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If Bill Gates is correct, it may be the end of the world as we know it -- or the end of spam, anyway.
The founder of Microsoft predicted a spam-free world by 2006 in an interview with talk show host Charlie Rose in Davos, Switzerland, Friday, according to a company spokesman. The event occurred before a group of World Economic Forum participants.
Gates' assertions fly in the face of the seemingly inexorable increase in the amount of spam despite measures including the Can Spam act, which has been described as a failure in stemming the tide. According to Brightmail, a company that scrubs e-mail for large ISPs such as EarthLink, the volume of spam has increased to around 60 percent of e-mail, from 58 percent in December. But Gates and Microsoft appear undeterred by such realities.
"We as a company believe that by a couple of years from now spam will be down to a very manageable level. It will be almost an afterthought," said Sean Sundwall, a Microsoft spokesman.
Gates described several ways of fixing the spam problem, a spokesman confirmed. One is based on the concept of "proof," or identifying the sender of e-mail. It's not a new idea. Many in the anti-spam community have long been working to add the identity element to e-mail.
Other methods Gates mentioned involve either a human challenge or requiring the sender to solve a puzzle only a real live person could handle. This method is commonly used in challenge-response anti-spam systems, an approach taken by MailBlocks, EarthLink, and others.
The most promising, according to Gates, is an electronic version of postage which would make it possible for recipients of e-mail to decide whether senders would be charged a fee. Several anti-spam companies, including IronPort and Vanquish, use such a system to discourage senders of bulk e-mail from distributing spam.
This is not the first time Gates has made sweeping pronouncements about the death of spam.
"We are making progress with new software.... The software learns from a vast and continually growing archive of e-mail provided by nearly 200,000 of our e-mail customers who...classify millions of messages as legitimate or not. This feedback allows us to identify spam with unprecedented precision," Gates said in a column he authored for the Washington Post in November 2003.
"Early reports have indicated that this Microsoft SmartScreen technology is blocking as much as 95 percent of spam, and we expect it to get even smarter as it learns from a continuing flow of feedback," Gates concluded.