Gilbert Bates is widely known as the inventor of steam engine, which the primary cause of Arcanum's industrial revolution. As a result he is one of the world's richest men. However Bates' engine is based upon stolen dwarven technology, and a major plot thread of the player's journey. In fact he is the mysterious "boy" whom you were instructed to find from the start at the blimp crash.
Gilbert Bates was born to Benjamin Bates and an unnamed mother who unfortunately died in childbirth. Gilbert was a child prodigy who showed an aptitude for science, especially mechanics. He was also childhood friends with Cedric Appleby, despite Appleby being relatively unintelligent by comparison.
When Gilbert was 8 years old his father, unable to deal with the grief of losing his wife any longer, took his own life. Though his estate left his son provided for financially, Gilbert longed for a family of his own. This led the boy to idealize the Dwarves for their great scientific prowess and the closeness of their family clans.
When he was 14, Bates approached the Black Mountain Clan and tried to demonstrate his knowledge of their technology, hoping to be accepted into the clan. However the Dwarves were unimpressed and amused by his efforts. Though they humored him and let him in as a novelty, they never truly accepted him. The only member of the clan that genuinely befriended him was a Dwarf named Stennar Rock Cutter. The two became close enough that Bates gave Stennar his ring as a sign of their friendship.
Stennar would eventually show his friend a prototype steam engine that the Dwarves had designed. The Dwarves themselves didn’t use it as it was against their general philosophies but Stennar realized that the human would be able to appreciate the intricacies of the new technology.
Bates asked to tinker with it, believing that this would be a way into their acceptance. He adapted the engine to drain the water from the mine shafts, and excitedly explained what he had done. Unfortunately this was met with the same derision as his earlier efforts. Still desperate to prove himself, he sketched the schematics and set out to prove his theories.
And so he approached a human run mining company that were impressed by the design and offered him a share in the mines in return. Bates accepted, though he didn’t care about the potential wealth, only vindication. However when he returned to the mines some years later to tell them of his accomplishments, the entire clan had vanished.
Bates continued to build his business on inventions derived from steam technology. According to him, the inventions came quickly to him, fueled by his anger and confusion over his belief that they had still denied him a place among them despite his efforts. He searched for the clan in his spare moments, seeking answers.
Late one night, he was visited by the “robed ones” who warned him against continuing to search for the Dwarves, or the revealing Dwarven origins of the technology. Terrified he initially agreed, though as he grew older and more powerful he lost some of that fear and hired private investigators to continue the search. Many investigators were killed by the traps or creatures inhabiting the clan's former stronghold; those that did return had no useful information. As rumors of the failure and dangers involved with the quest spread, it became almost impossible to find anyone willing to brave the tunnels.
Though Bates never directly claimed to have invented the steam engine, it was generally assumed that he had and he never corrected the assumption due to his fear of another night time visit. In his journal he acknowledges that this is a betrayal of the clan and carries guilt over it.