored 800 on his math SAT and five achievement tests (although only in the low 700s on the verbal SAT), and he put it, “I wanted to know which personality of mine would appeal to the world at large.

This would imply an overall SAT score in the low 1500s (which is spectacular for the old SAT) however in this Q&A, the interviewer states the Gates got an even more impressive 1590, and asks Gates if he ever wonders what question he got wrong. Gates replies:

The truth is, that was the verbal SAT. I got 790 the first time. I told my parents their vocabulary wasn’t large enough. I was criticizing them. So I did go back and take it and do better the next time.

Kind of clever how Gates managed to look like he was answering the question without actually confirming or denying the 1590 score. Assuming Gates did score 1590 on the old SAT, then according to the Prometheus MC Report (see section 8.3.3), that equates to a WAIS IQ of 169, or roughly 170. Even if he only scored around 1500, that would still equate to an IQ of 151 (99.97%ile). Either way, the man is likely smarter than the average Ivy League professor, the average Nobel prize winning scientist, and any American president of the last 100 years.

However even the old SAT might not have contained enough truly novel and complex problems to gives Gates an accurate test score. More informative are the opinions of his classmates at Harvard who actually got to observe him compete in an extremely high level academic environment. Despite writing a fairly negative book about Gates, Paul Allen admits his former friend was brilliant, stating:

I was decent in math, and Bill was brilliant, but by then I spoke from my experience at Washington State. One day I watched a professor cover the blackboard with a maze of partial differential equations, and they might as well have been hieroglyphics from the Second Dynasty. It was one of those moments when you realize, I just can’t see it. I felt a little sad, but I accepted my limitations. I was O.K. with being a generalist.

For Bill it was different. When I saw him again over Christmas break, he seemed subdued. I asked him about his first semester, and he said glumly, “I have a math professor who got his Ph.D. at 16.” The course was purely theoretical, and the homework load ranged up to 30 hours a week. Bill put everything into it and got a B. When it came to higher mathematics, he might have been one in a hundred thousand students or better. But there were people who were one in a million or one in 10 million, and some of them wound up at Harvard. Bill would never be the smartest guy in that room, and I think that hurt his motivation. He eventually switched his major to applied math.

Is Harvard math really so selective that even one in a 100,000 talent plus hard work only gets you a B? If so, it would imply Gates has an IQ of 164.

An anonymous commenter on Steve Sailer’s blog wrote:

Regarding Gates academic ability, I think the general consensus from people who knew him at Harvard was that he may not have the very best at mathematics, but that he was second to none in computer science. He was taking graduate courses as a freshman and apparently never taking notes and blowing the curve for the rest of the class. A doctoral student said that Gates would just sit with his arms behind his back and correct the algorithms being written on the board anytime the prof made a mistake. He also said everyone else in the class hated him, but that he would ask him questions on occasion, and that his answers were always penetrating and beyond anything this guy could have thought of on his own.

Gates apparently wrote an outstanding paper in theoretical computer science that solved a problem presented to him a math class that he co-authored with his professor who is now at UC-Berkeley.

Sounds like Gates has an IQ of at least 160 and possibly 170. Considering the average American has an IQ around 100 and the average self-made billionaire has an IQ around 130, is it any wonder Gates became the richest man in America? Compared to Gates the average self-made billionaire is mildly retarded, and the average American is so profoundly retarded they can not even feed themselves. Becoming the richest man in the country must have been like taking candy from a baby. At his peak, he was the first centibillionaire in world history, and probably would still be that rich had potentially jealous government officials, perhaps eager to take a nerd down a peg, decided not to go after him.

I really admire Gates because instead of being the typical high IQ nerd who just sits around playing computer games or working in academia, he decided to go out into the real world and compete with the alpha males at their own cutthroat game of Darwinian capitalism…and he beat the living shit out of them!